“If you are born you will shit yourself, you will die. That’s the only two things that are for sure.”
“You’ll shit yourself?!”
So begins one of many exchanges about death during my half hour conversation with Andy LaPlegua – pronounced ‘Lah-pleg-ah’ – from top electro-industrial outfit Combichrist.
“When you die you shit yourself. It just happens. I’m not saying you should go and celebrate shitting yourself, but if you can celebrate life you can just as well celebrate death. It’s just as natural as life itself.”
We’re seated on either side of what looks like a school desk in a long narrow room with black painted walls. Andy is a big lad with tattoos up his arms. He seems cheerful in spite of his morbid preoccupations.
Combichrist is just one of the bands that Andy – who describes himself as a ‘musical schizo’ – maintains. He is also the singer and sole songwriter for Icon of Coil, Panzer AG and Scandinavian Cock as well as producing and DJing under the name Scandy.
While Icon of Coil and Panzer AG are variations on the electro-industrial theme and Scandy is a techno project, Scandinavian Cock is a straightforward punk band.
“That’s what I grew up with. That’s what I listen to myself. It’s very rare that I listen to electronic music at all by myself.”
Andy’s journey from being a teenage punk rocker to one of the fixtures of the industrial pantheon started in Frederikstad, Norway. Following early exposure to English electro-industrialists Nitzer Ebb he ended up getting involved with programming the electronics for an old school hip hop group.
“The scene in my home city was so small when it comes to alternative music that everybody from hip hop to black metal were all friends. So we’d switch members and do things for each other and it was really weird.
“When I was with the hip hop project we did a show together with some black metal bands. You never see that happening now. That’s how everything started getting mixed in and mixed together.”
Switching between a number of different projects is something that Andy believes is of benefit to the music he makes.
“It gives me objectivity because when I’m done working on one thing and I’m working on Combichrist again I can stay objective with what I want to do with Combichrist. If I’ve gone too long without playing in a proper rock band I want too badly to put that into the next thing I’m doing so subconsciously I will.
“At the same time it allows me to tease with pulling things from this project into this project and switch it around a little bit. Move the bar around a little bit. It’s freedom for music.”
Militaristic themes crop up frequently in his work. On his interest in conflict, the self-proclaimed war history buff had the following to say:
“I think in the same way as you will be sucked into it if you are watching a movie about a serial killer or something you get sucked into it because it’s so strange to us. You can’t put yourself in his situation. At the same time we’re all capable of it.
“Everybody is capable of killing but to us, hopefully to most of us, it’s a completely bizarre idea. That I found interesting. That something so human is so strange to most humans.”
For an artist who has been criticised in the past for singing provocative lyrics and using offensive imagery his reaction to my suggestion that he’s in a long line of musicians who have used imagery from World War 2 is unusual. Here’s Andy’s take on Lemmy from Motorhead’s habit of wearing Nazi uniforms:
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think what he does is absolutely ridiculous. I could have done the same mistakes when I was a kid because you kind of like to provoke when you’re a kid but you grow up and you start thinking a little bit. You’re not just like a punk any more.
“It’s not really even provocative because it’s just silly. You’re not provoked you’re just looking at him like ‘what is he doing?’ I guess some people don’t grow up.”
Before embarking on his current tour with Combichrist Andy was working on a radically different project to the work for which he’s best known.
“It’s just me and acoustic guitar. It’s very, very back to roots of songwriting. In any of the other bands I have every single one would require me to have an audience to bother playing it live. It’s not the same with a full band playing in a room with no people.
“This is the first album that I’m writing that I’d be happy just to sit down completely alone and play because it’s just that personal.”
While none of Andy LaPlegua’s projects have pushed forward into hitherto unconquered musical territory, he has consistently shown a willingness to try out things that he hasn’t tried before.
“I never once since I started making music wanted any huge fame or amazingness. I only wanted to write a song and then when I wrote a song I wanted to have a band to play this song with.
“When we did this we were super excited and then how amazing would it be to play a show?! You just go step by step. I never felt it was a risk for me to do anything different, because it was never about getting bigger as an artist. It was always about doing what I wanted to do as an artist.”
It’s this attitude that keeps the music fresh and energetic and makes Combichrist a fun act to go and see live.