Category: Lost Albums (Page 1 of 11)

Lost Albums: PARALLELS Visionaries

While now established as a modern synthpop force in a similar vein to CHVRCHES, AVEC SANS and DANA JEAN PHOENIX, the story of PARALLELS actually began in 2008 while their debut album ‘Visionaries’ came out in 2010.

Fronted by Holly Dodson, PARALLELS at the time was a partnership with Cameron Findlay who had toured previously as the drummer for CRYSTAL CASTLES, while Joey Kehoe later joined as a live keyboardist. One of the Visionaries’ tracks ‘Dry Blood’ was used in the soundtrack for the 2012 film ‘Curfew directed by Shawn Christensen which won an Oscar for ‘Best Live Action Short Film’.

PARALLELS later achieved a wider worldwide breakthrough with their third album ‘Metropolis’ in 2016 with support from The Blitz Club legend Rusty Egan; a North American tour with NINA followed in 2018 after a successful premiere of the pairing at Zigfrid Von Underbelly in London.

Since then, there have been a number of notable collaborations, the most recent being on the soundtrack to the film ‘Proximity’ with RADIO WOLF aka PARALLELS live bandmate Oliver Blair whose previous credits have included CLIENT and KELLI ALI.

‘Visionaries’ has been reissued to celebrate its tenth anniversary in a double album edition featuring a remaster of the original and a bonus collection of special remixes from the likes of ANORAAK, MECHA MAIKO, GLITBITER, BETAMAXX, GHOSTHOUSE and many more from the synthwave community.

Despite being a decade old, ‘Visionaries’ has a lovely innocent charm about it, with Dodson finding her voice amongst a palette of catchy synth hooks, tight electronic sequences and live drums.

Deserving re-evaluation and discovery by those who may have missed it first time round, ‘Visionaries’ is a must for modern synthpop connoisseurs seeking a bridge to synthwave.

Holly Dodson kindly chatted to The Electricity Club from her home in Toronto about the start of her journey as PARALLELS and the making of the ‘Visionaries’ album.

Having grown up in a music family, was making an album always inevitable for you?

It was definitely encouraged! I was a really shy kid though, so it took me a while to build up the confidence to even say I wanted to learn how to record. Since the mid-70s, my parents were running an indie label and studio out of their basement so I was always in a studio environment growing up… so it would have been difficult to not get the music bug.

But before ‘Visionaries’, you released a solo album called ‘The Carousel’ in 2009; how do you look back on that and what made you opt for the more New Wave concept of PARALLELS for your next record?

When my Dad learned that I had been writing songs, he said the first thing I should do is learn how to build a production, learn how to program and arrange… basically learn my way around the studio so that I could be self-sufficient and record my ideas. He’s got a really DIY sensibility so he instilled that in me from early on. So making ‘The Carousel’ record was my first foray into producing my own records. At that time, I was hugely inspired by KATE BUSH, BAT FOR LASHES, DEPECHE MODE and JONI MITCHELL.

‘Visionaries’ was a collaboration between myself and drummer Cam Findlay and when we were writing that album, we were listening to a lot of NEW ORDER and JOY DIVISION… hugely inspired by New Wave so it inevitably spilled into our songwriting.

‘Visionaries’ had a distinct synthpop direction as heralded by the album opener ‘Find The Fire’, what interested you in synths? 

Yeah, my main instrument was piano so I knew how to navigate around a keyboard. There were a collection of vintage synths in my Dad’s studio – Roland D-50, D-70, Yamaha DX-7 so there were always synths to play with growing up.

I love how colourful synths sounds are and how you can really customize these crazy sound waves, turning electricity into a song.

Had there been any particular acts like liked who you referenced to formulate your sound?

PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, DM, NEW ORDER… asking “what would Kate do?” often gets me out of a production rut haha.

PARALLELS is widely accepted as your musical vehicle today, but at the time of ‘Visionaries’, was there more of a democratic band dynamic in place?

Yeah, like I had mentioned previously, ’Visionaries’ was a collaboration so Cam would make up demos and then I’d write topline, and we’d complete them together at my Dad’s studio. We tracked drums there as well! That ‘Visionaries’ era was pretty crazy for us, we were learning the industry – managing ourselves – figuring out who we were as artists etc, and it took a toll on Cam and I’s relationship so we ended up parting ways. He started a solo project and I continued on with PARALLELS… obviously 😉

‘Dry Blood’ has a real chill about it with those great synth strings, haunting choir samples and prominent vocoders, what was on your mind when you made it?

Cam had come to me with that track and I immediately thought it was a cool entity. I think it was one of the first tracks he had written. He didn’t really have lyrics for it so for the ‘Visionaries’ album I wrote some vocals and we put live drums on it which gave a bit more depth to the track. I was super into gothic literature at that time so… to precede your next question, the Goth girl was emerging…

On ‘Nightmares’ you sang about “the taste of blood in my mouth”, has there always been a Goth girl waiting to escape from you?

Yes. There still is ha! I was always into the supernatural and witchy things so discovering the original goths of the Romantic era opened up that world to me… I was reading Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, William & Coleridge – huge nerd over here, still am.

In terms of equipment, were you using hardware or software synths? Did you have any favourites?

We were working with a PolySix, Juno 60, Prophet, Waldorf Blofeld, Roland D-50, D-70 so ‘Visionaries’ features those.

‘Magnetics’ brought a pulsating NEW ORDER feel to proceedings? Have you always been a fan?

NEW ORDER was a huge inspiration throughout the whole album – I used to have jam sessions in my basement in high school, and some of my friends who would come to those jams (Cam included) turned me onto their stuff.

Meanwhile, ‘Counterparts’ explored the other side of NEW ORDER with a driving bass guitar?

Yeah, and very fast. We tend to play that one at the end of the set when the adrenaline is going haha. I think it was just bringing the whole scope of our inspirations in, and some songs call for different things so the chorus-y bass guitar adds a different colour to it. We were mixing a lot of electronic with live elements through the whole album.

The live drums took a breather and you got a drum machine out for ‘Vienna’, what was this song inspired by, as apart from ‘Dry Blood’, it’s probably the one that is the most different to the others on ‘Visionaries’?

This song was very escapist for me, dreaming of travelling to places I’d never been before and being in big open air, with open arms wandering fields like Julie Andrews haha. We were really into ‘Games Without Frontiers’ as well, so I think production-wise that played a part.

‘Midnight Voices’ has this fabulous futuristic disco vibe like Giorgio Moroder which still stands up?

Thank you! Huge fan of Giorgio Moroder – we were also super into Italo Disco as well so this song always reminds me of that influence.

‘Shadow Hearts’ is cut from not too dissimilar a cloth but one thing that is noticeable on that and ‘Ultralight’ is that the album manages to capture a lively percussive template in amongst all the synths and sequencers, not always an easy thing to do in a studio environment?

The live drums definitely add an edge to it, and a more human energy. Cam was a drummer so it was sort of a given. The demos were usually made with programmed drums and then we had recorded live drums for the final album versions. We kept certain elements of the programmed drums if it fit the song – like ‘Reservoir’ has a programmed kick and some hi-hat, and ‘Ultralight’ a bit of drum machine percussion. But yeah, ‘Visionaries’ doesn’t have a super polished sound which I prefer anyway – it was all about performing as tight as we could.

In what way do you think your voice has changed over the years in the way you use it?

I’ve definitely become more confident and found more fulfilment in singing; I was always insecure about my voice so I used to double track it. But I don’t really do that anymore – after years of soul searching and embracing what I have to offer… telling my inner-critic to go away ha. Singing started to become a sanctuary for me when I was recording the ‘Metropolis’ record.

How do you look back on ‘Visionaries’, what are your favourite songs and are there any you would do differently in hindsight?

It was such a formative time, and a whirlwind! It was the first time that people really listened to my music, so I’m so grateful for that. It’s hard to pick a favourite from the album but I think my favourites are ‘Counterparts’, ‘Reservoir’ and ‘City Of Stars’. And no I wouldn’t do anything differently, everything happened how it was supposed to 🙂

The new remixes you have commissioned to accompany this remaster appear to be from The Synthwave All-Stars, do you feel you have now found “your people” after ten years?

Agreed! I’m so grateful that they were a part of it – I envisioned it to be a compilation of artists who have somehow factored into this musical journey, both old and new friends… from the VALERIE COLLECTIVE to MORGAN WILLIS, who I just recently collaborated with. I finally connected with BETAMAXX in real life last year but it felt like we had known each other forever. And yeah I think it does take time to make friends in this music world because a lot of people come and go and everyone is doing their own thing. But it does feel like there’s a greater sense of community these days, it’s amazing how small the music world really is.

‘XII’ came after ‘Visionaries’, what were the most valuable experiences that came from recording your debut that you were able to put into the second PARALLELS album?

Giving yourself room to grow, inviting inspiration find you, staying curious and letting the magic happen. That’s ultimately why I felt called to evolve PARALLELS and keep it going.

I think a lot of artists get too precious about the first thing they create and in my opinion, the first record is the easiest in some ways.

It’s been nearly four years since the third PARALLELS album ‘Metropolis’ but you have been collaborating with FUTURECOP! and RADIO WOLF, so how have these experiences been for you in terms of your continued musical development?

It’s definitely helped me get some perspective and it feels like coming home now that I’m working on a new PARALLELS record. It felt like the right time to collaborate because I felt like I needed a break from ‘myself’ haha. Working with other artists helps bring inspiration out of you that you didn’t know you had. I also worked with MORGAN WILLIS, DIGITAL SHADES and CHRIS HUGGETT during that time.

Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with?

To be honest, I’ve done so much collaborating in the past while it feels right to just get in my little world again. But if Kate called…

What are your future plans, obviously depending on the world situation?

Oh right – the world situation! Haha…well we had tour plans for RADIO WOLF and I’s ‘Proximity’ soundtrack that have been put on the back burner, and another tour with MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, some EU/UK dates… but alas. I’m cautiously hopeful we’ll be able to make up for it next year. So right now I’m back in my little world knee deep in writing a new record and building a Patreon community to share the progress with and stay connected.

Thanks so much for the chat – love to all in The Electricity Club!


The Electricity Club give its warmest thanks to The Electricity Club

‘Visionaries’ is reissued as a new remaster and remix album by NewRetroWave, the limited edition clear dark blue with white marble effect double vinyl LP will despatch around 20th December 2020 while the digital version is available now; both formats can be purchased direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/album/visionaries-10th-anniversary-edition

http://www.iloveparallels.com/

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https://www.instagram.com/iloveparallels/

Sign up to PARALLELS Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/iloveparallels


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
4th October 2020

Lost Albums: THE MODERN Life In A Modern World

The Electricity Club first saw THE MODERN opening for HEAVEN 17 at The Scala in December 2005.

With a colourful stage presence and an immediately catchy sound, they were the one of the new modern synthpop hopes with their debut single ‘Jane Falls Down’ making a good first impression.

Comprising of front woman Emma Cooke, with Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart on vocals and synths plus Robert Sanderson on guitar and Bob Malkowski on drums, THE MODERN were signed by Mercury Records, home of TEARS FOR FEARS and DEF LEPPARD.

The band began recording an album under the working title ‘Life In A Modern World’ with producer Stephen Hague, best known for his work with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, THE COMMUNARDS, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and DUBSTAR. However, after their single ‘Industry’ was disqualified from the UK singles charts in early 2006, THE MODERN were dropped by their label and found themselves out on a limb.

Changing their name to MATINEE CLUB, the album finally saw the light of day in late 2007, now retitled ‘Modern Industry’ and issued as a download only by Planet Clique. It also saw a CD release with a revised tracklisting as ‘The Modern LP’ through Ninth Wave Records in the US, while a 2CD special edition by EQ Music Singapore for the South East Asian market in 2009 saw another tracklisting with B-sides and bonus songs added.

Around this time, the founding trio Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart returned to being called THE MODERN. But in 2010, Cooper bid adieu and became KID KASIO while Cooke and Tudor-Hart continued as THE MODERN, releasing a brand new album ‘Revenge’ in 2018.

In 2013, ‘Modern Industry’ was reissued under the title ‘Life In A Modern World’ as an album by THE MODERN in an expanded tracklisting which largely resembled the South East Asian 2CD edition.

In whatever variant, the debut album by THE MODERN often provokes many “what if” debates among electronic pop enthusiasts.

The Electricity Club was extremely pleased to be able to chat to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart about the joys and the setbacks that came with its making and marketing.

When THE MODERN signed to Mercury, did you more or less get despatched to record an album first, or was it very much in steps?

Nathan: We’d never thought of ourselves as an album band. The whole concept was quite alien to us. Every time we wrote a song it was with the intention of it being a single, so when the label started talking to us in terms of an album we just always saw it as a collection of singles with no fillers or anything.

Emma: First thing the label wanted was to find a producer. We were happy with Nick Zart but the label wanted someone known. This took longer than we thought as we were also touring.

How did Stephen Hague become involved in producing THE MODERN?

Nathan: Mercury had sent us round the houses with various different producers. We tried a different track with each producer that we had shortlisted with the label.

Chi: Remember Jeremy Wheatley? We tried recording ‘Discotheque Français’ with him. He was a total knob. He got really upset because Bob ate some of his Jelly Babies that were next to the mixing desk that turned out to be his. He didn’t get us at all and he sulked for the rest of the day over his sweets!

Nathan: We’d been dispatched to Sweden to work with Tore Johansen whose work with Franz Ferdinand was getting massive airplay at that time. I remember him picking us up from the airport in a battered old Volvo and explaining to us the importance of efficiency, which sounded to me like he just wanted to get us in and out as quickly as he could!

The label was obsessing about adding this “indie edge” to the sound, hence FRANZ FERDINAND’s producer, but I was much more interested in chatting to him about his work with ROXETTE which sadly for me he had no interest in discussing! The label had this idea that they wanted us to sound like BLONDIE who of course we all loved, but it became clear quite quickly the live drum sound just wasn’t working for us.

Emma: The sound just didn’t sound big enough for us. Mind you, I quite like listening to his version of ‘Jane Falls Down’ and the vocals on his version were amazing. We then met Stephen Hague and worked with him at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. Beautiful place, the studio overlooked a lake with swans swimming around. The start of the session was a disaster as we couldn’t get the drums sounding right. But by the end of the weekend Stephen had ‘Closing Door’ sounding awesome. That nailed it for us to get him to produce the whole album.

Nathan: Rather than record the whole album in Wiltshire, Stephen booked The Strong Rooms in Shoreditch for us to record the album.

Chi: Nick Zart’s production on our demos was so good we got Nick to work on the whole album with us, so really being our 6th member of the band.

Nathan: Stephen was an obvious choice for us. It had dawned on us and the label by this time we were a full on synth pop band and he was the king of that genre, he had worked with all our favourites PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, OMD, NEW ORDER.

Stephen Hague worked on ‘Industry’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sometimes’, rather than the whole album, was this down to budget? So how did you go about shortlisting the songs that he would work on?

Chi: No, Stephen produced the whole album. The only track he didn’t do was ‘Suburban Culture’. Matt Jagger, head of Mercury and our champion, hated that track! We loved it so stuck Nick Zart’s version of it on the album anyway.

Emma: Yeah ‘Suburban Culture’ had to be on the album as before we were signed that track was the first song that got radio play on XFM and was always a favourite to play live as it always set the tone.

What was Stephen Hague like to work with, he’s known to be very meticulous with a big focus on vocals?

Nathan: I think our days mixing the album with him in The Strong Rooms in East London were some of my favourites in the band’s history. It really felt like we had taken control and were working with someone who finally understood what we were trying to do.

I have only happy memories of those sessions. I do remember being a bit put out when trying to extract some exciting tit bits of information about his early work with OMD, only for him to confess he didn’t really like synth pop and he had fallen into the genre completely inadvertently, and he actually preferred rock!! He actually said that!

Emma: I agree, I loved recording at The Strong Rooms and really felt Stephen Hague understood us, and as a band and really captured our group dynamic in the recordings

Nathan: I do remember the vocals being particularly difficult for me. Emma sailed through hers but I remember having to do the chorus of ‘Jane Falls Down’ about 100 times. It didn’t fill me with confidence either when after take 82, he said over the talkback that my voice reminded him of a foghorn!

Did you know ‘Smash Hits’ nickname for Tony Hadley was “Foghorn”? 😆

Nathan: Ok I don’t feel so awful now!

‘Sometimes’ sounded like it could have been one of Stephen Hague’s productions for ERASURE’s album ‘The Innocents’, while ‘Questions’ has this frantic energy, where did this stem from?

Nathan: The majority of the album was songs that had begun life as demos myself, Chi and Emma had written over the previous four years with Nick Zart producing. I think there were four songs on the album which had come about in a totally different way, these were ‘Questions’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’ and ‘Sometimes’.

These came from instrumentals that Robert Sanderson our guitarist had made. Myself, Chi and Emma would go to his tiny bedroom studio and just take turns trying out different vocal top lines and ideas over these backings. Loads of really good stuff came out of those sessions, it was competitive but in a friendly super productive kind of way.

We’d be there sitting on Robert’s bed in this little room and he’d blast the verse out of the speakers and you’d have about 10 minutes to sit there and work out something in your head!! You’d be right in the middle of writing down a killer lyric or humming a melody in your head when someone would obliterate your concentration with a cry of “I’ve got something” and run up to the microphone to record it! It was a really strange way to do things but it really worked!!

I think that’s where the frantic energy on ‘Questions’ comes from. It’s sitting in that room desperately trying to get your idea crystallized onto a piece of paper before someone shouts “I’ve got it!”; the song has two choruses crammed into one song vying for attention!

‘Jane Falls Down’ was mighty, were hopes running on this being THE MODERN’s breakthrough?

Nathan: We all hoped as the first single that it would do well. I remember sitting listening to the chart rundown on Radio1 on a Sunday evening and hearing it was at number 32. None of us in the band had been that happy with the way the video turned out and I think the fact it had charted at all with so little airplay was testament to the song and the people who’d bought the single off the back of the live shows.

‘Industry’ was reminiscent of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, did Mike Score’s lawyers come knocking on the door?

Nathan: We knew nothing about this until half way through promotion for the single. We’d just finished a sound check somewhere and had been ushered into a local radio station to do a promotional interview for the single. We were sat there in the radio studio with headphones on and the presenter plays both songs back to back, and then goes live to air and asks us if we copied them on purpose!!! I just remember being completely dumbfounded.

Truth is that this one must be my fault because very early versions of the song had come from a demo I’d recorded. The song had been through loads of transitions since then but the vocal melody in the verse had remained the same. I’d always been a big fan of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and had a VHS with ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ on it. I think these things happen subconsciously sometimes. We thought about dropping it from the set when we supported A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS a few years later, but we went and had a chat with Mike Score and he was completely lovely about it.

What was the story behind ‘Closing Door’? It seemed to become oddly prophetic when it ended up as the B-side of ‘Industry’?

Nathan: This was another one that started as one of Robert’s instrumental demos; I think it was touted as a single for a short while. I think the lyrics might have been vaguely about some decisions we had had to make as a band regarding management etc. I actually think it’s one of the most positive songs on the album. It always went down well live that one.

The events that led to THE MODERN being dropped by Mercury in 2006 and the band morphing into MATINEE CLUB are well documented, but how complete was the album at this point?

Chi: The album was completely done and dusted. Mercury got a new head of label, Jason Iley, and he did not like us. This guy was all that is wrong with the industry. When asked what bands he liked, he answered with a straight face, “Bands that sell”… total tw*t! His efforts went into promoting his new signing Matt Willis.

Matt Jagger, who signed us, was ousted, so we no longer had our champion. The chart fiasco happened and the label ghosted us!

How did Planet Clique become interested in releasing what was now the MATINEE CLUB album?

Emma: So when Matt Jagger left Mercury he started a new label under Universal, Europa. He signed us and paid for us to shoot a video for ‘Discotheque Français’. The idea Matt had with Planet Clique was for them to promote us on the underground dance scene.

Europa’s other band was INFERNAL and just had a big hit with From Paris to Berlin so I think they liked the idea of ‘Discotheque’ coming out of the clubs like INFERNAL ’s track.

Chi: Yeah, then true to our luck Europa went under and Planet Clique then offered to release the album on their label, download only, just to get it out there.

Were there many challenges in acquiring the masters for the album now titled ‘Modern Industry’ for release by Planet Clique?

Chi: Lucian Grange, head of Universal, was very nice about giving over all our masters. He always liked THE MODERN.

‘Discotheque Français’ was solely produced by Nick Zart and was released as the lead single for the album, what was the song inspired by?

Nathan: The original song was written in 2001 under the band name DIRTY BLONDE. We had a studio in Hackney at the time and there was a whole collective of producers and remixers living in this massive old factory called The Sweatshop. A friend in the studio next door to us heard us recording it and asked if they could do a remix.

Once a month there would be these massive parties at The Sweatshop and the remix of the song got played there. Somehow from there Eddie Temple Morris got hold of it and played it on his show on XFM. We released it as a white label, which I had a listen to the other day. It sounds like BUGGLES meets THE TOURISTS!

I think the lyric idea in the chorus had stemmed from the summers me and Chi used to spend at my mum’s place in southern France. The highlight of the holidays would be going to these tiny discos in these French villages and dancing to Eurodance music. The house was in the middle of nowhere in rural south west France and there was one radio station we could pick up called radio NRJ.

I used to religiously sit by the ghettoblaster all day long recording these fantastic Eurodance tracks onto cassette, so I’d have them long before they’d be released in the UK. I remember hearing ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by CORONA about 6 months before it was released over here.

Emma: Actually Eddie Temple Morris got a hold of Ed Solo’s remix of ‘Suburban Culture’. It’s on the 2015 album release, Arts and Craft mix; The Sweatshop lot remixed ‘Suburban’ after the success of ‘Discotheque’.

Stephen did a version of ‘Discotheque ‘but it never came together. He admitted never feeling it.

The cover of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ can be considered either very brave or very foolish, what led you to record it? What do you think about it in retrospect? 😆

Chi: God, I foolishly love our cover!

Nathan: There were a couple of covers we’d sometimes do in the live set that always used to go down well. My favourite was ‘Strange Little Girl’ by THE STRANGLERS. We did a really interesting take on that. We also covered ‘Over You’ by ROXY MUSIC and got the chance to record our version with Phil Manzanera playing guitar! Although I’m pretty sure that never saw the light of day.

Another one was ‘Under My Skin’ by Cole Porter, we did this great minimalistic icy electronic version of that. ‘Modern Love’ came about entirely because of the association with the band’s name and a club night we were doing at the time at Filthy McNasty’s in Islington called Modern Love. I’m pretty sure it was Nick Zart’s idea. In hindsight it might have been foolish, I certainly wouldn’t dare take on such a classic now, let alone a Bowie classic but I thought we brought something to it.

Emma: Filthy McNasty’s! Yes, great club night. We did it every fortnight and THE LIBERTINES did the other weeks.

How do you think ‘Modern Industry’ was received when it finally came out in 2007? There was a loss of momentum but how did it affect the band?

Nathan: I think if we’d brought out the album in 2005 it would’ve looked very different. Maybe it would have had ten tracks on it and been a bit more cohesive, but because there was this massive gap by the time it was released, it almost became a kind of retrospective of everything we’d done over the past seven years. It ended a kind of being a “Best Of” in a way.

It was a strange period for physical formats so were you disappointed the album came out as a download only?

Nathan: That was just the way things were going. No-one in their right mind would’ve released a vinyl album in 2007. It was a time of real change and people were still adjusting to it and trying to work it all out. No ‘Smash Hits’, no ‘Top Of The Pops’, we were in a right muddle!

In 2008, you returned to being called THE MODERN again, what were your reasons?

Emma: We changed the name to MATINEE CLUB as Europa were keen to relaunch us, phoenix from the ashes, but we always felt THE MODERN suited us so we just went back to that.

THE MODERN soldiered on for a few years but then the line-up fragmented in 2010?

Chi: Nathan had much more he wanted to do musically and Emma was doing a lot of acting work so KID KASIO was born. Emma and I have carried on and Rees Bridges, our original drummer came back to us after touring with DIRTY VEGAS. We released ‘Revenge’ in 2018, many of the tracks co-written with Nathan.

‘Modern Industry’ was given an expanded reissue as a release by THE MODERN under the new title of ‘Life In A Modern World’ in 2013, what was the thinking behind this?

Chi: Pure laziness. It just took us this long to get the album in its entirety out there.

Looking back, how do you think the album as a whole stands up? Which are your own favourite tracks?

Nathan: I think all of it still stands up well. My favourites on there are ‘Seven Oceans’ and ‘Sometimes’ and I really like ‘Travelogue’ (which is just on the 2013 re-release). It’s a great set of songs and an album that I’m really proud to have been part of.

Emma: I love ‘Sometimes’. The whole album still sounds fresh to me.

Chi: ‘Questions’ and ‘Nothing Special’. I’m so proud of the whole album.

If you had your time in THE MODERN again, how differently would you have done things?

Emma: We should have released singles and album much faster as back then there was a real coming back of synth bands like THE BRAVERY, FISCHERSPOONER and GOLDFRAPP but by the time we released it, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS got out there and it all went the way of indie guitar.

Chi: Nothing I’d change. I loved it.

Nathan: Yeah same, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The touring got stressful sometimes but on the whole when I look back, I just think of the fun we had and the great songs that came out of it.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart

‘Life In A Modern World’ is available now via Pie & Mash Recordings from the usual digital outlets

https://www.themodernband.com/

https://www.instagram.com/themodernofficial/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
6th August 2020

Lost Albums: CHINA CRISIS Warped By Success

1994’s ‘Warped By Success’ was the sixth album by CHINA CRISIS and came some five years after ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ which was mostly produced by Walter Becker of STEELY DAN and their last record for Virgin Records.

Despite their first three albums charting in the Top25 in the UK having yielded a hit single each in ‘Christian’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ and ‘Black Man Ray’, sales for the next two albums were disappointing, thus precipitating the end of their seven year relationship with Virgin Records. It also saw Gazza Johnson, Kevin Wilkinson and Brian McNeil leaving the CHINA CRISIS family, having been all together as a unit since 1985.

But given the opportunity to make another album again a few years later by West Coast Productions, a mysterious company that specialised in budget compilations and bizarre rock collections, Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon regrouped to make what was to be a very personal record. One of the team assisting CHINA CRISIS to realise the sound of ‘Warped By Success’ was the future Grammy Award winning engineer Mark Phythian, with a creative relationship that continues to this day.

Developing on the mature laid back feel of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, there were jazzier overtones on the opener ‘Hand On The Wheel’ while glorious blue-eyed soul could be found on ‘Wishing Time’. The cautious optimism of ‘Everyday The Same’ recalled CHINA CRISIS’ later Virgin-era singles and heralded a new dawn for the duo, although ‘Real Tears’ touchingly captured the sadness of bereavement and ‘Hard To Be Around’ reflected on a relationship coming to the end of its natural course.

Something of a follow-up to ‘Stranger By Nature’ on ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, ‘Without The Love’ celebrated the joy of parenthood while the solemn orchestrated ballad ‘The Way We Are Made’ was dedicated to Derek Jarman.

Despite being a fine collection of well-written songs, ‘Warped By Success’ is very much the forgotten album in the CHINA CRISIS portfolio. But as The Electricity Club was to find out, the aftermath of its initial genesis was less than happy, perhaps indicating why it would not be until 2015 that CHINA CRISIS would release another long player in ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’; and while that album is being re-issued in a vinyl edition, ‘Warped By Success’ remains unavailable.

Gary Daly kindly gave a candid recollection to The Electricity Club of the background behind ‘Warped By Success’ and why for him at least, it is not among his favourites and how CHINA CRISIS eventually got back their creative mojo for ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’.

‘Warped By Success’ was at the time in 1994 seen as a comeback for CHINA CRISIS which seems funny now considering it had only been five years since ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, compared with the timespan that occurred before ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015?

I can’t imagine at the time Eddie and myself thought it was anything other than a very very different experience from being with a major label… we would have thought maybe we had come full circle, from starting out on Inevitable Records then Virgin then back to a small independent label / Stardumb. And after being responsible for soooo many people’s livelihoods, jobs etc etc, it was really quite a nice experience to be back to just Ed and myself…

How had things changed within the CHINA CRISIS camp by the time ‘Warped By Success’, both personally and creatively?

Gosh, lots… just about everything that could change, did. Our band, which had been together about 8 years, was suddenly no more. It was a mutually agreed parting of the waves, as they say but basically we had no wages for anyone and people had to make a living…

Kev got busy doing sessions and touring with bands, everyone from FISH, SQUEEZE to THE PROCLAIMERS … Gaz took over his family business and continued to play live and do sessions… Brian opened and ran his own studios up in Glasgow, Scotland.

Personally, lots of the stuff of life was happening in our lives, births deaths and marriages. And this all fed into the songwriting… Eddie singing about losing his dad on the songs ‘Thank You’ and ‘Hands On The Wheel’ and myself singing about Eddie losing his dad on ‘Real Tears’.

You were recording at Hatch Farm Studios in Surrey which was as different as you can get from Maui and Los Angeles where parts of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ had been done? Any thoughts?

Yeah, awful place, awful people! It really was a massive mistake of Eddie’s and mine to get involved with the place and the people.

But it was a chance to make a record and that’s all we ever wanted to do really… it’s a definite “If I could turn back time…” moment. We have a version of the album we made with Mark Phythian, it’s a beautiful thing and we hope to release one day… I hope so.

You and Eddie were back working as a duo again. Had this been out of necessity after the full band years or had technology advanced that music could be made electronically while exuding the live performance qualities you desired?

It was basically how we found ourselves after leaving Virgin records and the band moving on, it did feel completely natural. We rented a room from Peter Coyle of THE LOTUS EATERS on Hope Street in Liverpool. Eddie and myself would make our way there each day and write and record our little instrumental demos, just like when we started out. So you can imagine after almost 10 years touring, to be back just the 2 of us demoing, it was quite lovely really.

The technology hadn’t moved on that much in the early 90s… Eddie and me would have set the room up old school, synths , drum machines, effects, portastudio, mixing desk…

Were the sessions more relaxed than before without the pressure of being on a major label? It seems to come across like that on the record…

We was enjoying ourselves lots, it was soooooo great making a record with no real producer involved, it meant Eddie and myself could properly get fully involved with guiding the tracks.

I think on reflection though, you can hear there was no-one at the helm, steering the ship, so to speak. I think there’s a lack of standout moments… most of the songs are decent, but there’s not many great performances.

I think with us making some hugely standout albums with the “band” giving the songs depth with their performances, on reflection, that’s what the songs lack… no Kev, no Brian, no Gaz, no Walter… awwwww…

‘Warped By Success’ is a great title, had that been an ironic comment on your Virgin years?

Absolutely, you have no idea what you are signing up for and then BOOM! You’ve been on the telly and suddenly you are different… not really, but you are… some more than others…

Now more than ever I think you could apply that title, just think of all the many many reality TV shows / talent shows / etc etc! Success like that really can warp your life and your mind! Success I think is something best “worked” for, but then again I’m an old Grandad now so I would say that… ahaaa!

‘Hands On The Wheel’ and ‘Every Day The Same’ appeared to reflect on the topics of the first two albums, or has The Electricity Club read that wrong?

Eddie would have to vouch for ‘Hands On The Wheel’… ‘Everyday The Same’ is basically myself singing about our new found freedom and how best to engage with that, and get positive again…

There was an element of being dropped from Virgin Records which wasn’t great, everyone losing their jobs was tough. So this album being our first post Virgin Records album… there was deffo an element of us being “Indie” again which felt right…

‘Without The Love’ and ‘Real Tears’ were classic emotive CHINA CRISIS pop tunes, you certainly hadn’t lost it?

Yeah, they are both proper lovely songs. ‘Without The Love’, that’s me being a young dad and absolutely loving being home with my girls and not away all the time touring. ‘Real Tears’, well that’s just myself being Eddie’s old school buddy and watching him go through it a bit with his dad being poorly at the time. It would be great to see the Chinas perform these songs one day, I hope so .

There were more Eddie lead vocals on ‘Warped By Success’ than on other CHINA CRISIS albums, had this partly been as a result of you both writing separately during the hiatus?

Not really, because we was actually working more together after leaving Virgin than we had previously when we was still with the label and band. I think Eddie sang / wrote more then, mainly because he had more going on in his personal life…

‘Hard To Be Around’ was very honest and emotive…

It’s a funny one ‘Hard To Be Around’, at the time I dedicated it to Kevin mainly because in lots of ways, Kevin kept the Chinas going. He just made us all feel a lot better about ourselves and whatever situation we found ourselves in. But I think I’d really felt it when I could see Kevin was sort of throwing in the towel with us, not for any other reason than it was time to “move on”… but yeah, it was a hard pill to swallow .

Was ‘Good Again’ about anything specific?

Err yeah, everything that was happening round about then felt like renewal. Relationships / making a new album, it was a very exciting time. We’d gotten over no longer being with a major label and it was time to make it “Good Again”.

‘Wishing Time’ seems to have captured CHINA CRISIS at their most soulful, those vocal harmonies, woodwinds, brass and drum machine work beautifully together…

Ah yeah, that was Eddie having his SOUL II SOUL moment, I think the drum loop is possibly from ‘Back To Life’ or similar. Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album was a massive influence on Eddie and myself, so if you ever hear us sounding a bit “soulful”, that’s what it is…

Oh and Eddie would have got properly involved with arranging the brass which is something he loves to do… me myself, I’m more of a woodwinds kinda guy… ahaaaa

‘One Wish Too Many’ and ‘The Way We Are Made’ appear to be musically connected, how had they emerged?

‘The Way We Are Made’… having just listened to it now, crikey ! The recordings not great at all! Hearing it now, it’s deffo a rites of passage song… again, becoming a young dad, I would have been very much of a mind… the road is indeed, just as Paul McCartney and THE BEATLES had pointed out… L O N G!

You set up your own Stardumb Records imprint to release the album, how was it for you to venture into this part of the operation?

By name only… there was no Stardumb label. The company we was working with had lots and lots of differing musical projects on the go, with our album being just one of many.

We needed something / anything to separate us from the companies other super naff projects and so we came up with the name… as I said before, it was an awful, awful situation we found ourselves in.

When ‘Warped By Success’ came out, how did you find the press and audience reaction to it?

The expression “piss poor” springs to mind… awww I do hope you can print that, because it’s true! We were, as a musical force, absolutely spent! Imagine at the time, it was OASIS , BLUR, THE STONE ROSES and… ’Warped By Success’… no, not a great time… ahaaa but thems is the breaks which you have to weather… and weather them we did… and continue to do…

How do you look back on the album now, what are your own favourite tracks?

I don’t look back at that album at all. Eddie will remind me now and then just how great some of the songs are and recently we had ‘Hands On The Wheel’ in the live show and we almost had ‘Good Again’ in there.

But as memories go, I don’t “go” there… too sad and upsetting for me. They are not any of my fave CC songs but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off having a listen. Lots and lots of China fans love this album, I’m just not one of them…

Out of all the CHINA CRISIS albums, ‘Warped By Success’ is the most difficult to one to obtain, is there any chance it ever will be back in the public domain again?

Our version, certainly… but the actual album, n , there’s too much legal stuff around it. And the future is a Big Bright and Beautiful Wonderful New World .

One thing that ‘Warped By Success’ did do was reboot CHINA CRISIS as a live entity because that is one area where there has been a demand for you…

Maybes, eventually it did…we did slowly, but surely, begin to play live again.

I would say it took us a good couple of decades to get back to “Hey ! How good are CHINA CRISIS, must go and see ‘em live…”

Honestly , when we’d left Virgin in 1990, we had no live fans really, having only ventured out live when promoting each new record. And there’s a big big difference between having a live following and having hit records. So yeah , we properly got on with it and I’m glad to say, I can’t imagine we was ever better live than we are now… prettier, yeah, absolutely… but actually a better live act, I doubt it… ahaaa 😀

The ‘Warped’ experience put you off releasing new music for a long time, but you finally did again with ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015? What was the spark to get you motivated into writing new songs again?

The ‘Warped’ experience wasn’t great… it didn’t so much put us off recording as make us realise times had changed. We was properly back to being just the two of us… we did tour the album and even recorded a new live album ‘Acoustically Yours’ for Paul Humphreys of OMD’s Telegraph label which was a super lovely evening at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool that reunited the Classic 80s China’s line up plus guest appearances from Peter Coyle and Jennifer John.

So basically the China’s got busy playing live which we felt at the time we was sort of starting from scratch, not really having a “live” reputation. I think it was all the performing live that got us writing and recording again, with us being asked at almost every show “when are yous gonna record a new record????”

What made ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ a much happier and more satisfying experience?

The fact the recording had purpose, it was properly funded and the fans what made it happen got properly involved. . .every step of the way… which at times was challenging with not everybody being on the same page at the same time… ahaaa, but it did work brilliantly. All the studio sessions had a great up against the legacy… Walter Becker, Mike Howlett, Langer and Winstanley, Phil Brown, Pete Walsh… all these amazing artists we’d worked with and had such success, that was the challenge. Back in the day , our recording budgets were huge, 80s style huge and although ‘Autumn’ was properly funded, it was nowhere near what it was back in the day!

Was it about being able to have more control of the creative process from start to finish, thanks to the crowdfunding process?

Yes, it absolutely was… it felt like we was back to being “indie” which is exactly how we started, ‘African & White’ on Inevitable Records, distributed by Rough Trade.

You were back working with Mark Phythian and had Carl Brown in to produce while at various points, the old band of Gazza and Brian reappear while Kevin was also there in spirit, was making the album more like a family get-together in atmosphere?

Yes, Mark and Carl and Brian all gave so much to the project… their expertise was invaluable.

Mark’s ears are “GOLD” and it would be him that was responsible for the stereo loveliness coming out the speakers.

Carl and Brian were very much hands on performing and recording, both being musicians / producers with years and years of experience. They would very much want to capture all the performances and again, would be very much of a mind that “this is a bit special”, we’ve all grown up together.

Which songs ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ were highlights for you?

‘Because My Heart’ is sublime , Gazza and Kevin are completely responsible for the feel of that song; I originally wrote the song on piano and when we first played it, the feel was very much ‘How Long’ by the band ACE. It was Gaz who went home and played it on guitar and then Kevin and Gaz came back into the studio and completely changed the feel to what it is on the record, which is what I like to call “line dancing fantastic”… ahaaa

I think Eddie’s song ‘Fool’ worked out amazing; I’d heard it just as a song Eddie sang with his guitar. He then came into the studio and sang and played it to a click… and boom! Months and months and months later… wow! What an arrangement… Eddie worked with a pal of ours, Paul Mitchell Davis on the brass / wind arrangement. I could imagine Walter Becker would be very very impressed… incredible!

You’ve released two solo records since ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’, so will there be any more new CHINA CRISIS music?

YES! We are currently working on a “Classic Crisis” album / tour for 2021… we’ll be reworking some of our classic Crisis songs, ‘Black Man Ray’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ etc etc alongside new material. So we’ll add as many new songs as we can and all in a classical setting, strings, wind and brass, top hat, black tie and tails kinda scene… ahaaaa


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Gary Daly

‘Warped By Success’ was released by Stardumb Records and is occasionally available via private sellers on eBay and Amazon Marketplace

CHINA CRISIS’ 2015 album ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ is reissued as a signed vinyl LP, available direct from https://www.musicglue.com/chinacrisis/products/autumn-in-the-neighbourhood-lp

A selection of Gary Daly solo releases are available from https://www.musicglue.com/gary-daly/

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial/

https://twitter.com/ChinaCrisisUK

https://www.instagram.com/chinacrisismusic/

https://www.instagram.com/garydalymusic/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
4th August 2020

Lost Albums: ALISON Duality

It’s 2008 and YAZOO have reunited for a concert tour of the UK, Europe and North America.

While the duo of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke only released two albums before disbanding in 1983, their style of electro-blues had become a blueprint for many in the art of soulful synthpop.

Around this time, acts as diverse as DJ producer REX THE DOG and girl groups like THE SATURDAYS and RED BLOODED WOMEN were mining the YAZOO back catalogue for samples. Meanwhile the resurgence in synthpop had seen the independent market saturated with girl/boy pairings clearly influenced by Moyet and Clarke.

One of the better but lesser known of these acts was the appropriately named ALISON from Gothenburg in Sweden. The union of Karin Bolin Derne and Magnus Johansson had been intended to be for only one show in the summer of 2005. Derne had somehow talked her way into getting a support slot with SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, the solo project of Svensk synth mästare Eddie Bengsston from PAGE, by cheekily making up a story that she fronted a YAZOO covers act!

Now needing her own Vince Clarke, she contacted Johansson who was a veteran of bands such as ANTON WEBER, UZIEL 33 and TOPGUN but significantly a member of 101, a DEPECHE MODE tribute band with members of S.P.O.C.K whose concept was to imagine what would have happened had Vince Clarke not left Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher to their own devices.

After playing a successful show comprising of YAZOO songs including ‘Too Pieces’ and original material, ALISON became an entity as Derne and Johansson found the collaboration just too interesting to let go. The end result was an album ‘Duality’ released in early 2010.

Opening with what was ALISON’s second single in 2008, ‘No No No’ was a defiant Europop number celebrating empowerment with Derne happy with no longer having to play second best. Johansson provided a suitably synth brass laden backdrop.

Adding syndrums and pizzicato violins, the anthemic ‘There Was A Time’ lyrically referenced ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ while Derne gave a particularly spirited vocal performance.

A duet between Derne and Johansson, ‘Disco Dolly’ was a delightful homage to ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Nodisco’ in the first truly YAZOO aping moment of ‘Duality’. But cutely “la-la-la”, the raw deeper toned but heartily positive ‘Okey’ actually came over more like OMD, although it should be remembered that Vince Clarke’s entry point into synths was Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys’ ‘Almost’.

The slightly distorted ‘Dance Floor Killers’ sounded like it was about to burst into ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, but these YAZOO stylisations could only have been produced by a fan like Johansson who studied and understood Clarke’s sound design philosophy.

Again taking a leaf from OMD, ‘Give It Up For The Broken Hearted (Mr McCarthy)’ was wonderfully motorik electronic pop driven by a hypnotic synthetic engine room and while Berne wasn’t Alison Moyet, she delivered her own strong style of Nordic soul!

Actually sampling the rhythm track of ‘Ode To Boy’, ‘Where This Road Goes Down Tonight’ was more moody, borrowing the swishing, plucking and pulsing of EURYTHMICS ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ but slowing the pace down.

Closing ‘Duality’ was ‘Love Fool’, their feisty first single from 2007 which was basically a kind of percolating ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ medley; Johansson’s programming in the sequence and rhythm department was superbly authentic while Derne gave it plenty of determined passion and grit.

The blatant YAZOO references polarised listeners by either charming or infuriating them, but over a decade on, what stands out about ‘Duality’ are its songs. And that, despite all the electro-blues accolades that were bestowed upon Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, was what YAZOO were ultimately about.

There is still talk of a second ALISON long player but with Johansson having launched HILTIPOP and Derne working on solo material, that might be a while yet… but whatever happens, they left an enjoyable and fun album that captured the ‘Duality’ of YAZOO in the absence of the much-missed real thing.


‘Duality’ is still available via Electric Fantastic Sound as a download album

https://www.facebook.com/alisonsweden

https://soundcloud.com/alisonsweden/sets/duality


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th July 2020

Lost Albums: MESH Who Watches Over Me?

After three albums on the Swedish independent label Memento Materia, Bristol trio MESH were on the cusp of a wider breakthrough.

Formed in 1991, Mark Hockings, Richard Silverthorn and Neil Taylor had attained cult success in Europe, first with their debut ‘Fragile’ released in 1994 which was then followed up with ‘In This Place Forever’ and ‘The Point At Which It Falls Apart’. Then as is now, Germany embraced the sound of MESH and it was Sony Music via their Home Records subsidiary in Hamburg who offered the band their major label opportunity.

Released in 2002, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ strengthened MESH’s position within European alternative music circles although it fell short of the mainstream profile that was perhaps anticipated, with a German album chart high of No63 proving to be a disappointment at the time.

But it proved to be an important record and MESH were later picked up by Königskinder Schallplatten who put out ‘We Collide’ in 2006. This kickstarted an imperial phase for what was to become the now-familiar duo line-up of Hockings and Silverthorn with the Dependent Records released long players ‘A Perfect Solution’, ‘Automation Baby’ and ‘Looking Skyward’ which reached No12 in Germany, their best international album chart position yet.

While songs from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ such as ‘Leave You Nothing’, ‘Friends Like These’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Little Missile’ continue to take turns for inclusion in the more recent MESH live sets, unlike other releases in their back catalogue, ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ has not been readily available for several years. This has largely been due to the collapse of Home Records, thus elevating the album to lost and rare status, with the CD now being offered for quite high prices on eBay and Amazon.

Richard Silverthorn kindly took time out to reflect on MESH’s brief sojourn with a major record label and his memories of making ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.

At this point in MESH’s career, had there been a conscious decision to move on after three albums with Memento Materia?

I think we reached a level where we were getting more and more gig offers and the media were starting to take an interest in what we were doing. The demand on our time was becoming difficult and trying to fulfil our commitments became increasingly harder for us.

I remember we talked to our manager/label guy at the time and said “If we are going to take this to the next level we will have to give up our jobs, we need a major deal”. Our relationship was always a good one with Memento Materia but we needed to make that change and try and move forward.

How did Home Record, a German subsidiary of Sony Music, become interested in signing MESH?

Around the same time DJ Mark ‘Oh (a well-known DJ / pop act in Europe) approached us as he was quite a fan of our music and asked if Mark would do vocals on a collaboration idea he had.

The idea was a cover of the BLANCMANGE track ‘Waves’ but done with a full orchestra and electronic elements. We liked the idea but wanted it to be “Mark ‘Oh and MESH” not just featuring Mark Hockings as guest vocalist. He managed to get the London Session Orchestra to record the track and Mark added his vocal. I also did a remix of the track for the single CD.

This all caught the attention of his record label Orbit Records. They were quite well established in the dance / electronic scene with a few major hits under their belts. They were really excited about the collaboration and wanted us to co-write an album with Mark ‘Oh and on the back of this they wanted to offer us a record deal.

They had just became partners with Sony Music and wanted to branch out into more alternative music so started Home Records to run alongside their dance label Orbit Records. Unfortunately the album idea with Mark ‘Oh never happened, although a few tracks were written with that in mind. They subsequently ended up becoming part of our next album.

What did Home Records offer that perhaps hadn’t been available to you before?

Well certainly the money played a big part in the change. We were given enough money to give up our day jobs which gave us enough time to fully concentrate on music full time.

The backing of a major label was also a huge change for us. It all felt very real after this signing. We actually went to Sony’s HQ in Berlin to sign the contract.

The rooms were filled with gold discs and pictures of their artists, at that time Michael Jackson, Shakira etc. We suddenly found ourselves talking about TV appearances, radio plays and pluggers etc something we’d never really experienced.

Did you have to accept more A&R feedback on works-in-progress than maybe you would have done in the past?

No, luckily for us we still kept creative control over everything as they trusted us and the direction we wanted to take it. They knew we had a strong following and they wanted to expand on that.

The only real stipulation they had was they wanted it mixed by someone else to achieve that polished professional sound. This was something very new for us as up until that point, we’d done everything ourselves.

They suggested Peter Schmidt or BlackPete as he was sometimes known as. He was a known German engineer who worked at Berlin’s Hansa Studio and had worked on U2 ‘Achtung Baby’ and DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Black Celebration’ along with Gareth Jones.

With major label support, did you, Mark and Neil change your approaches in any way? What was your creative dynamic at the time?

Not really in the way we write, but we certainly felt a need to up our game especially with single choices. Maybe a little pressure for something a little more immediate and radio friendly. The track we had in mind was ‘Crash’ as it was kind of danceable and quite mainstream, but that soon changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack which happened around this time. Although the lyrics had nothing to do with that, we thought people could misunderstand and possibly interpret them that way. The track everyone seemed to lean towards was ‘Leave You Nothing’ so this became the first single.

Was your gear set-up still quite reliant on hardware?

Yes, it was pretty much all hardware synths, we had just spent a big chunk of our advance on new equipment to get inspiration. A Roland XP-30 (fully expanded with dance cards) played a big role on this album. A lot of the drum loops and sounds came from this keyboard, although we painstakingly chopped them up to make them less recognisable to the presets.

A NordLead 2 and an Access Virus B along with all our previous analogue gear was the palette of sounds we used. Sampling was taken care of by two Emax II’s and an Emu Esi32. Sampling was a major part of how we wrote and programmed at the time. Many hours of drum sampling and looping to create the rhythm sections / tracks.

‘Who Watches Over Me?’ was recorded in Bristol, but then it was mixed in Hamburg, did that environment help you to focus more on the final product?

The original plan was to write and record in our studio and take it somewhere locally to mix it. Initially, we tried at The Channel House studio in Bristol (owned by Toni Size) who had an SSL desk but the chemistry just wasn’t there with us and the guys we were working there.

The label suggested Home Studios in the centre of Hamburg. This had a Protools setup and a 96 channel SSL console.

It was previously known as Chateau Du Pape, DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was mixed there along with ‘Herzeleid’ by RAMMSTEIN and many other artists like NENA used it too.

We spent 3 weeks locked in there with Peter Schmidt and it was a breath of fresh air for us. It was the first time we could sit back and actually listen, rather than be engrossed in the programming side of things.

All-in-all, it was a fantastic experience and our fussball (table football) skills improved enormously. The album was mastered within days of finishing the mixing. We flew straight from Hamburg to Belgium to master it with Ronald Prent at Galaxy an outstanding purpose built studio.

‘Firefly’ was a fine opener that can be seen as classic MESH, how did it come together?

Initially it was just an instrumental track but Mark came up with a lyric idea for it. Mark and I lived very close to a supermarket in Bristol where an act of arson had taken place. Firefighter Fleur Lombard lost her life that day. She was the first ever female firefighter to lose her life in the line of duty in the UK. The lyrics are a twisted perspective through the eyes of the guy who caused the atrocity.

Would it be fair to say ‘Leave You Nothing’ was a bit reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘It’s No Good’?

I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone refer to that track as sounding similar before but now you come to mention it… haha I don’t know, does it?

What was ‘Little Missile’ referring to? That brought a slight drum ‘n’ bass influence in?

‘Little Missile’ for me was more about that piano line, but we added this erratic “drum n bass” type loop which fitted really well so we just went with it. The structure of that song is all over the place but somehow seems to work and became a fan favourite.

The original title for the album was going to be ‘Stop Breathe’, a line taken from that song but the label had their concerns because the German people have problems pronouncing “th” in Breathe so we changed it last minute to ‘Who Watches Over Me?’.

The titles were quite pained from ‘Razorwire’ and ‘I Can’t Imagine How It Hurts’ to ‘Retaliation’ and ‘The Trouble We’re In’, how were things personally within the MESH camp at the time?

Weirdly, it was probably the most relaxed period in our history. We had signed “the major deal” and were in a very focused mindset. Mark’s lyrics have always had a very dark side to them which I’ve always thought was the appeal.

‘Who Watches Over Me?’ included ‘Friends Like These’ which has now taken on a life of its own and has become something of a MESH signature tune?

Yes. we released it as a single and we done a bizarre video for it on a farm in Berlin with a load of scantily clad girls an old Opel Kadett and a load of garden Gnomes… don’t ask…

Live, it became an anthem for us, probably helped by the fact we used to secretly take pictures of people entering the gig and their pictures would appear on the huge screens behind us during that track.

It was almost like us saying “thank you” to those who followed us and came to the shows. From then on it’s become the fans’ song, they own it now.

Which are your own personal favourite songs and memories from ‘Who Watches Over Me?’?

So many songs for different reasons. The making of this album was an exciting period for us. Personally I like ‘The Trouble We’re In’ although I seem to remember we were all really ill at the time of recording that song. We were all together in the studio for weeks on end so we’d all managed to catch this hideous flu like virus and you can really hear it in Mark’s vocal when you know that, but it just conjures up those long days for me listening to it now.

We were doing loads of odd sampling in my parents’ garage, dropping tools and bashing different things to create the percussion on that track. Layered up multiple takes of us clapping at the end to create a gospel type feel as it fades out. It just brings back up all those memories. Also, the time we spent at Home Studios was an amazing adventure. We stayed in three different hotels over a three week period and got to know Hamburg like a second home.

Looking back, how was ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ received in Europe when it was released? 

From our existing fanbase, it was received with open arms and the reviews in all the dark scene magazines were excellent. I think our only gripe was with Sony. We had what we thought was a great album, everyone knew it was something special but we were such a small fish at Sony and I think their focus was on their bigger artists.

They got it into all the mainstream music outlets and had it featured on a lot of the listening posts but the publicity wasn’t great. We did get a review and interview in Rolling Stone magazine which was quite an achievement. The album did actually chart in the top 100 which was something for us, but with more of a push from them I think it could have broken down more barriers for us than it did but…

But things were not all well at Home Records and apart from MESH, one of the other casualties was Karl Bartos of KRAFTWERK, so what happened from your point of view?

Maybe it was the fact it was a new market for them as they were essentially a dance label with Sony Columbia’s backing, so I think they may have struggled with a strategy in this genre and trying to break into the mainstream. We were covered in all the usual magazines and media (which we had before) and limited amounts of radio play, but breaking new ground and establishing yourself was difficult to maintain.

We actually did a show case gig at the launch of the label in Hamburg and Karl Bartos was our support. Unbelievable the godfather of electronic music supporting us???! I think he may have suffered the same fate as us. I think their hearts were in it, but maybe that last piece of the puzzle for opening new doors was missing. Our time with them was amazing and a real eye opener to the real world of the music business that not many people get to experience. As a label they were really cool guys and great people to work with.

While ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ did not achieve a British breakthrough, the overall momentum got Gareth Jones interested enough to work with you?

Yes, Gareth was originally earmarked to do ‘Who Watches Over Me?’, but we felt the DEPECHE MODE connection which he was synonymous with wasn’t good for us so we initially turned it down.

When we started on ‘We Collide’, his name came up again and we thought “yeah what the hell” and that was another exciting chapter…

Having had the major label experience and been with Dependent since 2009 for ‘A Perfect Solution’, what would you say to artists now about whether to sign on the dotted line?

That’s a tricky one really. In all honesty, I think being on a small enthusiastic label is better than signing with a major label that has big artists to deal with. The money and experience was fantastic but I’m not so sure it’s like that these days. There certainly isn’t the money anymore and I think maybe a more internet based label with streaming and social media experience is a better option nowadays.

How do you think ‘Who Watches Over Me?’ sits within the MESH portfolio now as four albums have come since?

I personally think it sits there just right. It was a huge step forward for us and it’s all documented in that album. It still sounds like us as we had creative control but maybe it’s more professionally polished.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Richard Silverthorn

‘Who Watches Over Me?’ was released by Home Records / Sony Music

http://www.mesh.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/meshtheband/

https://twitter.com/meshwecollide

https://www.instagram.com/meshwecollide/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
24th June 2020

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