What comes after you “rage, rage against the dying of the light?”

Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is often quoted for its philosophy of never giving up. But what happens after one has raged against the dying light for over 40 years?

It is the conundrum that Pere Ubu’s David Thomas is contemplating.

Since Pere Ubu formed in 1975, through this year’s “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo,” the band’s 16th album, Thomas has followed the path least traveled. Try putting Pere Ubu in a specific genre; it can not be done. Thomas and the band go where the muse leads them.


Pere Ubu plays Club Cafe on Nov. 8.

The Swerve Magazine recently spoke with Thomas via Skype from his home in England about his long fight against apathy for originality in a world that values comfort and complacency most of all.

The Swerve Magazine:
You are about to kick off the new tour with the first date being Nov. 8 in Pittsburgh at Club Cafe, are you ready to get out on the road?

David Thomas: Touring is important to us because there is a band that records in the studio that is not at all related to the band that goes on the road. We are always advancing the song and pushing them to places they haven’t been before. It is what you get to do on the road.

If you haven’t seen Pere Ubu live, no matter what you think about the albums, live it becomes a totally different experience. Every night is unrepeatable. You can hear a song 20 times across the tour and hear 19 or 20 different versions of that song.

SM: I appreciate that idea that the album is one thing, touring and live is another, separate thing. I ask, a lot, in interviews with other artists if a song from an album evolves out on the road in the live experience. It is played over and over again, out of repetition or sheer boredom of playing it that many times, I would think it would evolve creatively.

DT: Well, exactly. Pere Ubu shows are not ordinary, complacent run-throughs of the album. Every show is different. You will recognize the songs, but they are going to be attacked differently. There will be different things going on.

Pere Ubu live is very intense for us, which is why we tend to not tour very much. I don’t know how much longer we will tour in America. For 40 years, we’ve fought complacency. We’ve fought the ordinary. Sometimes I begin to wonder how much longer. I do what I can do.

SM: It is the sad part, isn’t it? Thank you for doing that for 40 years, because others have tried, but, after banging their head against the brick wall of complacency and the ordinary for a couple of years, give up.

DT: It takes its toll. It is hard. Recently I’ve been thinking I don’t want to fight this fight anymore. I got other things I can do. I dream about making records every so often, and every so often I will do some shows.

We are not sure we are going to tour again in America. It is now or never if you haven’t seen us. It is not that I’m giving up. It is just that it is brutal. The ordinary and the complacent seem to be winning more than its fair share. Back in the early days, it was the thing that drove us. We hated the ordinary. We thought to ourselves, “why does it all have to be so ordinary?”

SM: In the last couple of years, safe and complacent has become even more prevalent.

DT: It does seem to be winning, doesn’t it? People want to go see a live show that is exactly like the record. Ok, alright, fine. If you do the same thing every night, it is going to start seeming like the same damn thing every night. It is not what we do. What we do is; You are never going to see something (twice). You could come to every Pere Ubu show there is, and you are never going to see the same show you saw tonight.

SM: That appeals to common sense, but that is another thing that it seems you are fighting against, we are fighting against, and other people are fighting against is the lack of common sense. It stands to reason you would not go to a show to see a repeated, regurgitated, pre-formatted thing.

DT: That is what I think, but I think I’m wrong. It is what I think. I fear, sometimes, that I’m delusional about this whole thing. I’ve always felt that what an audience wants more than anything from a performance is that it is seeing something that night that will never be repeated. Somebody else in the next town is not going to get this (show). I suspect I’m becoming delusional. I don’t know.

I understand that people what to hear the old material. We generally do a third of new album material, a third of middle-period material and a third from the old days. I understand that people want to hear that stuff, but they should understand that we are not going to play something that we are not 100 percent fired-up about. It is not worth it. It isn’t worth it to you. It isn’t worth it to us.

SM: Going back to the idea of the album and the tour being separate things, the album being a gateway to pulling people out to the live show, it seems that idea is lost.

DT: In the studio, you are creating something that is listened to for years that has a depth to it. Each time you listen to it, hopefully, you are going to hear something that you haven’t heard before.

I know every iota of sound on any Pere Ubu records, I still will hear something that I’ve not heard before. And I sat there and constructed it in the studio.

On stage, it is different. It is immediate. It is there, and it is gone.

I did a stint in London’s West End doing a play called “Shockheaded Peter.” It was a very revealing experience. In the theater, you have to have a baseline of performance. It has to be pretty similar every night. You can’t take chances. But a rock band live, you should damn well be taking chances. You take a chance live. You can screw something up live and fix it the next song. In the theater and in the ordinary way of doing shows, you simply can’t take that chance. If you don’t take chances in performance, you are going to get stale and ordinary. You have to face the bullet. You have to dodge the bullet.

SM: It is getting outside your comfort zone.

DT: Absolutely. I understand that concept well. If I find that the band is getting too comfortable with something, I’ll throw a curveball. A band member once said that I threw a curveball, 90-mile-per-hour right at the head.

Often, as we are on the side of the stage ready to walk in, I’ll change something.

SM: But everyone loves their comfort.

DT:
It seems obvious to me. It seems obvious to you. It is a shame. Whatever.

SM: Talking about getting out of comfort zones, spending any time in a confined space like a missile silo sounds uncomfortable, how did “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo” come to be the title of the new album?

DT: I wanted something that was claustrophobic. In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve been 40 years in a Montana missile silo. It relates to what we are talking about. Every day for 20 years, you stare at the button to Armageddon, then you have to go home to your wife and kids. You come out of the silo. You look at everything and ask why it is so ordinary out here.

SM: 2014’s “Carnival of Souls” was critically lauded, was there any self-imposed pressure to follow that?

DT: Every album to me follows on from the previous album. It is how I base things. Now that we have done this in this particular way, how can we refine that? I always start with a method. It is an overall picture of the sound in my head.

This record, I was really determined that there would be no compromises. By which I mean, you always compromise. It is something that I wanted to get rid of. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the problem with making films is the actors. They spoil everything. It is how I feel about musicians. What I mean by that is the guitar player has an idea. The bass player naturally wants to cooperate with that idea and go along with it. I wanted to get rid of that.

A song has integrity. A song has to end up being its own universe. You can’t determine that a song is going to go this way or that. It has to be able to live. Sometimes you end up with a song saying something that makes you really nervous. You have to let it be that. I wanted to get rid of the influence that any one musician would have more influence than anybody else on a song’s direction, including myself.

Everybody worked in darkness. The guitar part would not at all be a part of the same world as the bass part. My job is to make it work, to weave all the parts together. There is a conflict going on in the different ideas of what the song is and how the song is going to go. I get all this information separately, and I weave it together. Often, the song will end up being very different from what any one person, including myself, though it would or should or could be.

SM: That is truly following the art. It flies in the face of the manufacturing of music that is prevalent in ‘pop’ music.

DT: It is the thing that I’ve been fighting against; the artifice of it. You have to let a song go where it wants to go. You have to respect the integrity of the song and story. You have to respect the story.

Yeah, it is what I’ve done for 40 years. I’ve tried different ways to artifice. If somebody wants to have a song or a story… It is like everything that you see on TV. Within 30 seconds of watching some TV show, you know absolutely what the agenda is. You are being taught a little lesson. You are supposed to sit there like a child and absorb this lesson in this artificial story because someone in Hollywood thinks that you are stupid enough that you need to be taught a lesson.

It is the same lesson, just getting simpler and simpler.