First of all, let me congratulate you with your excellent new album 'The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery', I must say that I have enjoyed it a lot! Not that long ago you've had a health scare, that lead to a period of depression, I can't imagine what that must've been like... How have things been going recently?
Thanks very much for the kind words about the album and glad you enjoyed it. Yes.. I was ill, a heart attack and yes, I was unprepared for the depression that followed it as I am by nature a pretty cheerful person and this was a rather unpleasant surprise. It still affects me of course and I am hoping that it can gradually be overcome and of course my returning to writing music is hopefully a step on the way to making that happen. And it surely must be, because when the depression first hit me I couldn't get myself to write at all.
The whole of ‘The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery’ was written during those times. And the album can be traced through the pieces. ‘Doctor Livingstone (I Presume)’ was the first to be written - a piece with no lyrics that was just me searching (and finding) the thrill of playing and writing again. And the search for inspiration about what to write lyrically eventually came as the world began to change around me as Brexit, the Donald Trump presidential campaign, the visible growth of right wing politics grew ever stronger in 2016. I was fortunate that I didn't have to look too hard for subject matter, but very unfortunate in that these things happened to us all. Of course I wish that these things had not happened, as I would rather be having trouble writing music than being told that I can't be a Citizen Of The European Union any more. But, I got an album out of it, I am in general very happy with the album we made, very unhappy with the world that made it happen.
For the first time you've decided to take up drums for the band as well, after drumming for 30 years. What made you decide to do this yourself?
Well. I played the drums on this album. That doesn't mean I am the band's drummer now, just that I played on this album. It is something I've wanted to do for some time now, because the drums are where a lot of the songs start their lives, me tapping on my knees as I hum to myself and try to get lyrical ideas to work with the rhythm of the song. They – drums - are (and always have been) an important part of the construction of the songs, and I have in some way played the drums on all Tangent records and Parallel Or 90 Degrees before that. It's just that those drums have always been erased later in the process and replaced by the bands current drummer whoever that may have been. This time, we just left my work as it was and I spent some time re-doing sections that were not good enough for a final product.
Writing lyrics, vocals, keyboards, drumming, it seems that you can do everything! When can we expect an album where you'll play all the instruments?
You can expect that nearly three years ago. It's called ‘Electronic Sinfonia Number 2’ and it's by ‘The Andy Tillison Multiplex’. It's an instrumental album and it's very much the same type of style and sound of the track ‘Doctor Livingstone I Presume’. It was released independently and if anyone is interested we still have copies left!!
The latest addition to The Tangent is singer and keyboard player Marie-Eve de Gaultier, I feel that her vocals really contribute to the album, she makes it sound really refreshing. How did she join the band?
Marie is also a member of Luke's band Maschine and I have known her for almost as long as I have known Luke. Together they are a great team and it just seemed natural to ask her to join the band. She has brought so much to our sound not just as a voice but as a creator of new chord structures and musical palettes. She is Belgian, a highly talented keyboards player, singer and writer. You will hear a lot more of her!
You also have some guest appearances from Boff Whalley (Chumbawamba) and DJ(!) Matt Farrow. I think that especially the latter will surprise a lot of people, what's the story there?
Yes - our guests on this album have certainly helped shape what we did. Although the things they actually do on the album are quite small, their influence on it is huge. They are as you say, Boff Whalley (founder member of the band Chumbawamba), who is a long time influence on me and a good friend. He was instrumental in showing me how politics and music were related to one another and gave me this second agenda right back in 1985. He sings on the track ‘A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road’. Matt Farrow is a young upcoming DJ/Producer who has taught me a great deal about contemporary music production and opened my eyes to a whole new set of techniques and ideas. I am highly interested in the way DJs create music and the idea that ‘a DJ just plays records’ is (I have found) a very inaccurate surmise.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is the twelve minute long instrumental 'Dr. Livingstone (I Presume)'. How do you approach the songwriting to such a song?
Well this song is written from improvisation sessions. It works like this:
1. I sit and improvise on my piano and record about half an hour of music. It's a load of rubbish, or there's nothing new, so I do it again. The same happens. Then maybe on the fourth time, something good will happen and I have a starting idea.
2. I Take the starting idea (maybe just a few seconds of the first improvisation) and record another improvisation based on the good bits of the first one. And like before a few attempts need to be made. But slowly but surely something will develop if I keep on repeating this process.
3. I start to add other instruments to the good bits and work out which sections go best with other sections. I write variations of the various themes I have created, perhaps I will bring in sections of other improvisations made at a different time, maybe not.
4. I start to think about what the format should be, Which part is a ‘Chorus’, or a ‘Main Theme’, a verse... how these pieces are going to link together and find their way back to each other in a way that will be enjoyable and tell a story.
5. I end up with a piece that is often 40 minutes long and then I have to get rid of the stuff that doesn't add to the experience for THIS piece, but a lot of it can go into new pieces and ideas.
6. Once the piece is finalized in length and format then I send it out to the other musicians and ask for their performances which they do, and these change the piece significantly.
7. After we have a ‘band version’ we can re-assess what we have and make edits again, extend certain sections, cut others and make something that stands up as a piece.
8. Now we have a piece... we need to produce this and make the version on the record!
The album voices some strong messages, criticizing some of the things that have been happening in the world, like fake news, refugees, and populism. What would you say is worrying you the most? And what's the solution?
Overall my biggest concern is barriers. Or walls. I started my career as a recording artist with an album released in 1987. It was called ‘Where Do We Draw The Line’ by my band Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive and it was about the intolerable state of affairs where Europe was divided by a wall running right across it. I hate such walls and the people who profit from them and although my album in ‘87 quickly dated (because they tore that wall down) the fact is that 30 years later I find people wanting to build them again. While Donald Trump has actually described a vision of a real concrete wall, my own country has led the way in this small minded and largely bigoted philosophy and I feel that this has spread like a cancer around the world very quickly. We are now in a position in the UK where 17 million people voted to leave the EU, re-control our borders, reduce immigration, clamp down on free movement, create havoc for industry and work, leave the European Court of Human Rights, leave the Customs Union and generally fuck up everything that has made us a decent an peaceful life for decades. These 17 million folks have become so powerful that even the opposition to our right wing government also want to leave the EU. And there are 70 million people in the UK, regardless of eligibility to vote... and all 70 million of us have to do what those 17 million people said one day in June 2016. I have to become a citizen of a failing economy on a small island near my home of Europe, dependent on becoming a puppet state of the USA for any leverage in the modern world which becomes more linked every day. As the internet opens up the possibility of greater co-operation between nations, Britain decides to put up a wall and leave Europe. Then the Scots and The Welsh might want to leave us. It follows that London might want to go solo, then towns, counties and regions... and by the time we get these smaller blocks we will end up as little better than Tribes and Gangs... at a time when owing to technology we would have been better thinking of what we can do together.
The solution is not for me to provide. I am not a politician, and if I was the world would be in far more chaos than it is today. I find making an album difficult. Imagine me running a city. Hah! The Tangent just ask questions. We hope others will find the answers.
What are your thoughts on the changes in the music industry? Many people just go to Spotify to listen to music, rather than buying an album, which isn't unlikely to decrease the musician's income. On the other hand, music is more accessible to people, so chances are that more people find your music. Where do you stand in all of this? Have you noticed this change?
Spotify is essentially the rape of music. It's legal, but so are nuclear weapons. It offers a fantastic service to the user. You can have, at your fingertips, almost the entire catalogue of human music of the past thousand years for ten pounds a month. If you don't mind advertisements, you can have it for free. They have given this unbelievable deal to the world so they can make huge amounts of money in return for writing a database. They are shrewd, clever bastards who do not care about the future of music, the jobs and livelihoods of musicians, they just offer a bargain of bargains, the ability to access so much for so little, and the people offering you this fantastic deal did not make or even commission the product that they are selling. My music is on Spotify (I did not choose this). Despite the fact that it has been there for years I have not made enough money from Spotify to buy one copy of the albums they provide for free. Spotify is the ultimate con operation. Selling stuff that is not theirs (except in a very dodgy legal way). I hate them and what they do and think that Spotify are nothing more than Pirates with a good legal team. I prefer Pirates because they are at least honest about what they do. The operation needs shutting down, switching off and a new system needs to be built to do the same thing that actually benefits the people who made the music. It needs to be run by some major academic body (the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Smithsonian at the very least) in conjunction with a major tech firm with values so that the two work in harmony, and it needs to be carefully monitored. This company (among others) are systematically destroying the future of music as a profession and as a result the whole of art itself is under threat. Spotify is like some evil behemoth from a Batman Movie. They justify their evil deeds by saying stuff like ‘we help people discover new artists’. And they do help people discover new artists. And then they don't pay us. Nice guys. You meet 'em everywhere.
What's next for you? Can we expect to see you perform in the Netherlands anytime soon?
Next? I will get old like everyone else. But before that I will make some more music and play in Zoetermeer on the 8th of September!!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our readers?
I apologies sincerely to everyone in The Netherlands for Brexit. You have always been friends of mine, I love your country and have visited many times. I am a European like you, yet next time I renew my passport I will not have one that states I am a citizen of the EU. This makes me incredibly sad. Please be tolerant with us. We didn't really want this.