Category: Interviews (Page 1 of 83)

MARILLION Interview

MARILLION have seen ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’! In these long dark days of recent times, the prog veterans hope to shed some light across the stages of Britain with a 10-date tour in November 2021 culminating in 2 nights in London.

Presently, MARILLION comprise of Steve Hogarth (lead vocals, keyboards + percussion), Steve Rothery (guitars), Pete Trewavas (bass + guitar), Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Ian Mosley (drums + percussion).

For many years now, MARILLION have enjoyed a unique relationship with their fanbase and together they pioneered the concept of crowdfunding in music via the sponsorship of an American tour in 1996.

Despite a difficult 2020 for all, MARILLION united with their family of faithful fans for the online Couch Convention weekend in September which raised £31,530 for their crew who have been hard hit financially by the pandemic.

Of the weekend, Mark Kelly said: “What a weekend it was! We were totally stunned and knocked out by everyone’s involvement in everything that went on, from Steve Rothery’s late night cocktails to Pete’s Bass Masterclass. Ian’s Drum Q&A and my early morning fun run and all the music, chat and fancy dress in between. It was fun for us to be in the audience, too, reading and reacting to all your comments as the shows were streamed. The crew tip-jar was overflowing with your generosity, you raised a substantial sum for our wonderful crew. The money will go a long way to helping them survive a difficult year. Thank you!”

Mark Kelly kindly took time out from recording the new MARILLION album to talk to The Electricity Club about the use of keyboard technology in the band, being crowdfunding trailblazers and the modern day streaming business model among many other topics.

Thanks for taking time out of what I am sure is still a busy schedule to chat with us today…

No problem, I was hoping to home by now but I’m stuck in traffic on my way back from the studio.

Is that working on ‘Marathon’ (Mark’s forthcoming solo project) or MARILLION material?

‘Marathon’ is finished, this is for the next MARILLION album… Number 20! Funnily enough on the tour next year we play the Cambridge Corn Exchange almost 40 years to the day of my first gig with the band, in the same town.

I’ve been a fan all that time and it doesn’t feel like 40 years…

You’re right, it doesn’t feel like 40 years at all. You hear older people say time flies by and now I know where they are coming from.

Folk coming to this interview may wonder why we are speaking with you, but there is crossover between what you do and our usual fare, Vince Clarke for example is a GENESIS fan…

Funny you should say that, I was reading an article on one of the sites like TechRadar and they listed the Top 30 synth players and Vince Clarke was number 5 or 6 which surprised me. But thinking about it, there is a lot of crossover with the electronic stuff like TANGERINE DREAM and KRAFTWERK which is very much in the prog genre… Krautrock… the early days of synthesiser music and progressive rock were both experimental

So how are you all surviving the lockdown?

We’ve had a pretty good year by luck more than anything as we had already decided we weren’t going to tour this year. All we had in the book was ‘Cruise To The Edge’ which got cancelled back in April. So we didn’t need to change our plans much at all and for me it gave me the chance to do a solo album as we were in lockdown for 3 or 4 months.

We had just started work on the MARILLION album and had to stop. We are back in the studio now having resumed work on the album at the end of the summer. We are at that stage now where we’ve done a lot of jamming, have quite a lot of ideas and just need to get them past the arranging stage really. We are quite slow these days, we will jam then take those and jam around them again, working on the ideas we like to see what comes out and eventually they start to take shape as songs and that’s where we are at now.

We have 20 or 30 pieces, some lyrics and I’ll be optimistic and say by early next year we will have an album ready to record.

That’s great news both that you are busy and all keeping well. Moving on can you give us a recap of Mark Kelly, the early years?

I never saw being in a rock band as a viable career opportunity, it was something I did for fun playing on the local pub circuit. The guys I played with didn’t take it that seriously. I’d been an art student then switched to electronics as I wasn’t really enjoying the art stuff.

MARILLION were the opening act for the band I was playing for, Mick Pointer (the then-drummer) and Fish came up to me and asked if I fancied joining MARILLION.

I didn’t really know who they were and only watched them because our guitarist said “you should watch this lot, you’ll like them” and that was my start at becoming a professional musician.

It’s interesting as the documentary on the ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’, MARILLION’s 1983 debut album boxset shows you as having, as a band, quite a drive and determination to succeed?

That was one of the things that attracted me to MARILLION was how serious they were about it all. Everyone back then talked about making it and back then, that meant as far as we were concerned getting a record contract with a major label.

Everyone was laser focussed on it, it wasn’t a hobby. We turned professional and that meant giving up any job you had and signing on the dole. Making a living back then as a gigging musician was hard, God it’s much harder now, and we actually did manage to feed ourselves.

We would play 5 or 6 nights a week in pubs and you would get paid 100 quid which I suppose wasn’t bad, it was a slog though we were determined.

The ‘Script…’ album… I joined at the end of ‘81 and we had signed within a year and were recording the album by Christmas 82. At the time, it didn’t seem to happen that quickly but looking back it did.

The great thing about the early days of MARILLION was wherever we went, we picked up new fans. There was a real buzz about the band at grassroots level where there wasn’t much from the mainstream press. We had a session on the Friday Rock Show and Sounds wrote about us but we weren’t cool enough for Melody Maker and NME!

So looking back it did happen pretty quickly, we were selling out Hammersmith Odeon by the time the first album came out…

I remember back in the day looking at that very prog thing of listing all the keyboards that you used on the album credits…

That’s funny cos as a kid, I remember pouring over the sleeve of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Rick Wakeman and the bird’s eye view looking down at all the keyboards that were labelled. Of course there was no internet, so you had to look things up in the library or rely on keyboard magazines. I think I was just trying to emulate my heroes, they all listed what they played so we did the same…

The equipment you used was pretty much top of the want list for the period. I have often thought, did you hire it in or how did the band feel about you blowing the entire advance on a new keyboard rig?

I was thinking about this the other day and I was lucky. The A&R guy at EMI, Hugh Stanley-Clarke, was a real keyboard fan and he also represented Thomas Dolby and he said “you’ve got to get an Emulator and you have to get a PPG 2.2” and these were really expensive.

To give you an idea, the PPG was about £6000 and the Emulator about 5, so that’s £11,000 on 2 keyboards. Around the same time, I bought my first house and that was £23,000! And those weren’t the most expensive if you think about, something like the Fairlight which was £30,000 or… what was that thing Keith Emerson played, the Yamaha GS1 that was about the same price!

You had a Jupiter 8 as well?

I loved my Jupiter 8, that was what another £3000…

So most of the advance went up on A-frames next to you on stage?

You’re not far wrong actually. We bought a drum kit and some amps, but I spent about 15 grand on keyboards so I was lucky. At the time, we got the money and bought the gear.

Advances in that technology was going leaps and bounds at the time and you were probably one of the last people to record an album before MIDI came in. I think you had the DX7 the next album, ‘Fugazi’?

I think I got that just after that. Folk were buying things like the DX7 but you couldn’t really do anything with it. It wasn’t until I bought a Juno 106 and could link that and the DX7 together with a MIDI cable to stack the sounds, it was then you could say, my God listen to this. The opening bars of ‘Misplaced Childhood’ are the sound of the DX and the Juno together. At the time it was groundbreaking.

I had a Commodore 64 computer and a guy at Hansa Studios in Berlin where we recorded ‘Misplaced Childhood’ showed me a box you plugged into the back of it. It was a Steinberg 16 track sequencer, the box had MIDI In and Out and you could record stuff and play it back. It was really basic, but at the time it was amazing to be able to do that.

With the technology, did you feel you needed to keep up with things like sampling?

I loved it, it was a great time to be getting into keyboards, at that time there was a lot of great things happening with the technology. There was a shit period in keyboard development…

The early analog stuff of the 70s and those early polyphonic synths like the Prophet 5 and the Jupiter was great through to the late 80s with iconic keyboards like the Korg M1 and the Roland D50, then in the 90s there were a lot of sampling keyboards that weren’t that good.

Then you had all the VST instruments that weren’t all that good either, but now a lot of those are really nice and you can get lots of interesting sounds. It’s all a bit too easy now I suppose, a bit like recording…

Do you not find the amount of choice you have in the libraries for these instruments can be counter-productive when you can spend hours just flipping through string sounds?

You’re probably right. I don’t use the software where you can hit a button and it writes for you, gives you chord progressions and stuff. I’ve dabbled with it but the stuff that comes out is great sounding but uninspiring. You have to differentiate between something that sounds good and the actual music you are playing.

For me, I search for sounds that are inspiring and make me be creative in what I play and I feel I am much more prolific these days than I used to be and part of that is having this amazing palette of sounds at your fingertips.

So are you more software or predominantly hardware based these days?

I’m totally VST based these days… the only bit of hardware I have been playing about with recently is I have broken the old Minimoog out for the ‘Marathon’ album and I have been using that with a ribbon controller hooked up to the gate and voltage control and that’s a bit of fun and to be honest that’s it.

I still use the Korg Karma for a few sounds but everything else is in software… if I had to choose one software synthesiser to be stranded on a desert island with, it would be Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. There’s a Bob Moog commemorative sound library that a load of well-known folk like Trent Reznor contributed to for the Moog Foundation and the sounds are lovely, I always go back to them.

There’s a huge amount of fetishism around all that old gear and the majority of people don’t care…

And I don’t think the majority of keyboard players can tell the difference either.

Steve Rothery, MARILLION’s guitarist had bought a modular system and it’s fun to play around with but that’s it…

To make car alarm sounds…

Hahaha! Yeah, I think I am with you on that. Some of the software emulations like Minimoog or Hammond organ or electric piano are great now and even things like acoustic piano which was always hard to get right for example, but the Modartt Pianoteq 6 is spot on, really responsive and nice to play which was always an issue in the past.

So do you have any formal training?

No, it’s one of the things I regret. I didn’t start playing until I was 15 which is very late and it’s always been something I am aware of and a bit embarrassed about. You watch someone like Jordan Rudess playing… I’m not saying I love every note that he plays but his technique is phenomenal. He probably started when he was 3, went to Juilliard etc and I didn’t do any of that and it shows.

I’m not trying to compete with Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman or Jordan, what I do isn’t that technical really but I try and play to my strengths.

After 40 years, you’ll probably be OK for at least the next album anyway!

Hahaha! I hope so yes!

One of the things I wanted to ask you about that is very related to The Electricity Club is your involvement with The Midge Ure All Star Band at the Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988. How did that come about?

Midge Ure just called me up, I don’t know where he got my number, and asked me and I was flattered to be asked to play with all these amazing people.

At the age of 26 or whatever I was, to be asked to play in a band with Paul Carrick, Phil Collins, Mark Brzezicki, Mick Karn and Midge with all these superstars was amazing. We had a great time. We only had about 3 days rehearsal and the only stressful time was with Joan Armatrading… Paul didn’t want to sing ‘How Long’ for the umpteenth time and said can I just play keyboards so we worked out what to play between us.

The Joan Armatrading song ‘Love & Affection’ had some strings on it… I turned up at the rehearsals shitting myself as I hadn’t learnt any of the songs and neither had anyone else! We were all having fun, apart from Joan… she turned up after Paul and I had worked out the parts and stopped everything and said “just one keyboard player please” and told Paul to stop playing! So then I had to play both parts and as I say I’m not technically that good and she’s standing over me watching me do it… no pressure! It was all really good fun though, everyone else was great… THE BEE GEES were really nice chaps…

Not sure about the horns on ‘Kayleigh’ though…

Well the David Sandborn Horns were onstage so we had to use them. Phil and Mark has fun on that, they worked out little drum fills into the chorus which were different… Midge winged the guitar solo a bit but as I say, it was great fun.

You are a great advocate and early adopter of the use of the internet and you are recognised as one of the founding fathers of the whole idea of crowdfunding. Are you surprised by how the concept has taken off and developed over the years?

It developed out of necessity really. In 1997, we had a group of fans that wanted us to tour America and I said it wasn’t going to happen. We didn’t have a record deal and we would always lose money when we went to the States. One of the fans said “why don’t we create a tour fund and folk can donate money and then you can come and tour?”

It was incredible really, this wasn’t crowdfunding as we know it, it was just people putting money in a bank account, like charity almost. And when we hit the magical figure of $60,000 which is what I said we would need, I plucked the figure out of the air, as we had lost upwards of 100K in the past, they raised the money as we did the tour.

That’s what gave me the idea… if fans are will to spend that money to bring us over on tour and then still have to buy tickets, it shows there was a lot of goodwill towards MARILLION out there.

So when we wanted to do another album, we didn’t have a deal and were free. I said all we need is the money to live and record the album, why don’t we ask the fans to buy it in advance. Maybe surprisingly or maybe not, at the time it was revolutionary. Even the other band members were saying “Are you sure? Won’t the fans expect to have a say in what gets recorded and put on the record” as no one had done it before and we didn’t know if fans would actually put their hands in their pockets and pay upfront.

It was looking back such an obvious idea because of the internet and email and the fact you can reach out to people so easily and update them so readily, so it’s time had come and for us with the fans being so supportive, it wouldn’t have been something every band could have pulled off at that stage in their career.

I think it became something that some folk looked as an easy way to make money…

Yes and it wasn’t just the bands, the platforms that were set up to do it too. We went through Pledge Music for the last MARILLION album and after we had finished, they went out of business a few months owing lots of people lots of money! I think you’re right a lot of bands looked at it as a way to make easy money, but you have to do it with the right intentions. You have to show your audience appreciation for what they are doing for you, it’s not free money. It’s a collaboration, they are involved.

You are very good at that as a band and having a relationship with your fans…

We were lucky as we had had many years of doing that, being available and chatting with the fans. We used to do that right back in the early days on the first big tours, we would stay behind after shows and meet with the fans. Of course, word got round we did this and eventually the audience would stay behind in the venue and it would take hours to sign stuff, get a picture or whatever but you’d end up having 500 or so folk staying back, so we had to knock it on the head!

We used to like it as you would get to see the girls in the audience close up!

There were girls in the early MARILLION audiences, I don’t remember that!!!

Well if you have 500 folk, you might get 50 girls! So if there was a good looking one, there was a signal word where the tour manager would go and invite them to the after show party. But he got the signal word mixed up, and it was Fish that then came up with this one ‘Dodo’…

He thought that meant time to go, clear the room… the signal for stop without saying stop. So this good looking girl is there, Fish says “Dodo” and the next thing he is say “right everybody out” and we are like, what’s happening?!?

He says “Fish gave the signal” and he was like “no I didn’t you f*cking Dodo!’”

You are also to your credit heavily involved in the field of artist rights via FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) and PPL. Is this more important now that ever?

Yes, I think it’s necessary really. I don’t really do as much for FAC these days as it’s hard to find the time to do everything, though I am still on the board of PPL. I’m up for re-election soon and I have been doing it for 11 years now so maybe I will get voted off!

I think these days, people are much more aware of how artists make a living or don’t make a living and the issues around streaming services like Spotify.

I have a love / hate relationship with Spotify. I love it as a punter being able to just dive in and check stuff out if someone mentions a band. I am also aware however that it pays so little money unless you are up in the stratosphere which very few artists are there is nothing in it really, it’s just a promotion tool

Do you think there will ever be a balance struck?

It simply comes down to, unsurprisingly, that the labels are keep as much of the money as possible. They pay artists royalties based on old deal structures when they, the labels, had all those overheads, manufacturing, shipping, warehousing and all the rest of it and now they should be paying, at the very least, the artist 50% of what they get, where most are on probably 15 to 20% if that.

The labels are making decent money and many of the artists are not and I hope that at some point in the future things will be more balanced. I don’t think you can blame Spotify, they have never made a profit. They pay the labels a billion dollars a month which sounds like a lot of money, but it’s spread across the entire music industry and most of it never finds its way into the pockets of the songwriters or artists.

How big a risk or otherwise has the decision to put on a tour for next year been?

I think it’s a bit of a risk as we don’t know how things will pan out, but I do think there is a good chance the tour will happen. It is in a year’s time so…

You have a solo album coming out, what does that outlet give you that working with MARILLION doesn’t?

There are quite a few musical ideas I had over the years that never get used and I couldn’t see them ever getting used. The album has a bit more of an early MARILLION feel to it as the band has moved on from that.

I started working with a lyricist who was the person that was pushing me. Then I worked on some musical ideas with my nephew Conal and then we found Ollie who does vocals on the album and he has a great voice. Then because of lockdown, I said to everyone “let’s do this and record our parts at home” that it started taking shape

Do you think had given the album a different feel as you have done things in isolation rather than together in a studio?

The guys that mixed it says it doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded that way, it all hangs together really well, I very pleased with how it’s turned out. When we did finally did meet, some of us for the first time, we had a couple of days in Real World Studios and it sounded like we had been together for months.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Mark Kelly

Special thanks to Sharon Chevin at The Publicity Connection

Mark Kelly’s ‘Marathon’ is released on 27th November 2020 and is available in CD, vinyl and a limited edition CD with a DVD of the album being performed live plus bonus behind the scenes footage direct from http://www.marillion.com/shop/

MARILLION’s ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ tour dates for November 2021 are as follows:

Hull City Hall (14th November), Edinburgh Usher Hall (15th November), Cardiff St David’s Hall (17th November), Manchester Bridgewater Hall (18th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (20th November), Birmingham Symphony Hall (21st November), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (23rd November), Bath Forum (24th November), London Hammersmith Apollo – seated (26th November), London Hammersmith Apollo – standing (27th November)

Tickets available from https://myticket.co.uk/artists/marillion

http://www.marillion.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MarillionOfficial

https://twitter.com/MarillionOnline

https://www.instagram.com/marillionofficial/

https://www.facebook.com/mkmarathon

https://marathonsounds.com/


Text and Interview by Ian Ferguson
30th November 2020

A Short Conversation with DUBSTAR

Despite recently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of their debut album ‘Disgraceful’, DUBSTAR are still going strong and releasing songs as vital as ever.

Co-produced by Stephen Hague, ‘Disgraceful’ spawned the hits ‘Not So Manic Now’, ‘Stars’ ‘Anywhere’ and ‘Elevator Song, acting as the unlikely musical bridge between Britpop and Synth Britannia.

Signed to Food Records who also had BLUR, JESUS JONES, THE SUPERNATURALS and SHAMPOO on their books, there were two more albums in ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Make It Better’ before DUBSTAR ended their first tenure. After several false starts, 2018’s long player ‘One’ co-produced by Youth was a welcome return for DUBSTAR, but the impression was that Blackwood and Wilkie were just warming up and there was still much more to come.

With ‘Hygiene Strip’ and the new single ‘I Can See You Outside’, both co-produced by Stephen Hague, the reconfigured duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie are again exploring the electronic direction of their earlier sound and as a result, recording some of the best work of their career in the face of adversity.

DUBSTAR kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about their artistic motivation in lockdown, as well as reflecting on the longevity and continued popularity of ‘Disgraceful’.

There was a very positive reaction to ‘Hygiene Strip’, it connected with a lot of people…

Chris: It’s interesting – songwriters have always been able to count on certain universal themes for emotional traction: things like love, loss, anger and ideology are frequently revisited for instance, since it’s assumed that a greater number of people will be able to relate directly.

The pandemic, by its global nature, has affected everybody in some way or another, so unsurprisingly it’s been embraced gratefully by creatives as another vehicle for reaching people where they live. We never would have cynically set out to record a ‘Covid song’, and it really wouldn’t be our style to write about the virus itself, but there was a point during the first lockdown when it felt almost inappropriate to avoid acknowledging it, or to just pretend it wasn’t happening.

So when I found myself mumbling the verse while waiting in a socially-distanced queue outside the Co-op, it seemed okay to just let it come. Especially since I’d been struggling to finish the album due to chronic anxiety, which had been greatly exacerbated by the preceding weeks. There was a feeling that shopping for groceries was a perilous thing to do, and I noticed that I’d started dressing up more for the occasion. It felt necessary to show humanity in an ordinary situation which, at that point anyway, was ‘different’.

Sarah: It’s one of those songs I think, the more you listen to it the more things you hear, production and otherwise… I think it connected on a few levels – firstly, that it’s marking an unusual time with unusual restraints and restrictions, imposed universally. But on a more microcosmic level, it’s an apocalyptic heartbreak song – I think we’ve all bumped into the person we least want to see when we are looking our worst, pandemic notwithstanding.

There’s also some escapism going on musically; the play on words with ‘Hygiene Strip’ / ‘Sunset Strip’ -which makes me think of sunshine and happily-ever-afters, alluded to with key changes, in the style of a big Hollywood musical number, offering the hope we will wake up and find it’s all been a terrible dream and we can go back to normal…

You have often talked about “spine-tingling” moments in the studio, was there a feeling that you had something special when you were recording ‘Hygiene Strip’?

Chris: It was perhaps a bigger deal because so much effort had gone into the structure of ‘Hygiene Strip’, compared with previous songs we’ve done. I think Hague and myself had attempted five different versions of the track with differing modulations before settling on the one which is on the record. In other words, the chords which I had for the choruses and verses remained essentially the same, but the focus was on which key they would be in when they landed each time. We’d done this for several days and probably tested Sarah’s patience, since she’d have to verify how each attempt would sound when it was actually sung.

Next came the finer detail of the arrangement: Stephen sent me a file showing how the piano part in the chorus might work, and I liked it a lot, but worried that there was too much of it all at once. The verses in ‘Hygiene Strip’ are pretty tight and congested with images, reflecting the claustrophobia of the scenario, and I wanted the environment to empty-out when the chorus arrives, so we can float above the street. I told Stephen on the phone that I hoped the listener would feel like oxygen had finally come rushing into the ‘Strip.

About an hour later, he sent a rough mix of the track where you could actually hear the air arriving before the chorus hits. I was so relieved that I actually wept. It’s been a weepy year, let’s face it, but that was the moment when I knew my hopes for ‘Hygiene Strip’ were being realised.

It was fortunate for Haguey that we were producing distantly, since he would have been physically embraced for an uncomfortably long period of time, under conventional circumstances. Then Sarah delivered one of the strongest vocals of her career, and my rapture was complete.

Sarah: I remember Chris sent the demo on a Friday night. I was half way through eating a poppadom and hadn’t even got to the chorus, before I was on the WhatsApp typing frantically about how brilliant I thought it was. It wouldn’t leave my head, and I sang the demo the next morning. I love it when a song gives you that energy rush.

What is it like to have Stephen Hague back in the DUBSTAR camp again?

Chris: It’s been a real blessing. If I had to pre-select someone to be in touch with pretty much every day of this year, I might have picked Stephen anyway, regardless of the album. We became fast friends in the mid-90s, since we have a similar sense of humour and worldview, and he’s an excellent navigator in a crisis.

Also, he was really helpful when I suffered something of a breakdown while making the ‘Goodbye’ album, so he’s a ‘safe’ person for me. I’ve often said that I learned my best habits as a recording musician from Haguey when we were making ‘Disgraceful’, and my bad habits are entirely inherent! It’s been a real privilege to work so closely with him on this record, albeit in different places.

My co-producer role came largely from necessity, since the ‘remote’ nature of the recording required us to share so much more of the process, and in different locations. Sometimes when we work with people whose legacy we admire, there comes a point when you feel like you have the measure of their shtick; the wiring under the boards are exposed, and the spell is broken. By contrast, I’m constantly learning new things from Stephen, and I think artists are happier when they feel that they’re evolving and improving.

Sarah: It feels like no time has passed at all, we just kind of picked up where we left off last time. We know each other’s humour and he feeds me chocolate brownies if I’ve done a good job singing. I realise we do have this kind of synchronicity in the studio: he can give me direction from the shrug of his shoulders or angle of his head, and it will make me change the dynamic of the line or word I’m singing. He’s a master of detail and nuance. Can we really be old enough to have known each other 25 years though!?

You recently celebrated the 25th Anniversary of your debut album ‘Disgraceful’ with acoustic versions of ‘Not So Manic Now’ and THE BEATLES ‘Free As A Bird’?

Chris: It felt appropriate to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of our debut, although the new album had already taken a lot longer than any of us expected, so there was some debate over whether we could afford to take time out of the main schedule. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes, so it was fun to have a diversion and create a session which was all about natural, ‘almost-live’ performance.

We realised that it would be John Lennon’s 80th when this was released, and ‘Free As A Bird’ was in the charts when ‘Not So Manic Now’ made the Top 20, so it seemed to enrich the sense of occasion. There was some stiff competition that week, as I remember: Michael Jackson was at number one… Oasis had just released ‘Wonderwall’… Madonna had one out… We really didn’t expect THE BEATLES to show up as well!

Sarah: In the absence of being able to play live, we thought it would be nice to release something that was “as live”. The acoustic Not So Manic Now was done in one take, I think that gives it a certain energy.

‘Free As A Bird’ we did, again, as live. But remotely. I recorded the vocal in my bedroom and Stephen put it all together. I was very nervous doing a song by THE BEATLES. I grew up with them, singing along probably before I could even talk, and I think it was a big deal for Chris too.

How do you look back on ‘Disgraceful’ now?

Chris: On the rare occasions when I hear it these days, I’m transported back to the places where it was made. I was still only 21 when we did ‘Disgraceful’, and recorded most of the guitars for ‘Stars’ and ‘Anywhere’ on my birthday. The title track was the following day, with an awful hangover. I learned a lot about recording guitars on those sessions, which were always very intimate. It was usually just me, Stephen Hague and sometimes Sam Hardaker, the engineer who would go on to form ZERO 7 shortly after.

When we first started doing ‘Stars’ a couple of years earlier, the James Brown ‘Funky Drummer’ break which features in it prominently was already sounding a little hackneyed. By the time of our release in ’95, it had developed a character which was beyond irony. A bit like having a ghost in the room. I worried at the time that an over-reliance on breakbeats might eventually date-stamp the music unfavourably, but I think we got away with it most of the time, given the benefit of context and the other performances.

What kind of memories does it evoke?

When I hear the singles from ‘Disgraceful’ on the radio, I’m always struck by how great Sarah is on them, and that ultimately is why the record was a success, after all. Some of my fondest memories are related to observing the additional personnel – like Andy Duncan doing his percussion sessions, which really made some of the tracks sparkle, and he had good anecdotes. I got a kick out of sitting-in on Phil Spalding’s bass session for ‘Manic’, and Jon Kirby (keyboards) was good company all throughout those sessions, as well as making a significant contribution to some of the arrangements.

Sarah: It was a time of breathless excitement and hope. Having everything I’d ever wanted, happen, freaked me out. I had no idea what I had done to deserve it. I was nervous, wondering if I’d be good enough, wondering if I’d live up to all my expectations and whether it would be everything I’d hoped. I was excited, intimidated, I didn’t dare to hope or enjoy in case it was snatched away creating pain too big to bear. It was that beautiful moment of dreams coming into view, almost within reach, before they collided with reality, lost their sparkle and became just another day.

During that Britpop period, the press liked to pitch the female fronted acts like SAINT ETIENNE, SLEEPER, REPUBLICA, ECHBELLY and PORTISHEAD against each other, was there a real rivalry or were you all pals drinking together in the pub?

Sarah: We certainly didn’t hang out like one big exclusive girl gang. Which was a real shame. I used to spend a bit of time with Saffron from REPUBLICA who is a particularly warm hearted, lovely person and great company.

SAINT ETIENNE came to our gigs sometimes, and I remember one time we had records out the same week, and the press had really tried to manufacture a ‘Sarah vs Sarah’ story.

There was an event, and they were hoping for a confrontation. I was cringing in a corner as Sarah walked in. She walked straight up to me, took my hand and was so lovely. I won’t forget that gesture of solidarity and how she deflated their nonsense with kindness and dignity.

I always hated the Ladette thing, but if you didn’t join in, you were seen as being a bit of a spoilsport. The sad truth was, we would never be taken seriously, or seen as equals no matter how much we drank and gobbed off – despite being encouraged to beat them at their own game and subsequently judged by their shifting standards.

There was an awful lot of female talent around, that I feel was belittled by presenting us as being in some sort of competition with each other, and, even more offensively, the implicit suggestion that we were a sideshow to the ‘main event’. It was institutional, chauvinistic marginalisation. I suffered from being quite laid-back and non-confrontational (I still do!) and I think that, combined with my being female, made some people continually try to put me down and disadvantage me, disregarding me as “just a singer”. That wouldn’t be tolerated now, but it happened back then, and the legacy of it still impacts me today.

I always admired Beth from PORTISHEAD. She was having none of it, and she was portrayed as brittle and vulnerable, but I saw her as strong and powerful because she had the courage to be true to her unique self. I loved ‘Dummy’. It was my soundtrack to us being signed, along with ‘Trouble’ by SHAMPOO, ‘Confide In Me’ by KYLIE, and ‘Linger’ by THE CRANBERRIES.

The new single ‘I Can See You Outside’ is classic DUBSTAR with something of an ironic title?

Chris: It was initially intended in a more existential than literal way, since I imagined the “ride” in the lyric as a metaphor for a way of living, or life itself. Ideally, it should mean various things to different people, though.

It’s always good to leave some room for interpretation, and in more recent days, the title feels more pertinent than when we recorded it. For me, ‘I Can See You Outside’ evokes Christine McVie and Giorgio Moroder liaising unexpectedly in a condemned nightclub.

Sarah: Hahaha yes. Something of a zeitgeisty title for sure. Totally unintentional. I think the current atmosphere has seeped in and unconsciously coloured everything. It was written just as lockdown was lifting and we were released like lambs into a brave new world of unease, confusion, conspiracy and sadness. All set to a disco beat.

How did ‘I Can See You Outside’ come together? Is this another Stephen Hague co-production?

Chris: Stephen gets a writing credit, as well as production one on this track, since I started writing the verses in reaction to something which he’d played. This approach had worked well on ‘Hygiene Strip’ also, since I’d been struggling to initiate the process in the usual way, amid the heightened anxiety of the pandemic. He would send occasional synth riffs, which sounded like beautiful little micro-productions, and it was impossible to avoid reacting with melodies and words.

Once we knew Haguey would be involved in this project, I didn’t really find myself referring to the albums which we made with him in the 90s, but instead revisiting his earlier records, which I’d loved in my teens. It was an opportunity to bottle some of that magic at the source.

So is the new DUBSTAR album progressing in earnest? How has the lockdown inspired or hampered you creatively?

Chris: Dilemmas and experiments which would normally consume an afternoon can take a week, when you’re recording remotely.

On the upside, you have additional time to immerse yourself in it, which I’ve found to be a welcome distraction from extraneous matters this year. Frankly, I shudder to think how badly I might have coped otherwise. It’s been really fortunate personally, and turned out particularly well, considering the adversity. Maybe because of the adversity? The best songs are usually the ones which you’re compelled to write, beyond any practical need to ‘provide content’.

Sarah: It’s certainly made us get our heads around technology. It’s nice to be able to do a vocal and see Chris’s face pop up on the computer screen because I’ve left my zoom open. And we all speak most days. For hours…

It’s been a bit of both. It’s frustrating to not be able to kick ideas around face-to-face and decide things together, so the process has taken longer because the communication has been a pipeline rather than a bubble. But there has been plenty to write about!

With everything going on, what are your hopes and fears for the future?

Chris: I hope this phase in history is eventually reduced to a disturbing memory. My fear is that it will endure.

Sarah: I hope we can find our humanity again, reconnect with kindness and empathy. Currently there is no respect for differences and no value in expertise and we need to restore and reset fast, the future of the planet depends upon it.

As Madonna says; “Love makes the world go round”, let’s cling to that as we find our path to hope.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to DUBSTAR

‘I Can See You Outside’ is released as a digital single by Northern Writes on 27th November 2020, pre-save or pre-order at https://fanlink.to/dubstar-icsyo

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/

http://www.facebook.com/dubstaruk/

https://twitter.com/dubstarUK

https://www.instagram.com/dubstaruk/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th November 2020, updated 27th November 2020

NIGHT CLUB Discuss Their Existential Dread

Having reflected on the ‘Scary World’ of 2018, LA based synth rock couple NIGHT CLUB go on the attack in 2020 with their excellent third album ‘Die Die Lullaby’.

Reflecting the times the world is living in, the duo of Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have delivered a record that captures the introspection and paranoia of 2020.

‘Die Die Lullaby’ will be one of those documents that commentators and historians will look back on in a few years when researching the uncomfortable and anxious emotions of the corona crisis.

For NIGHT CLUB, there has been frustration as they were travelling on an upward trajectory having opened for alternative rock supergroup A PERFECT CIRCLE in 2018 before embarking on their own headlining jaunt the following year.

Front woman Emily Kavanaugh talked to The Electricity Club on behalf of NIGHT CLUB about their existential dread and riding the ‘Misery Go Round’…

As quoted from the closing track ‘Civil War’, ‘Die Die Lullaby’ is 35 minutes of “Existential dread”, so how and when did making the album begin in earnest?

We started writing songs for this album at the end of 2018. It takes us a long time to write and record an album and this one was the hardest yet. How do we grow from ‘Requiem’ and ‘Scary World’ sonically while also delving deeper into ourselves lyrically? We think / hope we succeeded in that.

You’d more or less come back from touring with A PERFECT CIRCLE and then a run of your own headlining North American shows. How had the response been?

It’s not easy to be the opener for such a beloved band in arenas (we’re only two people on stage after all) but we think we did pretty well and we’ve noticed a definite uptick in awareness in the band since then. Our headlining tour though this past Fall 2019 was by far our favorite tour yet. Gruelling but so incredibly rewarding.

We were gearing up to do another one this year – it was all booked and ready to go. But obviously Covid had other plans for us…

How was the comedown when you got home? Did your experiences naturally shape the sound of the album?

After we got off of tour with A PERFECT CIRCLE in 2018, we started writing songs for this record. A series of deaths happened at that time: our friend Jon Schnepp, Mark’s father and one of our pets. So that doom and gloom just kind of naturally permeated its way onto the record.

‘Die in The Disco’ lyrically was inspired by all of that darkness, and that was one of the first songs we ended up writing. It’s about just wanting to escape all the bad shit happening around us, but in true NIGHT CLUB fashion, making it an upbeat dance song. ‘California Killed Me’ and ‘Miss Negativity’ came next, which were definitely more autobiographical and introspective. Then 2020 rolled around: the coronavirus, quarantine and civil unrest all influenced the new songs we were writing like ‘Gossip’, ‘Misery Go Round’ and ‘The Creepshow’.

We met Courtney Taylor from THE DANDY WARHOLS in Portland during our headlining tour when he came out to our show at the Star Theater. And I remember a piece of advice he gave us was to write a song we could perform in the middle of our set that would allow us to slow down and just connect with the audience. Not a heavy song, no dancing, just an intense kind of personal moment; something ala DURAN DURAN’s ‘The Chauffeur’; and when we ended up writing ‘Civil War’, we were like… this is it!

Did you find yourselves ideally suited to working in isolation during lockdown?

Yeah, by the time the lockdown came around, we just buried our heads into finishing the album. It was such a strange but productive time. We’re used to just working together on a record, the two of us, so it was business as usual.

The Electricity Club had used the “Britney Spears fronting NINE INCH NAILS” tagline a few years ago and it now seems to have stuck. But for ‘Die Die Lullaby’, you mixed the album with Dave “Rave” Ogilvie from SKINNY PUPPY member who also mixed NIN, Marilyn Manson and most importantly Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, so that’s a rather perfect combination?

Yeah, we became friends with Rave several years ago when we discovered that he was digging the stuff we were making. We’re big fans of all of the stuff that he’s been involved with, so we always thought that we would work together in some way. Also, he’s one of the few people that equally loves dark underground electronics along with mainstream pop. It seemed like a no brainer that we should work together, and we’re so happy with the result.

While ‘Die Die Lullaby’ is still lyrically a heavy album, compared with ‘Requiem For Romance’ and ‘Scary World’, the more synthetic metal elements that were characteristic of those two records appear to be more restrained this time. Was that something you consciously aimed for during recording or did it come about at the mixing stage?

Not really. We try to always expand our sound and keep pushing the boundaries of what we do. We want the records to sound like us but be the next, more mature version of us. We never try to limit ourselves when we start writing; we just let it go where it wants to go.

‘Die In The Disco’ comes over as a rather wonderful homage to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando?

Yeah, that’s awesome that you think so. We’re both big fans of Moroder but also fans of so many genres of music. We view everything as an influence.

The deep pitch shifted vocals are used on ‘Die In The Disco’, ‘Sad Boy’ and on a number of other tracks, it is wonderfully creepy and suits NIGHT CLUB to a tee…

That’s one thing that we’ve been doing for years that we always love to incorporate. It gives the songs a little more texture and variance. It’s like having another singer in the band.

You introduced Indian sub-continent flavours on ‘My Valentine’, how had this come about?

When we started writing the melodies, it just naturally lent itself to Indian instrumentation using the sitar, tambora, and tablas. So we thought that would be a cool addition to the “NIGHT CLUB” sound.

With ‘Miss Negativity’, was that a narrative or autobiographical? If Britney sung it, it would be a huge hit!

100% autobiographical. When you’re told you have a black cloud over your head “x” amount of times, the only natural thing to do is write a song about it. Lemons into lemonade!

Could ‘Gossip’ be a metaphor for fake news?

Absolutely. Basically that is what’s happening everywhere. Instead of actually learning the facts about something, people just repeat the rumors they hear. And that goes for music scenes and politics.

Is it healthy to keep riding the ‘Misery Go Round’?

No, it’s probably not but it’s an addictive cycle isn’t it? And that’s what the song is about: why do you keep doing something that makes you feel bad? Why are we obsessed with things that aren’t good for us?

On ‘The Creepshow’, you sing of “a broken lullaby” that “you sing until you die!”…

We wrote this a few months into quarantine. LA was in the middle of lockdown, civil unrest and the air was filled with smoke from the forests burning around us. The song was entrenched in the thought of everything crumbling around you and wanting to escape.

‘California Killed Me’ is classic NIGHT CLUB and within this intensity is a mighty chorus and a simple but effective synth solo, how do you feel about living in LA these days?

LA is without a doubt one of our biggest songwriting “muses”. It’s a recurring character in our songs as it’s (for many reasons) one of the darkest places in the world. You have TikTok influencers making millions a year, and then thousands of mentally ill or jobless people on the streets struggling to survive with nobody taking care of them. You have new friends one minute, no friends the next. It’s endless inspiration for creating art, you just have to try and keep your head above water before it sucks you under.

The notion of a ‘Civil War’ is quite an apt observation in US Presidential Election Year although it is more personal and you talk of how “I’ve become someone I hate” and “say it will be over soon”?

Yeah, so I get these really bad migraine headaches; usually after we play live shows. They’re awful. So originally I wanted to write a song inspired by these headaches I get and how debilitating they are, and how they only seem to cruelly occur after doing something I love, which in turn makes me anxious and scared to do the thing I love (performing) for fear of getting one of these migraines afterwards.

Anyway I started writing the lyrics about having a headache- “I can’t take the pounding in my head”; but then I guess I sort of drifted off and made it about myself and my own self-loathing. And it just sort of took a more natural introspective turn lyrically. Almost like a stream of consciousness style of writing.

It just became bigger than what I originally intended, more of an existential crisis in your brain brought on by something minor like a headache. Just spiralling down and down. Mark decided ‘Civil War’ would be an apt title for it, as it’s essentially a war with myself. But yes, also taking into account the civil unrest within our own society.

Have you any particular favourites from ‘Die Die Lullaby’ and how as a whole does it compare with your previous work?

Maybe ‘Miss Negativity’ and ‘Gossip’? But honestly, we’re proud of every song on this record for different reasons. This was the album we needed to make right now and we’re happy with how it’s been received so far.

We always aspire to great songwriting bands like DEPECHE MODE where every song is good on the record. No fillers, no skips. That’s our ultimate goal: to do that every time.

It’s an uncertain world out there now, but what are your hopes (and fears) for the future?

All of our fears are already baked into the songs on this album, but hopefully one day we’ll actually be able to play them live.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to NIGHT CLUB

‘Die Die Lullaby’ is released by Gato Blanco as a CD, purple vinyl LP and download, available direct from http://nightclubband.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nightclubband

https://twitter.com/nightclubband

https://www.instagram.com/nightclubband/

https://soundcloud.com/nightclubband


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
7th November 2020

JOHN FOXX The Quiet Man

Over the past four decades, John Foxx has been writing short stories about ‘The Quiet Man’, imagining an enigmatic parallel world.

Various excerpts have appeared over the years in John Foxx artefacts, fanzines and spoken word albums over the years but the text has now finally made it to print as a beautifully bound book designed by Barnbrook Studios.

Dressed in European grey, The Quiet Man himself chatted to The Electricity Club.

The ‘Quiet Men’ first appeared in the 1978 ULTRAVOX song ‘Systems Of Romance’, so who were they? Was it a reaction to the character in ‘I Want To Be A Machine’ from ‘Ultravox!’?

Well, there wasn’t a conscious connection to the ‘I Want To Be A Machine’ character, but I guess that was also concerned with stepping aside and looking on, in a detached way. The idea of the quiet man began after I bought an old grey suit from a charity shop in 1977. It was clearly from the 1950s and I got to imagining who it might have belonged to.

This prompted the phrase ‘the quiet men’ and the song followed. The quiet men seemed to be some mysterious people living discreetly among us, purpose unknown, but clearly some kind of great emotional tide in the background somewhere, while they remain completely unnoticed.

I’d found that wearing the suit allowed me to became anonymous, almost invisible.

This was a great relief, because I was beginning to get deranged by touring. The start of a long period of being gently bewildered. Onstage, you have no choice but to be the centre of attention.

So It was a delight to feel quietly unnoticed after being whirled away by all the mayhem of a rock band’s life on the road. I’m glad I experienced all that, but I’d begun to realise it wasn’t the sort of life I wanted.

Simply stepping away and wearing the grey suit prompted a flood of ideas and small stories. Then some further connections began to occur. A realistic painting a friend had – of Oxford Street and Centrepoint completely overgrown – that somehow fitted with the suit. (Perhaps via the Surrealists, who would always dress conservatively, while living and thinking surreally).

After that, I began to glean a whole body of writing and imagery – etchings by Piranesi, Rose Macauley’s book ‘Pleasure of Ruins’ old photographs of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and so on. I sort of transposed it all into an overgrown London, and got the Quiet Man to explore it.

I’d also grown up in the north of England when the mills and factories were falling into ruin. Trees began to grow out of some of these buildings. As kids, we’d play in Lord Leverhulme’s abandoned gardens at Rivington and swim in the huge ponds by the overgrown factories at Birkacre.

When I arrived in London, Shoreditch was empty and beginning to fall into ruin, just like Lancashire. I was also periodically exploring the old, locked side of Highgate cemetery. All this resonated and gave me lots of ideas. I felt I’d hit a very rich seam of imagery, which meant a lot to me. And it literally became my way of writing myself out of the band.

Even as far back as ‘Metamatic’, you were talking in interviews about ‘The Quiet Man’, how much had been written by then?

The basic ‘Quiet Man’ section, which describes a deserted and overgrown London, was written in 1977, followed by ‘Cathedral Oceans’ and several shorter pieces. So the writing was well on its way by the time I was working on ‘Metamatic’.

How much of ‘The Quiet Man’ is autobiographical?

Oh, quite a bit, really. It was a way of exploring ideas about time – and all those fleeting sensations you get while wandering around any city. You know, I often ask myself – What is a city? Why do we make them? Aren’t they a bit like a living organism and aren’t we a little like blood cells circulating through the larger entity? Is anyone really conscious of exactly what we’re doing there?

Then there’s this question of time – I read J.W. Dunne’s book and began to question that, too. What is time? Why does it seem to change – move faster or slower, and how does this work with memory? How does architecture affect all that – and us? – and so on. The writing became a way of exploring some of that, after its primary purpose of providing raw material for songs.

In 1981, the illustrative art booklet ‘Church’ that came with early copies of ‘The Garden’ featured text from ‘The Quiet Man’, was that to test the water? Did it get the response you hoped for?

Virgin Records were happy to include a booklet in ‘The Garden’ album cover and I had the pieces written to generate the songs. So that was it. I wasn’t really looking for any sort of response. Certainly never saw myself as a literary sort of writer. Still don’t. It was initially a way of generating songs, but over the years it became a sort of world in itself. Now I look back over it and think how satisfying that an entire body of work can evolve in that way – songs, stories, images and music.

Had your hiatus from music after ‘In Mysterious Ways’ in 1985 affected your enthusiasm to finish ‘The Quiet Man’ as well?

Well, it certainly gave me more time. I was also free to wander around London, plus a few other cities, which generated lots more ideas.

A further excerpt appeared in the Extreme Voice fanzine in 1996 when you returned to music, but the book was still being finished… what was on your mind at the time?

Always uncertain about my ability as a writer, found the idea of publishing a real book a bit intimidating, so I became good at putting it off.

Then in 2009, there was a spoken word album of ‘The Quiet Man’, narrated by Justin Barton, with a piano soundtrack from yourself, how do you look back on that presentation? Does it work for you today?

Oh, yes – I really liked that. Mark Fisher and Justin Barton had just made a fascinating recording called ‘Under London’ and they sent a copy to me. I’d known Mark since he was a student and we’d been in touch for years. I found what they’d done really intriguing and asked Justin if he’d read ‘The Quiet Man’ in the same sort of way. I wanted it to seem like some half-remembered BBC radio piece from the 1950s.

So for this published edition of ‘The Quiet Man’, what was the impetus to finally get it out? Why ultimately did it take so long? In your mind, is it actually abandoned now rather than finished?

I think it’s not really the sort of thing that ever gets finished. More like a series of diary entries, or notes. Jonathan Barnbrook, Steve Malins and Rob Harris finally did the hints and prods that got me to put enough of the stuff together to make a book.

Was there much edited from the original transcript? Any difficult decisions?

A few full stops and commas, that’s all. There were plenty of pieces to choose from, and lots of others are still in the notebooks.

Do you have a favourite passage or short story from ‘The Quiet Man’?

It changes. At the moment, I like ‘The Nebula’ and ‘The Notebooks’ sections. I’m still not sure I did justice to the original idea of ‘The Nebula’, it was so mysterious an idea. Sometimes you realise you got close, but wonder if you might have done better.

You maintain your close working relationship with Jonathan Barnbrook for the book’s cover design. Did you not fancy doing this yourself, having designed several book covers yourself over the years?

It’s difficult to be objective about your own work. You’re far too close. I’ve always liked Jonathan’s work, so had no reservations at all. In fact, I was pleased he wanted to do it.

Strangely, the colour and style of his cover was exactly like some of my favourite old notebooks, the ones I most enjoyed writing the original stories in. So instinctively and telepathically, he got it exactly right.

What would be the music from your own catalogue you would recommend to have on while reading ‘The Quiet Man’, any particular albums for particular stories?

No particular track for each story, but the music that creates a suitable background, I think, might be ‘Translucence / Drift Music’, ‘London Overgrown’, of course – and ‘Nighthawks’.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to John Foxx

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR

‘The Quiet Man’ is published as a hardback book and available only from https://johnfoxxbook.com/

http://www.metamatic.com

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxmetamatic

https://twitter.com/foxxmetamedia


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
5th November 2020

DAVE BESSELL Interview

Dave Bessell is a musician who specialises in ambient electronica, but additionally wears several other hats; from doing session work for major bands, being part of NODE and also a solo recording act for Ian Boddy’s DiN label.

Bessell’s latest work is a collaboration with ISHQ and is unique in that it is the first full length ambient album to have a Virtual Reality component to it. Dave Bessell kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his new album, previous musical projects and the importance of Bandcamp in what are extremely challenging times for those working in the arts / music industry.

What is your background in electronic music production?

Well I’m a guitarist with delusions of being a keyboard player! I started off with the guitar as a teenager but straight away, I began experimenting with getting more than the usual sounds from it. I would often try to imitate the sound of some of the electronic stuff that was beginning to emerge at the time from the Krautrock scene.

Over the years I found various outlets for that approach with different bands and some sessions for other people. I also studied orchestration at the Royal College of Music and that has a big influence on how I approach electronics too. Gradually I accumulated a variety of analogue hardware alongside the guitar and that is increasingly what I’m known for in more recent years.

Who were your most formative influences musically and why?

The first piece of ‘electronic’ music that I can recall really having an impact was ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS. The opening few seconds of abstract electronic sound is genius and that really opened my ears. Even though I was just a child when I heard it, it opened a door in my imagination that I went through years later.

The next influence that really caught my attention was ‘The Rite of Spring’ by Stravinsky which a friend of my father’s played to me; heavy metal for orchestra! Apart from that my next door neighbour used to play me THE BEATLES when I was very young and I remember liking them although I only had a child’s understanding of what I was hearing. As time went on the influences began to pile up, too many to mention here. In a way I’m influenced by everything I hear and I listen widely across a lot of genres.

You have done session work with both SUEDE and KILLING JOKE, how is the experience of being brought in almost as a ‘temporary’ member of a band to add to an album?

I quite like working to a brief and it’s fun to help good artists achieve their vision. That’s partly why I do a lot of musical collaborations too. There is always something to be learned in those kind of situations. I think having your own solo projects where you can fully express your individual musical personality makes it much easier to relax in a session situation. It gives a clear divide between personal expression and helping someone else to shine.

When I did a bit of keyboard programming for KILLING JOKE, mainly on their ‘Pandemonium’ album, it was particularly fascinating as I was already a long standing fan. To sit in on their recording and songwriting sessions and observe their creative process at work was educational! Working with Jaz Coleman on the keyboard sounds taught me some interesting things about what to look for when designing a synth sound too.

In 2014 you contributed to ‘The Oxford Handbook Of Interactive Audio’ where you did a chapter called ‘Blurring Boundaries: Trends & Implications in Audio Production Software Developments’, have you noticed any specific improvements or trends in software / hardware-based electronic music production since then?

I have an alternative life as a music academic and that kind of writing comes from the academic world. The main noticeable development since that article was the resurgence of analogue hardware and the whole Eurorack scene. Not something I particularly expected but welcome nonetheless. I almost always prefer the sound of analogue hardware and back in 1995 when those tools were still deeply unfashionable, NODE were one of the few who were working in that way.

I guess if you are unfashionable for long enough and you stick to your guns, then eventually the world comes round to your point of view! Having said that, the sound of digital has improved a lot and now has a viable audio character of its own. I recently placed an order for the Osmose keyboard which is still in development. The combination of innovative expressive keyboard and high quality digital sound engine with physical modelling hits a sweet spot for me. As a guitarist I always wanted to do vibrato on the keys!

You are probably best known for your work with the electronic ‘supergroup’ NODE alongside Flood, Mel Wesson and Ed Buller. The Electricity Club was lucky to be present at your Royal College of Music show in 2015. How was the experience of performing this show?

The preparation for the show was a lot of work – moving all that vintage gear and then setting it up and getting it to work again was a major task!

However we had the time and space to do it properly and when it came to the actual performance, it was pure joy. I mean how could you not have fun with all those toys to play with! The PA from Flare audio was very nice too which really helps with that kind of textural music. A little bit strange being back in my old ‘school’ playing a gig.

Did any piece of vintage gear ‘misbehave’ itself on the night?

Ha ha yes of course! My favourite was when Flood’s Oberheim decided to die while he was playing it during the gig. It started sounding increasingly ill and then kind of croaked to a halt entirely. Of course Flood went with it and carried on playing until it croaked its last. We included it in the live album – if you have sharp ears, you may be able to pick out a warbly wavering reedy distorted kind of sound which becomes increasingly unstable then stutters to a halt entirely.

We had some issues with Ed’s Moog modular in the rehearsals for the gig. During the performance we had the backs off his cabinets with a technician poised with soldering iron just in case – fortunately the big Moog lived to fight another day.

The Electricity Club noticed a certain Nick Rhodes in the audience that night (he was also keen to scope out the gear you had on stage), were you aware he was a fan?

I think most keyboard or electronics people would have an interest in what we were trying to do that night. I wasn’t particularly aware of Nick being there but I know a few other high profile people take an interest in NODE. Hans Zimmer for example.

Are there any more plans to collaborate together?

NODE is a very occasional project because everyone involved has a lot of other commitments. So I won’t say it will never happen again but we have no plans right now.

The BluRay of the Royal College of Music performance has only just been released, why did this take so long to come to fruition?

As anyone who has followed NODE knows it operates to a different time scale than everything else! It took something like seventeen years between the first and second albums for example. So actually the BluRay was relatively quick for us. We never intend for everything to take so long but then someone goes out for a sandwich and comes back fifteen years later – so timescales get stretched!

Your new album with artist ISHQ has just been released and has been described as evoking “The sound of Aliens landing in an English meadow”. How close a description do you think that is?

Well that quote was a reaction from Neil Butler of SPATIALIZE when he first heard one of the tracks. It tickled my sense of humour but I also think it encapsulates in a few memorable words some of the spirit of the album. It has some pretty ‘alien’ sounds and yet it also refers to the Cornish landscape. The album was recorded in Cornwall. There is more to the music than just that but as a sound bite I think it points in the right direction.

How did you come to collaborate with ISHQ and what was the role split and working method on the album?

I discovered online that ISHQ lived not too far from me. We live in a rural area so when you find like-minded electronic musicians, you tend to meet up at least for a chat. The collaboration grew out of a chat in a cafe and just seemed to grow of its own accord.

We found ourselves musically on a similar wavelength and I had wanted to do something in a more ambient style for a while. We started with some jam sessions in my studio and then took them away to work them up with a bit more structure and some overdubs.

The original jams were all analogue hardware but ISHQ has a distinctive style which means he manipulated and added quite a few sounds later with his Roland V Synth. He tends to resample the material and bend it out of shape in interesting ways. There is also a light scattering of found sounds mostly recorded from my collection of broken and antique instruments. The only real rule I set myself for this one was no guitar – I didn’t want to bring in those stylistic associations for the mood we were trying to achieve.

Did either hardware or software synthesizers dominate on the new album and was there a piece of studio kit that specifically defined the sound of the work?

I don’t think any software plug-in synths were used on ‘Inbetween’, it was mainly analogue hardware with some contributions from digital hardware. Plus a few processed acoustic sounds. Probably two pieces of kit became important for the soundworld we created, ISHQ’s use of the V Synth is very creative and quite distinctive and I used the 4MS Spectral Multiband Resonator on several tracks as a starting point.

‘Inbetween’ is innovative in that it is the first full length ambient album to be released with a Virtual Reality (VR) format. What inspired you to incorporate this medium and what do you feel it adds to the experience of the album?

Well it was initially down to serendipity / synchronicity. The opportunity to do that came up in a conversation with one of my ex-students Ben Payne who is currently doing a PhD on VR. VR fits very well with the ideas ISHQ and myself had touched on – the idea of different worlds, inner and outer landscapes, that kind of thing. These are the moods and ideas we were playing with in the music and VR is obviously relevant when you are interested in exploring parallel realities and inner landscapes.

Were there any specific technological hurdles you encountered when adding the VR format?

We were doing OK until it came to trying to package it up for different platforms. Initially we had wanted to make it available for all operating systems and VR platforms, but it quickly became obvious we didn’t have the resources to achieve that and beta test it on all those formats. So we had to narrow it down to make the project deliverable.

Jean Michel-Jarre attempted a not entirely successful ‘live’ VR-style performance online earlier in the year. Can you see VR being adopted by other musicians and if so, what do you see the future possibilities for it?

I think VR has a lot of possibilities to explore certain ideas and styles of music. People are still working out what it’s good for at the moment, but I have discussed with ISHQ ideas for future VR projects and some of them may well expand the format in unusual ways. COVID-19 has focussed attention on and pushed the development of these kind of tools and online delivery options. One thing holding VR back still is that the technology is not widely adopted yet and is still in a state of flux and development from the technical standpoint. That is beginning to change though. Probably at some point it will achieve critical mass and then really take off.

I don’t like to criticise other musicians online but I hope Jean-Michel Jarre  will excuse me if I say that I don’t think he had something artistic he wanted to say which necessitated the use of VR. Probably it seemed like a good idea to have a virtual gig in these unusual times, but I think VR demands a bit more than replicating existing delivery forms. In a way, it’s like the birth of cinema we are still inventing the conventions and structures that suit VR and there will inevitably be some trial and error. I think Björk has a bit more of a handle on that aspect.

With ‘Inbetween’, we tried to achieve a different look than the usual game 3D rendered style, by creating a kind of altered reality aesthetic. We deliberately didn’t use all the bells and whistles of VR. To throw lots of whirling bright colours and impossible fractal perspectives at the listener wouldn’t have enhanced our musical intentions which we hope were a bit more subtle than that.

Purchasers of the album without a VR headset can still experience a virtual desktop Windows version. Was there a specific reason why an Apple format wasn’t made available for the album?

Only for the reasons I mentioned above – we just didn’t have the resources to develop and test all the possible permutations of operating systems, computer platforms, VR formats, different headsets etc etc. If anyone wants to try porting it to a Mac, you can find us on Facebook!

With its heartbeat pulse and TOMITA-style arpeggios, one of The Electricity Club’s favourite tracks on the album is ‘Atlas Obscura’, was there a particular inspiration for this piece?

We didn’t verbalise any intentions before we started playing, but we had a sort of musical conversation which we did analyse a bit after the event, that gave rise to some of the titles. So ‘Atlas Obscura’ is about mapping landscapes – the Cornish landscape with its standing stones and wild Atlantic seascapes and the internal psychological landscape which somehow seems tangled up in that real landscape in some indefinable way. I hope that makes sense to someone ha ha!

You sell and distribute your material via Bandcamp (which has really come into its own during the COVID-19 situation), how important do you feel this platform is for both you and other musicians?

I’m known online for championing Bandcamp. I think it is single handedly supporting a whole raft of creative niche music and is allowing new artists a vital space to develop. It also provides a viable model to allow musicians to progress to a point where they can actually finance their projects and make a living, which in these days of Spotify and other streaming services is a lifeline. In short, I think Bandcamp is essential and I take my hat off to them. I hardly ever buy music elsewhere these days. Support Bandcamp = support the artists.

How has the COVID-19 situation affected you personally in terms of your musical output or work ethic and how do you feel about the wider impact this has had on the arts / music industry?

I think the arguments and points of view around this are well rehearsed, so I don’t want to add too much to the mountain of comment. I will just say that personally I haven’t been as badly affected as those who rely heavily on income from live performance. The longer it goes on, the more damage will be done to the live music scene.

What’s next for you musically?

I always have projects on the go and I have just started a new collaboration. It’s at very early stages though so not the right moment to say anything more about that particular one. I also have another album waiting in the wings for DiN records. That will be my third collaboration with Bakis Sirros of PARALLEL WORLDS. That one is actually finished and just waiting for a release slot in the DiN schedule. Beyond that, there are a couple of ideas I’m exploring including possible further VR projects with ISHQ. Probably somewhere down the road is another solo album which will be the follow-up to ‘Reality Engine’.


DB & ISHQ ‘Inbetween’ is available from https://virtual1.bandcamp.com/album/inbetween

https://sites.google.com/site/davebessellmusic/

https://bandcamp.com/tag/dave-bessell

Examples of the VR concepts from ‘Inbetween’ can be viewed at:

https://momento360.com/e/u/c4c3fc4ab98a4589a2ac67de287942d9

https://momento360.com/e/u/b95b219f839f4e0f93c4ff1b916658b7


Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
18th October 2020

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