With his third album, Finlay Shakespeare has produced his most pop work yet in ‘Illusion + Memory’.

Released by experimental musician Luke Younger’s Alter label, ‘Illusion + Memory’ is the follow-up to 2020’s ‘Solemnities’ which came out on Editions Mego, the independent record company established by the late Peter Rehberg to champion underground electronic music.

A graduate in audio engineering and an independent musical device manufacturer via his Future Sound Systems, Finlay Shakespeare is above all, an electronic pop fan with a love of KRAFTWERK, THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ASSOCIATES, OMD and JAPAN that came via his parents’ vast record collection.

With a passionate heart for sonically immersive electronic pop, the vocal delivery of Finlay Shakespeare can be intense and anguished although ‘Illusion + Memory’ reveals a more romantic nature to his music.

He kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the new approaches he took in the production of his new album, his revived enthusiasm for live work and a new project with Neil Arthur of BLANCMANGE…

How do you look back on ‘Solemenities’ and its reception?

I think I’ve come a long way since that record, but it’ll always be special to me as it was my last album where Peter Rehberg from Editions Mego had a direct involvement. The release time coincided almost perfectly with Europe going into lockdown, so I remember it being rather stressful for all involved. The actual subject matter of the album, at least at the time of writing, seemed pretty sensational to me, always thinking “this end of the world stuff won’t happen”, though what we’ve seen over the last few years has gotten very close. It’s quite bizarre.

Does ‘Illusion + Memory’ have a theme?

Not directly, it’s influenced by a bunch of different things I’m into. Somehow it’s come out as the most “song based” thing I’ve done so far, though that wasn’t a particular aim.

I remember wanting to play with structure more deeply, but I’m unsure I really got that far with it, just getting distracted with sequencers instead!

Did you alter your equipment set up to inspire different ideas and approaches?

To a degree, yes… I was able to finish off a lot of DIY synthesizer projects over lockdown, so I ended up going back into the studio with a lot more equipment, particularly patchable analogue stuff. Parts of that equipment make an appearance on most tracks of the album in fact, so there’s perhaps a shift in sound palette thanks to that.

‘Theresa’ reveals a romantic side to you that hasn’t been heard before and has led to you adopting different vocal delivery styles?

Perhaps… the subject matter of Theresa is rather dark, but also relates to strength in the face of brutality. I thought the vocals should reflect that, and I’ve always been a fan of big overdubbed vocal sounds. I think I’ve also gotten a little more confident with using my voice – it’s something I’m always trying to push further.

The opener ‘Your Side of the River’ is like the ultimate homage to Synth Britannia, what is it actually about?

I don’t know! I had a few of the lyrics bouncing around in my head for years and it was time to turn them into something real. The musical elements also grew out of how I used to open the live set. Ironically I moved round the corner from a river after writing the song – I have to cross it on my way to work – so it all felt quite suitable.

‘Always’ appears to recall elements of Peter Gabriel’s 4th album but how did it come together?

‘Always’ began life by playing with the small Buchla system I had DIY’d over lockdown – that’s the first thing you hear in that track. I had this little arpeggiated thing going with the really lovely Buchla oscillator and recorded some of that, then came back to it weeks later. I remember trying to make the drums sound big but not overpowering – trying to mimic the style Liam Hutton has when he plays with BLANCMANGE in fact! Also trying to make my song structures more interesting, although still relatively simple.

Although the album has more of a song-based pop element, ‘Climb’ is the more experimental one…

Well, ‘Climb’ started as a test recording. I had been building some Serge modular equipment for some friends, and the sequence running through is a test of a programmer I built to complement the system. I knew I needed to do something with it, so the recordings made their way to the studio and were augmented by all sorts… there are a lot of toy Casio keyboards in that track!

Talking of experimentation, is that guitar making its presence felt about a third into ‘Ici’ which mutates over the various sections of its six plus minutes?

No guitar on that one, but a fair bit scattered throughout the rest of the record! That part in ‘Ici’ is a Yamaha string machine hooked up to a semi-broken Fender amp.

‘I Saw You’ could be considered classic Finlay Shakespeare, does this have its roots in earlier material you hadn’t used?

Nope! Akin to ‘Climb’, the sequence that runs through came from the programmer I built, but this time controlling a TTSH, the ARP2600 clone. I wanted that track to feel like it was filling up to the brim, eventually overflowing. Every part is a little out of tune with the next, and by the end the mix itself pretty much gets overdriven.

You play with Motorik rhythms on ‘Ready Ready’ with some rather nice synth tones, what was its inspiration?

It’s an absolute rip off of OMD’s ‘2nd Thought’! Lyrically, I had been reading a lot about numbers stations, and there was a theory that one of the automated voices might have come from an agent’s wife. I thought it would be interesting to write a song based around that – feeling at home through just a voice on the shortwave, when in fact you don’t know where you are and you could be in the crosshairs at any time and place. Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘The Spy’ was another influence on this one.

Were you channelling your inner Vangelis on ‘Upcoming’?

Not quite, though of course I can hear the resemblance. If anything, I was going after a ‘Europe Endless’-esque top line. That part, once again, actually came from testing some equipment – a really cheap Alesis reverb that has this very evident echoing on long decay settings. You can hear that in the track from the offset, and that set the tempo of what became ‘Upcoming’.

A few years ago, you seemed to have become disillusioned with live work but you have been out and about performing again, most recently on a bill with Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones in their SUNROOF modular guise?

It’s tricky – I absolutely love playing live, but it’s becoming logistically and financially harder and harder to do so, especially in the UK. With Brexit, European promoters are understandably far more anxious to book any British acts. It’s a case of finding the right crowds at home too. Over the last year or so, it’s felt like I am finding an audience perhaps more suited to what I do, but there are still certainly times where I end up playing to the venue staff only. Getting people out of their homes to experience something that might be out of their comfort zone can be very difficult. The recent gig at Iklectik was easily one of the best UK experiences I’ve had though, particularly down south.

Your GOTO label has released some interesting stuff by people like Bella Unwin and the eponymous EP by LICKING ORCHIDS, is it progressing as you had hoped?

If anything it’s been somewhat overwhelming! I’m hugely grateful for the support the label’s received, and it’s great being able to put music I love into the world and share it with a wider audience. There’s more music in the pipeline, and really looking forward to seeing the roster grow.

What is next for you?

More recording – I already have the bones of an album that need fleshing out. The music is quite different I think, mainly because I’m trying to push my process and the equipment into different places. I also have some super exciting collaborative projects on the horizon – stay tuned!

One is THE REMAINDER; I was invited by Neil Arthur of BLANCMANGE to add some electronic elements and treatments to some tracks him and Liam Hutton had been working on. This slowly developed into a to-and-fro session sharing project that we made good progress on over the UK COVID lockdowns. At the point we realised we had an album up together, we found the time to meet at my studio in Bristol and get the whole thing mixed. As far as I understand, it’s been quite a long process – I only really came onboard halfway through, if not further in – so it’s quite an honour to be invited to work with Neil and Liam on all this! The album is called ‘Evensong’ and released 14th July 2023.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Finlay Shakespeare

‘Illusion + Memory’ released by Alter in vinyl LP and online formats via https://lnk.to/IllusionMemory

Finlay Shakespeare appears with Nik Void + Russell Haswell at Bloc in Glasgow on Wednesday 31st May 2023 and with Chain of Flowers + Beauty Parlour Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff on 1st June 2023







Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
28th May 2023