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A History of The Sisters of Mercy in “Waiting for Another War”: An Interview with Author Trevor Ristow

WAITING FOR ANOTHER WAR
Interview with author Trevor Ristow

Besides Wayne Hussey’s first part of his autobiography “Salad Daze”, and the successfully crowdfunded as well as highly anticipated “Paint My Name In Black And Gold” of Mark Andrews, which will hopefully see the light of day in 2021, last year also saw the release of the excellent “Waiting For Another War” biography, covering the first five years of The Sisters Of Mercy – from 1980 to 1985. The announcement of the book came pretty much out of nowhere, the first edition was gone within a few hours, and the world-wide response to author Trevor Ristow’s work couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. Trevor was kind enough to give Post-Punk.com a few insights into what led to the publishing of “Waiting For Another War”, background into his writing, and a small outlook possible Volume 2.

First question right off the bat: Were you surprised by the vast international feedback to “Waiting For Another War”, your book on the first five years of the history of The Sisters Of Mercy?

Yes, I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s easy to think of a book about The Sisters Of Mercy as an extremely niche thing when you live in the US, where the fanbase is dedicated but small. At first, my print run was going to be 100 copies, but the cost per book was prohibitive so I took a gamble and printed 200 instead. I put up a single, short post on a Sisters Facebook group, with no roll-out whatsoever, and they all sold within a few hours. Nearly every copy went to the UK or the Continent. That was my first inkling that I had underestimated the appetite for the book abroad.

When did you first play around with the idea of writing a book on one of your most favorite bands?

I started writing this book at the end of 1999 after I organized my sprawling collection of Sisters cuttings into binders. I sat down at my messy desk at the end of every day and read through interviews and articles and started layering the facts and quotes into a single, chronological document. In retrospect, I can see that the project was a sort of meditation for me. I was living in a tiny New York apartment on the 49th floor of a building in Tribeca. The entire view was dominated by the huge towers of the World Trade Center. My life wasn’t going so well in a variety of ways. My relationship was not great, I didn’t really have a career, and I had a crippling drug addiction. Then one day the World Trade Center came down outside my window. My building was completely enveloped in a cloud of toxic dust. It was perpetual night, pierced only by flashing lights and wailing sirens. All the power went out and to get to or from my apartment I had to walk 49 flights of stairs. Outside, fathers and children and wives were wallpapering the entire city with flyers, hoping for any sight of their sons, mothers, or husbands, all of whom, we soon learned, were already dead. People were openly crying on the street, everywhere. Even my dealer, who I met one night on 2nd Avenue just next to Stuyvesant Park, was in tears. It was an indescribable, desperately sad time for the city, and for me. I think the book project occupied my mind with something other than despair.

What was the initial moment you’ve encountered the Sisters like, and were you captivated right away?

Yes, I loved them from the moment I heard them in 1984 and I became a huge fan right away. I found them at the right time in my life. I like to say I was an early fan, but that’s by US standards. There are a lot of people, especially in the UK, who were into the band from the very beginning, and I do envy them a bit. Luckily for me, a lot of those guys are on Facebook and are generous with their reminiscences. Also, Nikolas Lagartija’s blog “I Was A Teenage Sisters Of Mercy Fan” has done a great job of collecting memories.

Before breaking through, the Sisters were pretty much an underground band mostly known in the UK. In your opinion, what were the first steps that led to the band being at least a little better known in the US?

Hard work and talent. A few people who’ve read my book have told me that I painted Eldritch in an unflattering light at times, that he came off as overly ambitious and autocratic. Maybe it’s my personality, but I never intended any of that as criticism. I admire those qualities in Eldritch unreservedly. I mean, my other great hero is Bismarck. Very little of value is created by committee; it’s almost always the vision and drive of a single man that creates great art. So I tried to present Eldritch as I understand him: serious about his work, unwilling to compromise it, and dedicated to getting it out in the world. I think The Sisters’ success in the US is attributable to these virtues, same as their success in every other market. At least in the period covered by the book, Eldritch made the right decisions with regard to labels, tours, and press. All of this hard work resulted in increased visibility and sales in the US. Of course, the songs had to be great too.

In the 80s, your TSOM fandom led to you releasing two volumes of a fanzine called „Romance And Assassination“. Do you think that these first baby-steps in publishing were the foundation for you becoming a full-fledged book author decades later in your life?

I guess so. It was satisfying to do those ‘zines. They were an expression of my passion, and – as anyone who publishes a ‘zine can tell you – it felt good to create something and put it out in the world. Even 35 years later I am proud of them, primitive as they are.

How would you describe the longevity of the Sisters up until today?

I think the music has the same appeal as all great art: it moves you. Beethoven has endured even longer.

Taking into consideration that their last full-length album was released 31 years and their last official single 29 years ago, what makes Andrew Eldritch and his hired guns so special that he could still, in pre-pandemic times, tour the world at least bi-annually playing in mid-sized and even big concerts hall internationally?

They don’t stand still. As much as I’d love to see them perform the album First And Last And Always from start to finish, they don’t do that kind of thing. They are an active band, writing new material, and reimagining the old material. Sometimes they’ll fuck up something that was perfect – the replacement riff for ‘First And Last And Always’ anyone? –, but at least they’re moving. Eldritch won’t put on the hat again because you can only really get away with that once and then it’s all over.

I read you mentioning in another interview that you also have quite a soft spot for the live incarnation of the band from 1992 to 1998. So do I. What is it about those line-up(s) in this particular period that made you enjoy the Sisters performance?

After the “Vision Thing” tour Eldritch clearly reevaluated his band and its sound. The two-dimensional Rock’n’Roll band that toured in 1990-1991 was, in my opinion, a bit of an aberration for The Sisters, who were always more complex than that. Before 1990 The Sisters blended elements of rock with punk, new wave with no wave, Suicide with ABBA. After 1992 Eldritch returned to those more eclectic instincts. If you watch a video of, for example, the 1997 gig in Philadelphia, you can clearly see it’s a different beast compared to the band that did the video for ‘More’. It’s sleeker, with a more sophisticated, industrial sound that embraces rather than fights the drum machine. Even the band’s presentation had changed. The entire Vision Thing tour looked as if it had been conceived by the in-house production designer at Harley-Davidson. By 1992 all that was gone. The few new songs from the era – “Summer”, “(We Are The Same) Suzanne”, “Romeo Down” – are terrific. Adam Pearson was an outstanding guitarist. Eldritch was in fine form and the entire machine hummed. “Comfortably Numb/Some Kind Of Stranger” with backup singers? It’s hard to beat.

Have you already started working on Volume 2 of „Waiting For Another War“? And if yes, is your plan to cover the period from after the FALAA line-up split up until „Vision Thing“?

Yep. I’m not sure yet what the scope will be though. It depends on how long the manuscript is. However it ends up, it’ll take some time.

In closing: Do you have a favorite Sisters story, trivia tidbit, or anecdote that you’ve never shared before?

Everything I know about The Sisters went into the book, unless it was too personal to print. But there are some more great anecdotes for Volume II.

My traditional closing question: Your hopes, plans, and dreams for the future?

My hopes these days are mostly for my sons: long, fulfilling, happy lives on an unpolluted, clean earth where all modern architecture has been razed.

I wholeheartedly second that. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Trevor. Best of luck with all your future endeavors. Stay safe and healthy, please.

Thank you, Thomas.

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Thomas Thyssen

Former head editor of GOTHIC Magazine & GOTHIC Lifestyle. Co-founder of and DJ at PAGAN LOVE SONGS (Zwischenfall, Bochum + various locations 1999-2019). Co-promoter (2005-2010) and resident DJ (2005-2015) at WHEN WE WERE YOUNG (WGT, Leipzig). Resident DJ (2011-2014) at CEREMONIES (various locations, Berlin). Concert and festival promoter for more than 25 years. Senior Editor at Post-Punk.com, Co-host of the POST-PUNK PODCAST. Contributor to several international book projects. Senior Manager PR, Product Manager and A&R Consultant at UNIVERSAL MUSIC GERMANY (Berlin) for ten years. Consultant to Swiss Electronic Legends YELLO. Head of Recorded Music at SCHUBERT MUSIC RECORDS, Managing Director at SCHUBERT MUSIC PUBLISHING, Senior Artist Manager at CELSIUS MANAGEMENT, Senior PR Manager at HARDBEAT PROMOTION, Label-Head of FREAKWAVE. Swiss Army Knife in all things Alternative Music.

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