"I rarely work with synthesisers, I hate programming the fuckers" - Interviews - Soundblab

"I rarely work with synthesisers, I hate programming the fuckers"

by Rob Taylor Rating: Release Date:

Tim Friese-Greene recently spoke with Soundblab about the penultimate release of his solo project ‘Heligoland’, the EP One Girl Among Many.

Tim was a former producer/keyboardist and collaborator with the band Talk Talk, from 1984 to 1991, a period of time which saw the release of four influential and highly regarded albums, including The Colour of Spring, where the band abandoned their new wave sound in favour of a music which melded rock with jazz and classical forms. Tim has also produced albums by the likes of Lush and Catherine Wheel, and he co-produced Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless.

His project, Heligoland (not to be confused with the Australian band Heligoland) has seen the release of Heligoland, Pitcher, Flask and Foxy Movie, 10 Sketches for Piano Trio, and now One Girl Among Many.

Tim’s music can be generously sampled, and purchased, on his official website (This includes a sampler suite of the four tracks constituting One Girl Among Many): http://www.heligoland.co.uk/listen/

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Thanks for speaking with Soundblab Tim

No worries.

Without familiarising myself with your solo back catalogue, I would have felt mislead about your evolution as an artist. The linear view is that you've played mischief with different genres of interest to you, but I'm thinking you've always been prepared to mix sounds, and to hell with how people choose to categorise it.

'One Girl' is the only time I have consciously sat down and determined to write a particular kind of song. Generally I don't think in terms of genre at all unless journalists demand I do, and the songs themselves tend to dictate the terms of their own evolution during the recording process. 

However, there is something of a key decision to be made over what instrument you are going to pick up to write the song in the first instance. This determines its fate more than any other factor, although that fate may not be apparent until later. Even more crucial is what sound that instrument will have, because as I have said elsewhere, all sounds are potentially genre-defining, so if such things as genre bother you, you need to make sure you get that bit right.

Not having a signature sound has enabled you to collaborate with a more diverse body of artists. Have your experiences as a producer shaped your directions in your solo career?

I may not have a signature sound, but I probably do have a signature approach. Records that have resonated with me most down the years have been the ones that felt like they captured a moment, and thus I tend to tune sounds into each other so that they hang together, as if the whole thing was recorded live on one microphone plonked in the middle of the room; thus the listener is beguiled into believing they are sitting in on a rehearsal, or some personal concert devised especially for them. I get no small amount of pleasure from doing this and getting it right, and an immense amount of frustration from getting it wrong.

These days it helps that I record everything myself in my own studio, so to some extent this approach is in-built from the beginning. However, as I am now forced to out-source mixing, I have to try achieve it in the final reckoning through a third-party, which is like having a really important conversation through an interpreter, whose familiarity with some of the colloquialisms of your language is uncertain.

In regard to your question: bands I have produced, and indeed everything I've ever heard and liked, have, of course, been influences. Now I am able to get some perspective, from a distance I see such things largely as a rehearsal for the main event. So I'd like to thank everyone for whom I produced a record; you performed a valuable service and I'm very grateful to you.  

Even though your earlier solo works Heligoland and Pitcher, Flask and Foxy Moxie had an indie sound, there were aspects of the music which sounded more modern classical. On the piece containing the 'Mosquito' lyric (on Heligoland), there was an tangible unease in the music, reminding me of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

I was significantly influenced by 20th century classical music. I was, and remain, formally untrained as a musician, and consequently I used to buy the scores to pieces by Schoenberg and Sibelius, and laboriously work out aggregations of notes to see why they sounded the way they did.

I've pretty much totally lost the taste for any kind of classical now, which is both mystifying and regrettable in equal parts.

One Girl Among Many is a stylistic shift from your previous work, now exploring sub-genres of dance. Having said that, you've retained a sense of misadventure coming from experimentation with free or chance sounds. Are mobile technologies making this easier?

One Girl is a one-off. I chanced upon the Korg iPolysix app for iPad, the playing of which is largely determined by how you move your fingers on the screen. Because of its intuitive interface and because the pads are ridiculously small, the opportunities for human interaction, and particularly human error, are quite extensive, and that was its attraction for me. Otherwise, I rarely work with synthesisers, either as soft or hardware, because they don't offer sufficiently fine graduations of nuance, and also because I have a short attention span, and hate programming the fuckers.

The title track is very accessible, and as it progresses it settles into a quite addictive groove, particularly the last minute. It's a really fun track, although the lyrics and sound bites suggest a theme of cultural or racial segregation.

Well quite, but I tend to try and leave people to make their own way through a lyric.

The Hammond gets a bit of a workout on 'Song With No Refrain', a song which has prog-rock elements, but takes a little turn into salsa. Is varying the rhythms something you deliberately set out to do?

The genesis of that track was very particular, and involved taking a very basic drum-machine, distorting the nuts off it, then playing 10 seconds of every usable preset it had and cutting between them as the writing of the song progressed. Generally I only change rhythm because the song demands it, more occasionally to force the song to go somewhere it may be reluctant to go, like ripping a comfort blanket away from a small defenceless child.

Now the Heligoland project is coming to a close, what can we expect from you in the future? Will your problems with tinnitus change your musical focus?

Inevitably it will. My overdriven days are behind me now, as it's no fun working with distortion quietly. I'm only expecting to make one more album at most, and it won't be vocal, and it won't be loud.

There is a 7in single coming out in the summer, and that will clear the vaults of everything to do with Heligoland.

Thanks, Tim, I’ve really enjoyed listening to your solo works. It’s been a revelation, and hopefully it gains wider exposure.

Cheers, Rob.

One Girl Among Many is available through Tim’s website as an MP3:

http://www.heligoland.co.uk/product/one-girl-among-many/, and will be available on vinyl on March 2 via the website.

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