Rich Silverthorn Looks Skywards…
Following the huge success of ‘Automation Baby’, which took even MESH themselves by surprise, Silverthorn and co found starting the work on new material challenging.
After all, what follows needs to be equally masterful.
The slow progress, studded with a multitude of ideas, usage of new technology and exploration of different writing techniques, blossomed into eighteen months of exciting adventures culminating in the release of ‘Looking Skyward’.
Rich Silverthorn admits that “we’ve been walking the streets with audio recorders making samples, worked on phones, tablets and laptops, recorded demos all over the world on iPads, and portable microphones”. The re-engagement of the German master of electronica, Olaf Wollschläger, known for his previous work with the band, as well as producing the likes of BEBORN BETON, YELLO, IN STRICT CONFIDENCE and SEABOUND, promises an exhilarating experience once more.
The first single heralding the arrival of ‘Looking Skyward’ is ‘Kill Your Darlings’. The customary catchy hooks and exquisite riffs sound like MESH in a can. It’s big, loud and exuberant with a strong lyrical content. It hits hard, making sure that the Bristol bosses are back in the game.
The familiarity floats away with the marvellous B-side, ‘Paper Thin’. This fresh, ultra-clean and eloquently polished track with gothic elements, announces the new era in MESH reign. It’s immense on a more sublime level and it is likely to be a worthy contender to its partner-in-crime.
The Electricity Club chatted to Rich Silverthorn just in time for the release of MESH’s new opus…
Although ‘Automation Baby’ was a huge success for us, we knew that making another album the same would be pointless. We never really have a masterplan at the initial outset. We just try and write some songs and see how it develops. The songs are the important thing, the production and atmosphere of the album follow. I think ‘Looking Skyward’ has a different feel and mood to ‘Automation Baby’.
Where was the album recorded?
It was written and recorded in Bristol. We have our main studio and Mark has a small set-up at his house where he writes. All the initial ideas and programming was done at these two locations. Once the songs were finished, we sent all the files to Olaf Wollschläger at Railroad Studios in Germany where the mixing and final production was done. From early January until now we have been flying back and forth to Kerpen, Germany doing mixing and vocal sessions.
Olaf is involved again in the producer capacity. Was he a natural choice?
Yes, we have a great working relationship with him. As a producer, he has a good understanding of what we are trying to achieve. We never liked the idea of a producer changing our sound. Olaf has a natural talent of tidying up our productions and spending a ridiculous amount of time perfecting them without changing the overall feel and mood. I think we have mutual admiration for each other. He says he learns ideas from us and we certainly learn from him.
I think the way in which we wrote this album has changed. I spent a lot of time listening to our old material and albums of other artists that really had an influence on me before we set out on making ‘Looking Skyward’. We didn’t want to make a clean and perfect album and realised that ‘old school’ sampling made the difference. We actually went out and bought a couple of digital hand held recorders and started recording everyday things, noises and atmospheres around us.
All these sounds were used to make loops and soundscapes for the songs. It’s the imperfections that make it interesting. Creating a sound that is totally unique is so much more satisfying than going to the latest synth or software plugin. Olaf has a reasonable amount of modular equipment in his studio which we played around with. It’s so time consuming, but the results are so much better than just tweaking a preset on a synthesizer.
You mention a variety of different writing techniques for ‘Looking Skyward’, was that a conscious choice to vary the album’s textures?
Yes I think it was. Just trying to keep the ideas fresh and interesting for us. Just buying new bits of equipment can influence the results. We bought two Maschine Studios (a kind of sampler / drum machine / loop player), these had a huge effect on what we were doing and how we done it. The sample manipulation was really quick and easy. Writing percussive loops and phrases were a good starting point for the songs. It made us write in a different way. Mark used a lot of iPad apps and sequencers for quickly writing down ideas. A lot of these sounds were so good they actually made it onto the final production.
And the title comes from…?
The title comes from a lyric of one of the songs. It seemed to best sum up the overall feeling of the album. It has its really dark moments but there is also a sense of hope, hence the ‘Looking Skyward’.
Haha… Well we were trying to come up with an idea for the first single artwork. Mark had an idea of the jet fighter and the kids on the runway.
In contrast to the sinister feel of the real fighter, there is the innocence of the children playing with paper planes. The addition of the paper plane seemed to make it quite thought provoking.
Have MESH got any promotional plans to finally wow the UK’s media?
No LOL! We always do our bit, but generally feel it’s very hard work here in the UK. There just seems less and less avenues to go down these days. We have a good following here and sell a lot of records, but pushing it further and reaching new people is a difficult task. That said, with each album things are still growing. Social media plays a big part in this.
What’s the deal with breaking into unused buildings? MESH like living dangerously?
Shh…. we were looking for a location for a photoshoot when we discovered a disused factory very near us here in Bristol. So although it was all boarded up and signs saying ‘keep out’, we went into urban explorer mode and got in. The place was amazing and scary at the same time. All the photos for ‘Looking Skyward’ were taken there and have a moody and deserted feel to them.
Yes we like a challenge. Every tour we like to try and do something a little different. We have always used visuals and projections from day one, but keep trying to push the ideas. It is quite a complicated set up with boxes splitting signals to different TVs or projectors etc. With the upcoming tour, Mark has started working on incorporating LED lighting and maybe a more interactive show for the audience. All this is in the early stages at the moment, but watch this space.
What are your expectations for this long player?
As always, there is a huge dose of apprehension before releasing any new material. I hope what we have created an album that touches people in some way. We have certainly poured our heart and souls into making of it.
How do you think Brexit will affect your relationships with Europe as a band?
I (along with the rest of the country) have no idea what it is going to change. I hope everything with remain pretty much the same and our relationship with our European neighbours remains intact.
The album certainly has a few dark corners to hide in but it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a positive and inspirational side to it too. ‘Kill Your Darlings’ just seemed a natural choice for the first single. A real smack in the face for a comeback.
Exciting textures are emerging from the single too, is that what we are to expect throughout the production?
Yes definitely. There are many layers and textures. Headphones are essential for listening out of all those hours of work manipulating samples into musical parts. I do feel this is our best and most intricate work to date.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Richard Silverthorn
‘Kill Your Darlings’ is available as a CD single via Dependent Records from 8th July 2016
The album ‘Looking Skyward’ is released on 26th August 2016 in a variety of formats
Bristol Marble (16th September), Sheffield Corporation (17th September), Glasgow Audio (18th September), Cologne Essigfabrik (20th September), Zurich X-Tra Limmathaus (21st September), Munich Backstage (22nd September), Erfurt HSD Gewerkschaftshaus (23rd September), Frankfurt Das Bett (24th September), Nuremberg Hirsch (26th September), Berlin Postbahnhof (27th September), Hamburg Klubsen (28th September), Hannover Musikzentrum (29th September), Dresden Kleinvieh (30th September), Mannheim Alte Seilerei (1st October), London Garage (2nd October)
Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Goss
8th July 2016, updated 8th August 2016