WARREN CANN INTERVIEWED BY JONAS WÅRSTAD
Upon our return [from the second US tour], we started looking for a label. To aid this, we made our London debut and did a one-off gig at the 'Electric Ballroom' on February 1st, 1980. Chrysalis Records was courting us and became interested enough to give us some studio time in order to do demos. We went into the studio with Conny Plank as engineer and decided not to do the usual thing of recording three songs to 'demo' status, we would use the allotted studio time to concentrate on doing one song well and hand them a 'master'. We recorded 'Sleepwalk' and Chrysalis offered us a contract.
Our choice of again working with Conny Plank as engineer/co-producer was unanimous, we all felt that our experience with him during 'Systems' was a good one and that the relationship should be expanded. From the very first days of the band, we'd been commited to mastering recording techniques... not just to become adept at capturing our ideas but to expand upon them and use the studio itself as an extension of the creative process. Conny was the man who had the combined aesthetic zeal and technical ability to help us achieve this.
We went back into writing/rehearsals and came up with 'Passing Strangers', 'Western Promise', and 'Vienna'. Our method of writing was a simple one: we would jam about with our collective ideas and throw things back and forth until something sparked. We'd take the idea, work on it, and polish into a song structure. At this point it would still be in instrumental form, we would generally let the mood of the piece dictate the direction of the lyrics.
For the most part, I'd have a cassette machine running all the time. It's the only way to achieve any objectivity; in the midst of actually playing something you can't listen to it with the same degree of acuity as you can when you're listening to it back. It helped us tailor and craft the music. Or, sometimes an idea which we thought was merely "...ok..." would present an entirely new perspective later on. Which isn't at all surprising, if you play every permutation of an idea for three or four hours over and over again while you explore its possibilities, you can get dulled and immune to it's appeal... when you listen to it fresh the next day, you can more truthfully gauge it's potential.
While it was prudent to do our 'demos' for Chrysalis with Conny in London, it was always our intention to work in his studio in Germany. For reasons unclear to me now, but probably due to budget, we did the actual laying down of tracks for the first album in London at 'RAK' studios (one of the highlights of which was owner, Mickie Most, making us a curry one day for lunch) and put all of the tracks down in ten days. The songs were all 'tight' from our touring and the newest songs were well prepared from our writing/rehearsals.
While we were now using more synthesizers, as on our earlier albums we were still using 'reasonably' straightforward bass/drums/guitar recording techniques. Keyboards were recorded both D.I.'d (direct into the desk) and mic'd (loud amps!). Recording FX were pretty much the usual tape & digital FX (though digital FX units were in their relative infancy then); flanging, reverb, delay, chorus, etc. We liked to use backwards reverbs (reverb applied normally but with the tape turned over and running past the heads backwards - when the tape is turned the right way round, the reverb appears 'before' the source sound) and were also fond of backwards guitars & vocals. Sometimes we weren't content with 'throwing in the kitchen sink', we threw in every sink we could find.
From 'Day One' of Tiger Lily and throughout all of the John Foxx era band, I played Ludwig drums augmented with Zildjian cymbals. The electronic elements of my gear just grew and grew... I used some guitar FX pedals to run my drum machines through (phase, flange, distortion, echo) from time to time (i.e., 'Mr. X'). Every once in awhile I would also run my acoustic drum kit through a distortion box to toughen up the sound. There wasn't much we wouldn't put through a guitar FX pedal just to see what it would sound like. We generally preferred to do this at source, rather than afterwards via the desk. There was a great deal of E.Q. used on the drum machine parts.
Multi-track recording is an additive process; every layer you put down dictates the shape and attributes of every layer and element to come, therefore it's far easier in the long run to get it 'right' then and there instead of saying, "We'll fix that in the mix." While some people prefer to record everything 'dry' (without any FX or with FX on a separate channel), when we recorded something with reverb or delay we generally tended put that effect to tape, rather than fiddle with the reverb later on. No matter how simple the type of FX is ("Oh, that's an easy one... we can get that again, no problem."), you never do seem to get it exactly the same again and the ripples from that change affect everything else.
Billy was running his ARP synth through an Electro-Harmonix 'Electric Mistress' distortion box and (I think) an MXR flanger. He used the studio's piano and 'live' preferred a Yamaha electric piano because, at the time, it was the nearest thing to a real piano (strings & a weighted keyboard). Besides his 'Elka' String Machine which was used a lot on our earlier records, I think we used two Yamaha CS-20 or CS-40 (one of each?) string synths on this first album. We had a CS-80 for awhile, too. It was fantastic but they are very rare today and seriously difficult to maintain. And expensive.
Bill also ran his violin through a lot of effects pedals, mainly from Electro-Harmonix. He also had a Roland 'Space-Echo' tape delay unit. The violin was amplified via a 'Barcus-Berry' pick-up attatched to the bridge. Later, he acquired an electric violin which had the capacity to level buildings with a single blast.
Midge primarily used his Yamaha SG-2000 guitar through his Vox AC-30 amp and Chris used a Yamaha bass (his Gibson EB-O hadn't been used for ages) through whatever was handy. Of course, Chris also used a Mini-Moog for a lot of the bass parts.
Basically, we used what was available (and/or what we could afford) at the time. The only real one-of-a kind stuff we used was the sequencing stuff I designed and had our tech build, this was used to trigger the Mini-Moog from my drum machines which were also heavily altered. Remember - this was all before the luxury of MIDI. The custom equipment features are no longer relevant as any drum machine nowadays has all of the features (and many more!) I had to improvise and can, naturally, trigger/clock any synth you connect it to.
I'm a self-taught musician and have never had any formal training, I just listened to records and attempted to copy those who I admired and/or the stuff that I thought sounded cool. My favourite drummers were all classic players from the great days of British rock & pop such as Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Kenny Jones... I'd always been captivated by technology, when it started to encroach upon the world of music I was totally into it. I started out a conventional player but found electronics insanely fascinating.
Any instrument or piece of equipment has a personality which is equally dependent upon it's flaws as it is upon it's assets and never more so than where synths are concerned. The equipment we used had lots of good points, as far as the state of technology allowed at the time, but it all had flaws and quirks that used to drive us crazy. And, ironically, many of the flaws are what contributed to character of the overall sound.
From the very start, I'd always viewed drum machines as synths in their own right, synths that were focused upon one aspect: percussion. At some point before recording 'Vienna' I'd acquired Roland's newest drum machine offering, the infamous "CR-78". It was almost cube shaped, approximately 12" x 10" x 10". It was still in that awful walnut veneer covered box and still offered push-button pre-sets for Fox Trots, Sambas, and Tangos. The tempo was set by turning a knob but was still horrendously touchy, if you even looked at it the tempo changed. The sounds were still analog representations. It wasn't all that much better but it did sport a radical new facility; by tapping on a little round rubber pad which you plugged in, you could program your own rhythm into one of four memories. Happening!
Unless you were incredibly patient and fastidious with your finger tapping, the programmed rhythms were often quite shaky as there was absolutely no quantisation or 'auto-correct' facility, so it was best not to get too ambitious. It also had a nasty habit of losing the contents of it's memory at the slightest provocation.
Once, during a Hammersmith Odeon concert, we had reached the highly charged peak of the set and were in the middle of "Vienna", Bill had just started his violin solo and the CR-78 choose that moment to just go totally berserk... it started pouring out about six different rhythms simultaneously and all at double or triple tempo. I was aghast and froze, all I could do was just stare at the thing in horror. It certainly shook up the rest of the band... though it was probably only for a fraction of a second, it seemed like forever. They bravely carried on as best they could while this thing threw a complete fit.
At times like this your mind goes into overdrive; I snapped out of it and ran over all of the possible causes for it to go crazy. After checking all the options and deciding that this time it was just simply out of my control, I did the only thing I could think of to do which might actually have any result under the circumstances - I punched it as hard as I could. Very technical. Nothing positive happened so I turned it off and finished the song on my drums.
Many creative and technical frustrations regarding the TR-77 and CR-78 led me into modifying them and our adventures in techno-land really began. Fortunately, I knew enough to be able to guide someone who really knew their electronics... engineers of the time were au fait with the technical aspects but notoriously lost when it came to actual creative applications.
We started with the number one pain in the neck, the tempo control. That proved reasonably simple to desensitise; a second potentiometer was wired into the circuit to give me a 'fine tune' over-ride. The original tempo control would get me to the rough tempo and the second would allow me to zero in. But you can't fiddle around like this 'live', you need to be able to start the song 'cold' at exactly the right speed without speeding up and slowing down until you get it right. We connected a cheap electrician's multi-meter sporting an l.e.d. display into the tempo circuit and set it to measure the D.C. voltage. I got the tempos correct during rehearsals and made a note of the measurements for each song. Though this was a totally arbitrary number as far as beats per minute were concerned, the important thing was it was repeatable. If "Mr. X" was, say, 11.42 volts then all I had to do 'live' was set it so the volt-meter read 11.42 v and the song would start at pretty much the right speed. We gaffa taped the meter to the top of the drum machine, not an elegant solution overall but it worked.
After looking at the circuit boards of these drum machines, I discovered that the analog circuits which made up the sounds (no samples stored in memory chips on this stuff) had little ceramic 'trim' potentiometers. What they were actually for I have no idea but, by tweaking them, I could change the sounds slightly for the better. The bass drum, for example, might sound moderately like a thump through the low amplification of a guitar amp or through a studio monitor but through the microscope of multi-thousands of watts of amplification afforded through a big PA at a gig, it would sound like a gigantic beach ball going "Boiiinng!" I was able to harden the bass drum and snare (something I was always trying to find ways of doing with these 'soft' sounds).
One of people I'd turned to for assistance was the 'in-house' repairs engineer at Roland's London facility. He was intrigued with my usage of the machine and was keen to help, it was far more fun than fixing broken electric pianos... It seems this did not go down too well with the powers-that-be and the chief executive at Roland, Fred Mund, ordered him to have nothing further to do with me: I was wasting their time. Unless my equipment was actually broken, I was persona non grata. As the equipment was so modified by this time, I think the view was that it was "outside of their warrantee", permanently "broken down", and no longer their problem!
As we had a huge hit with 'Vienna' featuring Roland's CR-78, I feel that was a very mean and short-sighted decision... I quickly found another electronics boffin to collaborate with, Pete Wood, and we carried on experimenting and tinkering with my ideas.
One unforeseen development led to an interesting solution. I had people coming up to me after gigs asking me what the hell I had been doing during some of the songs - the songs where I was running the machines. From their point of view, they'd seen me stop playing the drums, casually leaning over to my left and, apparently, doing nothing... One person even asked me if I'd been reading a book! I was astonished but, in these early days, people didn't necessarily immediately connect the sounds with what I was doing.
This would never do, so I decided to implement a little showmanship.
I got rid of the wooden cases that housed the TR-77 and CR-78, replacing them with clear perspex cases, and had a series of different coloured l.e.d.s (light emitting diodes) wired up inside so they would wink and flash in time with various components of the selected rhythm being played. Absolutely useless, but very impressive looking on a darkened stage; now it would be obvious I was actually doing something. It certainly worked as I was now regaled with questions about "the drum machines".
One of the aspects of the Mini-Moog that fascinated us was it's ability to pump out a stream of steady eighth-notes. By keying different notes, a bass line was produced with the unwavering perfect tempo of the machine. Like the drum machines, this rock solid tempo had a hypnotic element to it that mesmerised. It was the source of 'Sleepwalk', 'New Europeans', and 'All Stood Still'. For the time being, I had to play acoustic drums to it as there was no way of us syncing it to my drum machines but that was no problem, we were enthralled with the sound as it was.
We adapted the l.e.d. tempo read-out idea to also fit a display to Chris' Moog, he was able to have more predictable control over the tempo of the pulses. Eventually, we found a way of connecting the drum machine to the Moog so that the pulsing bass line would be in sync with the drum machine; even when I was playing my drums and we'd muted the drum machine, we could start a song with the bass line at the right tempo, for example, "All Stood Still"... this saved us a lot of flaffing about at the beginning of a song while Chris tried to tame the tempo to the correct speed.
There was only so many things you could do with a constant stream of eighth notes, even with Chris partially keying in notes, so I came up with a primitive 'sequencer' in order to introduce some syncopation into the bass lines. It had a series of toggle switches on it that I could trip in a pre- determined series; i.e., On/On/On/off/On/On/off/On, this gave us the bass line for things like 'Rage In Eden'. It was crude but it worked.
Prior to this I had gotten a hold of Dave Simmons' very first product, it was called the 'Clap Trap'. I remember meeting him in the back of his record store or whatever it was and getting this new gadget. It was a little black box that would emulate the sound of hand-claps. You could plug a mic into it and have the source-signal, a snare drum for example, trigger the 'claps' or plug in a non-latching foot-switch and do it yourself manually. I think it's controls were 'threshold' or 'gate' for use with an external trigger and 'pitch' and 'thickness' for the timbre and number of claps. I used a foot switch, mainly, and was thus able to add another component to some of the rhythms played. It was also relatively easy to connect it to one of the drum machines to 'clock' it's tempo, this was done on 'Passionate Reply'.
There was one time in Boston when it went sick and, figuring that we stood at least a fair chance of having it mended by a synth-type guy, we took it to the local Moog service technician. He said, "What the #%$@ is that?"
I also used Simmons' next development, the SDS-III. It was a unit which would allow you to connect up to four pads and make 'electronic' drum sounds. Still firmly analog, but if you set the controls just right, it made quite a strong noise. This is the sound heard at the intro of 'All Stood Still'.
We were pushing the very limits of technology at the time, albeit without a big budget (that came later). It's just that we were determined to play live what we had created, rather than tone it down to a technically safer approximation which we felt was short-changing both ourselves and the audience. The major drawback being, of course, that this stuff wasn't all that reliable within the secure confines of a studio where one had the luxury of working outside of the boundaries of real-time... we were using it live onstage with all its attendant hazards.
It got to where all our stuff interconnected together and we were up to our ankles in leads on stage. From temperamental equipment which wasn't very stable in nice safe warm studios (let alone being bounced all over the country in trucks in wildly fluctuating temperature extremes), to ignorant house electricians abruptly shutting down the mains power in the venue and scrambling the gear's primitive memories, to cassettes that wouldn't load their 'memory' data properly and 'Techs' that didn't know what the hell to make of our stuff... argghhhh! It's no wonder we were slammed by some quarters for no sense of fun or humour onstage... we were too worried it would all blow up in our faces at any moment while we kept madly concentrating on keeping it under control.
It didn't get much better later on, either. We just had more incredibly expensive items of evermore complicated equipment to screw up. Only at the very end of the band did all this start to come together in a more reliable way. Even so, I remember that when we played 'Live Aid' three of the four songs in our set required things being triggered and all we could think of was, "Pleeeease don't let anything break!"
The recording of the 'Vienna' album allowed us to put to use everything that we'd learned so far. The mixing sessions at Conny's studio took us about two weeks, there was a good atmosphere and work went very smoothly.
Of course, after we'd signed to Chrysalis we weren't surprised in the least to see Island Records try to cash in by releasing a compilation of our older material. We'd been dumped by Island and not treated very well (let's put it this way, some time later there was an out-of-court settlement with Island Publishing). Once we'd heard of the imminent release of a compilation, we had an idea to exact a small but satisfying degree of reprisal... Chris Cross and I used to pay visits to the Art Department at Island and talk to the designer responsible for the sleeve.
Feigning interest in their treatment of the sleeve, we'd encourage all of his worst ideas. When he told us he had this idea of taking a photo of his girl friend "lit up by some car head lamps, wearing a sort of costume...", we said, "Brilliant! That's the one!!" (Ha! Ha! Ha!) Were we successful? That sleeve speaks for itself.
[for info on 'Sleepwalk', see track listing below]
The B-side to 'Sleepwalk' was a track called 'Waiting'. I can't remember where we recorded it but somehow I don't think it was during the RAK sessions. We knew it was never a competitor for inclusion on the album but thought it made a fine B-side.
Astradyne - The ticking sound which introduces the track is from the CR-78 (it was called 'Metal Beat'): I played along to it. We were always fond of instrumentals but, inexplicably, gradually drifted away from them in later days. The title was a combination of Latin; from the Royal Air Force's motto, 'Per Adua Ad Astra' ('Through Adversity to the Stars'), and an aerospace company called Rocketdyne, whose name I liked the sound of.
New Europeans - This is the only instance I can think of where we had a title before we had any music (or lyrics). We always wrote the music first and then lyrically followed on from there.
This song can be credited with catalysing our popularity in Japan and was initially used as the music for a television whiskey commercial. In Japanese adverts the music is credited in fine print in a corner of the screen: a fine concept. The interest it generated lead to it being released as a single which went gold. The ceremony at the record company where we were presented with our gold records was very formal. We were lead into an antechamber to be introduced to the head of the label: he was very old and very dignified, even though he looked as if he'd keel over at any minute and didn't appear to have a clue as to who we were. They took it very seriously (to my delight) and it was a memorable moment.
Private Lives - My original title for this song was 'Hollywoodammerüng'... (ok, no one's perfect.) It was soon changed to 'Private Lives'.
Passing Strangers - The recording of this song went smooth enough, I don't remember anything in particular about the session itself. We wanted to release 'Vienna' as the second single but managed to get talked out of it somehow (never again!) so this became our second single and our first music video. We worked with director Russell Mulcahy and found the entire process fascinating. It was a great learning experience but like everything else, from artwork to posters, packaging, and merchandising, we took an immediate interest in it and quickly realised that we'd better exercise a great deal more control over the process and/or make the videos ourselves if we wanted the next one to be better.
Sleepwalk - 'Sleepwalk' was our introduction to Chrysalis Records and our very first recording with Midge. Conny Plank came over to engineer and we took about three days on it. Rather than do the usual 'three songs' demo tape, we thought "Bugger it..." and opted to use our studio time to record one song to 'finished' status. The gamble worked and we clinched our deal with the label. Later, when we took the album tapes to Conny's studio to mix everything, we decided to mix it again purely for the sake of integration with the sound we were achieving with the other tracks. There's virtually no difference between the 'original' [unreleased] version and the album version except that the lp version is perhaps less 'poppy' (the 7" mix was same as the album mix). From my own standpoint, I personally was especially proud of this song being our first single as I had written the lyrics. We never made a video for this song, it was all too early for Chrysalis.
Mr. X - If anyone is wondering who this song is about, I can at least tell them that it's certainly not about John Foxx or Bowie or any number of other candidates I've been asked about. While I believe I once explained the true origins of this song on a radio show in the U.K., I've since taken to keeping quiet about it... as time went by it's become much more fun to never tell anyone who it is about. When asked, I've always answered truthfully but it's not the sort of thing that can be deciphered, which is exactly the point of the song.
I'm occasionally addressed with questions about the lineage of the last songs written in the John Foxx era, 'He's A Liquid' and 'Touch & Go', and if there's any relationship between them and 'Mr. X'. No, none at all. Personally, I see no similarities but that's just me. Of course, there's the denominator of having arranged and played both songs... We played 'T.& G.' as well as 'H.A.L.' on that first 1979 tour of America but, obviously, never recorded them - we'd split at the end of the tour. Any credit whatsoever for our involvement in those two songs was conspicuously absent on 'Metamatic'.
Did we consider recording either of them at this time? Most emphatically, NO. That was the absolute l-a-s-t thing we would've ever done! Waaaay beyond last, in fact. We were so glad to be out of that situation we were not in the least inclined to dispute the lack of any attributed writing credits (surprise, surprise) and just got on with our lives in a far happier relationship.
Western Promise - We decided to record the drum tracks for 'Western Promise' in the reception area of the building as the surroundings were all glass and polished marble, excellent for a 'hard' drum sound. So as not to completely disrupt the staff, we had to move the microphones and drums in at night to do the recording. The only drawback to this was the front doors of the studio were by no means soundproof and the quiet residential area of St. Johns Wood was not going to take too kindly to me bashing away. The first time we attempted it, the neighbours called the police and, upon their arrival, they requested we cease and desist.
It was sounding so good we decided to not let this get in our way so we attempted it again the next evening. This time, we set everything up and were as ready as could be before I actually started playing. I knew I had to get a good 'take' before the police came banging on the door so there was no time to lose... Sometime before the neighbours got fed up and reported us and the response time it took for the police to arrive, I got a good take and we had what we wanted.
Recording a song like this with it's sequenced pattern running throughout was akin to creating a rod for our own backs and created problems for us later on. The pattern wasn't as all pervasive as a bass line which was neigh impossible to not hear live, it was easily overpowered by other instrumentation and if I lost track of it - even for a moment - it was damn difficult to figure out where I'd gone wrong and get back into sync in the proper place. It led to us having to come up with extensive self-monitoring solutions for us all in the live environment.
Vienna - The song came together very quickly. I had a drum machine/synth pad (CR-78 & 'Synare' pads) pattern in mind that I'd wanted to do something with and played that... to paraphrase myself, I said something like, "What about this, then?" and began the 'Vienna' rhythm. We started playing something to it and then had the thought of using a chorus idea that we had laying around which we'd previously worked on but had no verse for. It all clicked in a few hours and we ironed out the rough spots the next day. Except for finessing the middle 'solo' section of the song once we were in the studio, that was basically it. A hit a day keeps the dole away.
We knew it was the musical high point of the album and made it the title track. It was the song that best represented what we were trying to do. We were determined that it would be our third single and fought with Chrysalis over it; naturally, they thought it was far too long at six minutes, too weird for a Top 30 chart hit, and too depressing and too slow. Other than that, they liked it... Bill was the only one who agreed with them. While he thought it was a brilliant lp track, he just couldn't see it as a single. Naturally, this provided a source of great amusement within the band for years to come.
We weren't big fans of including lyric sheets in our records, we thought it was more interesting to listen for yourself rather than have it laid out for you, but many of the labels for the non-English speaking territories liked to include them and we had no objection. When we read the Japanese lyric sheet for 'Vienna' we were in hysterics. Someone, somewhere, had obviously been delegated to sit down and transcribe the lyrics. We may safely assume that their first language was not English as one of the lines in the song, 'Vienna', made mention of going out for a takeaway meal...
All Stood Still - This is an excellent example of a song that we wouldn't have written but for the Mini-Moog. Well, perhaps it would've been written but it wouldn't have sounded anything like what we recorded. Playing that bass line on guitar would've been a headache.
Songs like 'A.S.S.' brings up an interesting aspect of playing live. As the 'time-keeper' of the band, it was always my job to set the tempo when we played and maintain it for the duration of the song. While playing along to a synth had one obvious benefit, the tempo wasn't about to wildly drift around, there were other complications. It's one thing to collectively determine the 'ideal' tempo for a song when in the solitude and objectivity of the rehearsal studio, it's quite another when you're on stage in front of a lot of excited people. Their energy rubs off. You get out there and you're already vibed up for the show, it's very easy to launch into a song whose tempo was predetermined and unsusceptible to outside influence and suddenly go, "Arghhh...this is too slow!"
The phenomenon of bands playing their material live much faster than it was recorded is apparent to anyone who's been to a concert. I'm not saying it's good or bad, just that it's something the band has to come to terms with and make decisions about as to what is acceptable excitement and what is improper for the 'feel' of the material. Push a song too far from the envelope it was written in and you lose more than you gain.
We got used to it and adapted, somewhat like a pilot learning to believe his instruments when his senses were telling him something else. After a bit of experimenting, we gradually managed to get comfortable working with the predetermined tempos we'd set when we were rational instead succumbing to the red mist of a gig. We became confident with it and came to depend on it as a further aspect of control during a performance; we spent a great deal of effort devising the running order of our songs so that the set had an arc.
There were no unreleased tracks from the 'Vienna' sessions. We went in with our material well prepared and that's what we came out with. As happy as we'd been with 'Systems', we were even happier with 'Vienna' on a multitude of levels. We'd been through a lot to get there.
During our stay with the label, the choice of which material to release as singles was almost always ours alone, after the 'Passing Strangers' episode we quickly learned to be firm about our decisions and Chrysalis (while occasionally making strong suggestions) went along with it. We always thought we knew better and - for the most part - I think we were right.
The B-side on the 7" was a live recording of a song called 'Face to Face'. It was never recorded as a studio cut, it had seemed promising but just never came together properly. At one point Billy was very keen about the prospect of playing guitar in a few numbers, we found it difficult to share in his enthusiasm but didn't really have the heart to discourage him. He acquired a pearl white Yamaha SG-100 and his live debut was on that song. After some time when the song hadn't exactly developed to our liking (through no fault of Bill's) we dropped it from our set. I rather fancied that guitar, however, and after unsuccessfully attempting to pry it from him found one just like it years later in the Midlands. For me a happy ending.
The B-side on the 12" was a live recording of 'Kings Lead Hat' which was also never recorded as a studio cut. We weren't inclined to cover other artists' songs but for a time this was just a bit of fun which we played only on encores. There were a few U.K. shows where we played an impromptu version of Gary Glitter's 'Rock & Roll' during the encore - I wish we'd recorded and released that!
Vienna video - After the baptism by fire of our first video, 'Passing Strangers', we assumed much more responsibility for this one (many more ideas were ours and we absolutely re-edited the first cut we saw of the assembled video). We were learning fast. We knew what we wanted to see and how we wanted to do it. Chrysalis weren't very thrilled with the release of the single in the first place. It was the usual old stuff, "It's too long for a single, i.e. not 3 min. 20 sec. It's too slow... too weird... etc." We dug in and pushed and pushed for it's release until we got our way.
We'd wanted to make a video for it from the very first moment, but Chrysalis balked and wouldn't give us the money. This was, remember, in the days when the Record Company would pay for the video - not the band! We thought, "To hell with them... we'll do it ourselves."
We went ahead and did it with our own money. It may come as a surprise to know that approximately half of it was shot on locations in central London, mainly at Covent Garden and also in the old Kilburn Gaumont Theatre in North London (sadly, now a Bingo hall). The embassy party scene was in some house we'd rented in town - can't remember where but I do remember that it took the crew a long time to set up the lights to prepare for filming... so long that we all got impatient with waiting and dipped into the many cases of wine we'd laid on for refreshment after the shoot. By the time the crew was ready to film, we were all well partying for real...
The other half was in Vienna. We did it on the cheap, there was just us and Nick, our trusty camera man. We took an early morning flight to Vienna, ran round like loonies in and out of taxis as we filmed, and soon discovered that, due to it being the winter off-season, many of the splendid places we'd been counting upon filming were either shut for redecorating or covered with webs of scaffolding... "What do you mean it's 'closed for repairs'?!" We finished up in the cemetary for the shots with the statue which had been used for the single's cover (a gentleman who made pianos for the rich & famous of his time, I believe), did the sunset shot, and then dashed back to London to start editing.
After a week or so prior to the record's release, we started to get phone calls from the record company regarding the video we were making... Once it was released, and with each week's growing success in the charts, the record company became more and more frantic. Finally, they were going absolutely crazy trying to get us to finish it so they could give it to 'Top Of The Pops' - they were positively begging us for it. Which, I'm sure you'll understand, was very gratifying for us after the indifference and negativity they'd initially shown.
They gladly paid for it, too. For those who are curious, it cost us in the region of six or seven thousand pounds. Sorry... it didn't cost a lot of money, but the video 'industry' wasn't quite so greedy then.
Vienna single - 'Vienna' was in the singles charts for fourteen weeks. It hung at the number two position for longer than I care to remember, being kept from the number one position primarily due to the re-release of a John Lennon song after his recent death. It was incredibly frustrating. Then, during that last week, we heard from an industry insider that John's record had finally slipped... we thought, "At last, we have a chance!" And, out of bloody nowhere, comes one- hit wonder Joe bloody Dolce...
Months later, we were in Australia touring when we were told that we'd won the 'Best British Single of the Year' award for 'Vienna'. We were very proud of that and it went some considerable way towards making up for never having gotten to Number One.
Passionate Reply - The B-side of the 7", 'Passionate Reply' was a promising song, perhaps it needed some 'living with' before we would've considered it finished. As it was, we thought it made a good B-side. It was recorded while on tour in America. We were in Florida when we were informed that we needed another track for a B-side so we booked time in a Miami studio, 'Criterion'. I recall looking at a studio wall covered with gold records by the 'Bee-Gees' who had recorded many of their disco hits there. We used a studio engineer and did it in a day (perhaps two, but I can't remember exactly and our schedule would not have tended to allow the luxury of much time off).
Herr X - During the mixing of the album, I had the idea to do another version of 'Mr. X' in German. I thought it would be fun, make a great B-side or extra 12" track, and not take too much time away from our mixing schedule... the others agreed. My German had been progressing very well but this was beyond me so I asked Conny's wife, Krista, to help me with the translation. Conny double- checked it, he thought it was faithful to the English version, so one afternoon I went into the studio and did 'Herr X' (with Conny as pronunciation coach to keep me on track).
It was the only time we did a song in another language and I like to think of it as a tribute to the support our German fans had always shown us. The mix between it and the English-speaking version is identical, it was only the vocal track that was changed. If you listen carefully to either of them (we didn't quite make it loud enough), you can hear the snaps of a reflex camera shutter at one point. It was released as the B-side of the 12" 'Vienna' single.
The 7" of this song was an edit from the album version and was not remixed. When writing and arranging songs we always catered to the length the song wanted to be, not what radio might want it to be. Once the song was recorded, if it was deemed a single then we'd consider editing it if it was too long. Usually this was never an issue with us as long as we were the ones who decided what was trimmed. When we edited we snipped to reduce running time, not to alter the shape of the song. We knew most people were aware that singles weren't neccessarily the album version.
Someone once remarked to me that they'd heard of a video for 'All Stood Still'. I doubt it because we never made a video for this song. If someone really has seen one, I can only imagine that perhaps a zealous foreign record label/telly company somewheres compiled some clips and put it to the song. We certainly didn't do it.
The B-side of the 7" was 'Alles Klar'. The title was inspired by having spent so much time in Germany and our efforts at wrestling with the language. 'Klar' and 'Alles klar' - meaning, "Yes...sure...I get it...!" - was such a frequent answer to our babble that we soon took to using it ourselves as a 'one-response-fits-all' joke. The rhythmic exhalation of breath heard at the beginning of the track runs all the way through it. Nowadays, you'd do it five or six times, sample it, and make a loop to repeat as long as necessary. I stood in front of a mic and did it the hard way for five minutes, by the end of the song I nearly hyperventilated.
'A.S.S.' was our first 12" version. It seems incredibly tame when compared with what the 12" form evolved into later on but this was early days.
The B-side of the 12" was printed as 'Keep Torque-ing'. The title is later printed as 'Keep Talking' which is the correct and original title. The B-side wasn't exactly a misprint, more like a private band joke that got a little out of control, or a complete misunderstanding of a hand-written title on a tape box label, perhaps both... it was never meant to appear on the record.
'Keep Talking' wasn't even a demo, it was a jam that we'd recorded during rehearsals on my little Pro Walkman. It was completely spontaneous and we later discovered that there were a few sounds in there that we had absolutely no idea of how to get again, in particular a strange synth noise that seemed to sound vaguely like someone speaking. After briefly trying to decipher the important elements of the music and write a piece around it, we decided it had charm as a 'captured moment' and that it'd be fun if we put the thing out just exactly as it was as - warts and all - as a glimpse into how we worked on our music. We transferred the cassette to multi-track tape and cleaned up the recording as best we could technically... that was it!
The title came about when one of us was on the telephone talking to Chrysalis in London... they wanted to know what the title was going to be and were being very persistent about it. The trouble was we hadn't really decided upon one. While we were stalling with them on the line someone, who was very busy at the time, gestured to the person on the phone and said, "...uh... just keep talking... keep talking..." Midge or Chris (can't remember which) then said suddenly, "...that's it! 'Keep Talking'! That's the title..."
We were happy with the title, it fit perfectly with the aforementioned 'talking' sound on that track A fine case of serendipity.
The advent of 12" singles coincided nicely with our attitudes concerning B-sides. We were music fans long before we were musicians and had many fond memories of favourite singles that always had some interesting and obscure little gems tucked away on the B-side... fascinating stuff which never appeared on the album and often was even cooler than the A-side - even if it wasn't as obviously 'commercial'. Now that we were making records of our own we could continue this ourselves. Rather than using them for 'throw-away' material, we thought that B-sides were a grand tradition... a situation where there were no boundaries and we could do anything we felt like... an opportunity to do an oddity that might not necessarily 'fit' on an album.
At first, every time we went into the studio to do some B-sides/extra tracks, we would start with a piece of music that we'd been working on but hadn't finished... that would be our starting point. It might be a piece we were still uncertain of, or a song which we hadn't managed to find the heart of. Sometimes you feel you have all the elements of the song right in your hands, it's all there if you could just find the one piece that's the key to the puzzle. You know that it wants to work, you just haven't found the clue yet.
When you find it, everything slides into place and the song becomes more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes you try scores of different ideas and none of them appears to catalyse the song into the entity you have in mind, you're left with some music which isn't bad but you feel you have a song that just teeters upon working - an ideal candidate for a B-side.
You can't codify the creative process, often as not we'd discover a song was turning into an 'A' side which deserved to be on an album. Which was great, we had another song... but were back at square one with no track for a B-side.
After this happened many times, we decided the best way to record extra tracks would be to go into the studio with nothing prepared at all and to just write something then and there. There was an element of risk to this but that made it all the more attractive; it was an ideal way to relax musically without the heaviness of posterity and career breathing down our necks, yet still offer a challenge. We often discovered ways of recording and approaches to writing that we later incorporated into material which went on albums so it seemed a win-win situation. We were later to take this philosophy to it's zenith with the recording of 'Rage In Eden'.
[Unfortunately Warren has not continued this interview beyond this point, but he has promised to do so one fine day when he finds some time. I'm still waiting....]
Copyright (c) 1998-11-14 Warren Cann and Jonas Wårstad.
Last update 1998-11-17. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.
Copyright (c) 1998-11-14 Warren Cann and Jonas Wårstad.
Last update 1998-11-17. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.
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