Snapping their fingers
What is good enough for The Melvins is good enough for us. The London-based Part Chimp is one of those bands that rock on albums, but outburst on stage. There’s nothing like a Part Chimp gig, that’s what we saw when the band had their hot summer afternoon stage party on the Dour festival in 2007. The longer we talked to Timm Cedar and Iain Hinchcliffe afterwards, the more enthused they were and the more it became clear that Part Chimp is a celebration band, but with an ability to explain why.
It might be Part Chimp’s connection between chaos and harsh yet catchy music that makes King Buzzo and his friends big fans. That Chaos is the catchword shows in the music, the interview and in the organisational aspects of the band – they arrived only 20 minutes before being expected to display their drama. Part Chimp’s music is a mix-up of their heroes (Sonic Youth, The Melvins, Japanese rock noise) and their alluring, almost merrymaking yet sardonic personalities. It makes Part Chimp a walking contradiction, where small amounts of drones, feedback, repeated chords but also stanza-chorus-stanza structures all fulminate within a clear rock-ethic. There’s also a paradox between Tim’s appearance, tall and robust, and his tin, high-pitched vocal, where you would expect a testosterone-treated one. Part Chimp has appeared on a shitload of compilations, has released about six small releases (7” and 10”) and two full albums. Most of the recordings are released by Rock Action Records. Yes, the Glasgow-based label founded and maintained by post-rockers Mogwai.
Timm ‘Chimp’ Cedar, mastermind of the band and besides that fifty percent of drum and keyboard avant rockers Die Munch Machine, and Ian Hinchcliffe, guitarist, helped us to get an insight in the aura of Part Chimp. We like to think that we have helped them with that. For the Belgian fans: Ian Hinchliffe asked us why the Belgian audience is that different than others, in a positive, utmost open-minded way. We want to withhold our utmost interesting observations about that. Just this: when you invented new beat and you are able to stand out and love Euro-trash, you’re up for anything.
Loud and basic
Timm Cedar stiffly start the interview, adding a second in between every word. If we believe him, the initial idea of starting the band was “a mean to keep things going. When Ligament, my former band, split up, I didn’t want to stop with what that part of me wanted to do. We kind of naturally flowed into Part Chimp. Our old bass-player left, and the guy who replaced him in Ligament (Nick Prior, red) started writing songs. It seemed natural. It creatively lost me. It’s cool, it’s really working. We do things we couldn’t do with Ligament. Getting louder for example, applying the deadness into the songs. Essentially they are the same songs, but played louder and thicker.” The natural evolution that Timm pointed out to is also present in the un-presence of an underlying message, “simply because I wouldn’t know how to reveal something underlying in Part Chimp. I don’t think that we have an agenda or a mission-state. That’s probably why people have a hard time to get in to us.” Iain Hinchliffe adds, “there’s only one thing. It’s about being simple, not being complicated. It’s about to let it happen, not thinking about it over and over. We don’t aim to be this band or that band, or a combination of them.”
The lyrics cope with the same un-presence of a definable, let alone fixed frame. Timm explains that the lyrics are mostly as simple as the sound and that “they’re mostly as stupid as they sound. It’s all part of the music. Music is about fucking getting down. You shouldn’t be able to hear the words anyway. Obviously, the lyrics are brilliant, the anthology is brilliant, but when music is played at a loud volume, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. It should be banging, not in your head or shaking in your body, but in the lyrics.” The name Part Chimp is underlining the exalting lack of complexity that characterises the band. Timm agrees with that, but clarifies that this wasn’t the reason why they called the band like that. The fact that it does reflect it, is strictly coincidence. However it shows that“it’s organic and primitive, loud and basic..”
In a way, the blasting rawness of the Londoners seems indulged by their aversion of repeating ideas and performances. We think they see technical perfectionism equal to boringness. “There are some bands that are performing an identical show every night. Most of the indie-shmindy bands and a lot of metal bands have that. Today you have a band called Slint that is playing exactly the same show, with exactly the same set-list every night, technically perfect”, Hinchliffe states. Cedar “can’t see Part Chimp and technically perfect written in one paragraph (mutual laughter)”. He also utters that technical perfect musicians are “immediately awesome, but ultimately unsatisfying. Very, very fucking perfect and insane. Really good. Ultimately satisfying (laughs hard). In the end this band is an amalgamation of three or four people trying to have some fun and playing loud music. There’s nothing more to it than that. We love performing, but sometimes it sucks, you know. Sometimes I think that my ideas and playing is duff and stupid, and I worry about songs and singing and being out in front of people.”
We wondered if Part Chimp is a soul band? They both find this observation likable and flattering. “Not in a James Brown sort of result, but definitely the same ethic”, the singer thinks. Hinchliffe looks at Timm and says, “you could fine us for playing wrong. James Brown famously used to fine (snaps his fingers) members of his band if they played the wrong notes”. “I would be a fucking millionaire by now.”, Cedar replicates. “What? Of me and John? No, actually me and John would be rich. (laughs).” “Yeah, but who’s gonna fine me?”, Cedar ends the game. Unless the pun, it might show a glimp of the real relations in the band. Timm more or less presents himself as the leader – one that uses soft coercion with tons of humour –, writes all the songs, does most of the talking and is the most flamboyant member of a gaudy band.
To come back on the connection to soul Cedar thinks, “it’s really about the feel. It didn’t really feel like that today, but essentially when we’re playing good and we’re satisfied, then it’s fucking soul. It’s about guts.” Ian stipulates that it also has harder aspects as “we’re trying to write stuff at the moment and when it goes right it sounds brilliant, but on other times, when we’re not in the mood, or you just got off work, then you don’t have the same feel, although you play that same song or that same notes, it doesn’t work. You feel like throwing that away and start again. That’s not an easy thing to do if you rely on feel.”
Are albums some kind of diary? “No, not at all… Sonically and musically, maybe. I mean, at the end of the first album (Chart Pimp, red), we discovered a sort of tuning that we adopted. I suppose the second album (I Am Come, red) was the diary of that discovering of the songs we could play with that tuning (laughs). It sounds crazy but maybe you’re right. So, sonically it’s correct but not emotionally or conceptually”, Timm supposes. What are they if not diaries? “Just records. In both senses of the words. See what I did there (looks at Ian and laughs). I think the next album will be different. The first album was just the instant (snaps fingers) Part Chimp. That was very much a Ligament thing, with new elements, discovering new sounds, layers if you like. At the end of that album we discovered the drone and beat, and that opened a whole new world of stuff. I would say that the first album was just a taste. The second album was very cool, as we were droning away, and the tunes came very easily. We were creatively open, and we were able to write songs that were rather good. This next time it will get more thought. We’re discovering new stuff. We will come with new things and I suppose it’s about finding, recording and exploring our new sound. Figure out with the fuck is good about his anyway. It’s not a diary (spits out the word).”
Hinchliffe on his side agrees with his front man, “I think ‘record’ is a really good way to put it. I see them a bit as – this is maybe the wrong word – un-blockers. You can make a record and after that you can go out and do fun stuff. None of us are making anyone millionaires, not even our record company, but we can go out and tour. Some people will buy the record. And I think it’s brilliant. The crowd comes and see us play. Then you do another record and you go to more places. If you don’t put out these records you can’t do this.” In any way it reflects the band’s focus on performances.
Music is in most cases written in more or less private spaces like rehearsal rooms and studios, and in worst cases, in bed, bath or living rooms. When playing music one brings out these privately conceived products. We asked the duo if they sense a schism between the writer and the audience. Cedar points at their long waiting they had to stand out before having the ability for touring again. “Before it was like (makes a sound of vomit) this is it! (another variant on the vomiting) check this out! The next song is like (a farting sound). What would people think about that (a variant on the farting)? I care more about this one (points at the yet released album, red), because it has been a longer way. That will be reflected in the music. It’s going to be much more interesting than the first two albums. Just because there is more thought about the music.”
Bang bang bang
Like situated before, Part Chimp is a very energetic band. But how exhausting is the band really? Cedar thinks that turns out better then we could expect as they “don’t really do that much, to be honest. Especially compared to a lot of other bands. We rehearse maybe once a week. I spend most time bashing John (Hamilton aka Drumm Chimp, red) out. But compared to other bands we do very little. But we’re getting quite old, so physically it’s woaaah… especially on hot days (laughs). But I’m in the best of shape. Know what I’m saying (laughing). At the other hand there’s a conflict of my body and my soul. My body is saying ‘What are you doing that for?’ (laughs). ‘Why don’t you sit down like Michael Gira (who played after Part Chimp, red) and just do ‘bang bang bang’? Mentally, however, it seems more testing. It’s quite hard. It’s got to that point in a bands carrier that you can really gage how far it’s gone by doing things like this. It’s really no progress. It’s kind of like ‘OK, it’s been ten years, that we‘ve been doing this. It’s interesting as well, and curious. It’s still fun and great to come out here and play. There is a difference response today. We’re progressively getting more organised. Next time we’ll do it, we’ll get here a bit earlier (laughs). Not being rushed. It’s always like (all kinds of noises out of Timm’s mouth). It’s ten years like this. We need at least four hours before we play, to get acclimatised. That’s also a part of what Part Chimp is all about. A bit shit, chaos, slack, .. a bit rubbisch, vomit. It’s what you’ll get.”
Besides Part Chimp’s unsure future, does Cedar, main songwriter for the band ever feel fear in the process of writing? It seems not a simple cracker. “Fear, no.. (doubts). Well actually.. maybe yeah. In the sense like ‘holy shit, we don’t have enough good fucking songs’. There’s a lot of fear, when we go after a writing session. And then you go like ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrgghhhhhhs’ and then a song is born (laughs). It’s like snakebite.” The massive responsibility that he has to take is underlined by his fellow.“We rely upon inspiration, on Timm’s inspiration basically. It’s not that we have hundreds of songs or that we play a particular style. We don’t know what a Part Chimp song is. That makes us a little bit afraid. On our last album there were a couple of tracks that were very different. Some are up-tempo, other are really slow, others quite simple and straightforward. Because of that we will be all over the place on the next record as well. We just don’t know where it’s gonna go before we start.”
It is also everyday’s life that interfe(a)res. Cedar speaks out that they “can’t give too much time to Part Chimp. We have to fucking live. We have to make a living and living in London is excruciatingly expensive. Sadly, Part Chimp is on the second place. We’re not nineteen or twenty years old anymore, so we can’t decide to ‘just fuck work!’. We can’t make money out of it. That means we don’t take it too serious, which is the other side of Part Chimp. That’s another reflection on the pain and stress. The fear.”
We come back to the point of the private and public aspects of making, recording and performing music. Has Timm ever felt fear when he plays his songs in front of the other members for the first time? “That’s an interesting point. That defines the line whether you care about what people think or whether you just say ‘fuck, I do whatever I want’. Some bands play one fucking riff for an hour and don’t mind what people think, but we don’t do that. We do care about what people think. We want people to have a good time. We always tried to combine the cliché-element of doing what we want and give people a slap of fun. We never sat on stage and do (makes noises) for an hour (noises again). I fucking love Boredoms and Merzbow. They’re amazing. I would love to make that kind of music, but something stops me. That could be fear I suppose.” He agrees with us that it also might be the songwriter in him.
Unfitting the box
On YouTube we saw a video of Part Chimp’s War Machine song, which showed footage about McDonalds with all kinds of anti-messages. The official Part Chimp video of that song is also available on YouTube, but the version about the war against fast food, was made by a LA-guy from which Ian and Timm couldn’t remember his name. “They tried to publicise a movie. They wanted to create a buzz and for some reason wanted to use our song. It seems to work. It was cool”, says Ian. Fair enough, but is Part Chimp an anti-band? Timm: “We’re pro-everything I suppose, apart from baby-slaughter (laughs).”
Ian is clear that they’re not anti as a band but that there’s a difference to what they stand for as individuals. “There’s nothing in the songs that is particular leftwing or rightwing.” “Unless you could actually hear my lyrics (laughs)”, Timm nicely states.
“Being pro-standard is saying that everybody has to do something similar”. Ian’s opinion on our question if Part Chimp is about pushing standards isn’t totally similar to Timm’s, who says that he “just want to lower standards”. In a more serious mood, Ian comes to the aspect of copying or complimenting idols. “It would be nice to think that some people saw something in the music we’ve sent into the world and want to take it further. I don’t think we don’t care or mind if someone likes to sound like us. It would be complimentary to be ripped off.” In Part Chimp there are loads of links to other bands, with Sonic Youth as the most obvious. Timm: “I would tell you a lie if I would say that I don’t ripp stuff off. How can you not. If I started writing songs that are pretty much Part Chimp songs I would start off on drums, and go over to guitars, and add all I could possibly do. I’m definitely into it.” Ian underlines the aspects of Part Chimp’s own sound: “Even though there’s a big influence, we don’t try to sound like Sonic Youth, The Melvins, or whatever. It’s complementary too, I suppose.”
Has Part Chimp been compared to bands they really hate? Timm just diplomatically laughs. Ian says that they “have had some surprising comparisons. It’s not that we hate You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, but I don’t see in what way we are similar.” Timm puts on his no-nonsense mask again. “No problem for me. I don’t give a fuck about to whom we’re compared. We’ve been compared to metal bands, but we’re not a metal band. I sometimes don’t know what is going through our head sometimes… chaotic stuff. Hard Rock is also about chaotic notes.”
Making the choices that Part Chimp has made haven’t been the easiest and where in some way commercial suicide. Hinchcliffe highlights that “sometimes it’s a pain. If we went more metal we could get more coverage and play more, especially in Britain. If you‘re not either one of those things or not enough of those things, sometimes you just fall through the prat. We had a change to fit in the box, but we didn’t.” Then we’ll do the same.
Interview by Peter, Dour, 2007