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In Extremis

Had We But World Enough: TIME Interviewed
John Doran , July 2nd, 2010 10:08

TIME spend the afternoon with John Doran, eating Turkish food in the blazing sunshine, discussing horror films, psychedelia and churches. Live photos thanks to Cat Stevens

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Catch TIME tonight in St Mary's Church Stoke Newington along with other Quietus faves Sunday Mourning and Haxan Cloak and Estasy. More details here.

Despite regularly topping snide lists of the UK’s worst towns compiled by dissolute journalists and published in newspapers such as the Daily Express, Hull is a very poetic city. Walk from Paragon Station down Springbank and turn right onto Princes Ave at the Zoological, walk all the way down and start bearing left in zig-zags. Very soon you’ll be strolling through the avenues. The trees have grown so madly that the fronts are falling off the grand houses and their overhanging branches constantly threaten to form canopies above the roads. These organic looking, yellow brick, boulevards are punctuated by large, decaying fountains that have the aspect of Inca temples when seen at night from Newland Ave. Follow on down to Cottingham Road and you’ll be at a redbrick campus and the large brutalist, modernist library where Philip Larkin brought dewey-decimal order and a dry fatalist wit to the book collection of Hull University Library.

But long before that, indeed, just a few hundred yards after stepping off the train and out into the old town there is the stamping ground of Andrew Marvell, intellectual, fierce critic of parliamentary corruption, champion of civil liberties and lusty 17th Century metaphysical poet. In his famed verse To His Coy Mistress he uses the risky ploy of bringing up the transience of life in order to tempt the object of his desires into bed: “Had we but world enough, and time/ This coyness, Lady, were no crime...”

The end result is a roguish memento mori-like call to arms and melancholy look at the inevitable passing of time, which contains the beautiful, rather than chilling thought: “But at my back I always hear/ Time's wing’d chariot hurrying near;/ And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity.”

The lines from this poem are already becoming wound round the gentle psychedelic drones of the band TIME for me, like brambles round the rusted railings of a churchyard lychgate. There is no call for loquacious and twinkle-eyed poetic seduction here from either party in the cosmic duo: Frances Morgan and Mark Dicker got married recently. The music of the group evolving with their love. Instead their music is gentle, vast and contemplative with all of the multiple things their name suggests.

Morgan, a music writer and former editor of Plan B magazine as well as musician, says: “We met through a mutual friend who I was making insectoid black metallish noise with - through her, we played a gig supporting Trencher so that's how Mark and I met. We didn't like each other much to start with, in fact we ignored each other, but then we started talking about synths and got along a bit better. We didn't really plan to start a band, but soon after we started seeing each other we decided to have a jam and see what happened. I'd just done a solo gig and Mark had also been working on solo music, and the two things seemed to echo each other quite neatly - Mark's music was guitar and song-based and needed extra textures, and mine was very textural and probably needed some songs!”

They got together and made a song called ‘False Sense Of Dawn’ based round guitar, violin and synth. A surprisingly well-rounded sound came out of the jam: “It was pretty apparent that we had a shared idea of what we wanted to do that was hard to articulate but quite specific to us - like we had both seen or heard a place that we wanted to get to. Concurrently we were listening to a lot of Swans and ASVA. It was quite a heavy time all round.”

The music is scored loosely in advance but there’s always an element of improvisation in the live shows: “I like to leave room for something new to happen in a song, somewhere, which I think can be done in a number of ways - sometimes really subliminal ones - while still sticking to a structure, the way that a folk song changes over time or according to who sings it. We're both pretty meticulous about our playing, especially about things like tone, pauses, speed - we can spend hours getting one note right, or adjusting the speed of the oscillator (this is a big issue with our newest song) - but I like the idea that when you hear us play live, it's as if a song has emerged out of chaos, or about to go into chaos.”

The pair recorded a self-titled EP at Random Colours Studio in North London with Paul Jones who runs Stolen Recordings and they are looking forward to recording an album soon.

We sat outside a Turkish cafe in the blazing sunshine while, seemingly, everyone else in London sat indoors, watching England get knocked out of the world cup, the unatural peace of the Hackney streets only occasionally punctured by distant roars of anger or pleasure.

I had a dream about this interview last night, and whenever I dream about work I always carry it through no matter how good or bad the idea is. And in this dream, my idea was that I wasn’t going to ask any questions, but I was just going to come out with a number of song titles and clichés containing the word 'time' and let you comment on it.

Mark Dicker & Frances Morgan: [Both laugh].

After waking up and thinking about it for a bit, I thought that was probably unfair. But I am going to pepper the interview with some of them.

FM: Yeah, that's fine!

First of all, I wanted to know: you played your first gig in Oslo. How was that, and how did it come about?

FM: Well it came about through me; I really like Oslo, I'm a bit of a Nordophile [laughs]. I've spent a lot of time there over the years and I really like Norwegian music and the Norwegian scene - or a very particular part it, I suppose.

All that stuff I'm really on, but also just friends of mine over the really. I've got some good friends over there and over the years, it's almost become like an exchange thing that friends of mine play here and I play there. I've played in Oslo before and basically a friend of mine move there a few years ago and he helps at this really nice venue. It's a really small kind of co-operative.

What's it called?

FM: The Sound Of Mu.

I’ve been there actually, I’ve been to a Skwee thing.

FM: Yeah they have Skwee stuff there, and it’s a really interesting place cos everyone who works there, most of them live there as well, it’s a bit of a commune type arrangement.

There were people with rather unkempt hair there...

FM: The guy who originally set it up is a proper old sort of commune person. So one of my old friends from London who's actually Irish moved out there about five years ago, and was the bar manager there. And it just occurred to me that it'd be a really nice place to play. So I asked Barry if we could play there, and he really liked the idea.

Also, it's a very quiet venue, they can't really have drums. It's got noise restrictions. So if you play there it has to be quite acoustic...

MD: Yeah, percussion sort of thing...

FM: Yeah, so there was that. And I’ve always wanted to play in Norway again, because people in Norway really listen. Particularly on that kind of scene, with a lot of improvised music and a lot of droney sort of music - quite serious sort of stuff, I think. People don’t go to gigs to stand around chatting and looking out to see who’s there or whatever, they actually sit and listen quite intently, which is quite scary, because they look at you as well; and a lot of them are musicians, so they can be really picky. But yeah, I just thought it would be really... I’m not very good at being interviewed, am I? [sighs] Let me give you a succinct answer: I like Norway. And I knew this place.

MD: It was very good - it was almost magical, in that the Sound of Mu used to be a shop, so it has a big glass front window, which is where you play, and as we were playing snow started falling; it’d been snowing all day obviously, it being winter in Norway, but as we were playing snow started falling, and we got a lot of good feedback about that almost as if we’d controlled it - as if we had a snow machine or something. And people seemed to like it.

FM: I really liked it because I was really nervous, but I was watching it [the snow] and it kind of helped me relax.

MD: Bizarrely two separate people came up to me at that gig and said we reminded them somewhat of My Dying Bride.

FM: [Laughing] Did they!? I didn't know that.

MD: I told you. [laughter]. I think it was a combination of heavy doomy guitars and violins that triggered that kind of response. But yeah it was a good gig, a good first gig.

The Awakener (live) by noise immemorial

So. Is TIME for a change?

FM: Yeah... I think change is quite an important thing for us?

MD: Yeah.

FM: Slow change...we’re quite interested in kind of physical change; audible, I suppose. But the way things visibly change with time.

MD: Yes, that’s quite important.

FM: That’s something we think about quite a lot. Like, the ravages of time [laughs] or something...

What makes TIME fly?

MD: Uh...rehearsing.

FM: Yeah, it really does. We could play for a very long time - time! - and before you know it it’s quite late. So yeah, that makes TIME fly; practicing the same thing over and over again, and trying to get it exactly right, which is something we do a lot.

I saw a book last year, - it’s a really nice book, with black pages - a big hardback book. And it was just a list, in alphabetical order, of every heavy metal band that had ever been signed. And more than any other one-word metal bamd, there were 22 examples that they’d found of bands called Stonehenge.

FM: Really? Just Stonehenge?

Yeah. So on the page it just said Stonehenge 22 times in a row. And I was thinking that really made sense. But then, with kind of psychedelic music, isn’t it odd that there haven’t been about a million bands called Time?

FM: Yeah, I’m really surprised, and I keep thinking we’ll find one, but we haven’t.

As long as you don’t ever have to be known as the London TIME, or TIME UK, which is just something...or you could be Greenwich MeanTIME.

MD & FM: Greenwich MeanTIME, yeah.

What would you say it stood for?

MD: I don’t know, um...

FM: It’s like Old and OLD isn’t it? There’s a metal band called Old and there’s OLD with the capitals...

MD: It could be something like 'This Is My Enemy' or something like that.

FM: [Laughs] 'This Is My Enemy'!

MD: Uh...or 'TIME Is My Enemy'!

Are you a psych band?

MD: We’re probably a bit influenced by psych.

FM: Well do you mean psych as in like - it’s such a big word isn’t it - do you mean psych as in 60s psych, or psychedelic music?

See, this is the problem with the term psychedelic, because I’ve often asked bands if they make psychedelic music, or I’ll say 'I think you make very psychedelic music' and they instantly think I’m saying 'your music’s only good if you’re off your tits' and that’s not what I’m saying at all. A lot of bands find that a different term, and I would always say that yeah, I think we do make psychedelic music because most music I like is in some way psychedelic it doesn't mean it’s druggy, but it means it’s psychedelic in that it kind of expands the brain to the possibilities of your perception.

Interesting.

FM: Because it’s like a state of mental chaos, or confusion, and that’s kind of psychedelia as much as flowers and shit. Or Supersilent, you know.

Not being a 60-year-old man, I don’t find The Amboy Dukes particularly psychedelic, but I find Electric Wizard and Factory Floor psychedelic.

FM: Yeah exactly, I mean it’s all about what kind of buttons the music presses for you. A lot of really smooth music can be very psychedelic too, you know. I don’t know, I’ve had the most psychedelic experiences listening to electro and things like that; or stuff that’s got very clean filters and beats and things, that have a very disorienting effect. It depends on where you listen to it really.

MD: I had a psychedelic experience listening to Neurosis, but that’s cos I was on acid...

FM: Yeah well I mean I have but I wasn’t, you know...Neurosis are pretty heavy.

TIME/the keep (live extract) by noise immemorial

Yeah, they’re quite a psychedelic band I’d say. Is your song 'The Keep' aimed at the nasty occult horror film from 1983?

MD: I'm not aware of that film, I'm glad I am now. [But] No, it's not.

FM: You called it that, so you should probably explain why...

MD: It’s kind of like a Lynchian thing, where you just find a word you like and it just seems to fit. You can’t explain why, it just sounds good and it conjures images of crumbling stone and ivy, and something that was once quite magnificent and is perhaps now slightly dilapidated but still magnificent. It just seemed to fit the particular music of that song, I don’t know...we both jsut agreed it was good.

Well, talking of films, how was it improvising over the Luc Besson film?

MD: It was interesting. I’d never done it before. [To Frances] Had you?

FM: Not in front of people, but I’ve done it for fun. Hang on, I did some singing - there’s this psychedelic horror film, Psyched By The 4D Witch . I’ve done some noises, but it wasn't very good. So it was the first time we’d really done that properly, as in really thought about it, you know. And it was confusing, it was actually quite a frustrating experience I think in some ways, because we weren’t really soundtracking the film. And the film itself has quite good sound in it already, it’s not a silent film.

MD: Also we got sent the film quite late before the gig - quite short notice - so we didn’t get to watch it too thoroughly and kind of really lay out a plan.

FM: But it’s a very simple film, so...it’s a really really simple film, and because it hasn’t got any dialogue, it does have a very simple ABC kinda structure, and - this is retrospective - but the way I think about it now is it’s very much about a place, and how we soundtracked it we were basically responding to the different locations in the film

MD: It was interesting because we did it at the Notting Hill Arts Club, and it was kind of a nice atmosphere in a sense - it was quite dark and they projected the film on a screen - and we just huddled up next to the screen and played along. I quite enjoyed it, I found it quite different from anything I’ve done before.

FM: It’s unusual for us as well because...

MD: We’re quite meticulous...

FM: We are usually, and this was basically improvising. I mean we had ideas we knew what we were sort of gonna do, we were like - OK, when you see this character you’ll hear something a bit like this, and when you’re in the desert you’ll hear something a bit like that. So basically for us it was the closest thing we’ve done to just the two of us improvising in performance, so that was pretty cool. I mean the film itself, to be honest the film is a pretty silly film, I don’t know if you’ve seen it...

I’d never even heard of it before, I’d don’t really like Luc Besson...

FM: No, no-one does. Seriously, who does?

I know. It’s weird, isn’t it?

FM: He seems popular, considering he isn’t popular at the same time...

I think as an example of a post-apocalyptic film it is a good one. I mean it’s of it’s time, they always are. As post-apocalyptic films go it’s not bad at all, and we both quite like that - well I do anyway. I like post-apocalyptic imaginings of various things but it is a bit of a daft film, and I felt like our music was quite serious, almost disproportionately.

I like serious music though you know... there's too much daft music about.

FM: Yeah. I don’t think we could make really silly music... I’m not saying that as a kind of 'oh aren’t we great we can’t make silly music', but...some of the other music we make in other bands, I wouldn’t say it’s silly, but it has a sense of absurdity and kind of silliness to it.

MD: Mm-hmm

FM: And the music I do with Morgen und Nite, my other band - again, it’s not exactly silly but it can be quite silly. Often we’ll finish a track and we’ll be like 'That was ridiculous', and what we mean by that is it was like over the top or it’s kind of ridiculous, slightly bombastic; it’s kind of very intense, cosmic noise sort of stuff. But what we do with TIME, it’s quite restrained, it’s quite sensible, quite serious.

MD: Mm, yeah.

FM: I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. What do you think Mark?

MD: Well... I like it because it’s different from what I usually do, or what I have done before.

So. More TIME phrases. What’s the sign of the TIMEs?

FM: Hmmm.

MD: A clock!

FM: That’s really boring, my God! Well there’s lots of them isn’t there. I think the sun and the moon... primarily.

As it refers to your career though.

FM: Oh. Do we have a logo?

MD: Maybe we should have an hourglass.

An owl?

FM: Yeah we like them. I don’t know though, owls are a bit.. everyone’s into owls, there was this thing a few years ago when you kept seeing them on record covers.

Quite twee and indie that, isn’t it? Maybe the time for the metal owl is here...

FM: I think the sign of the TIMEs... our sign needs to be... maybe not an hourglass but something that’s kind of slow.

MD: Well this is why I like an hourglass, because it’s almost like a moebius strip, which is the symbol of eternity - [it] just loops round and round, and our music’s quite loopy so. And an hourglass you just flip it over when it’s spent so it’s kind of limitless. I quite like that...

Or an owl’s head spinning round and round...

MD: I wonder how many times an owl can do that? At some point does it get a stiff neck?

What’s the TIME signature?

FM: [Thinks]. We’re really boring.

MD: 16/104

FM: [laughs] No...uhm. We tend to go for quite pedestrian time signatures I think. Actually no, I don’t know, I don’t think we’ve measured them that much I’ve got the feeling that some of our songs are in quite odd time signatures. We just haven’t really thought about.

MD: There’s a marked lack of percussion in our music, and as a result we’re just not at all sure.

FM: And also things are slow as well, and it’s much more easy to work out a time signature if you’re going at a faster tempo. And we pause a lot, that’s something I’ve noticed recently. We’re getting quite good at pausing in quite odd places in songs, I think. I like that, pauses are great, I’m really enjoying those. I haven’t done it very often, it’s a really nice feeling.

TIME and Gravid Hands/ Calling out of context festival, ICA Nov 09 by noise immemorial

What’s the best Turkish food there is for those who are not as well versed in it as I am? [Rubs belly]

FM [Laughs]: We like a patlican kebab.

MD: I like a kebab with minced lamb in between slices of aubergine.

FM: I think my favourite thing is the Turkish fish sandwich that you have when you go to Istanbul.

MD: Yeah it’s beautiful. It’s a perfect example of something being absolutely simple and beautiful and perfect, isn’t it?

You're playing at St Mary's Church in Stoke Newington tonight. Why this church in particular?

FM: It’s a fortuitous thing because it’s a church that I love very much. I had some very lovely experiences around that church as well, I’ve lived in this area a long time and I’ve had a lot of adventures, sort of roaming that area around Church Street or the cemetery. So it’ll be really nice to play here. It’s a very old church, it’s one of the oldest churches around here.

MD: In think it’s mentioned in the Domesday book isn’t it?

FM: Yeah, I think so. It’s very small, it’s got a nice little churchyard. The only musical thing I’ve been to there before was an early music concert; people playing medieval instruments you know.

Oh yeah.

FM: And that was amazing. So I’m looking forward to seeing what the acoustics are like in there, stuff like that.

MD: It’s good as well because almost quite jovially, Frances put on our blog, almost a request: we’d like to play gigs, we’d like to play in as many unusual places as possible - castles, churches, stuff like that. And lo and behold we got booked to play in a church.

FM: I was kinda half-joking, really, because I would like to play a lot of those places if it were possible.

I’ve got a question about that actually. You said on your blog that you’d like to play in a lighthouse. I was thinking you could play a seven date tour in the UK, based on the seven wonders of the world of antiquity.

MD: That’s really bizarre!

FM: Yeah, we were talking about this just the other day! We had this really long conversation about it, and we were trying to remember them, without using the internet, to remind ourselves. And we got most of them, didn’t we?

MD: Yes.

FM: But then you’d have to replicate them in a British way, how would you do that? I mean, what‘s the Colossus of Rhodes? Would that be the Angel of the North or something?

You’ve got the reading room at the British Library and the lighthouse at Dungeness. So there’s two of them there.

MD: What’s the library though?

Isn’t it the library at Alexandria; or is it the lighthouse at Alexandria?

MD: Yes.

So there’s no library?

MD: there isn’t a library. I’ll list them: Pyramids, obviously; the Hanging gardens of Babylon; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Lighthouse Pharos at Alexandria; the statue of Zeus at Olympus; the Temple of Artemis ad Ephesus; and what’s the seventh one?

FM: Colossus of Rhodes, have you said that?

MD: Yes

FM: I don’t know sorry, I wasn’t listening! I’ve forgotten...

MD: Ah yeah, the Mausoleum at Parnassus.

Right, so you need to choose a graveyard...

FM: There’s so many...I’d like to play in catacombs.

MD: That abandoned church in Abney Park Cemetary [Stoke Newington].

FM: Yeah, they keep talking about turning that into something and it never happens. I once saw someone having a photoshoot there, this guy with really long blonde hair, it didn’t leave you with the kind of you should. Anyway, yeah that’d be good.

MD: What about the pyramid? It’s got to be Milton Keynes...

FM: I think the Pyramids would be some kind of social housing project.

TIME/bound light by noise immemorial

So what about the, erm, statue of the king...the statue of Zeus?

MD: The statue of Zeus...Nelson’s column?

FM: Where is there a big, big man? We don’t really have those.

MD: Angel of the North?

FM: Yeah. [thinks] I don’t know. Maybe it could be a really small statue..oh I know, there’s a really good statue of William Booth from the Salvation Army just down the road from us, maybe we could do it there.

A few more musings on time. Where does all the TIME go?

FM: [Laughs] 'Where does all the TIME go?'. I mean 'Who knows where the TIME goes?'. That’s one of my favourite time song titles.

MD: [Laughs] Hopefully onto a nice thick piece of vinyl, for purchase, in shops around the country!