In 1982 Essex boys Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy formed Nitzer Ebb with a focus on vocals, bass, and beats. Through simple teenage rage and the influence of punk rock they formed their own sound in the developing EBM scene. After several acclaimed singles, the band signed with Mute Records in 1986. With Mute they released the major body of their work and became friends with label mates, Depeche Mode, with whom they’ve toured and occasionally collaborated. 1995 saw the release of the bands fifth studio album, Big Hit, followed by them splitting up to walk different paths. After time involved in their own projects, they came together for a reunion tour in 2006 which lead to new Nitzer Ebb material. The result is a new album, Industrial Complex, which the band is now on the road promoting with shows both as headliners and as the supporting act for Depeche Mode’s “Tour of the Universe”.
interview by Aaron Andrews
You both went off to do your own things with various projects after 1995’s Big Hit. Why the decision to get back to making music as Nitzer Ebb?
Douglas McCarthy : It came about after we re-united for what was initially just a few festival shows in Europe. That actually turned into a world tour of not just Europe, but North and South America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand! During that time we had a few breaks in LA and we thought it would be interesting to see where we were at creatively with the band. As it turned out we were in great shape and we went on to write over thirty songs!
Bon Harris : There was a demand for it. Doug had been doing shows with FM, and the were a lot of fans asking for a return. So we came back.
What do you think you’ve each brought back to the band that’s new and/or exciting?
DM : I think we actually brought back a lot of what was there in the very start of the band, mixed with our own personal and creative development as individuals.
BH : Years of individual experience. We all went off and learned new things. We grew and developed as individuals. It makes for a much richer experience working in NE now.
How did Jason come to be involved again?
BH : We had run into each other a few times in LA. Our drummer at the time flaked out, so Jason was the obvious coice to take over. He agreed, and we have not looked back since.
I was pleased to have gotten the chance to see your show in New York in November. I found a lot of the songs I really enjoyed at the show were from Industrial Complex. Is it a good feeling to perform new material?
DM : Loving it!
BH : Yes, it can be difficult to play songs that are ten or twenty years old. It’s always good to see a song grow from a tentative early idea to a crowd favourite. It’s like watching kids grow up I would imagine
Jason Payne : It’s rewarding to play the new songs every night and get such positive feedback from the fans.
Your performance was engaging, exciting, and fun to watch. How do you generate that excitement and stage presence in an electronic band?
DM : To be honest we really don’t know any other way to perform. It’s how we started and see no way or reason to change our attitude and approach.
BH : The format is important. We’ve always included a lot of drums. Keyboards can be very static, drums are the opposite, very physical. Add to that each member of the band gives one hundred percent physical effort on stage. Lots of dancing, lots of movement. We always look to engage the crowd as directly as possible.
JP : Our audiences are consistently enthusiastic, which always helps us keep up the energy, even when we’re dead tired.
With ten years off before the reunion tour and four years since then, is touring hard to get back into after so many years off?
DM : No. I have kept busy with FM so there was that much of a break, and we’re all relatively fit and healthy. I just gave up smoking which is helping!
BH : No, It’s so natural to all of us that we just pick it up where we left off. The traveling can be more tiring than it used to be, but the performing itself is second nature.
JP : Not at all. Sometimes I think I’m better suited to touring than being at home.
Can you talk about the roots of EBM/industrial and how you were tied to them? Why did it interest you at that time and where do you see it going?
DM : There wasn’t any such thing when we began, “industrial” was a term invented by Throbbing Gristle.
BH : We never really thought about categories as such. There were a lot of standard bands around at the time. We wanted to do something different to the usual format. We were interested in synths and the possibilities of electronic music, and the idea that it could be done in a more “punk rock” kind of way. We didn’t see it going anywhere particularly. We just loved doing it so we carried on.
Your music still gets a lot of club plays and acknowledgments from big name DJs. How does it feel to be a band that has a legacy?
DM : Hate it… NO! Just kidding… obviously it’s great.
BH : Good. I’m not sure anybody likes to be forgotten after working hard. So the opposite result feels really good.
You’ve been pretty open about the problem of finding a record label for Industrial Complex, especially in North America; do you see that as a problem for getting exposure to potentially new fans?
DM : It’s a challenging time for any band right now but we always relish a challenge.
BH : Not now we’ve found a partner. Our label, Major Records is amazing, and will do as good a job as it is possible in getting the music to as wide an audience as it is possible to do. Delivery is a challenge for every band and label, big and small, so we’re happy that we’ve found the best solution available to us.
No major label: Advantage or curse?
BH : Advantage, no question of that. No more stupidity.
The Ebb is once again touring in support of Depeche Mode; how does now compare with last time?
DM : There is such a family atmosphere with the Mode, both with band and crew, that has not changed at all. There are less parties these days, as we all have to concentrate a little harder than when we were younger.
BH : We’ve all grown and developed. We have different goals now. I think everybody is much more focused on the music, and creating high quality. It’s not as crazy, more focused.
Does it feel like a good match?
BH : Maybe perfect. At least very, very good.
You’ve associated your image with Germany (by name) and socialism through your imagery. Why did you make those choices and how have they aged?
DM : I think it’s aged well. I am proud that we were sticking our neck out.
BH : I understand our reasons at the time. I think our vision was valid. In some ways quite forward thinking. All around I think everything has aged quite well.
Do you expect to continue making music as Nitzer Ebb, what do you see in the future?
DM : This tour has been very special and I think has allowed us to develop even more as a creative team of like minded people.
BH : Yes. We love making music, we enjoy working together, and understand that something special happens when we do work together. As long as that feeling remains, then there is no reason to stop.
JP : I certainly hope so. We’ve got so many songs left to make, it’d be a shame if they didn’t get made.