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A Quietus Interview

Grist For The Mill: GNOD Interviewed
Ian Fraser , August 3rd, 2015 08:58

Infinity Machines by GNOD is one of tQ's albums of the summer. Ian Fraser meets Salford's finest and finds himself put through the Mill – Islington Mill, that is. Band photos by Sam Huddlestone

Few contemporary bands can claim to be as innovative, adaptable or difficult to second-guess as Salford-based collective Gnod.

Since forming back in 2007 more than 30 individuals have passed through the ranks although the band quickly coalesced around a core membership working out of Islington Mill in Salford of which Chris Haslam and Paddy Shine have been a constant and creative presence. Marlene Ribeiro and Alex Marcate are the other current full-time members. A “fifth member Raikes Parade occupies the desk while engineer Sam Weaver and sax player David McLean contribute to gigs when available.

Through space rock; motorik and improvised industrial noise to their current recorded incarnation, which might be loosely described as ambient dub/jazz, the band’s sound has flip-flopped and jack-knifed to the extent that no two albums or tours are ever the same. Indeed it’s sometimes hard to credit that they could conceivably be products of the same group of people. Such an approach keeps the music fresh, vibrant and interesting while at the same time confounding critics and audiences who end up either growing with them or bailing out.

In recent years Gnod have found a home with Bristol based Rocket Recordings and their growing roster of psychedelically and experimentally inclined fellow travellers, releasing among other material the latter-day space rock odyssey Drop Out with White Hills back in 2009 and the meaty, percussive Chaudelande 1 and 2 in 2011/12 (and collectively the following year). Neither of these pulsating, powerful classics manage to stray too far from your interviewer’s decks it must be said. They have also collaborated to great effect and acclaim not just with White Hills but label mates Shit and Shine (who are perhaps more uncompromising even than Gnod) and, indirectly, Chilean filmmaker and director Alejandro Jodorowsky at last year’s Cork Film Festival when they provided an imagined soundtrack to Jodorowsky’s Dune, described as the best film never to make it to screen. Not content with a level of activity and creativity that would be beyond most, the band operates its own label, Tesla Tapes, showcasing exciting new talent while individual members immerse themselves in their own copious extra-curricular musical activities.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015 and in the wake of Infinity Machines their most ambitious album release to date, tQ caught up with the band’s core four to discuss triple album releases, marathon tours, myriad side projects and their strange notions of collaboration.

Firstly, congratulations on Infinity Machines. How happy are you with it and with the industry’s and public’s response to it?

Paddy Shine: Cheers, yes I'm extremely happy with it. A lot of work went into it and I got to work with some players and instruments that were integral in it sounding the way it does. There was also a lot of role swapping which was great, for example our live sound engineer Andy [Raikes Parade] plays drums on quite a few of the tracks. Stuff like that made it exciting to get stuck into. It’s a beast and I was very interested to see what the old guard Gnod fans would make of it. Some of the tracks are from the live sets we were touring for a couple of years in our more electronic sounding form which always got a mixed reaction from the crowds we had played to in our more guitar based format over the years. It’s always good to see if people are going to think your stuff is shit when it maybe something completely different from what they are expecting. I love being kept on my toes and keeping others on theirs.

Chris Haslam: It was the biggest studio project we have embarked on to date and to see it grow from those first jams we did in the venue space at Islington Mill into a finished piece of work is hugely satisfying. The public response and the press response have been mostly positive but the most important thing is that we are happy with it and the fact that we created it ourselves, all in-house (apart from the mastering), is something to be proud of.

Marlene Ribeiro: It sort of came as a surprise to me as I was only involved in the recording process at the start, so to hear all of it come together in one piece was like hearing it for the first time. I’m really proud of my fellow musicians for doing such a mammoth job on it, and it's had a great response from the public.

It is an ambitious and vast concept. What prompted a triple album release of such seismic proportion? Tell us a bit about the writing and recording process. Is it true that a lot of it was painstakingly edited down from extended jams?

PS: It’s vast because we had not released a proper album in a few years and there was a lot to document from those years and a lot of new ground we were exploring. It made sense to see if people could swallow something so odd in its different styles. I’m sure a lot of people find it a bit incoherent in its structure but to me it perfectly sums up the period it was recorded in and the few years leading up to it. I don't really like to talk about the process too much, all I can say that the engineer, Sam Weaver, who we worked with in recording, mixing /editing was bloody great and taught us a lot of cool stuff. He was a joy to work with and turned us on to a lot of great ideas and ways of working. We had our disagreements but I'm hoping the learning curve was a mutual benefit for both us and him.

MR: I think the concept and the music sums up what Gnod is, and it reflects the way we work. The recording process was, let’s say, different to other albums like Chaudelande for obvious reasons but not so dissimilar to other albums like InGnodWeTrust. It was great to have Sam with us for a different approach and the means to record and mix it under the same roof. The mixing process was very rigorous and kudos to those involved in making it into what it is.

Alex Macarte: The recording process itself is all a kind of a blur to me, with people swapping roles and doing different things on different tracks, with a free flow approach to what we were doing and which is great. After editing and mixing, it still sounded fresh and exciting to me. Sam, Paddy and Chris especially did an amazing job. I was in New York at the time when the last part of the mixing was finished and when Paddy sent me the final masters it was like a fresh, new and exciting record for me too. In previous projects I've worked on, the music has been so rigid and planned from conception onwards that it’s easier to lose the magic of the music. This time it felt like I was getting a different perspective than usual, which was great. I love that it’s spread over 3LPs. With music being so immediate these days, it’s nice to have something as a whole body of work. Its disjointed parts actually seem to contradict what you would expect and really tie the whole thing together. I've always been a fan of music that you have to dedicate time to in order to get the best out it, to sacrifice something of yourself to and be thus be rewarded for.

CH: For us it was just the next album. We didn't set out to do a triple LP but it became obvious once we started putting stuff down in the studio that it might be a long one. When you are playing tracks that usually hit the 10-20 minute mark then you're going to end up with a long album. The way the music is demands that you make a bit of time for it.

To what extent does the whole Islington Mill thing lend itself to this sort of process in terms of time and space? Is this your Schloss Norvenich (Can)?

PS: It does play a massive roll in what we do but the Mill is not really 'our' place in the sense that Can's studio was their baby. Gnod are simply temporary custodians of this space and the Mill allows us to take full advantage of "time and space". The people that flow through there are a constant inspiration and endless source of ideas. It’s given us so much whether it’s allowing us to invite people for residencies, space to record, gigs, beers, space to live and create freely, I just hope we do the Mill justice with our time here and somehow help to lay some foundations for future musicians/artists that will pass through.

AM: The Mill has influenced my life in ways that I'm probably not even aware of yet, and it’s always going to play a massive part in what we are doing with Gnod. It truly is a special place for all the reasons Paddy mentions, and I too hope we are feeding that energy and inspiration as much as it feeds us.

CH: It gives us the time and space to do what we do. As Paddy & Alex said it gives us a lot of influence & encouragement. I don't think a club night like Gesamtkunstwerk would have been possible in any other venue. The Mill supports our ideas and allows these sorts of things to happen.

MR: The Mill plays a big part in it, with the time and space, flexibility and also influences by all the people that are part of the mill. Everyone involved in the album is associated with the Mill either by having studios here or it being a second home for them, I'd also dare say the album has a big similarity to the way things operate here, that of being organised chaos.

Tell us about the use of spoken word on Infinity Machines as opposed to more conventional vocals. What artistic or other intent was there in this approach?

CH: I interviewed a few people from the mill, asking them a series of open ended questions about various subjects. I was trying to capture a feeling of what it was like to be a human being in 2014, what they thought about the issues of privacy, spirituality, politics, etc. The idea was to create a thread that ran through the album, like a consciousness awakening every now and then to express its environment.

PS: It just makes perfect sense in the whole concept and collage approach to the album. It’s still quite cryptic though, I reckon.

AM: Agreed, and it’s nice to have involvement from people in our community. They all inform a part of our day to day life so it's perfect that they're on there. Also, what they say is pretty great and touches on some deep levels although it’s ambiguous enough to have people take a totally subjective individual understanding.

Can you tell us more about the input of non-touring members such as Sam (synths) and David (sax)? How have you reconciled the spaced out, dub-jazz with the current live set up which features a stripped back lineup of a basic rock four piece? (And how have you managed to do justice to the new album or have you not bothered with that)?

PS: Sam, as I mentioned before, was integral in the making of the album. He also played his modular synth on various tracks and David Mclean is someone I wanted to work with for ages but the opportunity never arose until these recordings. David is always on point, no matter how many bevvies he has had. I can’t fault a man for that shit. As for the current live set, well, we are doing what we always do which is, we pretty much write a whole new bunch of stuff as we go along, throwing in the odd number from a current album but pretty much gearing up to get stuff together for the next record. Either that or just doing some improvised stripped down stuff, it all depends on the show.

The sets during our last tour in May were predominately made up of new material. By the end of the tour this material had found some shape and form and a new sound was emerging, which is great. It’s like starting afresh again. After the amount of time we spent working on Infinity Machines I did not want to revisit those tracks and play them live unless we completely fucked with their style and structure.

CH: I met Sam Weaver through the artist Neil Robbins who is also based at Islington Mill. I wanted to start some electronics workshops and Sam was looking to move up to Salford to do the same thing. We started Open Circuit together, bringing synth designers to the Mill to teach people how to build devices. Sam is a modular synth enthusiast and also a great sound engineer so we asked him if he wanted to be involved in the album. He became a really important part in creating that album. It would be hard to imagine Infinity Machines sounding like it does without his input.

What are the pros and cons of always upping/changing your sound? In doing so is there a danger of confounding your audience who either have to stick with you or change?

PS: I don't think there are any cons. It’s just good to keep on trying new ideas, putting yourself under pressure and in the moment. We change around a lot but I think we are fairly consistent at the same time. We have lost a few listeners due to radical changes, mostly space rock obsessives that can't seem to get over the Dropout album. Fine by me, I'm not that bothered if the audience is confounded when we do something different. In fact I'm glad if they are.

CH: As a music fan I find that bands/musicians who don't just stick to one sound are the most interesting. The creation of music shouldn't be limited because you might alienate people. That is a marketing move, to repeat the same style because if you don't then your fans won't be able to relate to it. I like to believe that the majority of our fans love the fact that we change it up so often and that they never really know what they are getting. Then you have to trust that what the band are doing and that the music they are putting out there is pure because it comes from themselves and it's the music they want to be making at that time. A lot of the time it's sad when a band 'find' their sound and get popular because you know as a fan that it's the beginning of the end. They've found a formula that can be used to sell to a market and the creativity gets weaker as it is watered down to make it more palatable for mass consumption. This is why for most bands their debut album is usually their best which I don't think is the case with a band like Gnod.

MR: Everyone's got different tastes and preferences in music so some fans who were there from the start of Gnod might not be so much into the way the music has changed. It would be for the same for new listeners going through our old stuff. I think that's all a positive reaction. I think most bands go through that.

29 gigs in 26 days is a pretty intense schedule and you’re gigging again this month (July) and August. What does that intensity of gigging do to the sound and indeed relations within the band?

PS: So three of those shows were side project shows that happened on the same night as the Gnod gigs: two Negra Branca and one Dwellings & one Druss. It was hectic, certainly the most intense tour we have done. No days off and not much sleep. I fucking love that situation, the music gets tight, things get murky, people get tested and show their true colours but most importantly the music gets tight. It’s like being in some really fucked up Army Division or something.

AM: Ha, Ha... Yes it was very full-on but wholly satisfying. I'm someone who really likes to experience as many different situations as I can, so it was really great to push ourselves like that. We all live in the same building with each other and see something of each other most days, but of course have our own little sanctuaries. To be everyday with each other, in the van, on the stage, in the heat; to eat, sleep, play and sweat together every day with that intensity, all the good, all the bad and everything in between really creates this huge energy that, when channelled on stage is just brilliant! I was drumming on the last tour and it was relentless, physically and mentally, I felt I was obliterating myself every night, only to be put back together in order to repeat it all over again the next night! It was very cathartic. It was crazy, exhausting and electrifying and I loved it.

MR: It was pretty intense and a lot of fun, a few ups and downs but that's what makes it really. I think the extra shows we played added to that intensity as for example the Dwellings & Druss show in Golden Pudel (Hamburg) was an all-nighter - a really great all-nighter for that matter - after Gnod had already played a show earlier at a different venue.

I have to say the drive up to Copenhagen that morning was pretty chaotic though. As for the two Negra Branca shows I asked Paddy and Alex to improvise with me so we were basically our own support act. It was a change from playing a rehearsed set. It did shape the sound and made it a lot tighter. As for what it did for relationships - we all have our days don't we?

CH: It was a great tour, the most successful one to date so far for us. I don't think I will ever get sick of it. Even after 26 days straight I felt like it was over a bit quick!

Presumably new ideas get tried out and are worked into the set over time. Are these likely to manifest themselves in future releases or is it merely “time and place”?

PS: Yes most likely.

Have any of these gigs been recorded with the possibility of us enjoying the Gnod live experience in our living rooms?

PS: I don't think so.

CH: In virtual reality – To be revealed...

You played with Hey Colossus at Corsica, South London which was an amazing show. Both acts are on Rocket Recording and you’ve been with them some time now. How has this relationship benefited the band?

CH: Chris & Johnny are really big supporters of Gnod. Not many labels would have risked putting out a triple vinyl like Infinity Machines. It could have really fucked them financially had it not have sold. We respect them for that, they've got balls.

PS: Rocket are good lads, really good lads, we all get on well. They put out the records and don't interfere with the creative process, have good ideas about artwork and have decent enough distribution. Now that they have Goat it’s good for us too as all the kids are checking out Rocket and maybe some of them are getting down with Gnod and all the other Rocket artists.

Drop Out with White Hills comes close to the mythical musical motherlode and there have been further hookups with Dave W since then. Can we expect more? And what, besides friendship, has kept drawing you back to each other?

PS: Aye, possibly something in the pipe line with Dave. White Hills and Gnod are kind of on the same trajectory and we tour the same places at the same time so as long as we do that we will always be seeing each other and shooting the shit.

And what of other collaborations? Are there any in the pipeline and are there anyone you specifically want to nail down?

PS: There are a few possibilities. One I can mention is a split with a German group known as Samolet, probably the last true "Krautrock" band left in the land. I think our Chris is keen to work with Lionel Richie and Alex has been on the phone to Jimmy Sommerville a lot this year.

AH: Yeah that Jimmy Sommerville hook-up is looking great. As someone with masses of hair, I've always wanted to work with someone devoid of it.

CH: Never try to nail down something that's in the pipeline, all you'll get is a burst pipe.

Tell us more about the Gnodorowsky project – how it came about, what it’s about and what people could expect?

PS: We were asked by Cork Film Festival to do something based around Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never made version of Dune. It was quite a formidable task to be honest. I personally think we probably could have spent a few years doing something really special but what we managed to pull off with a few months prep was pretty decent, especially because of the involvement of KHOM (Jamie Robinson) in the visual side of it. I’d love to be commissioned to spend a good year or two working on a project like Gnodorowsky.

AH: Gnodorowsky was a great experience. We're big fans of Jodorowsky, both his work and his philosophies. He’s a true modern day alchemist. So it was an honour to be asked by the film festival to do it. I thought we did a great job with the time we had and it was really a nice weekend in Cork. I would love to do it again, although I think there's much more we could do with the project.

CH: As a massive fan of Dune and of AJ it was truly flattering to be asked by Cork Film Festival to create an audio/visual representation of his version of Dune. It's something I think could be developed into something bigger & better than what we did at CFF. Not that what we performed was bad but it was done in a short space of time. I think we would all love to develop it more as a project but it would take a lot of work to get it how we want it and would involve more collaborations with artists to make it happen. We've got ideas on where we would like to take it but without the funding needed to undertake such a project it would be very difficult for us to do. We don't want to do it the same as we did at CFF so there's a chance it will end up being one of those many Gnod shows which was just a one-off.

Some of you have been busy with side projects – Alex and Paddy supporting mouth-watering acts such as Kikagaku Moyo and Eternal Tapestry for instance. Aside from being great fun (presumably) what do you gain most from these associations?

MR: It's a gateway to experiment and explore your writing skills. You are the sole decision maker, so it's a different approach to making music after playing in bands for years. You work at your own pace but I find it a bit more nerve wrecking doing it live though, if you fuck up you can't just look at the guitarist and pretend it was him.

AM: I've been playing a few more solo things this year and done a few live collaborations. It’s a totally different dynamic, working on your own. I get a lot out of it for sure. I've played in bands since forever so it’s just an interesting and different form of expression and they both benefit each other. One thing can totally lend to and inform the other. It’s good to be able to put something out there that is truly your own creation although it can be quite daunting at times. It’s like someone peeping into my mind and heart, there's something a bit more personal and vulnerable about it. Live it can be really scary, as it is just you there with no back-up from your usual gang so if something doesn't go well or to plan you're on your own! I'm getting better at that and facing those fears but it is challenging and opens up different ways of working, which I think can only be positive. The same goes with collaborating in other projects. Variety is the spice of life and you can learn things you might not have otherwise. Most recently I've done some recording with Mark Wagner (Moon Ra, H.U.M) which was really great so hopefully that will see the light of day at some point. We'll be performing live together soon.

CH: 90% of my live shows as Dwellings are as a resident of Gesamtkunstwerk. I usually do an hour set at some point during the night. Dwellings & Druss have just released the album Level 3 on Tesla Tapes and the show & DJ set we did a Golden Pudel in Hamburg was so much fun. I also work with Mike O'Neill whose new album is out later this year. It's a good thing to be busy with music.

PS: I am never really happy with what I'm doing as a side project because I'm too involved in Gnod, maybe. Most of my musical ideas receive Gnod preference because that’s where my head is at 99% of the time. My solo stuff is a chance to try stuff, and play with toys but I'm rarely happy with the recorded output and when I am happy with it I usually use it for Gnod purposes. The stuff I do with Chris (Dwellings & Druss) and Gareth (Vanishing) is different as we bounce off each other which is ace, lots of fun.

Tesla Tapes, too, appears to be going from strength to strength. Will it reach the stage where you start self-releasing major Gnod material on Tesla?

PS: Yeah, it's possible we could do a major Gnod album. For now, though, I'm just really enjoying releasing new music by other folks and experimenting with ideas for artwork and releases. Tesla has some really special releases on the cards this year, including some really interesting and talented Manchester artists such as Water and Locean. These are two very important local bands I'm pretty lucky to have access to the stuff they want to release. It’s very exciting.

CH: Water & Locean are my favourite current Manc bands so I’m looking forward to those two releases. Big up Tesla!

MR: Tesla tapes got the ball rolling for me in starting a solo project and I'm sure a few other musicians can say the same when they were asked to do a Tesla release. Maybe I see it in a different way but i think it created this flux of solo projects and in some cases gave music a life outside of people's bedrooms, it's exciting to hear what goes on inside your mates’ heads.

AH: Seeing what Paddy has been doing with Tesla has been inspirational. Giving some amazing music a platform and consistently putting out quality sounds! Long may it continue!

Where do you go now, further interstellar overdrive or something different?

PS: I’d like to tour in Israel, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, and maybe even America. Otherwise look out for more gigs, more albums and keep an eye on Tesla Tapes because there is some really special stuff on the way. Oh an get Cameron out of Number 10 and replace him with a few sticks of dynamite.

CH: Keep on keepin' on. What else is there to do?

Gnod are on tour now. More details here