First name checked on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK by Martin Swan of VILE ELECTRODES, the band has since evolved into a group of musicians whose ideas draw on diverse influences such as Krautrock, Afrobeat, funk, rock and electronica for a distinctive sound to soundtrack a dystopian present.
Completing the line-up of the London-based quartet are Alastair Nicholls on guitar, synthesizer, bass + vocals plus Joanna Wyld on synthesizer + vocals and Andrea Adriano on drums, production + vocals.
With a love of vintage hardware and a quirky new single ‘Post Office Tower’ b/w ‘Breathless’ just out, it was natural that FAKE TEAK would relish an opportunity for a round of Vintage Synth Trumps…
OK, first card, we have an Oberheim 8 Voice, does that spark any thoughts?
Joanna: There’s one in the Horniman Museum… I always ogle it even though it’s behind glass!
Andrea: My initial reaction was more notes, bigger chords!
Andrew: With the 8 Voice, it’s really hard to get it to do exactly what you want it to do because if you want to repatch, you have to do it eight times! It takes ages to do but it sounds amazing!
Andrea: Seven grand back in the day!!
Alastair: Isn’t there a HOT CHIP link here, because you played me ‘Flutes’ by them and you said it reminded you of the Oberheim?
Andrew: Yes, there’s a one line where an entire chord follows that line and it reminded me of what happened you play it set-up like a 16 oscillator synthesizer with 8 filters and 8 envelopes, or a chord using one note.
My first impression of FAKE TEAK as a band was that you were influenced by HOT CHIP?
Joanna: HOT CHIP is definitely one element, I actually prefer them live to their recordings.
Andrew: I think we have two strands, there’s the synthesizer sound from HOT CHIP, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and CAN plus TALKING HEADS in the writing strand.
Alastair: I’d like to add THE CHEEKY GIRLS as well! *laughs*
Another card then, Gleemen Pentaphonic… even I don’t know what that is!
Alastair: My head is a blank!
Andrew: That sounds like something you would make up, if you were making up synthesizers!! *laughs*
Alastair: We know a lot about ARP!
Andrew: This one is like the cut-down Odyssey… we have a full-sized Odyssey.
Joanna: Ours is the 1972 model…
Andrew: It’s the Mk1 before proportional pitch control came in and with the two pole filter. So seemingly it’s less desirable but I really like it.
KRAFTWERK used a Mk1 Odyssey, how did you acquire it?
Andrew: I’d been after one for a long time and a friend said there was one in Bedford, so I got the train up. There were keen on a quick sale and I mentioned that as it was a Mk1, could they sell it for a lower price and they gave me this figure… it was like the worst negotiation in the history of haggling! I took it home in a blanket that smelt of air freshener! *laughs*
Alastair: I don’t get to use it in the band but it can make some fantastic sounds, but it can sound horrendous too! And that’s the great thing about it, it can be beautiful and it can be horrific, you have to learn how to control it and I cannot!
Andrea: It’s like if someone took the autopilot out of a jumbo jet…
Andrew: I have a mathematical background so I got the hang of it after a while but there’s a lot of different things to it and quite complicated.
Joanna: It is key, especially with the Odyssey, that we have a good sound engineer because if the balance is wrong, it can sound really bad.
Andrew: What I’ve found in the past is some engineers think the synths are used for decoration rather than a main part of the sound and that can be a problem. But music has changed a lot in the last 5-10 years, people are more used to the idea of synths as part of the backbone.
How did each of you first hear electronic sounds in music?
Andrew: When I was 6, a teacher of mine Miss Wickes played us ‘Autobahn’, this noise that I’d never heard before and I thought it was really cool. Then she played us ‘Numbers’!
Alastair: I don’t I’ve got anything as cool or fringe, but the first time I noticed electronics in music was ‘Bad’ by MICHAEL JACKSON, I was given a Walkman and a tape of the album.
Andrea: ‘Blade Runner’ and VANGELIS with the CS80, that was it for me. I’d always liked synths but Mellotrons were really cool for me and after my teens, I got heavily into APHEX TWIN and then later SQUAREPUSHER.
Joanna: It would be ‘Doctor Who’ and DELIA DERBYSHIRE, we went to see the talk and concert of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at the Science Museum but also, my dad’s collection of the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, on the back of one of these albums was the letters M-O-O-G and I became fascinated with Moogs and thinking “what is that?”
Andrew: VANGELIS and ELO used the CS80, so we just ordered a Deckard’s Dream which is a CS80 replicant, but we’ve since discovered we got to buy £1100 of components to build the thing!
Andrea: We have a Juno 60 and I’m about to buy a 106… the Juno 6 didn’t have a memory patch pack, so the 60 had presets and when the 106 came out, they changed the output stage.
Why do you think the Juno, out of all the vintage synths, is still so robust?
Andrew: Because of the way it’s laid out, if you have a basic knowledge of analogue synths, it’s straightforward to use compared to the Odyssey. A lot of people say the Juno is not an analogue machine because of its digital control, but the way that the voices work, the actual oscillators are very similar to those in a Moog. The 106 was one of the first synths to have MIDI, so you have can have those wonderful warm sounds but controllable and easy to use.
Joanna: For me, it is straightforward to use and versatile, the practicality of playing on stage, you want to make it easier, not more difficult. On a Juno, the same voice will work in different contexts really well, there’s a ‘Chariots Of Fire’ sound I use…
Alastair: Oh, Patch 42? Every time you play something on Patch 42, it makes you kind of weepy! It’s got that quality of the Meaning Of Life!
Andrea: It goes very well with the Scottish Highlands!
When’s the FAKE TEAK album out?
Andrew: It’s recorded and Andrea did a wonderful job…
Joanna: It’s gone to Abbey Road for mastering…
Alastair: The band has been going a good while and the line-up has changed over the years, sometimes it takes a while to bring things together. With the four of us, we have the focus and found a sound and recording style that works for us. We’re releasing a few singles first and then the album should be out in 2018.
Your first single is ‘Post Office Tower’, why is this structure still so iconic?
Andrew: The Post Office Tower is an iconic part of the North London skyline and was bombed by the IRA in 1972, they were trying to destroy a publically visible monument… so my inspiration was the thought of “what if they had succeeded?”, would that have changed society in the way 9/11 did? The Post Office Tower is a brutalist piece of architecture and very idealistic, coming at the time of new towns and new motorways… of course, that was a very flawed ideal. What I wanted to do with the song was express admiration for the ideal of society as something you can improve, whilst saying it’s possible to make a mistake about the specific direction you’re at, and come back from that to move into a better direction, which is something I think we’ve lost sight of.
Alastair: Yeah, I went to an exhibition about the utopian ambitions of the 60s and how great the world might be able to be, that’s fallen away slightly and now people are just trying to figure out good solutions to problems, rather than great ideas and big pictures.
How did ‘Post Office Tower’ come together musically?
Andrew: I wrote it in Durham and started with a fairly specific skeleton but it’s evolved.
Joanna: Right at the beginning, I do some ‘sample and hold’ which creates the atmosphere and all the connections with the Post Office Tower.
How did you go about producing your drum sounds?
Andrea: When it came to the album, we wanted to record the drums live. I wanted to use a particular interface because it had better converters etc but just 8 inputs, so we were restricted to 4 tracks with 2 overhead mics for stereo drums which got the toms, plus a snare and a kick mic. I don’t think we’d have got away with it using more modern pre-amps, they don’t sound big. Everything sounds bigger on the old ones plus we had the luxury of recording onto tape.
Alastair: There are great drum samples these days but the important thing was to get the whole sound of the band breathing, not to be locked down to a metronome. To have that little bit of breathing just makes the whole track feel natural and exciting.
Andrea: In the original incarnation of the band, there was this view that everything should be to ‘click’, and I strongly disagreed with that! It was only when we started playing together and I recorded the rehearsals, I was like “can we concentrate a bit more?”
OK, another card, it’s a Roland SH3a…
Andrew: We were in a studio with one once…
Joanna: It started as an affectionate parody of HOT CHIP; I came up with a few lines and Andrew said it was quite catchy and that I should try and do something with it. The start was quite sarcastic, but I built it from there with influences from ‘Ready For The Floor’ and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Us V Them’ and that disco feel. The lyrics evolved from that slightly odd beginning to about when people pretend to socialise together so that they don’t look like they’re on their own. But then, there’s that strange unity where you come together on the dancefloor.
Alastair: Yes, you’re having a good time whether you’re going to speak to them again, it’s that moment.
Joanna: People do seem to quite like ‘No Shame’ because it’s catchy, we did a wedding and they did a conga to it, which was a sort of peak for me.
That’s why I said on Twitter that it was “delightfully odd”, it was weird but it was nice and fun to listen to…
Joanna: …“weird but nice and fun”, I’m going to put that on a T-shirt! *laughs*
The next card is an Elka Synthex, much loved by JEAN-MICHEL JARRE…
Joanna: We listened to ‘Oxygene’ a lot at home, and along with our younger brother, we used to pretend we were space people!
Andrew: Didn’t we do a radio play? We had a reel-to-reel tape recorder that we speeded up and slowed down to use for sound effects! *laughs*
Joanna: I don’t know Elka stuff, I have to admit
Andrew: Elka did great strings machines and we have a Roland RS-202, that’s like the Rhapsody…
Alastair: …yes, it’s a string machine that inexplicably has a brass mode! That inspired ‘101’ on our album! *laughs*
Joanna: So was that inspired by the 202 divided by 2, because that would be amazing!
Alastair: I wish it was… you know in America, you do a class for the basics of something, like ‘English Language 101’? So the song ‘101’ is like learning the basics… of relationships!
Joanna: So deep! Why did I ever ask? *laughs*
Andrew: Yes please, but I don’t have £8000 spare! *laughs*
Alastair: Originally, they were only £4000!
One of the members of the DEPECHE MODE tribute band SPEAK & SPELL has Alan Wilder’s old Jupiter 8…
Joanna: …I sometimes wonder about our Odyssey that because they’re so rare now, when I see things like a photo of Brian Wilson with one… could it be the same one? I get really excited at the idea! *laughs*
You’re a bit of a Brian Wilson fan aren’t you?
Joanna: Yes, I love Brian Wilson, I think he’s a genius… I under rated him at first like a lot of people, because the harmonies are apparently so simplistic and cheery and nice. But you go a bit deeper and realise that he’s touching on more emotion… in fact, there’s times when I have to take a break from listening to it because it’s so powerful. Also structurally, what he’s doing, his layers are so sophisticated yet it appears so effortless and not contrived in any way. There’s something so spontaneous and sincere in his character and that comes across in his music.
So what would you like to achieve as a band?
Joanna: Realistically, we understand it’s a very competitive field but we’d like to go as far as we can… we love to make it and tour, but it’s taking one step at a time and building on that. All joking aside, we really believe in the songs and the sound we create. I think the album sounds amazing so I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Andrew: It’s something we take very seriously, we think it’s really worth listening to… it’s been a complex road to get to that so we’re taking it one step at a time, we really do believe in it.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to FAKE TEAK
Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
15th January 2018