INTERVIEW: Alien Sex Fiend

Chain Border

Anyone familiar with the darker side of music absolutely must be familiar with the irrepressible legends Alien Sex Fiend. Whether you dig goth, punk, industrial, experimental, avant-garde, synth, or a big old mental cluster-fuck of all of it, Nik & Mrs. Fiend have something sweet for you—and likely a bit more—if you’d just get off your ass and order a disc or two. I caught up with ASF for the first time since the late 90s, back when I did my own ’zine. This time they’re offering up the undeniably original Information Overload.

Daryl Litts: How spontaneous was the creative process on the new disc?

Mrs. Fiend: Spontaneous is the main word for us! Every song comes out of that. Writing and recording happen at the same time. We don’t come up with a guitar riff and then Nik works out lyrics and sings on top, then makes a demo and finally re-records the whole thing. No, we try to capture it straight from the off. Nik doesn’t like to do what are called “ghost vocals” either. He doesn’t so much sing, he performs—so we have to capture that very first take, because sometimes we were having to leave a track for weeks—sometimes months—before we could go back to it. We were concerned about losing that initial spontaneity and energy that we’d captured by sticking unnecessary stuff on top.

Nik Fiend: So sometimes when we did reconvene in the studio all we would do is just sit and listen to the track.

M: I expect it sounds strange to anyone who buys CDs and listens to them… er, what else would you do except listen! But writing and recording—especially with technology these days—means you can change everything, and of course that’s the temptation: to keep re-doing or altering things.

N: If the raw thing was working, then we needed to make sure we didn’t fuck about with that. The main thing was to capture performances—not just mine—keeping the live feel. I didn’t want the album to be overproduced. Working on a project for a long time like this can make you get bogged down and caught up in technicalities. You can get lost in those and lose the very thing that was the essence of the track.

D: You guys are known for doing strange things to get the sounds and feelings you want on your songs. I wonder if you’ve done any unorthodox behind-the-scenes stuff with Information Overload

N: Everything about it is probably unorthodox! There are some very weird mixtures on there, and I don’t think we write and record like other people do.

Nik FiendM: It doesn’t really matter, especially these days, how you create a track. It’s the final result that is important. The length of time spent on a track, or its simplicity or complexity are really irrelevant.

N: Every tune was approached differently. That’s just how we are.

M: Some of it is analogue 8-track tape, totally, engineered and mixed by us. Other stuff started out that way and was then transferred onto hard disc and everything in between. Somehow they all sound as a unit.

N: Even though no two songs were done in the same way. We create our own world for each song. I think we have always done that. We immerse ourselves totally in it. On this album we had to allow the tracks to show us where they wanted to go, we couldn’t force it. If we tried to force them, we failed.

M: As Nik said, everything about it is pretty unorthodox and it’s always been like that. We’ve never done things the way other people do. As an example, a bass line is usually one of the earlier things to be recorded, whereas on say, Baby, the bass was the last thing that went on there! And I have no idea where that came from; I just tweaked about with the keyboard for a couple of minutes and out it came! It’s very hard to explain how we do what we do! (Laughs)

Alien Sex FiendD: I hear you’ll be playing at the Zillo Festival in July. Why such a long gap since your last live appearance?

N: Aside from legal and family stuff, we also put together the Fiend At The Controls double CD [1999], which took a lot of research because we went back through piles of old tapes, all different formats and discovered original demos (like Dead and Buried), alternative mixes that were never released and B-sides from singles that had been deleted, so there was a lot of work there. Also, that project was how we re-connected with Len Davies, who later helped out on engineering and production on Information Overload. Without doing that project maybe Information Overload wouldn’t have happened. I had an emotional overhang from my father’s death as well. We had a Sweet remix to do the day after my dad died, and we were full on in the middle of doing Fiend at the Controls which had to be finished…and until that was done I didn’t have time to really take it in. Then when it hit me, it really hit me.

M: Also, we had to reissue Nocturnal Emissions: Special Edition in June 2000. There was business and legal stuff involved with that too…

N: And we were also pulled in to work on the Best of ASF CD [2001], which our old label released, but because there wasn’t anyone there who was 100% up with our history we were asked to help out on that.

M: We’d already agreed before that to put out a live album (Flashbacks) but again, there were various contractual delays on that and it didn’t come out till September 2001…

N: We wanted to encapsulate the live shows we’d done from 1995 to 1998. The previous live album was back in ’93 (Altered States) and we knew that we wanted to get into other stuff so that the live thing would be changing again. Flashbacks was a way of capturing that particular live period.

M: So the original plan was to do a new studio album and then live shows, but we didn’t expect it all to take quite so long, though!

N: But we got there in the end! When something is ready, it’s ready! You can’t force it. You can try but other shit comes along!

D: Information is completely different from anything I’ve ever heard, including any of your previous albums. What do you do to keep reinventing yourselves and stay on the edge?

N: Part of it is experiencing life. It just comes oozing out into the music and into the art. I don’t know why it keeps happening to us—we don’t have therapists. ASF is it.

M: I think that although we hear other people’s music, enjoy it and sometimes are influenced by it, no matter what we do it always comes out as us, as ASF. It just all goes into our blender and comes out our own way. We seem to have our own style. Some people have tried to analyze it by saying it’s a certain drum sound, but then if we change that it still sounds like us. …Or that it’s Nik vocals that are the ASF style, but then the instrumentals still sound like us, so we’ve given up trying to work it out! We don’t think that overanalyzing is a good thing anyway!

N: It is special, we realize that. Maybe that’s why we have these gaps enforced on us—so that we don’t over do it…

M: So we’re not overexposed…

N: So it stays special, and it stays fresh… It will break itself and then reassemble itself when it’s good and ready. We stayed true to our own ideals. The group started after the death of my sister, and Information Overload after my dad’s—so that’s maybe where the edginess is. Maybe it’s my outlet, my therapy…

Alien Sex FiendM: Also I think it’s because we do what we like, what sounds good to us. We can’t listen to other people’s opinions…

N: Everybody has an opinion, but we won’t be put off our course by other people’s opinions. Maybe some people would consider it an arrogant attitude, but if we don’t know what’s right for ASF—no one does! I think self-belief is a better description than arrogance. I do listen to other people, but I can’t take too much notice or we’d never have done anything!

M: We’ve always stuck to our guns. At times we’ve even had a fight with the record company to do what we felt was right—and not to be big headed about it—but we’ve been right. One example was with the Now I’m Feeling Zombiefied single, which the record company didn’t want as a single. We fought for it and fuck me, the damn video is on MTV all over the place! Even now, god knows how many years later!

N: And that was without record pluggers or anything like that. It’s impossible to analyze how we’re still about—we don’t really know. When I first set ASF up I never thought we’d still be here all these years later. I thought we’d be lucky to get one gig! It was a pretty weird concept back then, and it still is now! We don’t fit neatly into a pigeon hole…

M: I think that’s another reason why we’re still about—because we don’t fit into just any one genre. The combinations are endless. Although I think we’re both essentially the same people as we were at the start, we are both interested in lots of different things and we’re not afraid to embrace new stuff. We don’t have that “good old days” attitude…

N: Oh no! We lived through it and experienced those days. We’ve no regrets, but I don’t want to re-live it! We’ve always stuck our necks out; we’re not afraid of getting them chopped off. We’ve always taken chances. We never sold out, we’ve never compromised. Maybe that’s it…

D: Do your paintings reflect the insane creativity of ASF music or is it the other way around?

N: It’s a bit of both. The group was founded on art and music and there was no division between the two, and there never has been. Sometimes the paintings pay for food and music and sometimes the music pays for food and paints! They go hand in hand.

D: You’ve said that your artwork is painted in tears and received with cheers and laughter. Since the bond is so strong, I wonder if the same is true of the music, especially on songs like Voices in my Head which have strong visual images associated with them.

Alien Sex FiendN: After what I said before about the shaky times we’ve been through—all the uncertainty, upsets, etcetera—all go into the blender to produce an album and artwork that turns somebody on. It’s turning negative events into a positive result. It’s like alchemy. It’s like tears of a clown. People’s perception would be that I’m laughing all the time; some people see Nik Fiend as a clown, which is okay, but the reality behind it is that there’s a lot of hard work and soul searching going on.

M: It’s interesting that you get strong visual images with Voices. Once you release a track, you put it out to the world and it’s up to the individual listener to make their own interpretation of the song and get their own experience from it. We’ve had ours in the making of it. Now it’s everyone else’s turn!

N: Sometimes I feel like I am just one step away from discovering the meaning of everything. Without being corny about it, it is a magical feeling. That is why we do it.

D: I think the best part of ASF is that you’re constantly pushing the envelope and your fans are open-minded enough to accept your evolutions. Do you ever worry about disappointing them?

N: No, because everything we do we believe in. We’re 110% committed as we’ve said. I think Fiend fans know too…

M: …Expect the unexpected!

N: We don’t do it deliberately. We’re not that contrived…

M: What happens, happens—the music comes out how it wants. Of course we hope that the fans will like it, we’d be daft to want them not to like it! But you can’t second-guess people or your fans. There’s no point in trying to be other than what you are.

N: Fiend fans have been through long gaps of not a lot happening because we’ve been tied up with whatever. But it’s their fault that we’re coming back now—they wouldn’t let us go.

M: They bought the album early through our website by postal mail order which must have been a pain, but we’ve got the online store open now so it’s easier [] and it should be available in the stores too.

N: Our fans are a real resilient bunch. They’ve been tested since Day One; we’ve all been tested, the band as well. There’s nothing else like us—Alien Sex Fiend is unto itself—and they have demanded that we come back and do the bollocks. This is why this interview is taking place. They do believe in the band. They are deep and individual people in their own right. It is quite a humbling situation. They must love us because fuck me they’ve been tested. We’re happy to be back supplying them with…

M: …A fiendish fix!

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