"We wanted to convey the idea that the future is opening up"
The four lads of Sheffield’s own 65daysofstatic released their latest record Wild Light last month to a lot of critical acclaim. I spoke with Joe Shrewsbury (guitarist, although all members seem to play so many instruments these days that it seems unfair to define them by just referring to their main piece of equipment) a couple of hours before their amazing show at the Melkweg in Amsterdam on October 2nd, 2013. We talked about many a thing leading up to the recording of Wild Light and it became clear, once again, that 65daysofstatic is not a band burdened by narrow-mindedness, but one that is open to embrace whatever the world still has to offer.
Björn & Benny
Upon arriving at the Melkweg around 3pm I get slightly confused, as there are already tons of adolescent girls lining up in front of the door when the show does not start until 8pm or so. Has something spectacular happened the past few months that I do not know off? Are the lads of 65daysofstatic all of sudden the longing wet dream of young girls? Has their music become so sexy that it is poisoning puberty? Alas! The maenads are not there to indulge in the intricacies of some of the best live music around, but to see British X-Factor competitor Olly Murs perform later that night in the other Melkweg hall (the big one, no less –oh the never-ending unfairness bestowed upon quality music!). I heard through the grapevine by the way that Murs secretly likes to masturbate to Abba songs (from their early period), but let’s not get into that right here. I speak with Joe just outside the dressing room in a lovely small garden adjacent to the Melkweg and soon all images of a panting Olly Murs surrounded by posters of Björn & Benny & Agnetha & Anni-Frid disappear from my mind.
I talk to Joe about the inception of Wild Light, their latest studio album, which sounds both new and familiar 65daysofstatic. The making of this record took quite some time. “We had a really hard time to write Wild Light. It's not easy for 65days to write music. It took us the best part of two years”, Joe confesses. “The making of Wild Light was a humbling experience. It taught me there is still so much to learn and that you have to dedicate yourself to that notion if you want to keep growing as a musician.” Joe sees a certain growth in the way they approach their music now as compared to where they were say in 2007, when they just recorded The Destruction of Small Ideas. There’s a distinct difference both in the writing process and the actual recording between then and now. “During the Fall of Math we recorded to achieve the chaos that we are when we are playing live. I think we were just building that bigger and bigger, up until The Destruction of Small Ideas. That record in a way was the end of what we could achieve in that sense. After that, working on We Were Exploding Anyway turned out to be a real learning curve.”
Talking about We Were Exploding Anyway reminds me of that standout closing track on that record: ‘Tiger Girl’. I tell Joe that if Danny Boyle would have made Trainspotting roughly fifteen years later, he would have used ‘Tiger Girl’ instead of ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld. Joe laughs apologetically, claiming that it’s far from being as good. “We are actually big fans of Underworld, especially Paul [Wolinski, NT]. We even tried to cover ‘Born Slippy’ once when were 19 years old, and it sucked! But they are certainly an influence and especially on We Were Exploding Anyway. We met them once and they actually really liked our music, which blew our minds! We’re not playing ‘Tiger Girl’ this tour though, because it just stands out too much from the new work. That song is basically a one off in our entire catalog.” Working on that song though and the rest of that album opened up new opportunities for 65daysofstatic, since it enabled them to look at their own music from a different perspective. “On our first three albums we used to focus more on specific sounds. Our guitar sounds had to sometimes resemble Deftones for example, a band that we really love. Those huge open sounds go really well together with synths. Now we focus more on pulling a sound through an amp, then through a distortion and so on, and make it almost unrecognizable. We are now more focused on textures and layers. That makes it more difficult sometimes to pull it off live, but also more interesting, because every night the sound changes, depending on our own way of playing, the equipment, the venue and the amount of people. It definitely keeps it interesting and dynamic this way.”
After the change in focus on We Were Exploding Anyway, 65daysofstatic turned to film for a completely different project: Silent Running. Joe elaborates on working on a soundtrack for this seventies film. “Working on Silent Running was very relaxed and liberating, because there was no label pressure. We made it for the Glasgow Film Festival, and at first we would only perform it just once there at the festival. Eventually we did a short tour –playing the music as live accompaniment to a screening of the film. After that tour people kept asking us to record the music, so eventually we did. The fans made that record actually, by funding the entire process. You could fit the fundraisers all into one room probably. That was very exciting.” With no label involved and funding being taken care of by a number of enthusiastic fans, the band could really focus on the music. In contrast to their previous records, the music now had to fit existing images of a film. “Responding to the aesthetics of a seventies sci-fi flick was very great, actually. The film is both serious and playful and we wanted to incorporate that into our music. We didn’t want to sound too heavy, it needed to lift the mood as well. The biggest difference with recording this time was that we needed to pay special attention to the arrangements and timing. It was quite a different discipline than how 65days normally works! We would love to work on an actual new film some day as well, to really be part of the creation of that. We’ll see if that happens!”
Back to Wild Light, the album that according to Joe really reflects (parts) of the lives that make up 65daysofstatic. “We wrote about the world that we know about, in that sense it reflects our lives. And we wanted it to be grown up. It has to mean something in the world of music today, we wanted to make it count. A lot of instrumental bands nowadays don't seem to make albums anymore that transcend mediocrity. Bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai opened up this direction of music back in the day and great bands followed, but there's also a lot of music around now that's just… not that interesting. We wanted to make something unique to us, something that’s based on what 65days has learned in the past and that reflects on us being in this band. So that the outcome could not be anything else but 65daysofstatic.” Something that they have learned from making music for quite some time now is not to get lost in details. “There is still attention to detail on this record, but we made sure not to drown in them. We used less to achieve more, which sounds like a simple thing but in reality it is quite difficult. It felt like a new start of approaching our own music. Like I said earlier, we were more focused on working with layers this time, and it really felt as if we were constructing a house of cards that could tumble down at any moment. We also took a long time between the recording at the studio and the actual mixing, done by Tony Doogan. He is a good friend of ours and he didn't hear the songs beforehand. While he was mixing the songs in the studio he was constantly telling stories and in the meantime he fixed the songs. He’s great at taking your mind of the details and it worked out really well. Now we just have to see if we can translate this process to a live setting…”
Wild Light as a Whole
In the era of single driven mp3 sales as opposed to the full length album format, Wild Light sounds surprisingly as a unity, an organism of which each and every part is necessary for the survival of the overall atmosphere. Joe admits that that was something the band was aiming at. “We wrote Wild Light as an album. We knew for example that ‘Heat Death’ should open it already two years ago. We knew that ‘Safe Passages’ would have to close it. The songs were written in a different way than in previous 65days times. We didn’t start with just guitar parts or drum parts. We wrote the songs around melodies and ideas we had of what the songs would have to sound like. It was scary in a sense, because you're going into the studio and someone is paying for that and you work on the material for two years. If you screw up, you can’t just make a new record, because there’s no money for that anymore. But that fear is also good to thrive on. And in the end the ideas worked out really well and the final recording ended up being one for the album listeners. I think that ‘Prisms’ could work as a standout track, but the rest is definitely more part of a whole.” We talk some more about the decline of the Album and the way that so many people seem to prefer to listen to their iPod in shuffle mode. Joe worries about the amount of concentration people can muster up these days. “All we do all day long is click through. Hyperlinks? Worst things in the world! You look something up at Wikipedia and end up finding completely different things! It used to be you would go to the pub and someone says something and then you’d talk about that. Now we look it up on our smartphones –discussion closed, end of conversation, next topic! That’s why I like vinyl. It’s more of a ritual that requires attentiveness.” And as Simone Weil already wrote: ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’.
The Evolving Meaning of Art
We move on to a broader perspective on society and human life. I ask Joe about his ideas on the evolving meaning of art, of evolving understanding and emotions. “Over the course of your life you experience a lot of things, obviously. That’s part of growing as a human being. Your life takes on new meaning over the course of it. With instrumental music for example a lot of people feed their own emotions and feelings into what they hear. That’s why we don't want to have overt meanings coming from us. Our songs even mean different things for us all in the band. David Yow from The Jesus Lizard, when they broke up, said something along the lines of: ‘our band wasn't big to a lot of people, but the people who it was important to it was very important’. I feel and hope that Wild Light will be important for people in that same regard. We realise that 65days means a lot to certain people, which is a big responsibility. I don 't want to make an awful record! But we dragged some people through some difficult times and that feels amazing and very humbling.”
Tension Between Thinking and Feeling
To me, the music of 65daysofstatic always has incorporated two distinct yet overlapping elements: thinking and feeling. Like a cerebral and affective dance. I ask Joe if he feels a tension between these two sides of the human spectrum. “There is always a huge tension for us between those aspects, and especially on stage. Wild Light for example takes a lot of focus to play live, and lot of attention is needed to pull the songs off. We want to get better and better at that and are consciously trying to improve this. The problem is that the music is also very emotional, and you sometimes tend to be overwhelmed on stage as well. It’s a little bit like taking drugs, when the drugs start to work and you realise that there is a bad place you could go to, but you try to steer away from that. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see how it affects people, because we hear the music different from them -because we wrote these songs.”
Apart from the emotion in the music, 65daysofstatic also look out outwards to the world we are all living in. “We are a conscious band and posses a healthy amount of social awareness. Climate change, people being shot at, totalitarian regimes -all those things people are afraid of happening in the future are already happening. Right now. Right here. We are not a band of people that wake up in the morning and are only concerned with what is happening in their backyard. We're aware that we have a responsibility to society as a whole. I feel that all the things that people were telling me about in the 1990’s, how liberal democracy and capitalism had vanquished fascism and communism -these two great evils, was actually bullshit. We’re now in one of the biggest economic crises ever. Why did people tell me back then that all was going well? Did they have such short memory? In the 1960’s en 1970’s we had good education, we had good welfare and all of that has all been given away for more money.” Despite his slumbering anger at these issues, Joe realizes that a healthy balance between being socially responsible and having fun is a great good. “I don't think people have to sit around with so much guilt that they can not enjoy themselves. Music is a good outlet, but it can also be a forum for people to think and meet. And we want to be a band that is both -dancing, drinking and fun, but also feeding some thought. But I used to think about these things a lot more. We’ve been playing for thirteen years now and we definitely mean it. And people want to do whatever, be it think or dance. The world is chaos, and we're all just balls of chaos bouncing around...”
We are on a roll here, and delve some more into a description that a lot of people seem to give when describing Wild Light: that it sounds as the soundtrack to a dystopian future world. I mention to Joe that the music can sometimes definitely give that sense, but that to me the dystopian world that Wild Light seems to be describing is not in the future, but right now. “When do you realise you are living in a utopia or dystopia?”, Joe responds. “That's the whole idea behind 1984, right? The proles don't know that they live in that society Orwell describes. They're happy. And that’s happening now as well. Everything nowadays is so focused on safety. Giving up our freedom. ‘We read your e-mails. We tapped your phones: you’re safe’.” I tell Joe how the attitude of ‘If you got nothing to hide, why worry?’ always irks me enormously. That it is already indicative of giving in to power structures way beyond personal freedom. Joe agrees to that. “That's awful when people say that, then they’re already too far gone. And that scares me. Everything needs to be prevented, and that is just not always possible. Global control of humanity seems to be the ultimate goal. But there are people more qualified than me to talk about this. Maybe a band shouldn't be concerning themselves with talking to people about this. But I just cannot believe that there are people who don't think about this! Sometimes it feels like I have to justify myself for actually giving a damn.”
The Future is Opening Up
Then again, I think it is always good to realise that there are still people who actually give a damn. And still, there is hope. Something that is also present in Wild Light. It might portray a lonely and desolate world, but at the same time there are sounds there that are opening up worlds of possibilities. Closing track ‘Safe Passages’ is a great example of this, with its fun twist in dynamic change. “We meant this track to be huge, bigger even than ‘Tiger Girl’”, Joe says. “We wanted to convey the idea that the future is opening up. It’s the last song we finished at the studio. The last three months of working on this record we started to realise that now is the most exciting time to be around and that there is constantly more to come. ‘Safe Passages’ is perhaps a flawed attempt to grasp that feeling, while at the same time you can already hear us knowing that we might even become better and better with everything new we will write.” So far, I will testify to that. And the future is very promising indeed