Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross
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Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross

Prague, Hlavní Mesto Praha, Czech Republic

Prague, Hlavní Mesto Praha, Czech Republic
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"Review"

Phil Shoenfelt's history stretches back to the early ‘80s and the postpunk act Khmer Rouge. But the British-born/Prague-based singer/songwriter/guitarist has a steady flow of releases with both Southern Cross and the band Fatal Shore that only the geekiest of rock cognoscenti seem to know about. A shame, that, if Paranoia.com is any indication.



Much like his late friend Nikki Sudden (with whom he recorded the excellent Golden Vanity in 1998), Shoenfelt works in a straightforward, guitar-based rock ‘n' roll vein, crooning his poetic lyrics over basic riffs and unfussy rhythms. Boasting both a creamy baritone and a sense of melancholy that's almost gothic, Shoenfelt is less exuberant than his old compadre, given more to brooding folk rock like "Forgiven" or weary confessions like "Tired of Loving You." But he's no defeatist, injecting a strain of sardonic humor into the bitchy "Stupid Rock Star" and the obsessive title track. Like Sudden, Shoenfelt is something of an iconoclast, with no obvious place in the current modern rock landscape. But that makes an album like Paranoia.com all the more interesting and worth hearing. - BLURT, USA


"Interview"

Q. Well Phil, from what I know you’ve just arrived from a series of concerts in New York. How did the shows go, and how was your return there after all this time? Is there something still alive from the spirit of the CBGB’s days?

A. I just played five concerts in New York with Pavel Cingl, the violin player from Southern Cross. We had a wonderful time there, and the concerts and audiences were great. If you want to, you can see excerpts from three of the shows on You Tube. I hadn’t played in NYC since 1989, when I did a solo show at CBGBs. Some of the people who showed up at the gigs - well I hadn’t seen them since 1984, when I left NYC and returned to London with Khmer Rouge. So all-in-all it was quite an intense and emotional time for me. I also linked up with my ex manager Nat Finkelstein, author of The Factory Years and the book on Edie Sedgewick. He’s living up in Woodstock now (quite a lot of New York musicians have relocated to that part of the world – Michael Gira of Angels Of Light, for example), so my wife and I went up there to visit him for a few days. Nat used to manage Khmer Rouge, and is a kind of guru to me in many ways. The guy has had such a wild life, his work with Warhol and the Velvet Underground is just a part of it… As for CBGBs, there is now a high-end clothing and CD store where the old place used to stand. Not even a plaque outside to notify people that this is the site of one of the great cultural institutions of American Pop Culture! Well, maybe such recognition wouldn’t be so fitting for a place that was always well outside the mainstream music biz. It started out as a Hell’s Angels’ hang-out, after all. Hardly the sort of place that the arbiters of artistic taste would choose to beatify!

Q. In your myspace page, you use as a headline the phrase “a rock n’ roll nomad”. Taken out from the very old mythology of rock n’ roll - and not only rock n’roll, since the chain can go way back to the beatniks, Woody Guthrie, Thoreau and all drifters throughout centuries - how much does this phrase express you and how much romantically nomad can someone remain in 2008?

A. Well, it’s as much a description of a psychological state as it is of non-stop world travel. I mean, I have travelled a lot in my life, and lived in a lot of different places. But it’s also about the way I feel about myself, the way I always seem quite restless and dissatisfied with things. I suppose I have settled down somewhat in Prague, and mostly I feel very happy living here. But I don’t think I’ll ever really feel part of any society, there are too many things going on that piss me off. I think if you are any kind of artist – singer, painter, writer, poet, whatever – then being an “outsider” is part of the price you pay. You have to be, really, by the very nature of the way you perceive things. I also feel like an outsider in terms of my music. I’ve never been part of any mass musical movement, though of course I’ve crossed paths with Punk and Post-Punk, and have been influenced to some extent by them. But I think I’ve always gone my own way, and my music has never been taken up and championed by music critics on any large scale (though I do have my supporters and I’m grateful for them!). So in this sense I feel a bit of a nomad too, travelling through the world of music but never becoming part of any particular movement or fashion.


Q. Whose story is “The Gambler”? Could it be the story of every one of us, since we are all trapped “in this prison of time”, playing from time to time “a little Russian roulette with our lives” one way or another?

A. I wrote The Gambler in 1987 or 1988, when I was at one of the truly low points in my life. Most of the songs on “Backwoods Crucifixion”, my first solo CD, were written at this time. As were some of the songs, like The Gambler, from my second CD “God Is The Other Face Of The Devil”. My marriage had broken up, Khmer Rouge had split, and I was living in this dirty squat in Camden Town, London, with a huge heroin habit that I had no means of supporting. It’s the scene that is written about in my novel “Junkie Love”, if you happen to have read it. At that time in my life, I really couldn’t see any way out, other than to kill myself - either by overdose or by some other means. Things really were that bad. It wasn’t a romantic flirtation with drugs, death and suicide, it was the end of a ten year cycle of self-abuse that started in London, continued in New York, and continued again in London after I returned. So The Gambler is a kind of cold, dispassionate look at the state I’d got myself into, an existential quandary that took me a couple more years to break out of (I finally “cleaned up” from hard drugs in 1988). But it could apply to other existential situations too, not just the state of terminal addicition. As you say, all of us are trapped in our own individual “prisons of time.”

Q. Who is Elijah Cain? And what is your relationship with the watery element, given that the waves of seas and the streams of rivers pass through your songs often.

A. “Elijah Cain” is a composite name, taken from Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, and Cain from the Cain & Abel story in Genesis. Again, it goes back to the mythology of the Outsider, the person who transgresses, the character who is always at odds with himself and with those around him. The song “The Ballad Of Elijah Cain” from the CD “Dead Flowers For Alice” is a kind of Burroughsian cut-up. The narrative is fractured and jumps around through different historical and mythological vignettes. Originally, there were something like fourteen verses which I edited down to six – otherwise it would have been ridiculously long! The use of sea and river imagery is quite well established in symbolic literature, in poetry and in folk music such as the Blues. It can be a metaphor for all kinds of things – continuity, separation, natural and supernatural forces, escape – and in this song I use it as a symbol of distance and loss. And movement, of course – the music has a kind of rolling rhythm to it that is evocative of a ship rising and falling in dark, turbulent seas.

Q. As old buddy Death passes often though, and as a last example we have your choice to cover “Death is hanging over me”, for a tribute to Nikki Sudden, in an emotional performance. Would you like to tell us a few words about it and about Nikki?

A. That was always one of my favourite Nikki songs. It has a really beautiful but disturbing lyric, and when Sunthunder Records approached me to do a cover of one of Nikki’s songs for their tribute CD, that was the obvious choice. I wanted to make it really ghostly, as if the song were being played and sung in some ethereal realm, a world just the other side of what is visible. Nikki was another of my teachers, or gurus, at least as far as the independent music scene goes. It was an education for me to play in his band – as I did in 1997 and again in 1998 – and I really learned a lot from him. His death affected me deeply (as it did many others, family, friends and collaborators, who knew and loved him). I still feel his presence hovering behind me at the oddest times…

Q. Is there any chance the record you did together - Golden Vanity - would ever come out in the market?

A. Funny you should mention that! I thought I’d lost one of the four discs that contained the mixes of the album, but then I found all of them when I was cleaning out my attic a few months ago. Nikki had sent them to me years ago, right after we recorded the CD in March 1998 in Berlin. I remembered that one of the discs skipped, and as he never got around to sending me a replacement, I put them all away and forgot about them. I figured we’d deal with all that technical stuff later. There was always vague talk about working on the mixes some more, but by then Nikki had moved on to new projects – specifically, working with Kevin Junior and Secretly Canadian Records in Chicago. So when I found the discs earlier this year, I was really excited. Not only did I find them but the dodgy disc now played without any drop-outs. Some kind of miracle, or what? Anyway, I played the entire recording to a friend of mine in Budapest, a guy called Laszlo Panczer who is a huge Nikki fan and has a cool record shop there. He reckoned it was the best thing he’d heard by Nikki since Robespierre’s Velvet basement, and it does have a similar rough, live quality to it reminiscent of that great record. So I went into a studio in Prague and mastered the CD in April of this year. I sent it to Carlton Sandercock at Easy Action Records in London (Carlton is another Jacobites/Nikki fanatic), and he will release it on Easy Action early next year. This is in addition to the Nikki box set which Easy Action will release later in 2009

Q. What music do you listen to when you are at home?

A. Actually, not a hell of a lot. I listen to more music when I’m in the car or in the van, driving to gigs. At home I usually work on my own stuff, new songs I’ve written, or on my New York trilogy, “Stripped”. This is like a prequel to “Junkie Love”, and I’ve been writing it for about seven years now. Having said that, I have been listening to a lot of Woven Hand lately, and the Devastations from Melbourne. And there’s a great US/Norwegian singer/songwriter called Mark Steiner. Pavel and I played with him in Oslo, and more recently in New York. He appears on the Rowland S. Howard tribute CD that the French label Stagger Records released a couple of years back, and has a wonderful collection of dark ballads.

Q. The changes that have happened in the music industry and scene, mainly because of the Internet, seem at first glance quite good for both musicians and audience… Could it be, though, that this high offer in music and information works contrariwise at the end, making us simply passive listeners - consumers, weakening our personal “filter” in distinguishing false from authentic?
How do you see rock n’roll in the year 2008?

A. Yes, in many ways the internet (including My Space, FaceBook and all the rest), have helped musicians, especially in the Independent sphere, make new contacts and keep in touch with each other. In this sense, there is a kind of on-line community that has sprung up in recent years, and this can be very effective when promoting gigs and new releases. The downside of all this technology and music-sharing is that we are inundated with millions of songs that might work on My Space, but which would rarely, if ever, be played to a live audience. With modern recording techniques such as Pro Tools, Q-Base etc, it’s possible for just about anyone to make a passable recording. You just edit, copy and paste, and if you sit at your PC long enough you’re almost bound to come up with something that sounds quite impressive. So in this sense it’s very democratic. But as I say, the downside is that the net is now inundated with so much music that people don’t know what is authentic anymore. I mean, there is a world of difference between working away on the PC in your bedroom, and writing songs that affect people emotionally when you play them in a live context. But I think that sooner or later people will become much more selective in what they listen to, and will seek out for themselves music that does more than scratch the surface with gimmickry and fads.

Q. May I assume that apart from music you read a lot too…What have you been reading lately?

A. Yes, I do, though not as much as I used to. I simply don’t have the leisure time anymore. At the moment I’m reading “Lowlife” by Luc Sante – it’s a well written social history of New York, which concentrates on the seamier side of things. I believe that parts of it were used as source material for the recent film “Gangs Of New York”. Though having seen that film, I’d say the book tells a much more realistic and gritty story. Before that, I read “Poison Heart – Surviving The Ramones” by Dee Dee Ramone. The impression I got was that Dee Dee was a very wise man. Quite fucked up, but very, very wise. And before that I read “Dandy In The Underworld” by the wonderful Sebastian Horsley. I bought Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” while I was in New York, so that will probably be next on my list

Q. You haven’t been approached by any other editor from Greece, offering to pay you without publishing your book, have you? Leaving the jokes aside, Junky Love, yet even by its title, brings up one of the most open minds of the past century, W.S. Burroughs…

A. No, I haven’t! There have been three prospective publishers to date, including Livanis, but none of them have taken up the options. They keep paying me advances, but then don’t get around to publishing. It’s a strange situation. In Italy they translated and published the book within four months, the same here in Czech Republic. But in Greece it’s been about ten years, and still nothing. I guess that most of the people in Greece who would want to read the book are young and well educated, and they can get the English version through Amazon. I mean, what would some contented grandmother up in the Greek mountains do with a book like “Junkie Love”? She doesn’t need to read a book like that. It’s a real minority subject anyway, mainly of interest to young people who know something about drugs, casual sex, underground rock culture and errant psychology.

Q. Are you writing anything this time?

A. Yeah, as I mentioned before I’m working on a trilogy of books with the overall title of “Stripped”. This focuses on the period when I was living in New York, from 1979 to 1984 – the good times, when New York was more like Sodom & Gomorrah than it is now, post 9/11 and post Giuliani! It covers similar themes to “Junkie Love”, but is much longer and structurally more complex. Social reality morphs into dream states, the movie of the streets turns into the movie that is going on in the narrator’s head, and altogether it’s a much more challenging book. Definitely to write, and probably to read as well. Finally, after seven years, I’m getting it into some kind of shape. Nat Finkelstein, who I mentioned earlier, introduced me to his literary agent while I was in New York. She really liked “Junkie Love” and now wants to read “Stripped” with a view to getting a US publisher interested.

Q. In the record Dead Flowers for Alice, you have set to music lyrics of the poet Andrew Marvell. (A dialogue between the soul and body). How did this come up? Have you thought about trying something similar again?

A. That was one of my favourite poems when I was at school. That, and “To His Coy Mistress”, also by Marvell. I seem to have a weak spot for the seventeenth century English Metaphysical poets. John Dunne is another favourite. They were worldly and spiritual at the same time, philosophical and sensual, something that isn’t so easy to accomplish convincingly. Maybe only TS Eliot managed to write comparable poetry in recent times. I don’t have any plans at the moment to repeat such an experiment in adapting a poem to music, but you never know. I might well discover something new that inspires me...

Q. Your last works are Real World with Fatal Shore and Live at the House of Sin with Pavel Cingl. Real World takes an equivalent place between your other two previous records, while the acoustic performances of your songs with a guitar and a violin in Live at the House of Sin, instead of making them “poor”, they give them a different, simple and charming aura. Tell us a little bit about them.

A. “Real World” was recorded over a period of almost two years, with Fatal Shore’s ex bass player, Yoyo Rhoem, wearing the producer’s hat. Seeing as Bruno Adams and Chris Hughes both live in Berlin, and I live here in Prague, it means we don’t get a lot of time to practice or write together. With this CD it was a matter of me driving up to Berlin every couple of months, laying down tracks, then listening and editing at home before going back to Berlin to work on them some more. Most of my songs on “Real World” were, in fact, written in the studio – something I’d never attempted to do before. “Live At The House Of Sin”, on the other hand, was recorded over two nights at an art gallery in Prague called Nová Sín. This means “New Scene” in Czech, but I played with the words a bit. A “house of sin” is a Victorian euphemism for a brothel, a bordello, and as the gallery is a former convent for nuns, the title has a nice frisson to it! Pavel did most of the mixing and post production work on the CD, and I must say he did a great job. The songs have this wide-screen atmosphere to them, and although there are only the two of us playing on the CD, the sound is enormous.

Q. By result, there seems to be a perfect chemistry between you and Southern Cross, as it seems with the figure of Bruno Adams. Introduce to us your fellow workers - musicians …

A. Well, in Southern Cross I play with Pavel Cingl (violin/mandolin/guitar); Pavel Krtouš (bass); and Jarda Kvasnicka (drums). I started playing with these guys back in 1996, and by now we are really close, both musically and personally. In terms of musical technique, they are probably more accomplished than my friends in Fatal Shore, but they are also more conservative in their approach. With Bruno and Chris (who also plays with Hugo Race & The True Spirit) I feel much freer to experiment and go out on an improvistory limb. Some of the Fatal Shore shows we have done were really wild! And Bruno is a real showman, something like a Mike Spencer type of extrovert, climbing onto the bar while he’s playing, and going walkabout through the crowd! I’m lucky to be playing with both sets of musicians – two great bands that have their own unique styles and influences.

Q. In Real World, you chose once again to cover a song of Jacques Brel. As you did in your first record album along with other covers of Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Dylan, Wild Is The Wind, Townes van Zandt, up to the traditional gipsy song Black Venus…What do you say about all these influences?

A. Sometimes I like to look back at the music and singers that have influenced me over the years. I’ve been playing guitar since I was eleven years old, so that’s quite a lot of musical territory to cover! And sometimes you’re listening to a song that you’ve heard a hundred times before, and you think “Wow, that would sound cool with a different rhythm, or string arrangement, or a burst of feedback guitar”, often in the most unlikely places. Black Venus was originally a traditional Ukranian gipsy song called Khamoro, which means “Little Sunshine”. It has a beautiful melody and was arranged by the Russian composer Yevgeny Doga for a 1978 film called “Gypsies Go To Heaven”. Everybody in the Czech Republic knows this song – Doga gave it a big orchestral arrangement, and people know his version from the film. I took the basic chord prgressions and vocal melody and simplified it for a rock band – in this case, Fatal Shore. Then I added English lyrics, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the lyrics of the original. It’s a little like the version of the Andrew Marvell poem I was talking about before – I tend to experiment more in this way, rather than in extended improvisatory passages such as you get in musical genres like Jazz.

Q. If you want my opinion, I think that van Zandt’s “Nothin’” would really suit you…

A. Okay, I’ll think about it!




Q. One more - or last - question about a song of yours … “Free Fall” of Fatal Shore, one of my all time favorites… Can you tell us something about the conditions under which it was written?

A. It was conceived, written and recorded in Covington, Kentucky, just over the Ohio River from Cincinatti. Cincinatti has to be the most boring city in the world, everything downtown closes after 6pm! There aren’t even any bars or restaurants open after all the business people leave the tower blocks for the suburbs. Anyway, we got this offer to record there from a guy called Daniel May, a record producer who has a studio in a converted nineteenth century church in Covington. This came about because of Nico Mansy, ex keyboard player with Hugo Race & True Spirit, who had married an American girl he’d met in Prague and moved to Cincinatti with her. He was working in Dan’s studio and happened to play him the first Fatal Shore CD. Dan liked it so much that he offered to fly us over, give us free studio time, and basically produce the CD. It seemed like a dream come true, but of course things weren’t quite so simple. Dan and his mates were great guys, hospitable and friendly as long as you didn’t talk about race, politics or religion. But as those topics kept coming up in a variety of contexts, it was difficult to avoid certain issues. Dan was an intelligent guy, he knew all about modern history and politics. Yet he insisted on propagating what were, to us, extremely offensive views about certain racial and ethnic groups. So a lot of time was spent arguing when we should have been recording. Bruno in particular saw it as his mission to convert these “rednecks in business suits” to liberal politcs. The atmosphere wasn’t improved by all the SS uniforms and memorabila scattered around the place, nor by the Uzzi automatic weapons that Dan showed us on one occasion. My own view was that I was there to make a CD, not convert these guys to my way of thinking – which wasn’t going to happen anyway. I just tried to keep my head down and my attention focused on making the CD. So all in all, it wasn’t such an easy four weeks. It all blew up a couple of days before we flew back to Berlin, when we had a big argument with Dan and he locked us out of the studio!

Q. How much does the atmosphere of the two cities you live in the last years, Berlin and Prague, influence your music? Why did you choose north-central Europe? Don’t you miss “English - speaking” people?

A. I like the “mittel Europe” vibe of Prague and Berlin and find it very inspiring. Berlin has a much more cosmopolitan music scene than Prague does. Here it’s a little provincial and inward looking. Or rather they do look out, but seemingly misinterpret a lot of the new music coming from America and the UK. Having said that, this misunderstanding does give rise to some interesting digressions! Plus, there is still a strong “underground” scene here based on ex dissident bands like Plastic People Of The Universe. There’s much less of an information overload in this part of the world than there is, say, in London. Whenever I go there, I feel totally confused after a couple of days, there is just too much to take in. It seems like every one of the 56 million people who live in that country is clamouring for your attention, saying, “Look at me, look at me! Look at the fantastic music/painting/novel/play/sculpture I’ve just produced!” Or rather, they have media consultants and lifestyle commentators to do that for them. The net result is this constant buzzing in your brain that seems to short-circuit normal thought processes. At least it does with me. I can hardly hear myself think whenever I spend time over there. Prague isn’t as exciting and stimulating as London, but for me it’s a more practical place to live. And I love the dark, gothic atmosphere of the city. There’s a place called “The Bone Church” about 50 KMs from Prague, near a town called Kutna Hora. Kutna Hora was a centre of Alchemy in the 16th century, you can visit these ancient silver mines there, a labyrinth of tunnels deep underground. Afterwards, you can go to the Bone Church, where all the fixtures and fittings are made from human relics, the remains of people who died during the great plagues of medieval Europe. Chandeliers, pulpit, chairs – everything is made from ancient human bones! For me, this is something like a concrete equivalent of that song you mentioned earlier, “A Dialogue Beween The Soul And Body”.

Q. This summer I saw you performing in a literally underground bar, Blues Sklep, “buried” somewhere in Prague’s old town. Besides the fact that in my opinion such small places suit you better, do you mind being far from the large “mainstream” audience?

A. Yeah, I think you’re probably right, these small venues do suit me better. I can’t make myself believe in those “grand gestures” that are necessary if you are to become successful in arenas and stadiums. This kind of showmanship doesn’t come naturally to me. To become successful on that level, you have to make a cliché of yourself, you have to go for the broad gestures that suck in as many people as possible. It all seems a little absurd and redundant to me, though of course it works admirably for some bands and singers. And why not? Some people want these big shows (I enjoy them myself myself occasionally), but I can’t see myself ever “breaking through” on a commercial level. Or even on a so-called “commercial underground” level. I’m thinking of bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and NIN here. I just think my lyrics are too obtuse, and don’t pander to expectations – whether those expectations are of sweet sugary love songs, a la MTV, or the equally clichéd “blood and gore” lyrics of bands such as Slipknot. My songs succeed or fail on a far more intimate level, where I can look the audience in the eye and speak to their hearts directly in a voice of poetic realism.

Q. For the end, do you have something to say to the many, as you are very well aware of, Greek friends of yours?

A. Well, not so many fans and friends that I’m in danger of becoming a stadium rocker in Greece! But yes, Greece definitely is a special place for me. This isn’t bullshit, I’m not just saying it to pander. Each time I play there, it’s a very magical atmosphere. It seems to me that Greek audiences as a whole “get” what I’m doing more than any other audience in any of the countries I have played before. Maybe it’s because Greeks have this incredible history and culture that is, to some extent, ingrained in the collective imagination. The poetic sense is still very much alive there, it’s possible to touch people’s hearts in a way that has become very difficult to do in big cities like London and New York. Nobody has any time in such places to think of these more subtle feelings – they’re all too busy making money and looking for the next scam. Okay, I know Athens is a pretty frenetic place too. You’ve only got to walk down the street to see that! But somehow, in the midst of the activity, there is still a heart and a sensibility, a warmth that I feel is lacking in the big centres of commerce and globalised culture. I love playing in Greece and I hope to be back there soon.

Thank you very much for this chat, and for your time.
Hope to see you again in our country soon.
- Tranzistor Magazine, GR


"Interview"

First of all Phil thank you very much for accepting our invitation to share your thoughts with music3 and the Greek audience.

Q. It’s been exactly 4 years since your last visit in Greece, and though you have more than a few friends here, we wanted to ask you a few biographical questions for those who haven’t been introduced to your music yet. Reaching back into your memories, which would you recall as your first musical memory? When did you feel for the first time that music will be your way of expressing yourself?

A. I spent most of my formative years in Worcester, a county town in the English Midlands. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with rolling hills, forests and orchards, and is quite close to Stratford-upon-Avon where William Shakespeare was born. I remember very clearly the day of my first guitar lesson. It was the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, 22nd November 1963. This means it was shortly before my eleventh birthday, and an older boy I knew was teaching me the riff to “Shazam” by Duane Eddy. I remember it so vividly because in the middle of the lesson my friend’s mother came into the room where we were sitting and announced this momentous event, which she’d just heard about on the news. So that was the date of my first guitar lesson, though of course my musical memories go back much further. I remember that I would always get carried away whenever I heard “The Yellow Rose Of Texas”, a traditional song that was famously re-recorded in 1955 by Mitch Miller. I must have been about three years old at the time, and my dad would get a kick out of putting it on the jukebox in some coffee bar and watching me dance up and down. He was more into swing music than Rock and Roll or Country, and his favourite band was The Glenn Miller Orchestra. My mother, meanwhile, loved classical music, so in between the big band sound of Glenn Miller, I’d be hearing Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Chopin. Later, when I was eleven, I formed my own rock and roll band called The Feendz. We played cover versions of The Beatles, The Stones, and The Dave Clark Five, as well as all those Merseybeat bands like Freddie And The Dreamers and Gerry And The Pacemakers. The teacher I had in the final year of primary school was quite liberal, and would allow us to play to the class last thing on Friday afternoons. Soon, we had lots of screaming eleven year old girls following us around (it was the time of Beatlemania!), and I learned quite quickly that music was an excellent route to the female heart! From that time on music and romance have been inextricably linked in my heart and mind.

Q. A Greek poet said that happy moments are for living, tragedies and destructions are for drawing inspiration and expressing them in words. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A. It’s true that happy songs are much more difficult to write convincingly than sad, tragic ones. Somehow, those happy songs always seem trite and superficial later, though there is no implicit reason why that should be. Deep happiness is, after all, a very profound state, and one which very few people ever manage to attain. Maybe only mystics and those old, wise people you sometimes encounter living in the mountainous regions of certain countries, far away from the day-to-day neuroses of modern civilsation. I think when you are truly happy, you don’t need to write songs. Or anything else, for that matter. Such a state of bliss would be better expressed with pure music, as words would only corrupt the feeling and make it impure. For myself, I definitely have a tragic muse. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been inspired by the darker side of human experience. The first heartbroken song I wrote at the age of twelve can still bring tears to my eyes. Really! When I’m writing a song, I fool around on the guitar until I hit a chord sequence or melody that affects me inside. It’s almost like a chemical reaction, I can feel the emotion start to flow. The words then seem to follow naturally, and even though they might not have any logic to them at first, and are just pure atmosphere, I go with the feeling and don’t worry about them making sense. The sense seems to come through later, of its own accord. If you try to force it, or if you have a pre-exisitng idea of what the song should be about, it usually ends up sounding shallow and artificial. That’s my experience anyway. There’s only one happy song that I’ve ever written that I still like. It’s called “Love Makes Her Shine” and was recorded in Berlin in 1998. It’s on an album that I wrote and recorded with the late Nikki Sudden, called Golden Vanity. I don’t know if this album will ever see the light of day, though I think it’s a really interesting piece of work, both in terms of my own musical output and of Nikki’s. Hopefully, some label will be interested enough to release it one day…

Q. In your writings (songs and literature) do you find yourself confessing truths in order to better understand yourself, others or both?

A. Probably in literature more than in song. As I said before, the songwriting is more spontaneous, and more concerned with expressing nebulous feelings and atmospheres than with psychological dissections of character and motivation. I have written some songs like this, such as “The Killer Inside” and “Marianne, I’m Falling”. But the heavier psychological stuff is more appropriate to the novel, I think. And then, yes, I like to get down to the nitty-gritty and delve into the dark underworld of human motivation! Certainly, I wrote Junkie Love as a kind of exorcism of my own personal demons. I’m working on a new book called Stripped at the moment, a trilogy set in New York between the years 1979 and 1984. It’s like a prequel to Junkie Love and follows a similar descending trajectory into a personal hell of drug addiction, breakdown and loss…

Q. If you weren’t a musician and a writer what would you imagine yourself doing? A traveling preacher maybe? (question asked by George from Athens)

A. Well, if I hadn’t cleaned up from heroin, I’d probably be dead. And if I hadn’t got into music and writing, I’d probably be a tramp or a bum! I never really felt like I fitted into the grand social scheme, and was always looking for a way to escape. When I was in my late teens, I set off to travel the world with about 50 quid in my pocket. Okay, that was worth a bit more in those days than it is now, but even then it wasn’t too much. The thing is, I was impatient to leave England and was too lazy to work and save money. I was reading Jean Genet’s “The Thief’s Journal” at the time, and I reckoned that I’d do just fine if I followed his lead. So I was this long-haired hippy kid bumming and nicking his way around Europe and North Africa at the beginning of the 1970’s, living on next-to-nothing and not giving a fuck about anything. It was a nice, carefree time, and I have very fond memories of that period of my life…

Q. Life of a Rock Star, sex, drugs and Rock n Roll, is it a myth? Is living on the edge the only way for some people to compose/ create? (Nikos 30 Athens)

A. I don’t consider myself a Rock Star, so I don’t really know! I did have about two years, in New York in the 1980’s, where it seemed that my post-punk band Khmer Rouge was gonna get signed by CBS, and we were gonna go big-time. Thankfully it never happened, but I did get enough of a taste of that world to know that it wasn’t for me. Once you get into that trip of believing your own press, and believing all the bullshit that scenemakers and groupies of both sexes are telling you, it’s really damaging to your state of mental and spiritual health. You see it all the time – in extreme cases like with Britney Spears, but really on all levels of the music business, whether mainstream or indie, Michael Jackson or Pete Doherty. It’s really a legacy of the 1960’s, that whole Rock and Roll mythology trip where people actually started to believe that Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix were superhuman, god-like figures. Well okay, in some respects they were, at least in the effect they had on millions of young people. But at the end of the day they were all too human, and they paid the price for living out other peoples’ fantasies for them. It’s an interesting question, though, the one posed by Neil Young in “Out Of The Blue”… Is it better to burn out than fade away? I don’t know, really. In one respect, yes it is. You live fast, die young, and leave behind you a legacy of genius work, spinning in a trail of stardust. Just like James Dean did, like Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin did, like the great 19th century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud did. If it’s this way of living opposed to stagnation and becoming a couch potato at the age of forty, then I’d definitely choose the live fast, die young alternative. But on the other hand, if you see life as a chance to develop and grow constantly, and don’t close down emotionally when you hit the age of thirty five, then to throw away all those future years for a few moments of youthful glory seems a terrible waste. Especially if you believe in the possibility of human growth and development, and see this as a kind of poetic duty to the soul. It’s true that I have lived this fast lifestyle myself, and took things about as close to the edge as anyone can without actually killing himself. Though I have to say that it was all done on a shoe-string budget, without limousines or penthouse suites! These days, I’m a little more contemplative about everything, though occasionally the wild beast does still roar inside me. But yes, the mythology of the doomed romantic hero still exercises a powerful gravitational pull on the modern imagination. It’s just a pity that it is so easily taken up and used by multi-national corporations to sell pieces of plastic and make lots of money for the shareholders…

Q. A lot of people see mass media, modern politics and organized religion as another way of drugging and controlling people. According to your point of view which is the most dangerous/ addictive drug ? And what is your message of resistance to younger people today? (question asked by Maria Dimitriou 22 Athens)

A. I think if you’re aware of this, it’s a pretty good starting point. But of course, the impulse to control comes in many different shapes and forms. It seems to be built into us all, whether we’re aware of it or not. Politics, the mass media, organised religion – these are just the externalised forms of control impulses which are implanted in us as a species. A baby is trying to excerise control over its mother when it bawls and cries for attention. A lover tries to exercise control over his or her partner by various psychological games and ploys. It’s part of the basic survival mechanism, and if we didn’t exercise a certain amount of control over our environment the human race wouldn’t have survived as long as it has. But at some point in the history of all civilizations, institutions grow up which are concerned with control for control’s sake. They are not about survival, but are about accumulating power and wealth for a small number of individuals who cast themselves as the “chosen”, or the “elite”. Communist or capitalist, Christian, Jew or Moslem, it doesn’t really matter. These people are merely the most skilful in techniques of manipulation, deception and double-dealing. The institutions they create and use become manifestations of the death instinct, the impulse to strangle by excessive control which is, unfortunately, another part of human psychology. Or at least it is according to Freud. These institutions then begin to accumulate like cancerous cells, endlessly replicating and causing harm to the wider social body. This is what we are seeing on a world-wide scale right now, as so-called elite groups selfishly pursue ever-greater concentrations of political, military and finacial power. To the detriment of the human race as a whole, and even of the planet itself. How to escape from this cul-de-sac, when advertising and the mass media in general keep pushing the “Consume!” button? I don’t know… Personally, I just try to keep my head down and out of the line of fire as the world goes crazy and psychopaths on all sides take pot-shots at each other. I’d say a strategy of creative sabotage is the best means of survival. Plus a viral approach to information sharing, the formation of virtual communities via the internet, and the gradual undermining on a vast scale of all nationalist, corporate, political and religious ideologies. While we’re on the topic, notice the interface between addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine, and organised terror, of the state variety or otherwise. The way that since the 1960’s, and even earlier, the profits from the sale of these drugs have been used to sponsor illicit wars and terrorist activities… There’s a geat book by Alfred McCoy on this subject called The Politics Of Heroin. It examines the links between the CIA and heroin smugglers in south east Asia during the Vietnam war. But it could equally apply to opium growers and the Taliban in Afghanistan today. I think the whole situation has gone beyond the point of overt resistance, it’s way too big and too profitable for that line to succeed. All the groups that have tried to resist by armed struggle have merely made the problem worse. They become corrupted by power themselves, and just end up raising the level of brutality, violence and hatred even more. If you think of the Book Of Revelations, the biblical Apocalypse, I’d say that the first couple of seals from the seven have already been opened. And I can’t see any sure way of turning back the evil tide. Sorry to sound so pessimistic in response to your question, but…

Q. Many independent artists these last few years have met worldwide success without having signed to a major label. What do you think will be the future for bands/ artists and record labels, having in mind the new technologies and especially Internet, which gives the opportunity to independent artists to promote their work worldwide for a relative low cost?

A. I think the internet is fantastic, it’s such a wonderful tool of communication. The creative energy it has liberated in the past few years is incredible, and it amuses me no end to see the big, fat-cat record company executives sweating and worrying about where the next stretch-limo is coming from! I think the future lies with internet sales, even though I do regret the passing of the old 12 inch album with gatefold sleeve that was like a work of art in itself. But you can still buy these wonderful artefacts at specialist record shops, and on Ebay, if you are prone to this particular addiction. Things like My Space are great forums for truly independent artists, for organising gigs and for selling music, and for cutting out the middle man. You can now be your own booking agent, record company and promtion team without having to invest fantastic amounts of capital.

Q. What do you listen to when you’re home relaxing or in front of your computer or typewriter writing?

A. At the moment I’m obsessed with a new Czech band called Please The Trees. In the past couple of years a whole new scene has started to develop here in the Czech Republic, where I’ve been living since 1995. For the first time I’m seeing bands emerge that could compete on an international level, rather than being a homegrown curiosity that makes no sense in the wider world. The old underground bands like Plastic People Of The Universe, Psi Vojaci and Už Jsme Doma are great, but their music doesn’t really travel too well. Now you’re hearing bands like Please The Trees and Sunshine who are on the same level as indie bands from the UK, the USA, Iceland, Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, wherever. I’ve just produced a great young punk band from Prague called Secret 9 Beat, who sound like Richard Hell & The Voidoids playing CBGBs in 1978! Fantastic stuff!

Q. Will we be able to read your works in Greek sometime in the near future?

A. Well, I’ve kind of given up on that front. Livanis Books of Athens bought the rights to Junkie Love about ten years ago but never took up the option. They paid me an advance, but never translated or published the damn thing! Then the publisher of a magazine called Apple Of The Eye was interested, but that deal didn’t work out either. Finally, Electra Books of Athens bought the rights about three years ago, and Alex of Greek band The Last Drive was supposed to translate it. Again, Electra paid me the advance but never took up the option, and I guess Alex never got the go-ahead to translate. So I don’t know what to make of all this. Other than to think that Greek publishers have a lot of money to give away for nothing! I guess such a book is a real minority interest kind of thing anyway. It’s not like Frederick Forsyth or anything, it’s not an airport book. So the potential audience is gonna be pretty small, certainly not in the Harry Potter league at any rate. And I think most Greek people who would want to read it would be capable of reading it in English. I mean young, well-educated people, who would be the natural (if minority) audience for the book in any language or country. It was licensed to Ebury Press/Random House last year for the UK and Commonwealth, and this is a huge publishing house. Junkie Love is right in there with David Beckham’s biography, Robbie Williams’s memoirs, several New Age cookery books, and god knows how many teenage popular novels! So anyone who is interested can easily buy it in English via Amazon.com – either in the original Twisted Spoon edition, or in the new Random House edition.

Q. And last question before thanking you again for this interview, what are your plans for the near future? Would you consider coming to Greece again for a concert?

A. Of course I would! I love playing in Greece, and if some promoter were willing to put up the money to fly me and the band down there I’d be on the next plane out of Prague. It was easier back in the mid 1990’s after God Is The Other Face Of The Devil came out. Songs like “Only You”, “Alchemy” and “Charlotte’s Room” became quite popular on Greek radio (they still are, I believe…), so it was easier to get promoters interested. All my subsequent records have been released in Greece, as well as the latest by my second Berlin-based band Fatal Shore, but they haven’t sold as well as God Is… So I’m just waiting for my next big Greek radio hit, and I’ll be down there like a shot!
- Music3, GR


"From Alphabet City to Prague"

Musician and novelist Phil Shoenfelt talks to Jay Clifton about hedonism, travelling and making music in Europe. Opposite and overleaf he gives us an exclusive extract from his new novel Stripped.

Phil Shoenfelt is an English musician, singer, songwriter and novelist who lives in
Prague. He has played guitar on recordings by Kid Congo Powers, Simon
Bonney, Brix Smith and Nikki Sudden, and has played and recorded with
his own group, Southern Cross, since 1997. He also plays with the Berlin-based band, Fatal Shore. He is the author of one published novel, Junkie Love; a collection of poetry and song lyrics; and an as-yet-unpublished novel, Stripped – a semi-fictionalised account of his time living in New York’s notorious Alphaber City.

JC: Your latest as yet unpublished novel, Stripped, is based on your own experience of living in New York City in the early 1980s, as a rock musician addicted to heroin – how did an English chap like you come to be living there?

PS: I’m still not sure myself. Basically I went over on one of Freddie Laker’s Sky Trains for a couple of weeks holiday in May 79, fell in love with an insane striptease dancer and overstayed my tourist visa (which meant I was an illegal alien and at the mercy of the insane striptease dancer each time we had a fight). Later I joined a cult punk band called The Nothing and picked up a nice little heroin habit. I ended up staying in New York for five years, during which time I got married to a different striptease dancer, formed the post punk band Khmer Rouge, and got ever more enmired in heroin and coke – speedballs, they’re called, where you shoot a mixture of smack and cocaine. New York drugs are street drugs, so you never really know what you’re getting. It could be smack mixed with barbiturates, it could be crushed up codeine pills, it could be rat poison. I was taking that chance ten, twelve times a day, as often as money would allow. So of course, I didn’t exactly plan things out this way, events just kind of happened. I guess I was guided by a mixture of hedonism and nihilism, the sense that nothing mattered. Which might translate as a kind of despair. I ended up being a junkie for eleven years, and in the end the choice was very clear. I decided I wanted to live, weaned myself off the smack and methadone, and proceeded to build a completely new life. So yes, New York took me off in a completely new direction – whether that was for better or worse is hard to say, though I’d certainly be a very different person now if all that had never happened.

JC: Can you say a bit more about the novel? I understand it’s the first in a trilogy of novels you have already completed?

PS: Stripped is intended to be a trilogy, and I’ve just finished the second book after the best part of ten years work. Sometimes I think it’s a labour of lunacy. It is, like Junkie Love, a fictionalised autobiography and basically concerns my life with these two different women, my heroin and cocaine addiction, the downtown music scene in the late 70s and 80s, the nature of New York itself seen through the eyes of an outsider. But whereas Junkie Love has quite a simple structure, Stripped is more convoluted. In Junkie Love, I wanted to capture the essence of the heroin experience, the psychology and economics behind it, what makes the whole thing tick. And in the most concise, simple way possible. So while the structure is elliptical, the narrative is basically linear. You can read it as a simple (a)morality tale, or read between the lines and pick up other allusions. Stripped is more episodic, stories inside stories inside stories, till the book becomes a labyrinth, a prison from which you can’t escape. The structure is something like Einstein’s universe, it folds back upon itself (I’m joking, but only just). Some of the dream/nightmare sequences date back to the mid 80s, and were written when I was high or dopesick. I have no recollection of writing them.

JC: As the theme of this issue of Garageland is migration, could you tell me about your reasons for relocating permanently to Prague in the mid-90s, and why you have remained there?

PS: I moved to Prague in August 1995, having done a ten concert tour of
the Czech Republic the previous year. On the last date of this tour I
met the woman who I'm now married to. So I suppose the main reason I
moved here is good, old fashioned love. But I also like the
atmosphere, the "vibe" of the place.

I first came here in 1990 as a tourist with a different Czech girl I'd
met in London. I immediately liked the funky, run-down feeling of the
place, all those beautiful old buildings going to ruin. It had a sense
of tragedy about it, of having lived through innumerable heartaches
and disasters, of managing to survive against everything history could
throw at it. I was sick of living in London at this point - it had
got to be so bland and soul-less. I'd lived there in the 70's
before moving to New York, and I'd lived there again after returning
to the UK in 1984. I no longer felt a part of anything that was happening in England.
If I'd stayed in London, my musical career, such as it is, would have
withered away to nothing. There were more and more venues to play, but
somehow less and less opportunity to get anywhere while doing it. The English media are always looking for the next big thing, whatever the artistic field. If your work doesn't fall into the right category, if your face doesn't fit, then you might as
well forget it.

I find the European music scene a lot more broad-minded than what
passes for a scene in the UK. It’s more about music, less about
fashion and hype, so you can actually play the music you love and not
have some Mr/Ms Know-It-All tell you that your musical reference
points don’t conform with what he/she read about in last week’s
culture section. On a purely pragmatic level, the geographical
location of Prague makes it perfect for getting to concerts in all parts of
Europe. Berlin is four hours up the road, Vienna three hours the other
way, and it's pretty easy (and cheap) to get to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark etc.

Of course, Prague today is very different to the way it was when I
first came here. It’s a bit like Disneyland, now, what with the
castle, bridge, old town square, astronomical clock and
masses of tourists. In fact, I hardly ever go to the town centre these
days, it’s a total rip-off. But Zizkov, the neighbourhood I live in,
is still pretty funky, if not exactly chic. It’s a mixture of workers,
gypsies, homeless people and artists – something like Notting Hill
used to be in the 70’s before the yuppies moved in. I guess what I
like most about the place is the feeling of freedom it gives me. I
feel much freer here than I ever did in England, and not just in a
musical sense. The absence of an entrenched class system, such as the
UK still has, does a lot to remove the poison from social
relationships. Though having said that, I’m sure the Czechs have their
own system of poisoned relationships, deriving more from the secret
police apparatus of the recent past than from an inherited class
system.


EXTRACT FROM STRIPPED:

Rebecca helps support our habits with the money she makes from topless dancing. My sweet darling wife, you see, happens to be incredibly beautiful. People are willing to pay large sums of cash just to watch her take off her clothes. I don’t exactly approve of her doing this, but it’s her decision and I respect it. Whenever she works at some downtown club, like the Babydoll or Pussycat Lounge, she never comes home with less than a hundred dollars in tips.

Yet despite the rapid turnover, the dope I can get my hands on is never enough. The five or six bags I’m thrown at the end of each mission seem more like an insult than a just reward. Between us, Becky and I need at least eighty dollars a day to stay straight, much more than that to get high. Then there are the usual things such as rent, utility bills, transport, food and drink. As she only works three nights a week, the money she makes dancing doesn’t even cover the cost of our habits.

That’s why I’ve resorted to a practice known as “tapping the bags”. While not exactly kosher, it’s one sure way of balancing risk and reward. The packets are made from wax paper, folded over and sealed with adhesive tape. It’s a fairly easy thing to cut through it with the blade, then peel it away without tearing the wrap. The amount I take from each bag is negligible, but when multiplied twenty or more times it adds up to a considerable quantity of dope. With the tapped bags refolded, fresh tape around each one, no one is any the wiser. The punters are happy with the stuff they get, I’m happy with my XL bag, and Becky’s happy too. The only problem is that with all of this dope around our habits keep getting bigger. Often it feels like a case of diminishing returns.

It’s a little dark up here in the alcove, so I light a few matches to see what I’m doing. I make a paper wrap, then tap out a small quantity of dope from each of the twenty five bags. This is a delicate process and it’s important not to take too much. Otherwise the punters will notice the shortfall and my reputation will be blown. My hands are shaking, so I sniff a line to calm my nerves and take the edge off the sickness. After a couple of minutes I’m feeling slightly better. My nose and eyes are still running, though, and my underclothes are soaked with sweat from all that street action earlier. A puddle of water has formed around my feet where the snow on my boots has melted and run down.

Sometimes I wonder where all this shit is leading. Sitting here in the dirt and dark, it’s hard to believe that my life has been reduced to such a primitive level. I think of all the people sleeping below, stacked up in their beds like maggots in a woodpile. For a moment I feel so pissed off with existence I could kill. It would be so easy to go down in the basement, spread a little gasoline around and set the whole damn place on fire. Tenants included. Nobody would miss them, that’s for sure. Most are families on welfare with no reason for living, and not only that but they breed like rabbits too. Nothing to do all day except sit around eating junk food, watching TV and fucking. Soon there’ll be a whole population living on hand-outs, and their ignorant feral children will rule the streets.

I get these violent urges now and again, but I never act on them. At other times I feel so sad and wounded I just want to crawl away somewhere and die. This often happens when I think about Becky and me and all those plans we had in the beginning. The idea was that she’d go back to school while I’d get off the gear and find a job to support her. Later we’d take a year out to travel the world, a kind of sabbatical during which I’d begin work on my long-projected novel. What a pipedream that turned out to be. All that happened was she got sucked into my trip, and the small habit she had when we first met is now out of control. I should have been protecting her from her own worst instincts, but all I do is stumble around with my head so far up my ass I can’t see daylight. She’s not even twenty one yet, and she’s already had two abortions in the year and a half we’ve been together.

Ten minutes later, with the tapped bags resealed, I’m back downstairs unlocking the door to our apartment. The air inside is steam heat damp, thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of nervous sweat. The moment I enter half a dozen faces turn expectantly towards me, as if I were the bearer of glad tidings from afar. If I weren’t in such a hurry, I’d pause for a moment to bask in the glow of being such a popular guy. The only person who seems less than pleased is Rebecca, who is perched on the edge of the sofa looking decidedly pissed off.

Extract from STRIPPED, a novel by Phil Shoenfelt. Copyright Phil Shoenfelt, 2009.
Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
- Garageland, UK


Discography

New York:
"Information" / "Alors Allez" (7" single)Disturbed Furniture, 1980 (Disturbed Records)
"White Column Noise Festival Tape" Khmer Rouge (Compilation, including Lydia Lunch, Swans, Sonic Youth a.t.d.),
"New Assassins" / "Labyrinth" (7" single ) Khmer Rouge, 1981 (Hot Shot Records)

London:
"City Primeval" (E.P.) Khmer Rouge, 1985 (Vision), produced by John Leckie
"Incense And Peppermints" (12" single)
Brix Smith's And The Adult Net, 1985 (Beggars Banquet) produced by John Leckie
"Cat Tabu" (E.P.) with Kid Congo Powers And Marcia
Schofield, 1987 (R.T.D.)
"Charlotte's Room" / "The Long Goodbye" (12" single)
Phil Shöenfelt, 1989 (Cog Sinister), produced by Tony Cohen
"Backwoods Crucifixion" (L.P./C.D.) Phil Shöenfelt, 1990 (Paperhouse/Fire)
"God Is The Other Face Of The Devil" (C.D.)
Phil Shöenfelt, 1993 (Humbug/Trident)
"Paranoia.com" (CD) Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross, 2010 (Easy Action)

Prague:
"Live In Prague" (C.D./M.C.) Phil Shöenfelt with Tichá dohoda, 1995 (Bonton/Humbug/Trident)
"Blue Highway" (C.D./M.C.) Phil Shöenfelt & Southern Cross, 1997 (Indies Records)
"Dead Flowers For Alice" (CD) Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross, 1999 (Exupery/ZYX)
"Ecstatic" (CD) Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross, 2002 (Exupery)
"Live At The House Of Sin" (CD) Phil Shoenfelt & Pavel Cingl, 2008 (Exupery)

Chicago:
"Blue Highway" (C.D.) Phil Shöenfelt & Southern Cross, 1998 (Idiot Savant)

Photos

Bio

Phil Shoenfelt is a veteran of the London, Manchester and New York punk and post-punk scenes. After getting caught up in the London punk explosion of 1976-1977, he moved to New York where he played with several Downtown bands such as The Nothing and Disturbed Furniture. In 1981 he formed Khmer Rouge with ex-Clash DJ Barry "Scratchy" Myers, Marcia Schofield (who later went on to play keyboards with The Fall), and Claus Castenskiold. The first performance of the band was at the 1981 White Columns Noise Festival, organised by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Khmer Rouge played innumerable shows at CBGBs, The Peppermint Lounge, Danceteria and The Ritz in the early 1980's, as well as supporting artists and bands such as Alan Vega, Tom Verlaine, Nico and The Clash at concerts across the USA. Khmer Rouge relocated to London in 1984 and went on to support The Fall on two British tours as well as recording with producer John Leckie. The band finally split in 1986, and a retrospective double compilation CD was released on the English label Voiceprint in September 2004.

After the split, Phil went solo. Moving away from the stripped down rhythms and politicised lyrics of Khmer Rouge into more song-based territory, he had his first solo single released in 1989 on Mark E. Smith's Cog Sinister label. Two solo CDs - Backwoods Crucifixion and God Is The Other Face Of The Devil - followed on different independent labels, and are notable for the dark atmospherics and rich textures of the music as well as the bleak content of the lyrics. Phil was invited by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds to be special guest at several of their shows in the early 1990's, and in 1994 he did a tour of the Czech Republic backed by Czech band Ticha Dohoda. In the course of this tour Phil met his future wife Jolana and decided to move from London to Prague in 1995.

In 1996 he formed Southern Cross with Czech musicians Pavel Cingl, Pavel Krtous and Jarda Kvasnicka, and gradually the music took on a harder, rockier, more psychedelic edge, while still maintaining its roots in classic song structures. Since 1996 Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross have played concerts and festivals in many countries. Several more CDs have been released on Czech, German, American and Greek labels, and the band continues to play regularly across Europe. In 1997 and 1998 Phil did two European tours as lead guitarist in Nikki Sudden's band. Afterwards the group went into a Berlin studio and recorded an album of songs co-written by Nikki and Phil. The album, Golden Vanity, was finally released in early 2009 on the UK label Easy Action. Phil was also a member of the Berlin-based band Fatal Shore with Bruno Adams (Once Upon A Time) and Chris Hughes (Once Upon A Time; Hugo Race & The True Spirit).

As well as being a songwriter/vocalist/guitarist, Phil is also a published novelist and poet. His autobiographical novel Junkie Love first came out in Czech translation in 1997 and was followed by a bi-lingual book of poetry and song lyrics (Zeleny Hotel/The Green Hotel) in 1998. Junkie Love was published in English by Twisted Spoon Press in 2001, and in 2002 the book won the Firecracker Alternative Book Award (Drugs Books Category) in New York. Since then it has been translated into Italian and Greek. "Junkie Love - a nice, nasty read. I enjoyed it a lot." (Nick Cave); "Ever-descending scenes of brute squalor, self-inflicted wounds and abjection." (Michael Gira); "A fine, gutsy, spare rendering of the drug underworld." (Will Self); "The best book about drugs since "Junky". An essential read!" (Nikki Sudden).

The very last CD of Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross called "Paranoia.com". The new CD is more guitar oriented, the lyrics very much concerned with what is happening right now. With less introspection and more anger than on previous CDs, "Paranoia.com" has been getting excellent reviews in the press and enthusiastic responses from live audiences. The album is released on UK label Easy Action (www.easyaction.co.uk), and is available online through amazon.com, with world distribution in all good record stores.