OCTOBER 29, 2013 BY MATTHIEU VAN STEENKISTE (original link (in Dutch))
Anyone who was expecting more loud dance music based on complex beats, will be surprised. Anyone who was hoping on more vicious outbursts, will be as well. On Wild Light, the band’s fifth album, 65DaysOfStatic is more thoughtful and restrained than ever. “We no longer want to make music the way we used to: it’s too exhausting for the listener.”
With Wild Light, 65DaysOfStatic has become a new band. That’s not our statement, but pianist/beatsman Paul Wolinski and guitarist Joe Shrewsbury speaking in the Handelsbeurs kitchen, while they’re trying to formulate what brought them to this change in direction. It’s not easy. Their third album was called The Destruction of Small Ideas, which was meant to mean that every thought has already been distorted while you’re still trying to communicate it. Today, that idea seems to have been fully formed.
Wolinski: “Maybe. (smiles) For me, the title never really meant that, but the meaning Joe sold to you back then could be translated to the ideas we’ve dragged from Wild Light. As usual, that’s just talk after the deed is done: during recording we don’t discuss anything like that, we just trust our instincts. And afterwards, when we’ve finished our work, we try to discover what’s behind everything we just made.”
enola: It seems to me that creating this album was a difficult task yet again. Why is that?
Wolinski: “It feels like it just has to be. There’s more than enough music in the world, so if you want to make something, you have to trust that you can deliver something that matters. None of us is a genius, so we have to build up that confidence little by little through hard work, more than anything else.”
enola: From other interviews you’ve done for the release of Wild Light, it becomes clear that We Were Exploding Anyway was the end of 65DaysOfStatic phase one. So this is a new start?
Shrewsbury: “Absolutely. The entire writing process was long and hard, as it has always been, but in the studio something changed, especially during the final days of recording. We had put the basis of the album on tape, and were looking for how we could get the songs to their through essence. And we finally discovered a new way of working. We played together in a way we never had before. As if we finally transcended our individualism, and could only think of the song collectively. On Exploding, each one of us has a very determined role, but that became more fluent this time: whatever the song was asking for, we did whatever was necessary to get it done.”
“Another thing we hadn’t done before: go into the studio without fully knowing what you would be playing on which instrument. We just about knew what songs like “Undertow” or “Sleepwalk City” would sound like, what they were going to do, but we hadn’t chosen the sounds. It takes a lot of discipline to then just say: I’m not the pianist or the guitarist here, I just need to bring this melody or this piece, in whatever way, as long as it works. Some, but not all, of the songs were conceived like that.”
“At the end of “Undertow” there is a piece where you can hear that. A couple of days before, me and Paul had some issues, as he kept scrapping incredible guitar lines. Fuck off! But we found our way through, and it was apparent that it had been necessary to tear those pages out of the book to finally reach the point at which the song worked. Realizing that as a musician is an important lesson.”
Shrewsbury: “Dat learning process has made 65DaysOfStatic exciting again. It’s not that we were bored on We Were Exploding Anyway or Silent Running, but for those albums we were focused on getting everything on tape, getting arrangements in their right places, and then going on tour. It was our old, familiar method of creativity. Wild Light was purely focused on itself, on that creation process. You don’t want to know how many times we rewrote the songs, deconstructed them, wrote them again, deconstructed them yet again, … And then we had to do that one final time, to be able to write them live, as we hadn’t considered that in the studio. I can no longer see Wild Light as one record: I don’t know which instrument goes where. It’s just this thing that I know through and through. A bit like that blubber in Ghostbusters. Yeah, it’s one massive thing, indivisible.”
enola: I knew it would be a different kind of album when I read the title. No agenda this time.
Wolinski: “There is, though. But we only discovered that there was an idea present after the album had been recorded. Those long, almost instructive titles from before always implied a lot of meaning, and Wild Light is a much more vague statement. But it fits the music, because the entire record is the result of us being unable to translate what we mean into words. The entire thing is made because we don’t know how to say anything except through notes. What do you call something you can’t explain?”
Shrewsbury: “At the same time, you needed a name that expressed its importance for us. It could mean nothing, but it had to do that well, because this was the most important thing in the lives of four people. And yeah, you risk pretension that way. We Were Exploding Anyway was walking that line as well – of course it did – and I’m not even that scared of being pretentious, but this felt more intangible than that.”
“The basic idea was our fascination with how you can hear music, and how you complete that. How our best ideas were glimpses that we recorded by playing around one mic in our rehearsal room, and how we then took six months to discover what we were doing exactly. In the end, we all separately wrote that title onto a piece of paper when the deadline was breathing down our necks.”
enola: Did you feel that 65DaysOfStatic needed to change after We Were Exploding Anyway?
Wolinski: “Not at first; the year after that release we wrote a lot of similar material: Exploding 2, and we weren’t really excited by that. It was frustrating, even. And while we were doing that, it felt like we were just forced to work through that. As if we needed to get that out of our systems.”
Shrewsbury: “I’m really proud of We Were Exploding Anyway, with it pushing aside all of the baggage that we were carrying and the way we were being defined. All of that post-rock nonsense went right out the window, and it was a-ma-zing to play it live. The shows we did at the end of that tour, like Dunk! Festival 2012, couldn’t have been what they were if we didn’t have that Exploding ammunition. But there’s nothing more to gain from that direction. I can hear its influence on Wild Light in the way we’ve learned how to work with rhythm and arrangements. All this chopping and changing tempo fit the old 65DaysOfStatic perfectly, but it became a little too much. We no longer listen to music like that; it contains too many ideas, too many to remember. That’s not a good thing for the listener. We couldn’t go back to that. The soundtrack to Silent Running we wrote in the meantime, was a beneficial experience, because there was no pressure: not to go on tour, nor from a record label.”
Wolinski: “There was a moment as well, when we had written most of We Were Exploding Anyway, when we had a conversation with this guy from a big record label. He was convinced he could make us as big as The Prodigy. He had heard demos for “Weak 4” and “Crash Tactics”: pretty direct dance songs, and he told us that if we wanted to make those into great pop songs, we needed to keep it simple and add a singer. He really believed we could be that kind of band, and that we would get noticed. It didn’t last long. That’s not what we wanted.”
Shrewsbury: “Yes, we want to be a big and famous band, and that was the first time when that path seemed to be opened for a little while. And we went on to continue working on Exploding. You know what that album sounds like: not all that commercial, and that wasn’t a conscious decision. But listen to “Come To Me”: we get Robert Smith on vocals, and what do we do? We cut up his lines, morph them, and make them into an eight minute song.
That’s just unsellable. But we didn’t even realize that we could’ve used that in a more calculated way, until way after the album had been released.”
enola: You’re saying Crystal Castles got more out of Robert Smith with their “I’m Not In Love”?
Shrewsbury and Wolinski: (laugh)
Shrewsbury: “Just imagine if we had taken that direction. Where we would be now. We’d probably be having some serious problems now, if we were a kind of Pendulum who had to follow up one hit with something similar. But anyway, to answer your first question: it’s not about reinventing ourselves, as you can’t deny what happened before, but making progress.”
enola: It seems that writing Silent Running has been very important to the way Wild Light has turned out. As if the latter is a soundtrack to a non-existing film.
Wolinski: “Um.” (Takes a breath. Wants to answer. Doesn’t.)
enola: It even has opening and end credits!
Wolinski: “That’s true, but we’ve always done things like that. Even our debut The Fall Of Math had a kind of intro. We’ve always worked with a kind of narrative. The most important thing we’ve learned from writing Silent Running is how different it is to write a soundtrack. Our music is mostly instrumental, but it’s made to exist among real songs. A real soundtrack – and I found it important to approach Silent Running like that instead of just music set to the film – doesn’t draw the attention, but creates an atmosphere. You don’t hear that on the album, where we’ve limited ourselves to two sides of a record, but to me the soundtrack is the entire ninety minute duration of the movie, including all of the barely audible ambient pieces. In that way, Wild Light is the opposite: we want you to notice the songs. It’s good that they’re cinematic, but they’re the only reason for their existence: there are no visuals to justify that, they have to stand on their own.”
“Having said that, you’re definitely right. Silent Running was absolutely the start of the breakthrough that led to Wild Light. It’s there that we learned that everyone doesn’t need to be constantly busy. During the tour for that soundtrack we were in the dark while everyone watched the screen, and we felt more comfortable to let go of that idea. It was a good lesson, and when we returned to the studio we brought that lesson with us, especially since, for the first time, the songs had more or less been completely written, which gave us more room to experiment. We took more risks because we were less tender-hearted about the songs, so a whole guitar line could be changed into a single note melody for example, because it sounded better.”
Shrewsbury: “It was the start of stripping things down to their essence. Where there used to be forty or fifty things happening at once, we discovered that just four or five could work just as well. Something like “Prisms” is made up of no more than five major elements, and that’s what’s changed in our music.”
enola: Ironic then that you’ve started needing a fifth person on stage during this phase.
Shrewsbury: (laughs) “Yeah. On stage our guitar technician plays along on a couple of songs, because we’ve realized that we need more pure sources. Before, Paul would’ve programmed his piano lines and then played the guitar himself, now he plays the piano. It’s more human. There are still elements which have to come from the computer, but those are now more in the background.”
Wolinski: “Just like with that eternal discussion about if we’re post-rock or not, it’s something I don’t worry about too much anymore. We’ve worked long and hard on our live shows, and yes, some of our older songs will still contain more computer elements than I’d prefer, but we still have to play those songs, just like with the new songs where we need a fifth person, or the Exploding-tracks with their live electronics. There’s so much we need to balance to be able to perform all of it. But we’re happy with the authenticity we’ve achieved, even with “Retreat! Retreat!” which features so many loops.”
enola: Why did you use that “No one knows what is happening. There is a lot of danger out there. OK?” at the start of the record?
Wolinski: “It used to be part of the intro tape for our show: very theatrical, and we just kept using it. We got attached to it. And we’ve always done these kinds of intros to our records. This one is less cheesy than some from the other records. I Think Wild Light is less momentous about itself. I’m looking for a word…”
enola: You mentioned earlier that you think the album is more cerebral, and I think I have to agree with that.
Wolinski: “Exactly, but hopefully not in an elitist way. That sample is mostly meant to get people into the right mood; to get them ready for this record. To give them a hint of what the album is about.”
Shrewsbury: “It’s a bit sloganesk, isn’t it. Something Thom Yorke does as well, lines like that. You write something, and you add meaning to it. In many ways, even the most stupid. In the conversations we had with people in the music business, when we were looking for a new label, we noticed that people often didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. So it felt right, and you can use that sentence for so many occasions, even politics. When the album was finished, it was no longer just a throwaway line, it had to be on there. The record couldn’t start any other way than with that message.”
Wolinski: “There’s something about the tone in which that woman speaks the line: there’s compassion, but a certain playfulness at the same time. And it’s kind of funny, even though it’s certainly no laughing matter. There’s a wink in there.”
Wolinski: “We got it from YouTube, so it perfectly fits our zeitgeist. It’s an amateur translation of a Russian documentary. To be able to use it on the record, we had to find that woman to get her permission. It fit quite well with the atmosphere surrounding the NSA-eavesdropping scandal, how we had to trace her through the internet. You can google people, and yes, we found her.”
enola: And did she give permission?
Wolinski: “Sort of. She said yes, but she didn’t want to sign anything. She was just as suspicious as we were. Let’s say it’s an agreement between strangers.” (grins)
65DaysOfStatic is playing Het Depot in Leuven on November 1.