Future Music November 2002
LAST TIME WE caught up with Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans was a year ago just after they'd released a "Papua New Guinea" remix album and the re-release of Accelerator and Garry was recovering from a serious bout of mercury poisoning. Following some time off traveling and just jamming in the studio, the pair have come up with their first fresh album in six years, under their Amorphous Androgynous moniker, FSOL Presents Amorphous Androgynous: The Isness. One half of the duo, Garry Cobain, talks to FM about the new start and about remixing...
Interviewer: A lot of people have been surprised by how different the new Amorphous Androgynous: The Isness album is. Where has that come from?
Garry Cobain: Brian and I had a feeling that somewhere in Dead Cities was a great album but that somehow, in the finer details, we'd kind of let it down. We were a bit frustrated by that. Up until then, we'd hidden behind technology and being miserable, behind cavernous breakbeats, aggression and science. But we wanted to celebrate the sounds we were making, the feminine side of our music and the sounds, and that experiment hasn't stopped yet.
Interviewer: How much did the illness influence the change of direction?
Garry Cobain: When I got really ill, I got into healing and natural medicine - transcendental meditation, yoga, massage, ayurveda - and it made me feel amazing just finding a balance in myself. It made me realise that chemicals are no good for you, but I felt the same with technology. I didn't feel good writing on computers any more so I started singing, starting playing my guitar again and found that it felt so liberating to strum and hit some drums. That's how it began.
Interviewer: The whole ethnic, natural thing reminiscent of The Beatles going through their India phase, so were you inspired by other artists as well?
Garry Cobain: I was listening to a lot of late 60’s stuff and I wanted to celebrate that liberation, to celebrate how life was; more fun, more sex and more spirituality. But we wanted to create something that wasn't the kind of thing a band could have produced but also wasn't something an average electronic producer could come up with. I'd been thinking that a lot of stuff like Hendrix and Donovan, had come from people's consciousness being unlocked, mostly by the drugs. But I was using healing and yoga instead of drugs to unlock the doors. I also got massively into India, and when I heard "Tomorrow Never Knows" on the radio it was a real turning point. I'd heard it years ago, but coming back to it as an adult, I felt all the experimental stuff was so important. Then the first time I went to India I'd heard a flute raga by the guy who'd arranged the strings on "Within You Without You" and that inspired me. It's really free but it so well recorded that it sounds digital. We wanted to get that balance but also that liberated feel.
At one point, we were asked to review Stone Roses' Second Coming, and all these journos were saying how great it was, that the album starts with two minutes of bird calls... and it's that feeling of turning production values on its head. Whether it's using backward tape loops in the 60’s, albums made of white noise, way-out Blur lyrics, hippie shit, sound effects, beating cardboard boxes instead of drums... and we've taken it further, off the planet even!
Interviewer: There are a lot of strings on the album. Were these done mostly in the studio?
Garry Cobain: The strings were a convoluted process and we worked on them with Max Richter who does adverts and also the Piano Circus thing. Brian had been getting into VST and we went round to Max's where he developed all these high-end orchestra samples that we orchestrated up into full parts. Then we also got string quartets and brass bands together to do some studio sessions.
Interviewer: And do you and Brian still work as well together these days?
Garry Cobain: When I was recovering from being so ill I felt health was all about seeking balance and celebrating the things I enjoyed. You have to start enjoying your idea of life again, everything from dressing and dancing to the people you work with and the people you love. Brian is a beautiful balance to where I am, and in life, he views everything as a project. So he's the perfect foil to what I'm doing, trying to get a balance between the technology and the spiritual side. We'll always work at finding a balance between us, and now we're working on more remixes we find different potential in the sounds so you end up going down different directions. It's all a learning process, even now.
If you believe that balanced life is composed of the four elements - earth, air fire and water - I'm air and fire, with a slight temper, while Brian is water: slower, nurturing and less spontaneous. We could work independently, but we get on with each other. We have the same tastes and the same style.
Interviewer: So is this the future of Future Sound Of London?
Garry Cobain: It's funny. They used to say the stuff we did as Future Sound Of London was the future - technical programming and computer technology - but you hit a certain point with technology where a lot of the techniques stay the same from album to album, even if the content is different. Most of the way we used to work was with samplers but I started to find it boring. What we enjoyed more was all the editing, the turning it round and making these samples sound like a real band was jamming. Now what we're doing is sampling in a full guitar riff or a sitar performance or a long drum track, and twisting that around, just like you would do a five-second sample. The "High Sea Of Flesh" track sounds like a band, but every performance is sampled and then slightly skewed. We've kept the energy of the live performances but given it that other-worldly edge.
We are beginning to realise that this Amorphous Androgynous stuff is the sound of the future of FSOL. It wasn't an easy decision to make but this name represents the spiritual, psychedelic side of things. FSOL has always been about great performances but a lot was technology-led, whereas with the new album we're exploring being less loop-friendly and getting back into the balance of live music and technology.
But it's a continuous, evolving process. We know that to specialise is to become blind, so we're exploring the potential of releasing different sounds, whether it's acid house, sitar cover versions or orchestral stuff.
Interviewer: What’s your take on where dance music is now?
Garry Cobain: Music is more corporate now than it's ever been. If you let them bully you, they will. And that's why we've put this new Amorphous Androgynous: The Isness album out on our own label, You have to take a risk, you have to threaten and risk your livelihood and that's what we've done. While a lot of people are happy with the money they make and the corporate deals, I'm not in this for mortgages and property development like some people are. I'm not in it for the money, I'm just in this for the pure love of the music.
A lot of chart music around at the moment has become synonymous with electronic language, and a lot of tracks are using sequences and techniques that were cutting edge ten years ago. There are people making huge corporations out of this kind of music and that's their way... whatever makes you happy, man. If your soul buzzes making a run-of-the-mill, 4/4 dance track, that's up to you. But you have to decide whether or not you want to go on the musical odyssey and take the risk.
Interviewer: You still do plenty of remixing work, so what advice do you have for any readers embarking on your remix competition this month?
Garry Cobain: It's all about capturing the spirit of a track, it's not the techniques. Whether it's adding a guitar line, re-recording a vocal maybe with a female instead of a male (or vice versa), adding an eight-piece choir replaying it on the banjo... the central thing to consider is if it resonates with your spirit. You can use whatever techniques you want, whatever you need to do. When I'm remixing, I take inspiration from the music I listen to, whether it's Sinatra, the Chemical Brothers, Axelrod, Indian flute ragas, Italian 70’s porn music or whatever Where I hear that spirit, I react. I can't ever tell you where I'm going to find that spirit.
Interviewer: And anything in particular you want to see done with the sounds?
Garry Cobain: We're gonna give you a lot of sounds for this remix competition, to give you plenty to choose from, although no one will probably want to use them all, that'd be too much. But whatever you do, the whole remix thing is about you having fun and making something exciting and special with those sounds. Don’t become too mental about exact techniques and don't try to recreate what's there already. Do something mad, find the spirit of the music, add your own ideas and have fun with the sounds.
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