Text and photos by: Fredrik "Schlatta" Svensson
It was high time for Release to once again sit down with Alan Wilder. We talked about the recent Depeche Mode collaborations live and in the studio, Wilder's auction, the new Talk Talk cover album, the Recoil tour, the Roundhouse gig together with Nitzer Ebb, music making, some advice for new artists and of course we asked about the future of Recoil and Depeche Mode.
Chained to the remix
Recoil has never been presented live earlier, but in 2010 a series of live events were announced, the series of events turned into a world tour. Currently Alan is busy fine-tuning the live set for the final performances of the event entitled “A Strange Hour”. Joining Alan live on stage is long time collaborator Paul Kendall. In-between the tour dates Alan also found time to remix a Depeche Mode song for their compilation “Remixes 2: 81-11”. Before the live performance at the Short Circuit Festival in London in May I got the chance to meet Alan for a nice chat.
How were you approached regarding making the remix of “In Chains”?
- It was the Depeche Mode manager Jonathan Kessler who suggested it. It had been suggested a long time before that, by the guys at Mute organising the whole remix album. They asked me if I would be interested and I said quite possibly. They never came back to me. I thought: oh well that’s not going to happen. I wasn’t bothered by that at all and then I was speaking to Jonathan about something else, I think it was about Martin DJ:ing at one of the Recoil nights and the idea was put to me again. By then they needed it within something like two weeks, and this was just before we were going back on the road again. I wish they would have given me more time, we’d booked a holiday in the south of France and I ended up spending the whole holiday encamped in a room doing the remix instead of being out in the beautiful sunshine drinking wine, which we planned to do. I got Daniel Myer involved as well. He did a few loops and knocked off a couple of variations. Jonathan told me the band would prefer that I did something new, from the era after which I left the band, and I thought it was a good challenge to do that.
Are you happy with the result?
- Yes, I am quite happy. I hope they like it, they said they do. Martin seemed to be really keen on it, which was nice of him. I think the others like it too; don’t know about Fletch - he didn’t say anything. I think it is a more dynamic version of what they had.
You performed with Depeche Mode at the Royal Albert Hall and also did the remix. Do you have any more Depeche Mode collaboration in the pipeline?
- No. The Royal Albert Hall was a one-off thing. The band asked if I would join them and the Teenage Cancer Trust seemed to be a good reason to do it, so I did...
The Collected auction
Why did you decide to do this auction?
- In line with me downsizing and streamlining my studio, The Thin Line, I decided to part with some of my things like musical instruments and studio equipment I’ve collected over the years. Many people are writing in asking for things so I decided to include not only the things from the studio, but also memorabilia like leather jackets, rare records, promo stuff and some awards discs.
An evolving Hour
- It wasn’t a planned idea to do a live show at all. It was an idea, which came out of the promotional discussions we had around the release of the compilation album “Selected”. I couldn’t just keep on going to release parties and shaking people´s hands, I had to do something more. It became clear that we actually could present this thing with visuals, for not too much money. You couldn’t have done it in the past, but now everyone can produce a show with small HD cameras and so on. When we realised that we could do it, we started to put the show together and we got a set which worked, but even now, it is still a bit embryonic.
This will be the fourth time I see the presentation and I am amazed how much it has evolved each time.
- Yes, it has evolved and still does. We have changed the films, tweaked the music so it works better in front of an audience and all that. But it is still prepared music and that is not what everyone wants for a live show, I guess. It is the only way I can think about presenting Recoil on stage. It is very difficult music to reproduce with a band of musicians and these days to take a whole bunch of people on the road is not cost effective, we’d lose money and I can’t afford to lose money going on the road. We don’t make a fortune, but we can do it comfortably this way, just two or three people and laptops and all that.
What are the mayor hurdles you’ve encountered?
- No mayor hurdles, we have had some travel predicaments like volcanic ash and intense snowfalls. We arrived late to the event in Poland and had to set up in front of the crowd. The most tricky aspects is getting the projections right, especially when you are using local equipment. This can be a bit of a headache you know, have they got the right size screen, the right resolution, cables not working… technical stuff really. Most can be sorted though.
What is the next step for Recoil live?
- My problem is what to do next. I don’t think I can keep on doing the same thing. If I don’t use film, it is difficult to imagine how to do something as visually interesting using general lighting. You still have to take something with you on road, which you can control, to make it into a show that works. So I think that film and projections will still be the way to go, maybe we can configure it differently. That’s my problem; I haven’t really worked out how to progress this to the next stage.
Talking about Talk Talk
- Well, only the Talk Talk project which I am working on. It is a sort of collaboration, but it is mainly my cover version with some guest musicians. The vocalist is called Shara Worden, who I never met, we’ve only spoken by email and she sent me the vocals digitally. The organisers of the album suggested her and I really liked her voice. It has been quite easy gathering all the people since we have a common interest in Talk Talk and all have a respect for the original songs and the artist, so we got original musicians who played on the original Talk Talk albums like David Rhodes and Martin Ditcham. Davide Rossi from Goldfrapp is playing strings. We have nearly finished the song and I am also trying to help with supervising the project, on a consultancy basis. There are of course a number of other artists contributing but everything is not confirmed so I chose not to reveal anything…
Any new Recoil material?
- Not at the moment.
- When I started making music and records the music industry was at its height and the sales figures were massive. People were making huge amounts of money out of records sales and that has really come to an end. It has changed a lot. During the eighties you would have to sell something like 400-500 000 copies of a single to get in the top ten. Now you could sell a thousand and be in the charts. You don’t get record companies throwing huge budgets at you and sending you off to some country to record in a studio costing a thousand pounds a day for a year. People have to think more outside the box about how to promote themselves and make their musical career work. Some of that is healthy but it also adds more pressure. I am lucky, I’ve had a good background and made a good living out of music and I’ll be fine. But even I am subject to these problems now. That’s the most dramatic change, and then you have all the technological change. The way music is produced has changed, but the gut feeling about making music and being creative hasn’t changed really. When listening to music and it gives you the same thrills as before. That hasn’t changed.
What about all new tools?
- Well the tools make a difference, but they are not the main things. They are still tools and you have to be creative, and that’s is true even from an acoustic blues guitar to the most technological wizardry.
How do you find inspiration for your work?
- That’s a good question. I don’t know, ideas just come every now and then; you think “oh I could try that”. I know that’s a really vague answer…
Could it be a chord progression or a theme?
- Usually for me it is some kind of an idea, maybe you think about a voice or someone you’d like to work with or someone suggests something to you. Would you like to do a Talk Talk cover you start to think about it and you imagine how you might do it. The track I chose, I could suddenly hear in my head. It could be slower, it could be this and that and then I get enthusiastic and all kinds of ideas come to me. So a little spark of an idea from somewhere and that gets you going. In the studio it is often a sound loop or a combination of two things, which create an atmosphere. And then I’m away…
So it could start with anything then?
- Yes, sometimes I’d like to take other people’s ideas and let them be the spark. I enjoy organising. So if anyone does something great musically but it is unfocussed and they give me all of the components and parts of that I think a am very good at putting all those parts into something that works and that is what production and orchestration is about. So I like when musicians and singers give me raw material that has all the personality and interesting content, but need a focus and direction, that’s what I can do for people.
How do you make it into a song?
- I usually work like a film director who shoots more than you really need. From that I make a very long form version so I can get the general feeling of dynamics and picture of how it might be and what bits are going to work where and in what order. Then I start reducing and distilling it until I got something that builds and has dynamics but also is not too long and has a purpose and make sense. It is like a big jigsaw puzzle.
What tools do you use to put everything together and distil it?
- My setup is actually very simple; I use Logic as my basic song arranger and sequencer. I sometimes use Ableton Live for stretching, but now you can to that in Logic. I like the effects in Live, we use that on stage as well. Beyond that it is mainly sound loops and plug-in synthesizers and some effects. My setup is reduced and reduced again. I’ve got a few bits of analogue outboard equipment but apart from that it is almost all in the computer. I never used to be able to work on the road before and now everyone can do it anywhere, it is very liberating.
There is a knock on the door and I manage to sneak in a couple of final questions.
Do you have any good advice to young aspiring musicians?
- Don’t go into the music industry, not really. Think outside the box, that’s what I’d say. Try to find a way to go about things that works for you, otherwise it is a difficult situation. Trying to get record deals and all that: not easy. Set yourself your own goals and be your own cottage industry. See if you can do it that way first at least.
Recoil vs. Nitzer Ebb
- It was good; the sound was good or will be with all the people in the venue. Because we have all the extra drums with Nitzer Ebb joining us tonight it is a little bit difficult to manage, it is not really designed to have a lot of extra drums, it might me a mess...
Oh, I think it will sound awesome, cool with Nitzer Ebb!
- Well, it is not that special I think…
To me as a fan it is.
- Good point, I have worked closely with Nitzer Ebb several times so for me it is a fun thing to do, they are good friends. I have produced them and we have exchanged remixes over the years. I guess for fans it will be more of a special night. Douglas has joined us for some Recoil events previously, but this time the whole band, and Daniel Myer, will join us for three songs. The whole crew stayed with me at my house yesterday and we even had some time to rehearse. Still it might be a mess…
It wasn’t a mess; it was a very special performance. I can’t wait to see what lies in store next.