YOVA are a duo of Jova Radevska and Mark Vernon. Their first single, ‘Moondog’, was released last year and found the pair accompanied by a diverse group of players including Grumbling Fur’s Daniel O’Sullivan and PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis.
On new single ‘Rain’, Jova ratchets up the mesmerising, enthralling innocence of her naturally soulful voice on a song detailing a painful, terminal break-up. The track has been given a a special mix from Erasure’s Vince Clarke that will be available from February 28. Both tracks will then be released as part of a four track digital bundle on March 6 2020.
To celebrate the release of ‘Rain’, Further. asked Jova and Mark our customary 3 Questions, with typically revealing results.
What is your earliest memory?
Jova Radevska: Wrapping my stuffed monkey in a blanket and also screaming my lungs out near a scarecrow in a cornfield with my grandmother.
Mark Vernon: The psychedelic colour of leaves, buildings, blues skies, clouds, stars and moon from the pram
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
JR: Trust yourself and don’t put all your Easter eggs in one basket.
MV: Never take no for an answer. Less is more. Don’t put the cart before the horse. The latter is from The Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
JR: Mostly in solitude and when I’m sad and angry.
MV: When I’m either within reach of a keyboard or fretboard.
In 2019, The Tapeworm cassette label celebrated ten years of issuing contrarian works of sound art. Starting out as a resolutely tape-only label with no accompanying downloads, The Tapeworm has since expanded to encompass music on other formats through The Wormhole and exquisitely-typeset books through The Bookworm. The label was formed in London by Philip Marshall, Touch co-founder Mike Harding and illustrator / writer / musician Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil).
In a rare interview, Further. spoke to Philip about the early years of The Tapeworm, how it feels to be celebrating a decade of operations, the occasion of releasing over 100 cassettes and the label’s ongoing ethos. “The Tapeworm was always structured to be a way of freeing ourselves from having to do any promotions or interviews,” he says. “You bastard! Look what you’ve done to me. I’m sitting here doing a fucking interview. I agreed to it in a moment of weakness. Damn you Smith.”
From a very young age I was obsessed by music, but I was never ever any good at it.
In my early twenties I figured out a way to be around musicians and get into clubs and gigs for free, while at the same time thinking about how I could support these people: I could do flyers. I could design things, like record sleeves. I realised that I could be involved in music through design.
I’d always been a fan of Touch, Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft’s label. By about 2000 I’d gotten to know them through a mutual friend. They had a terrible website, and I was doing a lot of digital design at the time, so I decided that I would say to them, ‘Your website’s shit and I could do you a better website. I don’t want paying for it. I’ll just do it as a favour for the label – just give me a bunch of records for free.’ And that friendship then developed. Mike, Jon and I got on very well, and as that friendship deepened, a working relationship evolved out of it.
Fast forward eight years. I’m living in Paris, and I’m just ending a relationship. I’m a bit sore about that. I’m feeling a bit fed up and looking for something to do. Mike Harding said said, ‘Pull yourself together and get on with something. Let’s do a new project.’
Just before that an artist friend of mine in Berlin, D-L Alvarez, had invited me to take part in a group exhibition called Psychometry (The Space Between Seeing And Knowing Is Haunted). D-L asked me to do some sound work, so I did this installation called Three Questions And An Answer. It was a looped piece of tape playing in a corner of the gallery based around the theme of the exhibition. I said to Mike, ‘Why don’t we do a cassette? Why don’t we put it out?’ So we did a cassette on Mike’s label Ash International, and it sold out. I had no name as a musician, people only knew me as a graphic designer, but the thing sold out.
I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s a curious thing.’ Mike and I were steeped in tape culture. After all, Touch obviously came out of being a cassette magazine in the early Eighties. We both had a great love of that culture, but even so, we were amazed that people would buy, for no reason at all, a tape by an unknown name. Around the same time, we were getting frustrated by spending a vast amount of time and energy for next to no dividend in putting together releases that would be sent out to press or sent out to stockists, yet which would get no traction at all. Those releases were very much reliant on a good review in The Wire, or someone’s blog, but then for an arbitrary reason could be ignored. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make a structure of a business that doesn’t need promotion, that feeds itself.’ Almost like a tapeworm, you might say.
So we came up with this idea of having this thing where we could say to an artist, ‘Well, there’s no money here, but do you have something in your archive, or do you have a piece of work that is not part of your core body of work, but which something that you’ve always wanted to do?’ Choosing tape as the format created certain practicalities and gave a certain physicality to it. It dictated the duration and restricted the programming because you can’t easily shuffle through it. We were also interested in the more philosophical qualities of tape: it’s about memory, it’s about recording a memory, it’s an imprint, and then there’s the whole magnetism of it all.
I remember that we were sitting in a garden in Balham, where Touch are based. Vicki Bennett from People Like Us was there that day, and we just said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a tape?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve got my gran, and her best mate, and they do readings of texts – why don’t we do that? What shall we read?’ And then we gave her a copy of Le Xerox Et L’Infini by Baudrillard and two weeks later she came back with a recording of these two ladies doing this blind reading of this book of French philosophy. It was one of the most standout hilarious things we’d ever heard.
At the same time we’d emailed the turntable artist Philip Jeck and he said, ‘I’ve got these recordings where I’m doing the same live set-up with a bass guitar, which I can’t really play.’ So then we had our first two releases. Savage Pencil – Edwin Pouncey – met with us the day after and we said, ‘Oh you must be involved – we’d love you to do the artwork.’ And he said, ‘What’s it called?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ We came up with some really bad names – terrible, horrendous names. And Edwin said, in a very gruff, very blunt way, ‘Look, it’s called The Tapeworm.’ And there was no arguing with Edwin, so that was the name of the label. He drew the worm and said, ‘There’s your logo.’
For perhaps the first five years, we made a decision to not fess up to who was behind The Tapeworm. We wanted to be like Basic Channel: we liked the idea of being as anonymous as possible. Because if you suddenly go, ‘It’s Philip, who works with this bunch of people, and Mike Harding with his history of Touch, and Edwin Pouncey, Savage Pencil, who’s got this other history,’ it becomes a bit too fucking obvious about where it’s coming from. So we liked the idea of being a slightly weird, connected, underground thing that never revealed itself. In that way, the label became a personality rather than the people behind it. It started off with the intention of being a collective, and then I pushed my way to the front, because I was the person with the energy.
When we started The Tapeworm in 2009, cassettes were still quite an underground thing. Things have changed now. I don’t blame myself for the fact that you can buy Kylie’s Greatest Hits on cassette today – that’s probably a fucking brilliant release, but you don’t need it on cassette, do you? There’s no need for that. It’s kitsch. We always wanted to be a label that was investigating a format and being honest about the format, and its limitations, and its strengths, and its beauty. The initial call-out we gave to artists was all about making people consider the format. Nowadays cassettes have become a kind of thoughtless marketing tool
We’ve never allowed the releases to be released digitally at the same time. We’ve just done this Jay Glass Dubs tape, Two Devotional Songs For Spacemen 3 In The Style Of Love Inc., and I’ve literally had eighteen emails in the last two days from people who bought the tape asking ‘Where’s the download?’ We’ve always made it clear to the artists that they will retain the copyright of the audio, and if they want to release the audio digitally, afterwards, that’s brilliant: that’s their choice, but we’d prefer them not to because this is about an investigation of the format and the sound of the format and what the format means. We’ve always wanted people to be more precious. We wanted to create this idea of an intimate art object that sells for a fiver, and which is only available for a short run. But it’s also affordable and accessible to anyone, as long as you’ve got a tape player. And if you haven’t got a tape player, why the fuck are you buying a tape? It fucking annoys me. The only reason to buy things in a certain format is because you want to interact with the format. Maybe I’m old fashioned in that regard. I think people just expect to offer a download with your tapes these days. Fuck that shit. I can’t be bothered with that.
It’s strange to be celebrating ten years of The Tapeworm. It’s funny – we thought, collectively, that it wouldn’t work as an idea at the very beginning. And then, to make that worse, I had the idea that I wanted to release a stupid amount of things constantly, and so I think in the first year we put out something like twenty releases. That’s stupid, but then they all sold out and they all did quite well. We started off being really awkward about insisting on the cassette format, I think. After the first ten or fifteen releases, it seemed a bit silly to be less awkward. The series was working, so I think we just decided to just keep on being awkward.
Despite having a very distinct manifesto at the beginning, but we never had any forward-looking plans. Over the decade, things have shifted a bit. Opportunities would arise where we’d go, ‘Oh, you know, this doesn’t quite fit into this tight remit, but now we’ve got this history and body of work we can go different places with it.’
But that brings us to an interesting juncture, because we now release things on other formats through The Wormhole. We were doing The Tapeworm, and so we had to release everything on tape. Mike Harding had done a recording as Souls On Board for our seventh cassette and that featured Bruce Gilbert and Daniel Menche. Mike’s tape was brilliant. At our first live London gig at Café Oto in November 2009, Mike performed as Souls On Board, and Edwin and Sharon Gal performed as Melatot – Melatot was our eighth tape. We got the recordings back from the gig, and they were brilliant. Mike said, ‘We’ve got to release these.’ And I said, ‘It’s a tape!’ And he said, ‘No.’ At the time we had this principle that we would only ever release artists once. So we had this principle that we’d never return to an artist, like, ‘Okay you’ve done your tape, fuck off and never come back.’
So Café Oto had recorded our debut gig. We had these two brilliant recordings, and Mike said, ‘Well, we need to release this.’ And I said, ‘Tape.’ And he said, ‘No, we can’t do this on tape, I’m going to do a vinyl.’ So he released a vinyl on Ash International. At that time, I’d said, we could do a sub-label, for Tapeworm things that doesn’t fit onto tape, and we could call it The Wormhole. And he said, ‘No, we can’t do that – it’s far too complicated.’
Then a few months later we’d done this tape with Leslie Winer, & That Dead Horse, and Leslie turned to us and said, ‘Would you like to release this record of mine?’ It was her and Christophe Van Huffel under the name Purity Supreme. And I said to Mike, ‘Wormhole!’ And he said, ‘No. We can’t do that, there’s not enough time, I’m going to put it out on Ash.’ So those two records – the Souls On Board / Melatot performance from 2009 and the Purity Supreme 12-inch from 2011 – should have been the first records released on Wormhole, in my opinion. They were literally down the wormhole. In maybe every sense, every Wormhole release shouldn’t exist.
Then we decided to put out books. The Bookworm happened because a very dear friend of ours, Leif Elggren – one of the Kings of Elgaland-Vargaland – sent us a copy of one of the books he’d done, and I was like, ‘Oh we should do a book.’ ‘What shall we call it?’ ‘Let’s call it The Bookworm’. ‘What shall we do?’ And so then another mutual acquaintance of ours, Ken Hollings, formerly of Biting Tongues and a broadcaster on BBCs Three and Four, had written an essay, and so we brought out a book of the first 25 illustrations of The Tapeworm releases and Ken’s essay, Parasitic Infestation.
Again, it was quite a nice object and we really liked what it was, so we thought we’d do some more of those. It’s like, once you’ve done one you can’t just have one, can you? I mean, that’s just crap. You need to do a couple more, so we did a couple more, and they’ve sold as well. The third book was by Stefan Goldmann, Presets – Digital Shortcuts To Sound. It’s an epic book on presets. Right now we have this book out by Savage Pencil and Barbara Frost, which is amazing, a real bodice-ripping page-turner.
Once you’ve done one thing, you can just go, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ So once you’ve done one record, one Wormhole, you’ve got to do more, once you’ve done a hundred tapes you’ve got to do a hundred more. And then you’ve got to move on to other things. At the moment, I’m almost breaking the original idea of The Tapeworm, but it’s almost like we have to contradict ourselves eternally. I’m considering doing a label called Digital Archives Of Tapeworm, or DAT, which is going to be an archive of Tapeworms digitally, just to shut people up more than anything else. Once you’ve done one thing you might as well do them all. I gave myself rules and now I’m going to break them. I don’t like rules.
Having reached 100 releases on The Tapeworm this year, Mike, Edwin and I talked about starting again in exactly the same order, but we didn’t do that because it seemed too much like hard work. In any case, we realised that we couldn’t, because some people had died, and it would have got quite a bit complicated. But conceptually, it was a very interesting idea, and that’s what matters: having the idea was good, doing it didn’t matter so much.
Interview: Mat Smith at Fork, Bloomsbury, November 12 2019.
It’s been seven years since the last Amongst The Pigeons album, and five years since Daniel Parsons decided to call pest control and exterminate the ATP project. After a spell working in the duo Exactly Zero, Daniel found himself idling away the time in a local café and before he knew it he was donning his characteristic pigeon mask all over again, and Those Stolen Moments was the eventual result.
In this exclusive feature for Further., Daniel talks us through the nine new tracks on a record that is distinctively ATP but more acutely focussed on its creator’s own instincts rather than deploying guest vocalists. It is a record of continually-evolving electronic juxtapositions and thought-provoking contemplations on how we spend that most undervalued of commodities – our personal time.
The album opens with ‘Happy Beginnings’.
The track started out as an instrumental but it never felt finished and I spent a long time working out what to do with it. Last year I started going to car boot sales and while looking through some vinyl I found an old record that taught children how to play instruments. The samples in this track come from that and work perfectly for the opening of the album.
The title for this one came from a conversation I had with a friend. He was talking about the concept of a ‘happy ending’ massage and said that in his mind it would be better to start with the ‘happy’ activity and then move onto having a nice relaxing massage.
The second track is Inflight Entertainment. This track was born on a flight to Poland using my iPhone and GarageBand. During the flight I created a 20-second loop which was sounding quite cool. When I got home I took the loop into my Shedio and fully fleshed out the track. A Shedio is a recording studio in a shed and mine sits at the end of my garden. It’s a magical place where time often stands still.
When I made my debut album and early EPs I used a lot of field recordings and still like to capture sounds while I am out and about. In the background of this track there are samples from the actual flight.
Back in 2014 I announced that I would stop making music as Amongst The Pigeons.
In the years that followed my friend Ollie and I made music under the name Exactly Zero (exactlyzero.co.uk). We would meet up each week and work on tracks but it was a slow process and in between our weekly meets I was starting to work on some new music on my own.
‘Perching’ was the first ‘new’ Amongst The Pigeons song and it really did come about by accident. One day I was sat in Perch (my local coffee shop) and I had my MacBook with me, I hit record and started capturing the background noise of the café. When I got back to the Shedio I cut up some of the clutter and created a little beat with the crockery and started putting synths over the top.
This track also has both of my kids voices sampled across the song. They enjoy coming out to the Shedio and if I am in the middle of recording I always try and get them to shout and sing into the microphone.
Polly Bee Gone
‘Polly Bee Gone’ is one of the heavier-sounding ATP tracks and became a bit of a nightmare to finish. I actually released an earlier version of this back in March on an ‘introductory’ album. My plan was to draw a line between the old ATP songs and the new ‘ATP 2.0’ music. I kept working on this song after that original release and managed to tidy it up a bit more and get to the stage where I was happy with it.
The song title came from the synth patch I was using which was a ‘PolyB’ sound.
I also made a video for this track which features me wearing one of my ATP Pigeon Masks while walking through Trafalgar Square. There was a very funny moment when a small kid was chasing a load of pigeons and they turned round to see a 6ft Pigeon towering over them disapprovingly.
Beautiful Negative Space
As I mentioned earlier I didn’t really plan to restart ATP, but once I had a few tracks, I started to question what I should do with them. Originally I was going to release a four track EP, then a five track EP and so on. It got to the stage where I had eight tracks and I thought I should stop but then I started work on this song and felt it would sit perfectly in the middle of the album.
It is one of the more mellow tunes on the record and originally I wanted to get guest vocals on it and turn it into a Robyn-esque tune. I don’t sing myself and in the past have been lucky to work with some awesome artists, but the more I thought about it, I wanted this album to be much more of a pure electronica set of songs. The next ATP releases will likely feature more guest singers.
At Any Opportunity
The album is called Those Stolen Moments as I wanted to capture the circumstances around how it was made. I have a full time job and a family so my ‘free’ time is limited and this album was made in those pockets of time that don’t really exist. I usually head out to the Shedio one or two nights a week and tend to work between 9 or 10pm and 2am. It’s a beautiful time of the day / night and I love being awake and creative while many people are asleep.
‘At Any Opportunity’ has a little sample at the start in which I try to sum up my feelings about making the most of time and seizing chances. There are times when it can be hard being a solo musician and you only have yourself to push you along to get music made. There can be times when self-doubt creeps in and you question everything you are doing.
Thinking Is Addictive
This track features part of an Eckhart Tolle speech about how thinking can be addictive and the importance of being able to stop thinking. What he says is very true and it fits so perfectly as an Amongst The Pigeons tune. There are some great synth and bass parts hidden away in this song. I always try to make my music do the unexpected and take people on a whirlwind journey as they listen to the songs. I also made a lyric video for this track which took ages to do.
I have no idea if Tolle would approve of this track but I like to think he’d appreciate it.
The 25th Hour
The title of this song again harks back to another example of making the most of time that doesn’t exist. In my mind the 25th hour is the extra time you create when you really push yourself to do more with your day and get stuff done.
This song was pretty much made in a single night and was born out of being utterly uninspired. I went out to my Shedio and was feeling quite fed up after a long week at work and didn’t really fancy doing anything at all. I started making the track and it all came together incredibly quickly, it was one of those nights where it got to 1am, then 2am and I thought I really should go to bed but couldn’t stop working on it.
For me that is the biggest thrill about making music. When you start, you effectively have nothing, but an empty page, and over a period of time you are creating something that didn’t exist before.
Water Into Whisky
Most of the songs on the album all clock in at under three minutes but on this closing track I allow things to take their time to unfurl.
It is fair to say that one of my favourite bands when I was growing up was Orbital. They have always heavily influenced the sound of Amongst The Pigeons which I think people may hear while listening to this song in particular.
This song started out as a little 10-second loop of random synth riffs. A few years ago my friend Adam (from Monkeyfist) came down to the Shedio with his euphonium to record on one of the Exactly Zero tracks. During the night we polished off a bottle of whisky between us and before we finished for the night we spent half an hour messing around with the synths.
A year or so later I revisited the loop we had made and started to stretch it out and build this song around it. It’s a slow build which leads into a more epic ending for the album and brings everything to a close.
Those Stolen Moments by Amongst The Pigeons is released November 15 2019 by Peace & Feathers.
Brook is an electronic duo of Beth Brooks and Howard Rider. Two years in the making, the intimate songs on their debut album Built You For Thought bring together Beth’s schooling in blues and soul performance with Howard’s carefully-restrained synth arrangements.
With highly personal, carefully-shrouded lyrics that feel like we are reading Beth’s most private concerns, and Howard’s skill in crafting subtly dramatic accompaniments, Brook’s music is delicately poised between the futuristic and the human.
Built You For Thought is out now on Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Read David Best from Fujiya & Miyagi’s review of the album here.
What is your earliest memory?
Beth Brooks: Hiding under the bath from my two elder sisters at about four. I had made a den under there. I had to hide from them a lot as a youngster.
Howard Rider: Glancing down the street at four years old when moving in to a new family home, and seeing someone of a similar age who would then become one of my closest friends for life. I can still see him now!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
BB: Don’t always listen to advice!
HR: Live now.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
BB: When I’m alone.
HR: When there’s a strong element to work with, or something that excites me, whether that’s a thought, an emotion or a sample. The most important thing, though, is a strong vocal.
Built You For Thought by Brook is released by VeryRecords on September 20 2019.
Brighton quartet Fujiya & Miyagi’s latest album, Flashback, was released in May. Containing some of the group’s finest electro- and funk-inflected songs, Flashback covered everything from a political character assassination, self-importance and reflections on our collective (and absurd) paranoia that we might miss out. Further. spoke to the band’s guitarist and vocalist David Best about the tracks on Flashback and the often serious personal concerns and reminiscences that lie behind his deftly humorous lyrics.
Today we’re also premiering the latest two remixes of tracks from Flashback. Following on from Vince Clarke’s mix of ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ and W. H. Lung’s new version of the title track, the new latest mixes come from Shakedown and BUNKR. Shakedown’s robust re-rendering of album highlight ‘For Promotional Use Only’ gives the track an urgent insistency while BUNKR tap into acid house nostalgia on their new version of ‘Personal Space’. Listen to both mixes below.
Part of getting older is spending more time remembering when you were younger. Both myself and Steve Lewis from Fujiya & Miyagi are similar ages so we both grew up in the early 80s where our childhoods were soundtracked by electro. It was all over the top 40. I think subconsciously the music that you hear in your youth becomes important later on in life, although it’s natural to initially turn away from it.
I was jealous of my neighbour’s Nike windcheater. I used offcuts of kitchen linoleum to spin on my back poorly. I briefly spray painted really bad graffiti on portacabins. I pretended I was from somewhere that I wasn’t.
‘Flashback’ is a nostalgic look to a less complicated time with no responsibilities. It’s also about the odd fragments of memories that stay with you. Often these appear inconsequential but are impossible to shift and frequently come back to me in times of stress or anxiety.
This takes the underlying anxiety of ‘Flashback’ and adds a layer of claustrophobia on top. Inspired by James Brown’s 70s one-chord vamps, updated to incorporate aspects of electro and finished off by a middle-aged man struggling with being bombarded with technology and other people sitting too close to him in enclosed spaces in Taiwan.
For Promotional Use Only
‘For Promotional Use Only’ is about trying to do the most with the least possible. This is possibly my favourite song on the album. My friend described it as a song to listen to while rollerskating at a disco, which is a nice image.
Fear Of Missing Out
This has a 70s West African feel to it, hinting at William Onyeabor. It then morphs into a paranoid disco outro. Lyrically it has parallels to the end section of ‘Personal Space’. By always wanting your life to be better it’s easy to forget what you have that’s worth having. I was unsure whether to use such a relatively new and ubiquitous phrase but I wanted to cement the album in the present while being informed by the past.
This is a reworking of our song ‘Subliminal Cuts’. It was inspired by a Columbo episode ‘Double Exposure’ from 1973. We reversed our old song ‘In One Ear’, cut it up, and wrote a new one on top. It’s an idea stolen from David Bowie’s Lodger album.
Dying Swan Act
‘Dying Swan Act’ refers to a phrase my parents would say whenever myself or my sister were being a bit pathetic. This song was initially inspired by the origins of disco rap, hence its simplicity both lyrically and musically. It has a dissonant guitar line that also links it too ‘Fear Of Missing Out’.
It’s hard to ignore the split in opinion in the UK so I thought we should address it. I know nobody would listen to Fujiya & Miyagi for our political insight but morally I felt I wanted it to be known where I stood. It’s easy to oversimplify the reasons why people want to leave the EU. Being a racist is definitely one of them, though. I also wanted to poke fun at the other side of the argument. It’s easy to take the moral high ground without seeing the reasons for why we got to this point.
Interview: Mat Smith
Flashback by Fujiya & Miyagi is out now on Impossible Objects Of Desire. Read the Further. review here.
“The synthesizer has changed everything whether purist musicians like it or not,” wrote Miles Davis in his 1990 autobiography. “It’s here to stay and you can either be in it or out of it. I choose to be in it because the world has always been about change. People who don’t change will find themselves like folk musicians, playing in museums and local as a motherfucker.”
Throughout his fifty-odd year career, trumpeter and jazz pioneer Davis was forever searching, always looking for new ways to develop the vernacular of jazz. Whether with the smooth, tender balladry that coloured Birth Of The Cool or the adventurous fusion with rock music on Bitches Brew, Miles’s sharp ear, his ability to improvise freely around any combination of musicians and a singular musical vision marked him out as a formidable bandleader.
In 1975, a year after the incendiary Dark Magus was recorded in front of a slack-jawed Carnegie Hall audience, Davis was strung out. In pain from recurrent hip issues, Miles was addicted to cocaine and spending most of his days locked in his Manhattan brownstone; he never picked up his trumpet, and aside from a slew of compiled archive recordings that inevitably emerged during his withdrawal from the world, Davis was exhibiting all the signs of creative burn-out. While languishing in a drugged-up state at a precarious rock bottom, the gentle insistence of his doting nephew, Vincent Wilburn Jr. – an accomplished drummer – nudged Miles out of retirement in 1979.
“I would tell him, ‘Uncle Miles, you sound great!’ and when I told him he didn’t sound great he would say, ‘Fuck you, nephew!’” recalls Wilburn Jr. with a laugh. “I would always encourage him. I’d say, ‘Unc, I love you – people love you.’ I was starstruck around my uncle from the time I was a kid, right from when I was four or five years old. He was always like a superhero to me. He was missed, you know, and so when he was completely ready, he came back. He quoted it in his book as like ‘learning to ride a bike again’.”
Davis emerged into a music scene that was markedly changed, and one where he could have struggled to fit in if it wasn’t for his unerring ability to rapidly assimilate what was going on, and find a way to stay relevant. He scoured the scene for new talent, alighting upon saxophonist Bill Evans, bassists Marcus Miller and Darryl Jones and guitarist John Scofield, and he repaid the debt to his nephew by bringing him into his group. His initial 1980s recordings were focussed squarely on a heady mix of funk and rock, but by 1985’s You’re Under Arrest, Davis’s group was dominated by a period electronic sheen.
Ostensibly a political album, You’re Under Arrest found the trumpeter tackling pop standards like Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’ and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’. With the benefit of hindsight, You’re Under Arrest was an album perfectly suited to the 80s zeitgeist, but one which did more than most jazz records of the time to enforce a flimsy, ersatz, elevator music naffness. With each album of the early 80s, Miles’s playing once again became stronger and more fluid, fending off critics who suggested he was a long way past his creative nadir.
After thirty years at Columbia, Davis signed to Warner Bros. in 1985 and was itching to take his music forward. He was handed a generous deal from label VP Tommy LiPuma that supposedly allowed him the freedom to go wherever he wanted, working with whomever he chose. In his head was a raw, funky, modern and irrepressible synth-heavy LP. His chosen producer was Randy Hall, who had co-written his 1981 hit ‘The Man With The Horn’, and who was then working on his second solo album with the likes of Wilburn Jr, a friend since kindergarten.
“I found out officially that I was going be the producer of this new record at his New Year’s Day dinner at his place in Malibu,” remembers Hall. “There were some celebrities there – people like Sammy Davis Jr. and Bill Cosby. We were eating dinner and Miles stood up, tapped his glass to make an announcement, and he said, ‘I want to introduce you to the producer of my new album – Randy Hall.’ I was like, ‘Woah,’ I mean, I thought we was just going to work on a song together, but he said I was gonna be the producer on a new album, and I was like, ‘Man, that’s fantastic!’ ‘The Man With The Horn’ was the first time that Miles had a song that got played on black radio stations in the US. I remember when the record went number one on the Billboard Jazz chart he had called me to thank me, and so I guessed he wanted to get back on black radio again.”
In 1985, Hall was ensconced at Ray Parker Jr.’s Ameraycan Studios in North Hollywood with a young guitarist and producer, Zane Giles, with whom Hall started working on the new Miles project. From the outset it was clear to the pair that Davis wanted to do something different. “He specifically said ‘I don’t want to do no jazz – I’m sick of that,’” recalls Giles. Prince was a huge influence on Davis at that time, and often he could be found talking through a slew of ideas with Paisley Park HQ on the phone during the sessions. “Uncle Miles was also really into Tears For Fears and Missing Persons,” remembers Wilburn Jr. “He really loved Scritti Politti. We used to do ‘Perfect Way’ on stage when I was in his band. He dug Mr. Mister. We also used to do a song of theirs called ‘Broken Wings’ – we recorded it but we just never released it.”
There was also the small matter of ‘Rockit’, the phenomenally successful crossover 7-inch by Miles’s old keyboard player Herbie Hancock, released two years before the team entered Ameraycan. Whether it was intentional or not, Hall and Giles set about recording a track – ‘Rubberband’ – that would offer a blistering riposte to ‘Rockit’. “We put together a kind of groove that was something like what we thought Prince would do,” says Hall. “We were taking a really raw approach – it was just raw and funky and hard. Miles wanted one of those instrumentals that had handclaps on it, with people in the background going ‘Let’s party with Miles!’ He wanted you to put it on and then everybody would dance – a party record. That’s basically what ‘Rubberband’ is. I don’t think we ever put the handclaps on. We hadn’t got to that point because we didn’t get to finish any of the songs we worked on with him.”
“He was so excited when we came up with the groove for ‘Rubberband’,” recalls Zane Giles. “Man, it was amazing. I didn’t know much about him other than the fact that my dad, who was also a musician, loved Miles, and I used to see his records at the house. All of a sudden here I am, working, talking with this guy on the phone, and every time we’d have an idea, we would call him and he would green light it, then we’d go into the studio.”
Giles threw as much electronic kit as he could at the ‘Rubberband’ track to realise Miles’s vision. “I used a Linn sequencer, two Akai MD280s, a Mini-Moog and a DMX drum machine,” he remembers. “Randy and I came up with the groove, and then I played it for Miles over the phone. That was embarrassing – I rubbed my foot on the carpet and it created a shock which caused the sequencer to lock up. He’s like, ‘What’s goin’ on?’. And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, give me another two hours so I can reprogram this thing.’” Most of the electronic equipment used in the Rubberband sessions came from Goodman Music, just a few blocks down from Ameraycan. Goodman’s Adam Holzman, who had worked on Randy Hall’s solo LP, supplied most of the kit, winding up working on the sessions as a programmer.
With the basic groove laid down, and with the addition of guitars by Hall, Giles and Mike Stern and percussion by Wilburn Jr. it fell to Miles to deliver an especially lyrical trumpet line; on the track his playing is effortlessly simple, funky and uncluttered. During the track you also hear some wild synth stabs, all played by Davis on a PPG Wave that Adam Holzman had suggested for the sessions. “He really liked the sound of that keyboard,” says Hall. “The parts he played were supposed to be horns. He was hearing the music as if it was one of those New Orleans bands from way back. He didn’t sit up and figure this stuff out – he played that stuff on the fly. In between he’d whisper ‘rubberband, rubberband, rubberband’, like the chants that those marching bands used, so I sampled that and used it on the track. I knew he was a genius, but you got to remember that he also had the horn in one hand while he was doing that stuff. He played it one time, all the way through, no practice, no nothing.”
“I remember one time he laid his arms on the keys and we all stopped playing, because we thought we’d messed up,” adds Giles. “He was like, ‘What did you stop for?’ He literally just wanted to play all the black keys at once, so he put both arms on the keyboard.”
Miles had a reputation for being a tough taskmaster in the studio, but Randy Hall and Zane Giles didn’t experience that during the Rubberband sessions. “It was hilarious,” laughs Giles. “He’d pull up in his Ferrari while we were setting up, and say, ‘How much is this necklace I’m wearing?’ I was like, ‘Well that necklace looks like you got it from K-Mart,’ and then he’d hit me in the side because he loved to box. He would come into the studio and the next thing I know he’s hitting me in the shoulder or he’s got his guards up and he’d be shadow boxing. That’s just the kind of guy he was. He was real strong back then.”
As incongruous as this might sound for a player with an angry streak, the pair put it down to how much fun he was having. “He was on fire in those sessions. Sometimes we would go to the studio and Miles would be there before us,” says Hall. “That was a good thing – that let me know he was really into it. He would call me at night and say tell me what he liked about what we’d recorded, what he didn’t like, what he wanted to change.”
The studio set-up was really inspiring to Miles, recalls Hall, “He really loved Ameraycan. We had a great engineer, Reggie Dozier, the brother of Lamont Dozier from Motown. We’d play all day, then we’d send out and we’d get chicken, pizza and all that kind of stuff. Miles used to eat Goldfish Crackers all the time. He would bring those in, with some candy, every single day. Miles was so excited about this music that he was going out on tour at the same time as we were working on the album, and he started playing this music at shows immediately.”
“He really liked the direction that we were going in,” adds Giles. “I’m telling you, man – Miles was really blowing during those sessions. That dude was lightin’ it up because he was enjoying playing so much. He said to Randy and me, ‘I wanna play it on the funk,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
Aside from ‘Rubberband’ which emerged on a rarities collection, the recordings from those sessions languished, unreleased, in the Warner Bros. archives until now. Instead, what emerged as his first Warners album was the atmospheric, synth-dominated but only occasionally funky Tutu. The blame for that lay with the individual who had brought him to the label in the first place, Tommy LiPuma.
“When Tommy signed Miles, he had a certain dream about what he wanted to do with him as an artist,” shrugs Hall. “He wanted to cut a Tommy LiPuma-influenced Miles Davis record, which was Tutu. This wasn’t that record. This was like a Miles Davis On The Corner record. There was a lot of energy in the music we were making. I remember, while we were cutting the songs and Miles was getting excited, I got a phonecall from Miles saying that Tommy didn’t like the music. That’s all there is to it. Miles isn’t an apologetic type, but I could tell that it kinda crushed him too.”
“We got caught up in politics,” sighs Zane Giles. “Tommy had signed Miles to Warner Bros. and he was determined to produce him himself. Tommy made the move and snatched everything away from us, and then Adam Holzman and Steve Reid went along too. Warner Bros. pulled on his coat and said, ‘Hey, this is what we wanna do,’ and Miles just had to go along with it. He fought it for a minute, because we ended up doing ten songs with Miles, but these were songs that we never really got a chance to finish back then.”
We’re now able to hear what has rightly been dubbed Miles’s ‘lost album’ thanks to the meticulous studio work of Randy Hall and Zane Giles and the support of Vincent Wilburn Jr. and the rest of Davis’s family.
Restoring the entire suite of ten ideas created for the Rubberband sessions involved revisiting studio tapes not touched for over thirty years and piecing together the jams. In some cases, the producers abandoned attempts to restore the period vibes and instead updated them, adding contemporary flourishes and soulful vocals from the likes of Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway. If it seems vaguely disrespectful to reinterpret hitherto unheard, important material that some might view as sacrosanct, recall that Davis didn’t want to make a typical jazz record with Rubberband, and one suspects his forward-thinking self might have appreciated the repositioning of his horn playing in these new settings.
When the temptation to give the tracks a complete do-over is suppressed and the original arrangements are presented, what emerges most prominently, on tracks like the irrepressibly joyous ‘Give It Up’ or the heavy synth-bass and guitar-led ‘This Is It’, is a strength and conviction of playing that reinforces how fully immersed in the sessions Miles was, and also how much confidence his playing had once again gained. You can hear the influence of the likes of Scritti Politti on his playing, the fizzing effervescence of these pieces being infused with an essence of bold, brash 80s pop arrangements that never once leave Miles sounding like he doesn’t completely belong there. Yet despite the forward-looking presentation across Rubberband, ‘Maze’s melodic trumpet lines recall some of his earliest tracks as a leader, despite being augmented by period slap bass and the kind of clean, wandering guitar riffing that his own experiments with fusion in the 70s had anticipated. It is the embodiment of Davis biographer Ian Carr’s assertion that “Miles often looked back – but he always moved forwards.” These sessions, the previously lost bridge between the lacklustre You’re Under Arrest and the richly textured strokes of Tutu, find Miles doing that over and over again.
Perhaps one of the finest moments here is ‘The Wrinkle’, a chunky funk cut dominated by wah-wah guitar, little circular recurring synth melodies and memorable trumpet lines from Miles delivered with a breezy, carefree flourish over a crisp programmed beat. We also find Davis in tender mood, riffing elegantly and romantically on the sultry ‘See I See’, an unexpected but necessary moment of reflection when heard alongside the more urgent cuts on the LP.
It is, however, the original ‘Rubberband’, placed right at the end of the album, that remains the most essential moment here. It is possible to hear a certain initial tentativeness in Davis’s playing on this track, a sense of him feeling his way before approaching the recording with a vitality and vigour, by the time of his one-handed PPG Wave solos sounding like he’s utterly absorbed in the sound proposed by Randy Hall and Zane Giles. In contrast, the other tracks on the album – despite showing that Davis was back up to full strength – seem to suffer a little from Miles having settled comfortably into a new skin, whereas ‘Rubberband’ captures that precise moment of discovery, the moment where it all clicks into place and he storms forward in a brave new direction that was ultimately to be thwarted by the whims and egos of big label capriciousness.
Despite the disappointment that these thrilling sessions were buried for the best part of forty years, Zane Giles remains sanguine about the experience. “It was like working with Beethoven or Yoda, man – like working with someone who had the mastery over the Force,” he reflects. “He’d tell me, ‘Zane, there’s no such thing as wrong music.’ Quincy Jones used to say the same thing to me – he ‘Zane, you can never conquer music as long as you live. It’s something you’ll always be chasing – it’s limitless.’
“When you work with individuals like that, it really does help make you humble,” he concludes. “You got a guy – Miles Davis – who you can read about for the next hundred years, who loved the first song I ever worked on with him. For me that’s a compliment in itself.”
Rubberband by Miles Davis is released on September 6 2019 by Rhino / Warner Records.
The original version of this feature first appeared in issue 42 of Electronic Sound and is used with the kind permission of the publishers. Buy Electronic Sound at electronicsound.co.uk. Sincere thanks to Neil Mason and a lifelong debt to Steve Smith.
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 Weaverhere.
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.