The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Pink Sky Thinking: An Interview With Nathan Fake
Jim Keoghan , November 22nd, 2012 08:02

This summer's Steam Days album found Norfork's Nathan Fake continuing to sink deeper into his own idiosyncratic and woozy take on techno and electronica. In advance of a tour with Orbital next month, he speaks to Jim Keoghan about folk ethics and working solo

Norfolk has had a raw deal in the past, regarded by those who have probably never been there as convenient linguistic shorthand for rural backwardness. But if proof be needed that the county offers much more than endless acres of arable farming and views that stretch out for days, then look no further than Nathan Fake, Norfolk's very own electronica pioneer. Like any type of music, there are those happy just to be there, working within a genre's boundaries, never testing the musical confines that surround them. But Fake isn't one of these; restlessly searching instead to seek out new influences and sounds to bring to the table.

Since signing to the Border Community label back in 2003 at the tender age of nineteen, Fake has spent his time refining this sound and building a growing reputation a remixer of note, working with the likes of Tiefschwarz, Shocking Pinks and Radiohead. It was early releases, such as 2003's 'Outhouse' and 2004's 'The Sky Is Pink' (itself something of a guaranteed floor-filler, especially after being transformed by James Holden into a sprawling club track), that first illustrated the way that Fake deviated from the norm. With a nod to Mogwai's soundscapes and Four Tet's glitches and elaborate loops, Fake was creating a dreamily melodic form of techno, with a sound that was refreshingly varied from the standard fare that was around at the time. His new album Steam Days was released in the summer, and found him adhering to the recipe that has served him so well over the past decade, as inventive as ever.

Nathan recently took time out to talk to the Quietus about the making of the album, its tribal feel and why remixing can be a bit of a chore.

In what ways do you think that 'Steam Days' is a departure from your last release, 2009's Hard Islands?

Nathan Fake: I think the last album was quite intense and short in its sound, quite abrupt. In contrast, I think that Steam Days is less rigid than my earlier stuff, much more of an adventurous trip. That's certainly the case with 'Iceni Strings', the first release to come off the album.

On its release you described 'Iceni Strings' as 'memorable in the way a lot of ancient folk music is'. Do you think of your music as being rooted within a folk tradition?

NF: I think that track had a campfire feel to it, that it was quite tribal. Obviously it didn't sound like actual tribal music but it definitely had a shared energy. Also when I make music I do it in isolation of outside experience and with simple instruments, which is a pretty folky ethic. Is the rest of the album folky though? I think that energy that runs through 'Iceni Strings' is definitely evident elsewhere on Steam Days.

How would you describe the album to someone who hasn't heard it?

NF: It's intense, or at least I hope that's how it comes across. It's really colourful and quite adventurous. I also think that it's a lighter piece of work than Hard Islands. Not necessarily better but certainly not as dark.

There's been quite a long gap between your last release and this one, why is that?

NF: It wasn't intentional really. I didn't sit down and think 'I'll make it a four year gap between releases'. The truth is that I spent a long time touring the last album so I never really had the opportunity to get into the studio and work on something new for a few years. Also, some of the tracks on the new album are a lot longer than those on Hard Islands, and so it's been a longer creative process.

How does playing live impact upon your music?

NF: I think that continually playing gigs has helped me make my music less rigid and more fluid. It taught me to arrange stuff differently. When I was working on the first album, I'd never done any gigs before, so I was writing and not really taking into account that I might be playing it live. But now, with the new stuff I am always thinking how it will translate to a live audience. I play a lot of new and even unfinished stuff live to see how it goes down. It's definitely a big factor now on the compositions.

How do you go about creating an album, what's your writing process like?

NF: It's varied album to album. But as time has gone on I've definitely found making music to be less stressful. With my debut [2006's Drowning in a Sea of Love] there was a lot of self-created pressure. I was keen for the album to be a big statement, which can sometimes make the creative process difficult. I also had no idea what kind of person was going to buy it or even if an audience existed for my music. Obviously, after doing this for several years the need to make that 'big statement' has lessened and I'm more confident that I've got an audience.

You've done a bit of remixing over the last few years. What do you prefer more, working on other people's music or creating your own?

NF: I'm actually not a massive fan of remixing. I can do it alright but I'd much rather be working on my own stuff. The problem with remixing is that it feels too much like real work. You have deadlines and a brief to work to. I've enjoyed parts of it, like working with Radiohead, but given a choice it's creating my own stuff that really excites me.

Do you find composing by yourself rather than collaborating with others a lonely experience?

NF: Writing on my own is all I've ever known, as all the music I've done has been pretty much just me, so I've no comparison really. The only band I've been in was one in college, but that wasn't serious. I've occasionally attempted to write music with my friends but it doesn't work out. It's just a completely different sort of working process. I'm used to doing things my way and not having someone else question my decisions. And I prefer it like that. It might sound a bit selfish but it's the way I like to work. As for feeling lonely or isolated, it's not something I've really experienced when writing.

Who are the artists that have influenced you during the making of this album?

NF: I make a point of trying not to listen to other people's music when I'm creating my own work. I find it too distracting and I don't like the idea of someone else's sounds bleeding into my own. But members of the Border Community do like to send each other their work so, if I listen to anything in any volume then it's probably that.

So how important is being part of the Border Community to your work?

NF: It's hugely important. I'm so glad that all those years ago I took a chance and emailed James Holden [BC label head] a track that I hadn't quite finished. He e-mailed me back saying he liked it but asked if I could send back a finished version. That eventually ended up being my first track that came out on Border Community. It was a really exciting time, especially because I'd been a big fan of James' and then suddenly I was making music for him. Since then, I've received nothing but total support from the label. I get on well with James and other people at Border Community and there's a really relaxed atmosphere there, which appeals to me. I've also got total creative control. And that's important. I'm not sure if other labels would be quite so 'hands off'.

What’s next for you?

I’m still doing a few shows on my own and then in December I’m off on tour supporting Orbital, which should be good.

Steam Days is out now.