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A Quietus Interview

The Fuel Hasn't Run Dry Just Yet: 65 Days Of Static Interviewed
Simon Jay Catling , May 24th, 2010 11:50

Simon Jay Catling talks to 65 Days Of Static's Paul Wolinski about their new album We Were Exploding Anyway, touring with The Cure and embracing dance music. Thanks to Scott Bartlett for the picture

It's May 2007 and I'm standing amongst 250 others upstairs in Newcastle's Carling Academy. I'm not the only one frowning into my plastic pint glass and rocking irritably from aching foot to aching foot. 65 Days Of Static are on stage, but the sparkling live show that had lit up the same venue a year previous is not. They look unhappy, drawn and frayed; and to make matters worse, their battered and severely taped up laptop's spent most of the past half an hour spluttering in and out of life to the point where the night's support act, Josh T. Pearson, is having to acquiesce Geordie tempers by telling jokes whilst the Sheffield four-piece frantically try to fix it. The month before, the group had released their third LP The Destruction Of Small Ideas, a fully committed exercise in studio production dynamics when all round was a sea of high decibel compression, only to find that such methodology managed to split the opinion of both critics and, more importantly, their fan base. With the band themselves admitting that they were tiring of being constantly on the road and skint, it was looking like 65days' one time for all time might've been coming to a sad close.

If glossy Hollywood films have ever taught us anything though - other than the apparent inferiority of our own uneventful lives - it's that the underdog always has its day. Whilst it would be easy to place 65 Days Of Static's resurgence wholly upon their own taste of showbiz gloss - an incongruous American touring slot with 80s Goth luminaries The Cure - that would be doing a tremendous disservice to the group's sheer resilience and continuing will to evolve, to the extent that latest album We Were Exploding Anyway manages to at one draw from the group's long standing IDM and electronica influences and yet sound like nothing they've done before. Immediate, and buzzing with insatiable energy, it's the sound of a band who've seemingly re-discovered their zest for simply being in a band. With that in mind, The Quietus chatted to band member Paul Wolinski about the new album, the ensuing unshackling of themselves live, and just how far they're willing to push this foray into dance music.

Hi Paul, how's it going? You’re on tour at the moment, as ever, how’s it been going this time round?

Paul Wolinski: Really good, we’ve been on the road for just over five weeks now and we’re entering the final week- we’ve only had one day off so far- but it’s been great. When we started the album hadn’t come out, but we assumed it had leaked because we were playing the new stuff and the response was so instant and accepting - it turned out it hadn’t even leaked, which was great, people were just getting into the sound.

That must have felt like an early vindication for you? We Were Exploding Anyway's a big change from your last album.

PW: It is a little bit, yeah. It was designed to be played live which was one of the driving forces behind it, and it’s definitely a vindication and a huge relief.

From first seeing and hearing you sets and records, they were fairly conventional with song breaks and so on, now it feels almost completely continuous. Has that been organic over time or is it something you've consciously looked to do?

PW: It’s something we started off doing and then moved away from. Back in the really early days when we were a three piece without a live drummer, we had a lot of straighter, dancier electronic beats. Rob [Jones] joining as drummer really opened us up and lifted our level of song writing. It also held down the rhythm and allowed the programming to go off all over the place and become quite glitchy and strange. We see it more as a constant evolution really; the big difference with writing and performing this album is that we finally hit a level of confidence. We initially wrote a lot of songs and threw them away because they just sounded like 65 again, and that’s not what we wanted to do. After spending a lot of time playing live with synths and samplers and sequencers, though, we got to the point where it became all about the songs and what was needed in them, rather than what we happened to be good at playing. Joe [Shrewsbury]'s an amazing guitarist, but in the past we'd say “clearly there’s something you can put in there,” so he would. With this, though, if there didn’t need to be a guitar in a certain point in the song we wouldn’t include it; there was a lot more discipline.

Dare I say it, having seen you play recently, you seem to be having more fun live as a result?

PW: The shows have been a lot of fun, and again that was a big thing behind what we were trying to do, because The Destruction Of Small Ideas- whilst we are proud of it- was set out to be a studio record. We deliberately didn’t think about how it'd translate live because we wanted the songs to be the best they could regardless of how we'd have to interpret them later on. But then we did two years worth of touring on that record, and it got frustrating because our hands were tied with songs that weren’t primed for being played live. We can play We Were Exploding Anyway live from start to finish. 'Tiger Girl,' especially, was one of the last songs we wrote for it and we were like “ok, what can we do that’s the opposite of disciplined? What can we do to just always have loads of fun playing it live?"

My very first piece for The Quietus was reviewing this album.

PW: Oh was that you? Thanks! We don't usually read reviews but we do try and keep up with The Quietus.

To follow up a point I made in it; there’s a feeling of “fuck it, let’s just throw ourselves into it” after years of, like you say, trying to fit in as many bits as possible; a freeness, like you’re not doing what you feel you should be doing.

PW: There’s an element of truth to that, but it’s more where we felt we were being placed rather than anything we were aiming for. There’s that whole world where post-rock is short hand for not being as good as Mogwai and having beards and being serious and writing these worthy tunes of gravitas. We were never really going for that - honestly! - even if the third record has more elements of that; but we were grouped there a lot of the time. It’s not something we lost a lot of sleep over, but for the new record we really wanted to be who we always thought we were capable of being. It’s not that we don’t care what people think, though we are so happy with this record we kinda don’t - we feel untouchable. With the last record we were full of self doubt, and the problems of playing it live added to that. This is the happiest we’ve been with a record; we like the songs and we like playing it live, so in that sense we don’t care. This is what we enjoy doing. We’re the ones who have to play it so we’ve made it for ourselves - but we’ve made it for everyone else too.

The last one too was perhaps your first record that divided the fan base you had, whereas I think this one seems to have united and also added a few new people.

PW: I think so. There has been the odd angry face in the crowd at the back with their arms folded wanting some more delay pedals, but we can’t please everybody, and in front of that angry guy there’s usually loads of kids dancing and that means so much more to us. I don’t think we’re writing shallow music by any means, but you can have music that’s energetic as well as intelligent and intense. It’s like cathartic I guess, that’s what the gigs have been like.

In some ways the new stuff feels almost like you’ve gone back to your roots; harking back a bit to 2003's Hole EP and your Unreleased/Unreleasable compilations, that direct glitchy sound.

PW: That’s fair to say, we’ve come the long way round but we had to do it this way. Since the last record we’ve all improved as musicians. We spent a long time working really hard to find our own sound and do something that no one else was really doing. At some point between the last record and this one we hit some sort of tipping point and now accept that whatever we do we’re going to sound like 65, and that frees us up. I’ve been really getting into House music, which follows all these strict rules and is something we’ve previously tried to avoid. Now we can aim for these things because it all gets put through the 65 sound. We’ve always liked pop music and that’s what we try and do; but, again, we’re 65 so it’s always going to end up a bit scruffy, noisy and confused anyway. I’m not sure if I’ve articulated that well?

I think you have; a lot of artists can battle themselves for ages trying to find their voice, but that point when they accept who they are and the bits that will always sound like them is when they do some of their finest my humble opinion…

PW: That makes sense. For years I’ve wanted to make a song with a 4/4 kick beat like Underworld and Orbital do, and for years we’ve tried that and it’s always just sounded weak. But after eight years, all 'Tiger Girl' is is just a 4/4 kick drum; I don’t know why that wasn’t possible before.

I’ll just ask one question about Robert Smith…

PW: [Laughs] Well we set ourselves up for it really.

Being on tour with him was one thing, was it another matter entirely getting him on the record?

PW: We didn’t actually get him in the studio because it was very last minute. We were actually in the studio with Andy from Youthmovies working on a track which we didn't quite finish, which is a shame because it was almost amazing. Whilst working with him, though, we had the idea for it. We had 'Come To Me' finished and we thought “well we do know Robert Smith, what’s the worst that could happen?” We literally only had three days of studio time left, but he said “yeah I’ll have a go,” and a few days later we got a CD through the post full of layers and vocal tracks, and he basically told us we could do whatever we wanted to do with them - incredibly trusting given our history of just covering everything in layers of distortion!

Especially considering he’s a man whose spent most of his career being in complete charge of his music and his voice.

PW: Definitely. On that tour he literally knew about every single lighting cue, his attention to detail was amazing. The more we get asked about him in interviews, the more flattered we feel about getting to work with him.

I had someone tell me recently, after seeing you play live, “wouldn’t it be great if they could play at, like, 2am.” Would you be interested in crossing over into the dance scene more?

PW: We’d love to yeah; we played Matter in London at the end of last year and that was like a full on nightclub. We got a mixed reaction, but it was that same period of time when we were still writing the album. I’d love the tables to be turning a little bit on what constitutes dance music and for us to be somehow involved. We played the Domino Festival in Belgium, with Fuck Buttons and Three Trapped Tigers on before us, and it was great; everyone was dancing, but not in an Ibiza kind of way. It was very noisy but still dancey and interesting. We are hoping to have a variation on our set with just the electronics in the hope of getting invited to things like the Warehouse Project in Manchester.

For a few years now, people have talked about guitar-dance crossovers; but I’d say the heralded ones, like LCD Soundystem, have already come from those sorts of performance backgrounds. You, however, have had a lengthy career playing gigs on the conventional touring route that are done by 10-11pm.

PW: I think on the club touring circuit the people who go to those shows are interested in the music and environment as much as the actual DJs or acts playing, whereas for the average gig no one’s going to go to just any band for a sake of a gig. This is one of the important reasons we started the band in the first place. It was back in 2001 and there were two main influences; the first were At The Drive-In who had made guitar music really exciting again and were a band you could totally believe in. Then there was Kid 606 doing some incredibly innovative stuff at the time behind laptops, all these glitchy break beats that were arguably more interesting than At The Drive-In in a way. If you’re ever going to have a poster of either them on your wall, though, and you’re a 16 year old kid, you'll always pick the rock band. The visceral pleasures of watching four guys throw guitars over their heads versus a dude behind a laptop doing things you can’t understand; it’s always going to be the band. That’s why we started doing all this electronic music in the context of a band, because there’s something about a rock band that you can’t replicate being a DJ and producer.

It seems that after a long period where it seemed touch and go if you could keep going, as a band on the whole you seem happier? I read a quote from Joe last week where he said he “couldn’t’ really imagine not being in the band.”

PW: I’m not sure if we’re more content, but the fact is we’re still here, and we’ve got used to the lack of money and uncertainty. The frustrations in that period when the last album came out were hard to deal with because it was the first time we were dealing with them. The whole process was more expensive for it and that was scary; and going on tour with The Cure lifted our expectations of ourselves. I don’t have any problems with the songs [on The Destruction Of Small Ideas] but we were just tied up with playing them live. Also, we’d released an album every year for three years and we’d never had time to stop and take stock of where we were, we’d just kept going; this time we deliberately waited and made sure that what we had we were happy with. We’ve just got better at being in a band I think. We’ve still got the same problems and we’re still despairing of the world at large, but we’re more interested in being a bit more proactive within it rather than being despairing.

A feeling of make the most of your time whilst you’ve still got it?

PW: It’d be great if we were all activists or doctors or speakers and fighting the good fight, but we’re not really good at any of that. What we are good at is being a band, so it just feels like we're being useful.

To finish then, where do you think this album will propel you from here?

PW: We’d love it to be successful, because it has been for us on a personal level. It’s great that we’re playing these shows to people and they seem to be going down really well. We’ve just moved to a bigger label [Hassle Records,] so it’d be nice for us to sell enough records for them to be proved right for the risk they took on us. We’re proud of what we do and we want to play to as many people as possible. We’re doing something different in the summer and playing Sonisphere. Then in the Autumn we’ve loads left over from the album sessions which we’re happy with, we’d like to put out some kind of super EP - something that’ll just be an excuse for us to go on tour again for a long time!