Interview with Gnod, trickster sound research unit from Salford. Part I

Jakub: How are you guys? Not so long ago you released Infinity Machines. But after that you didn’t have a break. You worked on many projects, played dozens of gigs, spent many hours in the studio. Don’t you feel burnt out?

Paddy: Yes, I feel burnt on occasion out but not right now. You get big creative periods… ,I don’t think about this stuff really I just do it.

Chris: If I think that I’m burnt out, or that our ideas are not as good now as they were 10 years ago, you’ve kind of missed the point cos is it all about the journey. It’s not about getting to a point where we feel like we’ve made it.

J: Im speaking about lack of inspiration or lack of power which make you think – I have to record that, I wanna do that. In 9 years you released so many albums that are so different, that is from my perspective it’s so hard to keep turning this stuff out.

P: We just keep it going. The momentum is there now, so we stay on it. As long we are doing shows we always have something to work towards. Its become like our second nature to do what we do. It’s a lifestyle.

Ch: If we were aiming to get to say the point where we have got big selling albums and we put that pressure on ourselves to do that and you don’t achieve that, then I think you start feeling burnt out. But if you’re just on a kind of journey with something and it is in you mind to keep producing stuff, you don’t think about that. You just go on to the next thing.

J: I was rather talking about the feel when an artist can say ok that’s good but now i don’t have an inspiration to do the next thing, because that was really good, and how to achieve a higher level of artistry. This is one of the masterworks of my life.

P: I don’t think Gnod will ever have a masterwork. Every album is just the latest album.

Ch: Rocket (our label) for the last album, asked for our Master Of Puppets.

P: They said we want your Master of Puppets. So we gave them IM. Which I don’t think is our MOP.

Ch: Although we think it’s the best album we’ve done so far I wouldn’t say that it’s the definitive Gnod album.

P: It’s most challenging album we have done. It’s like a marker point in Gnod. The fact that it’s 3 discs long, it’s got so many different styles on it. It has tracks on it which we have never played live. It’s a very studio orientated project. It definitely stands out as being something which we think – OK we’ve done something different here. Where as the next album, who knows what it will be. It could be gongs, it could be a punk rock album. I don’t know we just keep doing it man.

J: And we can hear that shift in your recording process., as most of the records until IM was strictly based on the live recordings of your jams. Then you added some layers in the studio. But now the centre part of that album isn’t built during live jams, but the main framework of that album was born in the studio, so it’s big shift for you.

P: I mean we have worked in the studio in the past. We’ve done similar things like the Chaudelande records, a mixture of capturing live stuff as we played it, live, with no overdubbing. like Tron and The Vertical Dead to tracks like Genocider which was massively reworked in the studio. A lot of time was spent on it. We have worked in that kind of scenario before. In Gnod we trust too, that album has also got a massive amount of studio work on it. It’s not new to us. I think what was new to us with IM was more the style of the music. For example all the stuff slow heavy dubbed out saxophone, like the last track on IM. That’s something we never done before.

Ch: There was a different approach to that album than to the other albums. The other albums we usually go in and put down the tracks that which we have been playing live. Were as with this one we went in with only a handful of ideas about what we wanted to use & put down, the rest was worked out there and then. We were more conscious about only putting down a framework to be worked on more in the studio. That was the plan.

P: With all of the electronic stuff, we had been playing those rhythms live for a while. So that was all there when we came to lay them down on the drum machines. For IM we approached it differently.

Ch: It was the first studio album we did, where we weren’t trying to put down the bass, guitar & drum tracks as the base of the track. We were thinking about putting down the bare bones of the tracks in a new way, sometimes led by drum machines or synths. There isn’t any guitar on it, except for a bass guitar on Breaking The Hex and the title track.

J: Is it the first album of Gnod where there is no guitar and it’s so electronic orientated ?

P: The Sommabulist’s tale has no guitar on it.

Ch: I think its got bass guitar on it.

P: But just bass , not 6 string guitar, and Three stick of a penny has a little weird processed guitar in there somewhere.

Ch: Sex drones and broken bones is the same, there is not really much guitar on it. The split we did with Shit & Shine, Shitting Through The Eye of a Needle in a Haystack . That’s got no guitars on it. When I think back on things, fucking hell we done a lot of weird stuff.

J: Which electronic instruments did you use to create IM ?

P: The brain of the electronic stuff would be the MPC, its a sampler and sequencer. There was a Vermona analog drum-synth, Hordjiks modular synth, Rhodes piano, Doepfer Dark Energy, an SP404 sampler, little Korg Volkas. All kinds of stuff.

J: Did most of them vintage type of electronic devices?

P: Not really, most of them is kind new breed of analog synth. Except for modular synth, that’s more vintage, and more bespoke, built especially for Sam who played on the recording with us. The stuff we use you can buy online or in most music shops. I don’t own any of that stuff anymore. I sold them all. I kind of like to use that stuff for a bit until I get bored of it then I sell it.

J: I’m asking about that because Sam Weaver is a magician of modular synth.

P: Sam’s modular was made by a guy who is living in Den Haag called Rob Hordjiks. He builds these modular devices, he builds all kind of stuff. He is a very clever man.

Ch: He didn’t want to just build a modular synth he want to redesign how a modular synth works. Even the way he designed the oscillator is not the way you would usually build an oscillator. He uses double negative values to make a positive wave or something. Most of it is beyond me but I love the sounds & working paths you can create with it.

J: Do you feel attracted to the vision of sound building on vintage electronic gear, because many of the space/kraut bands are trying to recreate that retro-futuristic atmosphere based on working with old oscillators?

P: I don’t care. If it makes sounds I like I use it. I mean it’s always nice if a nice bit of vintage gear is around to play with but i don’t really care about owning the equipment. The only thing i care about equipment-wise are effects pedal and maybe guitars, but only a little bit, and guitar amplifiers. But I realised this recently when I bought a vintage tube Fender Twin 1973. An it was like yeah my guitar sounds gonna be amazing. But actually I was like, I don’t need this – I’m gonna fucking sell it. I prefer my piece of shit British old HH thing, I just prefer that solid state sound and it’s more reliable, and it costs me peanuts to fix it if it breaks.Vintage gear can be really expensive to repair.

Ch: I mean all that stuff for me smells like fucking nostalgia, and music purism. „I only use moog synths” Its bullshit.

P: But when they will purist they will say MOOOOOOOOg.

Ch: We never been like that, we have never been purists.

P: We will play anything if it’s there, and if we get sound of it, fantastic

Marlene: I only play Fender jazz basses

P :But you know that’s the kind of bass you likes, but that’s different.

Ch: When we put out the first vinyl, that was when we started to think of ourselves as a proper band. But its not like to say that we are vinyl purists and will only put out our stuff on vinyl. I think it’s a problem at the moment with vinylfilia or what ever you call it, the people will only buy a record if its on vinyl. That’s just stupid cos it should be about music, you should be into listening to the music. It’s killing music.

J: Vinyl is a piece of art so it’s straight collectors thing to have in your hand, a rare and beautiful piece of art.

Ch: It is beautiful, it’s the best format , but what is really important? Is it the format you own it in or the music itself?

J: I think maybe Henry Rollins or Fenriz , said that they don’t give shit from what format they listen to music, the most important for them is the music, emotions. They sometimes can’t hear the single sound, but they get the atmosphere of the records

P:  Yeah, I don’t care what the format comes on. For example some cassettes I’ve got that I’ve had for a long time, And when I listen to them, to me they bring back memories, certain nostalgia. They sound terrible. And then I say I’m gonna buy the CD version of that album because I really like it. I buy the CD and it sounds completely different because it does not sound like it been on tape for 20 years. And I kind of don’t like that album on CD, I prefer how it sounds on tape. Obviously record, for example Lighting Glove’s record, the most recent one, I put on tape originally and it sounds really good. But it been remastered and remixed for the vinyl. It have been pressed up at 45 pm, because it only has short tracks and its sounds fucking brilliant. It sounds mega on record. I’m really happy with it.

J: I’d like get back to IM subject. You were speaking that you tried your powers in new genres which you haven’t tried before. Is the noise/industrial sound the fruit of the last influences which you heard?

P: I think to a certain degree, yes. We all are listening a lot of different stuff. And I do think that you are listening to something you think is great and you think it will be great to make something like that and you do it. But it ends up being in the style of the band so it’s changed from what you heard when the rest of the band add their bits over it., Listening to music is definitely an inspiration to make music and it can influence it. There is so many different things to explore sound wise, music wise, it seems to me a little bit stupid to just stick to the one thing., If you listen something and you like it rather than trying to recreate it, not actually the track but the sound of it and then put your stamp on it. What will be good example… I don’t know. At the moment i really like gongs. I’d like to make a gong album. Not Dave Allen’s Gong. We are lucky, because we got a label to put our stuff out with good distribution and people know us for trying new things, We could actually get away with releasing a fucking autotune pop album tomorrow and people would just say “ah well, it’s Gnod’, y’know. We can experiment as much as we want. And the label or somebody will want to put it out, or we could put it out ourselves. We know that there is an audience for it no matter what we do even if its just a few weirdos trolling the net.

Ch: And hopefully that’s what people are looking for rather than another version of the Drop Out album.

Being pigeonholed is good career move. Because you know your market, you know how many people out there listen to that kind of thing. You can become a psych band, craft it a bit more, maybe write the best fucking psych record of a year, whatever you want. For us that isn’t an interesting way to do things. We are interested in experimenting, finding new ways of working and it’s good that there are people out there willing to listen to it and take it on.

J: How does the creative process inside the Gnod community look. Do only You and Paddy decide which way Gnod goes or do the other members get their chance to voice their take on it.

Ch: Everyone is free to bring ideas to the table.

P: It depends. People bring ideas, those ideas get tried out, if they stick they grow, get twisted or get taken somewhere. There is no set way at all. Sometimes, somebody has to take the reigns to push it forward.

Ch: Usually one or two people come up with a basic idea and everyone else works on that idea to make it grow and become something else.

J: After read your interview for The Quietus i realised that only you and Chr, was curating that process and other members give some pieces to that.

P: Thats true. There was a lot of that. When IM was happening I had some ideas and Chris had some ideas. then we would jam on some stuff as well with everybody. In the mixing process it was me, Chris and Sam Weaver and we sculpted everything how we wanted it to be.

Ch: There were a few mixing sessions were you would go in to do a session with Sam and then I’d go in to do a session with Sam. It helps you get things done faster. Too many people in the room can sometimes cause conflict.

P: With five people with ideas in a studio trying mix something there is no point. The other band members know what we’ve recorded and they trust us to make it the right way it should be.

Ch: If someone else in the band has got an idea about how to mix it they can come and try it. It is not just exclusively up to me and Paddy about how things should sound.

J: In the past you have got many members, has their arrival or departure heavily changed how Gnod sounds?

P: Every time we shift the personnel I would say that the sound changes a little bit. Or somebody can come in and play an instrument that we never had in Gnod before and we try something like that. Definitely. That’s kind of natural to happen. We don’t actively go out and search for members, we tend to meet them naturally.

J: Did in that way got involved Sam and David Mclean ?

P: I wanted to do something with saxophone on the album. That was our opportunity to work with David. That was a kind of planned thing. With Sam it was planned for him to record us. Modular synth was there for us to use in the recording and mixing process so we decided that we were going to use it a lot. There is one track on it , Do you know track Desire?

J: Yes.

P: Every single thing on that except for the vocals was processed through the modular synth.

J: Did you played some shows with Sam before you stared recording IM

P: No

Ch: I think we might have done?

P: Oh yeah we did couple of jams , but nothing major. But after IM we did more shows with him.

Ch: When we were doing shows with Sam early on he was just kind of in the line. When were using the electronic set up we had big long table with all stuff synched up so it was all connected & led by sequences from the MPC. But for the IM sessions everyone wasn’t linked up in that way. The way he was playing on that album was different to the way he was doing stuff with us live.

J: Do you think that location of Islington Mill in the heart of a concrete jungle influence the sound of your latest album? If you had recorded IM in some other place would it have sounded different?

P: I don’t know because I think your surroundings either directly or indirectly influence your person or the sound you make. I didn’t know if IM sound different in somewhere else because we didn’t make it somewhere else. I guess it would if we will record it in big house on country side it would sound a little a bit different. I think definitely your surroundings influence anybody’s creative output.

J: What is your opinion Chris?

Ch: I think the way we make music is spontaneous and when you do it spontaneously then the environment you do it in comes it in a play.

P: Any surroundings directly or indirectly influence you. You don’t have to think about it, it’s just there. You’re reacting to your environment, whatever that is.

Ch: But it’s subconscious.

J: I’m speaking about only subconscious level. Not that you think let’s make an industrial record because we are living in an industrial environment.

P: When we recorded Chaudlande we were in cottage in France. You can hear a lot of field recordings in that album. We decided to set up some mics in the garden cos it was a nice day. So you can hear little snippets where we been recording stuff in the garden. We were reacting to the environment around us. It wasn’t like we said lets go to the garden we gonna do a little hippie bit. We just wanted to capture the atmosphere of the environment..

Ch: And I don’t think you listen to that album and think “oh, it sounds like it was recorded in cottage in France”.

J: I never think about this album like it was recorded in France.

P: We were chilling out in the garden eating baguettes, Camembert cheese, drinking red wine in the sun and then going into the basement studio to make this stupidly heavy music.

Ch: That’s what those things sound like to me (the field recordings from Chaudelande). Like a few sounds from a magical garden and then you’re sucked into the basement where all dark weird shit happens and then back out into the garden again. I think that we had no idea at the time we were making the record. We just recorded the garden with the idea of using it in the background somewhere on the album. When we were mixing the album we remembered that we had all the stuff from the garden, about an hour and a half of chickens clucking, planes flying over, birdsong, random acoustic guitar, and decided to use it as segues to go in between songs. It gave the album an identity I think.

P: It was a representation of the place really. The fact that the album is called after the name of the cottage. The whole thing is just like the snapshot of the environment as it was recorded. Even the art work of front covers is two photographs that were taken in that place.

Chaudelande VOL i
The cover of Chaudelande Vol I

J: I also want to get back to the Islington Mill atmosphere. Because very important part of IM are speeches of visitors of Islington Mill about religion, politics, etc. You probably asked many people many not only that few we can hear.

Ch: I asked about 6 -7 different people, but there were four in the end that I could arrange time with to do it. I could have spent more time going around getting more people to speak. I think when you got 4 people with quite different personalities it was all I needed really. Jen who is a New York artist who is very politicly minded. Morry who is Irish artist, he is big part in the Mill, he is one of the directors of the mill. There is Neil Robbins who lives and works in his studio for 24 hours per day. Verity is one of Fat Out Till You Pass Out who run the venue space here at the mill (The Burrow). So there are four different opinions and personalities all connected to the Mill. So when I started interviewing them I asked them six open ended questions – one was about religion, money, privacy. I was looking for a hive mind, how people in Islington Mill were thinking about these issues at that particular time. Because that time when I was doing those interviews I think mill was going through the bid thing with the Arts Council and we weren’t very sure if Mill will survive in the same way. Noise complains from neighbours were being made to the local council. Cuts being made to local services. It was a pretty stressful time.

P: I think that atmosphere in the Mill at that time influenced the sound of the album. There are these really tense moments, also quite spacious moments, moments of reflection, moments where you feel like you’re gonna explode because it’s unbearable.

Ch: Also, we were all starting to get into meditation around that time which also influenced the feel of album.

P: … and the title & concept of the album.

P: It’s not about humans it’s about our brains being these infinite machines, the most important machines we have. For me it was directly saying we need to stop staring at our screens. We need to stop thinking that these things have got all the answers, the answers are there in our nervous system, we need to use our brains more . Well I do anyway haha.

Ch: For example with the ease of communication these days, all these different ways how to communicate. You can reach anyone in the world, you can see them on the screen. Does it really bring people together more, do people understand themselves and each other more?

Ch: We more like voyeurs of communication rather than better communicators. There’s a lot of distraction, people just looking at Facebook to find out what’s going on in the world. Like TV it’s become our window to the world and we don’t see that it’s a very distorted image. There’s a lot of saturation. Today with communication and information, we are totally bombarded. Its like a white noise. It’s hard to see a through it sometimes to find something that’s has real substance.

P: I think a big thing for us was when we were on tour and Facebook decided to stop us using our account because we weren’t using our real names. So we had that thing of, should we create a band page, should we put our names up there – And then I was like just like, fuck it. At that time I was thinking that we gonna lose touch with a hell of a lot of people who we speak to everyday on Facebook. Actually it was fucking amazing, it was like a blessing. It was like moving house and getting rid all of your shit. And you realise that if you’re supposed to speak to people you will find a way to get in touch. If it’s a conversation that matters then it’s going to happen. You don’t have that distraction of having to check your messages all the time. I found it really liberating. For me personally Facebook brings me down and makes me think about lot of shit I don’t need to think about. I would get angry with friends because I saw friends posting something on there that I don’t agree with or think “why are you telling people about that shit”? It was a negative circle. And that’s gone now. And when I see my friends now I have a conversation about what they have been doing because I don’t know what they have been doing cos I’ve not seen it all already on Facebook.

Ch: I think one of your mates was away. And you were saying it was almost when he gets back i don’t want to speak to him about his holidays because I’ve already see it all and the places he went to & what he ate. So somebody comes back after 6 month being away and and you are like “yeah, I know!”

P: There is no story. There is no genuine interest in his story because you’ve being updated everyday with that.

J: But you are using other media like twitter and tumblr.

P: Tumblr is great. Because whatever you are doing you go on Tumblr, post whatever you want to say – what is happening with the band, or label or whatever and its automatically posted on Twitter. So you don’t even have to go on Twitter. And we don’t have any conversations on Twitter. It’s great. And the other great thing we started doing which we should done years ago. We got a mailing list, we got 2000 people on it. And every time something happens, like a tour or a new album, we just send it out to the mailing list. And if people don’t want to know they can unsubscribe.

Ch: Also if you are doing everything on Facebook and that’s your main source of promotion what about the people who don’t like Facebook. It’s almost like you’re working for Facebook, bringing people to Facebook so they can find out what you are doing. I think with Facebook as well the way when kind everybody is on it, everybody got Facebook profile and can see what everyone else is doing it gives them a lot of power. I think we’re only just starting to realise how much power it has got over our relationships, our social relationships. A few years ago when you created an events page on Facebook you could invite all of your friends with a few clicks and then they changed it so you had to click every individual person you wanted to invite. Then they changed it again you you had to scroll more and could only click 10 at a time. And then they put a limit on the amount of friends you can invite and started charging you to tell your friends about the event. After that we thought “this is just bullshit”. We were making an event page for Gesamtkunstwerk, we started inviting people and when it got to 100 invites it stops you inviting any more unless you pay. It got to the point where we have to pay to speak with our friends in just a couple of years.

P: That’s what is gonna happen. Because if you gonna make Facebook so massive and it becomes a part of your life with all of your pictures on there and your kind of life diary on there that becomes a precious thing to everyone then they’re gonna start saying you have to pay for that service. It’s fucking shit, fuck Facebook.

Marlene: I had emails from Skiddle asking me to review shows that I said I was going to on Facebook without asking me if they could access my Facebook for that information. Facebook would also automatically invite people from my friends list on my behalf without me asking it to do that. It’s too much.


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