Maybe there’s something magically inspiring about the River Clyde, or is it simply the cider served in Glaswegian pubs. Anyway, Glasgow is buzzing with young up-and-coming artists creating incredible things, either on stage or on fabric, with words or with paint. Every month or so we’ll chat with a Glasgow-based artist to see what they’re up to. Today: Jack Elfick, one half of rockabilly inspired band The Bikini Bottoms and co-author of the Shakespeare Society’s upcoming play ‘Much Ado About Murder’, a gory take on the Elizabethan classic. “People just love being scared. Everyone’s got a bit of morbid curiosity, me more than most.”
How would you describe yourself and your art?
It’s all very nostalgia fuelled. The surf and rockabilly is very fifties and so is the camp horror thing. It all seems to come from within that mid-century time period. I live my life based around that kind of aesthetic; emulation, not imitation, I would hope. I just really like the genre-based music and films. My starting point is always to create something I would like – if I was the punter this is a band I’d want to go and see, this is the play or film I’d want to go and see. As soon as there’s not enough of something, I guess I’ve got to do it.
Who are your idols?
Since I was a young teenager I’ve been really obsessed with Jack White and the world he builds around himself. He’s decided that this is him, this is his aesthetic, come and see it if you want and don’t if you don’t want to. The audience seems like it might be secondary – it’s a consideration, but his attitude is that there’s no such thing as not taking yourself too seriously. I think audiences have become more important to me recently though. I’m mostly doing this for myself, but my band now is much more inviting and accessible than the last one. Same with theatre; I read a lot of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams and thought I was going to write something very profound – but I’ve not, I’ve ended up writing horror plays.
Horror can reflect something about the times we live in though, can’t it?
I’ll let you and the audience decide that. Lots of people think that ‘Much Ado About Murder’ is a critique on the theatre system. You could read it that way, or you could read it as us just having some gruesome stuff we want to show you for an hour.
How was The Bikini Bottoms’ gig at the QMU?
It was fantastic! It’s always nice to see friends coming in or to have the chance that there will be people from other bands we’ve played with. It’s not scarier having people you know there – there’s a really select group of five or six people who come to every gig so it’s actually really reassuring to see them. The QMU’s got a reputation for having cool acts; we were saying when we were playing that it’s been 15 years since the White Stripes were there and that means quite a lot to me and Evan. There’s a whole history that we’re really into.
You’re a bit of a Renaissance man – you do art and make music and write. What’s your advice for other students trying to juggle work and creative pursuits?
I don’t know how to answer that without sounding like someone’s mum! You just have to prioritise. At the end of the day uni takes priority, but it doesn’t take a lot of time to be creative. It takes a lot of energy, but as long as you’ve got that you’re fine. And I do have a lot of energy. I’ve had to make sacrifices all the time, but I’ve been doing that for so long that you just kind of get used to it. It’s a lot of practise, not much sleep.
Could you tell us a bit about Much Ado About Murder and where that came from?
Much Ado About Murder is another homage to old horror films. It’s very camp and sort of self-aware. It’s inspired by a bunch of different things, like a film called Theatre of Blood, another called Kind Hearts and Coronets and the old Dracula and Frankenstein movies. My co-author Kaat and I did a 30-minute adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher last year. We wanted to see if we could recreate a horror film on stage, and we could, so we wrote a bigger one, and now it’s on.
That’s kind of in line with Shakespeare as a writer in some ways – the idea of a horror film on stage is definitely something that he did and something theatre was for.
Yeah definitely – it’s very accessible, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that because it’s Shakespeare it’s going to be too difficult. We’ve mainly taken all the gruesome, gory, mad bits from Shakespeare. There was type of underground horror theatre called Grand Guignol theatre in Paris, where people would go and see these really gruesome horror plays and heckle and vomit in terror in the audience and throw fruit. They tried to keep it going up until the mid 60s but it mostly ended around World War Two. People didn’t think it was appropriate to have that as entertainment when it was actually happening in the world. The director said people couldn’t get drawn into horror on stage because it was happening outside their front doors.
That’s really interesting – do you think theatre still has a capacity to shock today?
It’s a very different audience now, very desensitised. It’s not so much about getting to see the horror in real life because we all know it’s not real. I think people just love being scared. Everyone’s got a bit of morbid curiosity, me more than most!
[Imogen Whiteley – @imogen_lucy]
Much Ado About Murder will play at the Tron Pub in Edinburgh on the 28th and 30th of October as part of the Edinburgh Horror Festival.
Places to find Jack: