2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Leæther Strip, the electro-industrial / EBM project of Danish musician Claus Larsen. In an email interview, Larsen discusses the history of Leæther Strip, his creative process, live performance, and more.
You’ve changed labels a few times – what effect, if any, do you feel this has had on your career?
Claus Larsen: Yes, the first went “belly up” then 2nd one, I didn’t agree with their plans for the future and tried to self release. That worked well, but was a lot of work. I started to work together with a German label called Emmo.biz Records, who has the passion for special releases and collector stuff and vinyl as I have. So I am working with them still. In this scene, you and your label really have to “click” and be on very friendly terms. So leaving your friends like that can hurt, and that does affect me quite a bit. So I always go into a new label with the plan of this being the last one I will be at, but as we know business and friendships can go wrong. If anything, it has made me stronger and I need a bit more commitment from people to trust the labels I work with. I still got many knives in my back from the past 25 years in the business.
How actively do you follow other artists who do similar styles of music? Are there any particular ways you feel you’ve been influenced by what others are doing?
CL: I’ve got my favourites of course and I try to follow the scene as much as I can. I have always had a very open mind towards other types of music. If it’s got heart and passion I don’t really care what scene or genre it’s from. I listen to everything if it grabs my attention, really. I have no idea where my inspiration really comes from, it’s very hard to explain. I love the 80’s underground music and I’m a life long Depeche Mode / Fad Gadget / Soft Cell / Marc Almond fan. As for my scene, my favorite is Skinny Puppy; their dark mixture of ugly and beauty is amazing and I will never get tired of that.
What effect has the evolution of musical technology over the years had on your creative process? On your approach performing live?
CL: It’s become a lot easier, but again a lot harder, because you’ve got so much to create sounds on and you wont have to sell your house to get it, like you used to do in the early days. I often have an idea of the sounds I want before I even start creating them, so I usually know which synth or vst I can make that sound on. But I love the fact that companies are focusing on making hardware again. Im not a gear snob but I do like them real knobs. As for live, that’s really the same is it used to be. Back then my backing tracks were on a DAT player and now they are on a laptop, where I have the soft synth’s programmed to each song so Kurt’s sounds will change as we go, in that way it’s easier. I still have to jump around like an idiot and sweat like a pig.
For re-issues you’ve added bonus discs containing songs re-recorded with more current musical technology. Do you see yourself doing this type of thing again?
CL: Yes, because I didn’t want to just re-release them, that would just be too easy. It was amazing to work with the songs again and to give them a new life. I got some heat for doing so, but I never went into this to make the old songs better in any way, just to have a new fresh look on them. I did my first 3 albums and I don’t have any plans to do more at the moment. It takes a year to make each, because it’s like working on new songs, and for me using my inspiration for writing new songs is more important at the moment.
Would you say that you have a general approach to songwriting? For example, do you generally start out with lyrical / vocal ideas? Or if you start out composing the electronic parts, does the mood being set influence the ultimate subject matter of a song? Or does it totally vary?
CL: Most of my ideas pop into my head while walking the dogs, watching a movie or the news, or even in my sleep actually, it can be lyric ideas/topics or melodies. I sometimes just sit and play one of my synths, tweaking the knobs, and that has also been the start to many songs.
You’re known for doing a lot of special and limited editions of releases. Could you explain the motivations behind that? Does it come out of just how you feel the material would be best presented at the time? Are you trying to encourage physical purchases vs downloads (and piracy!) I’d imagine it’s a combination of things, but please comment on it.
CL: I’m a hardcore music collector myself, and I love LTD editions, so that’s the main reason. But also I want to give the hardcore listeners something special, they are the ones who keep supporting the scene and we need to keep them happy too. Non collectors can always get the digital or the normal CD. It’s in no way to rip off anybody. I know some artists do that, but that’s never been my motivation to do it. I still cherish my old box sets and coloured vinyl and all I’ve collected over the years as my treasure.
Have you at any point considered (or attempted) fleshing out Leæther Strip to a full band?
CL: No never. I worked with bands in the 80’s and that environment was not very good for my creativity and the way I work. I love working with others outside the Leæther Strip box tough. I’ve started an oldschool EBM/punk band with Marco Defcode from Decoded Feedback called Sequential Access, and we just finished the recording of a debut album. So we’re going to seek a label to release it now.
When I got into dark electronic music back in the mid 90’s, I felt that there was an air of mystery around a lot of the acts (including Leæther Strip) and to some degree I think that was part of the appeal. But things like facebook really strip that away, allowing artists to express their personalities more, beyond what the music conveys. Do you have any thoughts on this?
CL: Yeah the mystery is good, but on the other hand it’s great that you can have that direct link to an artist to remove that “übermench” mentality some artists have. I’ve never had anything to hide and I’m not the important one, my music is. I’ve also got in contact with many of my idols directly and had the chance to ask them stuff I’ve wanted to ask them for years and years. I’m not scared of voicing my opinions and I get death threats almost every week, mainly from eastern EU and Russia. It’s sucks but I’m not shutting up.
I really like the “one-nine-eight-two” disc – I know it’s going back a few years, but could you discuss the inspiration behind/making of that material?
CL: Thanks, It’s very special for me too. I had the idea of making an album using only the same synths that I started out with back in 1982. To see where that would bring me. It was written and recorded in record time for me, and it was so much fun. I might do one more like that. I love a good melody and techno-pop is perfect for that, and it’s my roots too.
I see that you’re planning a US tour for May 2014 and also have shows in Mexico coming up. What can fans expect from these shows? Other than set length, do you tailor your shows at all to where you are performing?
CL: Yes, our agent is just now getting the USA tour together for next May. The summer tour this year went so well that the demand was there to get a new one together, also so we can get to play the spots we missed this year. I change my set list with almost every show, also to keep it fresh for me, and because I got many listeners coming to my shows over and over so I want to make it special for them too. The past year I’ve mainly been playing 90’s stuff because it’s the 25th anniversary of Leæther Strip this year. But I always try to make out shows as energetic as possible. I want to people to have fun and to dance with me, and they usually do.
We just had a fantastic 95 min show in Berlin Nov 2nd and it was just like playing for family. I LOVE playing live and coming back to the stage in 2009 was the 2nd best thing I ever did. We get to see the world and the people who supported us for so many years, It’s amazing.
What else is in the future for you / Leæther Strip?
CL: I’m working on a new album. Not really rushing things, but working as soon as the inspiration is there, and I’m about 40% into it. As it looks not its half Harsh and half melodic. We are also finally going to play in Australia in April for 4 shows, We’re very excited about that, and like you mentioned Mexico city in March. I’ve got lots of listeners there so that will be exciting, we almost went there 3-4 times but I worked with the wrong promoters I guess. This time it’s working out. I’ve got no plans to stop. This is too much fun. Thanks for the support!!!