SICK AMONGST THE PURE - Psyche Interview for The 11th Hour 2005
By Vivien Weimar
splash page of Psyche’s website is
a photo of frontman and founding member Darrin Huss stretched
out with writing papers and red wine. It is the perfect
image for a man whose band has been around long enough to see
the original electroclash and synthpop wave come and go and its
revival. Bands from Fisherspooner to the Bloc Party all
owe debt to the sonic path carved out by Psyche. And while
Darrin is often compared to Soft Cell’s Marc Almond for the
obvious vocal reasons, it is really a much deeper connection
between the two musicians – both of whom are literary artists
using pop music as their cultural canvas. As Darrin put
it, all great pop songs tell a story, and I found out that this
great pop song creator has equally great stories to tell.
Formed in 1982 by brothers Darrin and Stephen Huss (who were
respectively going by Evan Panic and Anthony Red at the time),
Psyche came onto a scene inhabited by like-minded darkly
theatrical electronic bands such as Alien Sex Fiend, Gary Numan,
even Yazoo, and, of course, Soft Cell. Originally formed
in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, by the mid-1980s, Darrin moved to
Montreal and had begun working with Vanishing Heat (in addition
to Psyche). By the end of the decade, Stephen had left the
band and Psyche carried on under Darrin’s artistic eye. In
the early ‘90s the Huss brothers once again reunited briefly to
release 69 Minutes of History, a compilation disc spanning the
years 1987-1991 and immediately followed it up with Intimacy in
1994. However, the reunion was short-lived; Darrin was now
in Germany full-time and Stephen’s health problems and residency
in Canada made the partnership impossible to sustain.
After a series of side projects, Darrin hooked up with
keyboardist Per-Anders Kurenbach, who infused Psyche with new
life; the two released a string of albums, Strange Romance and
Love Among The Ruined. In 2000, Kurenbach left and was
replaced with Remi Szyszka; the new duo released a series of
discs and dance-floor hits, culminating in 2004’s
career-spanning album Legacy and Psyche’s most recent release
for Metropolis Records, The 11th Hour.
Since the making of The 11th Hour, Remi has since left the band
and Per-Anders has returned for Psyche’s summer tour. I
got the chance to indulge my love of synthpop, eletroclash, and
good books all with a fellow German transplant as I sat down
with Psyche’s Darrin Huss.
SickAmongthePure: Psyche has gone through many incarnations over
the years. What is the current line-up for your latest
release, The 11th Hour?
Darrin Huss: Psyche is pretty much myself, and whomever I decide
to work with in the future. At the moment that happens to be
Per-Anders Kurenbach with whom I had previously recorded Strange
Romance and Love Among The Ruined. One final song with Remi
Szyszka (“The Belonging Kind”), and one with a guest musician
Christian Wirsig (“Defenseless”) round out the overall
collaborations of the album. The line-up changes have never
been planned, they have happened for their various reasons.
I decided that from now on I will take on the main responsibility
for representing the image of Psyche.
SATP: How did you originally pick the name
DH: It’s actually the B-Side of a Killing Joke single, spelt
“Pssyche” on their record for some reason. I wanted a name
that represented something long-lasting, human intelligence, mind,
and soul, our psyche is what makes us unique, and that was very
important to me when I chose the name. It has ended up that
the albums represent my journey as an individual and my
experiences so I’m glad I chose such an astute name.
SATP: When Psyche first started out in the
‘80s, it was a duo of you and your brother, Stephen. Is
there an unspoken dynamic when working with a sibling?
DH: Yes, I think it’s a close unit. But I must admit that
Per and I are also quite symbiotic in our thoughts and vision of
music as well, so that is a pleasant surprise. It was not
easy to find someone who would be worthy of replacing my
brother. Family has a special bond, but I’ve been very lucky
to find musicians who’ve complemented the original vision I had
SATP: Growing up, were both you and your
brother Stephen equally into music, or did one have more
influence on the other?
DH: We are only a year-and-a-half apart, but we both discovered
certain things for ourselves that we later shared as a common
interest or perhaps liked more than the other. We were both
into KISS! [laughs] But it was the synthesizer that really changed
our lives. My brother was always the more musically
inclined; I play a bit, but I decided early on to be a vocalist.
SATP: What was the defining moment in your
youth where you realized music was what you wanted to do with
DH: It’s actually interesting to think about this now because I
was already singing along to songs around the age of 7 or so, and
my brother and I had keyboard lessons from the age of 10
onwards. But this was not quite “fun”, you know? More
like extra schooling. I think it was when I had my first job at a
grocery store, and later as a doorman at a cinema when Psyche had
already started gigging, and I always had this place in my head
that knew that I wouldn’t be working at a “normal” job once I’d
finished high school. I think the real certainty came after we’d
independently produced our first album Insomnia Theatre, and New
Rose Records picked us up for Europe. I always say the first
“happiest day of my life” experience was getting a long distance
call from Paris and having Patrick Mathé tell me he wanted to
release our debut album in Europe. That’s when I knew, “This
is it!” Also, I never really felt skilled for anything other than
singing and writing. Most artists should feel this way, I
SATP: In some regard, the title of your
latest release, The 11th Hour, almost sounds like a swan
song. Was there an element of artistic culmination while
making the album?
DH: Well, my dear listeners, The 11th Hour may or may not be my
swan song. As
Remi decided not to continue with Psyche, I was very disappointed,
as I was initially determined that this would be the last line-up
change ever. I was actually working with him on new songs as
he made this decision. However, I had also started doing
some projects with Per, such as “Faith” on the A Tribute To The
Cure release, and I had a few instrumentals that Per had sent me
last year that I felt could be Psyche songs if I would pursue
them. I also felt that despite the success of "Sanctuary”, I
was somewhat undermining Psyche’s direction with the “dance”
oriented tracks created with Remi. So accidentally, it all
fell together later in 2004, and when Metropolis signed us in the
U.S., my feeling was, “Hey great opportunity, but maybe too
late?” That’s why I released Legacy just to clear out
emotionally for this recent album. That may also have
backfired to some degree since The 11th Hour is almost everything
that Legacy isn’t: darker, moodier, more experimental.
Anyway, all these feelings about what Psyche is, or should be as
well as my own personal situation flowed into this album.
I’ve said this before, and I stand by it: Psyche is not a
career. Psyche is an entity that exists for me and those who
relate to it documenting certain feelings and experiences through
music. It is for me a purity that is almost unreachable by
today’s measures. Of course I want it to sell and reach
people with my art. It is very personal for me, and
therefore more painful when I think that it often seems a limited
requirement in the commercial industry.
There definitely will be a lot of soul searching before another
album comes. I have reached a certain expressionistic peak,
whether certain critics hear that or not. Even my vocals are
the more honest and raw than I’ve been in a long time. I was
not interested in projecting myself in some perfected
manner. I wanted certain songs like “Yearning” to sound like
I was uncertain, and singing for the first time. I want the
voice to represent the words as they are written. I noticed
this song is picked on most by critics, and of course loved most
SATP: Can you elaborate more on the creative
process that went into making The 11th Hour?
DH: I will just add that I wrote the songs over a longer stretch
of time than any other album; and, although I wanted the overall
sound to fit together, I think there is quite an amount of
variation - certainly the title track and “The Belonging” are
quite different from one another. I have this obsession to
show all the facets of the electronic genre that I like.
It’s very hard for me to stick with just one narrow
direction. Originally I wanted to make an angry synthpunk
album, but my whole mood just shifted to the slower ballads after
I worked on “Bloodcurse”. I didn’t even want songs, per
se. Some of the coolest Psyche songs don’t have an obvious
chorus in my opinion.
SATP: Define the perfect pop song.
DH: Oh, finally! I thank you for this question, see 'cause I hate
the “standards” of pop. I don’t like the idea of a
structured song for the sake of just making a song with boring
instrumental sounds and arrangement. My definition is that
it has to at least contain one sound in it – synth, noise,
extraordinary solo, or whatever that makes it stand out. The
vocal must be unique and grab your attention right away. It
can have a catchy chorus, but please not sampled! It should
be like a story that develops before it ends. Examples would
be: The Flying Lizards version of “Money” which contains all the
elements of which I
speak. Also, Visage’s “Fade To Grey” is another good
example. “Sanctuary” from Psyche is a bit too much on the
repetitive dance side, but it has some unexpected industrial
noises, the sort of “robo voice” synth break, and the verses that
are not even the same melody so I like that. I could name
many more examples, but most of them come from the ‘80s.
Obviously Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” sets the bar
pretty high. Anyway this is just my opinion, but it defines
what is necessary for me to create or enjoy a song. I
believe in pop as an art form. It’s just more fun to be
pleasantly surprised than having the same sweets served all the
SATP: What are your thoughts on the current
rise of retro-‘80s synth bands?
DH: You mean like Spetsnaz? Or the electroclash inspired
groups? I’m not aware of so many, so you’d have to name a
few. I of course still hang on to much of what I enjoyed in
the ‘80s, so I always hope someone will come along
and achieve something like Fad Gadget, Bauhaus, or Blancmange in
this century, but I don’t know if that’s possible since the times
and technique has changed. The only way is to be an explorer
and discover unique elements of making music the way those early
artists did, but write about new things, otherwise it sounds like
a parody. It’s not easy when we’ve homogenised just about
everything in the arts to satisfy certain demographic
requirements. Sadly even something fun like electroclash is
already over before any of the artists become successful at it.
SATP: You’ve cited numerous cult authors in
your liners notes or songs (JT Leroy being one of my own
personal favourites). What are you reading at the moment?
DH: Did I mention JT Leroy? [Huss has in prior mentioned “Edge of
17” was subconsciously created by Leroy’s novel Sarah.] Well, I
like to discover the real dark and twisted underbelly of human
behaviour. I mean we are Psyche; we have to uncover it
all. I’m having trouble getting into books lately, and find
myself reading biographies all the time. I think the last
thing I read was Hubert Selby’s The Demon. That is one sick
book. As if Requiem for A Dream wasn’t bad enough! I
enjoyed Marc Almond’s latest confessions/observations in In Search
of the Pleasure Palace. I plan to get the new Christopher
Rice since I really loved his first two books; Snow Garden even
inspired the song of that title on “Babylon Deluxe”. I’m
actually writing my own little life story at the moment, so maybe
it’ll be out next year. I’m kinda obsessed with some form of
closure in my life at the moment. I guess I’m too impatient
these days with reading and have got into films again more.
I didn’t even manage to finish my copy of William Gibson’s Pattern
SATP: While we’re on the subject, books,
like music, lend themselves to letting the individual
create corresponding images in their own mind.
Psyche’s music has often had a flair for the dramatic or
theatrical. Do you use visual cues when creating songs?
DH: To some degree yes, I certainly thought about myself
performing most of the songs on the new album as I recorded, and I
have internal visions about what the sentences in “Bloodcurse” and
“Yearning” or “September Moon” look like. I see the
situation or the scene I’m describing. It plays like a movie
and helps inform the vocals. Songs like “Looking Glass” or
“The Hiding Place” as most of them are very visual.
SATP: You’ve been living in Germany for
almost 15 years. How has the German music scene changed in
the time you’ve been there?
DH: Oh, I don’t know really, it’s still the biggest scene for
electronic and goth music, but the groups that came up in the ‘90s
are as much a continuation as one might expect. There is a
worldwide consensus now on who are the big names, and of course
the infiltration of techno ten years on is felt throughout the
scene. I like to think, or to hope, that this is beginning
to die down, but I feel in North America it continues. There
are some groups who are popular right now whom I feel should be
reviled rather than revered. The whole movement is in flux
at the moment, so it’ll be interesting to see what styles and
bands come through the strongest in the next few years.
SATP: In past interviews you expressed
ambivalence about bands doing side projects, although you
yourself have done a number of them over the years. From
your own experience, what are some of the positive versus
negative aspects of side projects?
DH: Maybe I was envious 'cause I had several things on the side in
the ‘90s, but none of them were as successful as Psyche. I
also thought that if one is happy with the sound of their main
act, that should be their focus. The other reason was that I
a side project should represent a whole other musical avenue than
just another spin off of your own direction. These days
every synthpop band seems to want to do a harder more industrial
side project. In Psyche I was able to achieve both sides and
more within one album. Our world is getting so
compartmentalised; it’s just insane. Remember Yello?
They ran the gamut from synthpop to industrial to elegiac
instrumentals all on Stella alone. This seems to be
forbidden these days. I now have tentatively started
something new with Lounge, and am also planning a minimal
old-school electro release under the name of Jetlag. But I
am certain that Psyche will always be the main act.
SATP: Let’s talk shop. The music
industry can create a very love/hate relationship from
artists. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given
about the music business?
DH: A guy from a Canadian group called Rheostatics once told me
you have to also love the “business”. If you don’t like the
business then you should leave it. I still struggle with
that philosophy. This implies also being aware of your
“competition” etc. I have occasionally tried to make Psyche
more scene-compatible, club-oriented and what not for the sake of
the business or whatever is suppose to function, but it just
doesn’t apply to me. I think we are a rare case of “no
matter what guidelines I would try to follow something would throw
us off a linear pattern anyway.” I’m sticking to the chaos
theory myself, and just letting things happen.
SATP: What words of wisdom would you impart
on bands just starting out?
DH: My advice is: believe in luck, and you will be lucky.
Also, look at what other people do, but don’t apply the reasons
for others’ successes upon yourself. Certainly you do have
to work to achieve things, and one should never think they sit on
a pedestal and are unbreakable no
matter how far you’ve gotten. Search your own voice;
persevere while staying hungry.
SATP: If you could go back in time, is there
anything from your musical past that you would change?
DH: Not the music, but maybe the presentation. I wish I had
more power over the performance presentation the way Skinny Puppy
invested in theirs. I go back and forth on the subject of
whether or not a radical appearance would help the music or if the
music itself is statement enough. When I was 17 I danced
naked and covered in shaving cream while performing. My
brother wore a bloodied butcher apron, and even drilled a synth to
pieces that was filled with chicken giblets! I think perhaps
for some I appear too “normal” for the actual thoughts and sound
that Psyche actually represents. The music is different
though too. But I love all my songs. There are perhaps
a few that I don’t really relate to that much anymore, but I can
listen to them and appreciate why we made them at the time, except
the goofy “Ride On” and “You’re The Only One” from Mystery
Hotel. I like to believe that what I’ve laid down in the
past is still going to be relevant for some time to come.
That was always my intention. I think a track like “The
Crawler” or “Brain Collapses” certainly set a standard for dark
electronic music that hasn’t faded from relevance in the two
decades since they were born. And “Ghostrider” from Suicide
is almost 30 years old, but still sets the standard for all that
has come since. I have had the privilege to develop my sound
and not make 10 albums that are all the same, so I’m thankful that
the risks I’ve taken have continued to be supported.
SATP: Finally, what are your touring plans
for The 11th Hour? Is there any hope that Psyche will come
DH: There’s hope because I want to do it, but this I will leave to
pursuing my own luck, and popular demand making it happen
properly. It would be unfortunate after our return to the
North American market in 2000, not to perform for our
listeners. So far we have been in a few states in the U.S.,
but I would welcome a cross-country tour whenever possible.
Right now Europe holds the larger fan base for us, although I am
aware a good number of people who support us in North
America. The fact that you have asked me certain historical
questions proves to me that many are even aware of Psyche’s
existence for some time.
That being said, we are pretty much a newcomers to the generation
that’s growing up now, and that’s the level at which we have to
make our new start.
The mark of a great artist is the combined ability to always be
creating change, yet staying true to one’s identity. Over a
period of almost twenty years Psyche has developed, grown, cleaned
the slate, and started again, always managing to sound fresh and
yet distinctly their own. I personally hope that The 11th
Hour is merely the end of a chapter and not the conclusion of
Psyche’s continual music novel.