It’s an uncharacteristically hot day in London but Martin Creed is dressed up smart in a black suit and a bright red ’70s polyester sport shirt. “That’s unbreathable,” I tell him. “I know, but I really like the way they’re designed!” he says. Creed was awarded the Turner Prize in 2001 at age 33, for his “Work No 227: The Lights Going On and Off” (lights which switched on and off in an empty room), and no matter what he makes—from videos of people vomiting or defecating, to a screwed up piece of paper or a thumb-printed splodge of Blu-Tack—his work inspires debate. Most recently the Wakefield-born, Glasgow-raised artist helped announce the opening of the Olympics with the crowd-sourced “Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes”. The largest harmonically-tuned bell in Europe, which featured during the Olympics opening ceremony, was also his design. Quite a coup to be involved with such an event, although he admits to feeling slightly awkward about the alliance. “I don’t really like being involved in institutions,” he says.
Creed sees no distinction between painting, sculpture, dance, music, whatever. Creed creates. That’s just what he does. His debut album Love to You (Moshi Moshi Records) is by turns ramshackle, abrasive, playful and tender. One-minute blasts of punk rub up against against sweet acoustic ditties with lilting harmonies. The lyrical wordplay can be delightfully childish one minute and entertainingly raw the next, all delivered with Creed’s distinct and brilliant Scottish brogue. His latest single “You’re The One For Me” is a re-worked, re-recorded version produced by The Nice Nice Boys (aka Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy and Andy Knowles of Johnny Marr & The Healers). Though Creed describes the LP edit as sounding like a drunk guy out in Glasgow on a Saturday night, this latest rendition has more of a laidback Caribbean vibe, replete with the sound of lapping waves and a video featuring Creed frolicking on the beach in his favorite leopard print trunks (as see on the album cover). Get ready for some crotch shots.
Below, check out the exclusive premiere of his video for “You’re The One For Me”, officially numbered #1429, and read my interview beneath it.
You’re currently the artist in residence at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art… They had the idea that every month they’ll put different work into the museum somewhere and it’ll gradually build up over the year. They wanted a bit of everything that I do and wanted music to be a part of it, so I suggested going to Chicago and recording. I went with Andy [Knowles] producing it for a week. We recorded half an hour of songs, which is the start of the next album. This album’s only just come out so I don’t know when the next one will be ready. The museum are going to make a limited edition 12-inch of some of the songs. I went to Chicago to do some paintings as well, with the help of some local students.
Was that inspiring to be out of your comfort zone and regular creative habitat? Aye. I’ve never done that before actually. That’s a bit taken from doing music, like going into the studio with other musicians and having parts of songs, then going for limited period of time and going for it. I’ve been trying to do a similar thing with my visual work, so for a show I had last year, I left it till the week before the show opened.
Do you like flying by the seat of your pants? Aye, I do. I get really scared of it, but often I leave things till the last minute because it’s hard to imagine the future. It’s like when you go onstage. You can rehearse as much as you like, but when you go onstage it’s totally different to how I thought it was going to be and everything I prepared just seems like deluded crap. I’ve been trying to bring the production closer to the deadline, aye, but trying to make the work more in the world, rather than in private.
I imagine performing music live presents a different, more immediate thrill and sense of confrontation than your art. Is that something you thrive off? I like that. I find it really exciting, dangerous and scary. I’d much rather die onstage trying to be me.
Tell me about this island of Alicudi off the coast of Sicily where you escape to. It’s so small! But even with it being that small, only a third of it is inhabitable. It’s quite steep where people live, there’s no roads, just steps, all higgledy-piggedly and then the back is just sheer cliffs. I saw it in a film called Dear Diary by Nanni Moretti. The director is a Woody Allen-type character and he talks to camera and the film’s about him trying to write the film. He’s trying to find peace and quiet to work on the script, and eventually he gets to this island, Alicudi. So I was watching it with my [ex-girlfriend] and we just decided to go there because it looked funny. We eventually rented a house and just lived there and then finally bought the house. It’s so brilliant and beautiful, but it’s really like a dead end. I suppose people would call it a retreat. A lot of people don’t like being there because you can feel trapped.
I hear you’ve recently got into hats. Since Andy took me to that bloody hat shop in Chicago. And since growing my hair. It’s weird, that. If you grow your hair then you cover it up with a hat.
Well sometimes you have bad hair days… And a hat contains that. I’ve got about five different hats, but three are from that place in Chicago. But today I’m wearing a hair clip for the first time ever. Also my ponytail, it’s fucking ridiculous! I’ve become all the things I’ve hated when I was younger! I hated people with beards! When I was a boy I was scared of hair and beards.
Why? Because it was too masculine? Not consciously. It was more about it being disgusting, but maybe it was because of that. All my family are still like that. They’ll be like, “Oh I saw hairy you on the TV.” I think that hair for some people represents stuff coming from the insides and people who want to contain things are scared of what’s inside them. It’s basically like having shit on your face! It’s stuff that comes out of you. It’s the same as shit basically, except it doesn’t smell.
You were responsible for the 27 ton bell. Did you go watch it being forged? No. Haha! I think because I’ve got a love hate relationship with my work.
With all of your work? Aye! I get sick of it. I’m fucking sick of bells. I hate bells! I do! I don’t care about bells. I don’t care about fucking guitars or paint. Actually I do care about guitars and that’s a problem. I think the way to work is to not care about materials. If you get all attached…
It’s distracting. Exactly.