WARREN CANN INTERVIEWED BY JONAS WÅRSTAD
'Slow Motion' was an extremely satisfying song to write and play live. For me, it was just one of those songs where everything seems to just fit together perfectly to form an entity greater than the sum of it's parts. In it's time it perfectly represented our amalgamation of rock & synthesizer, many of the ideas and aspirations we had for our music gelled in that song and we were very excited about it.
'Dislocation' was the one song which was not written or sketched out prior to entering the studio, it came about as a last minute accidental by-product of our work on 'Just for a Moment'. The bass drum of 'JFAM' is not an acoustic drum or drum machine at all, it's originally a sound from Bill's ARP synth... during our messing about with lots of FX and heavily treating variations of that particular sound, we stumbled across the insistent repeating figure that forms the core of 'Dislocation'. It was such an inspirational sound we knew we had to do something with it so the song was written entirely around it.
There was just one hitch, though. We'd discovered the sound while the 2" multi-track tape for 'JFAM' was actually running, it was elements of that track which were being fed back in upon themselves to shape and trigger the sound. And we weren't able to tell just exactly how it was happening; it was all routed through the studio desk through such a labyrinth of effects - each in extremely sensitive balance to each other - that we couldn't figure out how to get the sound any other way! We were stuck. We had this great sound and we couldn't be sure of ever getting it again. After carefully examining our options we thought we might, with time and patience, perhaps be able to get something quite similar to it but we didn't think we'd ever be able to get that exact sound and it was that exact sound we wanted! What the hell could we do?
Our eventual solution was very unconventional. We put two songs on the same piece of tape.
How was this possible? Well, as 'Just for a Moment' was still incomplete, there were enough as yet blank spaces on the tape in various locations for this to be feasible. Extremely tricky, but feasible. While we were fortunate in that there were a few of the 24 tracks still blank from top to tail, most tracks already had something recorded on portions of themselves so we were limited to using these noncontiguous sectors. Weaving the whole thing together was a real feat of juggling and mixing it all would have been near impossible without the asset of Conny's SSL computer-assisted mixing desk (one of the first). More than a little brain damage went down but we managed it and were thrilled with the final result. Had we not just then come to the end of our studio time, we would have continued experimenting in that vein.
The reason we liked to release stuff on clear, translucent, or coloured vinyl went far beyond merely having a cool looking record (although it's indisputable that they indeed looked great) or satiating the 'collectors'... like many artists at the time, we wanted to release our music on the highest quality vinyl commercially available. After all, the medium with which our music was brought into people's lives was merely a sharp needle bouncing along as it rode the ripples and waves of a groove dug into a slab of plasticky stuff. (When you stop and think about it - it's an incredibly crude process! I never ceased to wonder that it ever worked as well as it did.)
There were many technical aspects of record production that were beyond our sphere of influence; where the records were pressed, how many shifts were being run, vinyl stock being used, how long each record stayed in it's mold, etc. We would be present at the 'Mastering' session but then the finished masters would go off to the pressing plant. In time, we would be sent a 'white label test pressing' to listen to and if it sounded alright and didn't skip, we'd pass it and that was it. On occasion when we requested a second or third 'test pressing' to listen to, often as not it sounded just like the first one!
Consider this; in the U.K., for example, there were only ever a finite amount of record pressing plants at any given time (naturally) and these were responsible for pressing everyone's records... not just ours! At times of peak demand, each one would be scrambling working flat out to meet all their commitments. This happened often, there was no consensus among record companies as to when they would release records, generally they just did their own thing. True, the sales and marketing departments would attempt to avoid any obvious potential clashes but, generally, once a release date was set and planned around that was It... there was tremendous pressure brought to bear by all quarters to meet that date. If, say, it subsequently transpired that Bruce Springstein had a mega-smash album about to come out during that very same period you could guarantee that his record company would bring every ounce of their considerable power and influence to bear to ensure that every single pressing plant they could get their hands on would be busy 24 hours a day producing Bruce's record so as to maximise initial sales... Factor in another mega-smash hit by another artist or two and the problem was compounded by orders of magnitude, under such circumstances our record (and a lot of other people's) would just have to get pressed whenever and wherever it could.
And that meant that it was likely that each one of our records might get popped out of it's mold a few seconds earlier than was usual. Shaving a second or two off each record, multiplied by tens of thousand of records, amounts to a significant period of time to aid the plant in juggling it's obligations. And each not-as-stable-as-it-could-be record would be just that much more prone to warping or skipping.
Plus, the vinyl was never all that great. If you look closely at the label on a mid/late-'60s record you might see the tiny printed remark 'Dyna-Flex'. Dyna-flex vinyl was introduced as a great progressive leap forward from the thick brittle and fragile vinyl of before; you know you're holding a record made of it if you can bend it into a 'U' shape. Well, perhaps a '(' shape... It didn't sound as good, but you could bend it! And that, overall, meant fewer damaged returns to the companies. Hmm...
While the inner machinations of the pressing plants were beyond reach, it nevertheless seemed like the moment an artist or group had garnered enough success and attendant leverage to attempt to do so would try to get their records released on what was known as 'virgin vinyl', ie vinyl stock not contaminated by the ink, paper, glue, etc. cocktail of previous/returned melted-down stock. This was virtually an impossible quest and became somewhat of a Holy Grail to many people.
When, in turn, we made our own enquiries regarding it's use we were most adamantly told that it was strictly for issuance to the classical music labels. Period. 'Pop' music was s*** out of luck. It was a snob thing! One day it occurred to us... 'Hang on a second... Black vinyl doesn't start out that way, it's dyed black to cover up it's origins... so, if we use clear vinyl (if it's been mixed with anything else it wouldn't be clear, duh...) - presto - it's "virgin" vinyl!!!'
Hence, where possible (usually limited editions of 12" singles), we released on clear or tinted vinyl. I like to believe it really made some degree of difference to the listening quality of the records.
'Systems of Romance' was a pivotal album for us; our first album was our opportunity to record the best of the songs that we'd written since we'd first formed the band, the second was progress for us and heavily laced with attitude and adrenaline, but this new record gave us the feeling that we were really beginning to carve out a niche for ourselves that was well and truly ours and ours alone. We knew that we were really on the verge of something... what, exactly, we weren't sure but the feeling was intoxicating. We were so pleased with the album we'd never have dreamed that the next year Island would subsequently drop us from the label!
Our experiences from playing all over Europe, plus our serious disenchantment with London and the U.K. in general, were the factors largely responsible for us deciding to work with Conny Plank in his own studio near Köln (the little village of Neunkirchen, to be exact). We wanted a new environment and our touring spectrum proved to be the strongest indicator of where we thought our horizons and inspirations lay.
When we met Conny and discussed working together we were impressed with his attitude towards the shaping and sculpture of sound, he was unconventional yet very down to earth. There were occasional hiccups due to language shortcomings on both our parts but, after working together for only a short time, it became apparent we were on the same wavelength; really out there, but not painfully arty-farty, if you like.
Fundamental recording techniques concerning the basics; drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, were for the most part fairly standard but we experimented heavily with treating everything. I'd had interesting results putting drums through the usual reverb/echo/phase/flange type effects, and so decided to try distortion - not something considered to be a plus for drums. We found that in small amounts it hardened up the sound and gave the drums a real edge. One of Conny's electronics people modified a guitar distortion unit so it was optimal for drums and we ran quite a few tracks through it.
By the time we'd reached the point where working with Conny on the new album was imminent, we'd long since coalesced our playing with Robin. While still raw and spiky, his guitar style was mobile and technically more inspiring. He'd integrated into the band very well and was able to bring many new textures to the arrangements.
I Can't Stay Long - I always liked this song, it had this huge great feel and was very satisfying to play 'live'. Had we stayed together for a few more years we might, at some point no doubt, have decided to revisit a song or two from the first three albums as a surprise inclusion in our live set. 'I Can't Stay Long' would've had my vote, I'm sure we would've more than done it justice the second time round.
When You Walk Through Me - I pinched the drum rhythm for this (oops, I mean... this idea is a 'tribute') song from the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. I always thought it was so obvious but no one ever asked me about it. Now you know.
Quiet Men - This was another song which we knew had that 'special something' about it. Obviously, you try to make every song an outstanding one but even with the best will in the world, it never happens...
Just for a Moment/Dislocation - Contrary to what you might think, there is no drum machine on 'Dislocation' or 'Just For A Moment'. The sounds were obtained from ingenious and painstaking maltreatment of Bill's ARP synth and the studio 24-track tape machine.
We adjusted the synth to make an almighty percussive 'THUNK!' (it was really a fantastic sound - but so violent we had to tone it down a little to get it onto tape!) and I stood there and keyed the synth manually, in tempo, for about four-plus minutes as we recorded the sound. Then we fed the recorded track 1# through the desk, filtering and equalising the hell out of it until we eliminated almost all of the bottom end from it... we fed that through more e.q. making the sound as sharp as we could and recorded or 'bounced' that sound to another track... as we did this, I selectively punched a button on the desk controlling the 'send -to-tape' of the signal - as I punched the button off & on, it cut off the beats we didn't want, thus ending up with a 'snare' sound on the second and fourth beat of each bar on track 2#. Alternatively, sometimes I would 'edit' out the unwanted beats via quickly sliding one of the faders up & down.
By running the original track 1# through a delay unit plus more filters, compressors, and a noise-gate (or two) before bouncing it to track 3#, I could have something which would rhythmically function as a 'high-hat' sound. As everything was a direct derivative of track 1#, they were all in time and sync with one another. Using this method we could build up and assemble a variety of rhythms. A tedious process, but it worked and sounded unique.
We'd done the majority of our usual extensive preparation for recording back in London but we were finding that it was inspirational to leave deliberate gaps in the songs, free-form areas in the songs that we would fill in once we were in the studio environment. We were firmly in the first stages of becoming truly comfortable with this when we recorded 'Systems'. Due largely to our experiences here, with future records we'd nail the bare bones of the song; it'd have a solid and cohesive structure but enough vague areas floating around to leave room for further expression, space to experiment and expand upon the basic idea once we had the facilities of a studio to play with.
As it was our third album, we were now also becoming familiar with the feeling of knowing we'd have to top ourselves with each subsequent release and it occasionally began to weigh upon us. Still, we were so proud of this record when we'd finished it, we all felt we'd done our absolute best work to date.
In retrospect, I think it's plain that (with perhaps the borderline exceptions of 'I Can't Stay Long' and 'When You Walk Through Me') the songs 'Someone Else's Clothes', 'Blue Light', 'Some of Them', and 'Maximum Acceleration' were the final remnants of a skin we were in the process of shedding. 'Slow Motion', 'Quiet Men', 'Just For A Moment', and 'Dislocation' were plainly indicative of where we were heading.
Copyright (c) 1998-03-06 Warren Cann and Jonas Wårstad.
Last update 1998-05-15. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.
Copyright (c) 1998-03-06 Warren Cann and Jonas Wårstad.
Last update 1998-05-15. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.
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