Recoil / Alan Wilder - "The Recoil trademark"30.06.2007
In March 2000 Recoil delivered the “Liquid” album featuring performance poets Nicole Blackman and Samantha Coerbell, diva Diamanda Galas, and Recoil fan Rosa Torras. After that release, the project went into a dormant status. In 2004 Side-Line was able to talk with Alan Wilder who in the meanwhile spent his days raising his kids and enjoying life in general. Nothing that seemed to indicate that Recoil was to resurface until September 2005 when he confirmed to Side-Line that he was to start up his studiowork again. 1,5 year later, we are offered “subHuman” which is by far the most elaborated album effort from Wilder ever showing a very strong sonic vision powered by Joe Richardson Express frontman Joe Richardson – giving the term 'electro blues' actual flesh and bones - and English singer Carla Trevaskis. We caught up with Alan Wilder – who was back in Berlin for the first time in 10 years - and Texas based Joe Richardson for feedback on their collaboration. (By Bernard Van Isacker)(Pictures by Paul Heartfield)
SL. Alan, I think you have fallen in love with Joe Richardson.
AW. (Laughs) Yeah, I think you could say that! I don't get tired of listening to him. There's a danger because he has such a strong character and presence on the record that if you don't like him or you don't like his style then it’s very difficult to see beyond it. For me I love it, but I can understand why some people might say: “it's too much in a particular blues area”. But it's not going to be for everybody.
SL. They still have got “Allelujah” to focus on because that track is closer to a straightforward electronic song.
AW. That's true, I wanted to get someone very different on the album as well. I was worried of the 'Joe factor', that it could be too much of a dominant style, so that's why Carla was asked to do something very different and break the album up.
SL. Joe, was it foreseen that you would do several songs on the album?
JR. When we initially started work on the project, we decided to work on several cuts and pick what would work out best for the album.
SL. Alan, the press release said that you found Joe Richardson via Google... now tell me, how easy can that be?
AW. It was amazingly easy, he was virtually the first person I came across when I did a search. If you Google 'blues singer songwriter' his name comes up straightaway.
SL. Joe, how do you look at this coincidence right now?
JR. Hmmm.... Actually I never did ask Alan how or why he decided on emailing me about the project. I didn’t find it necessary to know, and a bit on the shallow, paparazzi mentality side of things. Nice to know though, if you’re interested. Having played blues for so long, I wasn’t really aware of Alan’s work, nor the work of Depeche Mode. Different circles you know. After a couple of emails and some Googling, I still thought someone was messin’ with me. You know, a prank! After several emails and seeing that Alan was really Alan, and on the level, I went to the Recoil site. I listened to all the music he had, including Bukka (editor's note: "Electro Blues for Bukka White", from “Bloodline” - 1992).
SL. How easy was it to integrate your own work into that of Alan's?
JR. A breeze... to me, music is music. I don’t listen to it as a type, only as music. So, taking it from that perspective, you have no preconceived ideas and everything just flows. There were never restrictions!! I wouldn’t have done it, had there been, nor do I think Alan would have wanted to either.
SL. Alan, did you present J. Richardson with a certain concept?
AW. No, I gave him a completely free reign to write about whatever he felt was appropriate. In some cases, guide vocal samples existed on the original work-in-progress which may have given him some clues about direction but, as Joe said, he is very instinctive and that's what we like about him! Generally, I don't like to dictate when it comes to words and concepts.
SL. Did you actually go with finished tracks to Texas or did you continue work on the songs while you were there?
AW. If we talk about “Intruders” for example, apart from the end section, the main part was there when I handed it over to Joe. And actually Joe did some vocals on there which we didn't use in the end although his backing vocals are there. He also did lead vocals but I didn't think it was the right thing so... we ended up with Carla singing on it. For other tracks I also basically gave him the songs and he did the vocals and for a couple of other tracks we worked the other way round where he came up with the whole song and I added lots of things, take a song like “5000 Years” for example which is basically Joe, his guitar riffs and words plus melodies. I added all my stuff afterwards. There are two tracks on the album that were created that way, “5000 Years” and the last track “Backslider”. In all, we worked on 6 of mine and 3 of Joe's and ended up using 4 and 2 respectively. But, getting back to “5000 Years” - when we were in Texas, Joe, John and Richard played the song through and then I took it away and added all the other bits and pieces. I also re-structured the whole thing a little, creating the drop section and the end section. My thought was to add a kind of sonic picture to the ideas behind the words as I interpreted them. The strings are Arabic instruments which have been stretched, reversed and amplified through Gtr. processors and so on.
SL. Talking of “Backslider”, the intro reminds me a lot of the Depeche Mode song “Black day”, coincidence?
AW. In fact there are two different samples in there, one that Joe played and then another sample. I know it sounds similar... I can't remember exactly what we did do, but it surely wasn't taken from “Black day”.
SL. What is exactly the meaning behind "99 to life"?
AW. '99 To Life' is the term used to describe the maximum Jail sentence handed out, short of the Death penalty. As I see it, it's really a straightforward story about a man getting himself into deep shit, ending up in the penitentiary without any chance of redemption. Perhaps you should ask Joe if you want any more details! I don't think it is based on any personal experience but I didn't want to probe too deeply!!
JR. Unfortunately the story is true. It's about one of my closest friends. Sent to prison here in TX, after killing 3 men in a gunfight. It was actually self-defense, but they were white and he was Hispanic, and it was a long time ago, when we were young and dumb! Hope this helps.....
SL. You left out a few songs that you have been working on, what will happen with those?
AW. I have about 6 or 7 other tracks which didn't make it to the record. Some are with Joe and some others are completely different, instrumental stuff... difficult to describe. Perhaps some day I will get them finished and released somehow but there would be still quite a lot of work to do on them to make them a finished article and it's more likely that I will do something new rather than go back to those unfinished tracks. I know Recoil fans would love to hear them but they are not complete...
SL. “Prey” is to be available as a download single with a very short edit of “Prey”.
AW. “Prey” is like 8 minutes long and I had to cut it down to around 3 minutes 50, so you can imagine it's quite a drastic edit. There's not much left, no (laughs). Seriously, it was not as difficult as I thought to get it trimmed down.
SL. I would have thought that the record company would have chosen “Allelujah” as a single, but then again that would not have reflected how the album actually sounds...
AW. Exactly, that is why we choose the other track. But if anything good happens with the first single then “Allelujah” might become a second single you know...
SL. You have a few tics I must say, some sounds keep on popping up in your material. For example you also use a lot of reverse echoes on vocals.
AW. It's something I refer to as being the Recoil trademark. It's a psychedelic issue really (grins). There's indeed a lot of reverse vocals with Carla, but there are no real words to her songs. In the end I kinda preferred to use her voice as a soundsource, for me the words were not so important. I think it goes back to my youth... it probably has something to do with when I was growing up indulging in drugs and things like that. And it kinda stays with you, if you know what I mean (laughs). But I always loved depth to sounds and hidden things, to find something more to music each time you listen.
SL. You reworked the album as an ambient version as well for the limited edition, how did this come about?
AW. It was born out of when we were mastering the surround sound version 5.1 which is basically the same as the stereo mix but spread out. Whilst listening to the back speakers when we placed the more atmospheric things like the backwards reverbs and the strings it really sounded like a fantastic version in itself. So I had this idea to run a complete ambient version of the album where we strip it right back, take a lot of the drums and the sort of more rocky elements away and just leave the atmospherics in there with the vocals. Of course I adapted it and added a few more sounds and loops here and there. I actually like this version a lot more than the album version.
SL. There has been a lot of fuzz around the artwork, people didn't want to believe it because you wouldn’t just drop your dentist fetish just like that.
AW. (laughs) There wasn't that much dentistry on the last album anyhow, so. But we did go to Intro and they did submit some ideas, but they all looked very similar to something I had done before. The Intro ideas looked like a Primal Scream cover. I wanted to try something different this time so I sat down with some people and I like what Jesse Holborn came up with. I gave him a somewhat brief synopsis of the idea of “subHuman”. The mannequins represent the some-like worthless life forms, recyclable people. It does look very different to what I have done before and it's a good thing to try and surprise people a bit perhaps.
SL. Did you bother about the commercial goals of this album?
AW. It's not something I think about when making a record, I really don't. Obviously at the end you need a single so we edit one track down so that a radio station 'might' play it. But that is as far as I go when it comes to commerciality. The only rule I had was that I didn't want to do spoken word again since I had done it so much, I pushed it as far as I could. As a result you get more melody and perhaps more song structure. So in that sense it might be a bit more commercial, but I really wouldn't know.
SL. When we last had an interview, in 2004, you were quite sceptical about the music industry as far as commercialism, what is left of that for you?
AW. I am still quite sceptical, the new material won't have any massive appeal... but who knows. I really can't judge these things. For me, it's the kinda thing I would like to listen to. But my taste obviously doesn't seem to be the same one like most people have (grins).
SL. You used YouTube to announce your return, what is your impression having used it?
AW. I was asked to do it by Mute. At first I wondered if it would make any difference, but they said I'd be surprised how popular they would be. Since I added them online a lot of people have been viewing them and commenting on them. People genuinely enjoy having the artist directly talk to them about what they are doing. But I think it should be quite relaxed and straightforward, not too pretentious, just saying what I am up to and hope it is of interest. It is probably something I will continue to do.
SL. Do you plan any production work for other bands or is that a closed chapter for the moment being?
AW. There are no plans no... It takes me so long to do my own music, and it is such an intense thing for me, it's not quick... I don't know if I want to devote so much energy to other people's productions. It would have to be something very special...
SL. To end, how would you describe Hep's involvement in the album evolution and in the early stage of restarting the Recoil engine?
AW. Well in simple terms, she kicked me up the arse and got me moving again. Problem is, I could quite easily sit around watching cricket all day! However, it is true to say I am happier when I am being creative. Hep's support is invaluable - as she often points out, she is my biggest fan. It's difficult to describe her role exactly because it crosses into so many areas but basically her main job is to create the conditions where I am able to get on with things - and that means taking care of our children, keeping PK and I happy in the studio, dealing with visiting collaborators and much more. Apart from this, she is a trained musician which means she can sit in on sessions and offer perceptive comments - this, of course, provides me with an outside perspective. When we're out of the studio, she acts as my PA and liaises with people at Mute as well as assisting with many aspects of promotion and marketing. Basically, the longer I go on about her here, the more points I score in the game that is: 'marriage and what can I get away with?'
Interview available in Side-Line issue 59 !