When it comes to some of the big names in underground and independent bands Australia often has to wait a long time for a tour. Something to do with us being thousands of miles from anywhere and a relatively small population. On the eve of the first tour of Australia by progressive music spearheads 65daysofstatic we spoke to Paul Wolinski about the visit, making music, dynamic compression and more.
(((o))): This is your first time touring Australia. Being so far away from Europe, the UK and US we get pretty exited here when bands who have been around for a while can finally make it. How did the planets happen to line up and allow you to make the trip?
It’s basically down to Bird’s Robe Records. We played a festival in Belgium earlier in the year and sleepmakeswaves were there with BRR. A couple of us got chatting to Bird’s Robe and later they got in touch with us, suggesting that they make our back catalogue available and help us come over to tour. We’ve been trying to make it to Australia for years, so we jumped at it. We’re very excited.
(((o))): Your arrangement with Birds Robe Records means deluxe versions of your back catalogue getting released here in Australia at last. How did that deal come about? Why are arrangements like this still possible at a time when CDs are meant to be dead?
CDs are meant to be dead, aren’t they? So is music journalism, I think. And the rest of the music industry. It’s all been a mess for quite a while now. I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD, but that’s because I’ve spent a decade being in a band and therefore being too poor to afford them. I sort of used to assume that other people still did. I’m not so sure these days. More recently, I tend to buy digital anyway when I can afford to because most of my possessions have been in suitcases under various beds for the past few years so I’d have nowhere safe to put a new CD should I get one.
If there is a future at all in physical products regards music, then bands are going to have to do better than a small booklet in a plastic case with content that’s exactly the same as what people can find for free on the internet in a couple of seconds. It’s harder to do that with old releases, but we did our best – basically these releases are complete-as-possible archives from all the material that existed around each album. If you bought our whole catalogue through Bird’s Robe, then you’re gonna get A LOT of 65 songs.
(((o))): Is there a particular way your songs are composed? Are they the result of a mix of writing sessions, jams on an idea from keyboard or guitar, synesthesia or something else?
Synesthesia is fascinating. It sometimes makes me wonder that, since such a thing exists at all, whether anyone who has any talent for making music actually just has a really mild version of this.
It’s not that though, and it’s not really jamming either. Since the beginning, being an instrumental band whose multi-syllabled name can sometimes be perceived as having an unfortunate air of pretension about it, we have always been terrified of lapsing into self-indulgence with our song-writing. If we’re playing around with new ideas and suddenly realise that all four of us are having fun and we’ve been playing the same chord progression for more than five minutes, we start panicking and move on to something else.
Now that I think about it, we’re kind of scared of repeating ourselves too. Often songs will start with some kind of electronic skeleton, or chord progression, but it’ll get ripped apart and put back together in a million different ways. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we do this with songs until they are broken and we have soaked the small spark of an idea that was hidden inside of it with wet, soggy doubt. The other one percent is what makes it on to our records.
(((o))): Songs with words are by and large very direct about the story they tell and the emotional response that the composer is looking for. With instrumental music the listener has the freedom to respond in a greater variety of ways. Is this incidental to why you create songs without words or part of the appeal?
It was never a hard and fast rule. It was a combination of: none of us being able to sing, listening to lots of dance music which was ‘instrumental’ without ever really being classed as such, also listening to loads of instrumental guitar bands. Not having any singing when we started wasn’t even really something we noticed. We just wanted to start making this music that we could imagine that nobody else seemed to be making. As we grew and developed, slowly finding our own sound, more often than not it felt like there wasn’t really any space for singing. Whenever it occurred to us to try vocals, we did.
But yes – not having vocals means the listener has the freedom to respond however they like. So do we. Every single time we play any of our songs live, they mean a different thing to me and no doubt a different thing to the other guys in the band as well. And we’re all right, as is everyone in the audience. Can’t imagine what it must be like being a pop singer and reliving all those specific moments of your life every time you take to the stage.
(((o))): With the Silent Running soundtrack you were of course very tied to a narrative and everyone seeing the film with your soundtrack responds to it in a very similar way. In that context did you find it ultimately restrictive or in fact liberating?
Both. The technical limitations we imposed on ourselves nearly broke our minds in half: we decided to write the score precisely in sync to the film, which had obviously been edited thirty years earlier, so we have to force songs into unnatural phrasings and arrangements and program tempo shifts in our electronics and engineer all kinds of midi-based techno-craziness in order to be able to pull it off live. On the other hand, it was really great to be able to write about something tangible, something that we could see up there on the screen. When we write regular songs, it always feels like we’re all trying to write about everything, all at once, all the time. It gets confusing.
(((o))): Stealth Bomber, Escape From New York – the references real and concocted are there – why didn’t you choose a John Carpenter film?
Ah, but how are you gonna top a John Carpenter score though?
(((o))): Most composers of progressive and experimental music tell me that they write for themselves and if a crowd wants to follow then they follow, but in reality would you be doing this if no one listened? To what extent does the response you get from listeners influence your work?
Well, I don’t know how true that is, really. Like you suggest, if you were really writing only for yourself then why would you feel the need to try and share it with anybody?
I can only speak for myself, but for me writing music is all about communication. I am not a good public speaker. I am not a particularly good private speaker either, when it comes down to it. I appear to be at my most articulate when standing on a stage making loads of noise that sounds immediate and live and real but has actually been slowly and painstakingly put together in rehearsal rooms and bedrooms in an attempt to catch some of those shapes in my head that there are no words for and share them with other people. I assume that we all actually have similar kinds of shapes in all of our heads, and by finding ways to acknowledge that to each other we are able to feel a little less alone in the universe for as long as the music is playing.
As I get older and as this worlds gets more crazy and broken, I am less sure than ever about anything at all that happens from day to day. Music, though, remains such a clear, fundamental cornerstone of everything we know as a civilisation. It’s like gravity. I am happy to trust in it.
(((o))): I’m being mindful of Joe’s interview with Nick Southall of Stylus in 2007 and some of this is old ground for you, but what effect do you think your decision to better embrace dynamic range in your records has had on you in the long term and on those of bands inspired by you? Just how big a crossroads do you think recording of progressive/experimental instrumental music was at when Nick wrote his piece?
Nick’s article was great. It was really useful for us to have somebody who understood what we were trying to do with that record articulate it in that way. In hindsight, we feel like we probably applied the process to the wrong record. There was too much going on in those songs, to add production like that on top of it all made the whole thing so heavy. Not in a metal way, more in a ‘listening to this is hard work’ kind of way. I’m not against music challenging people, but that record in particular just never quite worked out how we hoped.
To answer your question though, it definitely had a big effect on us. We Were Exploding Anyway sounds infinitely better to me, thanks in no small way to the lessons we learnt on the previous record. In fact, even though we recorded the Silent Running record very quickly, I think that sounds great too; realising how much of a 65 record’s ‘production’ actually needs to happen before we ever get to the studio was a big breakthrough
In a more general sense though, I feel myself slowly trying to step out of the conversation whenever it comes up these days. I read somewhere that teenagers these days prefer the sound of low bit-rate mp3 compression to vinyl crackle. What are you gonna do? It’s all just vibrating air in more or less subtle ways, isn’t?
The loudness wars are over and as far as I can tell, Skrillex won.
(((o))): Live performances generally mean giving up elements of a studio record but gaining in other areas and that difference is one of the beauties for a listener of a live performance. No doubt as a performer live and studio each have their own tiresome aspects, but on the whole what do you prefer and why?
Live is better because you get to make a tangible connection with actual people. It’s the reward. It’s the best part of being in a band. In 65daysofstatic, we sometimes miss out on the best part of writing in the studio because we always have this nagging ‘but how are we gonna pull that off live?’ question sitting in our heads. It’s good to work within parameters that you set yourself, but that one can sometimes kill the mood.
We are eager to do more soundtrack, because knowing that it’s something that we will never need to perform live frees us up on some weird sub-conscious level that is really satisfying.
(((o))): What is the most memorable thing anyone has come up and said to you after a set?
‘Hi, I’m Robert Smith from a band called The Cure. You guys should come and tour with us’.
(((o))): If you had a pound for every punter who suggested you should get a singer, how much money would you have?
(((o))): Thanks for your time today.
No worries. Thanks for the questions!
65daysofstatic tour Australia for the first time in Dec/Jan 2012/13
Sun Dec 30th @ Peats Ridge Festival, Glenworth Valley NSW
Wed Jan 2nd @ The Hi Fi, Sydney NSW
Thurs Jan 3rd @ The Hi Fi, Brisbane QLD
Fri Jan 4th @ Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Sat Jan 5th @ The Bakery, Perth WA
Deluxe versions of We Were Exploding Anyway, Heavy Sky and The Destruction of Small Ideas ar eavailable in limited numbers form BRR
To find out more about BRR, read the Hidden Currents article by Mike Solo.
Posted by Gilbert Potts