In Conversation: Alexander Tucker

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Photo: Dom Garwood

Alexander Tucker is one half of Grumbling Fur and Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra with Daniel O’Sullivan. 2019 has already seen the release of Plasma Splice Truffle by the duo and fellow sonic traveller Neil Campbell from Astral Social Club, as well as Daniel O’Sullivan’s mesmerising solo LP, Folly. Tucker releases his latest solo album, the magically-titled Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver, on August 23 through Chicago’s Thrill Jockey imprint.

Further. spoke to Tucker about his multiple interests, how the five songs on his new album came together and how it feels to be compared to Brian Eno. Read the Further. review of Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver here.

You talk about this new album as connecting up your various interests in music, science fiction and comic art. How do these different disciplines fit together, for you? What is it about this record in particular (compared to other projects) that links these things together?

I think my interest in art, literature and comics has always fed into my work, although I started to place these things – albeit in my own abstract way – directly into the lyrics since I recorded Dorwytch in 2011. At around that time I re-read Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing series and placed imagery from the comic into the songs. It felt quite freeing to use imagery that was more akin to science-fiction, surrealism and cosmic-horror. I didn’t want the words to relate to real life, although there are always coded references to things going on around me.

I want music and music-making to transport me away from the everyday, not to reinforce the mundane. Film is also something that continues to bleed into my work both lyrically and through the music itself. I’ve been obsessed again with the first two Alien / Aliens films, in particular the atmosphere, design, sounds and craftsmanship that went into them. I like to keep my influences in my peripheral vision – not to stare directly at them and copy aspects from them, but to keep the essence in my mind and shape things from there.

The title of your new album feels like it requires some explanation. Where did that come from?

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver comes from Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. The term appears in the last chapter where the protagonist, Guy Montag, escapes his pursuers and bumps into a group of people resisting the totalitarian regime, who have mentally stored the banned and destroyed books.

At first I thought the term referred to the regime choking society with the poisonous fibres of asbestos but at the time Bradbury was writing the book, asbestos’ toxicity was little-known. He actually meant that the Guild are the resistance fighters stamping out the flames of intolerance. I didn’t mean for the title to have such political significance and the content of the lyrics are definitely rooted outside of human reality, but in this day and age you can’t help but be drawn into what’s happening around you and we need the Guild now, more than ever.

The tone of the album is quite different to 2018’s ‘Don’t Look Away’. You’ve been performing live with a modular system recently and this LP does seem to have a more pronounced electronic tone to it, yet it’s also distinctively an Alexander Tucker album. There also these very dramatic, intimidating cello sounds on ‘Montag’ as well as lots of drones and quite ominous psychedelic percussion. What prompted that change of emphasis?

I finished the album before getting some modular bits, but I used samplers to loop and process a lot of the sounds. I’ve deliberately moved away from using acoustic guitar – which I haven’t been playing for a few years now – and its been a long time since I’ve played live with acoustic guitar and loop pedals. I think people still have this outdated image of me with a beard and long hair, looping to infinity.

Since playing in Grumbling Fur I’ve moved closer to using electronics and playing live bass processed through effects. In the past I did all my sampling live, adding each layer as I went along, but now I do some of that work in studio. I recorded percussive rhythms with cello and simple phrases on synth, and I then resampled these into long loops as the base for the songs to rotate around.

I wanted to keep things quite minimal, but for the tracks to have a maximalist effect. I’d been listening to Earth’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons and Oren Ambarchi’s Hubris LPs, and both of these records use a sparse palette but pile up layers of sound to create these deep kaleidoscopic effects.

Your vocal style, as well as maybe the way it floats above (and through) the sonic fabric of your music often gets compared to Brian Eno back when he still did vocal music. What do you make of that?

I either get Brian Eno, Dave Gahan, Robert Wyatt or Tears for Fears – all of which are very flattering but I’ve owned very few records by these artists.

I’ve always sang in my own voice, and I think the connection with a lot of these British vocalists is that you can really hear where they’re from. They don’t try to Americanise themselves or hide their accent. I did grow up in the 80s so maybe some of that sound filtered into me from just listening to the radio and watching TV, but I don’t know any other way to sing.

In between Don’t Look Away and Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver you completed the Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra album with Neil Campbell of Astral Social Club. Neil explained that that record was built up over a long period as you grabbed time to focus on it here and there. Was Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver the same in terms of having a long gestation period?

Guild came together relatively quickly for me. Most of my albums have had reasonably long gestation periods, but with this record it was the first time that I wrote the material, played it out live and then went straight into the studio and made a document of the process.

Firstly I wrote and recorded at my home studio, but then after touring took the material over to Holy Mountain studios in Hackney and completed the album there. I wanted a get a big epic sound so Holy Mountain was perfect for this. I could play at very loud volumes and use the many synths they have in the studio.

How do you approach working on a solo record compared to collaborating with people like Daniel O’Sullivan in Grumbling Fur, or Neil from Astral Social Club, or Charlemagne Palestine?

When I’m collaborating, the process is always a response to the other players and the situation: it’s about reacting in the moment, pulling out your strengths, and trying to be bold.

When I work with Daniel O’Sullivan, it’s very automatic – we limit the conversation to any concrete ideas, while bringing in our individual ways of working to the project. When Grumbling Fur work as Time Machine Orchestra, improvisation is at the centre of what we do, so anything goes really. We have referred to this as automatic-composition.

I’m intrigued as to how you bring together tracks like the ones on the new album. As well as these tightly-packed, very detailed layers running through the songs there’s also the lyrical content, which seems to be filled with very fluid, vivid, almost impressionistic ideas. What comes first – music or lyrics?

The music always comes first. I used to write a lot and then fit the lyrics to the music but now the words are always a response to the sound.

I like to create strong imagery but keep it vague, I’ll probably have a multitude of scenes running alongside each other, like a dream logic where themes meld with each other to create partial narratives that don’t necessarily conclude.

Your cover art reminds me of both Roger Hagreaves’ illustrations to his original Mr. Men books – a kind of playful, innocent quality – but also the imposing gravity of stained glass windows. How does this image link to the music?

I really love 60s and 70s comics and illustration, where you see those bold black lines and flat expanses of colour.

The cover art came from a drawing in my sketch book. I liked the idea of the figure being the ‘Weaver’, some sort of multi-dimensional being appearing from behind a veil or a tear in reality.

The cover art to my records is never fixed by meaning, it’s supposed to be another piece of the narrative. One of the biggest influences in my work is David Lynch. Lynch is the master of non-linear story telling, leaving pieces of the puzzle tantalisingly out of reach. I want the viewer or listener to join their own dots and create their own interpretation of the overall picture.

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver by Alexander Tucker is released by Thrill Jockey on August 23 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

3 Questions: Alexandra

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Alexandra Burress is a 21-year old singer / songwriter and producer from Portland, OR. Her latest album, Ecdysis, was recorded in the San Diego of her formative years, and finds her crafting a warm, tender, dreamlike suite of eight electronically-infused songs that gently wrap the listener in their gauzy, affecting textures. Read the Further. review here.

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is eating a Spongebob popsicle in China as a 3-year-old and relishing the sugar flavour on my tongue. Surrounding me was a deep grey cloud sky with palm trees the size of dinosaurs swaying heavily in the wind.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My favourite piece of advice is something my mom always said. ‘Everybody just wants to be loved,’ and if we approach the world with this knowledge, we can all be a little kinder, a little more empathetic towards one another. We’re all searching for the same thing.

When are you most productive or inspired?

My head feels clearest after a long walk on the beach or in the forest, after sipping on a big batch of homemade hot cocoa and having no plans in the day but to create. Watching my talented friends perform their own music is another especially inspiring thing for me.

Ecdysis by Alexandra was released July 26 2019 by Spirit House Records.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Alexander Tucker – Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver

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The follow-up to last year’s Don’t Look Away, Alexander Tucker’s Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver was named after a resistance group appearing in Ray Bradbury’s seminal Fahrenheit 451; the reference to their intolerance-combating actions was an unintentional act on the part of Tucker, but one that feels highly relevant in the context of the rightward shift in political ideologies around the world.

Consisting of five long songs loaded with bold, dense sonic adventure, Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver takes its place alongside the sonic dexterity of the Grumbling Fur project he shares with Daniel O’Sullivan, and marks a significant departure from Don’t Look Away. Constructed from loops of synths, cello and highly-processed bass guitar, these pieces contain restless, ever-shifting, intricately-detailed beds of sound over which Tucker’s clarion, understated vocal is allowed to quietly and majestically soar.

Opener ‘Energy Alphas’ might have dirty, distorted guitar as its principal melodic signal, but it’s Tucker’s mysterious, impenetrable, impressionistic singing that gives this track a distinctive – but wonderfully unfathomable – optimism, gliding gently upward over tiny beats and swells of electronics. ‘Montag’ opens with a defiant, crisp marching glitch rhythm before opening out into affecting cello textures, gradually proceeding with a tension-filled dread, its elliptical lyrics reading like a particularly vivid and harrowing dream.

‘Precog’ is perhaps the album’s signature moment. Opening with clanking, machine-like loops that gradually increase in speed to an insistent prowl, the track rapidly transforms into brooding piece dominated by a rich, ominous and utterly absorbing stridency that one cannot help but be completely ensnared by.

Guild Of The Asbestos Weaver by Alexander Tucker is released on August 23 2019 by Thrill Jockey.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Alexandra – Ecdysis

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Alexandra Burress is a 21-year old singer / songwriter and producer from Portland, OR. Her latest album was recorded in the San Diego of her formative years, and finds her crafting a warm, tender, dreamlike suite of eight songs that gently wrap the listener in their gauzy, affecting textures.

These are pieces built from gentle, beatific fragility, their sparseness punctuated by subtle sounds – guitar, electronics, reverb, unplaceable instrumentation, field recordings – with each element given space to develop under Alexandra’s plangent, ruminative vocal. The standout track ‘Roller’ finds that vocal draped in transformative echoes while shimmering synth pads and a submerged, frantic, but never distracting processed rhythm propel the song relentlessly forward, concluding in a nest of whining, atonal sounds. ‘Membrane’ sees Alexandra’s vocal delivered as overlapping passages full of mystique and reflectiveness, accompanied by an inchoate, ever-shifting, dramatic bed of tiny sounds, scratchy micro-beats and emotion-manipulating glitches, mixed with naturalistic sounds.

The result is an album that is both deeply personal for its creator and yet universally shared: we have all transformed ourselves whether through circumstance or the decisions we make; we were all once children experiencing a world stretching out in front of us, making mistakes and finding ourselves as we go; we have all shed many skins, both physically and metaphorically. Ecdysis’s powerful and utterly captivating conceit is to focus you in on that which once was, who we are right now, and what we might yet become.

Ecdysis by Alexandra was released July 26 2019 by Spirit House Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Jah Wobble & Bill Laswell – Realm Of Spells

Bassists Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble both emerged from two vibrant post-punk scenes, Laswell in New York with Material and Wobble in London with Public Image Ltd. Both have spent the last forty odd years as deft collaborators, their playing threading effortlessly through everything from jazz to dub to electronica, while Laswell’s production nous has seen him involved in so many sessions that it’s generally hard to keep up with his discography.

Realm Of Spells is the pair’s first jointly-credited album since 2001’s Radioaxiom, a record that found Wobble sitting in alongside many players familiar from other Bill Laswell projects. Their new record evens things out slightly, with the whole project largely initiated by Wobble’s long-standing unit The Invaders Of The Heart (Marc Layton-Bennett, George King and Martin Chung), who provide the backbone of the nine tracks included here. Alongside The Invaders and the idiosyncratic bass approaches of Laswell and Wobble, the group were augmented by drummer / percussionist Hideo Yamaki and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, here playing sax on a number of stand-out pieces.

Though tracks like the serene, constantly-shifting electronically-enhanced dub of ‘Uncoiling’ link back to the sound of Radioaxiom, Realm Of Spells was directly influenced by Laswell and Wobble’s shared love of Miles Davis’s unparalleled electric period in the first half of the Seventies. You can hear that freedom of expression and borderless, flexible quality on tracks like ‘The Perfect Beat’ and the album’s nine-minute title track, melting pots of jazz, rock, electronics and funk with an unswerving, tight rhythm sections and cavernous basslines. ‘Dark Luminosity’ operates in similar territory, a snare-dominated groove and nagging low-end attacked by everything from delicate keyboard motifs to guitar lines that flip-flop between jazzy licks and prowling, angsty hooks, while the curt organ-led grooves of ‘At The Point Of Hustle’ sounds like Money Mark jamming with The Wailers.

Realm Of Spells by Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble is released on August 2 2019 by Jah Wobble Records. My interview with Laswell and Wobble will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

News: Jonteknik – Tectonics

Jonteknik will release Tectonics through The People’s Electric on 13 September 2019.

Listen to lead track ‘Mount Etna’ here.

Tectonics is the ninth album by UK electronic musician Jon Russell. After releases concerning themselves with architecture and the vibrant topographies of global cities, with Tectonics we find Russell turning his attention to geographical matters. “I’m fascinated by the connection between humans and nature,” he explains. “The subject of these songs is the foundation of the planet which we happen to inhabit. It constantly moves, just as society constantly moves.”

The ten tracks on Tectonics use intricate, mesmerising electronics and Russell’s questioning vocals to simulate the fundamental, restless, uncontrollable movements of the earth. From violent plate movements (‘Seismic Waves’ and ‘Continental Drift’) to the towering ruptures in the earth’s surface wrought in slow motion over millennia (lead track ‘Mount Etna’ and the thrilling ‘Mount Fuji’), to the waltz-like pop eulogy to California’s Yellowstone National Park, these pieces are among Russell’s most evocative soundscapes. Melding meditative rhythms and layers of finely-crafted synths, these tracks use forty years of electronic music technology as a sonic metaphor for billions of years of geographical drama.

Jon Russell has been making music for nearly thirty years, from his humble bedroom beginnings with a Commodore Amiga, via his studio work with OMD’s Paul Humphreys and Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken, and onward through his recent investigations of Eurorack modules and analogue equipment. His last album, Alternative Arrangements (2018), saw Russell paying homage to his favourite songs with a collection of covers. Far from drawing a line under his career, the sleek, considered electronic arrangements of Tectonics show an imagination in overdrive.

“I was once advised to always make the music that I would want to listen to myself,” he reflects. “As long as I am happy with what I’ve created, and so long as I carry on enjoying the creative process, then there will always be new music from me.”

Tectonics will be available on LP, CD and through digital / streaming services. The album will also be released as a highly limited cassette edition. Physical formats of the album will be available from The People’s Electric. The album will be released worldwide on 13 September 2019.

Track listing:

1. Tectonics
2. Mount Fuji
3. A Fatal Attraction
4. We Are Volcanic
5. Yellowstone
6. Seismic Waves
7. Silfra
8. Mount Etna
9. Continental Drift
10. For The Silent

All production / programming / mixing / vocals by Jonteknik.

About Jonteknik

Jon Russell is a programmer / writer / producer / remixer who has been making electronic music since 1988. His credits include co-producing and writing with Paul Humphreys (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) and Claudia Brücken (Propaganda), remixing artists such as Le Cliché, Nature Of Wires, Metroland, iEuropean (feat. Wolfgang Flür) and OMD.

About The People’s Electric

The People’s Electric is an electronic music community where everyone is welcome. Our artists like to release music on physical formats, but our little community will just as readily embrace those who love to download too. We exist to bring great electronic music to your discerning ears, whatever your listening preferences. The People’s Electric was founded in 2016 by Jon ‘Jonteknik’ Russell in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.

Press release (c) 2019 Mat Smith for The People’s Electric

3 Questions: Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman originally wanted to be a concert pianist until the steady work of a session musician beckoned. His dependable talent for nailing a part in one solitary take lead to memorable contributions such as playing Mellotron on David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, work on Lou Reed’s post-Velvets debut LP and with Marc Bolan’s as he metamorphosed into a glam megastar with T-Rex.

Best known for several stints in Yes alongside his solo work and complex and extravagantly-executed stage shows, Wakeman was also one of the earliest keyboardists to see the limitless potential of the synthesizer through a bargain purchase of a Minimoog from actor Jack Wild. (The Artful Dodger-playing actor had assumed his synth was on the blink because it could only play one note at a time.)

This weekend, Wakeman celebrated turning seventy earlier in 2019 with two final performances of his Journey To The Centre Of The Earth album at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the location of its original presentation in 1974.

What is your earliest memory?

Crawling backwards. I never crawled forwards. I can remember getting stuck under the sideboard and having to be yanked out.

I was a very early talker and a very late walker. I can remember the first time I walked and checked it with my mother many years later and, to her amazement, I was spot on.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Always look for the good points in people. My father said that everybody has some good points and if you can find them, you will get more out of knowing the person.

In general he was right, but I have met a few who have absolutely no endearing qualities!

When are you most productive or inspired?

Early morning. I get up around 5 and my brain is whirring from the moment I put the kettle on. Things go downhill after that!

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.