By Bob Gourley
On his new LP, Cyberpunk, Billy Idol has re-defined his
approach to creating music without really changing the music itself. The album
was created in Idol's home studio which is controlled by a Macintosh computer
and makes extensive use of other electronic gear. But despite the samples,
dance beats and strange electronic noises, Cyberpunk is musically more in tune
with Idol's early work than his last few albums. The electronics have enabled
Idol to re-embrace the DIY ethic of the punk era and come up with his best
album in years. Idol does not allow himself to be overcome by the electronics
as all of the songs on Cyberpunk would be strong enough to stand up with more
traditional instrumentation. Idol's fascination with technology does not end
with the music as he has also put out a limited edition Cyberpunk computer disk
and is getting into computerized video. In addition Idol has discovered the
Internet which was the medium used for the following interview.
Q. Some people see computers and sequencers as just an
extension of traditional studio recording saying that there is no difference in
recording a track to computer or tape. But others like to look at it as a
completely new medium and use it to come up with things that would not be
possible with traditional recording techniques. How do you see it?
A. I've always wanted to blend rock and roll with
technology. Back in the early 80s I started doing dub mixes of my songs just to
stretch the boundaries of the norm. "White Wedding" was released in two parts -
one with my live band, one all machine. In 1987 I tried to take this to an
extreme with the recording of WHIPLASH SMILE. But I wasn't right, the
technology wasn't right. And it was a painful album to make. Then for CHARMED
LIFE I went back to the process of recording in a more traditional rock and
roll fashion. Again it was painful. So much so that I literally threw myself
into the jaws of death with my motorcycle accident. While I was recovering from
the leg surgeries punk rock journalist Legs McNeil interviewed me and called me
cyberpunk because of the muscle stimulator on my leg. It looked like man
merging with machine. Legs kind of reaffirmed my punk rock beginnings and
picked up that I was still thinking that way - it's just that the process of
making music had escaped me a bit.
Q. Was there anything in particular that influenced you to
start using more electronics in your music?
A. I still really wanted the DIY thing and I wanted to start
to command the recording process. I was tired of being someone who had to go
through a producer and an engineer and their interpretations. I wanted to be
right in the action. I just needed a little help to do it. Robin Hancock, my
producer, really helped. With today's computers you can really capture the
personalities of the people playing the instruments or playing the computers
for that matter. Mark Younger-Smith (my guitar Player), Robin and myself were
the core of the project, but we also used my drummer Tal Bergman on a few
tracks and my bassist Larry Seymour on one track and Living Color's Doug
Wimbash on quite a few tracks. Computers have become more human as they work
with you. You hear a real band on CYBERPUNK. Through the computer you're
listening to a live, little garage band flailing away. And it was done in my
house. No money wasted on big studios. DIY. Punk rock. Cyberpunk.
Q. What equipment did you use?
A. I used Studiovision and Protools programs for the
Q. You obviously started making "Cyberpunk" before the media
really started latching onto "the Cyberpunk movement," but are you afraid at
all of the people thinking you're just cashing in on a trend? Don't you think
that naming the album "Cyberpunk" might fuel this type of thinking?
A. I have never given a fuck what people think of me. Isn't
that obvious? CYBERPUNK is my reality, my passion and my journey. And I'm
sharing it with all my fans. Fuck anyone who doesn't get it.
Q. How log did "Cyberpunk" take to make?
A. The good news is that CYBERPUNK took 10 months to make. A
miracle for me. The last two albums took three and four years to make. And they
Q. Did you have a good grasp on the technology before hand
or were you experimenting with it as you made the album?
A. After Keith Forsey and I parted ways I went to Trevor
Rabin's studio to do some work for my new album. He had a virtual studio set
up. I was excited because I felt that I finally found a way to record that
would be true to my original ideas. Most of what you hear on CYBERPUNK are
original demos done in the home studio. I incorporated the virtual studio idea
at my home. I didn't know how to use it. Robin Hancock educated Mark and me. I
had to learn about computers. I learned about graphics, recording, the WELL. I
hooked up with Mondo 2000 folk and Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing. We tried
recording with BiNaurel Heads, Roland Sound Space. We wanted to expand the
limits of where sound is thrown.
Q. Can you elaborate more on the "Blendo" video?
A. I loved "Lawnmower Man" and through a group of friends
ended up meeting Brett Leonard. He and I swarmed various images with Hi-8
cameras - me at the acupuncturist, me at Aha Spa-a mind gym, various LA
landscapes, "Heroin" related images - and fed them back through a band of
desktop computers. The operators of these computers act as musicians for as
they hear the music played back in real time they edit the images one on top of
the other. I've been building a blendo bed of footage to use on the tour.
Additionally I'll have folks out in the audience with Hi-8s swarming the crowd
and we'll swarm the stage as well. There will be another person on stage
editing the blendo footage - he'll be like another band member - and throwing
it on the in-house screen. So, in essence, this will be an interactive
Q. What else can we expect form the live show?
A. Rock and roll, mate. Rock and roll.
Q. Will your new interest in computers affect the way older
songs are performed?
A. When I get back from Europe at the end of June my band
and I begin rehearsals. I'll see then how we will be playing the older stuff. I
haven't really got that sorted yet.
Q. When will you be touring?
A. The U.S. tour begins in late October. I'll be doing a
warm-up stadium tour in the late summer in Europe. [note: the US tour has since
been postponed until early 1994]