The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Metaphysical Headphones & Dead Sounds: Lone Pigeon Interviewed
Natasha Soobramanien , May 19th, 2011 09:36

Natasha Soobramanien talks to Lone Pigeon - also known as Gordon Anderson - about his new boxset Time Capsule

Gordon Anderson, AKA Lone Pigeon, is telling us all a story. He's on stage in a church hall in Edinburgh, on the first date of his UK tour. He's describing the time he was drunk and broken-down in London - "Probably crying" - when 'some old wino' staggered up to him in the street. "Son," he said to Anderson in broad Scots, grabbing him by the hand, "it's no' that bad." Stories tend to proliferate around people like Anderson. It's the rare and combustible mix of personal qualities - chiefly, the overspill of luminous talent, tragicomic hypersensitivity to stimuli of any kind (I've seen him on a can of Tango), a near-zero boredom threshold and only the faintest of acquaintances with the concept of action-and-consequence. Read the liner notes to Time Capsule, Anderson's recently released seven-album boxset for greater insight into the man Domino hails as one of its 'most elusive and enigmatic artists'. The notes are written by Anderson's big brother and label-mate Kenny (AKA King Creosote), witness to many of the stories, happy and sad, which comprise the 39-year-old Fifer's life so far. But during my recent interview with Gordon, I didn't ask him for any stories. Instead, I asked if I could tell him one. I wanted to tell him this particular story because I though I might learn something from his response. And I did.

-

"Look at this. It's like magic!" Two weeks before the Edinburgh gig and we're in the kitchen of Gordon's cottage in Fife. It's done out in 70s chalet-style panelling, the golden glow of afternoon sunlight on varnish contributing to the Hipstamatic filter effect. It looks like the kitchen of Neil Young's mountain cabin. Just outside is a forest which boasts a giant Sequoia, adding to the rural Americana vibe. Anderson spent a good deal of his early 30s travelling the West Coast: America and its landscape plays a major part in his musical mythology. But back to Fife. I want to start the interview but Gordon is distracted by this 'magic'. He's referring to the effect of an anti-fungal cleaning spray on a bit of hairy mould by the sink. So impressed is he with the product that he's bought extra bottles of the stuff as gifts for friends. Aside from the mould, which has indeed disappeared, the kitchen walls are covered in artwork — his own hyperactively colourful paintings (he studied fine art) and sleeves from his many albums and singles, featuring his artwork. And up against one of the walls is an antiquated pump organ, the one heard throughout Time Capsule.

It's a big deal, a seven-album career-spanning boxset with your name on it. The name's not as well-known as the accolade suggests - Anderson is something of a cult figure - but if you've not heard of him you've very likely heard his music. A founder member of The Beta Band, Anderson co-wrote the songs later collected on The 3 EPs, most notably 'Dry The Rain', launching the band to great critical acclaim. Obliged to quit before he could enjoy their success, he proved too ill to make music for the next few years, recording again only after his recovery in 2001. A tiny fraction of his astoundingly prolific solo output was released first on brother Kenny's Fence label, then with Domino, under the name of Lone Pigeon (The Beta Band were originally called The Pigeons). In 2005, a year after The Beta Band split, two ex-members John Maclean and Robin Jones approached Anderson to front their new band. They became The Aliens. Many of the songs on the EP and two albums released by the band to date are reworkings of Lone Pigeon tracks featured on Time Capsule, but this is no definitive collection. Anderson estimates it at less than 1% of everything he's ever made. He shows me several large cardboard boxes full of cassettes, mini-discs, and four-track tapes, a stack of hard-drives and a stash of old mobiles. All of them full of recordings.

"A lot of my songs have been lost on old phones though," he says wistfully. And he's not even sure that the data on some of the older hard-drives is retrievable. And then there are the songs which have never been recorded. The ones that came to him in dreams, as 'Theramin' did, but disappeared before he was properly awake.

Finally, Gordon is ready for the interview. I'd like to start by telling you a story, I say. It's about Marconi and the obsession that gripped him late in life. Marconi believed that sound never dies, it just decays to a point beyond which we can hear it. With our own ears at least. What if, Marconi thought, a machine existed which could somehow amplify 'dead' sounds? You could hear any sound made, ever. Marconi's dream was to hear, albeit centuries later, Christ's Sermon on the Mount. So he dedicated the rest of his life to building a machine which could somehow broadcast it. And I'm telling Gordon Anderson this story because there's something I want to know. If you had such a machine, I ask him, what would you most want to hear?

-

Gordon is built like a typical Fifer (or so he says, meaning short and stocky) with a thick wedge of dark hair: "I may have Lego hair," he says, "but my heart is pure Meccano.” He has the springy, self-possession of the cool kid in primary school, that total lack of physical self-conciousness which disappears forever with the onset of puberty. On stage, he's a great mover. Karate kicks, robotics; he's easy with rhythm and gifted with the physical comic's precision of movement. At one point, when I ask if he wouldn't want to make dance music (he's listening to a lot of Prince these days), he says yes and tries to describe some beats he's come up with. He gets to his feet and, in time to his voomph, shvwooop! beatboxing, demonstrates with his body how the beats would work, how the melody would play off them, sinking to his knees then sliding up again in a sequence of fluid movements that immediately suggests a graphic equaliser display. It's effective. I can see just how this would sound. And if this piece jumps around a lot too I'm doing a fine job of conveying to you the experience of being in Gordon Anderson's company. He can take you as up and down as those beats in miliseconds. His albums ("More like collections of songs") do that to you, too.

Gordon's description of his beats through the medium of dance is a bit rich when you consider his view of music journalism: describing music in words is futile, he says, "like astronomy for dogs" (also the title of The Aliens' first album). The limitations of language aside, here's some canine stargazing. The tracks collected here are characterised by a genre-hopping restlessness, though Anderson always returns to the same few modes of expression—heavy-strumming blues rock, barely-there-voice-and-guitar, piano ballads, 60s' style wig-outs (more about the word 'psychedelia' later) — sometimes all in the space of a single track. There are certain prevailing moods: tentative, exuberant, melancholic. The obvious, and in places undigested, influences (Dylan, Lennon, Young, The Beatles, The Beach Boys) are not so much worn on Anderson's sleeve as tattoed over his heart, and can play like pastiche — especially in the vocals. But these strands of influence somehow mesh into material that is, cumulatively, of an indefinable originality and power, the whole shot through with an angelic feel for melody that just about topples your soul. It's hard to conceive of how music so indebted to others might itself prove a direct influence and it's this sense of an inimitable uniqueness, together with the raw feeling which inflects much of his music, and Anderson's history of mental illness, which has seen some critics rank him alongside the usual pantheon of unhinged rock pioneers.

Anderson finds that a bit annoying, he tells me, rolling his eyes. "Oh, Gordon the nutcase". You could argue that the hospital years — years Anderson describes as "living in a cupboard" — used up a whole life's supply of boredom and fired up a craving for colour and detail y evident in Anderson's artwork. And maybe it's this craving for life which informs the ceaseless variety and inventiveness of his music, and maybe the associated low boredom threshold or desperation to just cram in more because he missed out on so much is why some songs barely make it to the 30 second mark. In fact, leaving aside the obvious non-contenders (snippets of conversation, say), it's interesting to consider whether these tracks are even songs. Gordon says not: "The entire thing is just a collection of sketches and ideas. It's not trying to be any more than that. I think everyone would see that." 'Songs' suggest a self-containment belied here by the cross-hatching of references which texture the albums – snatches of melody or lyric from one track reappear to haunt others. And yet some tracks are intricate miniatures, perfectly-formed at less than a minute long, like 'Waterfall'. But though many of the tracks feel sketchy and unformed, the whole assumes a resonance and coherence when considered overall, these beautiful fragments synchronising into something almost kaleidoscopic.

And now we are dangerously close to 'psychedelic', one of Anderson's least favourite words, he says, especially when applied to his own music. "People say that of any kind of music that uses electronic instruments along with guitars. It's so unimaginative." He's not so keen on the associated drug allusions either, understandable given that his mental illness was precipitated by psychotropics. But whatever its source, Anderson's music is undeniably tinged by a kind of transcendental quality, an otherworldliness. It's there in the often abstracted, dreamy vocals, the faraway quality of his lo-fi home recordings, the celestial purity Anderson is capable of attaining both through melody and that shape-shifting voice. And because of this, many of the 159 tracks on Time Capsule - songs like 'Womblight' or 'Long Way Down' — sound as though they were captured on Marconi's hypothetical machine: music so fragmented it's on the point of disintegrating beyond the capacity of the human ear to detect. I put this to Gordon.

"Ghostly? Well, a lot of it's recorded on old phones. With bad quality MP3, pretty soon they sound old. Some of them are old." I ask if it's an effect he likes. "I think I do. The more old something can sound... I love it. Take 'Misanthropist'. There are two recordings of it on the boxset. One that sounds much older – like it was recorded in 1776 or 1843 – and because of the distortion you hear other sounds that aren't even there...And it sounds like the memory of when I recorded it, what that memory is to me now, in that cottage way back in 2004... I used to wear yellow clogs. I got them in Holland. Ended up giving them to Kenny for that video and I never saw them again. But that cottage now is just a memory of the yellow clogs, what happened in the cottage, and the songs that managed to get written there. And that one was specifically designed for that feeling."

Time Capsule is an apt choice of title, in that case: what's a time capsule but a cache of personal treasures left for future generations (or aliens, or The Aliens) to discover? '"I'd not thought of it that way. I just wanted a title that suggested a collection of songs from a certain time span that's now stored away. And it was better than, say, Collected Works. Or My Story." He laughs. "A Little Bit of Me. Solo Wanker."

I ask if he has a favourite album among the boxset. He doesn't. I ask him, in that case, to talk about 28 Secret Tracks, my favourite album here. Even the title is irresistible, gesturing towards the indefinable quality of his music. I start to play it, hoping Anderson will talk me through it. He doesn't.

"There's a lot going on in those songs that people don't know about and wouldn't understand," he says, finally. I switch the music off. I'm suddenly reminded of Anderson's response to the Marconi story.

Earlier in the afternoon. It still feels like the 70s in Gordon's kitchen. I tell him that story and ask what he'd most like to hear if he could have access to Marconi's machine, the hypothetical metaphysical music machine that would allow him to hear any sound, ever. And this is what Gordon Anderson says: "Give me a pair of metaphysical headphones to block it all out."

Maybe, for the gifted few, there is such a thing as too much music.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.