slow magazine the revolution will be photocopied
     

slow #1/spring 1998

Virginian trio Labradford have so far released four albums of lush minimalism over the last five years, emanating from the respected Kranky label in the US. Blast First, one of Britain's most consistently interesting labels, have given them a home after the collapse of their Euro deal with Flying Nun. Mi Media Naranja emerged towards the end of last year, showing a more orchestral side to their mournful muse. I met them on Hallowe'en, mere hours before the end of my world.

I was told to mention British films – what do you like?
Mark Nelson (guitar/whispering vocals): I guess I do like some. My mind's a bit blank, could you give me a more specific example?
Mike Leigh, Ken Loach.
M: Carter's (Carter Brown – keyboard) a bit more into film history like that. I'm just trying to think. Secrets and Lies is good. We saw it on the airplane leaving London last time.
Do you find these interesting, as they're not traditionally appealing, are they?
M: They can be. Secrets and Lies is a very charming movie. You can see the appeal of the characters; they just seem to be really honest.
What about the work of US directors such as Kevin Smith or Hal Hartley?
M: Kevin Smith I don't know, but I like Hal Hartley. As for Richard Linklater – Stars of the Lid (tonight's support) are from Austin and their projectionist is sort of tied into the film community down there. It's a pretty accurate sort of independent thing down there, on the back of Slacker it's emerged as a centre for film making. Hal Hartley I like a lot. It doesn't seem like he uses much music though, it's kind of like almost video style to his movies.
He uses post-grunge/rock stuff like Jesus Lizard, which seems at odds with the naiveté of the stories/characters.
M: Yeah, I don't know what would be appropriate for that really because it seems just like in the background of the conversations. Hal doesn't seem like he's someone who has a particularly cinematic vision; it's just tight shots, interiors, that kind of thing. I think we'd be more suited to something a little bit more open. Stanley Kubrick is an extreme example.
Have you had any offers or ambition to score films yourselves?
M: We have some ambitions, it's something we'd love to do but it seems a very difficult sort of field to get into. You have to be approached to do it.
Would it be easier if you or you friends had an independent project to work on?
M: It's probably more likely that someone with a lot of power would have to decide that they liked it, to force it through.
Have you ever used visual images with your own music?
M: No, I've shot some Super 8 footage and never really had the money or the inclination to do anything with it. It seems like the good idea for a band like us to do would be to put out our own video, but not just one song, more like with a whole album and I think something like that could work on an independent level. That would be really interesting.
Do you ever use projections in live shows?
M: No. We've done it twice and both times we were playing in big theatres. I tend to think it doesn't really work that well in rock clubs. Stars of the Lid do it, and it's really well done, but there's something about it – things being projected over a band – to me it always looks a little shabby.
It can end up looking pretentious.
M: It so easily falls into that. I just have these pictures in my mind of what it would be.
It's popular to peg instrumental/post-rock music as soundtracks for films that don't exist. Lazy?
M: It's sort of an easy shorthand for saying it's not pop songs. I don't think it's a very well developed theory.

Is yours a music of personal experience, or with a mind on playing to the public?
M: At this point it's sort of both. It certainly started as a personal experience and there's never been... there's always been a very realistic sort of idea about what sort of market would be. One could see what our market is so in some ways we've never really thought about it. As we continue and things build in a very mild way it entered into the equation a little bit, but for the most part we don't really think about it.

Do song titles matter – as Mi Media Naranja only has initial letters for tracks.
M: I think the only people who know what the song titles are the people who are trying to write about a specific song, and especially for people with CDs who have like 10 songs in a row, I don't think anybody pays any attention. The only way they're interesting is as a type of poem in themselves, written on the sleeve. I think we've looked at it like that before.
The only song of yours I can put the title to is Scenic Recovery
M: That's probably our best title. In practical terms for this album, because we were working with the painter for the cover, we wanted to give the paintings as much power in the packaging as possible. For all practical purposes we put this album together because we met Nick Terry (the artist) and like the work that he showed us, so we kind of knew what we were getting.

Given that you want the sleeve as clear as possible, how to you feel about the record company slapping a sticker on it?
M: It's one of those things you just have to accept. If it was up to me there wouldn't have been song titles at all, but for publishing purposes you have to have something. The original idea was no album title, no band information, but there has to be something. It works a little better in the States because it's shrink-wrapped and the sticker's on the shrink-wrap instead of the case.
Doesn't that assume that the record-buying public are stupid?
M: Yeah, I think it's a safe assumption. I think it's the people who do the marketing who are just sort of paranoid about their thing. You have to go through certain channels no matter what you do.

You're using violins and cello in some recordings. Have you used these live, or do you use samples?
N: Neither actually. We do have samples but not of the string parts. It's just another thing that never quite sounds right because the texture of the bow on the strings is really three-quarters of the sound and it's impossible to get that on a sample. You can get it on a recording by mic-ing closely. It's not feasible financially either to have an extra couple of people with us.
You've tried live drums before. Could that be something for the future.
M: Perhaps. We have no direct plans for it. It think it's the type of thing where we just like it with the three of us, so we're not really tied into anything. If a certain song calls for that or suggests it we could do it, but we're not really ready to make a commitment to it.
Do you place much reliance on tape-loops/samples?
M: At this point we're completely reliant on them because there are rhythm sequences for every song. It's usually sequenced to begin with; on the new album it all was.

Are you more interested in studio work or live performances?
M: I guess I feel more comfortable in the studio just because there's a lot more control. There's something really frustrating about putting a lot of work into something and turning up at a club to find that the PA is somebody's home stereo or something. But I do like it, and even during this tour you learn to enjoy the chaos, you don't know what you're getting into. Usually there are enough people interested to make it worthwhile.

I hear you're not to fond of being interviewed.
M: Interviews only work when they turn into a conversation. Sometimes it can be very awkward when it's just like a question where you're sort of reduced to one line as an answer and you always look stupid. It's never personal, it's just sometimes not the thing you want to do after you've driven six hours.
So I was duped into using that films line as an ice breaker?
M: Who knows about British films? Who told you this?
Carter: I wonder if they mean British authors, we read a lot of those. So talk to us about British authors!
Tell me more about British authors.
C: Martin Amis – that says it all.

When you're writing do you work from pre-conceived ideas or through improving?
C: We have an idea of what to do. But the time it's recorded it's completely structured for the most part. The actual writing process involves some kind of improvisation, but once it's sorted out it's fixed.
Can you stray far from recorded structures when playing live?
M: No – especially because of the sequencers, we're pretty locked into it. There are moments where, in our own way, we do.
Do you think experimental musicians can get away with loads of pretentious noodling?
M: I think that I would not want to make that generalisation. I might feel that way about specific people, but then there's other specific people who can do it; I thank God every night that we're doing it.

Post-rock would be called ambient if there weren't any guitars involved. Why is there this double standard?
M: By the same token a lot of it would be called industrial. There was a time, at least in America, when industrial can just as mean Savage Republic or zoviet>france as it could Nine Inch Nails. Some sort of band emerges and all of a sudden nobody else fits and the media struggle to reassign them to their categories.

You're using sampled speech/sound more than your own vocals on the last album – is the voice another instrument to you?
C: The lyric, or the human voice is an important element, and with the new record we're playing with it in a different way than we have done in the past, rather than have Mark sing into a mic. It's for a different kind of sound more than anything.
Will you continue with more traditional instruments, such as the strings?
M: In a way we've done that just within ourselves. Carter uses very few synthesisers now, it's mostly piano and organ, so definitely seems like we're moving towards a more organic sound.

You're influenced by minimalist composers such as John Taverner and Erik Satire.
C: I think we listen to very little of what people would consider to be our contemporaries. It's not that we don't like it, but there are exotic extremes that are a little bit more appealing. Arvo Part is another very spiritual, minimalist kind of composer. We listen to pure electronic music or drum 'n' bass or stuff that's not really... I mean we don't listen to other bands that sound like us.
Have you much of an encounter with drum 'n' bass then?
C: Yeah, I love it. I like Roni Size and Omni Trio. And Boymerang – y'see I like Bark Psychosis, so that's how I found out about that. You should listen to that album Hex. They rip off Talk Talk a little bit, and that's a really good band to rip off.
That's a thing – Fuck were going on about Talk Talk a few weeks ago. Are they that influential?
C: Have you heard Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock? You should get those records.
It's only in retrospect that we see how important some of these bands were, but when they're pushed at us in the UK it makes you very sceptical.
C: You have to get beyond that, you can't buy into that.

We made our way from pub to venue, where Stars of the Lid and Labradford mesmerised the residents of Highbury. I met a member of Panasonic (a big moment for me), made some friends, lost some friends. And my world? That grew back a lot quicker than I expected. You've got to laugh really, haven't you?

 

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