Tag: Can

THE SOFT MOON Interview

Photo by Marion Costentin

Since The Electricity Club caught THE SOFT MOON at the beginning of the year for their London date at The Dome in Tufnell Park, the act has been touring constantly in support of new album ‘Criminal’.

Essentially the one-man project of Oakland multi-instrumentalist Luis Vasquez, THE SOFT MOON have just released a new promo video for the ‘Criminal’ album track ‘Like a Father’ and have been added to bill at the Robert Smith curated 2018 Meltdown Festival.

THE SOFT MOON will join a stellar line-up at London’s South Bank Centre including NINE INCH NAILS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PLACEBO, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE KVB.

Luis Vasquez kindly took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the challenges of making of ‘Criminal’, his diverse range of influences and the impact of working as a solo musician.

Because the majority of your music is relentlessly dark, do you think people have a preconceived idea of your personality before meeting you?

Always, I’ve even been told a few times by journalists that they were a bit nervous to meet before an interview, thinking that I was some sort of dark and intense person. A lot of people are surprised by my outgoing exterior personality. I pretty much keep all my intensity internalized and only let it out through the music itself.

There is an enlightening Ingmar Bergman diary entry when discussing the link between pain and creativity which says “there is too much menneske in me” (Danish for ‘human being’), do you subscribe to this notion?

Of course I do. I have a really hard time processing emotions and even physical sensations. Resistance to my own humanity makes it difficult for me to function sometimes, and is the culprit behind a lot of my anxiety.

You’ve lived a very nomadic existence; which of the cities you’ve lived in have had the most effect on your music?

Definitely Berlin. It’s taken me to some extreme highs and lows and I’ve learned a lot about myself in terms of human limits. It’s made me realize how emotional, anxious, sensitive, spontaneous, and daring I am. I’ve almost died in this city and it scares the hell out of me. It’s the only place in the world where I’ve lost complete control of myself.

What sort of impact did growing up Catholic have on your music?

It’s impacted the subject manner of some of my songs. All Catholicism ever did was leave me with a guilty conscience to which I’ve been working on myself ever since in order to banish it. Especially with my most recent release ‘Criminal’, the key emotion throughout the album is guilt.

Although you are not an Industrial act per se, some acts in that scene have changed their sound considerably. What is your viewpoint on bands that could arguably be seen as “selling out” or disassociating themselves from their original roots?

It’s a natural process in life to grow, therefore making you change several times throughout your own personal evolution.

Also, in terms of music itself, there is only so much you can create before you start repeating yourself, so the only way is to give yourself more freedom to expand. I think it’s not fair for fans to sometimes keep an artist imprisoned to that one favorite album of theirs, or sound, genre, or era.

There were 72 (!) credited writers on the last BEYONCE album, what is your viewpoint on the pros and cons of collaborating and why do you prefer to work alone?

When it comes to THE SOFT MOON, I do prefer to work alone, because in the end this particular project is about my personal life which includes self-discovery and self-healing. It’s also about my curiosities as a human being living on earth. In general, I actually love collaborating with other musicians, there’s no other feeling like that in the world when communicating with a fellow artist. I grew up playing in many bands sharing ideas and it wasn’t until I chose to create THE SOFT MOON that I became a solo artist.

Which artists have had the most influence on the sound of THE SOFT MOON?

The Krautrock genre was the initial main influence for THE SOFT MOON, specifically CAN and NEU! because of their use of the motorik beat which I’ve used on several of my songs. Other influences would be PRINCE and MICHAEL JACKSON. My first exposure to music was pop.

JOHN FOXX is an acknowledged influence on you, what was it like working with one of your musical heroes on ‘Evidence’?

Aside from feeling completely honored about the opportunity to work with JOHN FOXX, the collaborative process itself was very casual without any pressure (except for the pressure I gave myself). Foxxy sent me a skeletal idea to add flesh to. After a few exchanges over the span of a few months, what turned out was something beautifully polished.

You cite the ARP Odyssey as a go to synth, what is it about this particular instrument that makes it special for you and are there any other bits of gear that are important to you?

The ARP Odyssey played a big role in the Krautrock genre along with Moog. I really like late 70s and early 1980s space sounds so when I found out that KRAFTWERK were using an ARP Odyssey, I knew that was the synth for me.

Some of your other influences are intriguing, can you tell us about the connection between the demon possession movie ‘The Entity’ and one of your songs?

I was hugely inspired by the film’s theme song entitled ‘Relentless Attack’ for the creation of one of my songs entitled ‘Black’ on my third album ‘Deeper’. It was such a menacing sound and I completely connected it with it on a deep emotional level.

Did you have a particular plan for the sound of ‘Criminal’ and if so, did it end up the way that you hoped?

It actually took me about six months to figure out which direction to go into. I was confused and angry with my life during the early stages of creating ‘Criminal’. I was upset about living in Berlin, I felt I was a slave to my own music, and I was even questioning whether or not I wanted to continue making music as THE SOFT MOON. When I almost reached the breaking point, I spewed out ‘Burn’ and it paved the way in unfolding the rest of the album.

‘Give Something’ is a standout track on ‘Criminal’, is the lyric written about a specific relationship?

It’s about my relationships in general, but I have found myself contemplating my actions more so in recent relationships, which is why I felt the urge to finally express this particular subject.

The Electricity Club caught THE SOFT MOON at their recent London show, how does performing live work for you, especially having to bring in other musicians?

I feel it works very well in a live context. In fact, when I write music I always keep the live show in mind and can picture what it would look like. In the beginning I never intended to perform live with THE SOFT MOON, so I never wrote music that I thought would translate well in a live environment. Because I use so many layers and create heavily rhythmic patterns, I don’t think THE SOFT MOON would work without additional members on stage.

One of the unique elements of THE SOFT MOON live show is your use of percussion, how did this evolve?

This all stems from my Cuban heritage. I grew up around percussion instruments, but ultimately it’s in my blood.

Prior to a 2016 Las Vegas show, you had all of your equipment stolen, how much of a blow was that and did any of it get recovered? Or did you see it as an artistic opportunity to evolve your sound?

It was a pretty major blow. We posted a fundraiser right after and were able to make up for some of the loss thanks to the generosity of our loyal fans. Unfortunately we weren’t able to recover any of the equipment or merch.

The majority of what was stolen was all our merchandise, so the next morning we drove around Oakland searching through dumpsters and keeping an eye out for people on the streets wearing THE SOFT MOON T-shirts *laughs out loud*

What is next for THE SOFT MOON?

As of right now, we’re 100% focused on touring ‘Criminal’. I have a hard time doing too many things at once but I am making my way toward soundtrack work.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Luis Vasquez

Special thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity

‘Criminal’ is released by Sacred Bones Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats

THE SOFT MOON perform at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival 2018 on London’s South Bank Centre with MY BLOODY VALENTINE on Saturday 23rd June and with THE KVB on Sunday 24th June, more info at https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

http://www.thesoftmoon.com

https://www.facebook.com/thesoftmoon/

https://twitter.com/thesoftmoon

https://www.instagram.com/the_soft_moon/

https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/the-soft-moon


Text and Photos by Paul Boddy, except where credited
2nd June 2018

GERMAN POP MUSIC: An Interview with Dr Uwe Schütte

The development of modern German pop music represents a cultural insight to the history of post-war Germany, reflecting its political developments and sociological changes.

It is also emerging as a new field of academic study thanks to the worldwide success of KRAFTWERK who were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014.

As an aid to scholars, teachers and students of German studies, sociology, musicology, post-war history and cultural studies, Dr Uwe Schütte has compiled ‘German Pop Music: A Companion’, a 270 page book discussing the post-war musical landscape of the country and its influence internationally.

A lecturer at Aston University, Schütte curated ‘Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century’, the first academic conference discussing the pioneering legacy of KRAFTWERK in January 2015. Among the speakers were The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan, Dr Stephen Mallinder of CABARET VOLTAIRE fame and Dr Alexei Monroe who contributes a chapter on the development of German Techno to ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’.

Schütte himself discusses the pioneering retro-futurist legacy of KRAFTWERK. Over 25 pages, he dissects their Industrielle Volksmusik with an academic synopsis of their output from 1974’s ‘Autobahn’, a release he describes as “The most important watershed moment in the history of popular music in post-war Germany” to 2009’s ‘Der Katalog’, a career retrospective which marked a symbolic break with the band’s past as Florian Schneider left the group and Ralf Hütter moved the iconic Kling Klang studio to a business park outside Düsseldorf.

Of course, KRAFTWERK emerged from the horribly named Krautrock movement which is analysed in depth by John Littlejohn, a Professor of German at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He highlights that much of this experimental music was instrumental and performed by groups or fluid combinations of musicians rather than solo artists. This reflected the form’s commune origins that came into being under the disillusionment of Germany’s recent past, the divided country’s military occupation and compulsory conscription, something which did not actually end in the reunified Germany until 2011.

Kosmische musik, as the locals preferred to call it, was also an exclusively West German phenomenon as the Communist DDR were more likely to clamp down on bearded, long-haired, drug taking types in its territory. Although a number of these groups like NEU! and HARMONIA did not get recognition until long after they had disbanded, TANGERINE DREAM ended up soundtracking Tom Cruise movies in Hollywood while CAN crossed over to an international audience and even scored a UK hit single with ‘I Want More’ in 1976.

Also discussed in the book to provide appropriate context is the conservative Schlager musical form which many associated with Germany before the influence of KRAFTWERK took a firm hold in dance music. Punk, Neue Deutsche Welle and Rap are also discussed, as well as Germany’s contribution to the Industrial genre through EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and RAMMSTEIN.

Over the University vacation period, Dr Uwe Schütte kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about his overview of German pop music…

There are many books on German music and KRAFTWERK in particular, what inspired you to compile ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’?

Indeed, there has been a real upsurge in – mostly though not always – excellent books in English on topics such as KRAFTWERK, RAMMSTEIN, Krautrock, the Berlin music scene or German punk.

However, what I felt was missing was a kind of foundational work, a book that provides an overview of the entire landscape of German pop music.

The approach to the book is quite different to others, more like an academic guide aimed at students rather than music fans?

Yes, it is an academic book from an academic publisher. What I tried to achieve as editor, however, was to make this introduction accessible to both the general public and an academic audience. And that means: the target audience comprises not only of students, but also language instructors who want to use song lyrics for teaching purposes, or – say – researchers on French punk, who need an introduction to German punk in English.

Ralf Hütter described KRAFTWERK as Industrielle Volksmusik; this is an apt description as KRAFTWERK’s melodies often came from a classical tradition with a catchy simplicity that wasn’t far off Schlager… what are your thoughts on this?

Ok, I accept “classical tradition” but not Schlager, my dear! Though you have a point, of course, as KRAFTWERK’s music indeed represents an elevated form of simplicity, and it is their very combination of avant-garde electronic sounds and captivating, simple yet sophisticated melodies that makes them great.

In the book, you are dismissive of ‘The Model’ which could be described as KRAFTWERK’s best and perhaps only pop song. As this is most people entry point into KRAFTWERK and one of the few synthpop No1s in the UK, what are your reasons for this view?

Well, I never really personally liked that song more than any of their other great songs. I think I am dismissive of it as indeed it is the odd one out on the futuristic ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ album, and it is too close to a mainstream hit record for my taste.

But don’t forget: the book is academic in nature, and it is the essence of critical thinking to revise established notions and to question received beliefs… but, to be honest, I also did it to tease the readers a little! *laughs*

But the DURAN DURAN world of models, clubs and “KORREKT” champagne depicted in ‘Das Modell’ was a reflection of KRAFTWERK’s real lives off-duty… or does all this spoil the illusion of “der Musikarbeiter”?

Yes, you are right in this respect. The song is the one exception in a body of work that is dominated by the strictly adhered to aesthetics of man-machine, futurism, technology and so on.

‘A Little Peace’ by NICOLE is described in the book as representing the end of the Schlager’s golden era, but lest we forget, it was actually the third German song to become a UK No1 in 1982 after ‘The Model’ and GOOMBAY DANCE BAND at the height of the New Romantic movement…

Yes, and I hadn’t known about this success in the UK until I started work on the book. I only knew that NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’, in the original German version, was a hit in the USA too. I still vividly remember both songs when they came out – I hated NICOLE and loved NENA.

While ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ has one of the better lyrics and is almost a spoken word piece, on the whole KRAFTWERK did not break the lyric bank, as exemplified by the title repeats as the vocal toplines of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’?

Indeed, and I think that was a good strategy. The music is powerful enough to speak for itself. Better to forego song lyrics than to use crappy ones….

You rightly highlight ‘Computer Love’ as visionary, predicting the society’s reliance on internet dating and social networking in a world of personal isolation. In many respects, this is the most human of all KRAFTWERK recordings?

Yes, probably… and lonely KRAFTWERK fans will have a hard time meeting women at their gigs, as it is always mostly blokes in the audience. Clearly, female KRAFTWERK fans are more interesting because many male fans hold views of German culture that I sometimes find problematic as a German.

Also, being in favour of the Brexit and liking KRAFTWERK don’t seem mutually exclusive in this country, sadly.

Your text refers to another academic Dr Alexei Monroe’s assertion that ‘Numbers’ is “dystopian”… but surely, it’s a just a high quality novelty track with multi-lingual counting that’s got a good beat??

Alexei is spot on with his view, I think, and that is why I quote him. The genius of KRAFTWERK is that their art works perfectly on different levels. Children love ‘Die Roboter’ or ‘Autobahn’ for obvious reasons, yet these are two of the greatest works of art in twentieth-century music. And in the same sense, ‘Nummern’ is both a novelty song and a radical piece of concept art that sparked electronic dance music.

So what do you think of the view that the reclusive legend behind KRAFTWERK has perhaps caused them to be over-intellectualised in more recent years?

I guess I am the wrong person to ask this question. After all, it is my – self-chosen – job to intellectualise about the band, or to be more precise: their music and artistic concept. And, along with the publications by my colleagues, I think we only just started…

Do you have any purist view as to whether KRAFTWERK should be listened to in English or German?

Of course – in German only!

While German electronic pop music is of valid cultural importance, it did take British bands like ULTRAVOX, OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE to make turn the roots of it into an internationally recognised art form?

Yes, I think one can see this as an equalizer after KRAFTWERK had scored first… *laughs*

What did you think of the later German electronic pop acts that had European success while singing in English, like ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, WOLFSHEIM, DE/VISION and U96 after KRAFTWERK?

To be honest, I never really cared about them, except maybe for ALPHAVILLE. I truly love PROPAGANDA, though.

In the book, Alexander Carpenter asks the question “Industrial Music as ‘German Music’?” As a German living in the UK, how do you feel about the image and sound of more aggressive bands like DIE KRUPPS, DAF and RAMMSTEIN who actually sang in German?

It all depends. I have always been a devoted fan of EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and really like much of the early DIE KRUPPS stuff. Their latest release ‘Stahlwerkrequiem’ is also a triumph, in my mind. Gabi and Robert from DAF are my heroes – hearing ‘Der Mussolini’ for the first time in a student disco was one of the things that changed my life.

RAMMSTEIN are just pathetic. To quote Ivan Novak from LAIBACH: “RAMMSTEIN are LAIBACH for adolescents and LAIBACH are RAMMSTEIN for grown-ups…”

What, to you, have been the true indicators that German pop music has indeed crossed over onto the world stage?

That is a difficult question… maybe that many people would agree to the claim that KRAFTWERK were more influential than THE BEATLES?


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Dr Uwe Schütte

‘German Pop Music: A Companion’ edited by Dr Uwe Schütte is published by De Gruyter, available from all good book retailers

https://www.degruyter.com/

http://www.aston.ac.uk/lss/staff-directory/schutteu/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
11th April 2017

BLANCMANGE Semi Detached Interview

Following ‘Blanc Burn’ in 2011 and a 21st Century rework of their debut ‘Happy Families Too’ in 2013, BLANCMANGE are back with their fifth album ‘Semi Detached’.

NeilArthur03-Hana KnizovaA brilliant title, Neil Arthur’s tremendous wordplay does it again with a phrase that acts as both a commentary on English suburban aspirations and the fact that this new long player is Arthur’s first of new material recorded without his long time partner-in-crime Stephen Luscombe. Sadly Luscombe has been unable to work due to illness since BLANCMANGE went back on the road in 2011, but with Arthur’s notable dry Northern humour, he manages to put joy into despair with just those two words.

Filling in the void though is producer Adam Fuest along with guitarist and long-time collaborator David Rhodes whose other credits have included PETER GABRIEL, JAPAN, GRACE JONES and NEW ORDER. His whirring E-Bow is a particular highlight on the ‘Heroes’-esque ‘Useless’, but Neil Arthur’s own six-string textures make their presence felt on the sombre closer ‘Bloody Hell Fire’, concluding the bitter sweet journey that is ‘Semi Detached’.

In some ways, this is BLANCMANGE’s technolstalgic album and beginning with eight minute opener ‘The Fall’ which actually references Mark E Smith’s cult combo, ‘Semi Detached’ is Neil Arthur’s personal recollections as an art student set to a midlife narrative. The first single ‘Paddington’ features some of the Middle Eastern aesthetics that BLANCMANGE became known in the mainstream for with hits like ‘Living On The Ceiling’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me, but the raw backing and Neil Arthur’s endearing drawl keep things very English and minimally contemporary.

As the first act in the history of The Electricity Club to be interviewed for a fourth occasion, Neil Arthur kindly chatted to TEC about BLANCMANGE’s latest opus…

Blancmange-semi detached‘Semi Detached’ is your first album of new BLANCMANGE material without Stephen Luscombe and the title appears to be a reference to this?

It could be… but there’s an ambiguity in there like in much of the lyrics so they can be taken in more than one way and that goes for the title. It can mean many things and of course, that definitely crossed my mind. Since we finished ‘Blanc Burn’ in 2010, Stephen hasn’t worked with BLANCMANGE and you haven’t seen him live, but the project goes on with his blessing. Sadly, he’s not well enough to work. So musically, I’ve driven it forward the last 4+ years and ‘Semi Detached’ is me writing and recording it.

Looking back, was reworking ‘Happy Families Too’ a busman’s holiday to prepare you for ‘Semi Detached’?

It took a bit of rearranging but I didn’t have to do any writing *laughs*

‘Happy Families Too’ and ‘Semi Detached’ were very different animals. Interpretation is a very different thing so what I did do was go into the minutiae. That was a strange journey going back to ‘Happy Families’ in such depth and understand what it came from beyond the embryonic memories of what happened 30 years ago. It was actually analyzing data. When I was programming the very early stages of the new versions, it unlocked a few memories that I completely forgot about.

When you come to writing a new album, you don’t have that. But you take on board the experience and one of the things was the technicalities… I always try and learn something from doing any project whether it’s film or doing a new album so that I can learn and say “I won’t make that mistake again”. I’m not a trained musician so you’re kind of cobbling it together… and you think you’re gonna get found out! *laughs*

On the subject of looking back, I remember you saying to me in 2012 that you weren’t interested in doing nostalgia events like Rewind, but you relented and played it in 2013. Why was that?

There’s two answers here; one is, and I’ll basically be honest, I was offered a fee… like everybody else, I have to earn a living and there’s certain things you will do and things you won’t. An offer came in and I knew I was in the process of putting together ‘Happy Families Too’. And in that process, I also did a load of other stuff as well, like things with ‘Blind Vision’ that may not actually ever come out. It made sense to take it a little bit further to understand some of the things we’d done in the past. One of the great things about that is I was creating a lot of sounds for us to be able to manipulate live. When we were offered Rewind, it fitted in perfectly. We’ve been offered things like that since, and I’ve decided not to do them because I want to concentrate on ‘Semi Detached’ and the future of that.

How was the various collaborative processes this time compared with ‘Happy Families Too’ and previous albums?

With ‘The Fall’, that started off as an instrumental groove that Graham Henderson, who’s played live keyboards with BLANCMANGE, had. Then I had another song from a project called AWP1 which Pandit Dinesh played in sometimes. I was listening to this other track called ‘Sequence’ and I had these lyrics and it took me on a journey… I don’t sit around with notebooks waiting for something to come, it tends to mull around in my head and then it just ends up being there. 70-80% will just come out! I wrote these things down and then with these two songs, which are very different songs, I decided to play one on top of the other to see what happened and it just sounded nice. So that’s a kind of collaborative thing!

‘Useless’ is brilliant, it’s quite ENO circa ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ meets LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. Is it about anyone in particular?

Well, yes and no! It’s about anyone who thinks they might be Useless… I take it as a compliment about ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’, it’s one of my favourite albums and I really do like LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. This song is about that whole idea that we’re all flawed and you’re “useless as you are”… there are just times when you think “f*cking hell, I couldn’t organise a p*ss up in a brewery” or that whole thing about confidence. Whatever they think is their failing, irrespective of that and with it, “useless as you are, everybody loves you”… I thought that line just deserved to be in a song. Once I got those lyrics together, I had this trip down memory lane in terms of melodies and cheap synth sounds, and put them all together, cliché upon cliché really. And then I thought, how can I make it slightly odd without anyone noticing, so I took a bar out of the song… if you listening to it, instead of being four or eight, quite often it’s three and seven, just to be awkward! *laughs*

How did ‘Paddington’ come about?

I don’t live in London anymore, much as I love it. I spent 34 years of my life in the city, it’s a part of me. No disrespect to Paddington, but it’s not the prettiest place to disembark into… I love the station but do you know what I mean? But what I absolutely loved when I came in that way was how people bumped into you, everybody is going about their business and you’re anonymous. I’m not joking about this, but I have kissed the ground at Paddington because I love London so much. So many memories and there’s so much future there and I enjoy aspects of it.

It conjured up this idea of this journey of tiny snippets, like looking at a cutting room floor for bits of memories… I just patched all those bits together, turned it round and played with words. For example, “tank top, bus stop”, it was just good fun and fitting them into an electronic groove. Quite a bit of it is ad-libbed but then weirdly, I’ve just had to write it all down which is interesting. That made me look at things like ‘Feel Me’, ‘Blind Vision’ and ‘I Can’t Explain’, they’re all ad-libbed… then you’ve got to try and remember the words! Quite often, the fans know the words better than me! But it’s my prerogative, I wrote them so I’m entitled to ad-lib it again! *laughs*

I decided to use a different sequencer, I’d been using Logic for years and I wanted to use a different digital audio workstation. I used Ableton for ‘Paddington’, then transferred it across to Logic and it ended up in Nuendo! A lot of the songs, I took to Adam who has a studio up in Wales to mix it. We’ve worked together since my solo album ‘Suitcase’ and he comes out on tour with us controlling the sequencers on stage.

You have David Rhodes again working with you on ‘Semi Detached’?

Yes, but on ‘Bloody Hell Fire’, Adam and David voted for my guitar to stay from the demo… they rib me about my guitar playing and say “we wouldn’t have it sounding like that”; but that’s why it works because I’ve gone for the tinnier sound. It wasn’t intentional, it only fitted there. It’s a crappy sounding guitar but they feel it works. Why bother with six if two will do!? I think what influenced my playing initially was punk, YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS and T-REX, they used to have fantastic sounds but quite minimal at times. But I talk a lot more than I play! *laughs*

NeilArthur01-Hana KnizovaWhat’s are the main differences between ‘Semi Detached’ and ‘Blanc Burn’?

I’m collaborating with myself mainly, battling my way through programming synths up and taking it to Adam’s and doing the lead vocals. One big contrast with ‘Blanc Burn’ is I decided I would have a number of backing vocals on.

On ‘Happy Families Too’, I had post-it notes around and one of the things was “minimal – stripped back” to remind me it didn’t have to be over produced. I kept that in mind when I was doing ‘Semi Detached’. One of the things about having more space was to have fun with some backing vocals. There are lots of backing vocals, my family did backing vocals, my daughter sang on it, one of my son’s mates came and sang on it. And then I got the neighbours in and some other friends on ‘I Want More’! I think everyone and the dog’s on that one!

What inspired you to cover CAN’s ‘I Want More’?

The work was done for me but I’ve always enjoyed CAN. I first did a demo of that with David McClymont and Malcolm Ross from ORANGE JUICE back in 1987-88 when we were working on a project post-BLANCMANGE with Dennis Bovell. We went to a studio down the Old Kent Road and that was one of the tracks we did. Funnily enough, we approached CAN to produce our second album, so it could have been even more of a story but we ended up working with John Luongo and Peter Collins.

You’re back doing instrumentals again with ‘MKS Lover’, what is that referring to and why did that not end up with a lyric?

It would never have had a lyric, it’s like ‘Sad Day’… but it isn’t like ‘Sad Day’ in sound. ‘MKS Lover’ was the working title and it was as simple as this; it was all done apart from the 808 rhythm unit on a Roland MKS80 which is a Super Jupiter, and not to be confused with a Jupiter 8.

Overall, you’ve kept the sound of ‘Semi Detached’ quite stripped back and raw with vintage drum machines. Was that deliberate?

Well, it’s all I’ve got! *roars of laughter*

I’ve still got my original 808 and that gets used… with a struggle on some of it, I ended up using the MKS80 with the MPG80 programmer to replicate some of the percussive noises, plus there are some VSTs in there. I’m quite awkward, I put VSTs through amplifiers and god knows what to get I want. The thing for me is I tend to work with a limited palette, because if you’re confident enough to let the line breathe on its own, it doesn’t really matter what it is. I will use anything, I really would… there’s no kazoo on this one, but there was definitely kazoo on the album before! *laughs*

NeilArthur02-Hana KnizovaCHIC’s ‘I Want Your Love’ has also been covered and is on the deluxe 2CD edition. What’s that like?

I first did a version with AWP1, the band is basically two acoustic guitars with noises and percussion. We tried to play as little as possible to support the song. Our manifesto was “less is best”… I once fell asleep during one of our songs in rehearsal, I’m not joking!

I thought ‘I Want Your Love’ would lend itself to an electronic version and it is absolutely not a dance track, it is a ballad, stripped down… it’s a bit dirty and seedy actually, very sad and menacingly desperate. So it’s a tad darker than the CHIC version which I do love! *laughs*

What else makes up the bonus CD on the deluxe version of ‘Semi Detached’?

I had a pool of about 20 songs and it ended up with 16 being recorded. I didn’t want 2 covers on the final album so we split them. ‘I Want More’ ended up on the album and ‘I Want Your Love’ didn’t… very similar titles actually! There’s a couple of other songs ‘Silk Sea’ and ‘That Worm’ which we thought would be good to go on the deluxe 2CD, but a track called ‘Cactus’ that might come out in the future, I didn’t put on at all. And then we added alternative mixes including a very long version of ‘I Want More’ plus extended versions of ‘Paddington’, ‘Like I Do’ and ‘Useless’.

With the upcoming shows at Red Gallery, are you likely to extend it as a tour and have you decided what to play? Are you going to do all of ‘Semi Detached’?

I did a working setlist the other day and it starts with ‘Irene & Mavis’! So that’s because I did it in chronological order. The shows are obviously to launch ‘Semi Detached’ so there will be a number of songs from it… so you might get to hear ‘Useless’ and join in on the chorus! My dream is for that to become a football terrace anthem: “EVERYBODY LOVES YOU! USELESS AS YOU ARE!” *laughs*

I think people will be disappointed if we they didn’t get something from what we did in the 80s, and maybe we’ll have some things that haven’t had an airing for a while. I think I’ve put ‘Murder’ and ‘See The Train’ on the list… maybe we’ll do ‘Blind Vision’ and ‘Feel Me’ if someone twists my arm! My manager Steve says “if you don’t do ‘Living On The Ceiling’, you might have a problem!” so we’ll probably have to do that!

‘Living On The Ceiling’ has almost turned into a terrace chant live now…

…it’s a singalong, I can almost just leave it up to the audience. And ‘Starf*cker’ might get an outing. I wasn’t originally thinking about taking ‘Semi Detached’ out on tour, but it may well happen because it’s being discussed. I wanted to do something very different which is why the Red Gallery shows happened. I wanted to do something special and not just do the conventional tour. But we may be able to find the right venues for people to be able to come and see it further afield, we’ll wait and see. For now it’s just those two shows I’m concentrating on.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to NEIL ARTHUR

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR

‘Semi Detached’ is released by Cherry Red Records on 23rd March 2015 in CD, limited edition deluxe 2CD, vinyl LP and digital download formats. Pre-order at http://blancmange.tmstor.es/

BLANCMANGE will be appearing at The Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3DT on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th May 2015. Support on both nights will be provided by BERNHOLZ

https://www.blancmange.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/BlancmangeMusic


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Hana Knizova
11th March 2015

Lost Albums: SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination + Sister Feelings Call

simple sonsMere mention of SIMPLE MINDS always recalls horrible memories of plodding stadium rock with Jim Kerr’s tiresome shouts of “let me see your hands” accompanied by overblown ten minute arrangements, swathed in pomposity.

Indeed, The Electricity Club’s first truly awful concert was SIMPLE MINDS at Hammersmith Odeon in 1984 when the band played just twelve songs in two hours (you do the maths!) while The Tube’s broadcast of their tedious 1985 concert at The Ahoy with the 11 minute version of ‘Waterfront’ was most people’s cue to get out.

But there was a time when SIMPLE MINDS were one of the most promising young bands in Britain. And in 1981, they delivered what has now become their most forgotten body of work; ‘Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’. Even a great 2009 article about ‘The Rise and Fall of SIMPLE MINDS’ on Popmatters largely overlooked this great double album.

Despite a shaky start with ‘Life In A Day’, the Glaswegians started experimenting with more electronics on ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ and ‘Empires & Dance’ with the latter being cited by writer Chris Bohn as “the record DAVID BOWIE could have made with ‘Lodger’, if he’d been alittle bit more honest to himself”. This monochromatic European travelogue with its claustrophobic demeanour, courtesy of future RADIOHEAD and MUSE producer John Leckie, had been a critical if not commercial success.

After an unhappy sojourn with Arista Records which led to them being dropped following the failure of ‘I Travel’ as a single, SIMPLE MINDS signed to Virgin Records who were at this point gambling their future on synthesizer based acts such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN and through its Dindisc subsidiary, ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK.

simple sisterTo exploit their KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences to the full, SIMPLE MINDS were teamed up with producer Steve Hillage. A hippy musician formally of the band GONG, Hillage was also a big fan of the German experimental scene which by now was shaping the intelligent pop landscape along with home grown heroes DAVID BOWIE and ROXY MUSIC.

He gave SIMPLE MINDS a more accessible brightness that had been noticeably absent in the band’s Arista work. Bursting with ideas, the band not only recorded an album, they sort of did two!

The main feature was entitled ‘Sons and Fascination’ and contained eight songs that captured the motorik energy that was always apparent with the flanged bass powerhouse of Derek Forbes steering proceedings alongside solidly dependable drummer Brian McGee.

With Forbes constructing rhythmical but articulate basslines not unlike Mick Karn from JAPAN, the works were then coloured by Mick MacNeil who came armed with his Roland Jupiter 4, Roland RS09 and Korg 770 alongside the guitars of Charlie Burchill which were often so layered in effects that when harmonised together with MacNeil’s synths, they were almost as one.

Opening with the tremendous ‘In Trance As Mission’, the solid bass over a slight offbeat is progressively built up with keyboards as Jim Kerr rambles almost unintelligibly about the “courage of dreams” – dreaming and ambition were always part of SIMPLE MINDS’ manifesto. The lost single ‘Sweat In Bullet’ is the more frantic older brother of ‘Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)’, driven by scratchy guitar while what follows is a sound that has never been repeated.

On the mighty ’70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, the distorted bass is counterpointed by the horrifying noise of a dentist’s drill! Almost industrial, the aural discomfort is something that will shock anyone that has only ever heard the abomination of ‘Belfast Child’! The raw edge continues on the thundering ‘Boys From Brazil’ where Kerr attacks the rise of the extreme right wing.

simple minds 7‘Love Song’ is the hit single that at the time, never actually was. Pulsed by sequencers and driven by that distinctive syncopated bassline, Hillage’s production is a “coat of many colours” although the song’s inherent repetition means that it perhaps outstays its welcome by about 45 seconds; this incidentally was later fixed on Gregg Jackman’s subtle ’92 single remix. Whatever, ‘Love Song’ is still a classic despite Kerr’s abstract observations being almost gibberish. After the release of all that pent up energy, a lone chattering rhythm box announces the arrival of the beautiful ballad ‘This Earth That You Walk Upon’.

The drum machine remains for ‘Sons and Fascination’ which sounds positively Roman, clattering away like a synthetic tattoo for the chariot race in ‘Ben Hur’. And to finish, a repeated synthesizer motif and elastic slap leads the atmospheric palette of ‘Seeing Out The Angel’.

Of course, this wasn’t actually the end as initial copies of the album came with a seven track Siamese Twin called ‘Sister Feelings Call’. In the context of the modern day bonus disc containing half a dozen pointless remixes, ‘Sister Feelings Call’ has to be one of the greatest freebies ever. It starts with the amazing ‘Theme For Great Cities’.

Fusing CAN with TANGERINE DREAM, MacNeil’s haunting vox humana and the rhythm section covered in dub echo bridge into possibly one of the greatest instrumental signatures ever!

This is then followed by ‘The American’, imperial in its Apache-like approach, pounding to the heart of the dance without the need for hi-hats, just triggered electronics and funky hypnotic bass. Inspired by the bright colours of Jackson Pollock’s modern art, Kerr’s varied cosmic intonation of the word “American” in the chorus is delightfully bizarre and memorable.

The rich Roland organ lines of ’20th Century Promised Land’ confirm what an inspired period this must have been for Kerr and Co although the collection’s remaining tracks ‘Careful In Career’ and ‘Wonderful In Young Life’ don’t quite soar to such great heights while ‘League Of Nations’ does possess a stark charm with its beat box led tribal TALKING HEADS feel.

One thing that is noticeable about this era of SIMPLE MINDS is how the compositions are more fragments of music with multiple riffs modulating over a minimal chord structure. This may sound like a recipe for poor songwriting but the end results were perhaps more musically inventive and interesting than the traditional rock approach.

The fine perfect balance between art and pop was finally achieved with the massively successful and outstanding ‘New Gold Dream’ album in 1982. But then it went horribly wrong with ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ when the production helm was given to the vastly over rated Steve Lillywhite who did what he normally did and made the band sound like they’d been recorded down a drainpipe! Released in 1984, it was quite obvious that the lure of the Yankee dollar in light of U2’s success just couldn’t be resisted.

Judging by the original ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ demos, a technologically sophisticated album had been planned with ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ in particular sounding more like VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ than its eventual BIG COUNTRY pastiche. But it was rock music tailored for American ears that the band opted to aim for.

It was this embracement that later made the band’s name quite ironic. But to be fair, dumbing down the sound for the synthphobic USA was starting to be common place among British bands. However, it’s also ironic that around this time, having been influenced by ‘New Gold Dream’, U2 decided to get a bit more artier and took on board some Eurocentric experimentation with Brian Eno as their willing conspirator.

Whereas after the massive sales of the 1985 FM rock flavoured long player ‘Once Upon A Time’, SIMPLE MINDS gradually experienced a law of diminishing returns, U2 more or less maintained their standing in the long term and are still working with Eno to this day.

Interestingly, at their most recent concerts, remaining founder members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill may have finally seen the light about what was musically SIMPLE MINDS’ most glorious period – ‘Sons and Fascination’ and ‘This Earth That You Walk Upon’ are in the live set along with material from the ‘New Gold Dream’ album while ‘Belfast Child’ has finally been dropped!


‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ is available on Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/

https://www.facebook.com/simpleminds/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th July 2011