John Fryer is the man behind many contemporary projects, which include the wonderfully ethereal MURICIDAE and the eccentric, shiny and glittering SILVER GHOST SHIMMER.
Having previously been living-in part of London’s Blackwing Studios, working with FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, COCTEAU TWINS, THIS MORTAL COIL and NINE INCH NAILS, with such a wealth of experience, John Fryer cannot do anything else but dirty his hands in the music of “old, new and future”.
Last year saw the rise of his latest enterprise, BLACK NEEDLE NOISE, which caused a stir amongst the fans of the quirky persona with an impeccable musical eloquence.
With the release of a new song ‘Swimming Through Dreams’ featuring the vocals of Mimi Page whose voice was heard on ‘Open Page’ from the most recent DELERIUM long player ‘Mythologie’, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is chatting to the master himself about the story of BLACK NEEDLE NOISE, its future and Fryer’s plans for world domination.
You’re globally known for working with acts spanning from DEPECHE MODE to NINE INCH NAILS, what made you decide to present your own projects to the world?
It’s been amazing working for so many talented artists and I’m very proud of all the records I’ve made over the years, but at the end of the day, you are working on their music, even though I take it very personally and treat their records as if they were my own, but nothing beats making your own art.
MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER were both successful projects with in-house vocalists. BNN is different in that respect…
When I was writing for those bands and DARKDRIVECLINIC, I wrote lots of other music that didn’t really fit into their sound, so I was left with lots of songs. So I decided to go down another route and this time not have the boundaries that bands put upon you. So with BLACK NEEDLE NOISE anything goes.
The name of the project came from the sound of a stylus on a vinyl record, that certainly has a vintage reference?
Well, that is one visual point. The other one came from watching the series ‘Black Mirror’. Picture this, you take your vinyl records and melt them down into a liquid form, then you inject them into your body. Then you have the music you love to totally take over your body. To feel from the inside.
The use of various vocalists paints different soundscapes. Is that what you were planning to achieve?
Yes, each song has its own life, its own story to tell and is its own movie. Just close your eyes, drift away and let yourself get taken on many journeys.
The journey started with ‘Wild Stone’. Why did you decide to kick off with that one?
Well, the BLACK NEEDLE NOISE story started with ‘Bang Bang’, a Nancy Sinatra cover.
‘Wild Stone’ was the first song release as a collaboration and was a good jumping off point as it sounded completely different from my other three bands, DARKDRIVECLINIC, MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER.
‘Before The Tears Came’ became an unusual project with songs released monthly and finally put together on an album. Is that what the master plan was?
Yes, and I’m continuing in that way so you don’t have to wait a year or two for the next album to be finished. Whenever a song is finished, it gets released. Why sit on something for a year or two before you release it. Why not just put it out?? We live in a digital age so why not use it??
Your choice of vocalists on the outing is rather eclectic. What prompted using specific artists for specific songs?
I admire all the singers I have worked with and am working with on the new songs. The only reason they have been released in that order is, I send out the music and whatever song comes back with vocals first gets mixed and released. Then, when there are enough songs, I put them together to make the album and adding a track just for the album. I will do the same for the second album too.
‘Mourning Morning’ could have been a lost Bowie piece, is that your tribute to the man?
JF: Well, no, it’s just that Andreas Elvenes has a very Bowie-esque voice and it really suited that track. ‘Dead Star’ is more of a tribute to the amazing talent of Mr David Bowie.
Some artists return more than once, what’s the reason for that?
It really depends on the songs and if the artist has time to fit another song in. BLACK NEEDLE NOISE should not become a burden to them, it should be fun. Anyway I’m really grateful and honoured for them just to sing on my music once let alone twice.
‘Bang Bang’ featured your voice and ‘I Face The Wall’ continues the trend. Did you feel like those two suited you to sing on?
Yes, I think they worked out pretty well and there will be another one on the new album in the near future.
Your shimmery touch of anything vintage adds to the songs on the production, are we to expect more of BNN in those realms?
You can expect more BLACK NEEDLE NOISE in that realm and many other realms of shimmery shiny noise pop.
Your self-confessed use of softsynths does not take away that vintage feel of the music. How is that achieved?
That is the magic of the audio alchemy and sound sculpting that goes on in my studio.
Are MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST now retired with BNN thriving?
I would have to say probably yes, well SILVER GHOST SHIMMER for sure as Pinky no longer wants to do anything else. She made a classic album with me and now she is totally happy doing other things with her life.
Any plans to produce other acts again?
Yes of course, I’m writing with and producing someone right now and I’m always mixing songs for other artists + fitting in some new BLACK NEEDLE NOISE songs. I never stop working.
As hard as it would be to tour BNN, any DJ sets you’re planning to perform?
I would love to do more DJing but I never get asked, so if anyone one out there wants me to come and DJ. Let me know.
I want to play live with BLACK NEEDLE NOISE, it’s just figuring out how to do it and with whom. Maybe later in the year something will happen.
What’s next for BLACK NEEDLE NOISE?
The next song features Ana Breton from DEAD LEAF ECHO.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to John Fryer
In a far more productive year than 2014, many electronic music veterans returned to the fold in 2015 with their first new albums for many years. There were plenty of releases from independent acts too, with Nordic Europe being a particularly strong territory once again.
45 quality songs made the shortlist and were eventually whittled down to 30. So mention must be made of ALICE IN VIDEOLAND, ANALOG ANGEL, BEBORN BETON, BECKY BECKY, CAMOUFLAGE, CLUB 8, ELECTROGENIC, EURASIANEYES, ME THE TIGER, HANNAH PEEL and SIN COS TAN who all released recordings in 2015 that would have easily made the listing in less competitive years such as 2012 and 2014. Even DURAN DURAN’s disappointing ‘Paper Gods’ yielded one decent track in ‘Face For Today’, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
So the decision has been made; with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, this alphabetical list comprises tracks released in physical formats, or digitally as purchasable or free downloads during the calendar year. Here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2015…
A-HA She’s Humming A Tune
Having played what appeared to be their farewell concert at the Oslo Spektrum in December 2010, A-HA reunited in a relaxed manner that recalled their days as a fledgling band. On ‘She’s Humming A Tune’, there were hints of 1986’s ‘Scoundrel Days’ in a lower key with sweeping synths, bottle neck six string and live drums moulding the chilling soundscape with that exquisite Nordic allure. ‘Cast In Steel’ was the antithesis of the misguided EDM blow-out that DURAN DURAN attempted on ‘Paper Gods’
Available on the album ‘Cast In Steel’ via Universal Music
Feeling gloomy? Then take heed of the advice from BLACK NAIL CABARET and “Don’t be sad! Don’t be whiney!” – this brooding slice of Gothtronica was the lead single from the Hungarian duo’s second album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’. Laden with a delicious synth bassline like DEPECHE MODE reimagined for a Weimar Cabaret set piece and topped with eerie string machine, ‘Satisfaction’ was the duo’s best individual offering to date. The pair also made a worthy impression opening for CAMOUFLAGE.
Available on the album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’ via Basic Unit Productions
From Neil Arthur’s first BLANCMANGE album without long time bandmate Stephen Luscombe, ‘Useless’ was a brilliant hybrid of BRIAN ENO circa ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ with LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. “It’s about anyone who thinks they might be useless” said Arthur, “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”.
Available on the album ‘Semi Detached’ via Cherry Red Records
Although launch single ‘Shine’ indicated it was business as usual, as hinted at with the title, CAMOUFLAGE’s long awaited long player ‘Greyscale’ was their most mature artistic statement yet. The mellow and warm ‘Count On Me’ saw Marcus Meyn duet with Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM fame. The lush blend of vocals and atmospherics showcased two of Germany’s most highly regarded electronic acts at their best.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their debut and delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Clearest Blue’ is even more accomplished, wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a dynamic surprise that recalls the classic overtures of Vince Clarke.
Available on the album ‘Every Open Eye’ via Virgin Records
RODNEY CROMWELL is Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished some Hooky styled bass. Cresswell said: “It’s all broadly linked to experiences in my life over the last ten years; themes of love, loss, depression, redemption”. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience.
Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via Happy Robots
Utilising her Italian heritage, DAYBEHAVIOR’s lead singer Paulinda Crescentini gave a suitably alluring performance on ‘Cambiare’, the B-side of the Swedish trio’s single ‘Change’. Remixed to poptastic effect, the joyous yet melancholic tune took the best elements of Italo disco with an expression of sorrow and happiness that recalled imperial phase PET SHOP BOYS. With a catchy chorus and seductive topline, Linguaphone language lessons were never this much fun…
An offshoot of Swedish EBM veterans SPETSNAZ, DESTIN FRAGILE are a very different animal with hints of CAMOUFLAGE and DEPECHE MODE in their sound. ‘Run Away’ opened their ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ opus, an album which some observers have hailed as one of the best of 2015. Featuring a fine vocal from Pontus Stålberg resembling MESH’s Mark Hockings, this is what modern synthpop should be like; pop music with synths and melody as well as dynamic synth solos.
Available on the album ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ via Dark Dimensions
EAST INDIA YOUTH’s debut ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, this was more than realised. But the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. Imagine the start of OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during BRIAN ENO’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
Available on the album ‘Culture of Volume’ via XL Recordings
Berlin-based EMIKA is one of the dark horses of the UK electronic scene. A combination of her classical training, Czech heritage and use of modern technology has made for a provoking, brooding sound that has attained critical acclaim over the last few years. From her third album, helpfully named ‘Drei’, ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’ was its highlight, a concoction of intricate pulsing layers and solemn detachment that provided a captivating listening experience.
FFS proved collaborations do work. A total triumph, ‘P*ss Off’ was possibly the album’s most outstanding number. With the vibrancy of ‘Kimono My House’ and ‘Propaganda’ era SPARKS, there were plenty of jaunty ivories and camp vocal theatrics in the vein of classics like ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ and ‘BC’. “It’s inexplicable” they all growled as the multi-track phrase of “HARMONISE” kicked in! A total joy, ‘P*ss Off’ was the ultimate two fingered art school pop anthem.
One of the highlights in Herr Flür’s DJ sets has been The Ninjaneer Mix of ‘Cover Girl’, a swirling synthpop track that the former KRAFTWERK percussionist has described as ‘The Model MkII’. He said: “Her story goes on and unfortunately shows her going downhill. She had bad experiences with drugs, alcohol and other things so had to dance in night clubs for earning money at least. A true story, a bad life… that’s sometimes the way how super models are knitting their career”
Available on the album ‘Eloquence’ via Cherry Red Records
JOHN GRANT’s adventure into a solemn electronic template on ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ not only won him a BRIT Award nomination too. Meanwhile his collaboration with HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR showed he understood the disco as well. ‘Disappointing’ combined the two approaches and added some funk for an enjoyable Bowie meets YAZOO styled workout. In a song full of surprises, not only was there the presence of slap bass, but there was the dulcet tones of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL’s Tracey Thorn too.
Available on the album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ via Bella Union
GWENNO’s Welsh and Cornish heritage has allowed her to develop a unique brand of lo-fi electronica. Her full-length Welsh language debut ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ came out on Peski Records in October 2014. Now reissued in 2015 by Heavenly Recordings, GWENNO has deservedly gained an increased profile for her music. With beautiful, traditionally derived melodies placed in a spacey yesterday’s tomorrow setting, the spacey ‘Calon Peiriant’ was one of the more immediate delights on offer from a wonderful album.
Available on the album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ via Heavenly Recordings
Depression despite apparent material success has been an ongoing lyrical theme for Chris Corner as IAMX. And with ‘Happiness’, his craving for a mind to be free of bad news, negative influences and jealousy was countered with his line of “Everywhere hypocrisy!” as pulsing arpeggios kicked in for the final third’s gentle but drama laden climax. Highly poignant in the current economic and political climate, Corner’s move from Berlin to Los Angeles certainly did his music no harm.
Available on the album ‘Metanoia’ via Caroline International
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & VINCE CLARKE Automatic Parts 1 + 2
The French synth maestro’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was an opus entitled ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ featuring collaborations with TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN CARPENTER, LITTLE BOOTS, MASSIVE ATTACK among many. But the two part ‘Automatic’ with VINCE CLARKE was the highlight, taking in the best of the tune based elements of both artists while not letting one party dominate. VCJMJ was certainly a more artistically realised proposition than the polarising techno of VCMG!
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
“Whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!” said KID KASIO main man Nathan Cooper. A man whose is plainly honest about where his influences lie, his love of classic synthpop permeates throughout his work. Now imagine if DEPECHE MODE was fronted by Nik Kershaw instead of Dave Gahan? With ‘Full Moon Blue’, that musical fantasy became fully realised with a clever interpolation of ‘Two Minute Warning’, one of Alan Wilder’s songwriting contributions from ‘Construction Time Again’.
Despite having been around since 2008, Swedish synth duo KITE have tended to be overlooked internationally. But Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged, majestic vocals deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, KITE’s most recent release ‘VI’ opened with the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’. The passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for the second.
The syncopated electro disco feel of ‘The Bombs’, one of the highlights from MACHINISTA’s second album came almost by accident. Instrumentalist Richard Flow remembered: “Actually the first version of ‘The Bombs’ had a completely different rhythm in the drums. I actually did get stuck with this song and I wasn’t happy at all about the music. Once I did change the bass drum to a simple 4/4, I was back on track again. Most of the sounds from the original version I did keep, so perhaps a simple 4/4 bass drum mixed with the sounds for this original rhythm created this ‘disco’ feel…”
Available on the album ‘Garmonbozia’ via Analogue Trash Records
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ has been long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly given a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with some wispily resigned vocals, it provided a tense soundtrack that could be seen as metaphoric commentary on the economic situation in Greece. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this is one of them.
Available on the album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Undo Records
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if GARY NUMAN had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Studio legend John Fryer has been busy and the project that perhaps harks closest to THIS MORTAL COIL is MURICIDAE. Featuring the exquisite vocals of Louise Fraser, she and Fryer apparently “met on the beach searching for mermaids”… the sea is very much the visual theme for their music, with Fryer cultivating “sonic sculptures to musically embody the exquisite Muricidae Shell itself”. The tranquil beauty of ‘Away’ captures a shimmering soundscape that compliments Fraser’s plaintive lament.
Available on the EP ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ via Muricidae Music
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declares “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… yes, beware of anything plastic and artificial!
Available on the album ‘Music Complete’ via Mute Artists
In 2015, the Norge domiciled Swedish songstress’ KARIN PARK finally released her fifth album, the profanity laden fifth ‘Apocalypse Pop’. While less harsh in sound to some of the other tracks on the long player, ‘Stick To The Lie’ was no less angry. The most overtly synthpop track on the collection, this accessible yet emotive song was one of the highlights on a collection that affirmed KARIN PARK’s place in modern electronic pop.
Available on the album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ via State Of The Eye
With CHVRCHES having borrowed PURITY RING’s electro template and pushed it into the mainstream, the direction taken on the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was going to be watched with interest. Certainly it was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, the album’s best song ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice.
Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records
Sweden’s SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN (translated as “The Last Man on Earth”) are led by Eddie Bengtsson, best known for his work with S.P.O.C.K and PAGE. The themes of space travel and Sci-Fi are regular lyrical gists and while all of SMPJ’s songs are voiced i Svenska, Bengtsson opened up his Vince Clarke influenced synthpop to the English language in 2015 with the ‘Translate’ EP. Brilliantly produced, ‘All The City Lights’ (a version of his 2014 single ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’) was its highly enjoyable opening gambit.
SUSANNE SUNDFØR and her acclaimed ‘Ten Love Songs’ album developed on the electronic focus of its predecessor ‘The Silicone Veil’. With an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, ‘Delirious’ thundered with some fierce electronics bolstered by dynamic orchestrations like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. It captured love as a reluctant battle of the emotions while our heroine announced with emotive resignation “I’m not the one holding the gun”.
Available on the album ‘Ten Love Songs’ via Sonnet Sound
TRAIN TO SPAIN’s developing brand of uptempo, energetic pop utilises classic synthesizer sounds in the vein of Vince Clarke coupled to a metronomic rhythm structure akin to the 1985 ‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ album. Coming over like LANA DEL REY fronting YAZOO, Wigeborg’s cooingly vulnerable vocals on ‘Passion’ let rip over a suitably complimentary electronic backbone from Rasmusson, while a superb remix by MACHINISTA added some beefy gothic disco goodness.
Available on the download single ‘Keep On Running’ via Sub Culture Records
Manchester based Ross Tregenza is an experienced hand having co-written ‘Diaries Of A Madman’ with Dave Formula and Steve Strange when he was a member of VISAGE II in 2007. He surprised electronic music audiences with a Spartan cover of ‘The Partisan’, a song made famous by LEONARD COHEN. While many may despair at the very mention of the droll Canadian, his work has strong parallels with many Gothic veined musical forms, especially with this harrowing tale of fighting for La Résistance.
Originally from the EP ‘Stolen Thunder’, alternate version available on the album ‘Into The Void’ via Tregenza Music
On VILE ELECTRODES’ mesmerising ‘Captive in Symmetry’, “Filmic” is indeed a very apt description with the booming synth bass motif possessing echoes of the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme tune ‘Falling’. As beautiful sequences, eerie strings and Anais Neon’s hauntingly alluring vocals take hold, it all comes over like a dreamboat collaboration between JULEE CRUISE and OMD that could easily be considered for use in the proposed revamp of the surreal North American drama.
Available on the EP ‘Captive In Symmetry’ via Vile Electrodes
Having started his career at London’s Blackwing Studios in 1980 as an assistant engineer, JOHN FRYER had a very basic knowledge of recording technology.
Employed by Eric Radcliffe, he promptly progressed from engineering into production and became the very reason for the first two COCTEAU TWINS albums sounding as sui generis as they did.
FAD GADGET and DEPECHE MODE; freshly discovered by Daniel Miller, were two of the first acts Fryer co-engineered on a rather limited studio equipment with the pressures of time. Technology started to progress fast and Daniel Miller would often bring the newly released toys into the studio.
The second DM album, ‘A Broken Frame’, written by the newly appointed chief songwriter Martin Gore, used the likes of PPG Wave 2 and Roland TR808 amongst others. The freshly formed YAZOO, with Alison Moyet and ex-Depeche member Vince Clarke, decided to record simultaneously.
To avoid any friction between the acts, John continued at Blackwing, while Eric looked after YAZOO from his home. Fryer did work on ‘Only You’ for them however. Soon enough Fryer’s growing sound manipulation would lend itself to his side project THIS MORTAL COIL with 4AD kingpin Ivo Watts-Russell, named after Monty Python’s ‘Dead Parrot Sketch’. The idea behind the venture was to create music as collaborations with artists signed to or associated with 4AD.
Fryer continued his career in Blackwing, producing MODERN ENGLISH, DEAD CAN DANCE, THE WOLFGANG PRESS, CLAN OF XYMOX and notably HE SAID, whose track ‘Pump’ Fryer still reminisces with fondness.
He has described his time as “a blur”, having worked on multiple projects simultaneously and producing one artist after another. In ten years, he only had five days off sick and worked incredibly long hours, an example being a 36 hour session with Alison Moyet, followed by “the next band”. Outsiders thought Fryer was indeed the owner of the studio, having spent all his time there!
Nine years after the start of his love affair with Blackwing, Fryer decided to go freelance. Truth being, if an artist wanted to work with him, they would approach him anyway. And that was certainly the case with NINE INCH NAILS, Trent Reznor having admired what Fryer had done for HE SAID. Fryer proudly recalls the feeling after finishing the album’s production, upon re-playing it to NIN’s record company boss, who had thought the record was ruined.
For Fryer, the desired effect had been achieved. The production work rolled in and notable clients included HIS NAME IS ALIVE, PARADISE LOST, LUSH and THE GO-BETWEENS.
Having not been in a band as such before, in 2011 Fryer decided to head his own project DARKDRIVECLINIC. 2014 brought the hungry listener SILVER GHOST SHIMMER while in the recent months, Fryer has indulged in the softer, ethereal offerings of two MURICIDAE EPs accompanied by the LA based Louise Fraser.
With such wealth of experience, Fryer surely deserves a break. Living in Oslo, the master does not rest on his laurels however; hungry to produce, in his stripped down studio, he will no doubt work with some amazing acts again.
In the meantime, let’s imagine what a John Fryer retrospective would look like, made up from a choice of his best work as an engineer, co-producer and producer. The list is not comprehensive and the tracks are not necessarily the best songs on their respective albums, but they certainly showcase Fryer’s production and engineering skills, which evolved over the years, giving him a signature sound of his own.
With a restriction of one track per album project, here are eighteen songs choices in a Beginner’s Guide to the studio legend that is John Fryer, with additional choice commentary from the man himself.
FAD GADGET The Box (1980)
‘The Box’ was the B-side to ‘Back To Nature’, the second ever single on Daniel Miller’s Mute Records. Later appearing in re-recorded form on the magnificent ‘Fireside Favourites’ album released in 1980, interestingly enough, the vocals were recorded with Frank Tovey being uncomfortably locked up in a flight case. This was to signify the “boxed” feel of the vocals. John fondly remembers the collaboration: “Yes, Frank wanted to get a claustrophobic close sound and we just happened to have a big flight case sitting there in the live room, big enough to fit him inside. So we decided to record the vocals in the flight case to get the authentic box sound”
Available on the FAD GADGET album ‘Fireside Favourites’ via Mute Records
Not having the digital luxuries of the world we know today, ‘Speak And Spell’ was solely recorded on a 8 track tape machine, but Fryer made do with anything which came to hand, as long as it could make some sort of noise. ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ was one of two songs written by Martin Gore on the Vince Clarke dominated ‘Speak And Spell’. A clever love song about a decaying relationship, crying out for help, hidden within highly political lyrical content, it was fabulously intertwined in a steady beat to which Dave Gahan has performed some of his best early dances live.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘Speak & Spell’ via Mute Records
‘Leave In Silence’ was DEPECHE MODE’s sixth single. Taken from ‘A Broken Frame’, it was written by Martin Gore, who suddenly got elevated into being the band’s chief songwriter, upon Vince Clarke’s departure. After the previous pop slanted singles ‘See You’ and ‘The Meaning Of Love’, it introduced the darker, more melancholic tones of what was to be in store for DEPECHE MODE – John: “Martin took to writing like a duck to water, he always had in it him, it just had to be coaxed out of him. Once Vince had left, the new DM was born”
Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Mute Records
From COCTEAU TWINS’ third EP ‘Sunburst & Snowblind’, the Fryer produced ‘From The Flagstones’ was recorded by Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie as a duo, after Will Heggie left the band. There was a feeling of improvisation, including Fraser’s distinctive, yet “wordless” vocals and Guthrie’s effected guitar riffs. Those two elements intertwined and went on to become the band’s signature sound on the eventual ‘Head Over Heels’ album – John: “We recorded up in Scotland where the band felt more at home. The album wasn’t improvised, it was written and we just played around with sounds and over dubs. Why do people think Liz never sang words? She sat for hours with a dictionary writing lyrics for the album, she just has a unique way of singing and phrasing, that’s all”
Available on the COCTEAU TWINS album ‘Lullabies To Violaine – Volume 1’ via 4AD Records
Originally released by TIM BUCKLEY on his 1970 album ‘Starsailor’, the song has become his most famous, mainly due to the numerous cover versions, THIS MORTAL COIL’s take being one of the most prominent. The single featuring Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie was released in 1983, peaking at No66 on the UK singles charts. Due to its cult popularity, it also spent 101 weeks on the UK Indie Charts. ‘Song To The Siren’ was included on the 1984 debut album ‘It’ll End In Tears’. None other than David Lynch appreciated the version to such an extent, he featured it on his 1997 ‘Lost Highway’ film and the first two JULEE CRUISE albums are said to be inspired by the production – John: “‘Song To The Siren’ was originally recorded as a B-side to the tracks ’16 Day’ and ‘Gathering Dust’; that was the start of the epic journey THIS MORTAL COIL went on”
Available on the THIS MORTAL COIL album ‘It’ll End In Tears’ via 4AD Records
M/A/R/R/S could be considered the ‘dance’ version of THIS MORTAL COIL, with Watts-Russell suggesting a union of COLOURBOX and AR KANE, two 4AD acts who had each suggested to him independently about making records inspired by the emerging American House scene. Engineering the sessions, Fryer found himself an unwilling referee between the conflicting factions. So the two parties worked separately with the COLOURBOX led ‘Pump Up The Volume’ coming out on top in white label club trials. With Fryer utilising an Akai MPC / S900 combination for the programming plus scratch effects by DJs CJ Macintosh and Dave Dorrell, the rest became history…
Available on the compilation album ‘Pump Up The Volume’ (V/A) via Universal Music
With THIS MORTAL COIL, the likes of Elizabeth Fraser, Gordon Sharp, Tanya Donelly, Heidi Berry and Lisa Gerrard were recruited amongst others, to perform either cover versions or original material. However, much of the latter comprised of enigmatic instrumentals steered by Fryer and Watts-Russell. A good example was ‘Acid, Bitter & Sad’ which featured the abstract vocals of Alison Limerick and turned up on the ‘Lonely Is An Eyesore’ compendium. The three studio albums that surfaced from the project ‘It’ll End In Tears’, ‘Filigree & Shadow’ and ‘Blood’ were all highly acclaimed. The idea continued as THE HOPE BLISTER with Louise Rutkowski on vocals for two albums before Watts-Russell retired from the music industry in 1999.
Available on the compilation album ‘Lonely Is An Eyesore’ (V/A) via 4AD Records
‘Sin’ was the third single from the critically acclaimed NINE INCH NAILS’ debut LP ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ which achieved triple platinum certification in 2003, having sold three million copies in the US alone. Still a live favourite, ‘Sin’ peaked at number 35 in the UK Singles Chart in 1990. The song’s sexual connotations are clearly portrayed in its video, which features the “Short” remix of the track. Fryer engineered, mixed and produced the song and fondly remembers working on the album, which went to become a huge commercial success – John: “‘PHM’ was a slow burner, it took a while for it to catch on but once it did, there was no stopping it or the band…”
Available on the NINE INCH NAILS album ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ via Island Records
Led by Mike Edwards, JESUS JONES’ ‘Right Here, Right Now’ was released in September 1990 and peaked at No31 in the UK Charts at the height of the indie dance ‘baggy’ craze. However in the US, it went to No2 in the Billboard Hot 100. Inspired by the Russian Perestroika changes, as well as other events in Eastern Europe, the tune is still used in adverts and video games alike – John: “Mike had a unique approach to writing pop music, it was great to work with him on that album. Great poptastic record”
Available on the JESUS JONES album ‘Doubt’ via Food Records
Remixed by Stephen Hague, ‘Falling Down’ appeared on the band’s EP ‘Freefall’ and Fryer-produced LP ‘Whirlpool’. The band was placed into “Shoegazing” genre, a name invented by NME and Melody Maker describing the performance style based on being not engaged with the audience and simply “staring downwards at their shoes”. Of course, this could have been the outcome of constantly looking downwards while using the effects pedals! John: “The NME has been great at making up labels for types of music. CHAPTERHOUSE was, and still is a live awesome band. The first thing the band did on starting the recordings, was take off their shoes…”
Available on the CHAPTERHOUSE album ‘Whirlpool’ via Cherry Red Records
From their album ‘Blow’, it was the only record SWALLOW put out on 4AD. Sometimes described as part of the Shoegazing genre, the Camberwell based band came together in 1990. ‘Blow’ was later remixed by the band itself, breaking down the Fryer production and releasing it under the name of ‘Blowback’. Louise Trehy and Mike Mason joined forces with Rough Trade Records afterwards to release ‘Hush’ EP before disbanding – John: “I don’t really know why they were called shoegaze, they should be called more art-gaze, more of an arty CURVE”
Available on the SWALLOW album ‘Blow’ via 4AD Records
‘Join Me In Death’ was from the band’s second album out in 1999 ‘Razorblade Romance’. It was also released as ‘Join Me’ in the US, as they were not able to use the word “death” in the title. Although the song’s title provoked widespread controversy, it has become the fifteenth best-selling song in Finland and was used in the European version of the soundtrack for ‘The Thirteenth Floor’. There are four versions of the song’s video and a vague ‘Romeo & Juliet’ theme was also associated to the song – John: “Yes, they had a lot of trouble in the US with the lyrical content for this album. The Americans thought it was a lawsuit waiting to happen with all the teenage suicides and shootings at school, but it was just a romantic love album”
Available on the HIM album ‘Razorblade Romance’ via BMG Finland
‘10,000 Watts’ was positively received by critics and audiences alike, mainly thanks to aggressive vocals by Victor Love. The parent ‘Neuromance’ album was backed up with numerous festival appearances and sold out in no time. Victor Love has always praised John Fryer’s style of production, admitting his technical knowledge had improved drastically upon working with the magic maker – John: “Pop music comes in various forms and this was another one of them. Victor knows how to write a great pop song and give it a provocative edge”
Available on the DOPE STARS INC album ‘Neuromance’ via Trisol Music Group
‘Methods Of Chaos’ was from the 2006 album of the same title in Spanish ‘Metodos Del Caos’. RABIA SORDA has been described as a gentler version of Erk Aicrag’s other project, Mexican Hardfloor legends HOCICO. The word “gentler” needs to be used with care, however, as to a standard listener, it is aggressive, loud and violent. RABIA SORDA’s style is characterised by a very industrial goth sound that has been hugely popular in his native Mexico and Europe – John: “I liked working with Erk and it’s a shame we aren’t working together any longer. He makes interesting kinda industrial pop music and is a very nice guy , I would love to work with him again”
Available on the RABIA SORDA album ‘Metodos Del Caos’ via Out Of Line Records
ASHBURY HEIGHTS Derrick Is A Strange Machine (2007)
From the critically acclaimed ‘Three Cheers For The Newlydeads’ in 2007, the Swedish duo has come through many changes, including disbanding and returning; this record remains one of their best however. ASHBURY HEIGHTS were hailed around 2006 as the hottest newcomers onto the electronic music scene, having played the big German and Swedish festivals. They have remixed endless amounts of artists including RABIA SORDA, AESTHETIC PERFECTION, GOD MODULE, and SPACEBUOY as well as many others – John: “ASHBURY HEIGHTS should have gone on to be one of the biggest electronic bands around with their super slick pop sound. It was a joy to work with them”
Available on the ASHBURY HEIGHTS album ‘Three Cheers For The Newlydeads’ via Out Of Line Records
‘Silhouettes’ was released a year after Fryer started collaborating with STRIPMALL ARCHITECTURE vocalist Rebecca Coseboom. Ethereal and textured, yet a catchy pop tune, it stands out on the ‘Noise In My Head’ album production. On this record, Fryer decided to be personally involved in a band member’s capacity, giving it celestial and sublime endorsement, and that certainly comes across – John: “‘Noise In My Head’ is the culmination of 25 years of work. It had been worked on over that time in-between producing other people’s records, but it was something I really wanted and needed to do for myself”
Available on the DARKDRIVECLINIC album ‘Noise In My Head’ via Metropolis Music
‘Soft Landing’ was released on 30th October 2014 to launch his “over the pond” collaboration with über talented LA based vocalist Pinky Turzo. This twinkling gem, which opens the album of the same title, is hints at the 1962 hit by JAY & THE AMERICANS ‘She Cried’. The songs on ‘Soft Landing’ can be easily described as a marriage of Dave Gahan’s solo projects and Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals, with the song itself being a masterpiece and a proud moment for Fryer. September 2015 will see gigs from Fryer and Turzo showcasing ‘Soft Landing’ to the hungry audiences – John: “The ‘Soft Landing’ album is more of a homage to the girl groups of the sixties. We wanted to marry that vocal sound of the girl groups to my electronic noise pop and I think we succeeded, in my opinion anyway”
Available on the SILVER GHOST SHIMMER download album ‘Soft Landing’ via Silver Ghost Shimmer
‘Strange’ comes from Fryer’s latest EP with Louise Fraser, an LA based vocalist. An exquisite continuation from the first EP entitled ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’, the production on ‘Strange’ cunningly resembles Alan Wilder’s (did he learn from the best?) on his RECOIL gems, yet it’s even softer and powerful, which proves why John Fryer is THE PRODUCER of now. The droplets of synth perfection are skilfully intertwined with airy vocals of Fraser, sounding almost JULEE CRUISE-like – John: “MURICIDAE is a project that I’m proud of. It compares to my roots of a 4AD sound, capturing the ambient, ethereal soundscapes and bringing them up to date with my own twists and noise”
Available on the MURICIDAE download EP ‘Tears Are Stronger Than Waves’ via Muricidae Music
It truly is amazing when one producer can cut his teeth into so many projects at the same time and turn out superb gems at the highest level.
John Fryer has gone and done just that.
If it wasn’t enough that earlier this year we were treated to his first EP under the MURICIDAE umbrella with LA based Louise Fraser, floatingly titled ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’, which has been highly critically acclaimed upon its release in April; Fryer comes back and provides the hungry listener with a production easily knocking anything else back from the pedestal.
Having treated his audiences to the ‘Soft Landing’ LP with Pinky Turzo as SILVER GHOST SHIMMER not that long ago and which has easily topped any recent release, the genius plates up ‘Tears Are Stronger Than Waves’ only three months after its predecessor.
Well known for having worked with the likes of COCTEAU TWINS, FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE and NINE INCH NAILS, Fryer isn’t a stranger to great sounding tunes, his own projects however, are as proficient as they get. His production techniques are right up with the Alan Wilders of this world, and paired with a competent vocalist, he brings the listener measured gifts of “oceanic auralgasms” in abundance.
Track one, ‘Strange’ opens with scarce synth elements providing the perfect canvas for the most angelic voice of Fraser, evolving into a glass-like shimmering sunshine reflection on the ocean waves. With Fryer’s production mirroring RECOIL’s ‘Drifting’, it gives the impression of an unknown threat and mystery, something Wilder used to excel in on DEPECHE MODE creations.
The mood is sharply changed with the harsh guitar riffs announcing the introduction of ‘Morphine’, like pure grunge meets glam electro. Sweet, yet menacing and in your face, drugging up the receiver into begging for a shot of some more! Oh how soothing the addiction is!
‘Home’ brings back the soft, synth droplets of perfection. With OMD inspired elements eloquently performed with JULEE CRUISE-like vocals, it is the kind of tune which Badalamenti would beg for. With a further dose of uncertain melody, it is chillingly calming and fearfully relaxing. Fryer is a self-confessed ‘Twin Peaks’ fan and that fact truly shows in this magnificent tune.
The familiar notes of ‘Should I Stay’ form the fourth number. Having appeared in a slightly different format on the first EP, this superb production shows off the sweetly haunting vocal intertwined within the remarkable concoction of orchestral sounds skilfully assembled by Fryer. ‘Going Under’ concludes the production with its unusually irregular structure. An admirably gentle start with scarce strings and gentle vocal elements, bursting into an immense case of serious guitar, synth and drum mixture, twinkling over the waves of the ocean, which is “calling to me”.
John Fryer has to stop this… the overload of the good stuff is surely not healthy, or is it just what the doctor ordered? Another slinky, über elegant, yet atomic piece, bursting out at the seams of greatness, a must have for all top drawer music lovers, irrespective of the genre. John, a well-deserved holiday for you perhaps?
‘Tears Are Stronger Than Waves’ is available now as a download EP
“Oceanic auralgasms” is how ethereal dream pop duo MURICIDAE describe their sound.
Yet another project from studio legend John Fryer, best known for his work with COCTEAU TWINS, NINE INCH NAILS, DEPECHE MODE and most recently SILVER GHOST SHIMMER, the musical template of MURICIDAE perhaps harks back to his work with THIS MOTRAL COIL, the 4AD art collective which at various times included DEAD CAN DANCE’s Lisa Gerrard and COCTEAU TWINS’ Elizabeth Fraser on vocals.
MURICIDAE though features the exquisite, angelic vocals of LA based song siren Louise Fraser, who incidentally is no relation to Elizabeth. She and Fryer apparently “met on the beach searching for mermaids”… the sea is very much the visual theme for their music, with Fryer cultivating “sonic sculptures to musically embody the exquisite Muricidae Shell itself”.
The pair released their first EP ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ in April and a video for the five track collection’s gorgeous lead track ‘Away’ has just been completed. The film features actress Sandy Akins as well as Louise Fraser and was filmed by Martin Curland and Kevin Bosl with John Fryer himself as editor and executive Director. It captures the tranquil piano laden soundscape with double vision oceanic imagery complimenting the echoes of Fraser’s plaintive lament. As floating synths drift in, the images become more cerebral as her various memories intertwine.
With the other tracks from ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’, ‘Real Slow’ is the spikiest and where “the jukebox is grinding”. At times, it even sounds like JULEE CRUISE fronting ‘Delta Machine’ era DEPECHE MODE with its bluesy overtones and rugged guitar. ‘Should I Stay’ is gently driven by a scratchy electronic rhythm with Fraser’s vocals beautifully layered on top. When the rhythm takes a breather for the middle eight, Fraser is left accompanied by some haunting ivories that further reveal an angelic fragility in her voice.
With synth strings, rolling percussion and halfway through, subtle arpeggios and deep squelches, ‘Falling’ is an epic cinematic number with Fraser sitting nicely within the orchestrated backing.
Together with John Fryer, they conspire to form an aesthetic that is greater than its sum of parts to produce a wonderful brooding cacophony of sound.
The EP is bookended by an ‘S Version’ of ‘Away’. The ‘S’ probably means the lush strings which adorn this alternate version and it acts as a worthy, aurally pleasing companion to the sparser original.
If you have ever imagined how THIS MORTAL COIL might have handled curating the soundtrack to ‘Twin Peaks’, then look no further than MURICIDAE and this elegant body of work.
‘Away’ is from the ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ EP available now from the usual digital outlets including iTunes and Amazon