For the first time in 14 years, The Sisters of Mercy are returning to the US and are poised to collect a new generation of fans. The English post-punk rockers gave us the classics “Marian,” “Lucretia My Reflection,” “this Corrosion,” and one of my long-standing favorites, “More.”
Front-man and founding member Andrew Eldritch is bringing guitarists Dylan Smith and Ben Christo, and Ravey Davey – operator for the drum machine dubbed Doktor Avalanche – to our shores with some new stuff as well.
Despite not releasing an album since 1990 and lacking a social media presence, The Sisters of Mercy are selling out their upcoming dates. (If locals want to attend the May 23rd Hollywood Palladium show, you’ll need to go through a reseller, but tickets for the May 15th show remain). With that kind of demand, OC Music News was thrilled to check in with guitarist Ben Christo via Zoom in hopes of finding out “More” of what’s ahead for The Sisters of Mercy.
Traci: Hey Ben!
Ben: Hey, Traci!
Traci: I know you’ve been busy playing shows with your band Diamond Black, but it looks like you might be at your house.
Ben: Yeah, I was on tour last week and I will be on tour in a few months’ time, but right now I am in my apartment.
Traci: I did my research on you and my major question is: Do you ever NOT do anything?!
Ben: (laughing) That’s a very good question. I find it very hard to not do anything. I have to force myself to not do anything. And sometimes what I’ll do is kind of surprise myself with not doing anything. As in, I’ll have a day planned out and I’ll be getting a bit stressed and I’ll just go, “Hey, how about I just do nothing for an hour” and there’s a board game cafe around the corner from me. But sometimes I just go in there and I’ll just sit there and read a book or just watch people playing board games with a coffee. I think sometimes it’s quite nice to almost surprise yourself with doing nothing rather than holding it in this high regard of, “So now I’ve scheduled in this hour, now I must relax.”
Traci: You’ve been busy touring with your band, Diamond Black, and you just released the video for “Through the Misery.” Are you a songwriter that likes to talk about what your songs are about or are you one who prefers people interpret on their own?
Ben: Bit of both, really, because I think having had some songs explained to me that I love by other artists, it’s sort of not ruined it, but it’s taking it away from me because as a fan, I’ve projected my own meaning onto that song. That’s why it means so much to me then, for the writer to go, “Oh, actually, it was about this.” Even if that’s just about something, of course it was about the relationship that you had with this person’s life, but it’s not my story anymore. You’ve taken it from me. But I also am fascinated by it, and I do like to talk about it. I think this is one this particular song, if that’s what we were going to talk about, is one that has been written, I think, very specifically about something which I think is worth discussing.
Traci: And what would that be?
Ben: It is actually written about the negative effect that social media has begun to have on me. I can’t necessarily say the way that it makes other people feel. I can make observations based on things that I see in my friendship group and in the general world. It’s about what I feel and how, particularly the last 10 years or so, I’ve started to measure my value as a human being on how many likes and follows and attention that I get through something which isn’t even real and validation. That something that I do – or that anyone does that considers to be using their talents or their goodwill or their imagination – it’s only good if a certain amount of people validate it. And those are people that you don’t even know, and their validation is literally this (mimics pressing a button on a phone). That’s it and they’re not thinking about it anymore. So it’s about how that’s made me feel and how that’s affected my ability to move forward.
Ben continues: It is also about comparison, how sometimes I could open up my phone and instantly see something that immediately makes me feel worthless because this other person is doing better than me and their life is better than my life. “Why can’t I be this? Why am I not this? When am I ever going to be this?” And this sudden, depressing feeling. It’s about trying to work through that and understanding that ultimately – and this can be quite empowering once you discover it – you get to decide how you feel about anything and everything. Once you can start to really connect with that, it can become very liberating.
THE SISTERS OF MERCY
Traci: What is your songwriting process? Words then music? The other way around?
Ben: It’s usually music first. Of the better things that I’ve written, they’d be melodies or little vocal phrases or riffs, but I haven’t even sat down with a guitar and composed. I’ve just been walking down the road and be like, “Oh, that’s really cool!” Then just record it in the phone or back in the day a Dictaphone and then figure out later on how that actually translates musically. And then what will often happen is if you do come up with a lyric at that point, then it might not be a very good lyric because it’s just the first thing that you thought of to hold the tune, but what you may find is that those syllables and sounds and consonants are the right sort of sounds for that tune. So you find words that have a similar rhyming pattern or meter or whatever to those words and that’s usually what helps you because certain melodies just don’t work.
Ben continues: The other way that I’ve done a couple of times that actually was really good was the Desmond Child approach, which is title before anything else. I got a book and I opened it up and I was like, “The first phrase I see is going to be the name of this song.” In fact, the first phrase I saw wasn’t very super. It was something like, “he adjusted his shoe to make it” (laughing), so that’s not going to work. But the second one was “time to escape” and I thought, “Wow! What a cool name for a song.” Then I just built the entire song on this sense of “time to escape” and what it meant to me and that was one of the best songs I think I’ve ever written. So those are two ways that I’ve written and I think the title first one is a very good one, and I would recommend it to anybody because it immediately gets you vibed up, gets you in the style, gets you thinking. It’s like, if someone said, “Can you just write me a movie script?” you’d be like, (shrug). But if you said, “Write me a movie script and the title is ‘Night of the Halloween Devil,’” you’d start working on it!
Traci: How did you get recruited into The Sisters of Mercy?
Ben: I moved to London because I was looking to join a new band and I got a phone call from an area code number that I didn’t recognize. There was a man on the phone who said very, very forward, “We hear you’re a guitarist. We think you’re quite good. We’d like you to audition for our band.” I was like, “Sorry, what band? Who? What?” He wouldn’t tell me who the band was; he just said, “We’re a band. We’re a professional band. We’re going to tour America. We need a guitar player. Come an audition, bring some Hendrix licks. We’re like a mix of Motorhead and U2.” Because he was being so vague, I was very, very skeptical about it. So I went along to this audition again, not wanting to turn anything down because you never know, but very skeptical about it and I was a little bit scared, “Where am I going?” I got a mate who works for the police and I said, “Look, if I don’t contact you in half an hour, come and find me.” (laughing)
Ben continues: I went into this audition and there were three guys in the room. There was a man on the sofa with a can of beer, some dark glasses on and a woolly hat. There was a guy with a guitar and there was a guy with a laptop, and they said, “Can you play this? Can you play that?” and the guy with the guitar would play a riff and I would play it back. I can’t read music, but I’m good at listening and I’m good at picking things up by ear. So we did this for a while and I started to think, this sounds a bit like The Sisters of Mercy, because I was a fan. They were in my top 20 bands, but I haven’t seen what they’ve been up to [this was 2006].
He went on: I thought it’s got a kind of TSOM feel to it. So I just played one of their famous riffs on my guitar then to see if anybody would say anything. Sure enough, Shades goes, “That’s one of our songs.” I will never forget the snapshot of my life, looking at my hands and my hands were just shaking and shaking because I was so nervous that I was in the presence of a band that I hugely respected, that played a big part in my childhood, and that I could now be in. A couple of days later they called me up – at the time I was working in the English equivalent of a 7-11 store and teaching a few guitar lessons on the side, flat packing boxes and stuff – and it was, “We want you to do it.” It was just so amazing. We did some rehearsals and then about six weeks later, I was on the tour bus going from LAX to Vegas for the first show. It was just life changing within a relatively short space of time.
Traci: And now you get to return to the US and you guys are going to be at the Sick New World Festival with like 900 other bands.
Ben: Is it actually 900?
Traci: I think it might be 889. I’m sorry, I tend to exaggerate. (laughing)
Ben: Come on! (laughing)
Traci: Is there anybody there that you are particularly excited to see?
Ben: There’s a really great band called Cold. I heard a song off their first album on one of those magazine cassettes that you get free and I was like, “This is amazing.” I started following the band from there and when I got in TSOM, a mutual fan of Cold and TSOM made contact and said, “I know Scooter [Ward], do you want me to put you in contact?” I was like, “Yes!” It turns out he’s a TSOM fan because he grew up on it in the early ‘90s. Now we text each other and we talk and stuff. I’m really looking forward to seeing Cold and hanging out. I’ve never met him in person, so I’m looking forward to actually getting a chance to meet one of my heroes.
Traci: You’ll do the festival and then a show the day after, still in Vegas. Then you’re doing all the shows! I think it’s amazing that while there’s new songs [“Eyes of Caligula” and “Don’t Drive on Ice”], there has not been a new album in decades, yet you guys are selling stuff out. How phenomenal is that?
Ben: Yeah, I still don’t really know where that comes from. A number of factors have come together at a time that has made this possible. I’d like to think it’s because the last couple of years of the band’s touring, particularly 2022, has been very strong and the word has spread. We know that we’re a good, solid band. There’s lots of new songs written by the assembled lineup and it’s a good show. I’m hoping that’s part of it. I know there’s a cyclical nature to things as well. We’re seeing three generations of fans at our shows now, from teenagers to people in their 60s, so new blood coming in, discovering it from their parents, that sort of thing. And I think maybe just the amount of time that’s passed and the strength of the source material because those first three albums are so good and they’re so venerated that people want to come out and see the band and are intrigued, hopefully, by the idea of there being immaterial.
Traci: I read an interview with Andrew [Eldritch] and I know he is kind of, “We do what we want to do. Maybe we’ll do this, maybe we won’t.” Because of that, I won’t ask for specific plans for the future, but is there anything you can tell us to look forward to?
Ben: I just want people to know that the show that we’re bringing is going to be really good. It’s exciting. It’s a really good mix of greatest hits, some deep cuts that you maybe wouldn’t expect to hear, and a bunch of new songs, which we think are really good and we think encapsulate the spirit of The Sisters of Mercy in a 2023 kind of way.
Traci: If you guys are having fun on stage, I’m into it.
Ben: Yeah, we’re basically bringing what we did in Australia, which was really successful, to the States, which is visually and sonically, very arresting. Really good visuals, good show, the way that we are on stage is a mixture of being quite reserved and then quite energetic, and there’s a good sort of light and shade to it. So, yeah, I want people to know that it’s going to be really good!
Thank you Ben Christo from The Sisters of Mercy and Diamond Black! We look forward to seeing TSOM at the sold out Sick New World Festival at The Las Vegas Fairgrounds on May 13th, and their additional show the next day at Brooklyn Bowl Vegas. SoCal catch them at the Hollywood Palladium May 15th and May 23rd as they make their way around North America.