Despite not having released an album since 1990 and no new music since 1993, The Sisters of Mercy are very much a current band according to frontman and founding member Andrew Eldritch. With the most stable lineup of the band in ages — Eldritch, guitarists Dylan Smith (since 2019), Ben Christo (since 2006), and Ravey Davey who is the “nurse” for the band’s long-serving drum machine, Doktor Avalanche — The Sisters of Mercy these days are filling nearly half their setlists with new songs alongside classics like “Lucretia My Reflection,” “Marian,” and “More.”
You can hear the confidence in Eldritch’s voice across a recent transatlantic call from his “industrial super villain” estate in Leeds, UK where the band was formed. Confidence peppered with the dry wit that’s always been a part of the group, but cocky nonetheless. New songs like “Eyes of Caligula” and “Don’t Drive on Ice” are fiery political polemics aimed at the UK government, in a similar big-riff vein to what he did on 1990’s Vision Thing which was largely about then U.S. president George Bush Sr. and his administration.
Speaking of presidents, The Sisters of Mercy’s last tour was in November 2008 when Obama was about to be elected, a big moment for Eldritch. The last seven years — Donald Trump in particular — have been among the reasons the band hasn’t been back. But that changes this spring when the band will be over for their first U.S. tour in 15 years, surrounding their appearance at Las Vegas’ Sick New World festival. Dates include a NYC show at Kings Theater on June 3 that BrooklynVegan is presenting (presale dates HERE).
Eldritch has a reputation for being a prickly pear, but he was in fine spirits for our phone conversation. We talked about how this tour came about and the role System of a Down’s Serj Tankian had in it, the current status of the band, the possibility of new Sisters of Mercy records, Donald Trump, Dolly Parton, and more. Read the whole interview below.
Bill: Hi Andrew. How are you and where are you? You live in Belgium these days, is that right?
Andrew Eldritch: Well, it’s complicated. Yeah, I share a flat with a girl in Belgium, but I’ve also got my own place on the Mediterranean, and, right now, I’m at my industrial super villain place in Leeds, England.
Ah your hometown.
Since the ’70s, yes.
The Sisters of Mercy’s hometown.
Yes, very much so. There’s four of us on stage at the moment, and one of us is born and bred in Leeds, the other two very much not so, but I still think we retain a Leeds-iness, certainly in our Fuck You attitude.
I’ve never been, but I like a lot of bands from Leeds.
It’s not a tourist destination.
Andrew, I have to tell you, this is a true story, I was at a bar last night and the DJ played your cover of “Jolene.”
Oh, dear. Did some redneck try and shoot you?
No, this is in Brooklyn. A fairly urbane crowd.
Yeah. But they’re going to defend the Dolly.
The crowd was pretty into it. The DJ was playing a lot of post-punk stuff and he followed it with … have you heard Wall of Voodoo’s cover of “Ring of Fire?” It made for a good one-two punch.
Well, our cover’s pretty terrible. We were not very good in those days. We really didn’t know what we were doing, but we had a commitment to doing it. And, at the time, covering Dolly Parton songs, for a punk band, was outrageous. It’s not outrageous anymore.
Right. Yeah. At the time, most of your compatriots were covering Marc Bolan or Bowie.
At best. She’s a great songwriter, Dolly Parton. If Stevie Nicks didn’t do the woodland fairy nonsense, I’d put her right up there with Dolly Parton.
Yeah, and she’s still going too. She just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sadly, my time will come probably never.
You’re gearing up for your first US tour since 2008, so 15 years. Why haven’t you been back since then?
“I think there’s three reasons,” he said, conjuring a number off the top of his head. The first and most important reason is that American agents like to do things at really short notice, and we are not like that. Because we have such a steady, strong base in Europe, we tend to book ourselves a year ahead of time, and American agents to do four, six weeks. And it’s really hard to fit America in at the last minute because our schedule is full long before American agents think, “Oh, let’s do a gig next month.” The second reason is Trump, obviously. Last time we played America, Obama was getting elected and we put laptops right across the lip of the stage so that everybody could follow the results as they came in. That was a glorious night, and then it all went to shit. I really miss Obama.
A lot of us do.
Well, half of you don’t-
Tthat’s part of the problem, and I think that’s the other reason we can’t generally get arrested in America, although they definitely would arrest us.
Your Irving Plaza show, that was actually on election night?
I think it was New Haven.
That had to have been something.
That was a party. I was in Vegas not so long after, and I was watching the inauguration of the first Black president on the big screens in a big building full of Middle America, and Middle America was doing its best to ignore that that was happening. I’m not afraid, I’m not ashamed, to say that I had tears in my eyes, me and Al Sharpton, me and Jesse Jackson.
Yeah. I was living in Brooklyn at that time. It was an unforgettable night.
I was really proud of America because a lot of the world looks to you — well, not you personally, you know what I mean — looks to you as a beacon, and that really was. And then it all went to shit. And the third reason is the last album I made, which is a long time ago now, was basically about George Bush.
Vision Thing, the title came from a George Sr quote.
I thought I’d said all the things that I have to say about American politics and I didn’t really feel the need to go back and browbeat people about a thing that I thought was stupid, that I thought was not going to come back because Obama.
On that, and I’m sure other people have brought this up before, but there was an interview going around in 2016, where you are quoted as saying, “If Trump gets elected, that will be reason enough for me to make a new record.” And I have to tell you that, when Trump got elected, the only silver lining was remembering you said that.
I will. But one of our new songs is my final word on Thatcher. It takes me a long time to do the final word. It’s called “Eyes of Caligula,” and it’s a very good song. It’s called “Eyes of Caligula,” because I think it was President Mitterrand, it was one of the French presidents, said, “That woman has the eyes of Caligula,” and he was damn right. But that song was written in, I don’t know, 2020, 2021, something like that. It’s quite recent. And that’s my final word on Thatcher, And she’s long dead. It takes me a while to deliver the final word.
You’ve been playing lots of new songs.
Thank you very much for noticing, because I think sometimes people characterize us as a backward-looking band, and we are very much not that.
Your most recent show that you played in Australia, I count eight songs that were from 2000 forward.
Yeah. Sometimes it’s half.
I know that you have always played new material for the last 30 years, but it feels like there is maybe a fire to the Sisters of Mercy that there hasn’t been in a while. Is the band a little more solidified than it has been in a while?
It’s not really for me to judge, I’m in the worst place to know, but people seem to have picked up on the fact that we seem to be utterly on fire.
In fact, you have a new song called “When I’m On Fire.”
Heyo! Yeah, that one is about being struck by lightning and liking it. I don’t know what caused this. Obviously, it coincided with the introduction of Dylan Smith, our new guitar player, but I don’t want to cast aspersions on the fellow that he replaced, who is still a lovely person and one of my closest friends, but, whereas I don’t know exactly what he delivers, something has changed, clearly. And, again, I’m not in the best position to know. I just stand there and sing songs as best as I can, and when I say sing, I use the word advisedly. But something clearly has changed. People seem to have picked up on that, well, we’re on fire. Also, these things go in cycles, but it’s noticeable that we’re getting a lot of respect and love from, particularly, the metal community at the moment, so our currency is strong. It seems to be cool to like The Sisters at the moment. These things come and go.
I watched videos of a few of your new songs — “Don’t Drive on Ice,” “Eyes of Caligula,” “Genevieve,” “On the Beach — and thought they were all good!
Those are riffs that I could have written in, well, back in the day. They are very Sisters-y. I’ve always believed that the music should stand up on its own. After four bars, you should go, “Yep, that’s the Sisters,” like, when you hear a John Carpenter soundtrack motif, you go, “Yep, that’s John Carpenter.” Which, incidentally, is pretty much the same thing.
One reason I love dubstep is because dubstep puts John Carpenter riffs over the top of anything.
Are there even more songs that you guys have written that you haven’t played live yet?
Yep. Not all of them are ready, but they might be by May.
And I know you get tired of people asking you if you’re ever going to make another record, but you’ve got all these songs, you’re coming up on 30 years since you released “Under the Gun,” the last new song The Sisters of Mercy put out. With this fire, is there any more of a, “We should really record something?”
It’s hard to find the time when all of us are busy. I’m busy not just doing Sisters stuff, but we’re all busy doing other things. Luckily, nobody has a day job, so there is still hope, but hope is a cruel thing, isn’t it? The simple fact is that, these days, making records is a time-consuming and enervating experience, which I very much enjoy, but not everybody does. And, on the other hand, the music industry, which will be responsible for distributing and marketing this stuff, is so truly and utterly fucked that I can’t see them managing it. We talk to record labels, but we don’t get the sense that they know what they’re doing.
What about putting it out yourself?
Also an option. That’s how we started off. Right now, it’s a problem of finding the time. If you put out records, people say, “Why aren’t you touring?” If you’re touring, people say, “Why aren’t you putting out records?” The simple fact is, another simple fact, is that, whatever we do, it’s not entirely broken, so we’re not entirely looking to fix it. I really did think that, if Pink Floyd put out another album after, how many years, 25-ish, I thought that, if Pink Floyd put out an album, then we’d outlast them by a day and then we’d put out an album. And then Pink Floyd did put out an album and I thought, “Yeah, that’s not very good. You should have just not done that.”
But you’re playing these songs a concerts…
Or maybe I’m just lazy, or maybe I can’t decide on the definitive version of anything.
So what prompted this tour? Was it Sick New World and you decided to tour around it, or how did it come about?
It was exactly that. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of love from the hard rock/metal community for us right now. And, if Serj [Tankian of System of a Down] likes you, you pay attention.
So it was Serj who got you to play Sick New World?
Yeah. Not the most recent time that we played in Australia, but the previous time, we did some shows and then we went to see System of a Down at an arena gig, and Serj spotted me in front of the stacks and the whole band immediately launched into one of my very old songs as a way of saying hello. They played 30 seconds of “Marian” and I was just blown away by the love. You would be.
The venue you’re playing in Brooklyn is an old ’20s movie house, very ornate.
I’m a big fan of the anonymous oblong box. All the rococo plaster work, that’s not us. People think it is, but it isn’t. My favorite architecture is Bauhaus. I like square concrete stuff.
What are you looking forward to on this tour?
We’re hoping to be good. We are hoping to show how good we are, and we think, right now, that we are very good indeed. When we get there, we’ll see how it goes. And we are hoping to take away some very fond memories. But it must be said that playing America in May, this year, was not our idea. You can blame Serj for this. We did not plan on coming to America.
Well, as a fan, I’d say it’s long overdue.
I think you’ll be pleased because we try and convey a sense of energy and fun to the proceedings. And you were right to notice that maybe, in recent years, there’s been a bit of a dip. But, right now, we’re on fire, so we can go anywhere.
All right. That’s exciting.
If we manage to do well, then, yes, it will be extraordinarily exciting. It’s hard to think of many bands that deliver the same intelligence and wit and energy that we deliver when we’re on fire. And I’m not trying to blow smoke up your ass here. I know when we’re good and, right now, we are very good.
“Intelligence and wit” — I don’t think enough people see the humor in The Sisters of Mercy.
They don’t, but explaining the joke is not my job. Explaining the joke is your job.
I think it’s right there. It can’t all be doom and gloom.
Well, we comment on a world that’s full of doom and gloom. Our songs are based in a world of doom and gloom because that’s what is foisted upon us. I didn’t vote for that.
I was watching an interview of you on MTV’s 120 Minutes recently and you said, “We make records for a hard world, and a hard world, you can get by in.” Do you think that still holds true?
Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s easier if you do it with intelligence, wit, and a degree of energy.
What can fans, who haven’t seen you play live since at least 2008, if not earlier, expect from the Sisters of Mercy 2023?
Well, obviously, we are not in a position to bring our whole European production with us, so some of the eye candy will be missing. I personally don’t miss that. We’ve never used pyro. It makes me jump. I think, if you have to use pyro, you’re saying, “This is not a musical event.” But we won’t even be bringing our basic stage set. We’ll just be standing there, running around, playing some songs, but they are very good songs and we are very good at playing them. It’s all about the songs, man.
Do you approach America differently than you do Europe as far as set list selection?
We used to. [Long pause] Now we don’t. For the festival, you can expect maybe some more greatest hits. For the headline shows, you can expect some more new songs. To be honest, the new songs have gone down pretty well. Bands are always terrified of playing new songs, or terrified of playing a lot of them, because they don’t want that vacant stare from the audience. But we’ve put the lyrics on our webpage. People know what we’re on about.
And these days, like I did, you can go on YouTube and see you play most of the new songs that you’ve played so far.
Yeah. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend all YouTube videos, but compared to everybody else’s YouTube videos, it doesn’t suck.
Have you considered maybe just doing a live album to put out some of those new songs, at least in a more sonically robust live form?
We have started to record ourselves.
Oh, baby steps, right, I guess.
Oh, bless you. I’ve been doing this for so long and you’re still calling it baby steps, but, yeah, yeah, you’re right.
You know what I mean. Baby steps towards a new album.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Sorry, dude.
What do you do in your spare time? Do you keep up with modern pop culture in any way at all?
I have no interest in music whatsoever. I read books and I watch films.
Well, what about films? Do you watch new films or do you primarily watch older things?
Like everybody else, I watch what I can get for free. I have a particular interest in old-school Soviet science fiction films. That’s a particular interest of mine. I am also a massive fan of Japanese cinema. I watch a lot of South Korean films and, right now, tootling along in the background to our conversation is Fred Williamson. He’s doing ’70s Kung Fu in a Blaxploitation flick.
Yeah, I am basically Quentin Tarantino.
Is there anything else we should know about you or the Sisters of Mercy as of now, regarding the tour or otherwise?
By the nature of the questions, I think you have the gist. I think you understand that we’re not informed by other contemporary music. We’re informed by Hawkwind and the Stooges and Suicide and strange Japanese films. And we also write some killer riffs, and we deliver them with intelligence, wit, and energy. That’s about it. If you don’t like that, don’t buy a ticket. The only thing I want to emphasize is that we are a forward-looking entity, and the world needs us, and America particularly needs us.
THE SISTERS OF MERCY TOUR DATES BELOW:
The Sisters of Mercy – 2023 Tour Dates
Wed, May 10 – Silver Spring MD @ The Fillmore DC
Sat, May 13 – Las Vegas NV @ Sick New World Festival – SOLD OUT
Sun, May 14 – Las Vegas NV @ Brooklyn Bowl
Mon, May 15 – Los Angeles CA @ Hollywood Palladium
Wed, May 17 – San Francisco CA @ The Masonic
Fri, May 19 – Portland OR @ Crystal Ballroom
Sun, May 21 – Seattle WA @ Moore Theatre
Tue, May 23 – Los Angeles CA @ Hollywood Palladium – SOLD OUT
Wed, May 24 – Tempe AZ @ Marquee Theatre
Fri, May 26 – Houston TX @ Bayou Music Center
Sat, May 27 – Austin TX @ Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theatre
Mon, May 29 – St Louis MO @ The Pageant
Wed, May 31 – Boston MA @ Big Night Live
Fri, June 2 – Brooklyn NY @ Kings Theatre
Sat, June 3 – Philadelphia PA @ The Fillmore
Mon, June 5 – Detroit MI @ The Fillmore
Tue, June 6 – Chicago IL @ The Salt Shed
Thu, June 8 – Kansas City MO @ Uptown Theatre
Fri, June 9 – Denver CO @ Fillmore Auditorium
Sun, June 11 – MEX – Guadalajara | C3 Stage
Tue, June 13 – MEX – Mexico City | Circo Volador
Fri, June 16 — CHI – Santiago de Chile | Club Chocolate
Sun, June 18 – BRA – Sao Paulo | Tokio Marine Hall
Jul, 22 — GRI – Athen | Death Disco Festival