Hello and welcome to Magazine Sixty. Your latest series of releases: ‘The Eysenck Suites I-IV explore the psychology of Hans Eysenck’s four temperamental categories and the emotions they encompass’. Tell us the story of how you encountered the psychologist and what was it about his writing that inspired you to put that into music?
Well… I was back home for the weekend and foraging in my parents’ loft for vintage Star Wars figures that had survived my childhood, when I stumbled across a pile of old Psychology books. One contained Hans Eysenck’s personality traits chart – it has four sections showing the distinct types of personality and how they interact. Those four sections would eventually become the EP series titles: Melancholic, Choleric, Sanguine and Phlegmatic. It was perfect, especially as I’d been looking for a concept for my new recordings, and I do love a good concept! For me, it gives a project focus, an impetus to create and the see things through, so I was galvanised, the project had officially begun. I started thinking about ways to write music to fit each mood, and how some of my already existing recordings and sketches could fit.
‘The Eysenck Suite II – Choleric’ is the next release in the series and comprises of vocal snippets amongst the array of emotionally resonating synthesizers. Can you describe the process of creating the music from one of the tracks beginning with the initial ideas to producing the final track?
The catalyst for a song just appears – it might be a place, a sentiment, a person, an object or curio. Sometimes the melody is present already, other times I just know a song is there to be written. These occasions are what I love most about making music – the first idea, everything sounding like the best thing you’ve ever written. Most of my songs start life on guitar or piano, and then evolve into something more electronic as I start to incorporate technology. I normally finish a song and then record vocals live over it. I then chop and edit them to become something else entirely. ‘The Divided Self’ on this EP is interesting as it was created very differently to my normal methods…
I was stuck at Oxford Street in Manchester, so decided to take some field recordings of trains and Tannoy announcements. There was nothing else to do while waiting for my delayed train! Luckily, I had my tablet with me, so I started writing a rough sketch on the Android app “Caustic 3”. It’s a great little app for getting ideas down on the go, if you haven’t got an instrument or don’t want to look like a busker.
So, ‘The Divided Self’ was written on the fly, about the hassle of train travel – homeward bound, fun having been had, now I just wanted to get home. Delayed trains and ugly Sunday journeys, over-caffeinated fidgeting in confined spaces, your ears being force-fed other people’s opinions and grievances… Some days you can meet an array of fascinating people, but some journeys are just sheer panic room stuff… The chords are supposed to be tight and woven to encapsulate all of the above. I wrote the end of the song at home – that’s the part when the chords finally open up – I was home and could finally relax. Writing this way allowed me to create a live commentary of the experience. The title of the song is based on R.D. Laing’s book ‘The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness.’
Please describe your studio and your collection of instruments, and which is your favourite one?
My studio set-up is a ramshackle collection of gear! I have an old piano (in desperate need of tuning), an old 70’s electronic organ (bought from a charity shop) and an Art Luthrie acoustic guitar. I mainly use these for writing the songs, although they do creep into some of the recordings. I use a Tascam 4-track for recording the vocals, pianos and guitars, connected to an SE Electronics X1 Condenser Microphone, and fed through an Ultragrain tube pre-amp to try and give recordings that lovely warm analogue sound. This can slow the process down, as the tube needs an hour to warm up, but without it recordings can sound really thin. I also use a SE Reflexion filter chassis, which means I can generally record in any room of the house – it’s a magic bit of kit, absorbing all of the natural reflections of a room, giving really dry recordings. Dry recordings that can then be obliterated with effects processing later! I also recently purchased a Zoom H1 portable digital recorder with two condenser microphones, to improve the quality of my field recordings and found sounds. Our house is also full of kid’s instruments, toys, kitchen utensils and leisure equipment, and these can provide great sources of percussion sounds. The opening song on my new EP – “Poa Trivialis” – features recordings of me hitting golf balls as percussion.
My DAW of choice is the open source software Jeskola Buzz. It’s archaic, buggy and a total pain but it is perfect for what I do. I’ve tried other DAWs but always come back to Buzz. The main thing I like is that it doesn’t come with a map – each time I open it I take a different route. It’s a modular environment that can deal with all sorts of inputs, outputs and effects chains. It doesn’t cope too well with pre-sets, so most of my effect chains are built from scratch each time I start a new song. Again, this slows the process down but it really helps me reflect over what I am doing as I do it. Do I need to add this chain? Is there another way I haven’t tried? You also have to work with hexadecimal numbers, as it doesn’t understand denary! Once I get into a rhythm though, I get totally lost in the moment and hours can fly by. Recording live in Buzz is good fun too – the unstable nature of it can certainly lead to some interesting results… I recently did a live version of the first EP “Melancholic” for Bloop London Radio, which was very different from the original EP, full of interesting Buzz related accidents – happy accidents as Bob Ross from the ‘Joy of Painting’ would say.
Should Electronic Music be regarded as an Art form? What qualifies as good and bad art in music?
Personally, I think anything that someone has created or tells a story should be seen as art. This doesn’t mean we have to like it – art can and should be divisive. I can go to an art gallery and hate something, but still leave respecting the artist for taking the time to show their perspective of the world. When we’re gone it’s wonderful that we can leave something behind for others to discover, hopefully learning a bit about the brief interval in which we existed. As long as someone’s imagination has been provoked by some sort of catalyst – it could be an original idea or even a collage of existing ideas – if a song makes just one person think or it inspires them, I believe it is art.
In terms of music inspiring change… Music is often associated with historical change. Didn’t David Hasselhoff perform on top of a crumbled Berlin wall? A movement always needs an anthem, but my example is the “Hoff”, so I’m not a sure I know enough to answer this question properly? Interesting though… I will have to do some reading on this. I think music definitely has the power to change emotions. That was the aim of my latest series of EPs ‘The Eysenck Suite’.
Who are your most important influences?
I’m doing “An Evening With…” for Nemone on BBC 6Music at the end July to coincide with the release of ‘Sanguine’, the third EP from the series, where I’ve been asked to pick 3 songs for my perfect night out, but I’ve got a shortlist of 48 at the moment…. So, deciding who my main influences are is clearly very difficult! For now, I will cheat and look at my Last.fm account… It says my Top 10 artists from the last ten or so years are: Stumbleine, BOY, Nathan Fake, Boards of Canada, Jon Hopkins, James Holden, Sigur Ros, Ash, Nirvana and Maps. I’ve omitted one from this list, as its far too embarrassing! Maybe you can ask me about that one another time? I think I’ve used the word catalyst about three times during this interview… As long as I can find a catalyst (four times), I am inspired to be creative. Creative reagents? Does that sound better?
How have you found the process of running your own label: Loki Recordings. What do you look for when signing a track?
I enjoy running Loki Recordings – as an artist it means I can do ambitious vanity projects… However, after 2013’s ‘Nostalgia Story’ I’ve learnt the importance of having trusted friends cast a critical eye over my ideas. That album was a little out of control! (Note: it was a sprawling thirty-seven-song flood of inspiration that was recorded live in one take!) It’s always been nice to have artists I admire come to me and ask to do something for the label. People want to be part of it – which is great! Also, discovering new artists such as Norsu. The label’s first single ‘Ammas Mountain’ is an amazing song and I am so glad we released it.
The label was on hiatus for a while, but we are back up and running now. Luckily the community is still interested – there have been lots of “glad you are back” and “long-awaited” comments. I’ve been sent some very interesting recordings by Mig Dfoe – so hopefully we can release that project later this year. Running a label is a lot of work, but worth it, especially when songs you are responsible for releasing are picked up by DJs such as Nick Warren and James Holden.
Who is the man dancing on the video for the labels first compilation in 2012?
Hahahaha… Amazing question, you really have done your homework! So… I dragged my wife to Washington State, USA, back in 2011. I wanted to visit every ‘Twin Peaks’ filming location possible, and she is a very patient woman. During the opening credits a bird sits on a branch, and I had found the location of that branch – it was on Bainbridge Island. We stayed in a Native American casino near the branch, and our balcony overlooked a grass area with a stage on it. A jazz band were playing to a huge crowd, with everyone sat down, nodding. I noticed this elderly man in a tie-dye shirt (the man from the video), and his wife had a matching tie-dye shirt! They were amazing! They suddenly jumped up and just started dancing insanely at the front, not a care in the world. They were free spirits, unsuppressed and there to have fun. When I’m old, I hope I will be as audacious and uninhibited!
And finally please tell us about any forthcoming plans?
The second EP from the series, ‘The Eysenck Suite II – Choleric’ is out now. This will be followed by the ‘Sanguine’ and ‘Phlegmatic’ EPs in July and September 2017. Then… I’m already in the process of putting together a remix EP for the ‘The Eysenck Suite’, as there has been a lot of interest from artists wanting to reimagine the songs. I’ve also started work on a follow-up album, so mainly writing songs at the moment. I have a concept but there is a long way to go. I’m in no rush and it will happen when the time is right. Someone also recently asked if I’m planning on doing an anthology type release. I suppose I have been going eleven or so years and it is something I would consider, but not yet – maybe in a few more years.
Russian Linesman – The Eysenck Suite II – Choleric (Loki Recordings) loki011 is released 29/05/17