Tag: Neil Arthur (Page 2 of 5)

A Short Conversation with FADER

Photo by Piers Allardyce

Together, Neil Arthur and Benge are FADER. While Arthur is front man of BLANCMANGE, Benge is best known for his work with WRANGLER, CREEP SHOW and JOHN FOXX &THE MATHS.

Following the critical acclaim for their 2017 debut long player ‘First Light’, a second FADER album entitled ‘In Shadow’ is about to be unleashed for public consumption at the end of October.

Perhaps musically more introspective than its predecessor, ‘In Shadow’ however finds Neil Arthur expressing an understated frustration and anger with the world at large.

Neil Arthur and Benge kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about their latest collaboration and its more minimal approach.

How do you look back on the making and reception of the debut FADER album ‘First Light’?

Neil: The making was more or less the same approach, in terms of how we work. That is, initially remotely, exchanging files and a number of conversations online and by phone.

The reception seemed to be favourable, although it would have been good to sell a few more I guess. Creating the first album was an exciting step into the unknown, as we’d not worked together before, but after a couple of FADER and a brace of BLANCMANGE recordings, I’m constantly surprised, in a positive way, at Benge’s approach and the results therein.

Benge: The first album was a bit of an anomaly for us both really. It came out of a very unusual situation, and the results took us both by surprise, which is always a good thing.

On that album, I had written 90% of the music beforehand, on a trip to LA a few years before I had met Neil. The tracks had been sitting on a hard drive waiting for someone to put vocals on them. I was lucky enough to meet Neil one day and the idea was suggested that we collaborate on an album project, and FADER was born.

The reception was really great to the debut – maybe because no one was expecting it, and maybe also because it had a fairly unique and original sound to it, which was the result of the unique process we had gone through to get it made.

The follow-up ‘In Shadow’ as the title suggests, appears to be darker and moodier in tone?

Neil: When Benge sent over his initial instrumental ideas, I thought the tracks were more melodic than those on ‘First Light’, which I thought would lead to a lighter tone and feel, but when it came to doing the lyrics, I just followed my noise and went down a moodier path!

Benge: The second album also came about in quite an odd way, because neither of us had sat down together and decided to write new material for it really. It was another case of me sending a whole bunch of tracks over to Neil, and him listening to them all and hearing a sonic theme and then working on the vocals and lyrics and responding to my tracks.

I have a way of working sometimes where I will set up a synth and a sequencer or drum machine in the corner of the studio and leave it there for a week or so, with a tape to record any little sketches I might come up with while I am exploring. After several months, I found I had a bunch of tracks that sounded like they might work as new FADER material, because they had a certain simple melodic structure to them that I thought Neil would get his head round and twist it all up with his vocals. So as I say, I sent them all over to him in a zip file and waited for a response. A few days later these amazing songs started popping up in my in box. It was really exciting for me.

Has insomnia been a factor and given more time for deeper thinking?

Neil: Well, for various reasons I don’t sleep to well or when I do get some rest, I don’t sleep for long. That does lead to some early morning mind wanderings.

Is the core of the creative dynamic to be in the same room for each song’s conception, or is remote working the fastest, most practical method?

Neil: The practicals dictate on the whole how we work. That said, I like this method, at first working remotely, exchanging ideas, as the project starts to take its shape. It’s like getting a musical present or surprise, each time I see a WeTransfer arrive from Benge. As I mentioned earlier, always a surprise!

But when you do get together at the MemeTune base in remote Cornwall, it must be a wonderful place to work with no city distractions?

Neil: It’s a brilliant studio to work in and when the perspective is needed, there’s always the dog to be walked up on Bodmin, the pub, the coast or a bike ride.

Benge: Yes, that’s my favourite bit of the process, when you get together in the studio and you can hear an album take shape. It’s a magical thing. The songs begin to make sense (if that’s possible with Neil’s lyrics!), and the things that need to be done on each song reveal themselves all of a sudden.

Sometimes it’s a case of maybe adding a synth line, tweaking an arrangement, or maybe taking things away and simplifying the track as much as possible.

Is ‘Always Suited Blue’ fuelled by a dislike of politicians maybe?

Neil: I have a dislike for some politicians, the careerist, self-serving, bullying type, who are no use, to man nor beast, but no, it’s not fuelled by that.

Some of the album’s vocals are deeper than say the more recent BLANCMANGE work, like on ‘What Did It Say’ and ‘Reporting’? The latter just captures a total air of resignation…

Neil: I think from memory, I did some of the vocals sitting down. That could have got me taking a more intimate and deeper tone. I’ve always had a pretty low voice, maybe it’s breaking!

The approaches to ‘Midnight Caller’, ‘What Did It Say?’ and ‘Whispering’ are quite minimal?

Neil: Benge and I spend a lot of time editing out during the mix stage, to see how little is needed to complete the track. Sometimes there’s a tendency to add layers, because you can and maybe there’s an idea that seems to work with the one that’s already there.

But if the original sound, or part is standing up for itself, why add to it? So we don’t, we save that idea for another song, another time.

‘Enemy Fighter’ pulls out a bit of drum n bass, but what might it be referring to, is it literal or metaphoric?

Neil: Lyrically, it centres on a characters moment of reflection, while in the heat of a battle and in a certain death situation. The tuned vocals seemed to fit.

What sort of instruments were you largely turning to for ‘In Shadow’, had there been any particular paint palette set behorehand?

Benge: The songs were each borne from a handful of monosynths and polysynths as I mentioned before, all of them being from the late 1970s or early 80s. If I remember correctly, the main ones were Korg DV800, Roland Jupiter 6, Oberheim Xpander, Roland SH101 and then some early digital drum machines, like the Casio RZ1, Korg DDD1 and Roland TR505.

So what was this Butler 100 synth Neil was referring to in his last BLANCMANGE interview that Benge later commented didn’t exist? *laughs*

Neil: Ha ha, I think when we did the interview you misheard. We had been using a Buchla synth.

It got Benge and I inventing imaginary synth names – the Jeeves 2000, Wooster V2. PG 808 etc.

Benge: My favourite synth of all time – the Lambert & Butler Sound Modulator 400

NEAR FUTURE have done and CREEP SHOW + KINCAID are going out live, would that be a possibility for FADER in the future?

Neil: We do talk about that. It would be great. How about the Minack theatre?

Benge: Or the Eden Project gift shop?


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to FADER

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management

‘In Shadow’ is released by Blanc Check Records on 25th October 2019 in CD and download formats, pre-order from https://fader.tmstor.es/

https://www.facebook.com/WeAreFader

https://twitter.com/WeAre_Fader


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
30th September 2019

BLANCMANGE Wanderlust

Arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge at the latter’s Memetune Studios in Cornwall, the new BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ is focussed on “the pretence of a normal world being erased.”

BLANCMANGE’s first phase produced just three albums ‘Happy Families’, ‘Mange Tout’ and ‘Believe You Me’ before art college friends Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe parted ways amicably in 1987.

But since his 21st Century return in 2011 with ‘Blanc Burn’, frontman Neil Arthur has become possibly the most prolific man in electronic music.

‘Wanderlust’ is the sixth long player of this second phase and all this without including Neil Arthur’s side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE or the ‘Happy Families Too’ rework.

Beginning with ‘Distant Storm’, this is an unusual but brilliant BLANCMANGE tune with its incessant dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic; with a rousing, almost spiritual quality, there are even elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure.

Following on, ‘In Your Room’ is a great slice of vintage cold wave synth, with a vocoder aesthetic and an assortment of manipulated sounds.

The heavily percussive ‘I Smashed Your Phone’ uses noise and electronics to deal with the sensitive issue of domestic abuse, while the amusing ‘Gravel Drive Syndrome’ provides commentary on social climbing and keeping up with the Jones’ aided by an Eno-esque VCS3 joystick solo.

‘Talking To Machines’ deals with Arthur’s continuing love / hate relationship with smart phones and what is now becoming anti-social media, but also as he put it: “this Kafka-esque nightmare just to get to the person you want to talk to.”

Like a sombre Northern English KRAFTWERK, the marvellous metronomic ‘Not A Priority’ also adds the resonance of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE with some chilling string machine; “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else” Arthur exclaims as Hannah Peel harmonises and counterpoints this marvellous concoction with her soprano stylings.

Inspired by the smarmy Victorian–minded politician and ‘Walter The Softy’ impersonator Jacob Rees-Mogg, the swirly robopop of ‘TV Debate’ captures Arthur’s anger at the state of the nation in a musical cross between PLASTIC ONO BAND and THE FLYING LIZARDS; “I’m creating imagery and now I’ve got politicians doing a conga, it’s a mess!” he reflected to The Electricity Club about the song, “We’re a nation who watch cookery programmes but can barely cook!”

Featuring David Rhodes on guitar, the heavier tones of ‘Leaves’, with its looming reverberant textures and discordant reverses, continues the gloomier mood before the Linn and guitar driven resignation of ‘White Circle, Black Space’. And with the aid of some haunting Vox Machina computer voices, the closing bittersweet title track explores the longing to be somewhere else while swathed in Roland vocoder towards the song’s conclusion.

“I’m catching up in what I think is unfinished business” Neil Arthur remarked on his artistic drive, “I’m just in a position where I’m experimenting all the time. I do what I want and it’s a bonus that some people like it.”

Possibly his best body of work as BLANCMANGE in its 21st Century incarnation, Neil Arthur has undoubtedly found comfort from working with Benge on what is effectively their third album together.

That comfort has also provided an appealing palette of electronic sounds that acts as a fine platform for his not-so-merry lyrical witticism.


‘Wanderlust’ is released by Blanc Check on 19th October 2018 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats, available from http://blancmange.tmstor.es/

BLANCMANGE 2018 ‘Wanderlust’ tour includes:

Norwich Arts Centre (1st November), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (2nd November), Cardiff Acapela (3rd November), Bristol The Fleece (4th November), Darwen Library Theatre (7th November), 8 Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms (8th November), Glasgow Oran More (9th November), Newcastle The Cluny (10th November), Brighton The Old Market (15th November), Southampton Brook (16th November), Dover Booking Hall (17th November), Wolverhampton Robin 2 (22nd November), Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd November), Northampton Roadmender (24th November), Leeds The Wardrobe (29th November), Derby Flowerpot (30th November)

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/BlancmangeMusic

https://twitter.com/_blancmange_

https://www.instagram.com/neilarthur/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd September 2018

BLANCMANGE: The Wanderlust Interview

BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur is probably the most prolific man in electronic music at the moment.

Hot on the heels of 2017’s ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ comes ‘Wanderlust’, an album which sees a more expansive sonic palette after the minimalistic approach of its predecessor.

Co-produced again by Benge, the synth collector extraordinaire best known for his work in JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW, it sees the continuation of a productive relationship which has also led to artists such as John Grant and Hannah Peel contributing their talents to the BLANCMANGE cannon.

Although best known for hit singles like ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Blind Vision’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’, since the return of BLANCMANGE in 2011, there have been no less than six full length albums released, twice as many as there were during the first phase… and all this without including Neil Arthur’s side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE.

In a break from making preparations to head out on another concert tour this Autumn, Neil Arthur kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about the making of BLANCMANGE’s latest opus.

‘Wanderlust’ comes over as possibly one of your best bodies of work during your 21st Century comeback? What are your thoughts?

I’m just digesting what you just said!! *laughs*

It’s difficult from my point of view to answer that question because obviously, I’m very close to it and it’s not long since I’ve finished it. I’m about to dissemble and deconstruct the whole thing to understand it in a different way to take it out on tour.

As far as writing and producing it, you’re always learning. I don’t want to repeat anything really. You’re always looking to surprise yourself and if it continues like that, I’m happy.

I don’t really have a formula, I’m just following my nose. I know it’s a bit dark and I’m not writing; even in the old stuff like ‘Blind Vision’, ok it was a pop song because it had dance grooves in it, but it’s not exactly a happy song. Neither is ‘God’s Kitchen’ or ‘Feel Me’ or ‘I’ve Seen The Word’.

The sound is sort of fuller, a bit more expansive maybe?

I don’t like putting too much in, like with ‘Unfurnished Room’s which was pretty minimal at times, there was a deliberate thing to really strip back. But with ‘Wanderlust’, I didn’t concern myself so much with that, although me and Benge didn’t put anything on it that wasn’t needed. If each individual part can’t stand up, you don’t put something over the top to cover it up!

What I did was write the songs and send them down to Benge… we started replacing some sounds but my guitar stayed. Although David Rhodes is playing on one track, he didn’t do the others because Benge felt the guitar was working and served the purpose. With each of the synths, quite often we would replace but not add, we were just looking for better sounds. Benge is an analogue synth master, he has access to all this equipment but we don’t use everything.

Were there any particular synths you’d not used before that you got to play with?

We used a Canadian synth called a Modcan and I’d never even seen one before, plus we used a Putney and I played it with the joystick on ‘Gravel Drive Syndrome’. There’s also a Butler 100 which I remember we used on the ‘Wanderlust’ track itself.

There are probably more verses and choruses on this album, it just came out that way although lyrically, I’m just carrying on my not-so-merry way. I’m trying to be as honest as I can, I feel so lucky to be able to do what I want to do, for better or for worse, exactly how I want it.

Putting it together is so exciting. Some of the synths we use never sound the same twice! *laughs*

Has some of the sonic progress come because you are now comfortable working with Benge as this is your third album together? Is he now someone you can trust to bounce off and realise your ideas in the way you did with Stephen Luscombe?

It’s a very different situation, I don’t think there’s any comparison actually. Studios were very expensive back then and we only got in there when got a big record deal. Today, technology and the digital process allows you to do a lot of stuff as prep to take into another environment like the fantastic space Benge has, and that frees you up because you’re not clock watching. But we don’t just spend endless weeks there, Benge has lots of projects on, so we do have to think quite carefully about how to get all this done.

You make decisions quickly and stick with it, which is not a bad thing. You have to let stuff go, you could fiddle around forever and maybe make it better, but how much better?

When I work on FADER with Benge, it’s completely different approach because whereas with BLANCMANGE, I write the embryonic songs and I take them to Benge so we develop them further. In FADER, Benge will send me the embryonic musical idea and I’m reacting to what he’s given me.

Aspects of that are how me and Stephen would work. But we’d rarely sit and write a song absolutely together ever. It could be Stephen would come up with an idea and I’d react to it, or I’d come up with an idea and he’d react to it. Sometimes, one of us would write most of it on our own and then offer it into the pot.

‘Distant Storm’ is unusual with its dance beats and arpeggios, it has an almost spiritual quality about it?

Sometimes you’re writing, you think “oh, I should do something with more dancey grooves” and quite a few songs start off like that; ‘Last Night (I Dreamt I Had A Job)’ from ‘Commuter 23’ started as a loop and developed from there but it doesn’t tend to extend through the album.

But this time, I wanted to do more dance grooves, ‘Insomniac Tonight’ which is not on the album was one and ‘Distant Storm’ was another; I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized. So the song went down this route, we had a sequence going and Benge added another one to it and dropped it down so it went to nothing. KINCAID has done a remix which is sounding terrific.

‘In Your Room’ is a nice bit of robopop? Was it influenced by anyone in particular musically?

That started life a number of years ago and I kept it on the backburner, it felt right for this album. The intention was to leave it pretty minimal… lyrically it was about being content with something quite simple, to keep away from being out there, of being in your comfort zone. The idea came from when I used to visit my partner when she was a student, that to be together was enough.

With those two, you play with vocal treatments a lot, something which is quite prominent on the album overall including the closing title track?

On ‘Wanderlust’, we used a Roland vocoder to treat some of the vocal parts in the latter part of the song and we felt it worked better at that point. You sometimes have to back off a bit and give a bit more space by changing the sound of the vocal, to create a more interesting type of vista sonically.

‘Not A Priority’ is like gloomy KRAFTWERK, I first thought those female backing vocals were you pitch shifting yourself and then I found out it was Hannah Peel!!

Ha ha! Hannah’s going to be well pleased when I tell her that! *laughs*

The idea of this was to keep it really simple and I wanted the music to carry the voice and storyline, so it’s borderline minimal wave. I wanted the vocal to be a straight delivery and it was Benge who suggested Hannah to sing higher register backing vocals. When she sent it back, she’d added vocal treatments other than on the chorus, so we used some of those which was fantastic.

I’m happy for people to have their own interpretation and if I start saying “this is what the song is about”, it’s a bit like telling you the last page of a book before you’d read the first, I like people to make their own minds up.

It drives me nuts when I see people living their lives in certain ways on social media, you’re thinking “hold on a minute, what about the rest of the people? Ease up a minute!”

There’s this feeling of a lack of empathy in the world and sometimes, you get the impression that people don’t see each other as equals in so-called friendship situations. I think a lot of this is down to the things that can be said without feeling the ramifications of what’s been said, for example via social media or text message or email. They’re very impersonal but to the reader, they can carry a massive weight. It’s very easily misconstrued.

Beyond that, in friendships, there are feelings where it’s not reciprocal, there’s not a balance. We all deserve to be respected, it’s an extension of that but you get the impression some people value themselves higher than certain friends. It’s very easy to distance themselves from the reality of what’s going on.

People will say things in a text message what they wouldn’t be able to say looking you in the eye. How did you think I was going to feel? It’s going to be much better just to have a talk about this.

‘Talking To Machines’, continues your love / hate relationship with smart phones and what is now becoming anti-social media?

There’s the ambiguity there. Everybody’s had this experience to try and deal with anything from banks, government departments or whatever it might be, you’ve got to go through this Kafka-esque nightmare just to get to the person you want to talk to. So there’s that which is on a sort of superficial level.

But there’s other side of it when you could be having a conversation with somebody and you might as well be talking to a f***ing machine and they’re in the same room as you, it’s like talking to a brick wall! *laughs*

I like the idea of how we do talk to a lot of machines these days, but we interact with them. I mean, I’ve made a lot of music with them and I love it, I talk to them and they talk back to me. My reference for the music was actually PLASTIC ONO BAND and a bit of THE FLYING LIZARDS! There’s a good and a bad thing…

‘TV Debate’ covers politics and nobodies becoming celebs? There’s rather a lot of it at the moment!

I gave myself a bet that I could get Jacob Rees-Mogg, the b*stard, into a lyric! Smarmy b*stard! *LAUGHS LOUDLY*

I was listening to the radio one morning rather quietly and the bits I picked up, these words came out and I thought “I’m going to have them!”. I had been listening to some Northern Soul so when it got to the chorus, I thought I’d put that sort of rhythm on it and it went from there, this kind of poem that found itself in a song. It’s just disjointed fragments of observations.

I like what you’ve said, but the intention is to provoke some thoughts. I’m creating imagery and now I’ve got politicians doing a conga, it’s a mess! We’re a nation who watch cookery programmes but can barely cook!

You are extremely prolific and have now done twice as many BLANCMANGE albums as you did in your first phase, and this does not include NEAR FUTURE and FADER. How do you do it?

I am driven to write, it’s my art and I want to be creative. It’s one of the places I’m happiest and most comfortable. I’m bloody lucky to get to do it because I have a fantastic manager who helps create situations where I’m able to collaborate with new people, like Jez Bernholz and Benge.

I have no intentions of stopping and will do it as long as I am able to in the future. Within reason because I have my own label, we release when we want to. I’m not thinking about having to write singles and I’m not a young man anymore, I don’t do a lot of interviews or many photo sessions, all these things. But I’m happiest writing. although I love performing live… I don’t particularly enjoy touring, but enjoy the bit on stage.

Although I did a lot of stuff in the intervening years after BLANCMANGE first stopped, I’m catching up in what I think is unfinished business, I’m just in a position where I’m experimenting all the time. I do what I want and it’s a bonus that some people like it. I absolutely love collaborating, I’d advise anybody to do it.

With two albums released in two years, that must throw up some interesting conundrums with the setlist for the upcoming tour? How much flexibility can you give it in terms of pre-programming and learning new songs?

A good question! I don’t have a direct answer, obviously I’m promoting ‘Wanderlust’ so there will be a number of songs off there, and I haven’t decided which ones yet. We’re going to do a couple from the last album, but I’m thinking of a couple of surprises from several decades ago and giving them an airing. There will be the usual suspects because I know that the dedicated audience who come to see us, although they embrace the new material, they really enjoy hearing some of the old stuff.

It will be a balance, I’ve got quite a catalogue now as well as the stuff Stephen and I did all those years ago, so there’s a lot of songs to choose from. We normally do about 22 songs in rehearsal and a couple don’t make it but they’re there in case we decide to change it while were on tour.

But once we’re there, we tend to jiggle it round and then it’s bedded in and that’s how it’s going to be.


The Electricity Club gives it sincerest thanks to Neil Arthur

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Music Management

‘Wanderlust’ is released by Blanc Check on 19th October 2018 in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats, pre-order from http://blancmange.tmstor.es/

BLANCMANGE 2018 ‘Wanderlust’ tour includes:

Norwich Arts Centre (1st November), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (2nd November), Cardiff Acapela (3rd November), Bristol The Fleece (4th November), Darwen Library Theatre (7th November), 8 Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms (8th November), Glasgow Oran More (9th November), Newcastle The Cluny (10th November), Brighton The Old Market (15th November), Southampton Brook (16th November), Dover Booking Hall (17th November), Wolverhampton Robin 2 (22nd November), Gloucester Guild Hall (23rd November), Northampton Roadmender (24th November), Leeds The Wardrobe (29th November), Derby Flowerpot (30th November)

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/BlancmangeMusic

https://twitter.com/_blancmange_


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait Photos by Piers Allardyce
Studio Photos Courtesy of Neil Arthur
3rd September 2018

NEAR FUTURE Ideal Home

Neil Arthur and Jez Bernholz are NEAR FUTURE, a project featuring the BLANCMANGE front man and the Brighton based artist who also co-founded the Anti Ghost Moon Ray art collective that spawned GAZELLE TWIN , ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY and ANNEKA.

Their debut album ‘Ideal Home’ has been several years in the making, constructed through the modern medium of remote collaboration, although the pair have shared a stage on numerous occasions, notably on BLANCMANGE’s Semi Detached’ tour.

With both Arthur and Bernholz being vocalists as well as musicians, the pair experiment with voice-derived textures in NEAR FUTURE perhaps more than with their other work. Opening with the delightfully sombre ‘Ideal Home’ title track, it is a fractured number which takes a detached dual vocal into Eno-produced TALKING HEADS territory with a gently tribal rhythmic feel and asks “should I be full of regret?”

Meanwhile, ‘Field This’ is centred around a hypnotic bass mantra and a bleeping backbone surrounded by an impressionistic fourth world choir, as Arthur points to a period “pre-Madonna” while surreal lyrics recall “I remember when you were freshly peeled” before asking to “try semaphore”.

‘Overwhelmed’ captures shrill strings cocooned in an aural cavern with a claustrophobic Neil Arthur lead vocal that while recognisable, is quite different from anything by BLANCMANGE. The appropriately titled ‘Thought Terminating In Your Night’ sees Arthur’s voice raw and exposed before an eerie metronomic backdrop builds around him. The instrumental ‘Come And Play’ adopts a quite menacing atmosphere of synthetic chorals.

Based around a repetitive synth line, the spoken word art piece ‘Dawn’ features a skewed Bernholz reciting images of “coffee headaches” over sustained guitar sweeps and a building percussive rumble alongside uneasy thoughts of “teeth that felt like glassware”. But there’s the most amazing and chilling lead shimmer on ‘Gap In The Curtain’; driven by a primitive drum box, it comes over slightly like a contemplative OMD reimagining ‘Sad Day’… yes “you couldn’t make it up”.

Another spoken-word piece ‘Kites Over Waitrose’ is almost poetry over electronic backing with some exotic acoustic sounding Oriental textures where Arthur talks of the “scattering masses”, before closing with the sub-drone drama of ‘Bulk Erase’. Laced with a melancholic droll where “so much needs fixing but so little time”, Arthur takes the Eno-esque atmosphere into his own green world for “one thing at a time”, with the closing synthesized heartbeat echoing ULTRAVOX’s ‘Just For A Moment’.

‘Ideal Home’ is a fine debut record from NEAR FUTURE, and it’s one that sits well next to Neil Arthur’s BLANCMANGE and FADER as well as Jez Bernholz’s own brand of eccentric pop. It’s an extremely prolific period for Neil Arthur and with another BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ on the way in the Autumn, there will be even more escapist expressionism to come.


‘Ideal Home’ is released by Blanc Check Records on 25th May 2018, available in vinyl LP and CD formats, pre-order from https://nearfuture.tmstor.es

A NEAR FUTURE live show plus Q & A with Neil Arthur and Jez Bernholz takes place at The Institute of Light, 10 Helmsley Place, London E8 3SB on Thursday 6th September 2018

https://www.facebook.com/futureisnear/

https://twitter.com/_nearfuture


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th May 2018, updated 20th May 2018

NEAR FUTURE Interview

Photo by James Styler

Swelling in sonic density, NEAR FUTURE’s ten-track debut album ‘Ideal Home’ is an enjoyable experimental collection of songs and soundscapes.

From the art pop of the album’s title track and the serene ‘Gap In The Curtain’, to spoken word set pieces like ‘Dawn’, all blended in with assorted field recordings and neo-instrumentals, the album showcases the music combination of Neil Arthur and Jez Bernholz.

Arthur is best known as the front man of BLANCMANGE, while Bernholz will be remembered by some as the opening act on 2015’s ‘Semi Detached’ tour, having issued his first long player ‘How Things Are Made’ the year via the Anti Ghost Moon Ray art collective he co-founded with GAZELLE TWIN.

Having been involved in five albums since 2015, Neil Arthur is probably at the most prolific stage of his career. As well as juggling BLANCMANGE, there has also been FADER with Benge, resulting in the ‘Ideal Home’ album being several years in the making.

NEAR FUTURE kindly took time out to chat about their first full length fruit of labour and described how their partnership has allowed each of them to think outside of their regular artistic boxes to produce a quite unusual but accessible body of work.

Photo by GMB18

How would you each describe NEAR FUTURE compared with other projects you’ve been involved in?

Neil: Freeform. Good to share the work load. Half the pain, twice the gain!

Jez: Definitely. It’s been freeing as well, from a songwriting perspective. A lot less pressure than I put on myself as a solo artist.

You’ve shared live bills together but how was the bones of this album constructed? Has it been a lot of remote work?

Jez: I felt that it evolved from the email exchanges and anything goes approach, to when we prepared for our first live performance at Sensoria. Those rehearsals cemented everything for me, it gave the songs more structure and coherence.

Neil: Mainly by remote, with other parts on our meetings. The Sensoria cementing experience, followed by a trip to the home of gravity.

Being musicians of different generations, where did you find your common ground in influences and motivations?

Neil: No boundaries, anything goes. Discussions on lack of sleep and emergency repairs. Mundane everyday tasks, often became the detail of our focus I think.

Jez: The lyrics for me, ending the poetry in the everyday. We exchanged music by others and I discovered something new. I felt that subliminally we were both thinking of Michelson, NEU! and HARMONIA, but we never explicitly talked of other artists, it seemed to just gel naturally. Maybe I shouldn’t think too hard for fear of breaking the magic!

Photo by Richard Price

With you both being vocalists as well as musicians, how did you decide who would sing lead on particular tracks?

Neil: I think we only once discussed who would do the vocals on one song, ‘Dawn’.

We’d send ideas to each other, eventually it’d be time for a voice and somehow one appeared. A bit like choosing another synth sound really, oh yes, except there’s the words too.

Jez: My own view originally was that whoever wrote the music, the other person would eventually add a vocal to it. It didn’t quite end up that way but it definitely started in that way. I actually remember the track ‘Ideal Home’ coming more musically from Neil as a starting point and I finished it with the lyrics and vocals. ‘Overwhelmed’ came more from an inspired Neil vocal in response to some music that I had written. But in the end, it was just going instinctively with what felt right and trying out different things.

As a result of that, there appears to be a lot more experimentation in NEAR FUTURE with vocal texturing and processing?

Jez: Without any pressures with this project, I was definitely a chance to take that process further. I enjoyed the idea of Neil’s voice being so familiar to so many people and perhaps producing it in a way that would be totally unexpected, like on the track ’Thought Terminating’ where, as Neil says, it definitely fits with the music and the lyrics.

Neil: It seemed to fit not only the music and field recordings, but also the lyrics on some tracks.

The album’s title track ‘Ideal Home’ was also the first single, what do you remember of its genesis?

Neil: Jez started this idea off and wrote the lyrics. I chopped stuff up and moved the arrangement around a bit to fit the sounds added. Oh hold on… scrap that, it must have been another song. I’ll have to look through my hard drive, to find the origins of this. No doubt the title would have been changed knowing me.

Jez: I remember it completely the other way around! This was the first project that we did together and Neil had the basis track written and I did chop it up a lot and added the vocals and lyrics. Neil responded by adding his vocal and some other synth parts.

Neil: I found it. Of course, Jez is correct, I started it off and it was called ‘Pallet’ and stuck in my BLANCMANGE hard drive.

Photo by Richard Price

There’s a tribal rhythmic feel on a number of tracks?

Neil: As Jez mentions, it just felt right. Sometimes as you listen through to the song or parts that make up the track, you start to hear other stuff, that isn’t physically recorded, but is suggested by the interplay of what has been printed.

Jez: I think it just felt right, particularly on ‘Dawn’, like an angry pagan army coming over the hills with the sunrise behind them, some kind of reckoning; it somehow seemed appropriate.

You got a most amazing and chilling lead shimmer on ‘Gap In The Curtain’?

Jez: It’s a very, very heavily stacked combination of sounds from a PSS-170, about 40 different layered guitars, sax and a synth made from vocals and it just keeps building. Lots of reverb too. It really turned out nicely and it’s one of those elements that keeps the track unique to us, I don’t think it would be easily replicated.

‘Kites Over Waitrose’ is a great title and almost poetry over electronic backing, what inspired that?

Neil: Pincer movement panic buying! Jez sent some music over and we weren’t sure if it would be best left as an instrumental as I thought it worked without words. A while later, rifling through notes, I had these words and tried it out with the music, and our field recordings.

Jez: I love Neil’s lyrics for this. Again, I think he just captures the poetic mundanity of these otherwise forgettable moments. The title really does capture the duality of that.

Another spoken-word piece is ‘Dawn’…

Neil: I couldn’t sleep, so went to do some writing and heard this amazing early dawn chorus, that I recorded on the phone.

When I listened back to it, there in the background was this mechanical throbbing rhythm. I enhanced that with synths, then Jez took over and came back with these wonderful words. Last, we added the feedback sounds.

Jez: I’d had some words for a while which I could never really make fit without them sounding rushed.

When I saw Neil’s working title ‘Dawn’ for the music, it made me think about how my life had changed since the birth of my son, and I revisited those words with more clarity about what they meant, added more to them referring not only the past, but also the near future. The pace of the music gave me the impetus to speak slowly, and they worked nicely.

‘Field This’ has a quite mechanical backbone, is the “prima-donna” referring to anyone in particular and where is this “car park” that was?

Neil: Ha ha! Yes well, last thing first, the car park was in Leeds and first thing last, the story line is set in the time before Madonna. So it’s pre-Madonna. Not though, pre-Maradonna!

The neo-instrumental ‘Come & Play’ has a quite claustrophobic atmosphere?

Jez: It is definitely about that, like being allured to stay somewhere that’s maybe not quite right, there’s something sinister underneath it all.

Is NEAR FUTURE likely to hit the road alongside your other commitments?

Neil: No doubt.

Jez: ASAP.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to NEAR FUTURE

Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR

‘Ideal Home’ is released by Blanc Check Records on 25th May 2018, available in vinyl LP and CD formats, pre-order from https://nearfuture.tmstor.es

https://www.facebook.com/futureisnear/

https://twitter.com/_nearfuture


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
28th April 2018

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