Trevor Ristow has written a book, Waiting for Another War, covering the early days of seminal 80s indie band, the Sisters of Mercy. No More Workhorse had a chat with him about it.
Did you consider speaking to any of the band, past or present, for the book? The first volume covers 1980-1985. Are there plans for future volumes?
My idea for the book was to write it, as it is, but much longer, taking the band’s story all the way up to the present. Then, when I’d finished all my own research, I thought I’d reach out to band members and others in the band’s orbit from every era and ask any questions I still had, maybe solicit some anecdotes or stories that I’d missed. But circumstances overtook this plan. The massive 1980-2020 book project was sort of only half-written and had sat untouched for over a decade when I learned that Mark Andrews was doing his history of The Sisters 1980-1985. He’s a terrific writer and he’s got access to Adams, Hussey and Marx and a lot of the entourage and crew. So I decided to print up what I had for the early years simply to give a life to the project and focus on 1986-present in subsequent volumes. So there will be at least one more volume taking the story to 1993 (the end of their recording career), and then hopefully one more tackling the live-only band, which has given us some great songs. For those volumes, I would like to speak with the band members, but I’m not entirely sure when I will find the time to work on them.
Well, yes, but I left out anything too personal that didn’t further my understanding of the songs, the performances or the social dynamics within the band, which bore directly on the music, especially at the end. I didn’t want to write a gossipy book. I wanted to write a book that told the band’s story and attempted to make sense of them as a creative phenomenon.
There are two distinct periods with the Sisters of Mercy, up to 1985 which was very much a band, and then post 1985 which was the Andrew Eldritch show. Do you rate both periods equally?
That’s a hard question but I think I’d say that 1980-1985 is my favourite era, followed by the live band 1992-1998. But I love every period.
Tell me about some of your favourite Sisters tracks
‘Train’ is my favourite track, a real sleeper with opaque lyrics that haven’t revealed their exact meaning to me in over thirty years. It’s extremely evocative. I can listen to it endlessly. I love The Reptile House EP, especially ‘Valentine,’ ‘Kiss The Carpet’ and ‘Fix.’ The latter two songs, interestingly enough, really only realized their potential in later years as live renditions. ‘Good Things’ is great. First And Last And Always, the entire album, is magnificent, apart from ‘Black Planet’ which is of course mediocre. I’d have to say I love or really like almost every song from the period covered by this book. From the later years, I love the ‘Flood’ twins, ‘Summer’ and ‘Crash And Burn.’ For covers I favour ‘Emma’ and ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,’ but who doesn’t.
For a newcomer, where would you start with the Sisters?
I’d start with Floodland even though I don’t think it’s their best album. It’s a bit more immediate and accessible than First And Last And Always.
There were other bands in the 80s compared with the Sisters of Mercy, what did you think of those bands, were/are you interested in them?
Yes, I loved some of them (specifically Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, who I find spectacularly underrated, and James Ray And The Performance). I listened to some others back then, like Fields Of The Nephilim or Ghost Dance, but my interest in these bands has not endured. In fact, it didn’t last longer than a short phase in my teens when I think I thought I should like them. To me the only truly great bands to emerge from that UK postpunk scene were The Sisters, Nick Cave, Joy Division and maybe The Virgin Prunes.
Do you have any personal experience of the band?
I’ve seen them play a lot, that’s it. I tried to speak with them in Leeds 2003 and again in New York in 2006, but without much luck.
Apart from the Sisters, what other music floats your boat?
My favourite two bands, hands down, are The Sisters and Foetus, also known under a lot of other names like Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. But I also have to mention Joy Division and Swans. Apart from those guys I listen to a lot of romantic classical music, especially Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Brahms, and country music like Townes van Zandt and Hank Williams Sr. I like earnestness in my music. I don’t listen to Cardi B.
Do you think the influence of the Sisters of Mercy has endured to this day? Why/why not?
Yes, I think it has. The fact that drum machines are so widely used by guitar-based industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails is a testament to their influence. But beyond that, The Sisters pulled from a huge range of influences themselves: 1960s music like Fleetwood Mac, what we used to call “acid rock” like Led Zeppelin, pop music like George Michael, Motown, disco, New York proto-punks like Suicide or The Stooges or The Velvet Underground, California rockabilly-grunge like The Cramps, first-wave punk like The Sex Pistols, Heavy Metal like Motörhead, and of course their rough contemporaries like Joy Division. I think when you have such diversity of input, you’re going to output something unique, as The Sisters did, and if it’s any good, as The Sisters were, then you’re going to leave a mark. I can hear The Sisters’ influence in the obvious places, like NIN or Marilyn Manson, but also in pop music, folk music and heavy metal. Whether artists today realise they’re influenced by The Sisters is an open question, but that’s the way influence works: you seed something into the culture and people are free to forget the source.
Photo Credits –
For the cover photo: © 1985 Ulf Berglund
For the back cover photo: © 1983 Daryl-Ann Saunders.