Orkus Magazine, November 199701.11.1997
Orkus Magazine, November 1997
Interview by Collette Stritzke
CS: Alan, it's 3 p.m. now, and you haven't had a break since this morning. Do you think you’ll be alright?
AW (grins): Yes, I’m okay. This’ll be the last interview before my break then I'm going to get something to eat...
CS: Very well then, why don't we start right away. The release date of the Recoil album is not actually mentioned in the info. issued from the record company. Do you have a date?
AW: Yes, October 27th. And the single will be out on the 13th.
CS: That will be ‘Drifting’?
AW: That’s right.
CS: What can we expect from the first single? Will it include additional tracks or just remixes?
AW: First of all there’s the album version, then a rather long remix, a sort of dark dub mix which I did, as well as remixes by Barry Adamson and by Panasonic. Do you know them?
CS: Uh... no...
AW: They’re a Finnish band. Two people - sort of minimal electronic...
CS: Ah. Why did you specifically choose "Drifting" as the first single?
AW: It's the track which is most likely to be played on radio. ...Actually none of the songs are typical singles and I'm not trying to make music specifically for radio or even a specific song to be a single but in the end one has to choose a track. ‘Drifting’ seems the closest to having grooves and melodies.
CS: Will there be more singles from this album?
AW: I think there will be one more but nothing is decided yet. Neither the track nor the timing of it. Maybe it will come out in January.
CS: That will probably also depend on the success of the first single, won't it?
AW: Yes, in a way but I definitely want to make a second single, even if the first one gets nowhere... singles are very important to keep up awareness of the album. I don't expect too much radio-play with the singles since the music doesn't lend itself towards that anyway but I want people to take notice of the project. This is also why I am doing all these interviews.
CS: Has it always been your intention to release new material under the name Recoil. You could have used your own name as well, couldn't you?
AW: When I left the band, I was wondering whether I should start all over again but then I thought there wasn't any real reason to, and that I might as well continue with Recoil. The good thing about it is that the name itself makes it clear that it's a project and not a solo album. I like the idea of perpetual change. People come in and leave again - not like in a group. I like working with other people but not always the same people.
CS: Can you imagine ever joining a band again?
AW: Absolutely not. It’s no longer the right thing for me. That’s why I left the band.
CS: Is it because you don't like to compromise?
AW: No, that's not the reason. It is more than that...mmmh...well, maybe you are right! That actually has something to do with it but that sounds as if I am very arrogant and difficult to work with - which is not true. It's just that I know exactly what I want and I don't like to always justify what I want to others. I enjoy working on my own and thanks to my studio I don't have to rely on others...but as I said, I very much enjoy bringing other people into the project and using their talents and I’m certainly not someone who is always telling others how to do this or that. I'm not some big dictator (laughs).
CS: You don't look like one either. Tell me, when exactly did Recoil start - was that 1986?
AW: My first record was released in 1986 but the project started earlier than that. It actually started as a sort of accident, really.. (grins)! I had been playing around with sampling and recorded four tracks on a demo tape. Sampling was a brand new thing then and it was exciting for me to do something outside of the band, just for fun. Anyway, I played the tape to Daniel Miller (who runs Mute) and he really liked it and wanted to put it out. As I said, it was sort of an accident which I hadn't planned.
CS: And how did it evolve?
AW: It just grew, I suppose. Recoil is a project that is constantly evolving and I never know in which direction it’s going to turn. I work intuitively, follow my instincts and then see where it leads me. There is not much planning or any pressure. After all, Recoil started as a side project.
CS: Things have changed since then...
AW: Yes, now it is my main project but there’s still no pressure.
CS: When did you start working on ‘Unsound Methods’?
AW: Last September (1996). I spent a total of nine months working on it, until June.
CS: How do you go about making an album?
AW: Well, first I work on the music whilst trying to find a subject for the individual songs - a theme. That helps me to work further on the music. At a certain point, it became clear to me that the songs would only be complete with voices. I then started to think about appropriate people to do the vocals so I got in touch with these people, sent them tapes and suggested subjects that the songs could be about. I offered them the option of choosing different theme but they all decided to stick with my suggestions.
CS: That means that you wrote the music and the melodies and the guests wrote the lyrics and vocals?
AW: Well, some people have said that most of the songs don't have much of a melody (laughs). but yes, I left the lyrics and the vocals up to the guest singers. My part was the music underneath.
CS: How did you chose the vocalists and how did you find out about them?
AW: When the music was almost complete, I started to look for the appropriate people for the various tracks. I had known Douglas McCarthy for a long time so I knew what he would sound like and that he would be perfect for the songs I had in mind for him. I also knew Hildia from the last Depeche Mode tour. With her I could also more or less assess how the tracks would sound with her singing on them. The other two singers were more of an experiment which, I think, worked well. I wanted to work with new people because it can bring something interesting and exciting. I listened to demo tapes and eventually found Maggie Estep from New York and Siobhan Lynch from England. I sent them tapes, we met and discussed the project and then we tried out the ideas.
CS: Did you work together in the studio or did you just exchange tapes?
AW: After they received my tapes, they wrote their lyrics first - then we met at the studio and recorded the vocals.
CS: I assume you worked in your own studio?
AW: Yes, most of it was done in my own studio except for the mixing which was done in a studio nearby.
CS: Do you think you will be working with these four people again?
AW: To be honest I don't know. It might well be that one or two could be involved in further projects but I would also like to work with new people.
CS: Have you ever thought about singing yourself?
AW: Well, I sing a little on this album - but no lead vocals. I don't think that I have the appropriate voice for that. My voice is too flat and too soft. I don't like the sound of it very much. Besides, I’m not very good at writing lyrics. I’d rather let other people do that.
CS: Do you think that this album would have come out if you were still in Depeche Mode? Would it have sounded the same?
AW: I have no idea but then I never think about what would have happened if..... In any case, I was determined to go in that direction when I left Depeche Mode but it didn't work out immediately because I was mentally burnt out. There were some things in my life that I needed to change - very important things. I got divorced, I became a father, I left the band...a lot of significant things happened - and when I emerged from the tunnel, I was much happier than before. That was a good starting point for further creative work. I regained my enthusiasm...
CS: Maybe we should talk about the music now. I think the new songs are very emotional. Emotional not in the sense of sweet emotions but rather dark. Why is that? Are you a dark, morbid person?
AW: Everybody asks me that.. I think that most people are very surprised when they meet me. I’m not at all like my music suggests.
CS: Everyone has different facets to their character, I suppose?
AW: Yes, perhaps. The music allows me to develop those facets but it is also far more interesting to write about the dark aspects of life rather than about the joys of being a father for example...I don't think about it too much, though. As I said before, I work very intuitively and follow my instincts. I try different things and when I get a certain feeling then I know I am on the right path. I let myself go, more or less and in the end, something seems to come out of it...
CS: How would you describe the the Recoil album?
AW: My music is definitely very soundtrack-like; a mixture of different atmospheres. It’s very difficult to describe...The music for me has a very strong visual aspect. It's structure is similar to film because there are similar processes. I certainly think in terms of images. I create images with sounds and tell a story with those sounds...The lyrics also tell stories acting almost as a narrative. The word soundtrack therefore is very appropriate for describing my music.
CS: What I like a lot about your music is that it is very rhythmic. But I wouldn’t describe it as danceable. What do you think about that?
AW: I took great care to make the rhythm very groovy . I listened to the last Recoil album and some old Depeche albums and I wanted this album to be more fluid and less programmed.. a bit like Massive Attack or Portishead. There is a strong Hip Hop influence in Recoil. All the influences simply reflect my personal musical taste.
CS: So you don't only make music yourself but you also listen to a lot of music?
AW: Yes, I love music and I listen to a lot of different things at home. I have a lot of classical music, gospel, soundtracks, Trip Hop and dance...
CS: What was the last record you bought?
AW: The last album was...(turns to his girlfriend Hep) Fiona Apple? I didn't like it, though. I also bought the soundtrack of ‘Lost Highway’...
CS: What interests you most in music. Is it the experimenting with different sounds and different atmospheres or is it the song and the "soul" of the music?
AW: Both, actually...What’s not so important for me are the lyrics. I mean they are important but I don't think that they always have to make sense. I think it is more important how they sound.
CS: What about melodies?
AW: Melodies are important..There is a lot of music at the moment that has the same rhythmic elements as Recoil but that’s as far as it goes. People could make so much more of their music with melodies and sounds but they don't do it. Rhythm isn't enough for me, I think melodies are important and atmosphere is even more important...
CS: Would you call yourself a musician, a songwriter or a producer?
AW: Foremost, a producer. To be a musician is not the most important thing for me although it certainly helps if one has musical talent. My main interest is in the structure of music - the placement of the different parts within the overall picture.
CS: Does that mean that music for you is experimental rather than a means of expressing yourself?
AW: When you say experimental it always sounds like the music has to somehow sound odd. That's not the case. I take a trial and error approach. I try out different ideas to express the images in my head. That’s a very time consuming process, because for me, every little detail is important. I find I have to take breaks and do other things in the meantime because otherwise I run the risk of losing my perspective.
CS: Do you make music because you feel you have to?
AW: Yes, I think so. It’s a way to express myself and it’s important for me to be creative.
CS: What do you do when you are not making music?
AW: Well, I have a two year old daughter...
CS: What's her name?
AW: Paris. She takes up most of our time because we don't want to have a nanny. She’s a full time job. That’s why my own interests are secondary at the moment. I haven't been to the cinema in a long time for example, although I love it. I also like to go for dinner (grins) and I like to drink. I don't know really, I always seem to be busy although it doesn’t seem like I do a lot of things!
CS: What are your plans for the future? Will Recoil remain your only project?
AW: I guess people may ask me to produce their albums. I would also consider doing a real soundtrack if somebody asked me to. What I’m not really interested in is doing remixes for other people. If I did, it would have to be something very special.
AW: Mmm..no idea (grins) Kraftwerk! They’re very special...But I don't really want to put a lot of energy into other peoples projects - I’d rather concentrate on my own. I think there will be a new Recoil album pretty soon. At least I will start working on it soon and see how it goes...
CS: Who do you think is buying your albums?
AW: The most likely buyers are probably Depeche Mode fans.
CS: Do you mind that?
AW: No. Why should I?
CS: Well, because for some of them, the collectors instinct is probably more important than the music.
AW: I think you are underestimating people there...
CS: I don't mean that in a bad way. I am sure that many of them really like the music and would buy it anyway...
AW: Not necessarily. O.K., with some people that might be the case but I would imagine that the people who liked the dark aspects of Depeche Mode that I brought to the band, will most likely also appreciate the Recoil album. I have recently read a few comments on the internet where it was clear that people knew exactly who was doing what in the band..but I also hope other people will also be interested in the album.
CS: Are you planning on touring or playing the Recoil songs live?
AW: No. I have no plans for that. I think I would rather not go on tour again.
CS: Is it because the music doesn't lend itself to live performance or is it because you are fed up with touring?
AW: The latter. The music could be adapted for live performance. Maybe not a normal show but rather an “art” performance. But at the moment I really don't want that.
CS: Okay, now the last subject: Depeche Mode. What do you think of "Ultra"?
AW: That's an unfair question.
CS: But you have heard the album?
CS: A lot of people think that you can really tell that you are missing on this album, especially when it comes to the production. Do you agree with that?
CS: You said earlier that a lot of people will probably buy your album because of Depeche Mode. How long do you think your name will be connected with ex-Depeche Mode?
AW: I really don't care. I really want people to be curious about Recoil and I am sure that me being "ex-Depeche Mode" will entice some people to listen to the album. I can also understand people being curious about me leaving Depeche Mode which is why I don't refuse to acknowledge the subject altogether. I don't mind talking about it.
CS: It is part of your history, isn't it?
AW: Exactly. Depeche Mode is actually a big part of my history and without the band I wouldn't be where I am now. But I still hope that someday people will recognise Recoil for it's own sake.
CS: Did you ever regret having left Depeche Mode?
AW: No, as I said before I am happier now than ever.
CS: Are you still in touch with the others?
AW: No, not really. I have met Dave since I left. He seems really O.K.... I haven't met Martin and Fletch since.
CS: I spoke to two of them in February and they told me that they received a Christmas card from you. Will they get one this year?
AW (laughs): Maybe....