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.

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.

3 Questions: S. T. Manville

S. T. Manville released his debut album, Somebody Else’s Songs, earlier this year, collecting together eleven surprising covers of tracks by Jimmy Eat World, Green Day and others. At the very end of June, Manville released ‘Make Believe’, a self-penned piece of tranquil acoustic music for guitar, ukulele and violin that perfectly details our uncomfortable relationship with growing up, being full of wistful nostalgia, regret and hope.

Here, Manville talks about spelling, overcoming shyness and being inspired during the middle of the night.

What’s your earliest memory?

There are a few and I don’t know what order they came in so here’s the two that contend for earliest…

I think my brother Patrick was born but still a baby so I would have been about two or three. My mum took us to feed the ducks, which was a short drive from where we lived. God knows how but she managed to throw the house and car keys into the pond along with the bread. After getting really flustered and shouting a bit she jumped in after them and managed to get them out.

I was thinking about this recently and decided it was too insane to have really happened so I asked my mum if I’d made it up. I hadn’t. When I asked her why she jumped in and didn’t just leave it her reasoning was that ‘Mobiles didn’t exist then.’ I’m not fully sure I see the logic in that, but she’s a smart woman and so there must have been some sense in it.

The other memory is being in the car with my mum and dad around the same age. They used to use the time old trick of spelling out words to each other when they didn’t want me to understand what they were talking about. During one of these covert conversations I asked if we could get some ‘B-C-P-S.’ When they asked what I was on about I replied with ‘Chips’. I’ve always been a great speller.

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

‘Shy kids get nought,’ a really good friend said it in passing once, and it’s stuck with me. He probably doesn’t even remember saying it, but I genuinely live my life by it. There’s no shame in asking for help, guidance, or bit of shameless self promotion, if you ask in the right way and it comes from a sincere place.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I’ve learnt that when inspiration happens, I just need to get on with it while it’s there, and when it isn’t I need to be patient, not force it and just wait until it reappears.

The times in the cycle that I’m not being musically creative can be pretty horrible, with plenty of self doubt and worrying about whether I’ll ever be able to write again, but I’ve been doing this for so long I’ve gotten better at dealing with those feelings. Sometimes it helps to find new music that inspires me, and sometimes I find that it’s better not listening to any music at all for weeks.

I tend to find inspiration in two places – from other music or art that I enjoy, and from watching general life unfold around me. The only real criteria for creativity, in my case, is sobriety and sun light. I’ve never been able to write or do anything creative unless I’m sober, and so I usually tend to work during the day. I find it really hard to work after about 7pm. When I see people in the studio at 3am getting stoned, drinking beers I always think, ‘How are you getting anything done?’

That said, I have woken up in the middle of the night a few times over the years with lyrics and melodies that I’ve written in my sleep, and then I’ve had to sneak downstairs to record a voice note. My wife loves that…

Make Believe by S. T. Manville is out now on Difficult. Listen on Spotify. Read the Further. review of Somebody Else’s Songs here.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

3 Questions: Sweatson Klank

Earlier this month LA’s Sweatson Klank (Thomas Wilson) dropped what is undoubtedly an early contender for the album of the summer in the form of his Super Natural Delights LP, containing twelve tracks of feel-good, electronically-infused hip-hop. The collection showcases Wilson’s uncanny ability to solder dexterous instrumental components to a circuit board of engaging, inventive rhythms, taking in everything from jazz to soul to electro.

In the latest of Further.’s 3 Questions micro-features, Wilson talks about early cycle experiences and the value of a decent night’s sleep.

Read the Further. review of Super Natural Delights here.

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is of my dad trying to teach me to ride a bike in Paris, France. I was born there and he used to bring me to the park so I could learn to ride. I started with training wheels of course and I still remember the day the training wheels came off. It was a glorious feeling.

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

The best advice I’ve ever gotten was to stop comparing myself to other people. It’s still a daily practice to remind myself not to do that. Comparison only leads to disappointment.

Part of that advice was also to learn to love yourself and embrace who you are and be grateful for what you have. Once you can put this into practice, life just seems a lot more enjoyable.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I used to be most inspired and productive late at night but in the last few years it’s totally reversed. I’m at my best in the morning. Ideas flow clearly, and I get as much done in a couple hours in the morning as I used to get done all day! It’s amazing what being well rested does for creativity and productivity.

Super Natural Delights by Sweatson Klank is out now on Friends Of Friends.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

3 Questions: WARMLAND

WARMLAND are a Reykjavík duo of Arnar Guðjónsson and Hrafn Thoroddsen, whose debut album Unison Love is released by the Aeronaut label on June 21 2019.

Comprising twelve songs showcasing quietly sincere, beatific vocals and a rich, compelling tapestry of icy synth melodies, Unison Love is executed with a knowingly anthemic, widescreen intelligent pop smarts.

WARMLAND play Secret Solstice this weekend in Reykjavík. Watch the video for ‘Further’ below.

What is your earliest memory?

Arnar: Escaping kindergarten by digging a hole under the fence and running down the street when I was three or four years old. I managed to run quite a distance until a random person from the street spotted me and stopped me. I guess I never really liked kindergarten.

Hrafn: I guess it would be my dog, her name was Dimma (Dark) and she was absolutely crazy, but kind to me. She used to drag me across the playground, terrorise the postman and dig up the neighbourhood. She eventually went on to live on the ‘farm’.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you?

Arnar: Stay true to yourself and don’t worry about what other people say or think. Working in music and creative arts, you can’t make everyone happy and there are always going to be negative voices out there. So it’s very important that you stay true to your vision and never compromise.

Hrafn: Be good to people and don’t be an asshole. I gravitate to good people both professionally and personally so thankfully my life is asshole-free… mostly.

When are you most productive or inspired?

Arnar: Over the dark winter in Iceland. I get easily distracted by good weather and sun. Maybe the 24-hour darkness forces you to go within yourself and be more creative. Working on music in the studio in a snow storm is the perfect condition for me.

Hrafn: I get inspired after dark and I censor things less between the twilights. I sometimes sit and do nothing in the studio until the light fades, then things get going. The midnight sun during summer can be a bit problematic, but then you just go out and enjoy it.

Unison Love by WARMLAND is released by Aeronaut on June 21 2019. Buy the record at Bandcamp.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.