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Interview: Jean-Marc Lederman

by François Zappa

The problem with interviewing Jean-Marc Lederman is that, when you are doing the research, you keep finding interesting albums that you should know to write the questions. And when you finally think that you know his career enough, he announces a new album. So you say to yourself: OK, let’s wait and listen to this new material. But when you finally have his latest work, you discover another of his collaboration and start digging again… So, it was been hard, but we managed to finally interview Jean-Marc Lederman, the artist also known as Johnny Toosoon, Patricia Hearst and even as Jimmyjoe Snark III.

—Like a lot of artists you started in a punk band, called Streets, that released only a song. What did punk mean in your life? Was it only a first way to start making music?

—Actually, Streets was a very famous and active band in the Brussels’ Punk scene. Later on they changed the name to Contingent so it’s a band that had/has more than a released song.
Punk was my call to “You Can Do It!” There was so much creative freedom and it was so much more than what the mainstream saw in Punk: there were bands but also graphic artists and it was liberating to be able to do create without any old references or pre-judgment.
Well, being totally amateur in an area (music with synthesizer) when pretty much everything was still relatively new Punk told me that I needed to get up and do what I had to do.
The inspiration came also from Eno’s first albums (him being a non-classically trained musician) and Kraftwerk cos I could really feel I was in love with synthesizers.

—The first single of your following band, Digital Dance was a cover of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity.” When did you start listening to the German band? You said that they were a big influence in your life.

Yes, I started with Ralf & Florian and followed them from then on. I stopped when Bartos and Flür left the band as it wasn’t Kraftwerk any more for me.

—Last year we saw a concert of the tribute band Curtis in which they recreated the now famous Joy Division’s concert at Plan K, Brussels. You were also there with Digital Dance. What are your memories of the gig?

It was very cold, Ian came into the dressing room and said: I guess this is why they call it “Cold Wave” 🙂
I actually drove Ian and Bernard from their hotel to the gig.

—In most of your first bands (Streets, Digital Dance, and later in Kid Montana) you played with Phil Wauquaire and Michel Zylbersztajn. Were you having a similar musical evolution or were they musicians you felt comfortable working with?

Friends, you know.

—Around 1982, you joined Gene Loves Jezebel. How long did you stay with them?

I think about 6 months but then I left as the twins were arguing all the time and it was wearing me down

—One year later you were part of The The live band? Was it easy to work with Matt Johnson? At the time Thomas Leer was playing keyboards with him too, right?

I joined The The for his The Marquee’s residency (4 gigs every Thursday, I think, of a month) and it was early 1982. On stage there were Thomas Leer indeed, Zeke Manyaka, Jim Foetus, Marc Almond, and Richard from Cabaret Voltaire as guests on the first day. I don’t recall who played bass, though.
Matt was really fun to play with but a bit undisciplined. He’s a very funny guy, always with a practical joke and a good laugh. But he can be extremely serious when it comes to politics.

—Also you toured with Fad Gadget.

Yes, early 1980. We were supporting DAF here and there in the UK and some solo dates in Europe

—How were the concerts of the band?

Very chaotic. It was like Iggy Pop with synthesizers. Very noisy too. Gigs weren’t full but you could feel it was going to be big as Frank was amazing live, as you know.

—We are big fans of the music of Frank Tovey and we are really curious about him and his music. 

He was very quiet offstage. Very, very funny guy, lots of sarcasm.

—You started your own project Kid Montana in 1981. First, the sound was more electro but later, with the addition of Dudley Kludt, you moved to synth pop. What happened with the band? Why did you split?

We have never split but The Weathermen started to take most of my time. Plus, let’s be honest, we were doing something that would have been at ease in the UK but for Belgium it was too slick and a little bit “precious” and “camp.”

—The Weathermen was one of your most famous bands. The music and sense of humor can be compared to those of à;GRUMH… Did you think EBM was missing a bit of sense of humor or a more pop sensibility?

Oh gawd, yeah, except à;GRUMH… they were all just dark and black and doomed and soooo serious. But let’s not forget that, behind the humor, Bruce lyrics were filled with social comments and politics. “Poison,” that people see as a song on a demented groupie, is about pollution (not only ecological pollution but also TV and adverts pollution).

—How was working with the late Bruce Geduldig?

Most of the times funny and interesting. Sometimes complicated as people in bands do fight sometimes, you know.

—Did you like the music of Tuxedomoon?


—A couple of Weathermen songs sounded in Baywatch.

Actually just one I think” You Want It All” from the 1992 Global 851 album.

—Did it help get more famous?

Not more famous but it did come with nice royalties cheques. We ended up on that series thanx to Mute US who pushed our album to Baywatch’s editor I guess. “Poison” made us “famous” in the industrial music scene, though.

—Did it appear in any of Pamela Anderson running scenes?

—I like to pretend very sexist-like that not many bands have had their music synchronized to Pamela’s boobs but no.
It does appear in a salvage scene for quite a long time. Not bad for a song about rabbits 🙂

—Did you ever think of suing Metallica after doing their Black album?

We thought about it and then Prince’s lawyer reminded us that we stole his album’s name 🙂  
The name of the album was a combination of the two albums everybody were talking about at the time: Prince’s Black Album and Terence Trent D’Arby’s Introducing the hardline according to TTDA. The full name of ours is The Black Album According To The Weathermen.

—Was “Punishment Park” a better single that “Enter Sandman”?
Oh, absolutely (lol).
I actually chickened out of releasing “Punishment Park” right after “Poison.” I thought it was too “soul” and “black” after “Poison.” We should have: it would have tanked, of course, but show the (interested) public we were more than a dancefloor sensation. Which we proofed all along with our 7 albums.

—At the end of the nineties, you released a few singles of New Beat using your alias Sissi, Patricia H, Trash It! and Jimmy Beat Orchestra. Why did you choose a different alias for each song?

Because I was ashamed. I was, like everyone in Belgium, trying to make a few bucks out of New beat.

—Wasn’t it easier to release all the songs under the same name?

Maybe. PIAS actually wanted to release Trash It as a Weathermen single.

—What did you like in New Beat?

I hated everything about New Beat.

—You have recorded albums of every genre, and in 1995, you worked with Ether in an album of industrial rock. How did you end up there?

Well, I created Ether with Didier Moens and Luc Defourmont. I wanted to do something a bit heavier than usual. The funny thing is that some of the sounds I used there were also used on an ambient album I did the same year (under the name of Man-dello). Which sums up nicely how one sound can in fact being tampered with as to a very, very large extent and show up in two totally different albums of totally different music styles.

—In the video of “Silver Spoon” you look a bit out of place, compared with the other two metalheads.

Well, I had very short hair, true. But my heart was blaaaaaaack (lol).

—How did the collaboration of Alain Bashung was born?

He wanted to work with Frank from The Young Gods but it didn’t happen. So he asked around him who knew someone working with samplers. It’s important to know that he was recording in Brussels so it may have not happened if it had been taped in Paris or London. I can be humble at times 😉
He tested me on one song, and he ended up using my work on 6 🙂
He also called me two years later to write songs for him and I ended up with “Ode A La Vie” on his famous Fantaisie Militaire album.

—Did you enjoy working with more classic rock?
Well, it was more classic rock than my other projects or collaborations but it wasn’t classic at all. He was … strange: very, very quiet, very retrieved, very mysterious…. But lovely.

—And at the end of the nineties, you recorded some trip-hop works with Julianne Regan from All About Eve. She has continued collaborating with you and curiously we talked about her in an interview to The Missions’ Wayne Hussey. You met her during the days of Gene Loves Jezebel, right?

Yes, she was playing bass with them. She left a few days after I left GLJ, for the same reasons I think.

—Were you interested in trip-hop?

Not really although I think Blue Lines was amazing. And, sure, it was an inspiring music style. But with Julianne, in our two-person band Jules Et Jim, we made our own version of it I think.

—You have released, under your own name, two conceptual albums with guest singers (13 Ghost Stories and Letters to Gods [And Fallen Angels]), considered one of the best albums of 2020 by El Garaje). Was it difficult to work with so many people?

Oh yes, it was a logistical nightmare. And complicated as I had deadlines and not every singer did get that. But overall, it was incredible to see the albums taking shape.

—Did you have problems with any of the singers?

I did, some of them really think they are what they aren’t 😉 But most were totally fine and great.
But then, I’m not always easy to work with.

—With Ghost and writer you released two albums. What can you tell us about this project?

Frank Spinath approached me as a Weathermen fan and we ended up talking about making music and then doing music

—Have you ever felt a Ghost writer as most of your work has been released under different alias?
Except during the horrible New Beat days, I have always been 100% behind my songs so, no, I never felt like a ghost writer.

—You have recorded two albums of covers, first with La Femme Verte and later with Leatherman. The second one with more “classic” songs. How did you choose the songs to cover?

Songs I wanted to show in a different light. Songs I love.
I also needed to work on covers because I also wanted to concentrate on production values, and not writing. These two albums have been massive for me in gaining more assertive about my production skills.

—In 2018, you worked with Jean-Luc De Meyer in an album, entitled 11 Grinding songs. The project started because an English label wanted to release a cover album of Fad Gadget and you were asked to record a song, right?

Yes, absolutely.

—After this album, is there any chance of a new one in the future?

—We are working on a few songs for the moment but without the least pressure possible.

—You have been releasing a series of conceptual instrumental albums. Starting with 2015 The Last Broadcast on Earth, the very beautiful The helpless voyage of The Titanic, The Space Between Worlds, Ode à la Pluie, Music For Dinosaurs and The mysterious manuscript of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How do you choose the concepts for the albums?

Hazard for the start: I’m thinking about an idea and I feel it could be interesting and then it starts to travel in my head and the idea gets into ideas. It’s very, very exciting to work that way: within a frame although I know the frame we talk about these albums is very alien sometimes. But I like being bold and do new things.

—Your last album of that series has been a soundtrack for your novel The mysterious manuscript of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How did you get the idea of this album?

It actually started as an idea for a movie, then a 12-page synopsis. I send it to several movie production houses but none bar 2 responded. So I was facing having an idea which I love being forgotten as a pdf on a hard drive or making it fuller, as an 80-page novel, print it and send it in ze weurld. Which is what I did. The music came later, to show (to myself) how it could sound if it was a movie lol…

—Any other novels that you would like to make music for?

I want to move to new things so I’m not sure right now if I’ll do another novel with CD.

—In an interview I read that you were composing the music for a videogame. Can you tell us which one and how was the experience? So far I know that you have worked on Mystic InnFairies and Kudos: Rock Legend.

Oh, my videogame music period was between 1995 and 2005. After that it was complicated to get some as everyone with a synth wanted to do them for free.
I made several movie soundtracks, especially one for the Doubleplusonegood 2017 movie.

—What are your plans for the future?

Continuing to try things out, being as creative as I can.

—How many albums are you planning for this 2021?

Early July, Cop International (a US-based label) will release the first EP of my work with the very talented Emileigh Rohn from US band Chiasm. Very excited about that band we have put together and which is called Rohn-Lederman (LOL WOW!)

I will be releasing something on my “Disques de la Pantoufle” label in July or August, it’s another instrumental album, very based on modular synths, with a very cool concept and a great gimmick cover.

End of September, Rohn-Lederman will have an album out. It’s an amazing record, very special, very emotive and fragile.

Then, end of October, a Jean-Marc Lederman Experience (that is the name I give to my records when I call up multiple singers) with yet another funny concept and great guests.

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