SICK AMONGST THE PURE - Psyche Interview for The 11th Hour 2005
By Vivien Weimar

On the 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
subsequent 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 Psyche?

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 with Stephen.

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 your life?

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 hope.

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 by fans.

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 time.

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 Recognition!

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 think
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 to America?

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.