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TRACK-BY-TRACK: Beyond The Wizards Sleeve
Christian Eede , July 6th, 2016 13:41

With their new album out now, Erol Alkan and Richard Norris take us through each track

Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, the collaborative project of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, return this month with a new album, entitled The Soft Bounce.

The album features guest vocals from friends and heroes including Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison, Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Jane Weaver, Hannah Peel, Jon Savage and Holly Miranda, and is their first full-length project since 2008's Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Ark 1.

With the album now available to purchase, via Phantasy here, we decided to delve deep into the new album with Erol Alkan and Richard Norris for a track-by-track guide to The Soft Bounce which you can read below.

Delicious Light

Erol Alkan: It’s likely that this is the first album track we worked on. Once the rhythm was in place we just kept throwing as much at it as we could and kept whatever stuck. You can dismantle ‘Delicious Light’ and make two very separate tracks out of the final version, all of which were considered for the final version of the record.

Richard Norris: This always had the feel of an opener. It mutated and transformed through numerous shapes and sizes, at times veering entirely kosmiche, at others more stadium house, with big swelling keyboards somewhere in the orbit of Simple Minds 'Theme For Great Cities', a monster Balearic anthem, as appropriated by the Corporation of One's 'The Real Life'. We finally unlocked it's door by focusing on the spirit of the drones.

EA: It’s possible that there were 6 very different versions of ‘Delicious Light’. There are some sounds in there which have morphed so drastically that we have no idea where they began. Some of the drone noises have been passed through so many amps and cheap microphones that they are indistinguishable. It was important to have Hannah Peel add layers to our vocal line at the very end of the production as her voice felt pure against the decimated tones already there. That felt like it gave the track a musical narrative, and everything fell into place beautifully.

Iron Age

RN: Includes the only sample on the album, a psych 45 so rare we can't find anyone involved in its release. It features Blaine from the Mystery Jets who provided the title, surely one of the most metal ever.

EA: The last track to be completed for the album. We sent Blaine the demo and then spent the next couple of weeks going back and forth with ideas. He later came up to the Phantasy studio and we had the recording complete in 2 hours. Blaine is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met or worked with, and he’s incredible in the studio, you never really capture anything bad from him, there’s just so much variety that he can offer, so it’s settling on whichever one you want.

The original demo of ‘Iron Age’ lasted 9 minutes, it had a 3 minute synthesiser solo and I think there may be a version with an earsplitting guitar solo, but coming as the second track on the album it felt like it should be short and sweet. We hardly even did much mixing to this track to be honest, what you hear on the record is pretty much Blaine singing over the demo. It sounded right so that was that. It's a song about unity, and Blaine's lyric proclaiming that 'Pangea will reappear' feels pretty powerful and prophetic especially at this point in time.

Creation

EA: ‘Creation’ had the working title of ‘Apocalypso’ and was designed to appeal to children. The ‘Ah Ooh Wah Ooh Wah’ hook is something which came to me a while back, and it never left my head. I’m sure it’s not stolen from somewhere, and I’m not sure at the same time. Maybe it’s a melody from a distant memory, I don’t know. About 20 years ago, I had a dream in which somebody sang one of the most beautiful melodies I’d ever heard, and gave it to me, and warned me not to forget it. Of course, I did forget it by the time I had got out of bed. Now as precaution, my phone is overloaded with half sung melodies

RN: The spirit of tropicalia, maybe a bit of ye ye, plus Jane Weaver's gossamer tones and Hannah Peel's breezy wordless chant. Jane was someone we have admired for quite a while, as a singer, Bird record label operator, fairy tale author and folklorist. Like a lot of the guests on the album, Jane has forged a singular path and has a unique voice, something which we are drawn to strongly when collaborating.

EA: Jane was great to work with, her first ‘la la’ demo of 'Creation' captured what we needed melodically, then it was a case of the lyrics having a certain theme to lock in with the concept of the record.

Door To Tomorrow

RN: We love the baroque pop of New York's finest, The Left Banke, whose influence seeps into the core of this track. The Left Banke compilation And Suddenly... was one of the first albums released by Bam Caruso, the psych label that I worked for as label manager/tea boy after leaving education. I still think the running order on the And Suddenly… album is the best way to hear The Left Banke. Euros Chids singing on it was a big moment for Erol, and took it in another direction. I love it's reflective quality.

EA: Working with Euros is possibly the only time I’ve ever been starstruck, as I am a HUGE Gorky’s fan. For me, he is one of Britain’s greatest singers. On a personal level I’m incredibly proud of the backing track on ‘Door To Tomorrow’ as it’s a strange fusion of styles, the middle eight section is one of my favourite parts of the album. Recording the string quartet on this song was a real moment for us as well. The rhythm keeps shifting around in timing which creates a feeling of unease, a bit like sitting on a boat under the control of the sea, we could have tightened it up but it was important to keep as much charisma in the feel of the songs as possible.

The ending was designed to sound like the perfect outdo to a song being played on a station like Magic or Classic FM. It's a very odd track, we wanted to marry Tropicalia with the power of Hawkwind, as we were curious as to how that could sound.

Diagram Girl

RN: The only track with a drum machine on it, 'Diagram Girl' features two Hannah Peels - singing her usual register and also recorded with the track sped up massively, then slowed down to reveal a more androgynous tone. Hannah was a very special presence on the album, appearing on a number of tracks, a very versatile and sympathetic musician who never failed to lift things higher in the studio.

EA: Our attempt at a pop song, or at least, one written by a tiny indie band in the mid '80s. After Hannah had sung the backing vocals on half the album, we called her back to put down the lead vocal on ‘Diagram Girl’. It had originally featured my vocals but even though they were effected, I personally didn’t feel it was right. As Richard mentioned, the track was sped up a great deal and Hannah recorded to that, in a higher register, and then slowed down to match the tone of my vocal demo. It’s been interesting to hear people claiming it sounds like other artists or songs, as we can’t really place who or what it sounds like, it’s a very odd song.

We’ve been amazed by the response as we initially didn’t have it marked as a single, least so the lead one. It's had quite a broad appeal, a friend recently said that she could hear the chorus melody being adapted as a football terrace chant, and in a bizarre way that feels like a huge compliment, especially when you trace back to the songs origin and subject matter.

Black Crow

RN: To me this sounds like an American Gothic painting or narrative looks and feels. There's an element of portent, an underlying tension, things left unsaid and left to brood. I like lyrics that give you a sense of story, but are oblique enough for you to make up your own, like Midlake's 'Roscoe' for example. It's nice to have an American voice coming in here.

EA: Written with the very talented New York based singer Holly Miranda and her friend William Cameron. One of the first songs to be finished for the record and very different to anything else on the record. I feel its one of the best songs I’ve ever been involved in, it was a lot of fun to work on in every capacity and there is something incredible special within it. The verse parts are layer with sounds recorded really badly, but treated to sound posh, so you get a really strange unsettling feeling with those sections. There is an alternate version of this named ‘White Crow’ which should surface very soon, so you can hear the song in a completely new way.

Tomorrow, Forever

EA: We wanted something in the centre of the record which offered some relief to the intensity and melody of the first half of the record, and we also felt that it should be as long as it needed to be so it could unfold and say everything it needed to. We did try to edit it down but it didn’t feel right. It was inspired by many contemporary drone recordings, artists such as Basinski, Acronym and Leyland Kirby. There are layers of distorted guitars drowning in reverb which rise as the track progresses but they are barely audible, their purpose is to be felt rather then heard. ‘Tomorrow, Forever’ was designed to sound like a distant dream which leads to waking up to a sense of realisation and acceptance.

RN: Ambience, noise, drone have been constants in my life forever. My all-time favourite albums come almost exclusively from these fields. I get something of an underwater, deep sea atmosphere with this.

The Soft Bounce

RN: I like the drones at the beginning here, a mix of keyboards and sitar machine, lead us into someplace completely else, a tribal drum figure by the phenomenal drummer Leo Taylor. The track feels occasionally that it might almost fall apart, particularly the guitars. It's off kilter.

EA: This is my favourite part of the record, after 7 minutes of zero rhythm leading into this. It’s my personal favourite on the record and it went through various incarnations. It’s a strange juxtaposition of elements and sounds, the ‘bass’ note which sounds like a techno baseline is actually a mis hit on the bass guitar which was fed into a sampler and sequenced, and from there the track began a fast trajectory to completion.

The guitars were played through a very cheap Zoom multi FX pedal which I’ve had for 20 years, there is something about the 8 bit sampling rate of that unit which gives it a really broken texture which you can’t get with high end pedals. The melody was lifted from another song which I’ve had in my head for years,, and fit perfectly. Hannah Peel recorded it alongside a handful of other backing vocals in a single afternoon.

Jon Savage described it best when he wrote “Weightless, blown with the wind, you come down to earth with the skipping afro beat of 'The Soft Bounce': a soft female voice pleads for connection, but she is almost swamped by the stinging, shocking guitar reverb." The version on the record is the first mix, which we could never better, even though we mixed it around 6 times. It had something quite intense about it which felt essential.

Finally First

RN: A drifting mantra that has proved to be very effective in festival tents, at Green Man and elsewhere.

EA: This sounds like a celebration to me, albeit a strange and tangled one. Hannah put on her best Ann Dudley voice for the centre of the track, so it’s a pretty wild mix of styles and sounds. The guitars at the end were played on a really cheap catalogue guitar with built in fuzz, fed through another fuzz pedal plug in which is sounds completely at odds with itself. For some reason, this reminds me of 1992 a great deal. Plus, it has a fade out which people don't seem to do anymore.

Triumph

EA: There is so much going on in Creation so it was nice to be able to strip it back and reveal some of the elements in a stripped back way. Plus I love records which reference themselves.

An interlude referencing the earlier track 'Creation'. We like records that have interludes or repeated sections. We started working with interludes when we re-animated the Temples album as 'Sun Restructured'. These tracks give a sense of a bridge, which help the flow when listening to the album as intended, in one go.

Third Mynd

EA: The backing track was intended as an interlude on the record, and we were going to use Jon elsewhere on the record, but we auditioned his voice across this instrumental and it fit perfectly. We worked with Steve Dub closely on the mixing process, which was incredibly creative, and that led to using the various effects which animated Jon’s voice into various states of oddness, it’s particularly comforting when it lands on his voice when its completely naked and sounds as if he is sitting to your left next to you in the room.

RB: Jon Savage has been a friend and co conspirator for many years, writing articles on LA Punk for the magazine I co-edited, Strange Things Are Happening, in the Bam Caruso days, writing sleeve notes for us, making me amazing cassettes, or more recently CDs. He once gave me recordings of his favourite drone tracks. It was two days long.

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