Art Brut’s Eddie Argos On Life Away From Music, Beating Diverticulitis In A German Hospital, And His Band’s New Album
Tracking Down is a Stereogum franchise in which we talk to artists who have been out of the spotlight for a minute.
It’s been seven years since Art Brut released an album — a hiatus that lead singer Eddie Argos calls an accident. According to the band’s frontman, he never intended to stop performing in Art Brut. In fact, he’d originally planned to put out one LP a year with the project. But, as often is the case, life happened instead.
A series of events transpired after Art Brut released their last album, 2011’s Brilliant! Tragic!: Members Jasper Future and Mikey Breyer left the group (they’ve since been replaced by Toby Macfarlaine on guitar and Charlie Layton on drums), Argos made a permanent move to Berlin, broke up with an ex, had a baby, came down with diverticulitis, underwent surgery, spent time healing in the hospital — you know, the usual.
But the heavily accented Argos, who is probably best known for his bawdy, sprechgesang-style singing, has zero regrets. Everything that’s happened to him in the last few years is merely fodder for the next album, Art Brut’s forthcoming Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!, arriving on November 23 via Alcopop! Records.
“I love writing songs,” he says during our interview. “I didn’t really mean to stop, it was an accident. I think Art Brut would carry on anyway even if nobody ever bought [another] record, I think I’d have to be in a band. I can’t stop. I have to be in a band.”
He corrects himself: “I have to keeping forming a band.” It’s a wry reference to Art Brut’s 2005 track “Formed A Band” — the song that opens the band’s debut LP, Bang Bang Rock & Roll — in which Argos first told audiences over a stomping beat, “Yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony, it’s not rock ‘n’ roll… We’re just talking to the kids.”
As he reflects on how life has evolved since 2011, Argos never loses his buoyant tongue-in-cheek candor, which also shows up repeatedly on Wham! Bang! Pow!, most notably in the band’s latest single “Hospital!” Against chunky guitar strokes and cheery handclaps, Argos sounds off on his sterile surroundings and makes a series of promises to himself: mainly, if he ever escapes his sickbed, he’s “gonna drink plenty of water and eat my greens.” Maybe even “join the straight-edge scene.” Anything to get out.
“All the words to ‘Hospital!’ I wrote pretty much to satisfy myself,” he says. “They’d help me to the bathroom and stuff, and I was falling over all the time and fainting. And on morphine. I didn’t like morphine, it made me feel really weird. On the third day I was like, ‘Whatever this is, the pink one, I’m not taking it.’ They’re like, “No that’s the really nice one. This is the one you’re supposed to like.'”
Below, Argos has more hospital war stories. Plus, he opens up about what we’ll hear on Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! and how his priorities have shifted from achieving stadium-rock stardom to sustaining a happy, long-term relationship.
STEREOGUM: Art Brut’s new album title, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!, made me think of of your 2005 debut. There’s a similar —
ARGOS: Onomatopoeia? They both have the word “Bang” in there.
STEREOGUM: Yes, exactly. Did you intend for this title to echo Bang Bang Rock & Roll?
ARGOS: Well, maybe a little bit. Not on purpose, but in the back of my mind, maybe. The last album, Brilliant! Tragic!, I wanted to call that one Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! So when I started writing that [album], it was more like that. But then we went into the studio with Frank Black to record it. It became Brilliant! Tragic! It didn’t sound like a Wham! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! I think this record sounds a bit more like the first two. I think the odd [numbered] ones are the best ones there — it’s like a mix of one and three, [but] It wasn’t on purpose. My friend who produced it, folk musician Jim Moray, he’s a really big Art Brut fan, and he likes the first album.
STEREOGUM: Why did this feel like the right time to release the album?
ARGOS: I think I needed a few years just to store up some stuff — things like having a relationship go wrong or going to the hospital. I didn’t want to be one of those bands that releases songs like, “I do like touring, touring’s really boring,” moaning about being in a band. I think we needed a bit of a rest so I could live a bit of life and then put it back into a song. The first 10 years [of Art Brut’s career], we were touring forever. So when we stopped, it was like, “Oh great. Life.” That can happen to me. I’ve got to squeeze lots of life in. So I think that’s why, maybe, it sounds a bit more like the first one, too. I’m writing about things that have happened to me. And more normal stuff [has] happened to me.
STEREOGUM: What happened that you wound up in a hospital? When did you first realize you were sick?
ARGOS: I’d been sick for ages. I’d had this flu for a long time, I don’t know, like seven or eight months. [I thought] maybe it’s not the flu. In England, when you go to the doctor’s, they say, “Take some Paracetamol and go home.” They don’t really look you that much. But in Germany I went to the doctor’s [and said], “I’ve had this flu for seven months, and I’ve got this pain in my side now.” All these different things. I thought, “Is there a tablet I can take or something?” Immediately, he did an ultrasound scan on me. And he looked really worried and said, “You should go to the hospital right now. This is quite bad. I’m really sorry. This is very, very bad luck.”
I drove to the hospital on the bus and phoned my girlfriend said, “Oh you know, this thing wrong with me.” She’s all, “What is it?” And I said,”It’s diverticulitis and peritonitis.” And she said, “Can you spell it?” I’m like, “No, I can’t spell it.” She wanted me to spell it out it would take ages. But I got on the bus and went to hospital. I went to the hospital quite a lot as a kid, because I was always banging myself [but] I’ve never been through a hospital so quick. They looked at it, they took me in, they scanned me. I was in a hospital bed within about two hours. I had the operation the next day. They had to cut out — it was disgusting really — a bit of my bowel because it was leaking poison into me. If it had broken without me being in hospital, I probably would have died, I think. They needed to repair it immediately, but I didn’t know that because I can’t speak German. So it was funny. The operation went on for hours. Everyone kept coming around and shaking my hand and hugging me. German hospitals are very friendly. I had no idea how close I’d been to having it all go wrong.
They’re not very private, those hospitals. I was in a room with six other men. It was awful, it was definitely the worst time of my life. At one point I wasn’t allowed to eat anything for three weeks. Just weird milkshakes, special protein shakes. But the man next to me, I don’t know what was wrong with him, but he was huge. And he was eating all the time. I’d wake up in the middle of the night at three in the morning, he be eating a jar of pickles, looking at me. I was like, “Oh, Jesus.” It was like some sort of Bill Murray or John Candy film or something. But he’s wasn’t funny. He wasn’t a lovable John Candy character. He was just this man.
STEREOGUM: In the song “Hospital!,” it sounds like you’re making all these promises to yourself like,”I’m gonna eat my greens, I’m going to join the straight-edge scene. I’m gonna lead a better, healthier life.” Were you really saying things like that to yourself at the time?
ARGOS: I was doing that. All those lyrics I wrote crying on the floor, in the bed. Like, “I want to go.” I had no internet for the first few days. I was just in bed, ill. That’s why I was going nuts in my head. I was like, “At least I got a song out of it.” And that was my idea, in the hospital bed. “This is awful, if I survive, OK, [I got] a song out of it.”
STEREOGUM: Did you actually change anything about your life after you got well?
ARGOS: I was a vegetarian again for a long time. I did stop drinking a bit. I drink again now, though not as much as I used to. I think what made me that sick was the touring lifestyle. It’s funny, I know about this because the comedian Stewart Lee has [diverticulitis], too. He talks about how he got it. He was eating bad food and sleeping at weird times. A lot of when you’re on tour, you wake up at whenever, you eat something, go straight to bed. You do a show, you jump around for an hour and a half, drink loads of booze, eat a pizza, and pass out. I think that’s how I got it. And I don’t do that anymore. I have a family now.
STEREOGUM: One of the songs on the new album is called “She Kissed Me, It Felt Like A Hit.” Can you expand on the title connection to the Crystals’ “He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss”?
ARGOS: I don’t like that song, obviously, because that’s a horrible sentiment. I thought it was bad all the way around, isn’t it? To me it makes more sense the other way around. I wrote a musical with [producer] Jim Moray a few years ago called The Islanders, like a low-fi musical. And they’re driving around a lot together in a car performing [“He Hit Me”]. So, I think on one of those car journeys, he sort of gave me the idea for the title.
My stepson was like, “All your songs are about girls.” And this one came on and I was like, “This one is about your mum.” It was a love song about my girlfriend who I live with now. It was about the first time we met. It’s exciting — the first time you kiss somebody, sometimes it’s really special. And I thought, my whole life I wanted to be on Top Of The Pops or something, and I’ve let go of that dream now. But this replaced it. It’s like, “I want to be on Top of the Pops, but now I just want a really good relationship.”
Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! is out 11/23 on Alcopop! Records.