No strangers to beautifully textured electronic ballads, London based CULT WITH NO NAME return after their previous release ‘Mediaburn’ with their tenth opus entitled ‘Nights In North Sentinel’.
Erik Stein and John Boux apart from popping out studio albums, contributed to soundtrack productions and around their fifth long player ‘Above As Below’ started extensive collaborations with the likes of Kelli Ali (the voice of SNEAKER PIMPS), Blaine L. Reininger, Bruce Geduldig and Luc van Lieshout of TUXEDOMOON, ex-STRANGLERS and Peter Gabriel guitarist John Ellis and Meg Maryatt of 17 PYGMIES.
At the invitation from David Lynch himself, CWNN were commissioned by German filmmaker Peter Braatz to produce the soundtrack for ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’; Both TUXEDOMOON and John Foxx were also involved.
Kelli Ali and Blaine L. Reininger return on the latest offering, with the former present on the opener ‘All Those Things I Admire’, which sets the melancholic mood with a superbly gentle ballad; simplistic yet wholesome, full of scant electronic elements pleasing the most discerning listeners. The following ‘Noa’s Arc’ has WOLFSHEIM-like connotations over its bustling darkwave; a more urgent rhythm, evocative of ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’ meeting early PET SHOP BOYS.
‘The Automatic Day’ is mournfully OMD-ish, while ‘Fight or Flight’ borrows Eastern sounds, to weave them into bluesy patches, reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s greatest achievements. ‘You’re All You Ever Needed’ picks up the tempo with scrumptiously pulsating electronica, stripped to simplistic elements. Although minimalistic, the piece is larger than life, built up with stunning backing vocals and wistful melody.
Blaine L. Reininger joins in on the magnificent waltz ‘After The Storm’. Heart pulling strings, mournful piano and touch of gloom create sadness and longing, leading into ‘(Some Things Are) Better In Groups’. Oh hello, ERASURE-esque elements placed alongside moderate calmness, blossoming into an ear-friendly piece of positivity.
‘Home Again’ drags one onto the dance floor unexpectedly, followed by ‘Bulletproof’, with its sorrowful lyrics and adequately downcast musicality. In true NEW ORDER style, ‘This Means War’ oscillates rapidly, to weave away towards the tongue-in-cheek ‘Cult With No Name’, culminating in climactic ‘Ruins’.
The closing track, true to CWNN’s form, is nutritiously full of synth, gloriously flowing in and out of consciousness and wraps the product beautifully.
While for some, it’s difficult to marry electronica with easy listening popular music, CULT WITH NO NAME do it with experience and know how, connecting perfect songwriting skills with apt lyrics and stunning musicality.
‘Nights In North Sentinel’ is dreamy, calming and wistful, leading away from life’s surprises and making the receiver float out of their consciousness and transcend above, never quite to return to reality. This is for anyone wishing to forget themselves for a while and dream, dream, dream…
With their two most recent albums ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’, CULT WITH NO NAME have consolidated their position as “post-punk balladeers”.
The duo comprising the suave figure of crooner Erik Stein and the understated ivory virtuoso of Jon Boux issued their first album ‘Paper Wraps Rock’ in 2007. What CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of is mood, but their artistic progression has included more expansive and electronic arrangements.
In the middle of writing and recoding the next CULT WITH NO NAME album, Erik Stein took time out to chat about their most recent works and also the conundrum of practical packaging for compact discs.
Both ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Media Burn’ appear to have gained wider traction than previous CULT WITH NO NAME, why do you think that might be?
I guess so. A lot of that will have had to do with the success of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, the soundtrack for the David Lynch documentary we recorded with TUXEDOMOON and John Foxx.
The wonderful thing about ‘BVR’ is that it has had at least four lives. Originally, the soundtrack was due to be released alongside the film, but delays to the film meant it was released a whole year beforehand in 2015. So, we had tonnes of press for the soundtrack, followed by another tonne of press for the film when it came out a year later.
The film had a really long life, touring festivals around the world for a year or two. Then, just as that started to fall away, The Criterion Collection reissued ‘Blue Velvet’ on Blu-Ray (inexplicably only Region 1) and included ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ as the main extra at David Lynch’s own request. And then, just as the publicity from that started to fall away, HBO Italy licensed one of the tracks from it (‘Lumberton’) for their series ‘The New Pope’, starring Jude Law and John Malkovich. Spotify plays went through the roof, not that that ever amounts to anything apart from some nice graphs.
All of this has helped keep our profile quite high, which is so important given that we don’t perform live particularly often.
That’s not a conscious decision, by the way, it’s just when faced with spending a day working on music or emailing promoters, I know which I’d choose. Being relentlessly focused on recording has helped us at least be prolific, which also helps.
Would it be fair to say ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ are companion albums musically?
Personally, I don’t see them that way, but if people do that’s fine of course. We actually see ‘Heir Of The Dog’ as our ‘Americana’ album. As well as having a wonderful black American singer Sirena Riley perform on it, there are a few nods stylistically. ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ is kind of disco, ‘I Don’t Fear The Reaper (Just Don’t Want To Meet Her)’ is kind of blues, ‘Of California’ is kind of gospel, and ‘All I Have is Yours (Including You)’ is kind of croonerish. All in their peculiar semi-electronic way. As an album, I think the tracks hang together better than any other album we’ve done.
‘Mediaburn’, on the other hand, is a bit more all over the place musically, but is lyrically much more thematic, not that most people pay attention to lyrics. There’s no deliberate link between the two. We tend to treat every single song completely independently from the last, sometimes to a fault. For the next album we’re trying to make more of a conscious effort to use consistent sounds.
I interviewed Paul Humphreys of OMD in his home studio once and I always remember him saying that you should start an album with a palette of sounds to draw from and restrict yourself to it. You can really hear that on OMD albums. Take ‘Junk Culture’ as an example. That album has a sound totally unique to it in terms of OMD’s discography. The problem is, I get very easily distracted. Luckily Jon Boux (the other half of CWNN) is much more consistent with his sound choices although much more freehand in how it applies it (a good thing).
You had the usual supporting cast of Kelli Ali and the guys from TUXEDOMOON on board as well?
I recently sent Kelli Ali the tracks for the next album and she loves it, so will be adding stuff to that too.
She really is like a third member of CWNN now and always so wonderful to hear her say such nice things about us.
I don’t want CWNN’s sound to get too ‘typecast’ but Kelli’s voice really does add something special and we complement each other well. We’ve also been helping with her excellent ‘Ghostdriver’ film and album, including some attempts at acting from yours truly. ‘Ghostdriver’ is genuinely a superb album.
With Steven Brown and Blaine L Reininger from TUXEDOMOON, I’m partly still indulging the musical fantasy of having some of my musical heroes play on our albums. It’s ridiculous really, I mean they’re friends now and we’ve recorded and released a very successful album together. Of course, that’s not to take away the vitally important contributions they make. Blaine’s violin on ‘By Air Or By Sea’ on ‘Mediaburn’ makes that track what it is. It’s funny, I’m so close to the TUXEDOMOON story now that I sometimes forget how amazing and influential their records still are and just how big a fan I was in my 20s.
‘Heir Of The Dog’ contains two distinct types of songs, the CWNN signature piano ballads and more obviously midtempo electronic pop?
We’re just carrying on a tradition from the very first album, although each album has probably got a little more electronic than the last. That’s partly to do with confidence in the technology, if I’m honest.
The piano ‘ballads‘ (none are actual ballads) are still crucially important. It’s all too easy to surrender and make a record of only electronic ‘pop’.
I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but the extreme restrictions of piano + voice, or whatever you choose, can push you to be more creative. It certainly helps us stand out, in the quietest kind of way. It’s also worth noting that two piano ballads ‘You Know Me Better Than I Know Myself’ and ‘Swept Away’ are in the top five most popular CWNN tracks. A lot of people say ‘Swept Away’ is the best song we’ve ever written.
‘Rosabelle, Believe’ fell into that latter category, how did that come together?
Musically, it’s dead simple. I had the main riff on guitar, transposed that to synths and it went from there. It’s only three chords. Steven Brown’s sax is great on it too. It was an obvious track for him to perform on.
Lyrically, it’s an interesting one. I have quite a big interest in magic. Not occultism (I’ve really tried, but no), but the actual artistry of magic… slight of hand, chopping people in leotards in half, making things disappear, that sort of thing. Harry Houdini famously spent the final few years of his life trying to reveal mediums as fakes. He even offered up rewards for anyone that could demonstrate to him it was real. Then Houdini famously got punched in the stomach, which ultimately lead to his early death.
On his deathbed he made a pact with his wife Bess to carry on this work. He told her that if a medium claimed they were in contact with him in the afterlife during a séance that he would have a code word for her, which was ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ (‘Rosabelle’ being the name of a song they used to sing to each other). And there you have it.
Interestingly, Bess did eventually claim that a medium had successfully contacted Houdini, but it turned out it was an inside job to get and split the reward money. A sad end, really.
What was the idea behind ‘Yves Klein’s Blues’, wasn’t he the guy who did the exhibition ‘The Void’ which was an empty art gallery?
The music for this was a demo that Kelli had developed for her fantastic ‘Bands of Angels’ album, which we co-wrote two songs for. We loved the piece, so took the vocal and created the backing around it. It has a real COCTEAU TWINS feel to it, I think.
The title was me trying to be too clever, as usual. As ‘Heir of the Dog’ was our Americana album, I wanted a track called ‘Something, Something Blues’, like a tongue in cheek reference to Robert Johnson. As the track was just three chords, that fitted nicely with the concept too. Yves Klein did indeed create ‘The Void’ exhibition amongst many other things, but is most famous for patenting ‘International Klein Blue’, his own distinctive blue pigment. Calling the track ‘Yves Klein’s Blues’ was a pun that I just couldn’t resist.
One of the highlights of ‘Heir Of the Dog’ is ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ which has a real classic pop feel about it, but you still haven’t performed it live yet?
I know, I know. It’s a quite a long track though. For us to perform it would have to be a concert with a longer setlist time. I keep meaning to note down all the CWNN songs we have yet to perform live. There’s a whole lot of them. I’m really pleased you like it. I think it’s quite different to any other song in our catalogue.
From ‘Mediaburn’, ‘Blind Dogs For The Guides’ is a fantastic title for a song…
Thanks. The song title came first. I like it when that happens, and you can see that with bands like SPARKS. I mean, they have some of the greatest song titles in music history. I’m always aiming for that. Jon did some fantastically morose piano on this. Lyrically, it’s simply about not being able to trust what you read online.
No one knows what is real or fake anymore. To believe everything you hear is obviously ridiculous, but to dismiss everything equally dangerous and irresponsible. Is it better to be misinformed or uninformed? Answers on a postcard, please.
There’s more wordplay with ‘Fake Nudes’… despite the internet being a leveller and seemingly connecting more people, over the years it seems to have created some strange isolation bubbles don’t you think?
Absolutely. It’s really a myth that the internet brings people closer together if all it’s used for is to hide reality. People can use it to create whatever image of themselves they want to people to see. And we all do it, let’s face it. People can endlessly post things that make them appear as if they’re an outsider. Or they cannot be on social media altogether… to make themselves appear as if they’re an outsider.
‘Fake Nudes’ isn’t actually about any of that. It’s actually about the fake Melania Trump conspiracy. It’s very entertaining if you’ve not seen it. Some people believe her bodyguard doubles for her at times. I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all, but for a while I thought it might be true. I’m much less certain now though. By the way, the drum sounds on ‘Fake Nudes’ were totally inspired by ‘Scared Heart’ by OMD, which I think is an outstanding B-side.
With ‘Low On High’, you’re sort of going disco, what happened there? 😉
I’ve always thought of ‘Rosabelle, Believe’ as our disco number, but I see what you mean. In many ways these are companion pieces, both have Steven Brown on sax. It had never occurred to me before. The song really is just built around a weird chord progression I played one day on synth. It’s become one of the most popular tracks on the album, which we’d never have predicted. I guess the people want CWNN to go disco! It’s quite epic in places.
It’s another bizarre CWNN lyric, bear with me. I read an article that there was a global shortage of helium gas. It’s just something that would never occur to me as a thing to happen, and most people I imagine. It set off a million puns in my head about party balloons not inflating etc, although helium has very serious medical uses, of course.
There’s more to the story in that the same article talked about huge helium reserves being found in Tanzania. So that in turn set off thoughts about how ghastly Western mining corporations will be marching into the beautiful Tanzanian landscape and completing destroying it to extract their gas. I found an incredible clip of an indigenous Tanzanian tribe reciting the bible in their own language and thought, “that’s it! What could possibly demonstrate the Western colonisation of Africa to steal its resources better than an indigenous tribe reciting the bible?” So, that is the African voice you hear.
Oh, and a song about helium has got to be a party song, right?
Is the arty synth waltz of ‘Mona’ about the lady whose image hangs in in the Louvre?
It is, but in a peculiar way, which I will come on to. The origins of the song actually go back about 10 years. It was called ‘The World is Short Staffed’ at the time (very timely). We made an attempt at it a couple of years ago, but it didn’t really work. So, I completely rewrote the lyrics and we tried again from scratch. Got there in the end.
The lyrics are actually a bit surrealist or absurdist, depending on how you look at it. The Mona Lisa is an oil painting and, as all artists know, oil paintings never quite dry. So, the song proposes that the reason the Mona Lisa’s smile is so enigmatic is because her face is melting. When Da Vinci painted it 500 years ago, she was grinning from ear to ear and in another 500 years it will be a frown. I should add that I’m not seriously proposing this, but I liked it as a totally bonkers notion.
One thing that is peculiar about the ‘Mediaburn’ album is that there are so many songs in triple time; five of them. It’s highly unusual for most bands these days, and in particular electronic ones. I’m quietly a bit proud of that. That’s another reason OMD stand apart. They even had hits with their triple time songs.
The exotic mood of ‘All This Spite (Comes At A Price)’ masks a message that is far more sinister?
We deliberately tried to go ‘electronic Chris Isaak’ on this. I’m very pleased with how it came out and Kelli’s vocals are magnificent. There’s also a bass arpeggiator in it, which reminds me a bit of how Martin Rev from Suicide plays. Another influence.
The lyrics are about people that essentially say outrageous or ridiculous things for cash, Katie Hopkins, Milo Yiannopolous, Ann Coulter, Piers Morgan etc. They have quite literally made a career out of drawing attention to themselves in a way that earns them money. I genuinely don’t think they believe half the stuff they say, but they need to feed the beast.
One thing that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK liked was the packaging idea used for ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ where the cardboard slipcase contained an alternative insert to put in a plastic jewel cases for those like us who prefer something more practical that doesn’t scratch the CD surface like those horrible vinyl replica sleeves that Mute favour and can fit in CD rack… had this been borne out of personal experience?
We always like to give people options, what can I say? I’m not a huge fan of digipacks, unless they have a nice booklet inside. The single panel digipacks you increasingly see totally sell people short, and having a package that doesn’t fit into a CD rack is highly annoying. I have well over 2000 CDs, I should know. There are some great examples, though. I’ve been massively impressed with Cherry Red’s reissue programme for THE RESIDENTS; double CD digis with a big thick booklet, loads of unseen photos, etc. Selling CDs is hard work these days, so you have to put the effort in, whatever it comes in.
I wouldn’t say that the packaging of our most recent albums is a direct attempt to right some packaging wrongs. In some ways, ours is impractical as it takes a bit of effort to actually get inside. I like packaging that you can pore over and explore. We all have memories as teenagers of buying records or CDs and looking at every detail of the cover while the album plays. I think including lyrics is important, as it’s one of the only incentives left for people to buy physical copies, sadly.
For these last few albums, we’ve been led by the brilliant Leigh from Disc-Phalanx. He really is a packaging genius. The “make your own jewel case” thing was entirely his doing. He’s recently done a whole load reissues for Björk, which speaks for itself. I was also pleased to throw some work his way as he did a bit of package design for the excellent James Nice at LTM.
You’ve been collaborating with TINY MAGNETIC PETS on their new album ‘Point Of Collapse’?
Love TINY MAGNETIC PETS! It was you of course that first introduced me to Sean Quinn. We get on great, though it’s impossible not to get on with them. There is also of course a very real mutual appreciation of the music we both make.
I think TMP really stand apart. I was really happy that they invited me to help write lyrics and melody for a song for their next album. It’s called ‘Cosmonaut’s Lullaby’, a duet with Paula.
I loved the track, so it wasn’t hard to write something and luckily they were very happy with what I did. I’m really looking forward to the album. We’ve done gigs together of course, we keep mentioning about doing a tour together. One day it might even happen. I am genuinely so, so happy to see TMP to achieve the success that they have, they truly deserve it.
You recently did a track with Jochen Oberlack for his EISBERG project called ‘Moby Dick’ which was a bit different?
Again, Jochen asked me and I really liked the track he sent. I really like his music in general, it’s kind of like a harder-edged RHEINGOLD (who I think are an underrated band anyway). Brilliantly produced. The lyrics and melody came quite quickly. He was happy, I was happy. Another great person.
Has the recent spate of collaborations including those with Rusty Egan brought new approaches into CULT WITH NO NAME?
They probably have, but not consciously as such. Rusty continues to be an amazing advocate for CWNN and we’re so grateful to him. I’ve met so many people though him that have also become friends. Rusty also introduced me to Paul Tunkin who has since become our publisher.
We’ve been asked to do a couple of remixes recently, one for Kelli Ali (‘Fear of London’, which has come out) and another for a band I Iove which should be out later in the year. That has been an interesting experience as it’s not something we’ve really done before. In both cases we went massively off track and turned them into something unrecognisable. There’s also another interesting collaboration in the works, but I can’t reveal anything just yet.
How is the new album coming along, will it be part of a trilogy with ‘Heir Of The Dog’ and ‘Mediaburn’ or conceptually something different altogether?
More of the same, but each album is better than the last, right? Not that all bands say that, of course. I would say, as mentioned earlier, that we’ve tried to stick to a few sounds that we use across several tracks, certainly drum sound wise.
Drums always take me the longest anyway, perhaps that’s why we have so many tracks with no drums at all. I’m determined to not overcrowd the tracks, so the production is a little bit more minimal (in an electronic sense). Some tracks on ‘Mediaburn’ nearly tipped me over the edge in terms of endlessly fiddling about and adding on layer upon layer. I was absolutely sick to death of some songs by the end.
With the new album, I’m trying to not overthink it too much…or over listen. It’s working, so far. The more consistent approach to production means that I think the songs are going to hang together conceptually really well. There really are some absolute corkers on this album, even if I do say so myself. There’s dark thumping electro, epic synth ballads, Arabic grooves… something for the whole family to enjoy.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Erik Stein
CULT WITH NO NAME are possibly smoothness personified. The suave crooner figure of Erik Stein and the understated ivory virtuoso of Jon Boux issued their first album ‘Paper Wraps Rock’ in 2007.
Having released their best album to date in 2017’s ‘Heir Of The Dog’, the new long player ‘Mediaburn’ is their ninth and features the familiar cast of esteemed supporting players such as Kelli Ali (vocals), Steve Brown (sax) and Blaine L Reininger (violin), who between them made their names in SNEAKER PIMPS and TUXEDOMOON.
The brilliantly titled ‘Blind Dogs for the Guides’ which opens ‘Mediaburn’ is classic CULT WITH NO NAME… a little bit electronic, a little bit acoustic with plenty of mood. ‘Needle & Thread’ extends the atmosphere with a fabulous vocal harmony from Kelli Ali for a whispery allure, the overall effect recalling the ‘Behaviour’ of PET SHOP BOYS, particularly in the middle eight instrumental section. Interestingly on a track where it feels like a bit of sax might appear, it doesn’t…
‘So Much Left To Do’ springs a surprise by almost sounding like KRAFTWERK; while Stein and Boux have not exactly turned into Ralf and Florian, this is another nice facet to the CULT WITH NO NAME template. Even more uptempo and electronic, ‘Low On High’ is dreamily hypnotic, fast without being overtly frantic or compromising artistically. With bursts of sax, acoustic guitar and haunting backing voices providing an alluring counterpoint, to quote the duo: “Disco inferno it may not be but CWNN still invite you to burn baby, burn”
The moody waltz of ‘Mona’ utilises a good mix of electronic and organic textures, while ‘All This Spite (Comes at a Price)’ and its cutting lyricism could be on the soundtrack of a Cold War spy drama, all superbly cinematic with a sinister icy air. Throwing a curveball, the melancholy of ‘By Air Of By Sea’ takes on an almost countrified flavour, boosted with soothing violin and a heavenly choir presence.
On the more esoteric side, ‘In Hollywood You Won’t Find Bel-Air’, ‘Fake Nudes’ and ‘Money’s Gone’ are nocturnal piano-centred ballads which offer poignant sociopolitical commentary. Meanwhile the sparse interlude ‘(No Such Thing) As Silence’ provides mystery, but the slinky lounge jazz of ‘She Sells Incels’ might not be for everyone although it offers an interesting sax ‘n’ synth hybrid. With a slice of subtle squelch-laden synthpop sweetened by cascading piano, ‘Button On My Desk’ ends ‘Mediaburn’ on something of a cantering rhythmic note.
Brilliantly produced and continuing the tempo variation and expansive arrangements of ‘Heir Of The Dog’, ‘Mediaburn’ is perhaps maybe a few tracks too long, but it acts as a fine follow-up and companion to its predecessor.
Packaged in striking modern artwork that is a statement in itself, as a sidenote, ‘Mediaburn’ gets bonus marks for its additional build your own jewel case kit inserts because after all, CDs are meant to be spindled, not slipped into scratch prone cardboard packaging 😉
Coming up to the release of their eight album, what CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of is mood.
This made them the ideal curators for the soundtrack to the film ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ which also featured TUXEDOMOON and JOHN FOXX.
Difficult to pigeon-hole, the self-confessed post-punk electronic balladeers have come up with the occasional cracking introspective pop song like ‘Breathing’ from 2010’s ‘Adrenalin’ long player, although generally their well-crafted music rarely rides to a canter.
But ‘Heir Of The Dog’ sees Erik Stein and Jon Boux deliver their most accessible long player of their career. Without doubt, Stein’s two guest vocals on Rusty Egan’s ‘Welcome To the Dancefloor’ project have opened out possibilities as to what CULT WITH NO NAME can achieve without compromising their artistic integrity, resulting in some changeable tempos.
While the opening title track might suggest business as usual with a piano and string instrumental from Boux, ‘Wasted’ springs a surprise with what can only be described as an atmospheric programmed dance number. Another deviation comes with the smooth electro disco of ‘Rosabelle, Believe’; a natural successor to ‘Breathing’, the pulsing synths and metronomic beat are offset by Steve Brown of TUXEDOMOON on woodwinds and some lovely vocals by Kelli Ali.
Kelli Ali features more prominently on the looser spirit of ‘When I Was a Girl’ while on ‘Yves Klein’s Blues’, her voice recalls KID MOXIE’s work with NIKONN; a dreamy impressionistic soundscape of piano and sequencers, it does what it says on the tin and is a fine tribute to the minimalist artist best known for his exhibition ‘The Void’ which comprised of an empty art gallery…
Meanwhile, the delightful ‘All I Have is Yours (Including You)’ is like a grandchild of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Echoing the melancholy of OMD, Stein’s delivery is complimented by an enticing harmony from Sirena Riley. And this is all without mentioning the MOBY-like drum loop assisted adventure of ‘Just Rewards’.
While these pacier numbers show CULT WITH NO NAME’s willingness to experiment within a wider pop palette, their trademark piano numbers are not totally exiled.
‘Of California’ could be seen as a distant cousin of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Little 15’ with a Morricone twist, while ‘Man in a Bag’ is classic CULT WITH NO NAME with references to “wearing nothing but Schrödinger’s clothes”.
The waltzy ‘Fingertips’ laced with the violin of Blaine L Reininger is another in the sparse ivory led vein and ‘Heir Of The Dog’ ends with ‘No News’, the forlorn piano song featuring Luc van Lieshout on harmonica that closed the ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ film and is now available for the first time.
For those who have not found CULT WITH NO NAME appealing before, this album could be the one to alter perceptions. With tempo variation and more expansive arrangements, ‘Heir Of The Dog’ is undoubtedly their most engaging body of work to date.
CULT WITH NO NAME play the Electronic Circus Festival on Saturday 30th September 2017 at Detmolder Sommertheater in Detmold alongside MICHAEL ROTHER + KEBU, tickets available from http://www.electronic-circus.net/
Kelli Ali first came to public attention as the lead singer of SNEAKER PIMPS. Their debut album ‘Becoming X’ featured the hit singles ‘6 Underground’ and ‘Spin Spin Sugar’.
Since her first solo album ‘Tigermouth’ in 2003, Kelli Ali has recorded a further four records in her own name.
There have also been collaborations with a number of noted artists such as Marc Almond, John Densmore, Marilyn Manson and Bootsy Collins.
Her most recent long player was the electro-friendly ‘Band Of Angels’, a musical journey into the dark heart of a fallen angel. Kelli Ali returns to the platform for ‘Ghostdriver’, “a joint album and film project. A noir thriller and love letter to London.”
She kindly answered a few questions from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about ‘Ghostdriver’ as well as reflecting on her career and continuing development as an artist…
You’ve described the ‘Ghostdriver’ album as “like no other album I have created before where Trip Hop, Electronic, Jazz and String elements will meet”. How did the concept come about?
The album will be the soundtrack to the film, so it’s been very much a matter of daydreaming my way into the story and then trying to create music (or ask others to help me as this is very much a collaboration) that brings the film to life even more.
Actually more than that – I’m trying to dream the album into being in a way. As I wrote the story and the characters, I know the heartbeat of the story.
Jazz is very much at the heart of the film and some of the musicians I’m working with are more electronic / trip hop in their approach, so I thought it would be interesting to marry these elements with a classical soundtrack style, to create an unusual vibe. I’m also enjoying singing a bit differently and exploring all kinds of new territory with this album.
You’ve said “‘Ghostdriver’ is a film and album from my deepest, darkest imagination, a noir thriller, a love letter to London”. What idea came first, film or music?
The film vision definitely came first. As music is such a natural part of my creative process though, I was already imagining the music the moment I had the idea of making a movie.
Is there a pivotal song on the album you can tell us about?
I suppose ‘LOVE’ was the first song that I really felt captured the essence of ‘Ghostdriver’. I’m still writing and recording so there may be others for different reasons. ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ is also quite an important track as it helped develop the mood for a key sequence of scenes in the film, which might not have come into being without that song.
You are recording the music alongside the film, with each aspect intertwining and influencing the other. How is that coming along?
It’s going very well, thank you. I began the writing process some time ago, as experience has taught me that things always usually take about two or three times longer than one would reasonably imagine 🙂
I’m blessed with some amazing friends who are involved with the film and album and have been superb in understanding what is needed for the album and have been incredibly supportive. This has made everything feel very Zen and meant to be. Sometimes in the past, I have really had to struggle with projects to get them even started. But this film and record seems to be blessed with friendship and good people, eager to see both projects done and eager to really do what it takes to make this a thing of beauty.
Leigh from the Bit-Phalanx Music collective has been an incredible support and helped me reach out to some of the brilliant collaborators on the album and other great people in involved in the actual film.
Because of his friendship, I haven’t felt so alone in the whole process.
Erik Stein from CULT WITH NO NAME has also been an incredible support, both starring in the film and collaborating on some of the music.
Because I have a very clear picture of the film in my head, it is amazing to see it coming to life. Making the music alongside the film as it develops is actually a very interesting and rewarding process. I feel that the two things (record and film) are feeding off and into each other.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered?
Challenges are always usually financial or organisational! Making a film involves an incredible amount of work and planning and cash!
My audience is beautiful but small so I can only ask for a certain amount from the Pledge Music funding process, a fraction of what it truly costs to make a movie and album. This means I have to make every shoot count and I have to think very deeply about the filming schedule and organization of both film and album.
However, I love the way that the financial limitations actually force me to be much more creative in making the film, instead of a big Hollywood style film that has a huge team of people making everything happen and money to burn on locations and effects actors and costume etc.
I have been much more inspired by the Noir, 1960s British and Warhol / Paul Morrissey films. Most of the actors in the movie are my dear friends and some of the locations have even been set up in my home. We’ve stripped entire rooms down to make studio sets!
This takes much longer to do of course and is much more consuming than rolling up to a film set already created and hired. But because of this I feel that the film has an authenticity and humanity that, dare I say is lacking from the glitzy big budget films that so many new film makers seem to try and emulate.
Anyway, I think it’s the challenges of a project that really teach you the most about life and who you are.
All art is a challenge, but in the luxurious sense. Not the same, obviously, as being born into a war zone or forced to join the army when still a child, or the many other challenges that life can throw at a soul.
Therefore, I try not to dwell on difficulties anymore and remind myself that my challenges as an artist are minuscule compared to human challenges that so many suffer through on a day to day basis.
You’re noted for collaborating, who have you got lined-up up for ‘Ghostdriver’?
COLOQUIX, ULRICH SCHNAUSS, DIGITONAL, ALEX DAI CASTAING, CULT WITH NO NAME and CHRIST. are my main collaborators so far…
You’ve collaborated in the past with a number of prominent artists like Marc Almond, John Densmore, Marilyn Manson and Bootsy Collins. What have each been like to work with?
Marc Almond was lovely.
THE DOORS were very influential to me as a teenager, so meeting John Densmore was quite a big deal, great to work with, very intuitive and relaxed.
Marilyn Manson was one of the friendliest, most fun and open people I worked with. I spent the most time with him and he was very generous with his time, taking me for breakfast and to some of his favourite record shops in New York.
Bootsy Collins was soooo gorgeous! He is a fascinating artist and a true legend. He has truly lived to see and learn so much and is incredibly giving and open. I was very fortunate to have worked with such a star and have very fond memories of our time in Germany, making the video for our single ‘Play With Bootsy’. He even gave me his suite when he left the hotel which was so incredibly cool!
Some might not know that Paul Oakenfold recorded one of your songs ‘Faster Kill Pussycat’ with the late Brittany Murphy? What was the story behind that?
We wrote it together when I was in Los Angeles. A while later, Paul sent me a version of the song with Brittany singing it. I always loved her as I love the film ‘Spun’, she is so awesome in that film. So it was really cool.
One of your most frequent collaborators are London duo CULT WITH NO NAME, what do you find connects you to their music in particular?
When I first heard their music, I was instantly drawn to Erik Stein’s elegant voice. For me I usually either love or dislike a voice immediately. Bryan Ferry and David Bowie have that appeal for me that Erik has, but Erik is much less theatrical and contemplative in his approach and his lyrics are brilliant which is also important to me in the bands that I love.
The brilliant partnership of Erik Stein with the amazing pianist Jonny Boux is the perfect combination. Each album is a treasure to me and I can play them at any time of day and instantly feel an elegance and calm enter my world.
This is not the first time you’ve used crowdfunding as you had a campaign for ‘Band Of Angels’. What are the pros and cons of platforms such as this?
I’ve actually made a few projects using Pledge Music. ‘The Art of Love’ CD / DVD and ‘Kiss Me Cleopatra’ remix albums were also made through Pledge Music. It’s been truly amazing to come together with my listeners to create these projects and without a platform such as Pledge Music, I have no idea if I could have continued to make records.
Pros are many, my listeners have a much better understanding of who I am as an artist, and how and why my work is created.
I can share so much more of the making of a project through the Pledge updates and there is a real sense of excitement and involvement with my listeners, that I never felt when I was on a label.
I can share the music and project with my true followers first and they know that they are experiencing something straight from me to them.
They allow me to follow these crazy visions like some kind of shaman so that they can experience an artist’s journey and I love that. It’s like, we all go on this journey together and at the end, we’ve all grown somehow because of our collaboration. I really couldn’t create these things without their help.
Also they keep me encouraged. If I know that only even a small group of people really care about what I’m doing, it’s enough to keep me happy in my work. I don’t need or want fame, but to feel like I’m doing all this work if no one gave a damn, would probably mean an early retirement!
‘Kiss Me Cleopatra’ was a particular highlight, what was that about?
It’s about gender and love and sex. The song is actually about a transsexual prostitute called Cleopatra. A praise to her beauty and the way that the tragedy of ostracism and prejudice can push people to the darker side of life, but how that can also enhance the beauty of a soul.
‘Band Of Angels’ was one of your more predominantly electronic albums. How do you look back on what it achieved for you artistically?
It was a massive turning point. It was the first time I had worked outside the comfort zone of working with a professional producer.
I ran into many challenges that I had not faced in my rather fortunate past of working with true professionals who made the technical aspects of making an album seem like a breeze.
In fact, I actually learned more about mixing and mastering through all the problems with the ‘Band Of Angels’ album, than a lifetime watching the masters could have taught me.
I had to mix and master that album twice. The last time I pretty much mixed it myself instructing the engineer at every step as no-one seemed to be getting the clarity or balance that I have come to expect from a record.
Having to really learn how to mix and listen from an analytical perspective as opposed to an emotional one was very hard for me at first. But it’s necessary to achieve the sonic quality of a good record and I feel I learned a lot from what was one of the most difficult recording experiences I have experienced.
You will be showing the ‘Ghostdriver’ film at a cinema in London with a Q&A featuring yourself and the cast. When will that be happening and what are your hopes and fears for it?
I’m very excited about the launch and premiere of ‘Ghostdriver’. I’m sure wherever we show, it will be a night to remember!
All the stars and musicians and friends and some listeners will no doubt be there, so it should be a very beautiful climax to this remarkable journey.
The location will of course be announced through Pledge Music closer to the date. However, for now I need to get on with making the film and album and focus just on that, in order to ensure my mind and heart are in the moment.
I have no hopes or fears, I am curious and open to follow this daydream of a journey wherever it takes me. It has its own life now and has already given me so much rich treasure of the heart.
Expectation and fear are very much illusory processes that are part of being human but better avoided if possible, where art is concerned.
It is enough that we are in the position to make something like this happen at all. I will do my very best, put my heart and soul into the work. Hopes and fears left my heart a long time ago.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Kelli Ali
Special thanks also to Erik Stein
The signed ‘Ghostdriver’ Original Soundtrack CD is available for Pre-Order with a special pay postage only Buy Option for those who pledged on the project via Pledge Music from http://www.kelliali.com/