For years, Berlin-based singer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Corner has been working alone. Originally from the U.K. and having first came to prominence in the 1990s as part of the electronic group Sneaker Pimps, he has self-produced his last four albums as IAMX. Sometimes, he even directed his own videos.
For IAMX's fifth album, The Unified Field, however, Corner enlisted collaborators, including producer Jim Abbiss (Sneaker Pimps, Ladytron, Arctic Monkeys). To pay for the album, crowd-funded on PledgeMusicreaching his goal — they don't tell you how much — within an hour, and he eventually got 817%. (Some of the money also went to videos, a tour, and a donation to Richard Dawkins' foundation.) We chatted with him about all of this ahead of his show at the Fonda tonight.
Why did you decide to do a crowd-funding campaign for this album?
I was actually against it in the beginning, but, my keyboard player from the band, she persuaded me. She kind of set it all up.
She basically trusted people more than I did. I just didn't think that there would be enough people and enough will to make it happen. I was wrong. I was totally wrong. I've caught up with donation culture and how it works and they whole positivity approach and the asking approach. I think it's really strange, the way that I view our future as an independent band. It basically funded the album and the tour. That's why we're here in America. We couldn't do it without that pledge campaign.
It's a brilliant platform if you know how to use it well. We spent a lot of time developing what we thought was a bit more interesting menu for people to choose from and tried not to do it in a standard way, just offering music. We offered video shoots for other bands and remixes and quite special things. I think that if you do it right, it can be a really positive thing. If you do it wrong, you will be really disappointed.
You hit your goal really fast. What was your reaction when you realized how well this was going?
I just didn't know what to say. I was totally stunned. It happened within an hour. That really just blew my mind. From that point forward, we just watched it grow. I think that early momentum seemed to spur people on to just keep giving. They had already pledged, but they kept pledging again. It was just insane. Not expected, but very welcome.
You never disclosed the goal of the campaign on the site, right?
We don't do that. I was advised not to do that, so I can't tell you. I know that sounds a bit fishy, but just in terms of, for some reason, we were advised not to do that. I think you do it differently in America, right? The Kickstarter thing shows dollars.
We ended up kind of with about 800%, which is ridiculous. Don't think that we got millions of dollars. We didn't get millions of dollars at all. But it was definitely a lot more than we would have expected.
What exactly did the campaign help you do and what have you done so far?
We used the money to fund the tour. We also did a video shoot, actually in [L.A.], in the winter. We shot the video for “I Come with Knives.” (Above.) Basically, everyone is getting paid from that money. Whatever minimal promotion we have, that's been paid for by the pledge campaign. It's almost like we're basically funding our own label with that money.
Could you tell me about the “I Come with Knives” video?
I was already in L.A. I was making videos for pledges who had bought the video from the pledge campaign. One of the menu items was that I would make a video for a band. I think that three people bought that item. I was working quite hard on those videos and then I realized that we didn't have a video for our own single. Because we were close to Joshua Tree and I had always wanted to do something, some kind of bright, desert-like video, we ended up flying someone from Germany over to film…and do this whole sort of spiritual excursion into the desert, which was really interesting.
What do you mean by a “spiritual excursion”?
I live in Berlin and winter is excruciatingly hard there. To have that kind of feeling in the winter. It wasn't totally warm, but it was bright and there was just so much space and an incredible vibe. I just felt totally alive in that space. In wintertime in Berlin, it's really quite difficult, psychologically, to get through it. This was a really different experience for me… Spiritual is kind of a bit of the wrong word to use. There was kind of an odd feeling in that place when we were doing that video.
Did you have a storyline that you were working with in the video?
No. On the track, there are voices, German voices, that always reminded me of sirens, these spirit-like creatures. These seductive female creatures that would be somehow taunting me and tempting me. The voice always reminded me of that. We decided to go with that idea, that I'm basically being possessed.
What was the experience like for you to work with collaborators, to get input from other people?
It was fucking hard actually. It was uncomfortable and it took time to really open up. I chose someone who I had worked with in the past. So, from that point of view, it was reasonably familiar ground. Still, I had never worked with anybody on my solo stuff, on IAMX. I'm very protective and insecure and just quite fragile when it comes to studio work. I've really created this little cage around myself. Jim Abbiss, who I worked with on the record, managed to loosen me up a bit and I think added something really special to the record. He pushed me to play instruments that I hadn't played in years. He pushed to be more authentic with the acoustic side of my performance. When I'm by myself, I don't tend to perform as much as I should. He pushed me to do that and I think it worked really well. It was really refreshing to do things that I hadn't done before, playing vibes and drums and harpsichord, piano, lots of things I hadn't played for a long time. That was really nice.
I promised myself because the last record was such a fucking headache to make. It was just a bit of a mad period for me. Doing it alone was way too much.
After that record, I promised myself that I wouldn't do it again solo. I am still holding that promise. I'm trying to collaborate with others.