Interviews  |, Full interview 2009

1) Carousel is beautiful! How long have you been composing these songs, and what inspired them? They're hypnotic. Are you trying to hypnotize me? To what end? I've got no money.

What inspires anything? I guess life experiences, the books I read, the places I go to, the people I meet, the food I eat, the sounds I hear, the images I see and the things I learn... I see this album as a collection of little vignettes of my experiences, which is just exactly how I saw the last one at the time and will see the next one when it comes. Perhaps that sounds a little grandiose but I have no simple stock answer. I can’t tell you, “well, you know, I was listening to such and such and it made me want to record something”. It simply doesn’t work like that for me. I don’t listen to much music but when I do I‘m more likely to listen to genres which couldn’t possibly influence what I create musically, not directly anyway. Literature plays a more direct role in the inspiration of the titles of my pieces. Once I have a title I like, the music just writes itself around it. Of course no one ever asks me about the titles of the pieces so they remain rather personal and that‘s OK. Carousel sits three years away from my last instrumental album. Since then I recorded the soundtrack for the movie 3:19, two albums with Harold Budd and an album with John Foxx. Therefore Carousel, and the EP Angel Falls which preceded it, are the first things I’ve recorded for 3 years without constraints, without having to help tell a story and with little regard to finding a middle ground. These are pure expressions of what is going on in my head, body and life at this time.

2) When I hear your music, I see movies in my mind. So do others, given your work with Budd on "Mysterious Skin" and pretty much everything David Lynch has ever made since The Elephant Man. What do you see when you hear your own music, and do you have any soundtracking in store for us? Who would you like to work with, dead or alive? Please say Kubrick.

In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked to score movies and I find the whole experience to be educational and rewarding, um, artistically at least. Suddenly I am able to use the skills that I’ve been honing for thirty years in a different context, one of helping to tell a story and being part of someone else’s creation. This is a far cry from the self indulgence that I usually afford myself while composing. I find that writing a small piece of music for a scene which exists, not in my head but on a screen, can be challenging as there are many criteria to fulfill. The lengths of the scene, the mood, the lighting, the atmosphere, the dialog, the rhythm, all of these things are factors. This makes it all the more rewarding for me when I get it right. However something that bothers me in the movie industry is the lazy approach of just inserting existing songs into movies, sometimes with little consideration to the content of the scene, the period, the emotion and the rhythm. It seems a shame for a director to pay such close attention to detail realizing his vision but leaving the music down to the chance finding of an existing track which needs to be shoe-horned into place when something more appropriate and more fitting for an original work of cinema could be composed to order. There are some films where you come out of the theatre saying, “wow, great music” but shouldn’t one be striving for “wow, great film”? Sadly the film & TV industries seem geared towards paying exorbitant sums for the usage of existing music while undervaluing original works.
Anyway, I’d love to do more soundtracks but sadly I seem to exist under the Hollywood radar as I’m not represented by management, agents or anyone like that. I guess the only way to contact me is via my website. Now the other part of your question, the part about what I see when I hear my music can be answered in part by watching one of the animated films that I have made, which I present from time to time as part of my live performance.

3) What gear are you using these days to make these wonderful textures? What tech are you geeking on? Do you have a Twitter account? Is Twitter for twits? Will Robin Guthrie ever create an album with zero effects? It could happen. Wait, could it?

I’m 47 years old and was born into the analog age. I remember the term digital when it existed only notionally. I started making music in a time which was very exciting in terms of technology. I witnessed music and recording equipment make the evolution from analog to digital which was a painful and expensive transition. I expended a huge amount of cash being an ‘early adopter’, thrilled by the possibilities offered by this thing called ‘digital’ but never failing, no matter what excuses I made to myself to justify spending huge sums, to be disappointed with the results. In the studio it was a long and arduous road to get to where we are now. And where are we now? Well, I lost the ‘early adopter‘ attitude when I ceased to have loads of disposable income and now a sort of inverted snobbery has crept into my being where I pride myself on using the humblest of things to make my music. So with that in mind I can tell you that the album Carousel was made using a cheap PC bought from my local supermarket..ha.
I have come a long way from being the young gear-slut who was precious about so many pieces of equipment as I have become more confident in my own ability to use what is a hand to express myself. I do, however, have access to a garage full of digital detritus from the last quarter of the twentieth century and I amuse myself from time to time by shaking the dust off some old eight bit machine that had once cost me thousands and delighting at the naivety that we all must have had to believe that it sounded good. If nothing else our ears have become highly educated in the last twenty five years. In terms of other technology, well, my favorite gadget of the moment is my e-book reader, which is still in regular use, not yet having worked its way into that proverbial bottom drawer full of yesterday’s unloved tech.
As far as things like twitter, well, no I don‘t bother. While I embrace the idea of social networking in some sense, I find myself wondering why most folks feel it necessary to pollute my life with the minutiae of their daily lives. I don’t really need to let folks know when I‘m buying a pair of shoes, nor am I really interested when my phone bleeps and I’m made aware that some acquaintance is having lunch. It is lunchtime, of course they’re having fucking lunch. I’m thinking that it‘s just too much of a ‘look at me’ thing, which I don’t find to be much of an admirable quality in people, neither do I believe for one minute that anyone could benefit from knowing that I‘m stuck in traffic/at the shops/cutting my toenails, etc, so I don’t bother.
Regarding an album without effects, well I very much doubt that something like that could ever happen as I don’t really see my music in terms of it being instruments plus effects. The two elements are inherently part of the same thing; one doesn‘t exist without the other, not in my head anyway. I take no pleasure at all in playing, for example an acoustic guitar or piano, it’s something I can’t really do. I never could. I’ve never really been interested. I only begin to be able to be able to express myself with a musical instrument when it becomes something I can use to manipulate sound and emotion. For me playing is perhaps more like an artist working with a huge palette of mixed colours, using different types of brushes on different materials as opposed to using the black pen and white paper of the raw acoustic instrument.

4) Any news on a Twins reunion? I know it's rude to ask, but I get paid to. Well, a little. Any thoughts on the band’s legacy, 30 years later?

Well that would be something that all parties would have to want to happen. I, for one, don’t feel very motivated in that direction. Perhaps I would if I felt that it wasn’t a backward move but I’m put off by seeing all those old bands churning out the one half decent album that they made all those years ago, to an public unwilling to move with the times and accept that some artists actually carry on long after the grand public has lost interest, getting better and better and building a body of work of which they are proud. The legacy of the twins seems more and more apparent as time goes on judging by the feedback I get from other musicians so I’m proud that it is part of my body of work. However I do find it to be in rather poor taste when journalists continue to use what I did twenty five years ago as a reference point for what I do now. A bit lazy, no? Curiously people who work in different disciplines of the arts suffer less from this type of thing. Those jazz guys we like are all 90 years old... we don’t say, “Well, hell you should have seen him when he was 20”... And software developers ...? “Well, you know I think he had it in v1.0 but now at v6.5 it doesn’t work as well”. Umm, no, that doesn’t happen and for good reason. People who craft something for a long time just get better and better at what they do. I’m afraid it’s that simple.

6) While we're on it, I'm doing a piece on Jimi Hendrix's sonic innovations for Wired, and wanted to see if he was an influence at all for you, as a guitarist or a sonic innovator or whatever you like. Any thoughts?

Jimi Hendrix, for me, has always seemed like someone who, due to their untimely death, has been put on a very high pedestal. Goodness knows if he would be held in such high reverence if he were still alive. No, I suspect he would have continued on the path that he was on in his later recordings and then hit a wall while he waited for technology to catch up. Sonically there’s only so far you can go with a wah-wah pedal and a rotovibe after all. Perhaps then he would have made his fair share of recordings that the fans couldn’t relate to as most big name artists whose career spans decades tend to do....(insert name of any big name rock artist here...). Anyway, who knows?
However, that his innovation completely changed the electric guitar as an instrument is beyond doubt. I think that the influence that he had on me was one of an appreciation of artists that are unique and instantly recognizable by one stroke of their brush. Musically I don’t think I could cite a direct influence but unquestionably a circuitous one as he certainly opened up the way for all those who work with electric guitars and effects today.