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Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Sontaag from 2014

Can you catch the readers up a little on your musical history personally?

Ian Fortnam: Jazz, rock'n'roll, Motown, mod, psychedelia, Velvets, glam, rock, pop, metal, reggae, punk, disco, dub, post-punk, funk, thrash, electro, psycho, hip-hop, hardcore, acid, grunge, baggy, Britpop, trip-hop, hi-life, dubstep... ad lib to fade. 

Richard Sontaag: I started playing guitar when I was eight, and did my first gig at eleven playing “Move It” and “Johnny B. Goode.” One of my friends had made the guitar in woodwork class. I’d like to say it was the best guitar I’ve ever had, but it was actually the worst.

MSJ: What about the history of this particular latest project?
Ian Fortnam: Richard and I met as embryonic show-offs, parted ways for prolonged adolescence, before finding mutual satisfaction in outer space.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Ian Fortnam: Time.

Richard Sontaag: I’d be a neuroscientist. That holds the keys to what we really are.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Ian Fortnam: Everyone I've ever heard. 

Richard Sontaag: Well, apart from all the obvious ones, as a guitar player, I listened to Paul Kossoff a lot when I was learning. I always admired the way he made a single note go on forever on tracks like “Heavy Load.” His vibrato was amazing. The story is that Clapton asked him how he did it, and he wouldn’t tell him. Recently, I have been listening to a lot of recordings by Les Paul. Les pretty much did everything you could do on an electric before anyone else had even plugged in!

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Ian Fortnam: Nostalgia for an age yet to come.

Richard Sontaag: I have ambitions to be the first member of Sontaag in space.

I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Ian Fortnam: Sonic cinema. That is: progressive sound collages that stimulate synapses into the evocation of epic imagery. I could probably be more pretentious, but fear I may initiate a stroke.

Richard Sontaag: “Sonic Cinema.” The Sontaag album is a film in sound.
Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Ian Fortnam: There are very few with whom I would not like to play, but I'd not be overly offended by an offer to join the Rolling Stones. 

Richard Sontaag: A lot of the music for Sontaag was recorded on my own in the studio. So yes, that would be nice.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Ian Fortnam: Established heritage artists who make a comfortable living creaking around gargantuan auditoria can only shift more merchandise and shoehorn even more superannuated bums into implausibly expensive seats, the more people come upon their music whether legally or illegally. That said if illegal downloading of music continues at today's pace there will never be another generation to follow or replace today's superstars. Today's superstars became superstars thanks to corporate investment and sponsorship. Without significant financial recompense sponsors simply won't invest, music-making will recalibrate from career to hobby, and I'll have to go back to cat-juggling for chump change. 

Richard Sontaag: It’s more than a hindrance, it’s a disaster. No one is getting paid. So what’s funding the bands? The film industry, by comparison, has been very smart in stopping illegal downloads of movies. The film industry is in good shape compared to the music industry, so perhaps there are some lessons we can learn from it.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

Ian Fortnam: Bootlegging has always existed, generally on a very small scale, by fans, for fans. Bob Dylan's probably been bootlegged more than anyone else alive, but I doubt he's ever had much trouble making the rent.

Richard Sontaag: I don’t have a similar problem with that, and it would be impossible to stop people doing it, anyway.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Ian Fortnam: Probably Simon Cowell; he's singlehandedly altered the musical landscape for the worse. He's an incredibly powerful man, yet seems to abhor and discourage progression and innovation in his favoured artists. I guess it's not actually his fault that he seems to have little to no emotional attachment to the music he promotes or even a basic understanding of the fact that without progression the industry upon which he's thrived will steadily decline and ultimately die. Nor do I imagine he'll particularly care when it does.

Richard Sontaag: I like that Bizarro Superman storyline, where everything is back-to-front. But in the Bizarro universe, Coldplay would be considered a good band – so it might be an impossible place to live, on reflection.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Ian Fortnam: Jaz Coleman, Geordie Walker, our third man and co-producer Youth and Paul Ferguson, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with Killing Joke. Never has been, never will be. 

Richard Sontaag: Page. Plant. Jones. Bonham. Easy.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Ian Fortnam: Rolling Stones, Killing Joke, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Muffs, Slade, Kraftwerk, Crosby Stills & Nash, New York Dolls, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Ash, Television, Suede, Magazine... Obviously, if we're moving into the realms of fantasy it would be Syd's Floyd, Calvert's Hawkwind, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Ramones, Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers, MC5, Clash, Beatles, Iggy And The Stooges... How long have you got? 

Richard Sontaag: I was thinking about something similar the other day… when Miles Davis played Bitches Brew at the Isle of Wight, or Hendrix played Woodstock, it was more than a festival, it was a cultural event. Is anything like that ever likely to occur again? Of course, each era has its own important media, so maybe such important phenomena will occur in ways and places we haven’t yet thought of.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Ian Fortnam: Me First & The Gimme Gimmes' Are We Not Men? We Are Diva! 

Richard Sontaag: Today I listened to the new Wilco Johnson/Roger Daltrey album, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Magazine’s Secondhand Daylight, and Steven Wilson’s The Raven That… album.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Ian Fortnam: The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé, Letters To Cythera by Jaz Coleman, Mods - The New Religion by Paul 'Smiler' Anderson, Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner and Mud Sharks by Dave Barbarossa. 

Richard Sontaag: The Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark. It says that mathematics lies at the core of everything in the universe. That’s worrying, as I am not very good at maths.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Ian Fortnam: Ben Watt with Bernard Butler and David Gilmour at the Islington Assembly Rooms. 

Richard Sontaag: I always used to really enjoy seeing Patti Smith play at the Bowery on New Year’s Eve, but she doesn’t do that gig anymore.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure”?
Ian Fortnam: I don't understand why anyone would feel guilty about enjoying any form of music. I'm not that self-consciously cool or in the slightest bit worried by others' perceptions of what I should or shouldn't be listening to... But yeah, “All The Lovers” by Kylie Minogue and the “First Of May” by The Bee Gees... Again, how long have you got? 

Richard Sontaag: No guilt, as I like all sorts of music, always have. I’m big on country music. For instance; I’m fascinated by guitar pickers like Jerry Reed and Don Rich. The guitar is right up front in Country, there’s no place to hide. If you make a mistake, everyone knows about it.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Ian Fortnam: Making absolutely certain that I live my entire life at 11.

Richard Sontaag: These days, every time I have Spinal Tap moment, I tend to feel that my career is probably moving forward.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Ian Fortnam: Keith Richards, Terry-Thomas and my late, lamented friend, Mick Coogan. We would laugh and laugh until we stopped.

Richard Sontaag: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Sartre and Buzz Aldrin.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Ian Fortnam: Salt beef sandwiches from Katz's Delicatessen and huge slabs of Zabar's remarkable apple pie. It'd be a very New York affair, food-wise. And a big old jug of virgin mojitos. 

Richard Sontaag: French food and some burgers.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Ian Fortnam: If you can't be good, be careful... And if you can't be careful buy three copies of Sontaag.

Richard Sontaag: I’m pondering who would choose the burgers in the last answer.

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MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 5 at
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