Following the recent news about hard Corps reissues on Minimal Wave records, we got in touch with the one of founding members of the group Clive Pierce who agreed to do an interview for our blog.
Hard Corps were formed in 1983 after years of experimenting with music. The three originators of Hard Corps were Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran and they were joined by the French born singer Regine Fetet. Hard Corps released their first single "Dirty" on Survival Records in 1984 and also contributed two sessions to Richards Skinners Radio One show. They were later approached by Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller who worked on their next few singles which were released during 1985. During their musical career, hard Corps supported the Cure and Depeche Mode during their tours in the 80's. In 1990, the group released a compilation of their material before disbanding. This compilation was released on both vinyl and CD, each featuring slightly different tracklists, though encompassing most of their discography, assorted remixes and rare b-sides aside.
Find out more about the group, the interesting facts you did not know, their influences, the recent reissues and much more.
1. How did things start off with Hard Corps, when was the band formed and what other musical projects were you involved before?
hard CORPS naturally evolved through the disintegration of a group called Craze around 1979/80 who in turn had morphed from a punk group called The Skunks. I joined The Skunks towards the tail end of of their life as a drummer. This is where I met Hugh Ashton and Robert Doran, bass player and sound engineer respectively for The Skunks. The Skunks were very fortunate to have access to studio facilities that were in the basement of a house in Brixton that Hugh owned and when the studio was not being hired out to groups wanting to record demos etc, we would make very good use of the time either rehearsing, recording or just experimenting with the equipment there. Unlike many other groups who would just hire a hall or room to rehearse in, having access to this equipment made us fearless of embracing new technology that later would see us using the studio as the instrument rather than the instruments we had stood or sat behind previously on stage.
Punk was a becoming a parody of itself by this time and to continue going round being angry at everything was not being felt as strongly anymore. Here we were, surrounded by these incredible pieces of studio equipment that commanded something more cerebral from us than just barking at a world from behind a guitar...a drum kit.. or a microphone and we were more than curious to drop everything to find out more. To coincide with this new awakening and to signify a clean start a name change was put in place. The Skunks were now known as Craze. The sound was a lot more refined but never without some of the grit and dirt still ingrained in us from the Punk days. That never entirely leaves you if you have experienced that for real. More of the environment we were surrounded by came much more into play too. Brixton, in a suburb of London had and still has a very large Black community and Reggae in all it's forms was all around us and we could not fail to be influenced by it. Not blatantly plagiarising it but embracing the ethics within it. For example never being afraid to stay on a groove to explore it inside out and back again with out becoming fidgety and plagued by the traditional verse, chorus, middle eight prison most chart groups found themselves in. Craze continued for a year or two being signed to Cobra Records an EMI subsidiary label and had two singles "Motions" and "Lucy" released and an album "Spartans" which we recorded but was never released before falling into obscurity by the later collapse of Cobra Records. The two other members of The Skunks and Craze, Gerry Lambe and Franco Cornelli, decided that enough time had been invested in trying to make a living out of music and decided to reluctantly part company and go find fame and fortune elsewhere.
Hugh, Rob and myself decided to continue but had no desire to form a new group at the time. We would again when the studio was not working use that time to just jam with each other often for days on end into the early hours of the morning. It was like a drug. Not having a vocalist the things we were coming up with were sort of epic length cinematic soundscapes. I remember one particular night we went on to about 3 am in the morning...the only thing that finally stopped me was when I just blacked out and fell off the chair. Thing is the other two didn't even notice I had stopped playing let alone notice I was on the floor. I think they carried on for another hour before finally realising something was amiss. After a while some structures started to appear in these jam sessions and this was around the time that Hugh to his great expense decided to spend his life savings or at least part of them on a Roland MC4 Micro Composer and some Roland System 100m modules. This was a seminal moment for us all. A way of recording yourself and then getting inside each note's timing and length was just staggering at the time. This didn't come easy though and would take hours of numerical editing to get what you wanted along with the sheer terror that if someone accidentally switched them off or there was a momentary power cut, days of work would be lost forever. You see they had volatile memories. There was an optional cassette dump machine that went with them which we acquired later on when these complete losses of whole chunks of your life were too painful to bare any longer. The same with the System 100m modules....you could spend a day getting the sound you wanted only to find that the next morning someone had moved a fader and your sound was gone forever. The only time you could really relax was when your sounds were committed to tape. We were lucky that we possessed a Tascam 16 track 1inch tape machine. By default and necessity we re-discovered the merits of the vocoder. Up until that time we had been using it to process the CR78 drum machine but Rob took it upon himself to brave the problem of putting the human or rather sub human sound of vocals on the faceless instrumentals we had been coming up with. For a very self conscious personality I must say he deserves credit for the bottle he showed in trying to resolve the missing brick in the sound.
At the time we were friends with a chap who used to hang around us when we were with Craze ,David Porter, and he always had aspirations of being in a group. Not really being that interested in him as deep down we knew he was not a natural vocalist, in fact, he couldn't sing at all really, we never encouraged him to join us however one day he came to see us with a clutch of Gay Disco and Ital Disco 12 inch tracks he wanted us to copy to create a backing tape for him that he could use to do some PA's with on his own. So here we were note for note copying Bobby O tracks and Kano tracks and Patrick Cowely tracks....it was odd but great fun and a great learning exercise. The results were rather good I must admit and the week after we had finished them he had somehow managed to get his first ever gig at the famous Marquee club in London on the strength of them. He said would we want to come along for the laugh as his backing group. What the hell we said and just turned up with the keyboard controllers from the Roland System 100m...they made no sound in themselves...we didn't even plug a cable into them to create an illusion that they worked. We only had two of them and Rob had to pretend to play his parts on top of a Teac cassette deck that was playing the Metal tape backing tracks. We made no illusion that we were miming and thought that the audience would see the funny side of it too. They did until after the last track was mimed out with David Porter singing live vocals. No sooner had he said thank you and good night the microphone was snatched from his hand from an irate Fish from Marilion...why he was there that night I have no idea...a closet Ital disco lover...who knows....anyway he announced to the audience that we were nothing but a sham...a bunch of fakes..a disgrace to music..he missed the point completely and anyway we found it rather rich coming from him. His song Kayleigh has had me running for the sick bowl or the off button whenever that came on many a time I can tell you. So anyhow this little incident sort of forged a deeper bond with David as we admired his guts and guile that night regardless of how badly out of tune he was. We told him to go off and try and write some lyrics for some of the tracks we had and he came back with two. "Sacred Heart" and "It will make me Happy" Now it was a complete nightmare to record a decent performance off him as his timing was all over the place and his tuning was non existent but he had something in his lyrics and oddball vocal melodies that struck a chord with us. This was a layman not a pro singer and some of the unorthodox natural of his performances fitted very well with the oddball music. We continued for a while with him until he too found our way of working too frustrating to his plan of being the next pop sensation his patience and he decided to call it a day to become a London Taxi driver of all things.
So again we were without a vocalist...not that we really cared. Then one day and I can't personally recall how Regine turned up at the door. Apparently a friend of Hugh's told him there was this French girl who sings but everyone she knows that has a group thinks she is not very good. Can we give her a chance. So Regine came along armed with this tape of her in her flat warbling away and hitting objects in the room with stick or something to create a primitive backing. It was unexpected a bit of a shock really and was rather hard not to just laugh as this was almost Monty Pythonesque to the extreme. But beneath the initial shock you would have been blind not to see that there was something special here in front of us. Not a polished muso...but something wild, raw and exciting...an urban fox had just turned up on our doorstep and hard CORPS had found their vocalist.
2. Which bands, musicians or artists have influenced the music of Hard Corps the most?
That is always a difficult one to answer as aren't we all influenced by everything we encounter. The ones that I suppose influenced us the most were the dross acts that permeated the charts in the eighties. Without mentioning any names these were the groups and artists that we just despised so much that some evenings when gathered round the TV to watch a music programme it was very hard not to just get up and put you boot through the TV screen to get rid of some of anger. If anything these "artists" were the ones to get us back down the basement studio as quickly as we could to make sure whatever we composed was nothing like that we had just witnessed on TV.
3. During your musical career, you were associated with great producers Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent. What do you think was missing for the music of Hard Corps to get wider audience it really deserved?
Well thank you for that comment. I think the main barrier, again, not that we ever considered it to be one at the time, was to be found lurking inside us all. It was a conscious unwillingness to comply with what was considered the tried and tested way to do things. You know we could have made it a lot easier for ourselves if we had found an English vocalist for a start. but hard CORPS was never about making easy music....it was about finding another way to do things that took us places we wanted to be and not the places others expected us to turn up at. Working with Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller was a real privilege but it was also rather painful for me at times when somebody picks up your baby and starts bouncing it around in a manner you wouldn't dare do yourself. You have to keep telling yourself "this bloke knows what he is doing...let go ,relax and trust. Retrospectively I can now really appreciate what a fantastic job they both did for us, but at the time, being so close to it all, l I really wasn't at all comfortable about letting the baby go to any stranger regardless of who they were.
4. According to some sources on the Internet, during one of your support concerts for Depeche Mode, Regine took of her shirt and sang topless. What was your reaction back then and how do you feel about it today?
Well that is true to a certain extent, actually it was her coat not her shirt. My reaction to it was rather indifferent. If she wanted to do it, that was her prerogative. Of course we debated the merit, morality and ramifications of it in private but ultimately Regine had to be allowed to be herself. I'm sure she had thought long and hard about it too and decided it was something she felt she needed to do.
I don't know whether many people know that to make ends meet she used to work as a peep show dancer in Soho, London and a good deal of her lyrics were born out of her experiences during that time...so when she sang on stage about Desolation Land, For Pleasure etc I can't really blame her for wanting to getting into character to lend those lyrics a greater realism. Mind you we did suffer the consequences for her actions and were replaced by Nitzer Ebb for Depeche Mode's USA leg of The Music For Masses Tour. Martyrs or fools?....both probably.
5. What do you consider as a highlight in the music of Hard Corps?
If you mean which track I consider to epitomise hard CORPS the most, I would have to say Metal and Flesh...as it's linear format and structure really was totally free spirited and intuitive.
6. Where are Hard Corps today, do you still keep in touch with the other guys from the band?
Very sadly Regine is not with us anymore. She passed away in 2003 after battling ironically with breast cancer. Hugh still resides in his fantastic Victorian house in Brixton, the spiritual home of hard CORPS. After hard CORPS Hugh was in SunKings. Rob now resides in Peterborough and enjoyed success penning advertisement music most notably for Castrol GTX oil amongst others. I live in Reigate and have been working for the last 20 years in the exhibition industry. By night you will find me in my studio at home or on location somewhere locked away in a hotel room polishing up my latest gem.
7. Are you still involved in making music?
Yes very much so. It is not something that can ever leave you. I always question what the motive and driving force is that keeps me up to the early hours in my home studio when I should be sleeping. I think I know now and I think most people if they can be honest with themselves do too. It is the quest to leave behind sound trinkets that will be proof of my/our existence on this planet long after we have left in body and soul. Just a small object of beauty, just one little golden nugget for someone to discover one day. Right now I am part of a project called Medora.. Not a group but an environment in which to unite grass roots, raw soul and passion ....We go and find these gems from either resources close to home or by trawling the Internet absolutely anywhere to locate and take them back to Medora where we endeavour bring out a little more brilliance in them and hopefully hone them into a something even more magnificent. You may be forgiven if you think I may have a slight mental issue the way I talk about gems, treasure, beauty etc....but for sure it out there just waiting to found. I know so as I have found several gems already....The girl who sings into her I-phone on her lunch break, in the bathroom, in the kitchen and just before going to bed. She sings from deep in her heart and with such passion I have sat and cried tears of joy listing to her. She is not a wannabee...she is just an enthusiast. So natural and unforced Then there is the Greek dentist....this chap just churns out riffs so against the grain and in a way so unique he doesn't even know how good he is. He is not a professional musician... and that is what sets him apart from the rest, what he comes up with has an honesty and an oddball edge that I champion. Then there is Ona/She.....She is not a vocalist but she can still make a compelling sound and atmosphere when ever she opens her mouth. Her first ever vocal was the remake of For Pleasure, she had never ever sang before.....Then there is Phen...Trucker by day music maker by night. He has never made a record in his life but by god has he taught me a lot, Then there is Jaymes Fenda....a pop singer from 1964. He is retired now......like hell he is....he can still croon whenever called into service. The list goes on and will continue to grow. We definitely are living in a fantasy world, but that is what music is all about isn't it? We proudly call our fantasy world "Medora".
I also find myself being frequently asked to remix other peoples tracks which I absolutely adore doing.
8. What is your favourite album from the 80’s decade?
Well aside from Kraftwerk's "Computer World" which was an education, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne really was an album I used to always go back to and learn something new from and Grace Jones " Night Clubbing".
9. Do you find time for new music and what do you usually listen to these days?
I must admit I'd rather make music that spend time listening to it, but when I do listen to some then Portishead and Dead Can Dance are never far from hand.
10. Minimal wave records have recently reissued rare and unreleased Hard Corps tracks. Can you give us more info about this record?
Well, it all came about a year and half ago actually quite by chance. I was just minding my own Facebook business when up popped a friend request from a Lorene Simpson on my account that I had just really opened to keep contact with family. She said she was a fan of hard CORPS and also involved in the Minimal Synth community while also being one half of a group called Violet Tremors She told me that hard CORPS tracks were quite often posted up on the Minimal Synth group on Facebook and she suggested it would be beneficial to myself and to people who liked hard CORPS, of which she said there were many, to get involved. I must admit to having never heard of Minimal Synth/ Cold Wave etc nor ever considered myself or hard CORPS as belonging to any specific genre other than the one we created for ourselves all those years ago but when investigating some of the material being passed around could easily see that we were in fact loosely of that ilk. Lorene's introduction into this arena lead to me being contacted by Imi Vegh. During a conversation with him I mention hard CORPS had some unreleased tracks that we planned to release sometime...he said he knew two people who might be interested in that news and would contact them for us. Within the space of 10 minutes we had both parties come in with a strong interest ..one for the hard CORPS back catalogue and the other for the for the unreleased tracks. For a time it did not seem wrong in least to court them both but as things developed so the goalposts were starting to be moved...so much so that at one point they both were almost wanting the same set of tracks. It was an awful dilemma to be in as we liked both parties. We found ourselves having to make a very hard and cold decision as to who we were to go with. Some feelings were badly hurt and it unfortunately looked like we had been playing one off the other. This was never the case as we even suggested, perhaps naively, that they both get together on a deal with us. It was an absolutely impossible situation be in and something we don't want to let happen again. So here we are today and looking forward to the release of "Clean tables have to be burnt" that will feature previously released material plus two tracks that never saw light of day in any format to date.
11. Where can fans gain access to your music?
The album will be available through Veronica Vasicka's Minimal Wave label, we also have "Dirty" our first single available on Minimal Wave Tapes Vol2 . A dub version of Je suis Passee is available on Trevor Jackson's Metal Dance compilation. The original Metal and Flesh album is available through Itunes.