Category Archives: Interviews

An interview with Athlete

Athlete got together in London’s Deptford in 1999. They’ve released three albums, including the powerfully evocative track ‘Wires’, which shot to number four in the UK charts, while the album it was on, ‘Tourist’, shot to number one in the UK charts. They are Joel Pott (lead vocals and guitar), Carey Willetts (bass and backing vocals), Stephen Roberts (drums and backing vocals) and Tim Wanstall (keyboards and backing vocals).

Once again, this is a re-run of an interview conducted for a UK magazine, which is now out of print.

Q: Tell us how you got together?
A: We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers. We had mutual friends and before long realised that we were all interested in bands so just naturally ended up playing together. I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation about being in a band, it just seems like we always have been.

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Owngig.com founder speaks on live scene

Imagine if you could get your favourite act to perform in your front room or local pub. Sure, we know the world’s millionaire’s get that dream – just look at Amy Winehouse performing for Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovitch at the launch of his art gallery. That’s not how real life works though, is it?
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Charlatans UK Tim Burgess speaks on free music

Legendary UK act, The Charlatans (known as Charlatans UK in the USA) gave their tenth album – You Cross My Path – away for free through UK radio station XFM earlier this year. I caught up with lead singer, Tim Burgess, just before the release to ask, ‘what’s going on?’ Once again, this interview appeared in print in a UK magazine, but others may be interested in taking a look. 

From getting together in 1989 to the present, The Charlatans have spawned a string of hits. They first emerged when they released the still-enduring ‘The Only One I Know’ in 1991, a track which put them solidly beside their ‘Madchester’ peers, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

They won success with their use of dance rhythms and psychedelic 60’s swirling organs, suspended above fabulous grooves and lyrically eloquent Rolling Stones-inspired songs. Albums ‘The Charlatans’ and ‘Tellin’ Stories’ underline their legacy, while collected singles compilation ‘Melting Pot’ is an essential selection for any discerning music lover, with its collection of classic songs, including the Chemical Brothers remix of ‘Patrol’ and eternal favourite ‘North Country Boy’.

Flash forward to the present day, and the band last year announced their plan to release their tenth album for free download on the very same day Radiohead captured international attention with that band’s announcement of the digital release of their ‘In Rainbows’ album. We spoke with the band’s vocalist, Tim Burgess.
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iPod professor talks digital lifestyle

This is an interview with Dr. Michael Bull, a leading university lecturer who considers the sociological and societal meaning of digital music players. It’s a few years old, but there’s probably some interesting elements.

The evolution of digital music shows how personal technology, such as Apple’s iPod, creates its own social community, said Dr. Michael Bull.

The New York Times describes Bull as “the world’s leading, perhaps only expert on the social impact of personal stereo devices.” He took time out to speak with us.
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Exclusive: Chuck D – You Tube ‘immense’ help

The benefits to musicians of having their videos available on YouTube go way beyond immediate promotion of new singles – that, at any rate, is the view of Public Enemy’s Chuck D, long one of digital music’s most outspoken proponents, as he explained recently to Distorted Loop.

“Public Enemy has been helped immensely by YouTube,” he explains, “because people have seen videos they’ve never seen before.”

The controversial group’s career was rejuvenated in 1999 when they split from their career-long label, Def Jam, after a row over online distribution. Chuck had made his feelings on digital distribution clear as early as 1994: a track on the band’s Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age album, Harry Allen’s Interactive Superhighway Phone Call to Chuck D, laid out a blueprint for a wired future years before any other musicians were thinking such thoughts. But it was the release of Swindlers Lust as an MP3 – in which Chuck berated Def Jam’s Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen for failing to grasp the opportunities of the new era – that made the band crusaders for net music activism. What happened in between helps explain why.
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An interview with Banco De Gaia

Toby Marks is one of the UK’s leading electronic musicians. Born in South London in 1964, he formed Banco De Gaia with Andy Guthrie, who left for other things. Marks’ adventures in electronic music began in 1989, when he bought a sampler and recorded “Maxwell House”. He is now recognised as one of the world’s leading exponents of globally inspired electronica with a distinctive style. In 1994 he released his first studio album, the Mercury Music Prize-nominated “Maya”, on Planet Dog records. This was followed in 1995 by the critically-acclaimed “Last Train to Lhasa”. Both albums reached number one on the UK’s independent charts. Since then Banco de Gaia has continued releasing albums, most recently FAREWELL FERENGISTAN. This interview is a little old now we spoke in 2006, but there’s still some interesting bits and pieces there, especially as this never appeared online, only in print.

Q: When did you realise you wanted to make music?
A: I can’t remember wanting to do anything else. Sometimes I wish I did something else to earn money, so I could play music for itself.

Q: What was the first record you bought?
A: I remember asking my Mum to buying me Top of the Tots. Later I started buying Top of the Pops albums – cover versions – it took years to understand why they sounded different on radio,

Q: Why does music matter?
A: There’s several answers to that. The first is the serious highbrow answer. The Chinese saw it as the bridge between man and the gods. A less serious answer – it’s always been an antidote to the drudgery of human existence. For some, making music is a way to articulate what they can’t say. There’s a million reasons.

Q: Digital music – good or bad? Continue reading

Peter Gabriel on the future of music

World-class musician, humanitarian and dynamo behind the WOMAD world music festival, Peter Gabriel has an accomplished record in using new technology to boost the creative arts. He believes we’re headed toward a cultural renaissance.

With music sales in free fall, many in the entertainment business fear technology as the death of the creative arts.
Award-winning singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel disagrees. Far from destroying creativity he thinks technology and the internet are enabling a creative explosion, connecting artists to audiences more effectively than ever before.
Music remains essential to modern life, despite falling sales, he points out. “Music is medicine. People use it as a mood altering drug, applying different music to different occasions,” he explains.
Gabriel’s no fantasist. He’s been experimenting with technology since the moment PCs became creative tools.
His Real World Studios have been instrumental in introducing music from across the world to Western audiences. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is just one example of such an artist. 1993 saw associated company, Real World Multimedia, ship one of the world’s first interactive CD-ROM’s, a musical adventure called Xplora 1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World.
Xplora gave users a multimedia glimpse at life as a musician on the road – Gabriel was touring his highly-succesful Us album at the time – along with a chance to explore the world music genre which was relatively unknown in the UK at the time, as well as insights into his personal life.
Produced on a Mac, the Windows version was prone to bugs, as the multimedia power struggle between Microsoft and the rest of the computer industry saw creators and consumers pay the price.
In spite of the technological barriers, Real World Media followed up Xplora with another CD-ROM, EVE, a touching interactive exploration of the loneliness of the human condition. Gabriel wrote the music.
On the face of it, it’s some distance from 1967, when Gabriel founded UK music act, Genesis, a band he quit in ’75 to go solo.
But pushing the envelope of what technology can achieve runs in Gabriel’s family.
The son of an inventor, Gabriel admits: “New technology has always excited me.” While he agrees the internet has killed off conventional music retail, it also presents: “Many wonderful opportunities”, he says.
“Never before has an artist been able to reach out and build an audience so easily – without needing record companies and their marketing departments. Equally, you’ve never been able to explore all kinds of new music in the instant way the internet allows,” he observes.
Gabriel isn’t just paying lip service. In 1999 when upstart US college student Shawn Fanning launched the original Napster, Gabriel invested in On Demand Distribution (OD2), one of the world’s first legitimate online music download services.
“I co-founded OD2 with Charles Grimsdale as I thought there were many exciting opportunities for digitally distributed music,” Gabriel said in 2004. “As a musician, I believe strongly that all artists should have access to this powerful new means of getting music to people.”
Purchased by Finnish mobile giant, Nokia, for US$38.6 million in 2004, OD2 offered over a million tracks for sale through different European online services.
“I was convinced digital music was going to be the main means of distributing music when we set that firm up,” Gabriel said. “I’ve been surprised how long it has taken.”
The impact of legitimate music sales on the internet is huge. In the UK, an astonishing 90 per cent of all singles sold are sold through online music services, claims music label trade body, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry).
Album sales through online services are climbing slowly. Labels continue to see their annual turnovers shrink as physical sales decline.
The side-effect of file-sharing has been that many young people have lost the habit of buying music legally.
They’ve seldom purchased any music, so the notion of doing so no longer exists in youth culture. Young people grab music for nothing where they can. Labels are threatened by this because teenagers are tomorrow’s mature music shoppers.
Some believe that moves by major labels to launch legal action against music file-sharers have politicised illegitimate music downloads.
Disaffected teenagers, they argue, see music theft as a rejection of the establishment. But even file-sharers are committed to the songs and artists they embrace.
“Many young people don’t seem to be buying music legally but even so, the culture and passion for music both new and old has never been greater and this is partly down to the internet,” he observes. “Music is becoming more of a commodity, people are expecting it for free and I’m not sure this attitude is going away.”
The industry is changing, with music labels moving focus from music sales toward touring and merchandising, he says.
When Prince gave his album away for free with a UK daily newspaper, he was able to sell enough tickets for 21 sell-out shows in London.
Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney also have given songs away for free, while Nine Inch Nails frontman, Trent Reznor, makes his music available to fans for remixing.
Exploring the possible, Gabriel recently invested in ad-supported free music download service, We7. This works by popping advertisments on the front of tracks, based on a user’s personal information – age, location and gender. Consumers can give the system extra information if they want to receive more appropriate advertising. They can also buy tracks ad-free.
Noting this form of advertising means music fans hear fewer ads than they will on radio, Gabriel says: “Ads disappear after a few weeks, so consumers end up with a collection of free music.”
Gabriel says: “I’m convinced well-filtered ads can carry useful information to the right listener or viewer.” We7 users can set things up so the system sends them ads for things they are looking for.
The disappearance of conventional music retail leaves a vacuum. “Sometimes people who loved music worked in those stores and when they knew you they’d introduce you to wonderful stuff you wouldn’t have come across otherwise,” Gabriel observes.
“We’re drowning in choice and we’re going to need the tools to find the stuff that excites, surprises and inspires us.”
To fill the gap, Gabriel’s invested in a new service called The Filter, software which analyses your digital music library to understand your tastes. It generates playlists based on selected tracks and can recommend music chosen to match your tastes.
With film, television and literature moving online, solutions that help people find exactly what they want could become essential.
Artists should benefit. Personalised recommendation means they could achieve a direct link with appropriate audiences – great for non-mainstream arts.
“It could and should lead to a creative renaissance in which the oppressive filtering of the mass market is turned upside down,” Gabriel says.
In future, he sees three levels of digital media delivery: free, paid for with extra content, and high cost physical products.
The latter could be: “Small limited edition sculptures that when placed on a computer open up a library of an artists material or is personalised for the fan in some way,” Gabriel says.
Xplora 1 worked a little like that. As users solved puzzles, new sections of the experience were opened up, unlocking live concert video and more.
As an artist, Gabriel continues to experiment. “I’m excited at using the internet to do new things with my music – inviting people to remix my songs, or my Full Moon Club, where I try and do something for my fans when there’s a full moon,” he says.

An interview with Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s producer

Nigel Godrich, producerThis is an interview with Nigel Godrich, producer of a band called Radiohead (among others), published in a UK magazine last year, and written by me.

Hope you like it:

Nigel Godrich is a Grammy Award-winning producer. He’s sometimes informally called the “sixth member” of Radiohead due to his years of work with the band, helping establish the act’s distinctive sound, producing every album since ‘OK Computer’, itself last year voted the number one ‘Greatest album of all time’ in a Channel 4 poll.

Godrich has also worked with Paul McCartney, U2, R.E.M., Travis, Beck, Ride and Pavement, and is currently working on Radiohead’s next album. He recently launched a new artist-focused online-only TV show, called ‘From The Basement’. Filmed in HD at Maida Vaile studios in London by acclaimed director, Sophie Miller, Godrich produces the live sound. He’s inspired by ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ to make the show into an intimate experience artists actually want to appear on. Only available online, the first edition of ‘From The Basement’ featured exclusive performances from the White Stripes, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and an improvised session featuring Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden and drummer Steve Reid. Yorke sang two tracks, ‘Videotape’ and ‘Down is the new up’. 

 

Q: What’s your most memorable in-studio moment?

Nigel: The first time I was left alone with Radiohead as a young, inexperienced and hungry person, while we recorded ‘The Bends’.

 

Q: Was there a moment when you decided to get into music?

Nigel: When I was maybe eight or nine I was a big fan of The Police. I had ‘Reggatta de Blanc’. I used to love it. At the back it said, “produced By Nigel Grey”. His name was Nigel, it told me, ‘it’s possible to do a job in music’. It’s one of those things that don’t seem to make sense at the time…

 

Q: Tell us about getting that first break…

Nigel: I got a job at Audio One and sat there with my pager waiting for people to order tea or coffee. It was the really famous Trident studio once, Hey Jude, Transformer and Hunky Dory were recorded there. When I got there we were making advertising jingles. It got me in and I moved to Mickie Most’s studio. Suddenly I was around people making records all the time, it took off from there.

 

Q: What’s your advice for people wanting to get into music?

Nigel: You have to be doing it because you want to do it, rather than thinking it’s going to lead you to wealth, fame and fortune. The fact I can make a living doing what I do is a byproduct of something I wanted to do anyway. If I’d listened to people who told me not to bother because so-and-so tried and failed, then I wouldn’t have bothered.

 

Q: What was the last album you bought?

Nigel: The Kinks: Greatest Hits: It was an impulse buy. You can look at the track listing and a title makes you reach in your pocket and buy it, which is rarity these days I would say.

 

I think the emphasis was different back in the day. Damon Albarn got it right when he said, “Modern life is rubbish, because it’s just getting cheaper and flimsier and less profound.” I mean no disrespect to anyone making music now, it’s still possible to create wonderful things, but there’ll never be another Beatles because of so many factors which aren’t connected to music. They were a product of a post-war technological boon and cultural fusion when music was suddenly available to anyone who could afford a record player.

 

Q: Why ‘From The Basement’?

Nigel: I find myself thinking “who is recording archive footage today for the future?” You know, it’s just not being made anymore, and I think that has a very big long-term effect on the next generation, who are going to look to see what is inspiring and exciting. Some terrible youth TV programme where you can’t really see what’s going on because the camera’s cut in too quickly and there’s a wobbly cam and some stupid presenter – that’s just not culture – do you know what I mean? You just don’t feel that connection to the artist. That’s basically the impetus behind “From The Basement”, a TV show without an audience that forces artists to connect to the camera that is connected to you the audience.

 

Q: So it’s a reaction to mass market commercialisation?

Nigel: I find there’s a good analogy between the art and the politics of the day. Today’s politics is very middle of the road and uninteresting, because it is trying to emcompass everyone. The same thing’s happening in art and the mass media – trying to appeal to as many people as possible, so what you get is whatever appeals to the lowest common denominator.

 

Q: So it’s a creative show?

Nigel: It’s all about the artist. They don’t usually enjoy going on television and have bad experiences. They walk into an atmosphere surrounded by people who don’t really understand what it’s like to be them, or what they’re used to, and they don’t really have a chance. “From The Basement” puts the sound first and gives artists the chance to play what they want. It’s not part of some promo circuit where artists must play their latest single. It’s like the Old Grey Whistle Test, where artists were encouraged to play album tracks. It’s all about the artist, not the director or cameraman.

I want to get that feeling of intimacy – most live music on TV is filmed before a hyped-up audience to make it seem more exciting, but that makes me less excited. I get a buzz out of that personal connection.

 

Q: It’s available on iTunes?

Nigel: Yes, we wanted people to be able to play it on their iPods, which are very much of the time. I feel like that’s the point, really, to generate something of the artists of their time for the technology of the time, just like the record player was the technology of the Beatles’ time.

 

Q: What are your thoughts on file-sharing?

Nigel: I’m kind of conflicted. I do look for things I can’t buy elsewhere on Limewire, but generally anything I do find there that I can buy later, I will buy. I want to support artists.

YouTube is incredible. It’s had a political impact. It destroyed the career of a racist senator and recently showed the truth of Saddam Hussein’s hanging. It’s a great way for people to disseminate media.

The only bugger online is occasionally your album leaks early. That’s only a problem if your album’s bad. If it’s good, people who care about the artist will always buy it, I think.

 

Q: What do you think about iTunes?

Nigel: I think Apple sees iTunes content as software and doesn’t give it enough respect. You are dictated the terms of how you sell things, which is a little weird. And when you buy all your music through this small door, suddenly you’re no longer going to a record shop and hearing things and looking at the artwork.

 

Q: Tony Marks of Banco De Gaia once told me how frustrated he is that iTunes doesn’t differentiate between music that is just magnificent and the rest…

Nigel: Yes. You’re just presented with a bunch of stuff. I think the music’s undervalued – but music’s so intangible, no one really knows how it works. It will always have a life of its own and inspire people to keep working and searching for it. But it’s certainly becoming a more bland universe, isn’t it?

 

Q: Do you expect new music business models?

Nigel: In future I think any artist that has the profile will start selling their own music directly, and that will take the power from iTunes. I do agree that iTunes helped bring the labels online – part of the reason labels had such problems was, well, it it were any other business they would not have been considered as functioning very well.

 

Q: Do you have an iPod?

Nigel: I’ve had three iPods, one nano and two shuffles. I follow the whole thing. I’ve been playing a lot of James Brown on it recently.