Andy LaPlegua: the man with the Christ-like clarity

Andy LaPlegua is the one and only songwriter and composer in Combichrist.

Most metal fans discovered this band while they were supporting Rammstein on their December 2009 tour. A few weeks ago, Andy and his henchmen were once again passing by, for three shows in Lyon, Nantes and Paris. These shows had both musical and visual intensity.

Because Combichrist is all about the art of growing tension, and extremely powerful songs where atmospheric keyboards go hand in hand with those bone-shaking beats electronic music fans dig so much. With two drum sets, one on each side of the stage, Andy in the center and his keyboardist in the back, Combichrist shows are really impressive… if you’re into getting kicked in the face by a wall of sound.

As you’ve probably understood, Combichrist is first and foremost the work of one man: Andy LaPlegua. We had to meet with the heart, soul and brains behind the project to understand who this man is and what he’s got to say.

So here it is: our chat with Andy LaPlegua, an artist whose ideas and opinions are as bright as his eyes.

« This is the strangest thing: I never wanted or asked for touring […] I never had a dream about being successful, I never had a dream about never being home, you know »

Radio Metal : Combichrist has a real reputation for the electronic and industrial audience. But you’re not really known by the metal audience, so do you think the first time you touched the metal audience was in 2009 by supporting Rammstein?

Andy LaPlegua : Maybe in Europe, but not in the US for sure, because we toured with KMFDM and stuff like that in the US many years ago. I think we’ve been crossing over in the US for a long time now, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do the Rammstein tour as well. I mean, most of us in the band, we’re listening to a lot of metal, and hardcore, and punk-rock. We don’t listen to too much electro and industrial stuff; we listen mostly to rock music. Obviously, we also listen to some electronic music. So this is kind of a natural development for us, and I think that’s why a lot of metalheads like Combichrist when they see us live, because we’ve got a lot of that energy live.

Apparently, the members of Rammstein are the ones who chose you, is that right?

Yeah, they chose… well, they asked us if we wanted to do the tour. We were supposed to only do the first part, which was twenty shows or something, thirty shows. And then they decided they wanted to bring us again, and again, and again. We’ll see, maybe it’ll be even more, but we also have a great time with them, so if they ask us and we can do it, we’ll do it. They’re just like family now.

Did you ever feel it was some kind of poisoned gift, to be opening for Rammstein? The fact is, a band like The Answer was the supporting act for AC/DC on their world tour, and we haven’t heard from them since. On the other hand, the venues you happen to be performing in now just get bigger and bigger.

Well, for us it was definitely the opposite of poisoned. We definitely poisoned ourselves a lot with alcohol on that tour (laughs), but it was definitely not a poison for the band! If anything, even if we did get more fans, we did get more of everything like this, but even if we hadn’t, we still learned so much from the tour. Everything you do in your career you learn from it. Even if it’s negative, you learn from it, and you have to continue. Some bands just don’t have it. They might have the music, they might have the live show, but they don’t have it as people to continue touring: this lifestyle, it’s not a normal life; it’s a very specific, very strange life, and not everybody’s cut out to do it. I’m sure we have proven that we are cut out to do it, I mean, me for myself, I’ve been touring for most of my life, I’ve been touring for eighteen years, so I don’t know much other things in life than touring. A tour like this can definitely make people realize they’re not cut out for it, but I think in our case it just strengthened us, and now we’re stronger than ever before.

You’ve always liked this special life, touring etc. What did you like the most? Communicating with people? Sharing experiences?

I honestly don’t really know anything different, because I’ve been doing this for so long, because this is all I know. I wouldn’t know what else to do. I don’t even necessarily have to like it, this is what I know, it’s kind of like… This is what I do.

Most people imagine an artist’s life as a dream life. Is it still your dream?

This is the strangest thing: I never wanted or asked for touring. I was always an artist and I always wanted to make music, and I wanted to play music, and I never had a dream about touring, I never had a dream about being successful. I never had a dream about never being home, you know. My dream was just to make music, so this is not my dream; this is just the result of what I’ve been doing. But yeah, there are ups and downs, I like it, and I like the life, I like the people around me. It’s a very specific type of life. At the same time I hate it, you know, but the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so I’m pretty sure that I’m happier now than I would have been if I did something different.

Does the fact that you do everything yourself in Combichrist explain why you’ve always thought of your music without the live show that comes with it?

It’s definitely a music that I create for myself, they are very selfish albums. I hate to say it, but I never make music that I think people want, or will like. I make music that I like, and I don’t make music that people expect from me. I just make music that I want, and hopefully, somebody else will like it too, so it’s very selfish in that way. But instrument-wise, for me there’s a big difference between a musician and somebody who can play an instrument. I mean, I have respect for a really good guitar player, or a good drum player, but if they can’t write music to me they’re not artists, they’re musicians, and there’s a big difference between an artist and a musician. Personally, I like to consider myself as both an artist and a musician, and before electronic music, I was playing in punk-rock bands, and metal bands, and rock n’ roll bands. And all of that experience, and all the live experience and everything that everybody in my band know now, what they’re doing on stage while they’re playing, I take all of these things with me to the studio when I create music. On that note, I think that my live members somehow are with me in the studio, even if they’re not physically there.

Your music is of course made to move, but do you feel things differently in a small or a big venue? With Rammstein in their venues, the pit was a giant dance floor, while in the clubs, obviously it’s more intimate.

It’s hard to compare big venues and small venues, it’s like comparing fucking and making love, you know, you do the same act but it’s with different passion, and they’re both great but totally different. One part is very intimate and with a lot of energy, and the other thing it’s raw and it’s still great and feels good but it’s just different. I like both on totally different levels, but obviously you don’t want to play for an audience sitting down, because most of all it’s not about the dance or the dance floor, it’s about the interaction between the audience and the band. That’s the magic. Not the dance or the venue, or anything like this, it’s the connection between the band and the audience, and the energy that builds up. For me that’s definitely the most important thing, just the connection with the audience

So in your life, “Are You Connected”? (laughs because of the title of the video above)

Yeah, exactly (laughs). But you know, it really is like this. If you lose that connection with the audience, you lose everything music is about. Music is about feelings, and about energy, it’s not about success, or money, it’s about energy and life and people. It’s about art and communicating with your art, so the size of the venue really doesn’t matter. If it’s a big venue but the audience doesn’t connect with you, it’s better to be in a small venue where the audience does connect. Luckily for us, we have both a really good connection with a big audience and with a small audience.

At the end of your tour with Rammstein, were you happy about the audiences reaction?

It was very surprising and very positive because that was one of the things I was nervous about, about that tour. It’s one thing to get on a big stage and play for a lot of people but if you lose that connection that you have in a small club, it’s shit. So I was nervous that that would happen but luckily we maintained that connection.

So after all, it was kind of a poisoned gift because there was a little risk for you…?

There was a risk, but luckily we succeeded in keeping that connection.

« I think the only time when people do not complain is if you’re not successful, or when you give them what they already have. Nobody wants anything new, they just want something better of what they already have, and that’s not my intention in music, my intention is to continue creating. « 

About connection, in 2007 you released the record What The Fuck Is Wrong With You People?, and at this period, some electronic fans were a little disappointed, because two years after Everybody Hates You they didn’t enjoy the fact that it was more electronic and less right in your face. What is your opinion about this kind of judgment in general?

I think the only time when people do not complain is if you’re not successful, or when you give them what they already have. Nobody wants anything new, they just want something better of what they already have, and that’s not my intention in music, my intention is to continue creating. It’s not about doing what you did before; it’s about doing what you want to do for the future. I’m not comparing my music to any of my favorite albums out there, but my favorite artists are not the artists that copy other artists or continue doing the same over and over again, my favorite musicians are pioneers in their area, pioneers who, despite they’ve had success with something to go one step further and they take the risk and do what they want to do, and do something new. Not just what people want, but they create something new, and everybody hates it. In the beginning, everybody hates it, and after a certain time it might be the bands best album. Nobody likes a great album right away, that’s just how it is. I’m like this. If I get an album, if that’s going to end up being my favorite album, I’m a little skeptical in the beginning because I don’t understand it, and the more I listen to it the more I get into it. Music shouldn’t be so shallow and straight in your face. Not from my point of view at least.

You’re talking about pioneers. Who are pioneers for your? What artists do you like the most in different genres?

I don’t really listen to anything that sounds like what we’re doing. I listen to Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Who, MC5, none of those artists sound anything like us, but the mentality of their music, the idea and the mentality and the personal aspect of their music is kind of the same as what I put into my music, it’s just a different type of music. I think those are the artists that I really admire and that I really enjoy to listen to.

The artists you’re naming are all from the past. Are there artists you like today, who bring something new in your opinion?

Not really. I’ve gotten to the point where I lost interest in a lot of new stuff. It’s not that I’m not open for it, there’s just not that much. There are a few artists, like in electronic music for example Justice and stuff like this, and they’re definitely artists in a newer time that have totally changed electronic music. They’re doing something amazing for what they do. […] Iit seems to be a kind of slow period for evolution in music. It’s the same thing in metal and hardcore bands, it seems to just repeat itself. There are many bands that just sound the same. Maybe I’m just getting too old to understand the music there is now, or maybe I just don’t let myself influenced by it, or maybe I just don’t like it, I don’t know. But I’m still waiting, there will soon be some kind of evolution, like every five to six years there’s some kind of big step, and I guess I’m just waiting for it.

Since 2003, you released one album every two years. Then Today We Are All Demons in 2009, one year later Making Monsters… you never stop working, do you?!

No, there’s no time for relaxing, and really no time for anything, no time to work…

Do you write your music on tour? At home? Everywhere?

Whatever time you have you just continue working, like I said; it’s so much of an art form you can’t just take a break from it, because it’s a part of you and a part of who you are. Even if you don’t want it.

Can we expect an album in 2011? Because I read that you’ve already worked with Wes Borland, the guitarist in Limp Bizkit on some new music.

We’ll see where that goes, but he’s been with us live quite a lot, so we’ll see where that goes. We have a couple of artists we’re talking to about joining the band for the live set up and everything. As of right now, there are no specific plans because there’s a lot of time pressure, as you can see. I don’t want to push anything too hard; I want to do it naturally. Sometimes it can be half a year, sometimes it can be two years. I didn’t set a date for anything.

About Making Monsters, your last record, it seems to be more atmospheric, less ‘in your face’. Do you agree, and do you think that this record, to be fully appreciated, must be listened to more than the others?

Well, I don’t disagree, because how people interpret the album is not up to me, it’s up to the listener. But in my personal view, yeah, I would agree that it’s – not really more atmospheric – but more emotional, because it’s a very private album, it’s written in a totally different way than most of the other albums. In the beginning I wrote very much as fiction, I wrote about the character Combichrist. Not me, but about sex, drugs, violence. It was like a movie, or a comic book, but for the two latest albums, it’s gotten more and more about me and my life.

You’re a very open-minded person, with Combichrist you’re true, and you work with bands like Rammstein, Limp Bizkit or Stolen Babies. Do you think being open minded one of the most important things in music in general?

Yeah, I really think so. If you’re not open-minded, you’re really not an artist. If you’re just in it for the style, or for belonging, this is not the right way to be an artist. For me the only way to create great music is to be open-minded. When you get to a certain point, there really are no music genres anymore, there’s good music and there’s bad music. That’s it.

Interview conducted on january 25th, 2011.
Transcription : Stan

COMBICHRIST Website: www.combichrist.com

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