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Martin Atkins

In a pig's eye

"People are prepared to challenge themselves and take risks and take shit for dyeing their hair blue."

With its revolving roster of musicians, Pigface has served as a sort of who's-who of industrial music over the years. Touring in support of the group's first album in three years, A New High In Low, Martin Atkins—who has drummed with Ministry, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, and John Lydon's Public Image Ltd.—leads Pigface's new incarnation along with former members of Test Dept., My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Dead Can Dance, and Chemlab. Atkins recently spoke to The Onion about blue hair, his Invisible Records label, altering history, and Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres.

The Onion: How long have you been doing this?

Martin Atkins: Well, I joined PiL in 1979 when I was 18, which is just frightening to think about. But it still makes me feel good, because I still love it. I still risk everything for music, and I still have a great time rediscovering what music is all about. I feel lucky to be able to tap into that energy.

O: Does membership in Pigface ever lead to riches?

MA: Well, now you've got [ex-Pigface member] Leslie Rankine doing a Mountain Dew commercial. She took her three Pigface tracks and parlayed them into a solo deal [as Ruby]. Which is great; Pigface exists for everybody to do what they want with it. I'm not suggesting for one second that Pigface had an involvement in Trent Reznor's success, but when Trent joined Pigface and we performed the song "Suck" together, Nine Inch Nails ended up selling about 8,000 more CDs.

O: What's the new "Lowest Of The Low" tour [featuring Pigface, Scorn, Bagman, Not Breathing, Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, and Einstürzende Neubauten's FM Einheit] all about?

MA: We have a really great, diverse, and entertaining evening, whereas if we had five industrial bands or five drum-and-bass projects, who would need that? It's like having five bowls of chocolate ice cream; it just doesn't work. It seems to me that the equivalent of the things people find exciting about food—combinations of tastes and spices—doesn't exist in music. People are prepared to challenge themselves and take risks and take shit for dyeing their hair blue. I mean, blue hair is fantastic at 2 o'clock Friday morning when you're out at a club, but at 10:15 Monday morning when you're waiting for a bus, you've got to take some shit. It surprises me that you can take huge risks and challenge yourself and redefine the limits and dye your hair blue, but then you just become a person who only listens to a certain kind of music or only goes to a certain kind of gig. With our label, we're [trying to reach] people who, when they see five CDs in a store and they don't know any of the bands, might say, "Hey, I'm crazy, my hair's blue, I'm going to listen to something different."

O: Do you ever speak to John Lydon?

MA: I talked to John after a recent Sex Pistols show. He was very smug about the amount of money he'd made. He sat at a bar and drank 13 pints of Guinness, and I sat at the bar with him and watched him drink 13 pints of Guinness. I think John has lost something over the last two years that he can never buy back. He's lost his integrity. I know people who were at the early Sex Pistols shows, the real Sex Pistols shows, and it was something really special to them to be able to say they were there. But apart from looking like a fat idiot and sounding crap, he forever changed the meaning of The Sex Pistols for the people it had a huge amount of meaning for. It's bullshit. You're rewriting history. You're changing the meaning. It's lame to do that just for the money.

O: So you have a different definition of success.

MA: I've burrowed my way through a mountain of cocaine and an ocean of alcohol, yet here I am. I've been totally straight for five years, but I've had my moments. When you give people total freedom to do whatever they want, some become complete pricks. The house with the palm trees and swimming pool is somebody else's idea of success, not mine. But I do try to take the high ground nowadays: If in doubt, put in a bit more effort.

O: There's a story about you planting trees for Tico Torres, Bon Jovi's drummer, during a slow period in your career. Is it funny to think back on that?

MA: Well, it's hilarious now. It was kind of shit at the time. With PiL, we had hotel suites and traveled luxuriously, and then somehow I ended up planting trees for Tico Torres in the rain when I had a fever. But every moment since then has been sweeter, because I appreciate it. That moment—planting trees at Tico's mansion—was a very valuable moment. It changed a lot of things.