Trent Reznor is now (and has been for a while) in the very enviable position of having complete creative control over NINE INCH NAILS; millions of record sales and lucrative film soundtrack work have positioned the act in a situation where they can pretty much do anything they like stylistically or artistically.
This element of control is evidenced over the last two years where NINE INCH NAILS have eschewed the album format (in a similar way to AESTHETIC PERFECTION) in favour of the EP / single route, releasing shorter clusters of tracks rather than committing to a full-on album release.
Having said that, Reznor has been quoted as saying that although only comprising 6 tracks, the new release ‘Bad Witch’ is an album, primarily because of the fear of an EP release not always given the online exposure it deserves. For example, if you Spotified certain artists and went to the album section you may be given the false impression that their last release was back in 2013 eg ‘Hesitation Marks’; but a further scroll down to the singles would reveal all the more recent EP releases such as ‘Not The Actual Events’ and ‘Add Violence’.
‘Bad Witch’ completes the trilogy started by ‘Not The Actual Events’ back in 2016 and (as you would probably expect) is not an easy listen. Opener ‘Sh*t Mirror’ angrily ups the ante from the off; sounding like it was mixed on a broken 4-track cassette deck, it hinges around a punky guitar riff and the mantra-like lyric “New worlds, new times, mutations, feels so right”. ‘Ahead of Ourselves’ has the same lo-fi aesthetic with an even more buried effected lead vocal with a phrasing that is reminiscent of PIXIES’ ‘Planet of Sound’. The lo-fi sound is ramped by the inclusion of deliberately out of time drum rolls and a punishing grimy synth bass sound throughout.
The first curveball of ‘Bad Witch’ is the re-appearance of Reznor playing prominent saxophone on ‘Play the Goddamned Part’; comparable to David Bowie’s usage of the instrument on his final album ‘Blackstar’, its mournful layers fitting surprisingly well with the NIN sound.
‘God Break Down the Door’ is the most electronic sounding track on the album with an LFO filtered sequencer part, more sax and a surprisingly crooner-style vocal from Reznor, utilising a vibrato which is at odds with his normal clipped vocal phrasing. The live drums provide an almost drum n bass breakbeat feel to the piece and the aforementioned vocal again pays homage to Bowie who previously worked (and developed a close friendship) with Reznor.
Closing piece ‘Over & Out’ starts with a loping Hip Hop beat, dub style bass and splashes of vibraphone and (more) sax. Vocals here are minimal, Reznor’s “Time is running out” hook paints a pessimistic picture and ends ‘Bad Witch’ on a predictable low ebb before dissolving into a hazy wall of sound and ambient noise.
Considering NIN have been operational for thirty years, ‘Bad Witch’ sounds far more fresh and vital than it has any right to be. With the obvious spectre of Bowie looming large on the final two thirds of the work, the lion’s share of the album could be considered a requiem for the legendary musical pioneer.
Fans of the more concise, melodic and hooky style of NIN like ‘Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Only’ will be left disappointed with ‘Bad Witch’, but those that want to be taken down a far darker musical path will find much to love in the tracks here.
The deliberately rough and ready mix sucks you into a harsh and abrasive world and by the end brutally spits you back out again. You have been warned…
‘Bad Witch’ is released by Capitol Records as a vinyl LP, CD and download
“My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast”.
And so we are invited to go in; into the mysteriously twisted, sickening at times, never straightforward world of David Lynch. One likes the arts and photography, another excels in music, or vocals, few make good films, while the rest write or paint; Lynch has done it all. Having introduced his unparalleled strangeness into American film making and being true to his own ideas, the “madman” (as Mel Brooks called him), even refused to direct ‘The Return Of The Jedi’, claiming that Lucas would do it better his way.
Meeting Angelo Badalamenti, while filming his hugely successful ‘Blue Velvet’, proved to be the start of a captivating musical relationship, which Lynch has proven to treasure till today.
Angelo Badalamenti, whose superlative musical understanding led to various working relationships with many a pop and rock band, with Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, Tim Booth, Anthrax, Marianne Faithful and others, all creating electrifying soundscapes with a little help of the virtuoso.
As Lynch’s films gained critical acclaim worldwide, his musical interests and collaborations grew in parallel.
Who directed a 2011 Duran Duran gig streamed live from Mayan Theater in LA? Lynch did…
Who collaborated with Interpol on ‘I Touch a Red Button Man’ animation? Lynch did…
Who directed Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Came Back Haunted’ video? Lynch did… (incidentally striking a further musical pact with Reznor)
Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images
As it often appears, happenstance creates the optimal conditions for working relationships, and that’s exactly what happened with Lynch and Cruise.
The ethereal sounding, dainty Julee may have never worked with the visionary, if it wasn’t for the fact that Lynch couldn’t use Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ covered by This Mortail Coil in a key scene of ‘Blue Velvet’. As an alternative, he commissioned Badalamenti to compose a song of similar feel, with lyrics by Lynch.
As someone had to sing ‘Mysteries Of Love’, Badalamenti recommended Cruise, known for her sublime voice. Recently the rather talented Kid Moxie re-visited the tune with Badalamenti , putting her own spin onto the Badalamenti/Lynch hit.
And so enter ‘Twin Peaks’; first aired in 1990 on ABC, later being taken off air due to dwindling popularity, the series was far more than the crime drama with a twist, expected by the fans of Lynch. Having teamed with Mark Frost, the master created a cult program, which is often described as one of the best TV series ever.
The story of the death of young and beautiful Laura Palmer, set in idyllic landscapes of rural Washington state, and the search for her murderer has, for years, evoked fear, lust, wonder and interest into the metaphysical and mystical.
Needless to say, a correct musical setting was necessary to depict the uncertainty, terror and weirdness of the events unfolding in, otherwise, quiet town of Twin Peaks.
A quiet town… at least that’s what one expects on the surface; but Twin Peaks has its own dark secrets. The horrors and wrongdoings that underline the death of Laura Palmer are palpable and Lynch made sure that his take on the human immorality is fully stamped on his characters.
Cruise was again chosen to perform a number of songs, and Badalamenti provided the musical mysticism, resulting in a multi-million selling soundtrack to the series, even with the tracks being largely instrumental.
But within those magical non word pieces, lay three acutely polished gems, all performed by Cruise. ‘Falling’, acting as the theme tune, must be, by far, one of the most recognised songs that go with any TV series.
Cruise further benefitted from the Lynch/Badalamenti collaboration by releasing her first album ‘Floating Into The Night’, which housed ‘Falling’, ‘Into The Night’ and ‘Nightingale’, all used in ‘Twin Peaks’.
‘Rocking Back Inside My Heart’ is one of the songs performed by Cruise live on stage at the Twin Peaks bar everyone gathers at, with most of the young female characters singing to it.
‘Falling’ has been so popular, that a number of artists decided to cover it, and further inspirations appeared by Apoptygma Berzerk, Bright Light Bright Light, The Joy Formidable, The Wedding Present and many others. The latest cover is, interestingly enough, performed by Chrysta Bell, who appears in the Twin Peaks revival series, and has been involved in working with Lynch for many years.
Joined by LA based music magician and celebrated producer John Fryer, Bell provides a synthy rendition, which is a true testament to the song’s longevity and prowess.
Lynch and Badalamenti also produced ‘Summer Kisses Winter Tears’, which, originally by Elvis Presley, was covered by Cruise and featured in ‘Until The End Of The World’ movie. A wonderfully presented come back of the 50s, with dreamy guitar and lazy piano, floating over the consciousness, not without an underlying uncertainty, however.
Chrysta Bell met Lynch in 1999 and the pair have collaborated since, with the master co-writing two of her albums. Her stunning song written with the director himself, ‘Polish Poem’, was featured in the closing scenes of ‘Inland Empire’. Not only is it hauntingly beautiful, but depicts the end of the movie in a sublime manner.
But Lynch sings himself too, oh yes! ‘Good Day Today’ is minimal electro, breaking into the popular culture, with heavily melodyned vocal pleading for the want of having “a good day today”. The lensman wants to be sent an angel, and complains of tiredness over a fast paced, catchy beat; all this happening against a back drop of a disturbingly Lynchian video.
Karen O joins the magician on ‘Pinky’s Dream’, which has been skilfully remixed by Trentemøller into an electronic burst of metallic beats and heavy bass. Together with ‘Good Day Today’, both taken from ‘Crazy Clown Time’, the first album by Lynch, the tracks have been described as having serious electro pop influences.
‘I’m Waiting Here’, performed by the Swedish singer and songwriter Lykke Li, found itself on Lynch’s second album ‘The Big Dream’. Featuring a video, which could have been taken from any of Lynch’s productions, the dreamy arrangement gets abruptly cut off by unexplained noise and the uncertainty is ushered, breaking off the waltzing style of the music. This is what David is about; nothing is ever perfectly straightforward.
He remixes too… ‘Evangeline’ by John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen was masterfully adapted by the filmmaker. It’s gritty, dirty and fragmented: mechanical in texture. It feels like observing the intricate workings of a Swiss watch, while on blow, being surrounded by robots.
Moby has collaborated with the master for years too. This includes video directing, interviews and remixes. ‘Go’ was largely influenced by the Twin Peaks theme, which is sampled here, and it sold a staggering two million copies. And now Richard Melville Hall stars as the guitar player in Rebekah Del Rio’s band, performing live in Part 10 of ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival.
The Lynch collaborations are endlessly eclectic when it comes to genre and style. From ambient, pop, rock, via synth, classical and experimental. The working relationship with Marek Zebrowski, a Polish-American composer, also started during the production of ‘Inland Empire’, part of which was shot in Łódź. As both displayed interests in musical experimentation and improvisation, a concept evolved under the name of ‘Polish Night Music’.
More recently the hungry fans of the original ‘Twin Peaks’ series have been in for a treat. Lynch has always stressed that the story of Laura Palmer wasn’t complete and this year has seen the revival series hit the television screens. When Julee Cruise happily took to the stage in the original series, dazzling with a plethora of eerie, ethereal notes and semi-shy demeanour; the Revival brings plenty of musical surprises, inviting different performers to do their own sets in The Bang Bang Bar, a roadhouse in Twin Peaks. Each episode features a live performance from handpicked musicians, many of whom have a long history of association with the film master.
First off, Chromatics showcase ‘Shadow’, the video to which reminds of the Black Lodge’s red curtains. The Portland based band has undergone many a member change, but ‘Shadow’ certainly proves that the current set up is perfect. The track is Badalamenti dreamy, still bearing the electronic sounds of the now, and as an opener to the newest of the tales of the sleepy Washington town, it blends in nicely.
Au Revoir Simone from New York picks up the baton in Part 4, following The Cactus Blossoms. ‘Lark’ keeps in with the intangible atmosphere, leading through to Trouble’s ‘Snake Eyes’. An Americana rock and roll style, with added sexy saxophone and jazzy influences, this instrumental track leads into Part 6, with Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Tarifa’. With the copious amounts of folksy soothing day dream, the quirky vocal and bluesy elements, at times a la Fleetwood Mac, it’s a perfect summer evening track.
None other than Lynch’s old collaborator Trent Reznor comes back to mingle with the master yet again, after having worked on the score for ‘Lost Highway’, and Nine Inch Nails’ video for ‘Came Back Haunted’. This time taking the role of a goth band frontman, the leather clad Reznor and co, take to the Roadhouse stage to deliver ‘She’s Gone Away’.
As the first band to be actually introduced by an MC, NIN hauntingly induce their semi psychedelic, disturbingly mish-mashed track full of guitars over Reznor’s seductive male interceptions. Backing vocals are provided by Mrs Reznor, Marqueen Maandig.
Hudson Mohawke takes the DJ reins on ‘Human’ in Part 9, while Au Revoir Simone returns in the same episode with ‘A Violet Yet Flammable World’, which begins with a similar beat to Depeche Mode’s classic ‘Ice Machine’, to develop into an all girl extravaganza of voice and purely electronic sound, reminiscent of Marsheaux.
Rebekah Del Rio delivers memorable rendition of ‘No Stars’ written by Lynch. The Latin-American songstress has been a muse for the filmmaker for years, providing a cameo appearance in ‘Mulholland Drive’ to perform a Spanish a cappella performance of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. In ‘Twin Peaks’, she is seen in a dress with a pattern reminiscent of the Black Lodge floor, ushers in a stunning vocal, both in English and Spanish. Yet another classic ‘Twin Peaks’ track.
What follows in Part 11, is a twist: a beautifully composed piano piece ‘Heartbreaking’ performed by Count Smokula.
Chromatics return in the next episode with instrumental ‘Saturday’, while the ominous number 13 brings the original series’ familiar James Marshall with ‘Just You’, which also appears on ‘Twin Peaks Music: Season Two Music and More’.
Folksy Lissie performs ‘Wild West’, just where David Bowie appears for the first time in Cole’s dream as Phillip Jeffries of ‘Fire Walk With Me’ movie.
Bowie moves back in in Episode 15, which is wrapped up by The Veils performing ‘Axolotl’. The London based indie band has been yet another of Lynch’s favourites chosen to perform live in Twin Peaks and they don’t disappoint with the quasi electronic, gripping tune, which injects a further dose of fear and uncertain weirdness so typical of Lynch’s disciples.
Number 16 showcases none other than Pearl Jam’s finest, Eddie Vedder, introduced as Edward Louis Severson with ‘Out Of Sand’. The fact that Vedder had been listed as a cast member well before the episode aired, created a stir and many fans eagerly awaited his performance at the Bang Bang Bar. Although the tune had been available prior to the premiere of Part 16, EV toned it down to acoustic guitar as the only instrument accompanying his hauntingly hungry voice.
Interestingly enough Vedder isn’t in the closing titles; Audrey Horne gets to perform ‘Audrey’s Dance’ once more, with a more sinister ending however.
The real treat wraps up Episode 17, with none other than Julee Cruise returning beautifully to finish the part, where Cooper and co go back to the past to try and save Laura Palmer. Julee’s second to none, ethereally magical voice on ‘The World Spins’ is an ultimate tribute to the whole of the series, with Number 18 (being the last) stripped off the, now familiar, musical end.
If anyone wanted answers in the Revival series, they’re probably banging their heads against the wall (or are getting tangled in the Black Lodge curtains), because more questions were introduced and the aura of weirdness has been intensified to almost mystical levels. Has the evil been eradicated? We don’t think so.
Have we got a happy ending? Certainly not so.
But isn’t that what Lynch is all about?
Riddles, riddles, riddles…
And what’s next for the genius? More music perhaps? Who knows, but with the wealth of experiences from the master over the years; musical or visual, haven’t we all been in for a treat?
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has recently been gaining much enjoyment from a video which brutally satirises TRENT REZNOR and NINE INCH NAILS.
‘This is a Trent Reznor Song’ by FREDDY SCOTT hits the proverbial nail (sorry couldn’t resist it) on the head in deconstructing the various elements that make up a NINE INCH NAILS song.
Based around ‘A Copy Of’ from the last NIN album ‘Hesitation Marks’, Scott’s rather hilarious track is structured in such a way that it wickedly pokes fun at many of the trademarks of Reznor’s act – including the “random percussion”, “weird guitar” and several knowing references to their lead singer’s vocal production techniques.
What makes the song so successful is the attention to detail, like the little delays in the verse and the use of the “Weird sound” FX pedal before the song’s bridge. The video itself contains what have now become recognisable tropes in certain NIN promos, the silhouette shot, the creepy sepia dead animal shot and the intercut band performances with Scott perfectly aping Reznor’s stage posture.
Comedian Scott had previously caused a bit of a stir with his RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS aping ‘Abracadabralifornia’, which although semi-fooling some into thinking it was a new Chili’s track, in places actually came across more like a MORRISSEY sound-a-like than lead vocalist Anthony Keidis.
This more recent parody is far more on the money and although there’s been no public reaction from Reznor to the track, what is certain is that you’ll find it hard to get the chorus out of your head…
Altogether now: “This is a Trent Reznor song / Yeah it’s still going on / Seriously it’s the same song / But it’s very awesome!”
With the decline in physical music sales and the pressure on artists to generate revenue from the live shows, the paying public now has much higher expectations when it comes to seeing a band live.
With gig ticket prices rising steadily and the re-sale market taken into consideration too, the desire to see your favourite band often sees your bank account taking a serious hit.
For that reason you would have right to expect value for money, not just in terms of show length, but how the visuals are presented. The image of NINE INCH NAILS (from both a design aesthetic and the act as a live experience) has shown just how much Trent Reznor cares about the visual identity of the band – with the birth of the ‘Tension’ tour in 2013, it was his intention to create a show which created a film-like experience for the audience, that “started off one-way and then musically and visually evolves to keep your attention”.
Prior to their retirement in 2006, the NIN live experience back then was often a sensory overload, with the band playing behind a large net screen for some songs with huge projected images overload on top of them. This was taken a stage further on the initial ‘Tension’ dates using an innovative LED curtain which dropped in front of the band upon which computer generated graphics could be overlayed.
Unfortunately, this element of the show has been dropped for this part of tour, but even without this, the tour really sets the standard for how live electronic / rock music should be put across with Reznor investing a huge amount of his own money into the lighting so that it fulfilled his vision. What is also interesting is how fluid this process is.
For some acts, it would be tempting to stick to a winning formula and use the same lights and songs for a long world tour, but at the risk of the process becoming playing by numbers after several dates. On this tour, songs are regularly rotated, so for the fan happy to follow the band and catch several dates, there is the added bonus that it remains a fresh show experience for them too.
Joining Reznor onstage are long-term cohorts Robin Fincke and Alessandro Cortini, sadly missed however was the legendary Pino Palladino who played some 2013 dates. But his shoes were ably filled by Cortini, Fincke and drummer Ilan Rubin who were interchangeable on their instruments, switching effortlessly between guitars, synth and bass throughout the evening.
Tonight’s show gave the band an opportunity to showcase material from all stages of their career, with the more recent material from ‘Hesitation Marks’ slotting in well alongside older tracks from ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ and ‘The Downward Spiral’. Opening track ‘Somewhat Damaged’ from ‘The Fragile’opened the show, its ascending four note guitar riff giving way to layers of electronics and pounding drums from Rubin.
At a NIN show there are some songs you are guaranteed to hear, early on this included the now familiar one-two sequence of ‘March Of The Pigs’ and ‘Pigs’, despite the thematic link, both tracks polar opposites of each other, the first being a dynamic call to arms, the second a slower, loping, more melodic track.
With ‘The Great Destroyer’, NIN turned the Nottingham Arena into one massive club venue, with Reznor and Cortez both behind a bank of electronics, warping and glitching the extended outro for the song, silhouetted against a shifting LED backdrop. Fan favourites ‘Closer’, ‘Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Head Like A Hole’ were saved for the latter part of the set, before the band closed the show with ‘Hurt’; despite nearly being ruined by a mass out of time clap-along, this as always proved to be the perfect gig closer.
An anthemic yet, brutally honest song famously covered by Johnny Cash, it was a crashing climax sealing an astonishing show. Although not quite measuring up to the last RAMMSTEIN tour in terms of being an out-and-out jaw-dropping spectacle, this tour has raised the bar for how electronic and rock music should be presented live.
The instrumentation was perfect, live drums were used when they were needed and not added in to try and reinforce that “we are now A ROCK BAND” a la current DEPECHE MODE, plus there was barely any audience communication as it wasn’t needed; the music and the visuals on show did all the talking.
The only negative that could be applied to tonight’s gig is that having seen footage of the earlier ‘Tension’ shows, these ones are certainly stripped back in terms of budget and lack the variation of the moving screens. The original references to TALKING HEADS iconic ‘Stop Making Sense’ are sadly gone too, probably a financial decision, as it has become apparent in interviews that the earlier full-blown shows, despite being completely mind blowing were losing money due to the production costs involved. Even taking all of this into account, this is a tour that people will be talking about for several years to come, a real sonic and visual treat for the senses.
The best way to sum up this show review is to leave you with a few words from REPUBLICA vocalist Saffron who witnessed the London O2 Arena date: “Now that’s how it’s done..! NINE INCH NAILS were amazing at O2. Extraordinary sound and lights. If your ambition isn’t to present your music as well as this, give up……”
NINE INCH NAILS tour North America throughout Summer 2014
If there is one man who has put the synthesizer on the map within popular music, it is GARY NUMAN.
Under the moniker of TUBEWAY ARMY, his memorable appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in May 1979 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ became many a music fan’s entry point into electronic music. The huge international hit ‘Cars’ swiftly followed and with it, worldwide fame and fortune.
The outstanding legacy of those two songs has put Numan is an awkward position, particularly in the UK where mainstream media only want to feature and talk about those two songs.
This has allowed Numan to pursue his own distinctive and heavier path with albums such as ‘Exile’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Pure’. In a career of over 35 years with well documented highs and lows, it is Numan’s highs that have established him as a highly influential music figure. Covers of his songs by heavyweights such as NINE INCH NAILS, FOO FIGHTERS and MARILYN MANSON have been indicators of the high regard by which the former Gary Webb is held.
But is it not just the murkier world of alternative rock that has acknowledged its debt to Numan. Even in the dance and pop world where tales of dystopia and icy alienation are not easily embraced, samples of ‘Are Friends Electric?’, ‘Cars’ and ‘M.E.’ have respectively formed the basis of massive hit singles by SUGABABES, ARMAND VAN HELDEN and BASEMENT JAXX.
GARY NUMAN’s new album ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ is the follow-up to 2004’s ‘Jagged’. Although 2011 saw the release of the out takes collection ‘Dead Son Rising’, ‘Splinter’ is Numan’s first full length album project for seven years.
Produced by Ade Fenton and mastered by Matt Colton, the album features amongst its guest musicians guitarist Robin Finck, best known for his work with NINE INCH NAILS.
It sees a reinvigorated Numan in dynamic form, experimenting with classical orchestration on ‘The Calling’ and a more vulnerable but soulful vocal style on ‘Lost’ that will be a fresh surprise to anyone remotely interested in his work.
Dark dubdrops and spaces provide the much needed variation from previous works while sitting alongside are blistering anthemic synth assisted rockers like ‘Who Are You?’ and ‘Love Hurt Bleed’. With the opening gambit of ‘I Am Dust’ as a formidable statement of intent and the beautifully dramatic ‘My Last Day’ as its closer, ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ is possibly Numan’s most significant work since 2000’s ‘Pure’.
GARY NUMAN kindly took time out to chat to from his new home in LA where he was in good spirits despite his wife Gemma’s illness at the time…
‘Splinter’ is finally upon us…it’s been a long journey?
It’s f***ing ridiculous isn’t it? *laughs*
It hasn’t taken 7 years to make; it’s just been 7 years since the last one! Half of it was written in the last 8 months since I moved to LA.
A bit was in the 6 months before the move but the bulk of it was written in the last year and a half plus there were some of it that came from various half hearted attempts at the start… I’d probably got about 30-35 songs in the course of that 7 years but never got stuck into it until the last year or so.
There are many reasons for that; shortly after ‘Jagged’ we had a baby which was really cool; but then we had another unexpectedly and then another shortly after! So our life went from being fairly free, easy and hedonistic to suddenly having a family where your life’s not your own anymore! I, in particular didn’t adapt to the family thing very well at all!
I really love the children but the life that came with them I did not love at all… I really missed my old life. I’d turned 50 and was having a mid-life crisis; I got really panicky about dying and getting illnesses, weird paranoia, crying in the streets when I saw old people… I properly weirded myself out! So I went on anti-depressants, Gemma had post-natal depression from the second baby right through to our third so she had a terrible time. We both struggled with the responsibility of parenting and its fears, so we were both at our worst when we needed to be strong for each other. We started to have problems and it was horrible!
The last thing I wanted to do was start another album. I do them quite challenging I have to say. I find each one more difficult than the one before… the emotional rollercoaster that you go on!
They’re massively important to your life and to your future so it’s very easy to become overly self-critical and to have confidence issues. If I have a bad day in the studio, it has a terrible effect on me and it’s hard to keep positive. And that has a knock-on effect on your family. So you grate on each other again.
Luckily, we worked all through that and we’ve come out of it stronger than ever. I‘ve adapted to family life and it’s brilliant, I love it… we are honestly stronger than ever. We loved each other and got through it. I started working on the album more seriously but by now I had the children and they were massively distracting. I didn’t want to miss anything and so I spent far too much time being a dad. So when I got used to be a dad, I spent far too much time doing that rather than being a songwriter!
But then, the album started to go really well and I found because of all the sh*t we’d gone through, I had a huge amount of things to write about. So songs like ‘Lost’ and ‘The Calling’, they’re not the happiest of tunes to be really honest, but it all came from a very difficult time! Food for creativity! *laughs*
How did the momentum for finishing ‘Splinter’ begin?
I actually did get a lot of confidence from ‘Dead Son Rising’ because that had its own problems; Ade bullied me into finishing that! *laughs*
It’s entirely to Ade’s credit that album ever happened because he was trying to do that while this sh*t was going on. At one point I said “I don’t like it” and I turned my back on it for a year and a half! I only rediscovered it by accident when we were on holiday; Gemma was playing a track in another room and I didn’t recognise it… I thought it sounded great!
So I went running to her and said “What’s that? It’s brilliant! If I’d written that stuff, I’d be writing albums” and she went “…it is you, YOU F***ING IDIOT!” – she said it was the ‘Dead Son Rising’ stuff that I didn’t like! I didn’t even recognise it and I went “I was wrong then because that’s really good!”*laughs*
So I rang Ade up and apologised about being so stupid so that we could finish the album. I suddenly did a whole load of work and got it done. I ended up being really proud of it. It got great reviews and the fans liked it. But I still didn’t throw myself wholeheartedly into ‘Splinter’ as it still felt like a huge project but that was the turning point. And when I came to LA, I built a new home studio and my work ethic was like I was 21 again. I was in there every day churning stuff out. The children were forbidden from even knocking on the door… as soon as I turned a machine on, a red light went on outside so they knew! I hadn’t been that efficient before!
Had ‘The Fall’, which was on ‘Dead Son Rising’, originally been intended for ‘Splinter’?
No, that was a demo from ‘Jagged’ or ‘Pure’. ‘Dead Son Rising’ had started out as a collection of stuff I hadn’t released. It ended up being mainly new songs funnily enough but that was the way it worked out.
Often you will write a song but decide not to put it on an album, not because it’s a bad song but it doesn’t quite suit that album. So you put it on a shelf and normally, you forget all about it. It was only a few years ago that I started keeping stuff I didn’t use, I used to erase everything!
Ade was round my house and asked whether I had any unreleased stuff. We went to the studio and found about 14-15 songs that we thought were good that were of a similar vein we could use. So when I got back from holiday, I wrote some new stuff so it ended up an album of more new songs but ‘The Fall’ and ‘When The Sky Bleeds He Will Come’ were definitely old ones.
On first listening, although it’s still heavy, ‘Splinter’ appears to be a lot more freer, looser than ‘Jagged’ with more variation?
I think that’s true.
It’s far more varied than ‘Jagged’ and ‘Pure’, more variation in tempo, it doesn’t hammer on about God the way the last few have done! I learnt a lot from ‘Dead Son Rising’ because my original idea was really bad.
I was just going to make 12 songs, everyone of them was going to be a huge anthemic singalong epic… aural assault, brain damage, all that kind of thing! Then when ‘Dead Son Rising’ came out, that was very varied and I thought that was actually much more interesting from a songwriting point of view. A lot of the fan and media reaction commented on the fact that it was varied compared to what I’d done before.
So when I started to work on ‘Splinter’ in earnest, that became a requirement that we wouldn’t do this one-dimensional idea I’d envisaged. We did the opposite and made it more varied. We were careful about what songs we chose to make sure that we had that. I honestly think it’s a much better album to the one before it, a much more interesting listening experience than if I’d have stuck with my original idea… which was a sh*t idea! *laughs*
‘I Am Dust’ is a terrific opener that is a lot more electronic than some were expecting? Some have reflected it’s thematically close to ‘We Are Glass’…
We definitely moved away from guitars but they’re still on it; Robin Finck’s on it for a start, he’s one of the best guitar players in the world. But it’s an emphasis thing. On the previous albums, it’s shifted very much towards guitars being very prominent but this one is very much on electronic music… some songs don’t have any guitars on at all! It’s still the same mixture of instrumentation as before but the emphasis is different.
I don’t think I play guitar on any songs at all on ‘Splinter’… I may have done on the demos but not on the finished versions. It was a conscious decision right from the outset to make a more electronic album. But we still wanted it to be heavy and that industrial rock vibe running through it.
Arabic overtones come into the atmospheres of your work quite a bit now like on the ‘Splinter’ title track?
I’ve actually wanted to make an Arabian kind of album, that sort of vibe, for a long time but never actually done it. What I have done with ‘Splinter’ is sprinkled it over top of some of the songs. I really love it, some of the instrumentation in particular, the structures and the melody flows are beautiful, very atmospheric and emotional. And I do think it translates quite well to the sort of thing I do, I think it works. I just haven’t had the courage yet to go into it wholeheartedly, I’m still cowardly tinkering round the edges of it. But on this album, it’s more than I’ve done before but it’s still very much just a flavour like a gentle herb drizzled across the top.
Photo by Keith Martin
That’s interesting that you mention beauty, because it’s not necessarily been a term used to describe your work…
…but there’s always been melody; if you strip out all of the heaviness, quite often what you’re left with is quite pretty melodies.
I really noticed that on the ‘Jagged’ album. During the sessions, we would strip the songs back down to piano and the melodies were quite pretty.
But it’s the way we produce them that makes them heavy. You could take them in a very different way and have a beautiful album. I think a lot of that is true on ‘Splinter’.
If you listen to the song ‘Lost’, we deliberately haven’t produced that… it’s stayed sparse and naked; essentially it’s just a piano and a vocal all the way through it. The quality of the melody on that really shows because it’s undisguised. I think it’s the thing I’m best at from the melody point of view… it’s my only string point! I’m not a particularly good musician truth be told and Ade is by far a better producer than I’ve ever been. But melody is probably the one thing that I can do.
The vocal on ‘Lost’ intrigued me because it’s kind of… soulful?
Me and Ade had so many arguments about this! *laughs*
Ade decided and I reluctantly agreed to put the vocal on with virtually no effects on it whatsoever. When I used to make albums up to ‘Jagged’, I put a lot of effect on my voice because I’ve never been confident about it. I didn’t think it was very good and I would put double tracking on it, delays, reverbs… I would just swamp the f***er!
Ade and Gemma had been saying for ages that I should let the voice come out on its own and louder in the mix. So we have done it and it’s very reduced effects, one or two delays and gentle reverb. There’s no ADT, no harmonising which was my in-the-pocket effect for whatever I did… that’s all gone! And so to my ears, it’s horribly naked and I’m really uncomfortable about it! *laughs*
Photo by Keith Trigwell
‘Love Hurt Bleed’ is a good hybrid of guitars and electronics, a real highlight… did you change the ‘Splinter’ songs much from having played them live?
Not a lot, they were pretty well worked out but they are different. ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ has been played live for a couple of years now, it’s almost like an old song. It is different on the record but in detail really rather than anything dramatic. The structure is as it was, although we’ve made it more powerful than what we were able to do live funnily enough.
We played ‘I Am Dust’ live and that might be a little bit different on the album with the main groove. I’ve been compiling all of the demos and I noticed some of them were quite different, others were just more polished. But as songs, they were very much the same.
The way I work is I write them here and I work them up to a reasonably finished level, but knowing Ade is going to change everything! I give him a quality direction as to what I’m aiming for. He then works on them, sends them back and we have an argument. We change things, we argue again and we end up with what we end up with.
You joked in the ‘Splinter’ trailer about having a song at 150BPM. Do you find you have a natural aversion to faster tempos now?
Yes, I do! I think it’s impossible to convey any kind of atmosphere at that sort of speed! It’s just going to be a mental dance track and that’s it! The thing on the trailer that I was joking about was my drummer has been having a go at me for ages that I couldn’t write a song at 150BPM. I said “I can, I just don’t want to”! So we had a £50 bet on it! So there is one that’s 150 but it’s actually at half tempo, it’s running at 75… you can write everything at double time and halve it when you record. So technically, he owes me £50! But he’s not having it because he goes “it’s not really is it? It says 150 on the machine but it isn’t!”*laughs*
Which one was that?
I can’t remember! It might be ‘Love Hurt Bleed’! *laughs*
‘Who Are You?’ will be popular with those who like your uptempo anthemic songs like ‘Listen To My Voice’, what’s that one about?
I wrote that for a film; when I moved to LA, I was asked by a company to write the end credit song. It came out really well and I thought it would be good to have it on the album because it would help their film and the album but I don’t think that will work now due to the scheduling. So lyrically, it’s to do with the subject matter of the film which about a musician who has a schizophrenic personality. He’s actually a murderer but is also very charming so it’s about that.
In a sense, it doesn’t sit quite as comfortably within ‘Splinter’ for that reason but it works well. It sounds like it belongs there and gave the album another big uptempo track which it needed. I think the balance of the album is right; without that song, there would have been too many slower, doom steady kind of things so it gave it the right balance.
Do you know the title of the film?
I don’t actually, it had a working title but they’re not calling it that and they haven’t told me what they’re releasing under yet but we might know soon.
Your friend John Foxx still plays with vintage analogue kit while you’re happy with using the latest gear. What’s your favourite piece of equipment at the moment whether virtual or hardware, and where do you see music technology heading?
I’m very software based. There’s a company called Native Instruments who do some great stuff.
There’s another called Spectrasonics who make the backbone of what I do, they’ve got a bit of software called Omnisphere which is phenomenal but everyone’s got it unfortunately. So you have to be careful that you don’t use sounds everybody else has heard, you got to try and manipulate them into something new or else you will just become a preset jockey as so many people are!
It’s difficult to avoid it really because some of the sounds are just so amazing! Much as I understand other people wanting to go back to old equipment, I absolutely do not share it. I have no interest in it really… it might be because I’ve been around a long time, but I feel I got all the good sounds out of that equipment when I had it the first time.
And if I go back to it, it’s going to sound reminiscent… if I could come up with different sounds, they’re still coming from the same place, they going to have that buzzy analogue sound to them. And much as I love it, I feel like I’ve used it and for me, it will sound as if I’ve gone backwards… people will be going “ooooh great, that sounds like ‘The Pleasure Principle’”! I don’t want people to say that!
My interest in electronic music has always been to try and find sounds that I’ve not heard before. That’s always been the thing that’s most exciting and fun about it. So going back to old equipment will sound like variations of things I have done before, it doesn’t hold any real interest but each to their own. If other people find that inspiring and of interest, then that’s great.
I look forward to what Spectrasonics are going to do next. I get really deep into the technology for new sounds. When I was making this album, I was finding all kinds of software. I got loads of stuff from a company called, and it’s a terrible name, Best Service! What a sh*t name for a company but brilliant software! A lot of the Arabian stuff that you mentioned came from them. Mark Of The Unicorn did a fantastic bit of software with Arabian stuff too.
So what did you do with the Minimoog you found in your garage?
That is still being rebuilt! I got an email a few months ago from the guy who’s repairing it with a photo and it looked perfect.
He said he was waiting for some more parts which are quite hard to find and… I’ve heard nothing from him since! *laughs*
I had another Minimoog before that which I had rebuilt but the one that I found in my garage when I was moving to emigrate to the US, that was in a terrible state! F***ing hell, I couldn’t believe it! You’re hacking away at a bush and there’s a synthesizer underneath it! *laughs*
Is that going to end up in a museum, or are you possibly going to use it?
I was going to sell it because I’ve got no love for them whatsoever. But I’m beginning to build some kind of affection for that little one because it’s had such a horrible life… it’s toured with me around the world and been on my albums, and then I’ve abandoned it in a loft and a bush grows on top of it. That’s harsh! And now it’s hopefully all lovely and working again… whether I ever use it again, I doubt very much but I think I will keep it. I might actually mount it on the wall and just have it there, I think it deserves to be kept. Or I might even donate it to the Hard Rock Café or someone like that who might want it for a display item. But I’ll probably sell the other one…
I was interested in asking why with the excellent ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’ remix Andy Gray did back in 2001, you hadn’t pursued that more blippy but dark electronic direction as it appeared to suit you?
Yeah, I do like it… and that’s the version we always do live. I’ve not played the original version of that since Andy did his version. He did an amazing version of ‘Dead Sun Rising’ as well. He’s just brilliant, he’s a f***ing genius. In the future, I would definitely want to make a full album with Andy Gray and it would be more that way. We’ve done a couple of songs together and I love them both.
Sometimes, it’s about your own ambitions and what you want to do. Me and Ade go in a certain direction which I love and that is what I want at the moment, I’ve been pretty clear about where I want to go. It could be that we will go in different directions, I don’t know. With Andy, I would go into it with a slightly more open mind and see where it takes us.
Photo by Keith Trigwell
Your US tour includes two dates opening for NINE INCH NAILS. Is the possibility of you and Trent Reznor writing and recording together getting closer to becoming a reality?
It’s something that we’ve mentioned in the past a few times. Before, being in England was always a bit of an issue because you can’t just drop in when you have a free hour.
Trent works constantly, I’ve never known anybody with a work ethic like it! It should be much easier now, I’m only 20 minutes away from him.
But now the whole NINE INCH NAILS thing is up and running again and he’s mega busy with that. I’ve seen two of the shows already and it’s amazing. He sent me the album a few weeks back and it’s really cool. He’s just really good at what he does isn’t he? It’s always going to be good.
So I hope to, that would be something I’d be really excited about doing at some point in the future, but somewhat intimidated… it’s the only outstanding one for me. We’re mates and we live near each other, so it would seem to be something that is likely to happen at some point in the future but we’ll see… it’s been 10 years since we first talked about it so it’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon! *laughs*
You were spotted at DEPECHE MODE’s first London date on the ‘Delta Machine’ tour. How does it feel to know you and DM have both made such a worldwide impact from your Synth Britannia beginnings?
Yeah… their career’s done rather well compared to mine I would say! They’re doing football stadiums in every country on the planet and I’m not! I’m not jealous! Not envious at all about what’s happened to them! *roars of laughter*
They’ve done amazing and go from phenomenon to phenomenon. Just unbelievable really how well they done.
Alan Wilder is a really good mate of mine, I regret that he’s not in the band anymore.
I love DEPECHE MODE but my favourite period is ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ where they went darker, heavier and frightening almost!
I think Alan has to take the lion share of the credit for that because I know he shaped that whole sound on ‘Black Celebration’, ‘Violator’, ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ etc. For me, it got more and more interesting, and was really inspiring.
‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was a key album in my music becoming much heavier back in 1994 and having the long career that I have had. In the early 90s, my career was pretty much dead and buried. But then I made ‘Sacrifice’ which resurrected me and off I went again. ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ has a real big hand to play in that album so I’ve got a huge gratitude to Alan Wilder. He probably more than anyone was instrumental in saving my career. I wrote the songs, but I don’t know I would have done if I hadn’t had heard ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’. It just made me think differently and it made me want to make a different kind of music. It was massively important and that’s just the truth of it.
Have you and Alan Wilder ever discussed working together?
We never have actually but that would be great! He’s another one who’s an absolute genius. I love all of his RECOIL stuff and moan at him a lot that he should work more and get a singer! *laughs*
The work that he does is fantastic and maybe that’s something I should pursue because I love him, we get on really well… yeah… you’ve got some good ideas!
The move to the States appears to have relaxed you, you’ve even been tweeting photos of your holiday and dog Wilbur…
It hasn’t changed my songwriting at all, I still write the same sort of things as I did before. But in terms of life, it’s an amazing place to be. It’s difficult to praise up somewhere else without offending the British, because they get very easily offended of you don’t love Britain. *laughs*
I do love Britain, but moving here was very difficult decision to make. I have to say having done it, and there and many things I do miss like friends and family, it’s amazing here.
And 20 minutes drive away is the ocean, Malibu or Hollywood. I’ve had breakfast in Hollywood and you can park outside a restaurant… it’s not like England where there’s one parking space for every 2000 cars and if you do find one, you have to pay £10 a minute! Here, there’s valet parking for $2 for the day! Brilliant!
The weather is beautiful, you can live a very outdoor life because it doesn’t rain. It’s pretty here because they’re got irrigation and there’s greenery. There’s so much to do and so much entertainment here. It’s a culture unashamedly geared to having a good time. In England, you’re kind of made guilty for having a boat. It’s so different here and they seem to enjoy life and living in way I’ve not experienced anywhere else.
There is far less cynicism, less aggression. The British view of America is guns and violence, and although that is here, it’s very much located in certain areas. Where I live is peaceful and calm. I’ve not seen a fight since I’ve been here and I’ve been here 9-10 months now. I guarantee I could get off the plane in England and see that within an hour anywhere, any time of the day!
You gonna see a little drunk f***er or some thug in the street shouting or spitting! It’s kind of part of our culture and for all the talk of guns and violence in the US, it is not part of your day-to-day life. I’ve not been out for one single moment with the children where I tried to shoo them away or take them to one side or move on, not at all! Yet, it happened regularly in England, even in my little local village. So from that point of view, it really is better.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to GARY NUMAN
Atlanta Masquerade (25th October), Asheville Mountain Oasis Festival (26th October), Washington Black Cat (27th October), Brooklyn Music Hall of Williamsburg (29th October), Sunrise BB&T Center (October 30 – with NINE INCH NAILS), Orlando Amway Center (31st October – with NINE INCH NAILS), Bristol 02 Academy (7th November), Dublin Button Factory (8th November), Sheffield 02 Academy (11th November), Newcastle 02 Academy (12th November), Glasgow 02 ABC (13th November), Manchester Academy (14th November) Oxford 02 Academy (15th November), London Roundhouse (16th November), Brighton The Dome (18th November), Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall (19th November)