Nico, interview by Steven Walker, 3RRR FM, 25 Victoria Street, Melbourne, 1986-02-19

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Good evening, Nico.


Welcome to Melbourne. Er ...

I've not quite arrived yet.

Yeah, but you will tonight, I'm sure. And er, well, let's start off. Where do you come from in terms of your Australian tour, where do you call 'home' these days ? You've lived in America, England, Europe ?

On my passport I don't, I don't have a home. It says 'ohne festen Wohnsitz' which means-a 'without a fixed address'.


And I prefer that, because it's like being married when you have a home. God, it's terrible.

Have you ever found a place that you sort of were tempted to sort of start to call home and really put down some roots in ? Any particular country ? I think I read an interview recently where you were living in a part of England ...

I lived on a ship, but I don't live there anymore now. I live in Brixton now.

Brixton ?


That must be fairly intense.

Not as much as people make out, I mean like hell's kitchen on the Lower East Side in New York is much more dangerous.

Right. Now you've begun your career, er, in Europe, and er, moved across via England to America. What attracted you, what actually moved you into music when you first started playing, I think a lot of people feel that the first recorded Nico was with the Velvet Underground. As a matter of fact it was a single with Jimmy Page, prior to that. How did Nico, the model and actress find an attraction to music, what was the connection ?

Well, first of all I grew up on Opera with my mother taking me to Opera when I was a child and it sort of got branded in my brain. And er... [Sighs]

What about Rock & Roll, I mean, which is what you did first with Jimmy Page ?

Yeah, but I always preferred Jazz already, as a young adolescent I preferred Jazz, Free-Jazz. And...

Folk ?

Well, yes. I met Bob Dylan and he sort of changed er, the idea that I had that I should only sing torrid, torrid songs, you know, love songs. I started singing Dylan songs, when I was on three 'Ready, Steady, Go!' shows, in England, with two Dylan songs and one Gordon Lightfoot song.

Well, you recorded the Gordon Lightfoot song with Jimmy Page.

Yes, the same.

And then what prompted you to move from England to America then after that particular record ? What was the attraction about America ?

Oh, it's er, Dylan's manager, manager, Albert, who bought me a ticket, and said I should come over there, that-a, he can only do something for me over there.

It seems ...

That's how I met Andy again.

Right. In New York City ?

Whom I'd met just previously in, in Paris.

It seems that New York City at that stage was a place where if you moved amongst certain circles all the circles of people seemed to interlock, that there was a chance of meeting a large community of people, more so probably than today where it's a very crowded town. It seems there was a certain creative group of people who were working in areas with Warhol in media, and you had Dylan in music, and then you had the Velvet start out of that. That there was a lot of overlap.


Yeah ?

An overlap ?

Well, you said you could move between different groups of people.

Oh, you mean myself ?


Oh, er ... no, I only wanted to be with, with the, the underground people, I wasn't interested in Fashion anymore, and I also had studied acting with Lee Strasberg, which helped me a lot to sort of discover myself like all young people always have to discover themselves, right ?

Those, er, I played a track off the début LP from the Velvet Underground early on, 'Femme Fatale'. That and 'All Tomorrow's Parties' are two songs that are very identified with you. How did it come out that those songs were performed by you ? I mean listening to that first LP I imagine that 'Venus in Furs' or 'Run Run Run' could well have been performed by you. How did you, did you have an affin ... did you have a good feeling for those songs, or did Lou say "Look, these are for you, Nico.", how did it come about the Velvet new songs ?

We just agreed upon them.

They just seemed right ?

Yes it seemed right. We never thought, about, you know analyzingevery little thing.


Er, it just happened, and, or it didn't, because, three songs is all I sang in that group.

It's remarkable, isn't it ?

Maybe for, except for improvisations.

Were the live performances that you were involved in different than the ones that were recorded on that LP ? Was that the sound of the Velvets made live or was it ...

No, there was, there was more improvisation.

Mm. And ...

There was not only noise, but er, the kind of music you can hear when, when it's storm, a storm outside, or that you can hear in, in elementary violence like it.

What ? Perhaps a little more like White Light... 'White Light, White Heat' on the next LP ?


That was more a live sound.

Yes. Mm, oh, I thought the first one was quite, quite the sound it was.

Right. Now you made all of those three songs on that one LP.

They were very crude. Not refined.

Andy Warhol's name is on the cover as producing that record.

I mean Moe was the best drummer ever. I just heard her on that song at the hotel that we played before.


She had the best drums sound.

She's actually done a good LP of her own, too, sort of a garage record, she plays all the instruments, in recent times. It's really good. 'Louie Louie' and all these old rock songs.

I don't know that record. I saw her three summers ago in Los Angeles and she was married to this woodcutter, that's how he looked like. And she had grown her hair, and she didn't look like a boy anymore.

Right, yeah, 'cause some of the cover photos of those LPs were pretty deceptive, weren't they, Moe Tucker, and er ...

And she's not a good singer. She's only good on that one song 'When you close the door' .[After Hours]

Mm. Yeah, well, she's rough, but she's good. Well, er ...

The tapes she gave me weren't so good, that's what I mean.

Right. Now after that one record, you left the Velvet Underground to become Nico, your name on the records. What prompted that move away from the Velvets ? Because it seems like you actually enjoyed your time with them.

Oh, it's a personal thing, I think.

It went beyond the music ?


Right. Well of all the records that you then produced, Chelsea Girl was a big departure in that it, it was a fairly, there was a lot of instrumentation on it, a lot of flute sounds, very crowded...

Oh, the flute, oh my God! I was so unhappy when I heard the result of that flute taking over.

No, it was a good producer though, wasn't it, wasn't it Tom Dowd who did that LP or Tom Wilson ?

Tom Wilson.

He's a very experienced producer. Did you feel he overwhelmed you a bit on that record, do you ?

No, it's only when they dubbed up the flute on top.

Oh, they put that on top.



It was much better without it, I mean, it gives it a more unified sound, I guess.


More you know than the overall feeling of a flute being up front all the time.

It'd be nice to hear it without it, if they could re-press it or something without that flute.


Perhaps one day. Because the notable thing about that record was amongst the fact that it was your début also it featured a Bob Dylan song that hadn't previously been recorded, and also Jackson Browne's first appearances as a songwriter.

Yes, Jackson really plays some good guitar on some of them. You can't even hear it, because of the flute.

But "These days" was one of the tunes that he wrote, wasn't it ?


Was that the first time Jackson's songs had been recorded ?

Er ...

Would've been just about, I think.



He was only sixteen.

Right. Yeah. It's funny actually picturing Jackson Browne in New York City, because now his image is so very Californian and very, you know, the laid-back sunshine. His sort of later-day image in terms of his solo career. But him being involved in the more, er, well, what would you call it ...

Yes, but he's too wise to commit suicide or ...

He seems to be a very intense man.

Yeah, he is very.

Now the Dylan song that you recorded 'I'll Keep it with Mine', Bob hasn't actually recorded that or it hasn't been released until the Biograph set that's just come out. Was that a gift to you, or was that one that you heard and said "Look, can I do that ?" or did he say, "Look, this is for you." ?

No, he sang me a number of songs when he used to baby-sit for my son, er, Bob, and so he, he wrote, also sang that song, and so I asked him if I could have it, if I could sing that song, it's not that he ever gave me, he sent me a demo with the melody and the lyrics.


And the lyrics.

Well, we talked about Chelsea Girl being a fairly cluttered LP with the flute and everything, and certainly Marble Index and Desertshore were stripped things right back, didn't it, back to very much you and your harmonium sounds compared to that record.

Well, it's supposed to be, not supposed to be noise, because most pop music to me is noise, alright ? [Laughs] I just think, er, I guess it's, what I said before, it's silence, but, you know, like when a war is going on. Er, it's sort of elementary noise and elementary silence. That sometimes comes to an outbreak that becomes, you know, like an explosion.

Mm. It seems like when you're talking about the energy of the record and the sounds that the drama training that you mentioned in working with those people actually starts to integrate itself into you performing the songs. That they become much more, er, performances, a very, sort of a very pared down sound on performance on those records.

Yes, they might not be perfect, but John likes the feeling that a song should be like being performed on stage. That it shouldn't be perfect. He never liked that for some reason. Not, not for himself, but for me.

Right. Now 'The Marble Index' is a quote from Wordsworth, I think, the poet.


What is the significance of choosing that ? A favourite of yours ?

I sometimes find a little of my own poetry in other poets, yes. Incidentally, or accidentally.

Right. Now there was a bit of a break after those two LPs and you actually left America.

I was making seven films in Paris with Philippe Garrel which are more or less art in peace.

Have they been shown very generally ?

Not generally, no, only in cinemathèques and film institutes.

Right. Well, part of the focal, or perhaps you can correct me if I'm wrong, looking, looking at various books about you and what they've written about you, it seems to mention that in many ways leaving America was a sense of exile. That you actually lived in America because it became a more dangerous place for you to remain.

Yes, because when you live in a dangerous place, you also become increasingly dangerous. You might just wind up in jail.

A good time to leave.


And you went across and lived in France.

Well, I just had to go because something happened, er, yes.

And you went to France, and then actually your next record The End ... was recorded in England with John Cale once again. Er, how did that come about ?

It took that long for the other contract to run out first of all, I had all sorts of legal problems in it, I had to wait until that contract ran out and, then John renewed contact with my first manager, Joe Lustig. That's how I made a record for him, for 'Isle of Man' which is a branch of Island Records. But he never pays me a cent of royalties.

For that record.


Called The End ... and based on a Doors song. Did you know Morrison ? Jim Morrison ?

Yes, he was my soul brother.

Was he ?



He taught me to write songs. I never thought that I could, 'cause when you come out of the fashion business, I mean I did like flimsy sort of writing ... not as ... not systematical, but er ...

Well, certainly Jim Morrison's writing has endured the years.

He really inspired me a lot. It was like looking in a mirror then.

How successful were The Doors when you met Jim ? Were they actually The Doors ...

Oh, no, no, it was the very beginning.

Oh yes ?


What, before, prior to the first LP, 'the Doors' LP ?

No, it was the very first one.

Oh yes.


Right. And it became ... did you meet him again in subsequent years ?

Yes, in New York, and when I went back.

He went through a remarkable series of very, er, intense changes, as a person it seems that produced a remarkable amount of material on record compared to rock stars these days, about an LP a year or less, while they were together. It seems like he went through an exhilarating growth process as a person, and as a writer.

Uh ...

Very quick. You know, he sort of, everything went to him very quickly.              

Yes, like it happens with all big, you know, musicians. It comes quickly and most, most of the time it collapses and when something just remains, that's good.

Now in that same year, you did that concert with John Cale, Kevin Ayers and Brian Eno, a one-off concert where you're actually on the record features "The End". How long had it been since you'd performed on stage ? A long time ? You did that June the 1st, 1974.

That was just after we recorded 'The End ...' so.

A long time since you'd actually performed in front of people ?

No, I did still occasionally concerts, but on my own, with just the pump organ.

Right. What, what attracted you about the pump organ ? It's on a lot of your records. You really like the sound of the instrument, it's something you enjoy playing, or why, why that instrument ?

Sounds like an orchestra if it's rightly amplified, if it's, you know rightly er, put through machinery.

Alright. Do you play that organ on your current tour ?

I mean you can ... yes. You can listen, you can hear different instruments in it.

Right. Well after that you actually went fairly quiet once again until the Drama of Exile LP, it was quite a few years since you brought out a record after The End .... What were you doing in those years ?

I was making films.

Oh, that's when those films occurred?

Yes, it was after Desertshore.

Right. And er, then Drama of Exile came out which is an interesting record, it incorporates a lot more of an Arabian sound than you'd had on the previous record. It seems to have in my mind a sense of the desert spaces in the Middle East. Yeah ?

Yes, because we had a Persian string instruments players. He played all ancient string instruments, and guitar.

Now on that record it features 'Heroes', the David Bowie track, and it's been said that he wrote that song for you.

Not for me, but ...

He had you in mind in some form.

Yes. I guess that's why he moved out to Berlin.

Alright. It is a rather beautiful song that one, isn't it ? It's a, it's one of the better songs he's ever written, I think. Inspiring.

Lost feeling that nothing was possible because, you know, if you go over The Wall they just shoot you down. They do.


It's very terrible. They should at least get rid of all the soldiers you know standing there at parade, and let people go in and out freely. That's easy to be done.

On that same LP you did a cover of 'Waiting for My Man' from the first Velvets. Is that a song that you'd wanted to perform yourself, what attracted you about that song ? Pay an homage back to the first ...

Which one ?

'Waiting for My Man'

Oh, it's because the producer, Philippe Quilichini at the time, said I should do a cover song, and why not 'Waiting for My Man' ? So I said OK, it wasn't my idea.

Right. Well then the most recent LP being Camera Obscura, once again with John Cale, and with a couple of his musicians as well. How, how did you find recording that LP ? It's, it's very much a 1980 sound, isn't it, it's got a big drum beat on a lot of tracks and lots of synthesizers.

Er, yes.

A bit of a change.

It's like, I would have liked to have gone to the, er, Amazon River, just sail along the river and record my record there with the drumming, I mean, from every direction, like in Fitzgerald's that's how I ... I always have to see a sound, I can't listen to it only. I've actually to see a film or, or when I don't see a film I rather see the music than I hear it. Or both. But I see it more than I hear it.

Does that mean when you're writing your songs that er, they move, they go through that process, that you actually have to ...

Maybe I'm a frustrated movie director.

Sounds like it.


Well, that LP, Camera Obscura, with John Cale, how did you find working with John once again after so long ? Is it a comfortable relationship ? Very often long relationships aren't necessarily comfortable ones. They can be ...

Oh, it's like it's always been, nothing has changed at all.


And that's exactly what's so valuable about our relationship.

And you borrow a couple of John's musicians that play in his band to back you in some instances.

No. You got it wrong. It's the other way around.

Huh uh.

He brought the Faction for his record, 'Artificial Intelligence'.


No no, it's the other way around, because he didn't have any good ones at that time.

And that brings us up to 1986, in Melbourne, see it wasn't too painful going back, you came in very quickly. The band that you're now with, the Faction, who are the Faction, what are the instruments in it, people who we'll see in Melbourne ?

Oh, Jim is from Oxford, and he plays the keyboards and synthesizer, and he's a jazz musician from ... a classical trained musician. And-a, Eric Random ...

Eric Random ?

Yeah, he also has his own group.


But he plays tabla and synthesizer for me...

Oh really ?

Also. Yes.

I've got a number of his records.

Yes ?

Yes. That'll be interesting.

And also there's Toby who had abandoned me for the record, 'cause he got married to a South-American Danish girl.

Interesting combination!

Yes, because she's South-American living in Denmark and-a... So he didn't play on the record unfortunately, so I had to, I was only making it with two musicians, Jim and Didds, Graham Didds was the name, he's a fantastic percussionist, he plays on the album. But Toby is very good, too.

So the three piece band, and yourself.

They'll play tonight.

What do you play on stage ?

Only the organ.

The organ. Is it an acoustic organ like an harmonium or an electric one ?

Pump organ.

A pump organ, oh yeah.

From India.

They sound much better than the electronic ones, don't they, the real ones, much more soul.

Yes. Well it sounds like the wind.

Well, looking back, we've talked about the LPs that you've recorded, what are your favourite LPs or songs that you feel if you're going to have a Nico song that was going to be remembered about you, or a record, which one of the ones do you think should be the one you'd want ?

The last one and Marble Index.

Right. Is there a connection between those two, do you think, or is there just something about the songs, or the performance ?

It's maybe because it was my first album that John produced, and the last one is also one that I , it was like I did my first record with John, yeah, it was the same feeling about it.

Do you enjoy live performance ? Do you like playing in front of people ?

Oh yes a lot. I would live on a stage if I could.

Alright. And in terms of the songs that you perform on your current tour, what can people expect to hear ? Do they hear the new LP, of course obviously some tracks from that, what do they hear of the old songs ? Any ?

Yes, but I'd rather not say.

Keep it a surprise.


Well, your first show is on at the Club tonight, without getting too 'National Inquiry' ...

I'm not the type of person that writes hundreds of songs like Dylan does.

Right, right.

So ... it's only, you know, I mean, out of six albums, an hour and a half of material.

You've been involved, without getting too 'National Inquiry' about it, you've been involved with well, Jimmy Page, John Cale, Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, er, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan. Iggy Pop talks about you in his autobiography.

Really, what a trifle thing he talks about, it's terrible.

Yes, he seems to feel you contributed to his education in many forms. Now all those people though, in terms of having worked with them, which one do you think you've learned the most from ? In terms of, working, on a personal ...

Musically the Velvet Underground and lyrically Jim Morrison, and Dylan also, but I think I prefer Jim Morrison's poetry.

Right. The 'American Prayer' LP, did you hear that one, the one where it's just him doing it ?

Yes, I've got them all.

It's a remarkable record that one, isn't it. Well, so you're in Melbourne, you're doing three concerts. We can hear perhaps some of the oldies, we'll have to turn up and see, certainly some of the LP Camera Obscura. When you leave Australia, where to for Nico, and what to do ? More music ?

Yes, I want to write more songs in India. I'll stop there for a month. Then I have to go to England and continue singing.

When you heard that you would be touring ...

And Japan. Oh yes, I have to go to Japan in March or April.

When you heard that you would be touring Australia, what was your reaction ? It's a long way off from where you spent most of your life, that's right ? Where you spend most of your life. Was it a surprise that you'd be popular enough to tour Australia, it's very remote from ...

Yes, but I'm not as popular as other musicians, some of the others. I mean I still play, you know, small circuits.

Huh uh. Have you any personal favourites now in terms of other performers that inspire you ? You talked about the ones, you know, you talked about the inspiration of Morrison and people like that, is there anyone around at the moment ?

No, musically, I might get inspired by Egyptian music, and-a, some Pakistani music, Arab music. I love Arabic music.

Yeah, well there's a tinge of it on 'Drama of Exile', which unfortunately is a very difficult album to get. There was some problem there, wasn't there, with its release.

The music like Philip Glass and Stockhausen, Steve Reich, I love that, too.

Phil Glass is actually coming out here, in March, with Laurie Anderson, which should be interesting.


Well, where do you go, you say you're some gypsy to some degree, you have a passport which says you don't live anywhere, but after this journey in India, where do you return to then ?

To London.

To London, to Brixton.

Yes. No, I have to go back on tour, and right after that I go to Japan.

Busy time then 1986 ?

Of course it's, it's the year of my Chinese sign which is the Tiger.

A good year.

It's only twelve years, every twelve years.

Alright. Well, thanks for spending the time tonight, I realise that a light flight down from Sydney and then you've got the performance tonight. Thanks for coming in. I appreciate it.

Thank you.