interview by Alan the Wild
Quite a long and much-whisperedabout hiatus has ended in 2k5 with the return of EBM legend Claus Larsen, better known as LEAETHER STRIP. After his masterful albums Solitary Confinement and Underneath the Laughter (in 1992 and 1993, respectively) it was high time for him to return and talk to us about his present, past and future.
THE DOSE: We know little about your pre-Leaether Strip musical activities. What projects were you involved with and in what genres?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): The first thing I was involved in was more a teacher/student thing. The guy I bought my first synth from, Paw, became a close friend, too and he showed me how a synth worked and made me learn different basslines from Fad Gadget and Depeche Mode songs. It was like it came natural to me, I learned them very fast and he gave me more and more difficult stuff to learn. Then he had to study and I was on my own. But I got started on writing my first songs.
I had a double cassette recorder where I could make "fake" multi tracks one. I made all sounds with the little Moog, even all the drum sounds. I didn't have a sequencer then, so it was a good way to learn to be on the beat. The first songs were very melodic techno pop songs with that melancholic edge I still think I have in the music I do now. After I got the synth I had a 12 song demo tape done in 1 year. I of course thought it was the best demo tape anyone had ever made. Hehe.. but the irony of it was that a label in Copenhagen thought they heard talent and they told me to make more songs and to keep sending the songs as I had recorded them.
So then I went wild. I slaved at the synth for hours and hours everyday getting better at it as time went by. I later teamed up with Paw again, to form a new band, Decode. We did different styles but the songs had a harder edge then the earlier stuff. We released one single called "Planet of youth". Then I left. After that I went into the instrumental phase. I had more ambition then, I guess. I really wanted to make something special. And not just to go for chart success. So I kept writing songs and learning by myself to compose the kind of songs I am doing now.
THE DOSE: Apart from the early LS tracks featured on Getting Away with Murder/Yes I'm Limited Vol. 3., are there any rarities (unreleased tracks,demos, remixes) in the vaults of the Strip Farm? If yes, do you have any plans with them?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I have all the songs I ever wrote on tape here. But there isn't any plans to release any of them. It's my private little thing I listen to once in a while. From the Leaether Strip period every single song I wrote is released. If I can't hear that a song is going somewhere, I never finish them. They get dumped. So all the songs I finish are in my view 100% quality.
THE DOSE: What bands and projects had the greatest impact on you when starting Leaether Strip back in the old days?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Still the biggest impact a record ever gave me was Depecheís "Black Celebration". It still stands to me as the "perfect" album. I was deeply inspired by it. Around the time Leaether Strip was formed I listened a lot to the bands on the Play it Again Sam label and Antler Records. I loved Klinik and Die Form a lot back then, too.
THE DOSE: The offer you accepted was of the label Zoth Ommog headed by Talla 2XLC. Did you have any other notable offers?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I mailed out 3 tapes. One to Mute Records, they never answered. One to Play it Again Sam, they were very interested but wanted more music. Zoth Ommog said "99% of the tapes we get are crap, and we want you to sign with us now." So I went down there and we re-recorded the demotape. So I was very lucky. Not many bands get signed one week after mailing out 3 tapes.
THE DOSE: The beginning of the nineties also welcomed Psychopomps beside your projects in the Zoth Ommog territory. Did you know the Psychopomps guys from earlier times or only when you got to the same label? What was the Danish Industrial/EBM scene like then?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I was the one who got them to play in the first place. I was working at a radio store near here, and they came to the store and I made them use all their money on records I ordered home for them, hehe. Then I showed them my homestudio and they were hooked. I sold them one of my synths and gave them a few hints on cheap ways to record. So they became close personal friends. They recorded their first album at my 1 room apartment, on my instruments. There wasn't any scene here at all. The only little scene there was was in Copenhagen and that's far far away from us. We only had the private parties we held, if we wanted to listen to our kind of music. It was OK, though ever since I was a kid, I never liked the music the other kids liked. I was the strong loner not giving a shit about the group pressure and fashion race. If we had to go to any concerts, it was off the Sweden or Copenhagen. We were a group with around 15 people living near Aalborg. We all knew each other because of the music. Fun times.
THE DOSE: Leaether Strip's unique sound was obvious and striking from the early (Pleasure of Penetration, Science of the Satanic Citizen) records. Topics of politics, social problems, well-driven beats and bass lines. What were your inspirations at the time of these records?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I was getting more and more into that harder industrial acts around then (Skinny Puppy, Ministry) But again I wanted to have "my own" style, So I listened a lot to classical stuff, too. It has always been important to me to get into different styles of music.
THE DOSE: Until this very day, Solitary Confinement is still one of the most important and best industrial/EBM albums. The amount of development was very huge and very visible to perceive. How important is this album for you in your whole oeuvre? Which LS album means the most to you?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I think the development came mainly because I used all the little money I had on 2 new synths and a new 4-track tape recorder, I could then get more of my ideas out in my music and that made a huge difference, 'cause I was using the old synths to the max.. When you put 100% of yourself in ALL the albums you don't have a favourite. I do think the new album is the one that had the biggest impact on me personally. They all are my babies. It's also a matter of taste which one people like the most. The age of the listener also means a lot. I learned that the favourite records of most people came out in their late teens. Maybe it's a nutty idea but it was true with most of the people I asked.
THE DOSE: The album in 1993, Underneath the Laughter is more complex than its predecessors and it still continues to cope with serious issues like religious fanaticism or racism. In the booklet you had a welcome note to Hungarian fans. Why? Was that because of a unique event or experience?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Because some Hungarians there were kind enough to ask and invite me down there several times and I got a lot of fan mail from there. It was just to say thanks for the support and because I felt bad about not going there. I still feel I have a lot of support from Hungary. I hope one day that I will be able to give something in return.
THE DOSE: Serenade for the Dead shocked the industrial/EBM scene in 1994. What inspired you to make a dark-symphonic album like that? There were rumours that you planned a sequel. Is that true, can we expect a SFTD Vol. 2?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I still have great love for that album, I did do something like it before Leaether Strip, so it wasn't that new to me. My dream was then and still is, to make a film soundtrack and I had hoped someone would notice that album and maybe ask me. No one did though. I don't know if I will do an album like that again. But if someone has a film they want a soundtrack made for, I'm there like a fly on a turd. I will still have the usually intrumentals on my albums. I love to make songs like that, to make the music leading you ahead and you never know where it takes you.
THE DOSE: The LP Legacy of Hate and Lust may not be as aggressive as your previous works. More personal songs can be found on the album and the less distorted vocals also caused some surprise to the audience. What was the reason behind that change?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): If I look back, it might have something to do with me finally finding true love. Who knows, maybe it gave me a more poetic vibe. I never really sit down and analyze my albums after they're made. I leave that up to you guys, hehe. I just write what comes out of my brain..
THE DOSE: More attentive fans could meet Kurt's name for the first time on this album amongst the greetings part of the back cover. Your track 13/6 - 1994 is a momento to your meeting. As far as I know, this is the first time that you publicly admitted your relationship and sexual preference. Why did you decide so?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Because I met Kurt and when you find the love of your live, you simply don't want to hide anymore. I was through with the painful and self-destroying double life. Anyone who experienced true love knows what I am talking about, you just want everyone to know and share the happiness.
THE DOSE: What was the harder (if it was hard at all): to admit it in front of your friends and family or in your broader musical surroundings? Did you receive any negative comments on this issue from your fans or musician colleagues?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't because I met Kurt. I had to come out, 'cause I had to share my life with Kurt and there is no way to hide that. It was horrible to come out to the people I loved. The reason you don't do it is because you are too scared that you will lose the ones you love. I didn't lose anyone I loved of course, but the thought about losing them grows into this huge monster.
THE DOSE: Have you regretted your coming out?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I wish I had done it in my teens. But it happened when I was ready and there wasn't anything else to do. I can only advise people to do it as soon as they are ready. The people who truly love you will only support you. But love will make you stronger than you think. That's what made me do it..
THE DOSE: The album Rebirth of Agony followed quickly - according to some critical tongues, too quickly - in the heels of Legacy... in 1996. What do you think?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Not to me, the album was made - so why not release it. I like to get things out as soon as possible. Becasue I go into a sort of "no man's land" when I have a release ready and waiting for its release. It's like I can't get on with new music until the other release is out in stores. Strange, I know. If you wait too long, you get heat from the fans and now you also get it if you're too fast. Funny world this is, hehe..
THE DOSE: After several best of compilations we received a Soft Cell tribute EP in 1997. How did you end up with covering Soft Cell?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): They were a really big part of me growing up. Their lyrics really went straight to me. It was like Marc was singing to me, hehe.. I could really relate to their words and music. So I thought it was time to give something back as a "thank you guys". I never got any reaction from them sadly. I wanted to mail Marc Almond a personal copy and letter. But they were too paranoid to give me his address. Maybe they thought I was Jack the ripper. Anyway, I was very glad I did it, though the title was completely misunderstood, hehe, it was meant as a joke and not as a "homosexual statement". I guess irony can be misunderstood at times.
THE DOSE: Self-Inflicted in 1997 is a completely unique LS album with lots of surprising twists and vocals in music (like Coming Up For Air). Did you ever think that it could be dangerous experimenting so much out of the "LS boundaries"? What feedback did you get concerning this album?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I have always experimented and done different styles through my history. That's why Leaether Strip was started really. 'Cause I was tired of all this putting labels on things and styles. Self-inflicted sold more than twice the amount as Solitary Confinement did, so I guess I must have done something right. I will always do different styles, I can go from the simplest bleep stuff to the symphonic pieces. I still think I have a certain sound in different styles I am doing. Who else but me can deside the "LS boundaries"? I thought people liked this scene because of the artistic freedom the artists have. Unique music for unique people.
THE DOSE: After the album we've gotten the third part of Yes I'm Limited and then the re-release of SFTD. Then came the collapse of Zoth Ommog...how did you live with these events? Did you regret accepting the Zoth Ommog offer?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): When I found out what mess Music Research was and how the money was spent, I was very surprised it lasted more than a year. All the artists were treated like we should be honoured to be on the label and to be connected to the oh so mighty "you know who". He didn't give a rat's ass about the music. He had nothing to do with any of the music. Anyway, I don't want to mess around with it too much, I get very mad when I think about. When you think a person is your true friend and he will do what he can to help you and then he pisses up and down your back as soon as you turn away.. I can give you an example.
When I got married to Kurt, He made a big enlargement of the wedding picture from my web page at the time and wrote, "FAGGOT ASS" on it and used it as a dart thing. it hung in his office. Enough said. He doesn't want to meet me. I can tell you that. When a person gives you 5 years of deep depression you have a hard time forgetting. He wasn't the only one though. I was loyal to them and made them a lot of money for all those years. Thanks God I'm over that, now. It is a new day and now I have some wonderful people to work with at Alfa Matrix..
THE DOSE: What happened to you between 1997 and 2000? Carry Me was released under Bloodline. According to the news it would have been a prequel/promo to a new album/EP named Object AE. What happened after releasing Carry Me? What's with the planned album/EP?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): No album was planned, that was lies. Bloodline got scared of Talla and pulled "Carry me" off the market and I never heard from them again. When I got signed to Alfa Matrix, the Bloodline people tried to scare the German distributor away by spreading lies. When they smell money, all the rats come out. This time I am ready for them.
THE DOSE: You completely disappeared between 2000 and 2005. No news or confirmed rumours was in the air about you in that period. Your only trace was a LS remix on the KiEw - Diskette album. What's the history behind that remix?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Not a big story really. He asked me nicely through a mutual friend and I had one of my good days and did it. I left that little message in the start to "leave a light on". I guess I knew deep down that I would return in some form.
THE DOSE: In 2005 there were more and more sounds on numerous forums wanting Leaether Strip back. Did you follow these forums? Did these fan wishes had any help or motivation to your rebirth?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): No, I didn't, I stayed as far away from the music scene as I could. Every little reminder was bringing me pain. I did hear a little about some of the rumours through friends. Maybe I would have returned faster if I had read them, who knows.
THE DOSE: At the end of the 90's you were in constant connection with the LS fans on the AE mailing list. It was very important to us, fans, that we could have communicated with you both in LS and personal topics. Do you have a similar role in mind for your MySpace page as well? Will there be a new official LS website?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I do have plans to do a more "real" home page, but for now the Myspace will have to do. I read everything every day on it. And I will keep all informed on what I am up to. I think that's ok for now. Because I want to make a lot of music. That's the most important thing for now. I donít have time to answer every single message, though, But I read them all for sure, each day.
THE DOSE: How did the cooperation with Alfa Matrix spring up? Did they initiate this or did you feel that it is time to come back?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): Seba from Alfa Matrix was the only person really, who kept in touch - even kept on writing while I was not answering him. He was asking for compilation songs and I had a half done sond on the PC. And thought it was time to let the fans know I wasn't dead. And as you know, it opened up a waterfall of songs.
THE DOSE: The new album is released both on 2 and 3 CD versions. How much of its contents is fresh? Or did you have previous ideas and demos reworked on the CDs?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I had a little of the 2 instrumental songs written, not a lot, though. Also "this is where I wanna be" the music was almost done. So 99% is fresh.
THE DOSE: Compared to previous albums there are more, very intimate and personal tracks on this album (Back in Control, Slam, Dying Is Easy - Life Is Harder). This openness is not only surprising in the oeuvre of Leaether Strip but also in the industrial/EBM scene as well. Don't you think that this opening up will be considered exaggerated by many?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): No. Not at all. I have always been personal in my songs. That's maybe the reason. A lot of the mails I get say that people can relate to what I sing about. Life is for me too short to be closed-minded. If some think my innermost feelings are exaggerated then they should buy CD's where they sing about nothing. The amount of CDs with songs like that is huge :)
THE DOSE: On your MySpace page you mentioned the possibility of making a Depeche Mode tribute album. How fat are the chances for that? Which DM songs do you feel you'd love to rework the most - and which are that you wouldn't at all - if this album will really be realized?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): About that DM cover thing. I could for sure see myself doing one, but not at this moment in time, maybe later in the year. I had a thought about making a full coverversion of the whole "Black Celebration" album. I have so many thoughts about what to do next, so I am going to go with the flow and do more songs and see where that leads me.
THE DOSE: In the old days LS remixes were famous for their quality. Alfa Matrix is famous for releases remix-only bonus discs. Will you do remixes for in-house bands?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): I already did one remix + a guest vocal. But I can't tell you for which bands. Orders from above, sorry. But both songs ended up great. Alfa Matrix are good to me, so I will be good to them, so I'm sure I will do remixes and stuff in the future. A lot of talent to work with.
THE DOSE: What plans do you have for 2006 beside the soon-to-be-expected Klutae EP and album? Any chances for LS gigs?
LEAETHER STRIP (Claus): No gigs planned still. I know it is a dream to get me to your city and give the best gig ever, but my back is really bad at the moment, it's been getting worse for over a year now. I hope the doctors can help me, bacause I can barely lift a shopping bag without having to stay in bed for a day. For now I will work the studio and hope for my back to get better over the summer.