Asia Argento has finished recording Total Entropy, her first full-length album, due to be released in August on NUUN Records. Between shootings for a new film in Corsica, she speaks about the new album, music, writing, and of course, smoking.
When I was first asked to interview Asia Argento about her new record, I thought to myself; why can't somebody else do it? I don't conduct interviews and I despise music journalists because most of them aren't qualified to sharpen a pencil. Fuck this bullshit. But I saw the album cover with that cigarette smoke circling over her face and remembered that she is a militant smoker. And then I saw the song title "my stomach is the most violent in all of Italy" so I could not refuse. I had two questions prepared, both about cigarettes. But thankfully, she saved my ass and basically interviewed herself. How can you not dig the A-23?
AB: your new record is on vinyl, do you collect vinyl?
AA: yes since age 5. I only have vinyl at home, I cannot even listen to CDs, I don't have a CD player...I have three record players and my kids play with them and I tell them they cannot because if they touch them they're going to break the needle so I constantly have to have needles in my home....in Italy there's this record shop, I am very good friends with them and sometimes the son of the owner even comes to my house and brings needles and other stuff that I need
AB: because the kids destroy everything
AA: Yeah its mayhem at my house... I DJ for my kids, and my older daughter, I have a kids day and 12 kids at a time every weekend and it always ends up with me playing records with them and dancing...it's a pretty good way to manipulate young egg-shell minds
AB: ok c'mon did you ever steal any of your dad's cool records?
AA: To be brutally honest with you, my dad did not own any records
AA: No, it was my mother who was the savant...she was the one who actually introduced him to Goblin...my father was a bit of a petite bourgeoisie I mean he knows everything about cinema but my mother was the savant aficionado of music and she instilled that onto me at a very, very young age. She had all these vinyls that I cherish and I remember this first encounter with the Beatles and Apple, this apple on the vinyl, it was so symbolic and so profound...
AB: it's true
AA: and she was very much into funk and soul and also very weird and psychedelic shit, I still have a lot of her vinyl which I still play when I DJ to disturb people...I play her Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed...to disturb people (makes a noisy vocal sound)...she had an amazing collection and I managed to save a lot of those from destruction.
AB: the graveyard of vinyl, but it's still around and always gonna be there...it will never die
AA: I know, absolutely not...to be quite honest, people predict the death of film and people I admire very much, artists, filmmakers, DPs...the death of film, of 35 mm, of this beautiful medium, of the grain or lack of grain, something absolutely authentic, organic like film that is made out of trees, out of water, out of leaves and to be replaced with something that duplicates reality like a robot that's why my new movie, as a director, that I insisted that it be shot on film because they predict that in two years that film will be absolutely dead, but I do not agree like the death of vinyl, see it hasn't happened, tapes and cassettes have died, CDs are useless, completely useless, I don't know about you but I throw them around like Frisbees, but the vinyl somehow it remains.
AB: your new album seems as if it was created as a collage of tracks from different places, using different musicians and producers, sessions, styles...were you thinking about it consciously doing an album this way or did it develop in a random state?
AA: It took me 12 years to do it
AB: it's very interesting because of it I think
AA: yes because of the way I make art which is varied and I love collaborating with people, making movies - it's all about that and throughout the years I have contacted, or I came about or met, things happened where I worked with musicians and with my obsession with music all of a sudden when I was 25, people came to me and asked me to do things which were spoken because I did not have the courage to bring my voice out and also because I have this very hoarse, masculine voice, definitely not a singing voice but I'm a songwriter, I'm a poet pretty much since I was seven years old, so to me it was natural to put, it was actually fascinating to find a new way to write poetry within the confinements of a metric system of melody where there's rhymes, where there's melody within the melody to find the poetry after, to hear a song and then find poetry for it, to find a story...a beginning...an end...an arch
AB: and doing it in a lot of different styles as well
AA: yes but to me, the way I listen to music at home, I like all sorts of music except shit, I do not like shit or incompetent people, all the bastards too, I do not have any pity for them. But I did not have the ambition to have a band or to go on tour, no it's not about that, I wanted to make a collage which is also kind of like a diary and have meetings with people as I think this is the most important thing in one's life, to meet people and to connect, to create and to make art together, those are the most exquisite moments of one's life.
AB: you mentioned a diary, in one of your films, Scarlet Diva, there is a collage book in a scene when you are on a boat and also it appears in the final credits, I'm assuming that's yours and you've made many of these over the years...
AA: Yes, but like everything I do it is amateurish but I also draw and paint, I do small drawings and that was a diary I kept when I was writing Scarlet Diva and when I finished it, the movie was dedicated to a man I loved when I was 23, he was an American musician, I also wrote the book for him, and then I gave it to him so I don't own this anymore and I thought that he had thrown it away but after 15 years I spoke to him not very long ago and he said he still has it. So an important thing of art is not to keep it for yourself but if you do it, it must go to the others, I don't make art for myself, there has to be a discussion, criticism which I don't like very much, I don't read it, but praise, yes but a fake one I detect and I don't need it, I like to share what I do, sharing is very important, as much as I share when I meet a musician and we make music together and most of the time these musicians write the music when I am with them or they come with a song that's already written but sometimes like songs I did with my ex-boyfriend, the father of my first child, Morgan, I will tell him let's do this melody or this and that or let's put a moog or let's start the song Liebestod...
AB: that song is amazing, the orchestration is magnificent, the way that it all plays out
AA: he's a genius, a multi-instrumentalist and we were obsessed with this idea...Liebestod, you know it means the death of love and we were actually at the end of our relationship so we wrote the song about the death of our love and we're great friends, you know the few concerts I do we do them together and he also did the music for my second movie, we still collaborate, he's truly a genius and he did all the orchestration and there's even a Theremin in there
"To be brutally honest with you, my dad did not own any records."
AB: you must have a huge collection of writing that's lying around somewhere
AA: yes that's a huge salvation. When I went to work with this incredible genius Anton Newcombe, and I don't use this word lightly because very few geniuses I've met, but genius in what he does - music, so we connected somehow on fucking twitter and we said let's make some music. I went to Berlin for five days and I slept in the studio and he would come with his wife and his beautiful two month old child and we would work fourteen to sixteen hours a day and I would just observe him and he would play so many instruments and come up with melodies, put one melody on top and because I had this well of poetry and words written for many years, before I went there and I wrote, I don't know about 40 pages and put them together from my diaries, from my ideas, songs, lyrics, whatever, rhymes, and wrote down 40 pages of that, all unreleased written material and then I went there and we did five songs, unfortunately there's only one on the record but I hope the others will come out someday. And so I would listen to what he was doing and then I would take my words and put them together into something different or like the one on the record, le Sacre Du Printemps, the idea...it talks about dots, that we are dots on a line and the lines are parallel and the lines make an angle and through this angle an angel is born, and it was really what I felt in there with him and his family and this moment in life and when I left Berlin after this incredible moment we had, I forgot the fuckin' diary....
AA: yeah I forgot it on the plane, it was stolen but what I say; easy come easy go
AB: well yeah then you just write more
AA: it's a little scar I carry in my heart but it's tiny. I don't care if they steal anything from me but THAT, it was a complete fusion of the brain for me and this beautiful artist, illuminating, Anton, very few I've met in any field of art, very few people are as illuminated as Anton and of course this brings a lot of confusion, complete chaos to make art every day, I think of Syd Barret and Roky Erikkson, lots of artists that have this light...blinding, also to people around them, must be very hard for them to live with this kind of light
AB: on your record I detect so much humor and absurdity...
AA: Thank you, because in Italy for instance nobody gets the humor, outside they seem to have more of a sense of humor. I'm all about that and I laugh all day every day with very few people who have the same sense of humor and we laugh so hard but most people they do not get it...and humor...it's like a truck driver - sometime they can be you know...sexually scary to some people but I never take myself too seriously except in the moment when I create, even though its humorous, I must concentrate
AB: people in general these days are too serious and so politically correct and they don't get the humor, it's really difficult...it's like smoking in a way...you're still smoking, right? Don't tell me you've quit?
AA: no, I'm like the worst smoker, are you smoking too?
AB: oh everyone tells me I'm the worst; this is why I'm doing the interview
AA: ahhh last night I met this gangster here in Corsica, he's an 80 year old and he said 'look you'll die young' and I said no no no!...I need to smoke, I tried quitting smoking but it's part of me. I started smoking when I was nine years old. No you cannot take this away from me, never! Maybe one day I'll be disgusted I don't know but for now do not take away my cigarettes
AB: I know what you mean. I met this guy in Greece named Nicos who formed a political party in Athens called the Smoker's party and he carries five packs of Gauloises in his hands everywhere he goes so I really bonded with this guy
AA: haha props to Nicos
AB: how many packs do you smoke a day?
AA: I smoke two, what can I say?
AB: that's good
AA: I buy four every time I buy
AB: so you smoke two and everybody else smokes the other two?
AA: no, no, no, I do not mingle with people, I'm very solitary...I like encounters, like I said last night I spent three hours with an 80 year old, a person I saw the light but of course it was dark and he was fucking probably a murderer and gangster, but a beautiful person and we spoke about everything; religion, spirituality, murderers, life, death, children, cancer...we smoked I don't know, one pack, we drank a lot of wine because I also do drink a lot of white wine, I do not drink hard liquor because I do not eat very much and the white wine really helps this because of the sugar so I need to drink white wine and ain't nobody gonna take this away from me
AB: Two packs is manageable, I'm more like three...
"The death of film, of 35 mm, of this beautiful medium, of the grain or lack of grain, something absolutely authentic, organic like film that is made out of trees, out of water, out of leaves and to be replaced with something that duplicates reality like a robot..."
AA: well the gangster, he said you will not live long and I said who the fuck...
AB: well it depends
AA: my grandmother is 85 and she smokes three packs of Marlboro reds 100s, the long ones, she smokes three packs of those a day and her brain is fine, she also drinks white wine and when I go to visit her we drink white wine and we smoke a ton of cigarettes and I'm not gonna die young I mean I'm not gonna die because of cigarettes, that's for sure, I can tell ya this much
AB: I think you can detect a problem, if you can't handle smoking, you'll know...
AA: some people cough a lot, I cough a bit in the morning but I owe a lot to cigarettes for this voice of mine which scares people, with this voice I can do wonders, I can really...I'm like a witch with this voice of mine I inherited from my mother and my grandmother, the great smokers, I can do wonders with this voice...its comin' from the cavern, it's a voice not from the dead, not even the living dead, male-female-he-she-wolf
AB: (laughing) it's a combo. How did you get this fucking "Dark Lady" moniker?
AA: that comes from those bastards. It's just because when dark, scary, but to me it's lighter, so if you met me and we're here together having a glass of wine and smoking a ton of cigarettes, you would see only light
AB: of course, yeah they don't get it
AA: like for example, in cinema, very, very dark compassion but I am only light and I don't like those people. And even like that murderer I met yesterday, he was full of light, illuminated and I have nothing dark about me because for instance, what is dark? Kinky I am not, evil I am not, I only do good, I'd rather die than kill someone. Dark is Berlusconi, Dark is what happened in Turkey, Egypt, that's fuckin dark. I'm not feeling dark...I make art
AB: Exactly. I watched the video of "Ours" and noticed in the comments section so many haters, what the fucks the deal with these people because your singing style is expressive in a different way...
AA: oh they can suck my dick. You know what the difference is between me and them is that I make art every day and they don't. This video which I paid for with 200 euros with my soon to be ex-husband which I would have done completely different, I wanted to do a completely different story but because my husband was very judgmental, I don't know let's call it aesthetic sense and I wanted to make a video that was in a macro of a body, the veins, a landscape of a body in a macro but he did that and I gave that to him so he wouldn't break my balls but I would have done the video differently anyway I paid for it...I recorded the song for free at a friend's house in Lisbon, they can say whatever they want I have the urge to do it, so I do it, whatever they think about it, I do not care, I do not read those fuckin comments, I just put it out there and people say 'how is your record going?' and I have no idea I don't ever wanna know as much as I never want to know what they say about my movies, I don't care, because I make them and I know they exist forever so it's not about now, how much its making or somebody's making money out of it, it's certainly not me or the people involved but in ten years maybe a 20 year old guy in Egypt or Turkey will find this and it may open doors for them because I know there is purity of intent always and it might touch some people, even if its ten people, that's who I'm making it for, nowadays it's not about who's making the best film or record of the week as everyone's downloading it for free anyway
AB: after doing this record are you interested in making more music?
AA: I'll continue and it's probably gonna take me another ten years
AB: yeah but that's ok there shouldn't be a deadline on creation
AA: yeah I don't know it could be September or only three (years) because I am very illuminated in this period so I am making more music, I've made three songs in the meantime with different musicians and who knows
AB: and you said you have four other tracks with Anton sitting around....
AA: yeah you know and there's more, for instance I'm having this concert in Paris and I've decided that apart from four of the musicians from the record, I'm improvising with four other musicians, and we're completely improvising music onstage and this to me is much more fascinating than having a band, doing a concert every four or five months and changing musicians
AB: more of an encounter, experiencing the moment which is unlike anything else...
AA: yeah and you're in front of people too, and there's mistakes, you know through mistakes you can create something new, I'm not, as you can see from the record, I'm not obsessed with perfection, it starts with aesthetics, I have my own idea at least and that has to be perfect but I don't know if all the people who work with me can understand this idea but coming close to perfection because, of course, perfection does not exist. In referring to the concert, I think perfection is improvisation and most of these people I've never even rehearsed with and some playing the glockenspiel, or the omnicord and we go for seven minutes just making noise and we're having fun and this is what I'm doing this for, it's for fun and I don't want to prove anything to anyone except the urge of making this, this is an urge for me, I'm not doing this to sell records or to be appreciated as a musician because I'm not, I'm a poet and it's not really a message, it's the urge of communicating with people who I don't want necessarily to have a dinner or a glass of wine with but I know that for me it's important and it might be for them too.
AB: (while laughing) you use the line "upsie daisie" (from the track: My Stomach Is The Most Violent Of All Of Italy)
AA: (laughter) it's the fascination of writing in different languages and as you can perceive I'm somebody who reads a lot and picks up sound and things that are humorous and funny to me, "upsie daisie" it's absolutely a funny sound...I wrote that song with this Portuguese artist (Tigerman) I wrote it on SMS, on text messages one night when I was kind of drunk years ago shooting a movie who knows where the fuck where and we said why don't we write some lyrics like that, just exchanging text messages and "upside down or upsie daisie" came out from the drunken foolishness
AB: That's a great title; My Stomach Is The Most Violent Of All Of Italy
AA: This is important for me too, it's a message for the country where I live, it's so retro and I'm really an alien in this country but at the same time I feel like they need somebody like me because they're all so fucking politically correct and people outside of Italy, perhaps because maybe because it's not in Italian they speak other languages , they seem to get this album a lot more than in Italy but it's not a surprise to me otherwise I would have written an album in Italian.
AB: I think you could expect that and you did expect that...
AA: but at the same time I'm necessary for these Troglodytes, you say Troglodytes?
AB: Troglodytes! Haha, yes of course, the Jimmy Castor Bunch...
AA: yeah the two women who are either a whore or a virgin with two opposite doors for these women to be who they want to be and to be artists and not to be scared, especially of their sexuality which frightens me in Italy, and believe me I'm not obsessed with sex but only because of the church in Rome and the Vatican there and all these women they pretend they are fuckin' martyrs, and they are martyrs of the state and of their husbands, of the society and you see them so unhappy and I want to free them and so it's a message you know there's an Italian saying: non si è mai un profeta nel proprio paese - "you're never a prophet in your own country" - so you have to come from far away and then you will come to them after many, many years, like I said, it's really, really retro in Italy right now....
AB: I think what's great is that you do whatever the fuck you want and fuck what anyone else thinks...
AA: Fuck-em all, kill-em all (laughing)
"I owe a lot to cigarettes for this voice of mine which scares people."
AB: this is the freedom you need, the freedom we all need
AA: and you know how we get this freedom? Do you know? And I hope it's the same for you because I never had a dream of being rich and I never had a dream of owning a big house...of course I have the dream I have two children which I am the only provider for so I have a dream that they have a good school at least not only, ya know, for what they're gonna learn which of course, hopefully they're gonna forget but it's not a nightmare to go to school every day, they have nice teachers, sports, things, input so I work very hard for the school of my children so they have a roof over their heads, but for the rest, I do not shop, I do not buy, I do not own anything of any value so if the thieves come to my house, you're fucking welcome and they'll get nothing...
AB: But they can smoke in your house...
AA: except my records, which anyway, an ex-boyfriend I had this collection of 200,000 songs that I had been collecting for 15 years and I never do the backup and this fuckin motherfucker broke my computer and so everything is gone...but easy come and easy go so that was the only thing that was stolen, broken, whatever, that hurts me so the rest they can steal whatever they want, I don't own shit! My aunt says I'm like a fucking priest, I never had the dream of making money through what I do, never. And you can see it very well...
AB: you can see it in your work
AA: and some people like me and you we can write some more, all that matters is that I'm talking to you right now I'm on fucking Corsica shooting some shit so I can provide for my children as an actress and I'm talkin to you about great things and then having a blast, smoking cigarettes...
AB: (laughing) So on Corsica, it's off shore so you probably have a smoking room there or do you just smoke anyway?
AA: Oh I smoke anyway...I will say "Impeach me" I don't care, call the motherfuckin police...
AB: I was in LAX airport, this was maybe 8 or 10 years ago, I'm at the boarding gate getting ready to board, looking over near the corner there are 4 or 5 Japanese businessmen dressed in suits and they're all smoking. This is well after California passed their law...and I stood there for a moment in awe just watching these guys smoking and talking...
AA: (laughing) those guys are rich, they can pay the $5000 fine...
AB: so I walked up to the woman at the check-in desk and said 'so this has now become a smoking section?' and she said 'well....I'm not gonna mess with those guys because they are...'
AB: YAKUZA!, that's right! So I walked over and sat down in the nearest chair to them, lit up a cigarette and was just part of the gang.
AA: You know what I did lately? Which is very gangster, gangster...you as a smoker, you might know, I fuckin smoke in airport bathrooms...
AB: yeah me too
AA: I'm very sneaky, I can only have like 3, 4, maybe 5 drags...
AA: and I check to make sure there's no people or sometimes they're very busy you know and I find the bathroom that's the farthest and I use the newspaper to blow the smoke away and then I walk out, and strange enough, the cloud of smoke always protects me, then BOOM, I get out and never get caught! I do not smoke in airplanes though...
AB: No I don't either, I've seen people get busted for doing it too often...
AA: but in the airports, I fuckin smoke all the time and I never get caught
AB: I do the same and pick my spots...but never on the planes...
AA: That shit is dangerous, the Nazi nicotine police, a friend of mine got kicked out and almost went to jail because of it, no I do not do that, I do not want to go to jail, and I know it must be an experience that's missing in my life that at some point will happen, but I will never kill or hurt, for two or three days I'm sure it's gonna happen...oh I don't do drugs by the way, but who knows maybe one time on a 24 hour flight to Australia, I might need to smoke and I'll go to jail for it...
AB: yeah they are so hardcore about it these days, you know that's why I have been living in Egypt because they have elevators with ashtrays inside them...it's for me, a welcoming. "Welcome to Egypt". It's a beautiful thing
AA: I love it. Italy used to be like that then they became the first Nazi's...
AB: yeah I couldn't believe Italy went down then Ireland and France, I mean what the fuck? And now Beirut went down and I was in the airport there last year and I asked the guy what happened to the smoking sections? And he said 'sorry sir, but just go into the restroom' and I say 'so it's ok in the bathroom?', 'No it's not ok but that's what we do!' and he was a cop.
AA: hah, I'll tell you something else, because I'm such a nice person and people really like me, god damn, people like me (laughing), and so there's always restaurants and things and they have the place where they stock food or change clothes and shit, and it becomes so friendly, that anywhere I go, the places where they serve you wine, because they're more mellow, I don't know, eat, talk, blah blah blah, I say 'look, can I go into the lockers and have a cigarette?' and they let me in there...and in Rome, there are smoking sections in the airport but they're very far away and sometimes I do that and now I'm friends in all the places where they have the lockers so I go in there and smoke...but you know what? I'll tell you something very deep...some mad shit...cuz me and you, fire...the elements...earth, water, air, fire...everyone is afraid of fire...the cigarette is our only last link to this element within us...I'm not gonna give up.