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By: Andrew Lyman

Steven Stapleton has been putting out albums as Nurse With Wound for nearly 30 years. He has also collaborated with countless other artists spanning all sorts of musical genres. He recently released a new album called the "Huffin’ Rag Blues" that has many longtime listeners up in arms. Everyone is screaming about it being a huge departure, but Stapleton doesn’t see it their way. I suppose he has a point, for an artist whose body of work is anything but consistent, how could any one thing be considered divergent? The album is toe tapping though, a feature not always, but generally lacking from the standard Nurse With Wound release, if such a thing exists. Stapleton says the "Huffin’ Rag Blues" is an homage to his deep love of 1950s and 1960s lounge music. Perhaps even more interesting that the album itself is the fact that it has Nurse With Wound back on the road again after a 20 year hiatus.

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Recently I spoke to Stapleton in the midst of his current tour to talk about the new album, being on the road again, and the past, present, and future of Nurse With Wound. Despite his fascination with the darker side of things, I found him to be a very delightful and upbeat person to talk to. Apparently you can be a very happy and still make disturbing music.

Thirsty: How’s the tour been going so far?

Steven Stapleton: Oh great! Yeah we didn’t play live for about 20 years, and now we’re doing it and having fun. It’s great. It really is. Every show we think is a little different and a little better. It’s just great because we have kind of a floating membership now, there’s always different vocalists, and we have different guests as well, different musicians come and join us. But it’s always interesting, you never quite know what’s going to happen.

Thirsty: What got you back out touring again after a 20 year break?

Stapleton: Well, I wanted to do something that was going to be perfect, and I thought if I go back on stage I want to do something that’s really theatrical, different, and choreographed, and it’s got to be perfect. And then I went on tour with Current 93 and I thought, “Fuck this is so easy!” And it doesn’t matter if I make a fool of myself. Let’s just have a go and see what happens. And once I got to that stage where I really didn’t give a shit weather it worked or not, and started having fun with it, it was great. And we haven’t really looked back.

Huffin' Rag Blues (2008)

Thirsty: Wow. So it only took you 30 years to learn that lesson?

Stapleton: I know I’m a slow learner (laughs).

Thirsty: That’s great though. I got a copy of the new album, and it’s such a departure, but it’s so much fun. It’s musical and it’s toe-tapping. What led up to that change of pace?

Stapleton: Well, a lot of people have been saying it’s so much of a departure, but I just don’t see it. I don’t know if you know much about stuff I’ve done in the past, but I did an EP called "Colotomy", you know that at all?

Thirsty: I haven’t heard that one.

Stapleton: Well, it’s exactly like "Huffin’ Rag Blues". I’ve done various bits and bobs similar to it, but everybody’s got their hands up in the air shaking their heads saying “Oh my God! This is so radically different!” Some people have just loved it, and a lot of people have absolutely hated it.

Thirsty: I think it’s fantastic, it’s a lot of fun. I was listening to some of you older stuff last week that I have around, Large Ladies with Cake in the Oven, Soliloquy for Lillith, and you know, it’s bright and happy, and I love the old stuff too. Was there anything specifically motivating this album, or anything that you particularly wanted to play around with or express?

Stapleton: Well, Andrew Lyles and myself have this deep, deep love for 1950s and 1960s lounge music, and we just wanted to explore that little bit really. I mean, both Andrew and I are not musicians. We can’t play all those intricate melodies, but we can pretend we can. We can get something that sounds something like what we had in mind and then twist it a little. I actually don’t see that record as being anything different than just another Nurse With Wound album. Maybe I’m just to close to it and I can’t be objective, I don’t know, but to me it’s just another Nurse With Wound Album, but one that’s a little bit of fun. But actually now, to be honest, there’s probably one or two pieces on there which are perhaps a little bit more mainstream than what I normally do. But I’ve made some very, very commercial things in the past too.

Thirsty: Are you pretty comfortable with the fact that after 30 years you’re no closer to being a musician than when you first started out?

Stapleton: (Laughs) Absolutely! I have no interest in becoming a musician.

Thirsty: Excellent.

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Stapleton: I have no interest in becoming a rock star either or anything like that. I just want to stay as I am. I’m not particularly interested in progressing in any way. I like my life. My music is a hobby, and I like to indulge myself in that. I’m happy the way things are. I have absolutely no interest in learning an instrument.

Thirsty: Well it’s been a fruitful indulgence. If music is your hobby, what would you say your passions are?

Stapleton: Um, well apart from the obvious ones, I like building sculptures out of recycled and reclaimed materials. That’s my love of my life. I like building things with anything, junk. There’s a lot of that in America, a lot of folk art you know. Last time I was over I was down in Texas and I was walking around down there and there’s a lot of that metal work there, people welding junk onto fences, strange stuff, I love that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of stuff I like to do. I like to build houses, environments, things like that, that’s my passion really.

Thirsty: Well, that approach is evidenced by your music I would hazard to say too.

Stapleton: Yeah I can see that.

Thirsty: You say you’re not interested in progressing, what did you want to be as a child growing up?

Stapleton: An artist.

Thirsty: Would you say you’ve achieved that goal, or are you always working towards it?

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Stapleton: Well, I always was, it was just a matter of realizing it. When I got to be about 12 or 13 I thought, well, I am an artist, and that’s what I want to be, and that’s what I do. And I realized that it’s not just painting, or sculpture, it’s everything, everything you do. Art is just an extension of everything else that one does. I think everything is art.

Thirsty: Absolutely. Was there a certain catalyzing event, or something you read, or saw, or heard that imbued you with that idea that this is what you want to do with your life, or this is what the world is about?

Stapleton: There probably was but it’s too far in the distant past. (laughs) I can’t remember. It was probably between the legs of some woman that I had a revelation.

Thirsty: A rare glimpse of inspiration. Well you’ve had some many different projects here and there but Nurse With Wound has always been the mainstay, what has it been like to be under the banner of a single project for so long? Do you find it limiting in any way? Do you find it liberating?

Stapleton: Well, I find it liberating really because in a way, the people that buy my music don’t know what to expect. They know it’s going to be interesting, and they know it’s going to be possibly peculiar, but they don’t really know what it is or what to expect because I try to record in different ways, and I try to make records sound different. I want to keep it fresh all the time. Not for them, but for myself. I don’t want to rehash. Like those early records people say. “Oh I love Homotopy to Maria it’s the most wonderful disturbing record, why don’t you do something like that again?” It’s because I don’t want to because I’ve already done that. I just want to do something different really, but it’s not progressing, it’s just because I want to keep myself amused.

Thirsty: And you said you’re very happy with the way things are, so do you feel you’ve effectively amused yourself for a good long run? What do you still want to do? What do you have an urge to get into or explore?

Stapleton: Well musically, the love of my life is female rap music. I’m making a rap album, I’m almost finished, and I think that will disturb a lot of people.

Thirsty: If they think this one is a departure, just wait!

Stapleton: That’s right. Absolutely! If people are shocked by "Huffin’ Rag Blues", they are going to be very, very shocked by … well if they don’t like rap, it’s not a rap album as in, I’m not making a hip hop record, I’m making a very, very dark and abstract Nurse With Wound album, but it’s completely saturated with female rap, which I love. But it’s a very strange juxtaposition of styles I can tell you.

Thirsty: And you said that is almost completed?

Stapleton: It is, yeah. That will be out in the spring next year.

Thirsty: Great! How would you say making music, not necessarily as a musician, has changed personally and culturally since you started out?

Stapleton: Well, personally it’s changed because it’s so easy now. Oh man it’s so easy. The last couple of years, see I don’t have a computer. I don’t have internet access where I live, and I’ve never recorded with computers up until about two years ago. But my engineering colleague of mine got a computer and I have now started using one. But actually moving chunks of sound around and various plug-ins and things, oh it’s so fucking easy! You can make incredible things these days. Whereas up until four years ago every single thing I did was on magnetic tape pretty much. And every sound I wanted I had to make myself, so records took a long time to make, and composition took a long time to do because you had to create everything and record everything. Now it’s just so easy. And to be perfectly honest, the first album that’s was done totally on computer, we had such fun making it. I just look at it as another tool really. It’s just another device to use.

Thirsty: Do you feel that ease of creation does any damage to the finished product? That now it’s so much easier to change things around, when in the past you had to be much more deliberate with what you were doing?

Stapleton: Yeah I suppose so, but see that’s the thing though, once you realize you’re making art, you’re an artist and you’re making art, then you can do anything you want. You can do absolutely anything, so it doesn’t matter if you do something that’s complicated or something that’s absurdly simple, or moving things around in an abstract way, or just being absolutely precise about tiny details, in the end it doesn’t really matter. I think as long as you’re having fun, and you feel that there’s something worthwhile coming through. It’s a hard question, to be honest. I don’t really know enough, as I said we’ve really only done one record with it, so you’ll have to ask me again in a few years.

Thirsty: Do you think that a lot of your current listeners would even take that for granted, that listening to something that came out just a few years ago thinking, “oh this was just thrown together on a computer, I could do that.”

Stapleton: I’ve never really considered it. I don’t know. I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t mean anything to me. When a record goes out and someone buys it, their personal opinions, very few of them actually reach me, and to be honest I don’t really give a fuck whether people like the records or not. I’m only doing it to please myself. IT really is, I’ve said this in other interviews, it’s total, total self-indulgence. I love pleasing myself. And if there’s a few people out there that actually find it interesting, that’s great.

Thirsty: Is there anything you don’t like about Nurse With Wound as a project?

Stapleton: Um no. It’s no because, I know I’ve made mistakes in the past, looking back now there’s certain records I’ve put out that I go “oh what the fuck was I thinking?” But generally I’m happy with myself, and I’m happy with what I do, so therefore, I’m happy with the project. Nurse With Wound is just the ongoing name for anything I care to do in a musical field, so yeah sure, I’m kind of happy with that.

Soliloquy For Lilith (1988)

Thirsty: It’s very flexible then because it’s just whatever you fancy at the time.

Stapleton: That’s right yeah. Some people have said to me “oh you’re doing a rap album, why don’t you put it out under a different name?” Because it will piss people off. Who gives a fuck? This is just something that I do, weather it’s rap or weather it’s a bloody country music album. I think there are a lot of people who will find the Nurse With Wound rap album interesting even if they don’t like rap music. It’s a bit like "Huffin’ Rag Blues", there are a lot of people out there who really didn’t like that record, but there’s also a lot of people out there that don’t like 1950s and 1960s lounge music. And now people are saying to me, “yeah it’s amazing, I started buying Esquivel albums, or Les Baxter because of your music.” And that’s fantastic. There’s always a following on things like these, but because I don’t have a computer, because I don’t hear back from lots of people, but through various ways I hear little bits about how people appreciate these records.

Thirsty: Is there anything you’ve done that you feel has transcended your connection to it, and you can just go back and listen to it as a record, or just something that you’re very happy with?

Stapleton: Only an album I did called Soliloquy for Lilith. Do you know that one at all?

Thirsty: I was listening to it just the other night as a matter of fact.

Stapleton: Well, that was a strange one because in a way I didn’t really create that record, it just came through the air, so it doesn’t have my scamp on it. It was recorded in kind of an odd kind of way. The sounds and frequencies on that record were a mistake. It was something I was working on with producing a Current 93 single, and I wanted to do a strange sort of background, and through trial and error, and a few fuck ups, I came up with a sound that just played with itself and endlessly changed, and I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. It was like, “wow I could listen to this fucking thing forever!” And so the next day immediately I just booked a week in the studio and I just recorded hours and hours and hours of these- they were in fact guitar pedals linked together. And then the last one fed through to the first one again. So the hum of the pedals would create a loop, and then melodies would be created by just putting my hand, like a theremin, almost touching the wires because they were so sensitive, and it would change the melodies and sound of them. So in a way I didn’t really play it, it just came through the air, so I can look at that record objectively, but I think it’s probably the only one.

Thirsty: That’s amazing. I didn’t know that story about that album. It’s just kind of this capturing of this circumstance.

Stapleton: Yeah, exactly.



All opinions expressed by Andrew Lyman are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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