In Conversation: Wrangler

Wrangler is a trio of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire, Creep Show), Ben ‘BengeEdwards (The Maths) and Phil Winter (Tunng). Their third album, A Situation, takes the current, destabilised state of the world and sets it to smart electronics, laced with heavy doses of angular funk.

Further. spoke to Mal, Benge and Phil about the genesis of the latest record, how they work together and what J. G. Ballard would make of modern Britain.

The subject matter across the whole of A Situation makes for uncomfortable listening, and yet it sounds incredibly, infectiously funky. Was it a conscious thing to make it danceable instead of utterly bleak?

Mal: I don’t think it is ever ‘overthought’. We make music and rhythms that speak for us, and lyrically I hope don’t we don’t hold any punches. Words should cut through just as the music should, this isn’t a time to look the other way, I hope we can go toe-to-toe with the world we inhabit and nothing hits harder than rhythm, so it’s perfect synergy for us.

Benge: We simply try to make music that we would want to listen to, or dance to, and this is what comes out when we all get together. That’s the great thing about being in a band with three producers – we each have individual styles, but when blended together something unique comes out

Phil: I think people have always needed an escape, when times are tough. A lot of my favourite music has combined a reflection of ongoing problems with a groove that can bring them together.

It seems that the process of making each Wrangler record has started from a fundamentally different place each time. Why is that? Is it to avoid getting too comfortable?

Mal: I’d like to think we grow with every release. It is the ultimate challenge to create your own sound and aesthetic without repeating yourself. I like to think Wrangler are distinct, and recognisable but also keep reinventing ourselves.

Benge: We don’t plan things out very much – we tend to respond to the situation we find ourselves in each time we get together. Sometimes there might be a new piece of gear that we are exploring in the studio, or we might be responding to other circumstances around us. When we were making this album there was a pretty messed up political situation so that fed into the tracks as well.

Phil: It’s pretty unconscious for me. I never have any idea how it will turn out. Equipment and to a degree, whatever I’ve been getting into, will have an effect for sure.

How do the three of you work together?

Mal: It’s easy – we get in a room together (either the studio or just set up to jam) and magic happens! Well, most of the time. In the studio we all chip away at what each of us has done until there’s consensus – which is when it sounds like Wrangler. But importantly, if it sounds like a new version of ourselves, that’s when we know we’ve got it right.

Although we live in different places we have to be together. Often it’s been a while since we’ve actually been together so it’s proper crazy because there’s so many ideas – and bits of new gear – to share.

Benge: We usually work from a starting point of some kind. Maybe Phil plays some loops from his laptop, or I get up some wonky synth-sketch that I have been working on and we go from there. And Mal always has a bunch of vocal ideas hidden away somewhere. One time I remember he came in and sang all these amazing but really dark phrases and I wondered how he had thought of them. Later on I found newspaper he’d been reading lying on the sofa, with all the phrases circled in marker pen.

Phil: I think we’re quite traditional in our approach. We get together, we chat and we play.

I thought I could hear a nod back to the early Warp, slightly disjointed techno sound and also vintage electro on this record, yet it doesn’t sound nostalgic. What kind of reference points were feeding into A Situation?

Mal: I think we are conscious not to ponder the process too much and just let it flow. The beauty of early techno was its simplicity and rawness so we try to think like that. Techno, in the first instance, is music you hear with your muscles.

Benge: I definitely think there are some early 90s sounds coming in to the recent stuff. I’ve been buying lots of those early digital synths that you can get really cheap at the moment, and we used some of them on this record. Maybe we used less of the older analogue gear this time.

Phil: Yeah, there was definitely a lot more black plastic around. And LEDs.

The last track features a poem inspired by The Atrocity Exhibition. What would Ballard make of where we are today? Would he be pleased that he got it so right? Or would he be as horrified as we all find ourselves?

Mal: I think Jim Ballard knew where we were heading, and his later books told cautionary tales of the potential of a collapsing world and the growth of a conflicted and materialistic island mentality. I think his earlier dreams of future worlds would be a little flattened by what we are at present, but I’m sure we all hang our hopes on solutions and resolutions.

A Situation by Wrangler is released February 28 2020 by Bella Union. Wrangler play The White Hotel in Manchester on February 28 and Electrowerkz in London on February 29 (with support from MICROCORPS – Alexander Tucker).

Interview: Mat Smith

Thanks to Zoe.

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Piney Gir

Kansas City’s Piney Gir delivered one of last year’s most memorable albums with You Are Here, the latest record in a body of work that showcases her deft, brilliantly obscure angle on love, life and everything in between. The album was originally titled It’s Been A Shit Year For Everyone, which was both utterly accurate and pretty miserable, so she changed it.

Her latest single from the album, the album highlight ‘Puppy Love’, was released on Valentine’s Day and features Piney accompanied by the distinctive Wille J. Healey. Following the release of the new single, Further. spoke to Piney about Muppets (I’m always happy to talk about the influence of The Muppets, FYI), Dolly Parton and the merits of writing on the move.

Read our review of You Are Here over at Documentary Evidence.

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is kinda odd, because I was an actual baby; it was in our old apartment before we moved (we moved when I was two) so I must have been younger than two – and the memory is a bit inconsequential! I remember sitting in a high chair eating something (I’m not sure what) and watching Big Bird on TV.

The Muppets have always been a big part of my life and in the early years they educated me on pop culture. I wasn’t allowed much secular music or pop culture as a kid, but I saw Elton John on The Muppet Show singing ‘Crocodile Rock’ with a bunch of crocodiles and I thought Elton was a muppet dressed in feathers and colours with crazy glasses. I figured if he wasn’t a muppet he might have been from another planet… from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show and all the Muppet Movies: Caper, Manhattan, Christmas Carol – they have all been a huge influence on me over the years and I still love them.

The Dark Crystal was frightening at the time and really triggered some deep fears of the dark side when I watched it. I should re-watch it and see if it still has that effect on me! We didn’t have fancy cable growing up so I didn’t see Fraggle Rock until recently, and it’s great! I guess anything from the Jim Henson Studio makes me happy.

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

Hmmm… I don’t feel like people give me advice very often; I wonder why that is? I’m very open to receiving advice if anyone has any for me.

I think Dolly Parton put it well when she said, “You’ll never do a lot unless you’re brave enough to try.” I guess she was certainly a brave woman who I really admire and her courage gives me courage… she also said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Which is great advice for anyone.

She’s a bit of a legend, Dolly! I once sang, not with her, but at her, on the One Show on BBC TV… Me and Mike Monaghan (my drummer, but he also drums with lots of people, Gaz Coombes, Willie J. Healey, Young Knives, St. Etienne…), we were invited to be part of a ‘human juke box’ and Dolly Parton was a guest on the show. When she arrived we sang her own songs at her. There was about 20 of us, including a really bossy Dolly Parton look-a-like. It was crazy to be about three feet away from Dolly though, breathing the same air and singing her songs to her – pretty surreal!

I have a signed, autographed photo of her in my studio. She inspires me every day.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

Oddly, I write a lot when I’m on the move.

Something about the rhythm of walking, or the boredom of sitting on the tube or a train or a plane makes my brain go all prolific. It’s mundane tasks where my brain and creativity can function separately from my body that somehow make room for my muse to shine. If I feel a bit creatively blocked I’ll go for a walk or take a train journey by myself and I’ll get inspired.

I guess that’s in regards to songwriting. When it comes to recording that’s best suited for the studio, and I like to change that side of the process up quite a bit, so it’s never the same twice. That keeps recording fresh and playful and fun.

Puppy Love by Piney Gir was released February 14 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Novelty Island

Further. favourites Novelty Island release their new single ‘Windows’ on February 20 2020. The follow-up to the spacey, singalong electronic pop of ‘Saturn Alarms’, ‘Windows’ is a sedate and tender song full of chill-out reference points that eddy and spin from its gauzy core – languid beats, icicle-sharp melodies and delicate harmonies.

As he prepares the band’s debut EP Welcome To Novelty Island, we spoke to Novelty Island mastermind Tom McConnell about what makes him tick.

What’s your earliest memory?

Hearing ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by The Beatles in a car.

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

It’s not really advice from a specific person, and it sounds very obvious, but I’ve realised how important it is to finish ideas. We take it for granted that our favourite artists not only had these great ideas, but that they saw them through and actually finished so many of them.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I work from Abbey Road Institute which is a pretty inspiring place.

‘Windows’ by Novelty Island is released February 20 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

In Conversation: Kemper Norton

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Kemper Norton is a Cornish electronic music adventurer who often uses the local history of his home county as the basis for complex, evocative albums that defy easy classification.

His latest work, Oxland Cylinder, is the counterpart to last year’s Brunton Calciner. The titles of these two albums might sound like some sort of abstract concatenation of random words but they are in fact the names of facilities developed for the extraction of arsenic, a lucrative byproduct of the tin mining that Cornwall was once famed for.

Further. spoke to Kemper Norton to find out more about his enduring interest in developing music inspired by the mythology and stories of his local surroundings.

Your albums Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder are concerned with the arsenic manufacturing process that has left abandoned facilities across the Cornish and Devonshire hills. What was it that made you want to use these as the basis for an album?

They’re one of the classic picture postcard icons of Cornwall and have led to areas of the coast being designated a World Heritage site, but I wanted there to be a wider awareness of their original purpose and role in the industrial revolution, and in the West Country and the global economy.

The creation of arsenic as a byproduct of the mining process also tapped into many themes of toxicity, domestic life and physical transformation that I’m interested in at the moment. They’re also buildings that I’ve seen every day growing up and I wanted to explore them more deeply before the landscape changes further into the view from a millionaire’s second home, and it becomes less accessible.

History – Cornish history especially – has a big presence in your work. The new album includes an old tin miners’ song interpolated into the piece ‘Halan’ that threads through Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder, while 2017’s Hungan used a mythical pirate active along the coast as its foundations.

How do you go about researching and unearthing things like that? What is it about the history of this county that inspires you so much? Or is history in general something that inspires you?

I have never been interested in personal songwriting based on my own experiences in a literal way. There are loads of artists doing that and I don’t think we need another bloke telling his stories or desires, but I do feel there are neglected areas and people in history that still have interesting stories, at least to me! History, particularly social history and folklore – both old and modern – have always been a big influence, and I’m sure they will continue to be. As I grew up mainly in Cornwall, that’s bound to be a major element.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything unique or magical about Cornwall any more than other counties or countries though – that’s part of its image that tourists go for and which residents exploit. The history of Coventry, Croatia or car parks will all have resonance and amazing hidden stories.

You have, on occasion, described your music as being ‘rural electronics’. What does that mean, in practice? Is it a style that comes from what you’re inspired by, or do you think it’s more a set of rules governing how you approach making your music?

When I started I just thought it was an honest way of pointing out that my upbringing is generally rural and I wasn’t that influenced by many urban styles of music, although that’s definitely changed.

The synth sounds, samples and field recordings were explicitly meant to sound rural in the North Cornwall sense – blasted by the Atlantic, rough, salty and hopefully unique. I was aware of artists like Aphex Twin and it was great that a Redruth boy could make it so far, so that in itself was inspiring, but I hope I’ve manage to avoid using tropes and conventions used by other artists too much. That’s pretty much the only rule!

Although it would be tempting to associate you with the hauntological genre, your music doesn’t seem intent on creating this wistful sense of nostalgia but instead seems to mourn that which is at the point of being lost from memories completely. Is that a conscious part of what you do?

Definitely. I can’t be nostalgic for Britain in the 1970s, Doctor Who or the Radiophonic Workshop because they’re not my memories or influences – I only moved to the UK in 1982 as a child. I also think that type of nostalgia for those specific cultural touchstones and era seems both oversaturated and close to cosy UKIP nationalism to me.

The idea of any kind of golden age is bollocks, particularly a recent British one. I’m also not interested in easy references to shared cultural memories of television or whatever. In terms of focusing on specific histories or stories being on the verge of lost , that’s definitely a theme in my work but it’s not necessarily limited to a specific era or mood.

If we take Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder as representative of your interest in taking historical inputs as a starting point, how did you go about actually converting those inputs into music?

I’m not that technical. I use a combination of samples, field recordings and sounds as a mood board for a specific album, and then they undergo a range of processes including granular synthesis and effects processing. Some come out the other end intact, whereas other sounds are absolutely unrecognisable, and others become base sounds for new instruments and melodies. Then they attempt to become songs!

Recently I’ve become interested in using as few sound sources as possible. Most of Brunton Calciner is based on two samples which are layered and continually reprocessed, which ties in with the themes of the album.

The two most recent albums exhibit a strong sense of narrative, meaning its presentation felt more like a radio play than an experimental electronic album. Was that deliberate? Do you see your music as being a form of story telling?

I like stories and narrative in music, and no matter how much I try to avoid it I can’t help creating or following a narrative in an album. It’s rather old-fashioned but I do see each album as a story, with a beginning, middle and end during construction, however ambiguous. At the same time, I don’t think it matters if listeners deconstruct or ignore that.

Do you think could be inspired in the same way by, say, the history of somewhere like London? Or is it under-appreciated histories that appeal to you the most?

Everywhere is interesting if you look at it closely. Even Surrey.

Oxland Cylinder by Kemper Norton is released February 24 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Charlotte Spiral

Charlotte Spiral is a duo of Amy Spencer and Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now writing complicated songs laced with lyrics loaded with emotional uncertainty; those words are only matched in their complexity by the many-layered musical architecture that supports Spencer’s distinctive voice.

“I kind of like it that people think my name’s Charlotte,” laughs Amy. “The name Charlotte Spiral came from a pose in figure skating. We started putting the music on top of old figure skating videos and then Avi and I decided that our band name should have something to with it because it’s so elegant. We wanted that to be reflected in the music.”

Upon the release of their debut EP, the gorgeous, mesmerising and haunting Ideal Life, Charlotte Spiral spoke to Further. about fake medicine and ‘A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’ – very probably the one and only time that song’s going to get a mention here, and highly unlikely to feature on their debut album, I imagine.

What’s your earliest memory?

Amy: When my brother and I were kids my grandparents would look after my brother and I, mostly after school and also in the summer when our parents were at work.

I have a strong memory of them sitting together on a bench under the apple tree in the garden. My granddad loved music and he could sing beautifully – he could play the harmonica and even the spoons! My grandma would sing that song ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’. I’m sure she sang many other songs too but for some reason that one sticks!

Avi: There is a place in Rhodes that is meant to be very beautiful called Butterfly Valley. Sadly, my earliest memory is of being very sick there. My dad tricked me and gave me a Mentos sweet, which he told me was medicine. I think it actually worked…

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

Amy: Stop worrying!

Avi: Trust your instincts.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

Amy: I often get ideas for lyrics when I’m travelling or walking somewhere. It’s usually just a line or two that I will finish once I have a chord progression and melody.

Avi: It changes all the time to be honest, but recently it’s been wherever there is a piano.

Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Take Five: Sad Man

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Sad Man is the alias of Bournville-based Andrew Spackman. The last few years have seen Spackman deliver an incredibly prolific series of electronic albums that straddle the gulf between odd rhythmic gestures and jazz, the result being a suggestion that those two worlds aren’t necessarily so dissimilar or incompatible as they might first appear.

His latest album, The King Of Beasts, is due to be released on February 10 2020, and finds Spackman proffering a highly accessible, many-layered journey through the musical themes that have coloured his recent output, while placing a greater emphasis on traditional jazz reference points.

Further. spoke to Spackman about his formative musical influences, in the process no doubt distracting him from his work on what is probably another Sad Man album expected to land later this year. “It’s definitely not an exercise in being, or looking, cool!” he warns.

Geoff Love & His Orchestra – Big Western Movie Themes

My parents didn’t seem to have any particular interest in music. They were teenagers before the teenage revolution really got going, and so they still had quite an old-fashioned view of entertainment. My mum, however, was a big fan of musicals and westerns, and we had an old 1960s Radiogram that sat in the living room. It didn’t seem to get used much, but I was particularly fond of how you could stack the 7-inch records in such a way that once one finished the next would drop down on top of the previous record. That probably horrifies the purist vinyl collectors out there.

My parent owned a few records. Mostly they were compilation albums of movie music from the Music For Pleasure series on EMI. I particularly remember listening to this record, Big Western Movie Themes by Geoff Love & His Orchestra. Although the orchestration was probably very heavy-handed, it suited the bombastic scale of these western themes. When I listened I could see the barren landscapes of Spaghetti Westerns, the beating heat of rocky canyons, and sound of cowboy boots on the front step of the O.K. Corral. Beguiling stuff.

Mike Oldfield – Incantations

Up until the age of nine I shared a bedroom with my brother. He was much older than me and his taste in music would today be described as ‘Yacht Rock’, which is now rather cool, but back then, it was not. His stereo played host to a blur of Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, and Hall & Oates. In amongst this smothering smooth-fest sat a collection of Mike Oldfield albums: Incantations, Platinum, QE2

Even at the age of nine I preferred instrumental music. I liked listening and trying to understand how all the instruments wove together. Also, the idea that Mike Oldfield played all these instruments too fascinated me. I remembered watching him on Blue Peter and he had this extraordinary technique when playing the guitar and very long fingernails. The track that I particularly liked was the live version of a track called ‘Punkadiddle’, which has the most amazing guitar solo on it. I later learned that Mike Oldfield got that sound by playing his guitar through the tape heads of an old tape recorder to give that fantastic fuzz / distortion sound with seemingly endless sustain.

Incantations features the vocals of Maddy Prior on ‘Part 2 – Song of Hiawatha’ and strings arranged by David Bedford. Like many of his albums, it is a cocktail of styles and instrumentation, with no fixed genre reference point. I’m not sure if it completely lasts the rest of time, but putting it context, he pretty much did everything before any one else had even got out of bed.

The Albion Band – Lark Rise To Candleford

When I was about 15 years old my school staged the National Theatre’s adaption of Lark Rise To Candleford. The play featured music by the Albion Band, made up of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and others. I had a very minor role in it, but it brought me into contact with folk rock music, played on this occasion by an excellent line up of local musicians. A few years later I went on the play for several folk rock bands too.

My love of folk music has continued, despite it seeming incongruous with my electronic music output as Sad Man. I love The Unthanks, This Is The Kit, Kate Rusby and Lau.

The The – Soul Mining

My first introduction to The The came when I was 19 and I had just bought a Triumph Spitfire. It was a beautiful green colour, and despite the constant smell of petrol, the ill-fitting doors and the extortionate insurance cost, I loved that car. It also had a very nice Pioneer stereo with speakers fitted into the doors, which, when you were in the driving seat, weren’t far off ear height.

I would often drive around the country roads with the top down late at night, to and from a pub where I worked in the evenings. On the stereo was The The. First was the Infected album (my first introduction to Neneh Cherry) but then later I discovered Soul Mining with its use of the Roland TR 606, pounding drums and chanting by Zeke Manyika. I think The The are the only band that I’ve ever had a fan thing for. I saw them play at the Albert Hall with Jonny Marr on Guitar. They were perfection.

David Toop – Ocean Of Sound Volume 3 – Booming On Pluto: Electro For Droids

When I moved to Bristol in 1997 my musical tastes had already travelled through rock music, folk rock, progressive rock, shoegaze, funk rock, grunge and indie music. Apart from the odd album from The Art of Noise, Tangerine Dream and some others, very little of what I listened to was electronic.

The Gloucester Road in Bristol had several second-hand record shops, and when I moved there and started making experimental and electronic music I also started buying CDs and records and expanding my repertoire: records by Scanner, Black Dog, Jack Dangers, anything on Warp records, Mu-Ziq , DJ Shadow, Jimi Tenor, Black Dog, Red Snapper, Labradford, Plaid…

I bought Booming On Pluto from the bargain bucket and loved its electro sound. Afrika Bambaataa, To Rococo Rot and A Guy Called Gerald all feature on this album and it’s a real classic. I guess once I’d heard this, the future of music for me was no longer guitars and distortion pedals, although I’m still very partial to a good distortion pedal (ProCo Rat, ZVE Fuzz Factory, Fuzz Face).

The King Of Beasts by Sad Man is released on February 10 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Matthew Barton

No matter how hard I try, no description of Rugby multi-instrumentalist Matthew Barton’s latest single ‘Orchid’ is going to get anywhere close to his own: “‘Orchid’ was inspired by Prince minimalism and the Casio organ sound of the Young Marble Giants,” he advises. “I wanted to write something simple and direct. I think of it as like Prince having a baby with a Georgia O’Keeffe painting at a video game arcade. Or something.”

If that sounds brilliantly odd, it’s because it is. Driven by layered, sparse preset rhythms and a shimmering keyboard melody as hypnotic as it is absent, the vast empty spaces of the music act as the perfect setting for Barton’s distinctively impassioned, soulful vocal. There is tender anguish writ large here, spliced together with a vulnerability heralding the arrival of a singular musical talent.

Matthew Barton is working on a cassette release for Knife Punch Records that is due for release in the Spring. In the meantime, Barton talks to Further. about almost drowning and getting stuff done. Listen to ‘Orchid’ below.

What is your earliest memory?

Probably being fished out of a swimming pool by my dad, having fallen in, unable to swim. That wasn’t the last time that happened either. Maybe I can trace my fascination with water back to that moment.

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

As a serial procrastinator, “You will never feel like you are ready – so just do it,” is useful and motivating. I’m trying to get better at that this year. Isn’t adulthood all about just pretending you know what you’re doing anyway?

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I find that new places, and new instruments, tend to spark ideas.

I have a lot of random voice memos on my phone recorded in weird places, usually while I’m just walking down streets, probably looking a bit bonkers.

New instruments too – my brother bought me a kalimba for my birthday and I’ve been writing some different stuff on that. You’ve just got to be open to everything around you.

Orchid by Matthew Barton was released January 21 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.