Part Three - My Needles Are Breaking: The Euphoria Of Insides
, November 2nd, 2011 06:01
Neil Kulkarni continues his exploration of brilliant music the retro-mongers always overlook
I’m British see, so I prefer pop to everything. All I ever sought my whole life was pop. All I ever wanted rock to do was work with the same immediacy and addictiveness. My favourite moments of rock were the moments that popped the most. And so a word to any appalled black-cardiganned commentards out there, I will not call this shit post-rock because I hate that term. To me, no matter how ingeniously devised a moniker, post-rock refers to the moment after Tortoise had made the two good tracks they were ever gonna make ('Gamera' & 'Magnet Pulls Through'), when a bunch of American (and occasionally Glaswegian) spods took over and started recreating the most pompous moments of 80s rock, albeit without frontmen, words or lyrics. This was the return of rock dynamics & sound to some horrible conflation of a de-Bono’d U2 and Radiohead spinning at 16rpm. All that GSYBE! wank, all that environmentally sloganeered tarted-up-with-distortion-and-delay prog bollocks that has bored me ever since. Everyone’s use of genre-terms is the same but different, and post-rock for me is the moment where musicians took over and I turned off. Why would I want to listen to post rock when what I love about rock is that it actually fucking rocks? Why do so many people mistakenly seek innovation in the bad habits and indulgence of goddamn musicians, especially the trained kind, the kind that want to ‘improve’ and ‘educate’ and ‘challenge’ and ‘experiment’ but never entertain?
When with a drop of the shoulder and a check of their blind-spots they’d find there’s a type of music that always forces innovation into new shapes. A type of music that forces it always to a white-hot zenith of creativity - a pathway tougher than experimentation, and to a music way more ferocious in its insistence. Freedom without discipline is the deadest of dead-ends, ends up sounding like the harshest orthodoxy, and it’s that flabby po-faced preciousness, that self-avowed post-rockers and their fans always engage in that puts me so massively off. I mistrust these fuckers because I’m sure that POP is where the true innovation is, where people really start wrestling with the battles of sound and song writing that really tear the future a new escape route.
I have always had a colossal mistrust of bands that want to ‘challenge’ their audience. It's too easy. It's too often an attempt by noodling mathmagicians to capture the instinct of improv whilst missing the intent. Piece of piss to plug in, play loud for an hour. Far harder to entrance, capture, edit your indulgence down, and create something that doesn’t simply impress or startle but STAYS, that demands to be heard again and again, that can become an addiction. Those American bands I did care about that got called ‘post-rock’ always had too much of an obsession with melody and rhythm going on to ever be called anything other than pop (Bowery Electric, Jessamine, Labradford, Windy & Carl) and those UK bands I’m talking about in this series always had a far more interesting relationship with pop music than they ever did with rock. Bear in mind in this period if we wanted guitar-based ‘rock’ music we had a plethora of bands from the US – Come, Codeine, Royal Trux (and tbf, since the Trux I simply haven’t NEEDED another rock band), Swell, Run On, Beekeeper, Chavez, Shudder To Think, the whole Rodan/Rachel’s Louisville axis, who were exploring what gorgeous shapes could still be squeezed out of traditional band-shapes and who had fuck all to do with grunge or noise – these people were interested in writing songs and that’s why they still stick way beyond the more outré self-consciously experimental music that clung to the post-rock banner with glee. Even bands like Neurosis & Sepultura & Old & Janes Addiction had the smarts to make sure their ten-minute opuses fucking crunched and properly shredded at the moments you wanted them to: far preferable & way more joyous than the ‘corrections’ of rock wraught by the post-rock piddlers, the tired template of drawn-out quiet and sudden racket they kept on digging out.
The acid test for me is what shit I wanna dig out from back then, what still pulls on my time. In contrast to much of that dry dead stuff that’s called ‘post-rock’ I keep coming back to Disco Inferno’s attempts to retool pop for a new age, to Pram’s stealthy tapping of jazz and hip-hop to find their own pop vision, and I keep lapping at Insides til the juice runs down my neck, enjoying them as I did the first time, as simply great pop music – music out to challenge no-one but the personalities involved in its creation.
Julian Tardo (credited as J.Serge Tardo) and Cov-girl Kirsty Yates formed the Brighton-based duo Insides from the ashes of their former band Earwig. On the albums Euphoria (1993) and Clear Skin (1994) they seemed to be creating an entirely new version of pop. Their hooks were unmistakable, in that they triggered movement like perpetual-motion clockwork. Their grooves were sparse and spectral and nagged at you like breakbeats but made your heart and hair-follicles dance more than your feet. Their music was amniotic, ebbing and alive with iridescent melodic detail and lyrics that turned the turmoils and trauma of love into the sweetest searing honesty you’d been privy to since you first heard the Supremes.
Insides challenged you with their lyrics, not their music. The sound was always tailored to entrance you and have you floating, so that when you could make out the words they left you devastated because you couldn't escape. They were words you were swimming through and living through. That Insides themselves - a couple detailing their break-up - were intimately entwined with their words, meant something beyond posture or stitch-up or self-aggrandizement.
The words mattered as much as the music, made the music magical. The music mattered as much as the words, made the words magical.
"How long could I hold your attention? /Would you wait another week? /A year? /Five years? /Sounds to me like you have too much time on your hands."
It was a sound at once modern and timeless, and it’s a sound I’ve needed at least a dozen times a year ever since – because Insides, perhaps more than any other of the lost-bands of the 90s genuinely seemed LOST in the time since passed. It’s a real joy, 20-years on, to find Kirsty & Julian willing to talk, and tantalisingly (unlike DI) close to working together again.
In continuing to hear you as straight-up pop, I’m not barking up the wrong tree am I? Your intention seemed never to challenge, only to seduce.
Julian Tardo: “We certainly wanted to be challenging when we were Earwig. There were several songs that played around with very deliberate repetition, very high frequencies, and sudden jolts of noise. There was always a thing about being quiet too, inasmuch as we used our 'weakness', non-rocking, as our strength. I remember a particularly fraught gig supporting Kingmaker where we wound up the crowd a bit with quiet repetition. But Insides... what we tried to do, that few others did was to evade this blokey admiration for harsh and obscure, like God and maybe Aphex started to drift towards. I remember loving 'Swoon' by Prefab Sprout at that time, and melodramatic Disney type soundtracks, and I guess it all came out softer and more saturated in colour. It came from a challenging place, but I don't think it was that challenging. There was a lot that we didn't like from the music that was around at the time, I have to say. In fact we loved AR Kane and that was about it... and in general things like Kate Bush, Bjork, Lesley Weiner, Holger Hiller, Moondog... iconoclasts I suppose.
Kirsty Yates: My first thought was ‘no’ to the challenge aspect. But thinking about the endless violin loop at the start of 'Every Day Shines', we weren’t exactly inviting people to stick around with the immediacy of our catchy pop tunes, were we? When we played live, we actually had to stand around counting the number of loops on that intro so we knew where to come in!
But presumably after Earwig fell apart you and Julian made a conscious decision to make Insides an entirely different proposition? The move from being in a ‘band’ to being a ‘duo’ entailed a change in focus.
KY: No question that we thought about and talked about what it was that we were doing. There was always a sense of wanting to move away from what we had just done. Move on. I remember that the show that we did to support Euphoria contained mainly stuff that was post-Euphoria. God, we must have been an absolute joy to work with. But my perception of art and music was that if you were going to do something, you had to bring something new to the table. Being 19 or so, as we were when we first started doing stuff, we naively thought that was what people were looking for! You HAVE to be different. It was only later that I realized that what people want, by and large, is familiarity. Loads of examples of indie bands whose one breakthrough hit is the cover version. It’s like architecture – people need to be able to see the link with the past. When we started Earwig, we knew we didn’t want to wear our influences on our T-shirts. We knew we weren’t cool and we didn’t look cool.
We had people in the band (before we made records it was a five piece) that we knew we had nothing in common with musically, and thought that might be a good thing in terms of the sound. But bands aren’t democracies and the editing starts pretty quickly and for fucking good reasons if you aren’t also a fan of New Model Army. So we’re trying to move the story on, and pretty quickly realized that nobody thanks you for it. “We wouldn’t know how to market you, blaaah." But by then it's too late! The band line up, the mix of trad instruments and samplers, was a practical thing borne out of a lack of like-minded people around us, and no prejudice towards music technology. The absence of a drummer was constantly highlighted, by people on the peripheries, as a major weak point. But Dimitri [Voulis, the 3rd Earwigger whose departure precipitated Insides formation] was a drummer and he had no issue with it. We tried a drummer very early on and realized it would be a massive hassle. You know, the joke about only having to punch the info into a drum machine once?
I think we were challenging mediocrity, following-my-leader. Things like fitting in, looking right, sounding right, not being welcomed in. Challenging the 60s/70s obsessions of our adopted home town, Brighton! I've always liked being aware of boundaries, like not being able to play instruments properly, not having a conventionally strong singing voice, and producing something that was more than the sum of its parts. Subtlety over the obvious.
Earwig’s ‘Under My Skin I’m Laughing’ was one of 92’s most stunning debuts but by 93 the band had fallen apart. When did the ideas for Insides start germinating – early on in the Earwig days or later? Was Insides music not music you could make in the Earwig set-up?
JT: It was the usual issue that Dimitri was more into the guitar side of stuff, and I was going the other way. I wanted to abandon the guitar; I thought it had run out of potential. You can't overstate how important samplers were and the sense of empowerment that they gave you. I felt that guitars were my past. So Dimitri was off, and I just sat in this cold spare room in our house with an S1000, an Atari 1040 and a four track. I have to say I don't feel like that now; I love playing guitar.
KY: There was no plan. Earwig was pretty much a full time occupation for three people on the dole, and we were lucky to be given access to a studio set up where we could rehearse constantly – which is what we did. It wasn’t a ‘studio as instrument’ set up. We weren’t constantly recording, nipping and tucking. Julian was clearly the best, musically. A self-taught, obviously very brilliant guitarist. Dimitri at that time was showing more of an interest in working the technology. I was very keen on the chocolate milk and Cadbury’s Twirl aspect. We just played the same things over and over again, trying to be better at those songs. Trying to sound tighter. This was really for my benefit. I wasn’t a musician, never wanted to play bass, I had to, because there was nobody else to play it! There wasn't much I liked about being in a band to be honest. Some time in early ’93 Dimitri decided to follow his girlfriend to Spain. He bloody left us! We’d just been offered some big-ish shows with Belly, just spent all our money on some new kit. I was terrified, but Julian really just saw it as time to move on. It would be OK.
In Earwig, Julian and I had more in common musically, and it’s fair to say that we sidelined what Dimitri liked in favour of what we liked. Some of the stuff, ‘Distractions’ for instance, was definitely around in the latter days of Earwig but I doubt that there were any vocal melodies at that stage, and we made it a lot softer. Insides was just the sound of Julian and Kirsty. Julian took over the programming duties, which would have had an effect rhythmically. Not a million miles away, but with one less person to please.
Alongside Earwig’s demise, Kirsty & Julian had fallen in-and-out-and-in love with each other and it’s these tensions, both external to their relationship and internal to their dole-home on the fringes of Brighton’s scene, that fed into Euphoria's conscious de-flabbing of technique & sound. As they told Simon Reynolds in Melody Maker, it was an "attempt to save song craft from 70s notions", an attempt to make the best pop music they could from what they had.
KY: Words like ‘creative’ and ‘experimental’ make me wince. Euphoria came about when certain types of dance music had exploded, rave culture was big, and there were very distinct lines between rock and dance. The trad band/rock format became the benchmark for ideas of ‘authenticity’, ‘spontaneity’, ‘organic’, ‘serious’, ‘musical’, ‘solid’ and ‘substance’. Dance music was still jostling for position. ‘Serious’ dance music was uncomfortable with its distant relative, ‘Pop’ dance music. We were being asked to make a choice/take sides. We weren’t fully in either camp, more so than any of post-rock crowd. But that part wasn't deliberate.
JT: Euphoria was initially a long piece of music we played at the 13 Year Itch, a 4AD festival at the ICA. I liked the idea of not having songs as much as moods. But then eventually the moods did turn back into songs for the album. 'Clear Skin' was a return to the Earwig thing of just pushing the repetition to extremes, although now I’m not so ignorant, I realise that La Monte Young had created pieces lasting for days. You do go into a weird zone when you play over and over, like driving on the M4. I've tried recently to create a longer piece made of moods in a similar way to Euphoria. It's a good technique.
KY: I wanted to make something melodic. Something uplifting. Something devastating. Something with a lightness of touch. Something with resonance. Something with sadness. Something with complete and utter joy. As a kid, I can remember a saying that we had when we were laughing really hard at something, and it coincided with eating sweets. There was a feeling/pain that I can remember getting at the sides of my face, between my jaw and going into my ear, "My needles are breaking", is how we described it then. That’s what I wanted from music. That’s what I felt like the first time I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. I remember Euphoria being created out of fear. "We have been signed and have next to nothing prepared. We have a show to play and a record to make."
We had a four track tape machine and I remember Julian having a frantic 24 hours just putting loads and loads of ideas down. Anything that came into his head. Then we spent weeks adding stuff and then taking loads away. I had a nasty habit of not fully working out what I was going to sing until the night before the recording, or even on the day, which may have pissed Julian off. I took solace from reading that Bernard Sumner would write a line then sing it. It wasn't about being spontaneous. I literally couldn't get the words out sometimes.
The move from Earwig to Insides was also a step away from the live-arena into the indoors/ studio/ bedroom set-up. Insides was the perfect band-name because it reflected not only the songs deeper emotional hit, but also the hermetic isolation that would become the duo’s modus operandi. Exactly what were the working conditions in the making of Euphoria?
KY: We lived in a very small flat. All our gear at one end of the kitchen/living room, the end near the bathroom/vocal booth, TV at the other end. We made regular trips to WH Smiths to read the music mags and papers. There was an awful lot of listening to the same loop for an entire day, and tuning into Neighbours twice a day. Friends would drop in. Later Julian confessed that he’d realised that we were in a rut/dead end, and used to get up in the night and worry about what we were going to do, and how long we were going to live like that. I was reasonably happy to be avoiding work.
KY: We were very straight. We had no money and no desire to be massively in debt, or work, so we lived very carefully! I absolutely hated stoners. Without exception, totally fucking useless.
JT: The typical Insides working day lasted all day, with a break for Going For Gold and Neighbours. I have this memory of loops playing for hours, trying different ideas. Kirsty was the shit filter. You could work on something all day, then she'd wrinkle her nose and consign it to the bin.
Was it important that you moved from ‘rehearsing’ things to be played live into ‘confecting’ things purely to be listened to? Were you bored/not-interested in performance? I’m reminded of Steely Dan’s desire to simply stop ever playing live and live in the studio forever...
JT: I don't think I really cared about how to do things live as it was obviously the two of us and some of it was going to be on tape. We did some great gigs (Ronnie Scott's and ICA) and some tragic ones; the good ones were where there was no sense of it being a rock gig. We simply did not look good in that arena. The films of our expressionless faces that we projected live were a kind of, "Well what the fuck did you expect?" for the naysayers in the audience.
KY: “We were never fond of the live thing, that was fairly obvious or maybe that was just me. It’s always hard to take something that’s quiet and put it in a room full of beery people. And I was no good at it, and knew it, but didn’t do it enough to become good at it. I found it really difficult to play an instrument and sing. I don’t have a loud singing voice so it was technically hard. We did everything we could to avoid the gaps/anticipated lack of applause between songs, we joined the songs together or played tapes between them. We would do anything to take people's eyes off us such as showing films; they were of us but seemed to do the trick. I liked our small audience though. A diverse enough mix. I think I’ve met, or at least been in contact with everyone that’s ever bought one of our records. At the time, I clearly wasn’t comfortable with the interactive aspect, the response.
Was the lack of gigs down to the fact that Earwig were a more ‘manageable’ proposition, a more obviously ‘live’ possibility?
KY: We played more as Earwig, but that was because the people that put out our records actively tried to get us gigs because that’s what bands did: they played live to get noticed. For Insides, we didn’t have a booker so I don’t remember an active gigging strategy. And we weren’t signed on a multi-album deal so it was really up to us to push our profile, or not. 4AD followed different avenues, like film soundtracks. At one point we had hopes of 'Darling Effect' being used in one of Hal Hartley's film. We loved Hal Hartley and used snippets of The Unbelievable Truth in our live shows and it was a massive kick to know that he'd liked something that we'd done. It didn't come off though. I remember us talking about how it was weird that 4AD didn't push to get us more gigs, but we were OK about letting that slide. We had this strange belief that just by being good people would get to hear.
I’m trying to imagine an Insides gig and I really can’t.
KY: We had ideas about ‘perfect’ gig environments. Seated, listening through headphones. We were aware that we had a more intimate sound. I liked the idea of visuals, but not abstracts. We used very simple images of our faces. Very static, only blinking and light flickering across our faces. The point was, “What do you think you’re getting here? What are you looking for?” I dunno, what did I expect? That people should shut their eyes and sway gently throughout? Or look away, respectfully? The live thing relied too much on rock traditions for our liking. We got criticised for not moving around and filling the space on stage. So we looked for distractions to draw peoples' attention away. Playing in cubes constructed from plumbing piping and netting with our faces projected onto them. It was a fucking nightmare to set up!
“I have dreams about violence and sex with people from my past/ only my best friends rub my back and hold my head and stroke my hair out of my face/ when I'm feeling sick because I can't hold my drink.” Insides 'Bent Double'
Guernica was the label set up by Ivo Watts Russell as a 4AD offshoot that eventually agreed to put out Insides music. A risk the duo are still grateful for. How the hell did you two get heard given how isolated you felt in your Brighton bedsit?
JT: Ivo had contacted us when we were Earwig, and we nearly recorded an LP for him, but then Dimitri was going to split and we decided to draw a line under that and create something where we had no expectations. So 4AD were already open to listening to us. Ivo pretty much took a risk on us as we didn't have any demos, so the ICA performance was our demo really. We always got a lot of good press, we did have an attitude so maybe that stoked it... Brighton-wise, there was no-one apart from our friends who mostly were into the underground tape scene. Brighton was still full of sixties and seventies obsessives like Arthur and Spitfire, and it just wasn't our thing.
You both looked amazing. I had your pictures on my wall. Was there ever any attempt to market you as the Stevie/Lindsey of your generation?
KY: I wondered how we would've been received if I was male. There was a lot of 'women in rock' stuff about around that time. We had someone doing our Earwig press, and they were really pushing for the Vogue, Elle women’s mag stuff. That fucked me off no end. I had strong views about how I didn’t want us to be portrayed. I'm a lot less introspective now, so it's hard to remember. But I suspect that I was critical of a lot of things. Probably even about the way people liked us.
I mention the Stevie/Lindsey thing because much was made at the time of the relationship between you both, and because what you were creating musically was so sweet yet created from the carnage of a broken relationship, there were plenty of comparisons to Fleetwood Mac that you were clearly in no mood to dispel. It was revelatory to me at the time to hear you, read Reynolds on Tusk start prising open those influences punk had pushed to the peripheries for so long. Of course, hipster rehabilitation has made much ‘soft’ music cool as fuck now, but presumably at the time (in the midst of grunge & Britpop) you must’ve felt kind of isolated in the music you made and the sources you pulled from.
KY: At the time I think we loved playing up the uncool Prefab Sprout-y, Scritti Pollitti aspects. We had a saying, “all roads lead to Fleetwood Mac”, but we didn’t appreciate how great a place that could’ve been for us back then. At that point, Fleetwood Mac was a step too far. We listened to, and liked the popular alt bands of the day: MBV, Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon was a reference point when buying a bass, it had to be white), Dinosaur Jr. We were talking about influences the other day, and we both assumed that we were very influenced by Bjork’s Debut, and were relieved to see that the release dates were too close for that to be true!
JT: Well, MBV were a huge general influence on me, but more Isn't Anything rather than Loveless, which I found too perfect. AR Kane's I LP was huge too. They were brave enough to move away from noise and embrace the tools of pop music, and in a way they led the way for me. Galaxie 500 and Unrest in terms of bands that sound like two members haven't turned up. I like those sorts of bands. We were loving Astrud Gilberto, Leslie Weiner, Hounds of Love era Kate Bush and The Associates. I won every Yello LP up to that date in a raffle; I have to say I was rather taken with the early stuff. I liked the idea of exotic and bizarre, although i don't think the term 'exotica' was common parlance then. Sparks were always there too. It certainly felt easier to have a negative stance on the few bands that MM or NME championed. Nowadays there is so much good stuff you don't care enough about the shit stuff to comment.
What were you listening to then around the time of the creation of Euphoria? I’m guessing by the big fat hooks, plenty of straight up pop alongside the oddbods...
KY: I can remember Blue Lines by Massive Attack, Now Is Early by Nicolette, Diana Ross’s Greatest Hits, Burt Bacharach's Greatest Hits (both stolen from my mum and dad’s tiny record collection). Odds and ends that we taped from John Peel: Moondog; a song by Singing Sweet called 'Lonely Is The Night' was on heavy rotation at one point; Ultramarine 'Every Man & Woman Is A Star'; Steve Reich 'Music For A Large Ensemble’/ ‘Music For 18 Musicians; Talk Talk New Grass; Big Black, Rapeman. Simon Reynolds did some jungle/’ardcore tapes for Julian that we listened to a lot. Foul Play’s ‘Open Your Mind’. We loved stuff like the Manics too. We never bought any records though! We tended to admire records, songs even, rather than entire back catalogues. Elements of popular R&B got in there. Ice Cube 'It Was A Good Day' (actually, I’m playing that now, and that song is clearly a massive influence). The songs that sound track my childhood are things like 'Baby Don’t Change Your Mind' by Gladys Knight & The Pips – the sweetness of that sound was very attractive.
Though Julian had run a hyper-theoretical fanzine called Rapture before starting Earwig, and with Kirsty engaged in plenty of ‘talk’ about what Euphoria should be it’s clear in listening that, in contrast to the reverent curatorship bands were applying to their more traditional sources at the time, Insides were more interested in the theft of moments, an accumulation of those times when pop makes your head and heart spin. This almost hip-hop mentality put them at odds with both Britpop’s reverence for the past, and avant-garde music’s Tefal-domed seriousness.
KY: Moments within songs were more of an influence than bands themselves. We loved 'ear cookies', tiny motifs, small details. Whenever I hear 'Schizophrenia' by Sonic Youth I'm waiting for a tiny guitar part during the "the future is static bit" that I know Julian loves.
“I hate lovers/ I hate the way they go to the bathroom in shifts after they’ve fucked”
I must get nosey about the relationship: what exact phase of your relationship would you say Euphoria reflects – is it too simple to call it a break-up record? Would it be better to call it a couples record? With all the attendant flight, retreat, bitterness & bliss that implies? Was it therapy?
KY: We woke up one morning and said, “You know what this world needs?” shook hands and set to it. Yeah, call it a couples record by all means. [shifts uncomfortably] But it doesn't really reflect our relationship. I don’t think Julian would say he set out to make a couples record. I didn’t think about it until it was done. Until people started asking me questions. When people are playing it cool, they like to say they don’t really listen to the lyrics, don’t they? So we’ve established that we don’t appeal to the cool set at least. I didn’t think about what I was writing as being public. A large part of being in a band involves being in a bubble – that’s where I was. No concept of the person listening to it or paying attention. So there was no conscious therapeutic aspect.
JT: Nah, it’s not a break-up record cos we were actually back together, after briefly splitting. It's all Kirsty's observations of others, at least that's my story. To be honest, lyrics weren't my thing then, I would pick up phrases when we rehearsed, but just bits and pieces. But that's how Kirsty was, if you acted or said something stupid, she would take you DOWN. Even if it was personal, which I contend it wasn't, I liked that sense of it being so. Trying to put across something that you think has legs, your art, it's hard, you're trying to communicate something that you don't even understand yourself. Life is brief; stick it out there I say.
Much was made at the time of how ‘dark’ and ‘violent’ the lyrics were – presumably by people who’d never been in a relationship and realised how unhinged lovers talk can be. How much 'preview' of the lyrics did Julian have before you recorded them?
JT: None. Nothing before we went into the studio, and for several songs I had gone to bed so Kirsty worked with Keith our engineer.
Did you find any of the lyrics painful or surprising Julian?
JT: Nah. I'm always just intensely proud to be associated with them. They are fine lyrics.
KY: I don’t think I could write some of that stuff now. I mean, I gave my brother a copy of that album, and we’re not that close. Julian’s mum may have read the lyrics! Jeez. I had a total lack of awareness. No idea of potential impact. At all. At school I'd loved The Smiths. And I've carried Phillip Larkin and WH Auden with me since those days too. I think the directness of Larkin influenced me. That whole word perfect/world imperfect thing. Words meant something to me.
Were you constantly writing or only when the music demanded it?
KY: I jotted stuff. Rejected stuff for some songs. Picked them back up for others. Took bits from conversations, both mine and also overheard (friends complain about the kind of detailed shit I remember). Letters. Paraphrased from books. The melody comes first. Then the vowel sounds. Then, gradually, the words. The “I hate lovers” bit came from a letter from my friend Robin. I don’t know how he feels about me getting credit for his great line. I only ever wrote specifically for songs though. There’s no “ta-da!” moment because I sing along to stuff, hum the bits I’m working through. There must’ve been times where Julian had no idea what I was going to sing, even what the melody was, until we were recording it. Talking about the process brings it home to me that Julian never said, ‘Nah, have another go.' Once we’d agreed on the music, he handed it over to me. There’s a theme to Euphoria, for sure. It is about complacency, having unexpected choices, being the object, living with consequences, observing, behaving in ways I never thought possible. I’m struggling with this – can you tell?
Was there ever a moment when you entertained high ambitions for the success of Euphoria? Did you believe your own (for this MM/Lizard-reader, almost entirely rapturous) press?
KY: In the beginning it was relatively easy. We sat around and wrote some songs. We made a record. It got some press. It got played by John Peel. We did gigs. They got reviewed. We got little bits written about us. Then we got bigger bits written. The journalists that we liked, liked us. At no point did we start selling more records. We got more press and got less radio. We hit a wall and didn’t know how to get beyond it.
JT: I too only read MM really, and as long as Simon Reynolds approved of us, that was really all I cared about. Generally I think NME gave us the swerve. Man, if I could have done that for a living... it wasn't to be. Ivo quitting 4AD was bad for us. It was a bit like, 'There's got to be someone here that likes us?' There wasn't. We had meetings with other labels but they all suggested changes to what we did. When there was nowhere else to go, it just slowly fizzled. 'Sleep it off, lady', is kind of about that.
KY: We hoped to find a home - a record label - to be able to carry on making records. To make some money out of it to enable us to live without signing on. Beyond that, I don’t know what ‘success’ would have looked like. Endless touring? Still touring today? I expected more than we got though. Looking back, I can recognise a sense of entitlement. The moment of realisation (that nothing would come of Euphoria, that our time had passed) didn’t come until much, much later. And that was after everyone had put their two penn’orth in (‘You should work with St Etienne.’ ‘You should work with Colin Newman.’) We weren’t prolific. We were stubborn, and we were very shy. We were no fun. In retrospect, we should have just carried on doing stuff, like we did at the beginning. With no audience in mind. People occasionally come up to me. Only once or twice a year, but in the moments that we talk, they’re very open about what Euphoria means to them. It surprises and delights me. I wish that I could've appreciated that then. And yeah, I believed it was a good record, I believed that the people that wrote about it had got it right. I believed that we would get re-signed. In a bubble.
“Trust me/ I wouldn't dream of abusing your trust/ I only dream of never having to dream again/ It's time to say goodbye to those, so coarse made you cry/ see I, I could be more/ so much more than friendly”
If Euphoria had been the only thing Insides had ever given us their legendary status would be assured: what tugs at the heartstrings is the sense of unfinished business laid down by its follow up, the astonishing Clear Skin, that took the same gorgeous loops and textures of Euphoria but let them stretch out into a single long-track. Intriguing, hypnotic, even more unheralded than Euphoria - tell me everything you can about it because I can’t find a damn thing.
JT: We had a launch at a gig in London and I thought we could support ourselves. That's what Clear Skin was, the support band. And Ivo said you've got to record it. Suddenly it became a tangible thing and it was a behemoth. Everything was sequenced then a couple of days before taking it all up to the studio I tried to open the file, and it wouldn't. I had exceeded the number of events the memory could take. I had to upgrade the RAM to get back into it. Then we had to record it to 24 track tape, but as each tape only lasts for 30 minutes, it had to be recorded in two sections. Then we had to go to another studio and digitally splice the parts together. Which was like state of the art at that point. It was kind of nice pushing the capabilities. For such a 'calm' piece of music, i remember being in a constant panic through its production. It was recorded at Blackwing.
I e-mailed Paul Tipler. He has only ‘vague recollections’ of the sessions.
KY: Heh. It was a perverse 'follow up'! I don’t know why we had the idea about supporting ourselves at the Borderline but Clear Skin was definitely written for that purpose. I liked the idea of people, all five of them, wandering in to see us and ‘the show’ was already going on. It’s an obvious culmination of our interest in cyclic repetition. Steve Reich and Kraftwerk. We used to play it in our living room through the hi-fi. It drew on the way we’d sometimes write as Earwig, with each of us taking one third of a piano and coming up with little motifs that fitted with what everyone else is doing. We didn’t intend to record it, but Ivo liked it. It kind of raised our expectations for the future Guernica was supposed to be for one-offs, but we had two releases, clearly we were IN!. Apparently the remix/edit, 'Skinned Clean', that we did was very big with Italian DJs and was massive in speciality shops. If it had done the same in HMV we’d have been number one. It was also shortlisted to be the 1994 winter Olympic theme – the Torvill and Dean comeback year! I remember somebody from 4AD mentioning it to us as we walked out to get lunch once. “It’s between you and East 17." I still don’t know if that was a piss take.
It’s a piece of music people don’t forget.
KY: An American software company asked if they could use it earlier this year. Bureaucracy made it too complicated but, again, I was touched at the thought of somebody carrying it around with them for the best part of 20 years. I resisted enjoying that aspect (the concept that our music might mean something to somebody other than us) at the time. What we got on the day wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, and if we’d thought about it more, it could’ve been a more interesting bit of music. I really love Euphoria, most of it anyway. I don’t feel the same about Clear Skin. I felt and continue to feel like we blew our chance with it. It was kind of a distraction, and it took us into the terrifying dance-music all-nighter arena, where we also didn’t fit! I’m still holding grudgeful feelings about a scrape in a hire car that we had in ’94 as a result of a participation in an all-nighter in Brixton. If it wasn’t for Clear Skin, we’d be £150 the richer!
“Things move slowly here/ My heart is bracing/ Butterfingers/ feel it slip through my hands/ I watch them breaking/ boredom/ frustration/ Had to find a new obsession/ spend all day everyday removing traces of sexual activity/ Regrets/ shave my arms, my legs, my head painfully enough/ and turn the heat up full until I sweat/ regret/ become only any good at making a mess/ regrets/ regretting”
And then? A long wait. Silence. Insides vanished after Clear Skin. The more jazzy Sweet Tip album of 2000 is a document I’ve not been able to find and that I consequently don’t ask about but there’s one last trio of questions I’ve wanted to ask since we started talking. What the hell have you been doing since? Do you perceive Insides’ influence on anything since? Is Insides forever gone?
JT: We want to record again. I dream of making another album, and I know Kirsty does too. There’s no old stuff I think needs digging out - all the good stuff is on the LPs I think. I've made a ton of half baked ideas that Kirsty has wrinkled her nose at. There is one band I’ve heard that reminds me of Insides: Oen Sujet from Canada. They are breathtaking. Sufjan Stevens' Age of Adz is cool, and Glass Candy have the ease I aspire to... I'm recording some new House of Love material at my studio, Church Road Recording Company with Terry and Guy. I'm also heavily involved in the Bowlegs Music writing team, and I film live music sessions for 4eyes TV, funnily enough with a few 4AD bands (we're filming Throwing Muses in a couple of weeks).
KY: I do hear stuff that I think is like us. Coincidence. I thought that aspects of The xx album was like Earwig. Maybe it’s just the sound of edgy teenagers coming to terms with instruments, technology and being edgy as fuck? We used to get the Young Marble Giants references too, even though we’d never heard them at the time. There are bits and pieces of old Insides stuff on DATs littered around home or the studio. And I’m pretty sure there will be some nice moments there. There’s some animation that we did for Distractions (we recorded Clear Skin instead of finishing the film – we didn’t have the budget for both) that I’d like to find and put up somewhere. In theory, I’d LOVE to do something! We sometimes talk about it like it's an on-going project. We have a handful of songs, even. We’ve got a studio, so there’s nothing to stop us but our own inclination. But the reality of spending my free time, aged 41, in an environment that I was never fond of, bickering and facing my own limitations, knowing that I’m really fucking lazy and over-critical… well. It’s hard to not over-think these things. It means so much to me that I can’t risk the disappointment.
A risk I hope they take soon. Some of the most gorgeous, glorious music of its time is ripe for rediscovery - get yourself acquainted with Euphoria and Clear Skin as soon as you can if you haven’t before because this shit ain’t over. Straight bliss to the head. The heart feels re-armed knowing Insides utterly unique pop is on its way back. Long may they bicker and bloom.
Next week: The Greatest Album Of The 90s.