Neil Arthur and Jez Bernholz are NEAR FUTURE, a new project featuring the BLANCMANGE front man and the Brighton based musician, sculptor, film-maker and co-founder of the Anti Ghost Moon Ray art collective that also spawned GAZELLE TWIN.
With plans for a full-length album to be released in 2017, the first single is the delightfully sombre ‘Ideal Home’. Beginning with futuristic ship klaxons, it’s a fractured number which takes a detached dual vocal and attaches it to a steadfast rhythmic backdrop, with hints of Eno-era TALKING HEADS in its ethnically influenced textures.
Meanwhile, the sub-three minute flip ‘Overwhelmed’ has shrill strings cocooned in an aural cavern with a claustrophobic Neil Arthur lead vocal that while recognisable, is quite different from anything by BLANCMANGE. Setting the scene as an introduction to the project, Jez Bernholz kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about the genesis of NEAR FUTURE.
You opened for BLANCMANGE at the Red Gallery shows in 2015, but what led you to making music together?
Neil and I had a really positive connection when we met in London for those shows. I’d already said how much I loved ‘Irene & Mavis’ which, if I’m honest, was my first real introduction to the band when reissued through Minimal Wave.
Neil had said some very encouraging things about the experimental aspects of my music. As a result, I was invited to join them on a full UK tour as support this year and it was suggested that we could exchange some loose ideas, work on each other’s tracks separately and see what the results were. It was all initially just a loose but interesting way to promote the tour, but it was also a nice way of seeing how our individual approaches to music-making worked together, flex our compositional muscles in a way. It’s worked out better than we hoped and we’re introducing each other to a wide variety of things outside our own comfort zones I’d like to think.
‘Ideal Home’ has an experimental air of BRIAN ENO about it?
Experimental, certainly, but Eno for me wasn’t a conscious inspiration though I love his work and studio ideas. Vocally, it’s certainly possible that ‘Another Green World’ or ‘Before and After Science’, had some kind of subconscious influence, but then, only as much as his work with JON HASSELL or DAVID BYRNE.
In the back of my mind, the vocals are always inspired in some way by Bowie so there is the ‘Low’ connection there, but it wasn’t intentional and I don’t think I ever considered it a formative part of the music. However, Neil may see things differently of course. His initial idea and field recordings laid the groundwork for the austere, detached quality, but they were rooted in other electronic histories.
I’m a music-obsessive. I’ve had a staple collective of artists that I’ve loved since growing up and becoming a musician, and if you’re a nerd like me, those artists tend to have a rhizomatic effect. KATE BUSH, PRINCE, DAVID BOWIE, KRAFTWERK, the usual suspects.
I’m drawn to the certain kind of electronic sounds pioneered from the 60s, wobbling, bending and very detached, almost lonely sounds that the post-punk and New Pop artists all seem to use, culminating in some kind of golden age of experimental pop. It seemed to dispel of certain hierarchies which exists a lot in certain places now, where often you find either a kind of classist or an inverted snobbery; I like music which bridges those gaps between experimentalism and populism.
I’ve worked with some very inspiring people in other bands over the years who’ve drawn me into unusual music by ‘innovators’, those who may not be household names but are important artists. I also found that really good music journalism, those who wrote profoundly about the effect music had on them, would draw my attention to artists that someone who grew up with Britpop as their soundtrack might have otherwise neglected; ‘This is Uncool’ by Garry Mulholland, ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’ by Simon Reynolds.
Neil is an inspired artist and a uniquely gifted lyricist.
His approach to the piece of music I wrote really reflected the contemplative sounds – the vocal melded with the music as if it had been there all along and when I heard it I was floored. That’s his gift and he can apply it just about anywhere.
The way that I compose comes from a very different place, and having the music composed before the vocal gave it a space to move somewhere of its own. Even though Neil and I share similar interests, our frame of reference is not the same.
What do you think you provide to the partnership that Neil hasn’t had before, and what does Neil add to your artistic ethos?
I’m not sure about what he hasn’t had before, necessarily, that would be implying a lot on my behalf. I certainly think that I’ve taken it partly down the road of early, naive experimenting, the ‘hitting pots and pans’ and reversing cassettes at slowed-down speed approach. My production tends to be quite ambient at times; I’m inspired by artists such as TIM HECKER, ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER and ROLY PORTER. That’s potentially something that will have been liberating for Neil, to make music away from the expectations of a band with BLANCMANGE’s legacy.
Working with Neil has given me a real impetus to be a bit freer, encouraged me to think more considerately but at the same time be less precious with ideas, and that’s helped the project to avoid the potential stagnation you can get as a solo producer when you spend too long overworking ideas. Neil is very inspired, works quickly, executes great judgement and as I said before, is lyrically intuitive and sensitive. It’s been a long time since I’ve written collaboratively with someone, but it feels like we are on to a very good thing.
Well, juggling both these projects with my own little biological project (a baby due any day now!) will be very interesting. I’ve been working on my half of the NEAR FUTURE album and my own record ‘The Innermost Surfaces In Eggshells’ in tandem, and I really enjoy it. Sometimes I’ll be inspired to work on one as it will fit with my thought pattern at the time. They are very different in terms of mood and execution.
My own solo album is a complete departure from my debut, more like an art soundpiece rather than songs, whereas the NEAR FUTURE tracks, even though they retain that experimentation, are a lot more focussed on collaborative songwriting. It’s hard to rein in all the ideas I have floating around sometimes, I release other music as part of an ongoing ‘Consequences’ project too. I’m quite lucky that I can put my eternal distractions and procrastination to good use.
Parts of ‘How Things Are Made’ were reminiscent of DALEK I LOVE YOU; as they were heavily inspired by Eno too, this is maybe not entirely surprising. What was your reaction to hearing DALEK I LOVE YOU for the first time?
I remember The Electricity Club have drawn those comparisons before, but honestly, they’d never been on my radar before! I look forward to delving into the catalogue more, but recollecting hearing them the first time, I remember thinking, “Great!”
Are you and Neil likely to perform live together in the NEAR FUTURE?
We certainly hope so. We are discussing a few shows potentially at the moment, we just have to work out the logistics (and a set list), but we have a new song, albeit a cover, due imminently.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Jez Bernholz
With thanks to Steve Malins at Random Music Management
A limited number of signed promo CDs are available at http://blancmange.tmstor.es/
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
17th May 2015