Q+A  :  RECOIL  :  WORKING METHODS - inspiration / techniques / devices  


In an editorial you talk about the annoyance of being interrupted whilst chopping up a sample and putting it back together again (with people commenting on its sound whilst in the incomplete stage). Is this one of the primary ways in which you build new sounds? The reason I ask this is because for a single sample, I could imagine this being quite a lengthy experimental process and for a multi-sample, I imagine it would be really tricky to ensure a consistent sound is achieved across the keyboard. Do you build multi-samples in this way? If so, what approach to you take? I have not been programming for very long and I can find no good sources of information on the subject... my sampler by the way is an EMU e6400.

I have no hard and fast rules with sampling - it depends on what I am trying to achieve. I don't tend to need banks of multi-samples unless I am using strings or brass etc. in which case I would probably use pre-prepared sounds from CD Rom or some similar source. Most of my more unusual samples are edited with a specific pitch in mind, where I would prefer to 'hand-edit' rather than use random editing software such as recycle. Quite often, I am attracted to particular aspects of a sound rather than the whole thing so I go in and find the section I want and create a loop of it. I particularly liked the E111 forward/backwards loop facility for this (even in Protools this can be a fiddly process). Quite often, just experimenting with start and end points (while in loop) is a good way to find something desirable. Not sure if this answers your question -best to just keep experimenting until you find a method that suits you.

Living around your neck of the woods, I can't really imagine how these surroundings inspire the feel that you give to the recording. Does it help that the collaborators write the lyrics in their own environments? I can't see the inspiration for Nicole's 'Want' coming from the locals in your area!

Can't speak for the lyricists but the surroundings only effect me positively - they act as a welcome break. When I've had my head in a Mac 9600 for 12 hours, what better way to unwind than to step outside into a field full of cows, smell the Sussex country air, play a little tennis and so on. As soon as I'm back into the music making process, I'm pretty much unaware of my surroundings.

Out of all the albums - '1+2', 'Hydrology', 'Bloodline', 'Unsound Methods' and 'Liquid', which one was the most fun to make?

I would say possibly 'Unsound Methods' because it was the first time I could really explore all the creative avenues I wanted. Also, I hadn't been in the studio for a long time prior to making it, for various reasons. 'Liquid' was also good to work on, especially the final stages where I wasn't battling against a poor mixing environment as with 'UM'. Also, I think PK is one of the nicest, easy going people I've ever been in a studio with. The other LPs were more throwaway and anyway, I can't remember that far back.

You said in the past that your music composition was split at approx. 70% samples and 30% something else that I forgot because I am a moron. Anyway, having heard 'Chrome' and spoken in depth with people who have heard 'Liquid', I was wondering if the ratio had changed? As opposed to programming a bass sound on a synth, are you using more samples of Dean playing bass? Did you make a conscious decision to use more 'real' instruments?

The impression will be that 'Liquid' is much more 'live' or performed than any previous LP but, in fact, the process hasn't really changed. Nearly every piece of the jigsaw has been sampled and manipulated in Protools whilst maintaining the feel of the original performance - this includes Dean's bass playing. There are some synthesised bass parts as well as the usual array of other strange samples and electronic sounds.

When you are working on Recoil, does your family leave you alone or do you have to answer the phone or front door while in the middle of composing?

Well, Hep's usually in the studio with me, working on the website and assisting me when necessary and Paris goes off for the day with a friend. I do answer the door or telephone when someone calls and get this, I'm even capable of wiping my own arse!

Can you explain your working methods?

My starting point is often a combination of tried and tested guide sounds that evoke a particular feeling or mood in order to get the ball rolling. Then, by trial and error, I keep throwing ideas at the track until a theme or concept emerges which I like to keep in mind to focus the direction. From that point I usually park the idea and move on to another track until I have built up more of an overall picture. Whilst keeping this in mind, I then bring the music to a point where it accurately demonstrates the atmospheres I want to create and is acceptable to play to vocalists. I will explain that I am liable to change the structures once the vocals have been recorded and always make sure that my collaborators trust me to manipulate what they've done afterwards. I rarely, however, change their words.

What do you think are the limitations of your music?

Actually, because of Recoil's non-commercial, non-band, non-conformist status, I think there are very few limitations. The beauty of the project, is that it can go anywhere.

What is your favourite key signature for writing songs?

I don't have one.

How many songs have you done with Recoil where you change key signatures within the song?

'Luscious Apparatus' modulates through different keys (as do one or two other songs) but I don't really think of any of them as changing their key signatures - not in the... Celine Dion double key change final chorus hold the note on as long as possible climax.... sense anyway ;-)

For Recoil, do you know from the beginning if a particular song will have lyrics?

No, it's usually something which suggests itself once I have some music already recorded.

I often wonder what some of the DM and Recoil song titles were before they actually got their final name. Please list some and what their original names were.

I'm not prepared to divulge all my working titles over the years but 'Liquid' had a track affectionately known as 'Bastard'. During 'UM', what turned out to be one of my favourites was for a long time tentatively referred to as 'Iran'. Don't bother asking why - it's too long a story..... ;-)

Do you have a deadline to push you, or are you in the, I think, lucky position that it will be done "when it's ready"?

II won't release anything until it's absolutely ready.

When Paris pulled the plug, were you able to restore everything you had done that day and did it in fact turn out better the second time around?

I can't really remember. I think I lost whatever I had done and re-did it differently the second time around.

Have you considered working with more operatic samples as you did in the 'Poison Dub' mix of 'Drifting'?

It would be great to work with a fully trained opera singer and see if I could translate their technique into something that worked in the context of Recoil. The risk of course, is that you end up with 'Classics On 45'...

With Recoil, would you ever alter the music to fit the vocals better, or once the music is done do you always leave it, and just edit the vocals if required?

I'm flexible. I'm quite happy to adjust the music if that's what's required - nothing is written in stone until the final mix is complete. I have been known to restructure an entire song on the last day of mixing.

Do you treat Recoil as a 9-5 job or do you just do a bit when you feel like it? Do you find it more difficult to motivate yourself (as you're now working at home on your own) compared to being in a studio with other engineers/producers that are relying on you being punctual? If it's just 'not happening' musically, would you just stick at it or go and do something else? On the flip side, if it's going well, will you work into the early hours of the morning?

I try to discipline myself to start at a particular time. Sometimes I get on a roll and work very late and at other times when I can't get anywhere, I just stop and do something completely different.

Can you talk a little about the recording of vocals for both DM and Recoil. Do you always have a guide vocal early on (more difficult with Recoil I guess!)? How many takes did Dave normally require to get the final result and was there a preferred time of day for him to record? And for Martin? How did they compare with Toni, Doug, Moby, et al. Did you take the best bits from various attempts or was it normally a complete performance?

With Recoil, because of the way the tracks are constructed (with the vocals coming at the end) I don't work with a guide. In DM's case, the guide vocal would normally be sung by Martin at the earliest possible stage when working on a song (although in later days Dave sung some of the guides). The final vocals would usually be recorded once the overall structure and majority of the music was in place and like most artists, were composited from several different takes - sometimes these would be sung over the course of 2 or 3 days, sometimes they were quicker. It was pretty much the same for the Recoil collaborators. Basically different singers have different strengths and thresholds.

When working on your own material, do you usually just work on one song at a time or do you work on several?

I usually have two or three things going at any one time. Eventually I end up with all the tracks in varying stages of progress, which I gradually refine until I feel they're complete.

Given that current methods of storing data are all prone to eventual decay, what are you doing to ensure that Recoil will never be lost in the sands of time?

Nothing in particular. The master tapes are on both digital and analogue formats which is about as much as I can do.

Are you very creative at this time or are there moments when you don't have any ideas? I mean, do you sit in front of your keyboards and computer with the thought of having to make a new album or do you just realise some ideas that are in your mind?

I am definitely concentrating on making a whole album which is a bit daunting when you have absolutely nothing. I have now made a start and I have a few ideas going already.

How do you feel when you sit in front of your gear and nothing happens?

Frustrated, of course, but it always happens. You just have to force yourself to keep trying until something comes.

Do you take Paris with to the studio or is she with Hep? Were you very angry when she pulled the plug?

Was I angry? Well, do you remember the Tom and Jerry cartoons when an anvil's just landed on the cats tail but he's not allowed to shout about it.....

Though it sometimes sounds quite simple, it's very difficult to figure out how (especially Recoil) the music is built-up. It sometimes seems quite chaotic like 'Incubus'. Is that a part of your working process - chaos and disorder, musically?

Not total chaos, just an untidy desk. The brain has a tremendous capacity for storing small bits of information to be drawn upon at a later date, when needed. My music tends to come together very much like this - lots of seemingly unrelated bits which I work on separately but with a bigger picture in mind - much like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I don't always know where the pieces fit but as the picture comes together, most of them are used and some are discarded. From the outside it may seem like chaos but I know roughly where I want everything to end up.

Aren't you through your 'dark and eclectic' phase yet? It's ok to release a
more accessible style of music without compromise...try it... you might even
like it. You will have to pardon me Charlie... my girlfriend has been force
feeding me 'Speak And Spell' over and over again (I think my brain has
turned to Liquid...hehehe).

Perhaps if a few more artists were dark and eclectic, the charts and records shops wouldn't be so full of shit music.

The games up! For a few weeks now I've been trying to think of what the chorus part of 'Breath Control' reminded me of. Finally it came to me: the old Simple Minds song 'Someone, Somewhere In Summertime'. Now, bearing in mind how Simple Minds turned out in the mid-80s, does this mean we can expect you to launch wholeheartedly into the soft rock genre sometime this decade? I can see it now: Alan and Hep do Bryan Adams and Tina Turner style duos... I'll get the gun...

Simple Minds were great weren't they ! .................. I'll get me coat.


Q+A  :  RECOIL  :  WORKING METHODS - inspiration / techniques / devices