Remix Magazine 1st September 2002: Time Bandits
Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans — aka Amorphous Androgynous and Future Sound of London — started making magic with sequencers and samplers long before Aphex Twin, The Orb and Orbital were just beginning to dabble in revolutionary sonic experiments. An ultraworld of quicksilver samples, sequenced atmospheres and lushly rolling beats, the duo's early masterpiece Lifeforms (Astralwerks, 1994) suggested, for the first time, an alternate sound world created with computer technology. But just as the world seemed ready for Future Sound of London and accepted their apocalyptic Dead Cities (Astralwerks, 1996) album with open arms, the devious duo disappeared, retreating to reclaim their souls as the media pervaded their psyches.
Those were somewhat better times for the pair, before Cobain discovered a certain death that lurked inside his body. “I had developed an arrhythmic heart, massive food and environmental allergies, eczema and stiff joints,” says Cobain from FSOL's Kensal Road recording studio in London. “I realized that my immune system was shot to ribbons by my mercury fillings. Silver is the same thing as mercury. They use the word silver not to tell you that you have the second most toxic substance known to man in your gob. You are talking mass conspiracy shit here.”
After having the fillings removed (Dougans followed suit), Cobain took up fasting, meditation and enema cleansing; slowly, year after year, his health returned. But even before Cobain's illness sidelined FSOL, Cobain and Dougans were already tiring of the scene, its influx of ambient compilations and growing corporate interference. After releasing their live-transmission recording ISDN (Astralwerks, 1994), the two made their feelings about the music industry clear with Dead Cities, an apocalyptic view of Western culture racing toward consumer-aided decay. With that album, Dougans began indulging a fascination for all people psychedelic. Tops on his list were Donovan, sitar player Ananda Shankar and David Axelrod. Cobain joined in, and the duo began analyzing everything from Perrey and Kinsgley, Dorothy Ashby and Helmut Zacharias to The Beatles, Hawkwind and Lordstar. That psychedelic fixation led to an underground DJ mix titled A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (in Your Head). FSOL constructed a two-hour montage that spiraled through The Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Morton Subotnick and David Axelrod with Ananda Shankar, the Chemical Brothers, Glen Campbell and Deepak Chopra. Still unreleased, Psychedelic Bubble paved the way for The Isness (Hypnotic, 2002).
Cobain's joy in discovering ancient psychedelia and classic technology (lamps, clothes, furniture, guitars) also made him reflect on FSOL's previous direction. “When you are ill, something hits you very squarely between the eyes: It is very easy to view life as something that is dark and cruel and to make music that is based on fear and portraying the world like that with all these 7 kilohertz sounds,” he explains. “It was getting boring. When I was becoming ill, I had to concentrate on something that was more positive. FSOL had become a corporate trademark for whatever it meant to you. So we clawed it back to being us again: two blokes making music — enjoyable and not so corporate.”
The Isness sounds like a lost psy-classic from the early '70s, all hypnotic funk 'n' frug beats, sprawling sitars, backward guitars, deranged voices and Mellotrons moving amid Indian moods and flowing rock mayhem. FSOL composed the songs on guitar and then recorded in their studio with strings, brass, percussion and vocals. The Isness morphs from the “I Am the Walrus” pulse of “The Mello [Hippo] Disco Show” to the pastoral Donovan delirium of “Goodbye Sky.” “Guru Song” recalls The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows” while “The Galaxial Pharmaceutical” is an epic expedition worthy of Pink Floyd.
“The Isness is life without the needless fabrication — the yearning for the future, the fantasy of what life could be, holding on to the past with fear,” says Cobain.
“The Isness is what you have when you strip away all the fabrication of the mind. The mind only knows the past because the mind catalogs like a library. The mind doesn't know the present because that is eternally contradictory. You're analyzing me through layers of accumulated information. The Isness is about being able to see that life can be really beautiful without having to become unconscious.”
Interviewer: Why have you made a psychedelic record now?
Garry Cobain: I had my own spiritual awakening shortly after Dead Cites. When you find out why you are ill, you start stripping away layers of your personality, layers of the way you eat, layers of what you do, and you start finding a new you. I was already unhappy with what technologically based music and FSOL were becoming. I felt that my intuitive, female side — the humor, the fun, the feminine, the intuition — all that had been a massive part of FSOL, but it was not coming through. As I started to dig into my own layers, I started to uncover a kind of childishness and intuition. The word psychedelic means, although it is steeped in tradition and is associated with psychedelic drugs, the natural outlook of a child. To a child, the world is naturally psychedelic. It is only by conditioning and closing down your perceptual abilities that you end up not seeing the world as psychedelic.
In that whole process, we began to realize that psychedelia wasn't just a term from '67 to '70. Psychedelia is a seed that is in everybody; it incorporates color, spirituality, joy, optimism, expression, freedom, all the things that had a lot to do with FSOL but had become lost. It was time that we dug in a bit. We saw that there was a seed with Mercury Rev or the Chemical Brothers' “Private Psychedelic Reel.” When I heard that, I heard a track that was made exactly like we made Dead Cities; the only difference was the nature of the sounds.
Interviewer: Is The Isness a move forward or backward?
Garry Cobain: It is a conscious step backwards to go forwards. For both of us, it has been a rebalancing between technology and heart and soul and mind and all these other factors that are so predominant in Western life. There is a huge paradigm-consciousness shift going on that is a parallel to '69, '70. All the clothes designers are getting into fabric and color. Stuff that we have been collecting for five years is exploding. Everyone is realizing that ostentation is joyful and expressive.
Interviewer: How has your composing and recording process changed?
Garry Cobain: What sets this aside from the next FSOL record [Cobain and Dougans maintain that The Isness is Amorphous Androgynous produced by FSOL.] is that The Isness has been written around guitars and voice and then bastardized using technology. The next FSOL record will start resolutely by fiddling with samples. It is a very small difference, but major in terms of the sounds. This is more conventional because the songs started on guitar; then, we hit them with technology. FSOL never started that way, and it won't. FSOL produced this, and AA is the band because we wanted to get away from our own corporate nature. AA is shapeless, sexless; for us, it has a great psychedelia. It represents the zeitgeist a lot better.
Interviewer: You have two rooms, one with older gear — a mixing board and tons of outboard equipment — and one including an Apple Mac. How do you balance recording with old and new technology?
Garry Cobain: When we moved in here, we were probably the most traditional we had been in a while. We both fell for the rock 'n' roll dream. I liked being a performer for a while, of almost being separate from technology. We have had brass bands, string bands, orchestras, drums, sitar players in here. The two rooms had distinct personalities. But as we got into the latter stages of the album, the older room fell by the wayside. All the gear is like a front: A lot of it doesn't actually work. The album is a glorious mixture of organically produced music and computer. We wanted to produce a really ostentatious album, and samplers couldn't really cope with that. We had to get into the computers as a means of pulling the pieces together and making a collage — something to take a 15-minute performance and chop it up without ruining the performance. Now we are getting back into samplers.
Interviewer: The drum grooves are also the most organic you have created. Are they sampled? Did you use a live drummer?
Garry Cobain: They are sampled and cut up. Basically, we imported the old techniques, but we tried to make the beats sound a bit more '60s-flavored. It sounds organic because of the sources we sampled. We are sampling a different era of beats, maybe.
Brian Dougans: We made a huge effort to make the beats sound seamless. We wanted it to sound like a band.
Garry Cobain: This whole project was inspired by one little niche of music that we noticed. All the rock 'n' roll bands — the Rolling Stones, The Beatles — suddenly went crazy for one album. The Rolling Stones did Their Satanic Majesties Request. The Beatles did Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Even Harry Nillsson, The Monkees, everybody went weird. Status Quo were a psychedelic band, for God's sake. Having done experimental records for 10 years, we wanted to sound like a rock 'n' roll band that has gone weird. That was the whole reasoning behind the album.
Interviewer: Has recording this album changed your perspective about sampling?
Garry Cobain: A sample is not something that the rational mind would necessarily write for a track. When you fly in a sample, it mystifies and makes music sound alien. We have always loved the kind of musicians who can play what I now see as a connected spiritual thing. Hendrix used drugs to connect with that place that enabled him to play like that. But every guitar solo he did sounded like a guitar sample. They are very sonic, and they transport you to that place that we've attempted to take you to on this record. We can produce a new kind of sonic Hendrix form, if you like. Most people are too logical, and their music doesn't transport. We have tried to give musical performances with that sonic twist. We will get a guitar to play for 10 minutes; then, we'll twist it to sound like one big sample. The guitar solo at the end of “The Lovers” took eight hours to collage. We knew we were still Future Sound when, after seven hours of doing that, we asked ourselves, “What band, whether electronic or rock, has spent eight hours on a guitar solo?”
Interviewer: Do you like what Radiohead did with guitars and loops on Kid A?
Garry Cobain: Kid A is massively influenced by Dead Cities. [Thom] Yorke name-drops Aphex, but the A&R man for Radiohead is also the A&R man for Mansun and Supergrass, two bands that wanted remixes from us as soon as we released Dead Cities, because the A&R man brought it to them. Our album was going around that family of artists including Radiohead. Certain tracks on Kid A sound identical to Dead Cities. The way we produced the drums on “My Kingdom,” even the vocals show the way rock bands have to go if they want to move forward. But Kid A is a genius album.
Interviewer: With its distinct left- and right-channel sounds, “Her Tongue Is Like a Jellyfish” sounds like The Beatles' “Revolution #9.”
Garry Cobain: “Revolution #9” didn't work, really. We had done something that made sense whereas theirs was plain ugly. On that particular track [originally called “FX Warps Sampler Spew”], Brian was trying to write a track, and it spat this shit back at him. The sampler jammed, spewing the samples out left and right, constantly morphing into each other. It seemed to join the end of the sample with the entire contents of the Akai S3000 sampler. It is an incredible hidden gate that spews out the most incredible shit. It is magic.
It probably has something in harmony with “Revolution #9” because they used a technique like tape cut up to trip up the conscious musical mind. Anything that comes from the rational mind comes from your conditioning, your collective ego. This album has been about trying to upset that. I wanted it to be about the fact that Hendrix used drugs to get there. I'd been using meditation and cleansing; Brian does whatever he does — he eats sausages and smokes marijuana.
Interviewer: What inspired the layering in “Galaxical Pharmaceutical”?
Garry Cobain: Songs like Supertramp's “Logical Song,” [Queen's] “Bohemian Rhapsody” and even [David Bowie's] “Space Oddity.” It was the idea to escape the confines of the three-minute pop single — make the sound as important as the song and make the lyrics like a narration of some inner journey. That track was originally meant to be a parody of “Space Oddity” about the obsession they had with space travel in the '70s. But this is about inner-space travel. All the different states and different layers are in that track, and all the different parts are plugging into different aspects of self by traveling inward, not outward.
Interviewer: This general perception of FSOL is that Cobain does the living and that Dougans translates it into music. Can you correct that preconception?
Brian Dougans: That is partially correct — for this album, at least.
Interviewer: Is Cobain the mastermind and Dougans the technical guy?
Garry Cobain: That is the most obvious assumption. I don't really need anybody to technically do anything for me. But, to a certain degree, it is true; I am very fragmented, and I move on quickly. Brian is very nurturing and sees things through. He has been the solid bed working through the things I have accumulated. It is all bullshit, to be honest. It makes it sound like [Brian] can finish tracks and I can't, and that is not true either.
Brian Dougans: Garry has definitely guided this project. He has driven it, and I have helped. When Garry was sick, I fucked around with computers.
Garry Cobain: I am not a prophet of technology; I got really bored with that. The point of this album was about the weird songs that everyone liked in their record collection, not the singles by The Beatles but “Tomorrow Never Knows” or Pink Floyd being weird. We thought, “Well, we can't do catchy songs; it is not in me.” Prog rock took off because there was a lot of thought as to what a song should be about. They didn't accept the limitations; they wanted to expand the subject matter and the sound and the texture. They wanted to explore what the sound could be. Pop has hit the same point. Songs are not released unless they can be singles. So the song is dead, but we don't believe that. You can keep it alive by experimenting and playing with the forms.
Interviewer: Where will you go next? More organic, more electronic?
Garry Cobain: This is not organic enough. It is not electronic enough. That isn't a contradiction. I do hope people get a sense of optimism and healing and that, in this crisis time, there is something really positive re-emerging. And, hopefully, this album will trigger them to question something about their own lives.
FSOL GEAR MAIN STUDIO
Alesis ADAT AI-2 interface
Amek Mozart 64-channel console
Emagic Logic Audio software
Genelec 1030A near-field monitors
V2 Electronics hard-drive array
Jen SX1000 (2)
Akai S1100 sampler w/S100 Expander
Alesis ADAT Type-2 20-bit digital audio recorder
JoeMeek Prochannel VC3
Roland RE-201 Space Echo
Roland Rhythm Composer
Yamaha REV7 digital reverb
RIGHT-HAND RACK 1
Alesis Quadraverb (2)
Audio Logic RDS 2000 Digital One Sampler
Bell Electronics BD-80S Stereo Delay Sampler
Ibanez DM100 Digital Delay
Ibanez DM2000 Digital Delay
Roland GP100 Guitar Preamp Processor
RIGHT-HAND RACK 2
Akai MD280 Sampler Disk Drive
Akai S612 MIDI Digital Sampler
ART 018 digital reverb
Digidesign 888 A/D/A Interface
Digidesign Pro Tools SMPTE Slave Driver
Drawmer DS201 Dual Gate
Fostex 3070 Compressor Limiter
LA Audio Midigate
LA Com DS-System Syquest
RIGHT-HAND RACK 3
Akai S900 Digital Sampler
E-mu Vintage Keys Classic analog keyboards
Focusrite Platinum Compounder
Oberheim Matrix 1000
Roland D-110 multitimbral sound module
Roland MKS-50 synth module
Yamaha TX81Z FM tone generator
Akai S1000 sampler
Akai S3200 sampler
Akai S3200XL sampler (2)
Alesis Master Remote Control, Fatar Studio 610 Plus Master keyboard
Fuzz Tone Bender
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