A Sunday afternoon, February, Amsterdam.
I’m listening to Charles Mingus (Mingus Dynasty – 1959 – Columbia Records) while I’m waiting Mr. Andy Moor, guitarist of the Dutch historical punk band: The Ex. Our program includes pasta, coffe and a chat about his music.
An hour and fourteen minutes later, Andy does not show up and a mail pops up into my inbox:
«Manlio. I completely forgot about the interview. Damn Sorry: At this stage it might be better for you to come here, I can cook you pasta. Would that be ok?»
Andy lives in a building that has been squatted years before and has been rented out to the occupiers under payment of a reduced rent. Valentina, his girlfriend from Genova, welcomes me and lets me in.
She opens the door and what I saw was something completely different from what I was expecting. All those words “anarcho punk”, “punk rock” that has been used to describe the band through the years, suddenly blowed/swept away from my mind.
Andy is in the kitchen with Elio (his son, only few years old) who kneads ‘scones’, typicall Scottish cookies served with jam and clotted cream.
At this point my concept of “punk” has been completely overturned, and I feel like I’m in the kitchen with old friends with a pre-heat oven, a whisteling kettle on the stove, ready for tea.
Scones are in the oven and we are ready to talk.
Andy, how all this started? Why and how did you start to play guitar?
«My mother had a classical guitar at home, at the beginning I couldn’t even touch it. Then my mother became acupunturist so she needed very sensitive fingertips, that’s why she stopped playing guitar and gave it to me. My childhood wasn’t very happy and the guitar for me has always been a ‘place’ to go. I remember that i used to sit on my bed’s edge, playing for hours, strumming in a very energetic way to spit out my anger. Then I moved to Scotland to go to University and my friends and I used to play Velvet Underground in our studentflats. Later I met Colin McLean (ex member of The Ex) and we started a band, playing live. Through Colin i met The Ex, a lot of people were saying to me to join The Ex indeed, because they had the same musical style as me and also because they were my favourite band at that time.
So I moved to The Netherlands from Scotland in 1990 and I joined The Ex in the same year. The band was around for eleven years already».
The Ex began with punk music but then they had an incredible musical evolution. More than 20 records in 38 years of music, exploring different genres of music and including collaborations with musicians like Tom Cora and Roi Paci. How this exploration process developed?
«In the same year that I joined the band, Tom Cora started collaborating with us. Tom was an amazing cellist from New York. He saw us playing at CBGB’s in New York, so he contacted us asking if we wanted to do something togheter. We came up with records like Scrabbling at the lock (1991) and And the weatherman shrug their shoulders (1993).
The collaboration with him changed a lot The Ex, he guided us towards a new music way. We started playing in jazz festivals and in festivals of improvised music, things that we never did before. And it was fantastic because we all love jazz and being invited to play in places like Bimhuis Amsterdam for us it was very stimulating.
[Oven’s timer rings. Andy goes to turn the scones…]
We don’t play in punk or rock festivals anymore, even if we are invited we say no because we don’t feel part of that music anymore. We have our sound and music identity and Tom Cora helped us a lot getting through this direction but we already were on that way. With Tom, has been an amazing period for The Ex.
With Roi, we met each other thanks to ‘ZU’, the band from Rome. He was playing with them at the time. We had a tour in Italy with them in the 90s. I remember a funny fact about Italy: didn’t matter if there were fifty or two tousand people at the concerts, we were always paid one milion of Lire [laughs], but it was fantastic. Since then we invited Roi to play with us for The Ex Orchestra Project, a project with a twenty-elements orchestra we’ve made at the end of ’90. Then we haven’t seen Roi for fifteen years and we invited him to play with us again for The Ex & Brass Unbound. After all that time gone, he came, played, and everything worked perfectly. He’s an amazing musician, has a very fast musical hear and he is always able to give amazing performances».
What are you working on, are The Ex still playing together?
«With The Ex we played a lot in the past two/three years but we’ve been selling less records. To compensate we play around seventy gigs at year, maybe for someone is not a lot, but considering the fact that everyone of us has individual projects, for us seventy is a considerable number of gigs. Then, of course, I have Elio [He points Elio who’s messing around with some flour and laughs] and then Arnold has a son too, so we decided that we could not continue to play so many gigs. We took a break for a couple of months, everyone is working on new material. Terry went to Ethiopia, Katherina is recording in Germany and Arnold is working on other projects.
Personally I’m working on musical projects with Anne-James Chaton (Frech sound poet) and Yannis Kyriakides (composer).
In March the The Ex are gonna work again together and probably we’re going on tour from July to October».
What advice would you give to young musicians who want to make music for the rest of their lives?
«The main thing is to keep control and not to try to spend all the time working for a deal. Only a tiny percent of musicians can get that deal and quite often is not where the music “is”. If I’m searching for great music I’m not always looking for these bands that they’ve got big deals, some of them are good of course but really great music is happening in the other 90%, all the people that don’t get deals [The Ex have their own recold label ‘Ex Records’].
So it depends from what you want. If you want to make money then do that, but if you want to play music like you said for the rest of your life you’ve got to find your own voice, your own identity with the musicians you play with, and don’t just play a style that already exists. If four people get togeether to make music together without trying to make it in a certain style they will end up making something that is a bit original.
And not play too much, if you play too much i think you also burn out and you lose the kind of fire and your songs as well. But is hard because there are tons of musicians that they are trying to survive. When we started I think it was easier, I think there are so many bands now!»
And then the way you listen music, now with Spotify you have so many choices, maybe is too much. But if Spotify is used in the right way is amazing. I’m passionate about Charles Mingus, [while I was waiting for Andy I was listening a Charles Mingus record. He told me that this is a funny coincidence because all the people he matches with, they listen Charles Mingus… Laughs].
and for this Spotify is incredible, you can have every single record recorded and study it. This help you to develop a deep knowledge of the artist and his music. So it depends by how you use it.
The timer rings for the second time. I can smell a ‘fragrance’ in the air. Andy openes the oven and the atmosphere become warmer and spicier. Scones are ready! Elio just cames with his mother from his bath. Andy is melting the clotted cream and, grabbing a jar of jam from a shelf, specifies that first quality jam and clotted cream must be used to bake scones. We take a seat around the table. Elio conqueres a cookie and he’s trying to let it eat to his toys, no story, leaving the ground as a mess full of crumbs and toy dinosaurs.
In that glimpse of a rubber T-Rex laying on the ground with a mouth full of scones I think I caught the essence of being ‘punk’ in our era. Find the courage to have a normal life and family. This is the real rebellion and Elio in this… Seems to be a master.
The Ex: founded in 1979. Ever since indipendent in their own managment (Ex Stichting) and own record label (Ex Records).
To date over 1500 performances and some 25 albums.
Concerts in North America, Russia, Canada, Ethiopia and nearly all of Europe.
Worked with Tom Cora (USA), Brader Musiki (Kurdistan), Lanaya (Mali), Chumbawamba (England), Sonic Youth (USA), Getatchew Mekuria (Ethiopia), Anne-James Chaton (France), Roy Paci (Italy) and many others.
Winner BV Popprijs 1991.