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Escape Velocity

Interested In The Magic: Audiobooks Interviewed
Anna Wood , April 23rd, 2018 13:01

We’ve already reported on their astonishing live shows. Today their first EP is out and so is their first interview, right here.

Evangeline Ling is a fine art student at Goldsmiths. She writes stories, she can do a bit of Irish country dancing, and she sings like she’s a conduit for spirits and places unknown. David Wrench is a well-known and even more well-loved producer and mixer who has worked with Gwenno, Caribou, Frank Ocean, David Byrne and a gazillion more, and who understands modular patch-it-in balance-it-out magic in a way that others do not. They met in a west London pub a little over a year ago, and the rest is batshit pop synth history.

Evangeline Ling: We just sat next to each other in a pub and started talking, at a party the Christmas before last. My friend kept playing this Glass Animals song he’d mixed - I love that song.

David Wrench: I’d been living in Bangor but I was in London all the time, hiring other studios and bringing my gear back and forth. I felt detached up in Wales, I didn’t really have a direction. I had this idea before I came down that I wanted something creative to happen, to get back into making music. And then two days after moving in, I meet Evangeline, and I get a text the next day saying “Can I come round and see the studio?” It was still being wired in.

EL: I didn’t even know we’d jam. I just kept thinking, He mixed that song! He’s going to be a wizard!

DW: I’d set up this big modular synth, this massive thing with all these wires. Evangeline asked about it, so I showed her what all the modules do and then I just left her to it. I had loads of other stuff to do. After a while I thought I’d listen, and it was really good so I started jamming along. That’s what [first single] ‘Gothenburg’ came out of. I’ve never seen anyone suss a modular synth out that quickly, it takes people months.

EL: There was a main board and I just concentrated on that.

DW: There’s all these wires - it’s not just a matter of pressing a preset.

EL: It’s like a spaceship.

Tell us about some of these lovely machines.

DW: The main synth on the album is probably my ARP 2600, although I only got it about halfway through. It’s my pride-and-joy synth - early 70s, semi modular, you can patch it but also you don’t need anything patched in and it’ll still come out with a sound. It’s just beautiful. There’s something about it - it brings things to life.

EL: It has a mind of its own. It goes off on one.

DW: My other favourite is the Elka Synthex - an 80s polyphonic synth. It’s very Jean Michel Jarre. You can layer two sounds up on it, and it’s thick and huge.

I can see why people get a bit obsessive about synths.

DW: A lot of people get really obsessive about all these things, but they don’t actually make any music. It’s making music that’s the important bit, but it’s easy to get sucked into the technicalities of it. You’ve just got to learn it very quickly and play. That’s why it was amazing that Evangeline got her head round it so fast.

EL: I’m not really interested in technical details. I’m probably too much the other way.

And you’d just come round for a look at the studio, that first morning?

EL: Yes. We just really got on. We clicked. I know it seems weird.

DW: It was quite obvious that we had a really good creative communication. All the stuff on the EP is written, almost improvised, in here. It’s all made in the studio from scratch.

EL: Except some of the stories, which I write on my phone. Around the time when we first met I’d got into this groove of writing. I’d started using words in my sketchbooks, just as shapes. I’d draw with words. I wanted every page to be a story. And that became the lyrics.

They’re somewhere between Coronation Street and The Fall. And a bit of Taste Of Honey.

DW: There’s a little bit of Ivor Cutler in there, too, and John Cooper Clarke.

EL: I write them often on a train or a bus. I think that does something to the pace - I keep looking up to see where I need to get off, so it stops and starts, and the fact that I’m moving does something to the writing.

DW: You started doing paintings that were linked in to the songs as soon as we started working together.

EL: Or I’d use a painting as a way into a song. I used both, to bounce off each other. The song helps me free up. Everyone at art school is always obsessing about ‘why?’ all the time. You get into this trap sometimes, with other artists - they kill it by telling you all about it, or they use their research to justify their passion. I’m interested in the magic of things. Your heart knows it’s good.

DW: I’ve seen bands do something really interesting and then pull back from it and kill it, so many times. A lot of it is about worrying about looking cool. You’ve got to open yourself up - you’ll get laughed at and you’ll get criticised, but it’s fine. Go with that feeling of being uncomfortable, it because it means you’re going somewhere new.

EL: When I’m improvising, I’ve got to do a load of awful crappy shit first and then it gets to the point where everything I’m doing is on a roll.

DW: ‘Pebbles’ was a one-take improvisation with no edits, nothing before or afterwards. We had five minutes, we’d fucked around too much that day, listening to records and eating. We were going to a friend’s party and we were like, Shit, we haven’t done anything all day. We’ve got five minutes and then we have to get the bus. So we just hit record and that’s what came out, in its entirety. We didn’t really talk about what we were going to do.

EL: You were like, “Let’s do a love ballad!”

DW: Yeah, an 80s love ballad!

The improvisation on ‘Pebbles’ is a real conversation - like when the synth and the vocals both lift up part way through. That takes it up an emotional notch.

DW: We went to that note at the same time. Afterwards we were both, Ooh, what happened there? And then we had to go out.

EL: We didn’t stay at the party very long.

DW: We ate the food and ran. We were thinking, We need to go back and listen to that song.

And have the gigs been what you were expecting?

EL: It felt a bit of a risk, we just didn’t know.

DW: We decided to do it so differently live to how it is on record. It had to keep the spirit of how we made it, and be quite free, and no computers on stage. It would have been simpler to just run everything off a computer, but we wanted it to be really risky, to have chunks where it’s improvised and unplanned. We worked hard on our cues and getting the communication right, but we didn’t know.

The live show is quite high-wire, it’s almost nervewracking to watch.

DW: It’s by the skin of its teeth. I love that in performance. Like when you see The Fall or Sonic Youth - it’s exciting, and sometimes it does fall apart. Some things are so slick, just run off a computer. And it feels like a weird bubble when we’re on stage, we just go into this zone.

EL: Sometimes when we play I almost zone out. And then David has to say “Are you zoning out?”

DW: “Are you zoning out?!”

EL: I almost zoned out when we played at The Social. It was scary. It wasn’t just that I forgot the words - I forgot how to speak, I forgot why I was there. My brain just went really really slow. And then it went, Oh, you’re here because you’re in a band and you’re on stage and people want to see a good performance.

DW: I could feel it. But the whole thing only lasted about a second.

EL: In my mind, it went on for ages and it was really scary. I couldn’t hear anything.

And what about your dancing?

EL: I learned Irish dancing at primary school. Not that my dancing on stage is anything like what they taught us, but I remembered a few of the steps. When I was a kid I would Irish dance all over the place, to the shop, to school, back home. When my brother saw us play, he was like, “Evangeline, you’re just doing what you do at home, but on stage. I don’t get why people like this.” But I think it looks really cool. I like the misplacement of that dancing to our music - it’s like a collage.

David, this is the first time you’ve made your own stuff for a while, isn’t it?

DW: I’d always made music, but then the mixing suddenly took off and when that happens you’ve just got to go with it, take that opportunity. Then I thought, I’ve ridden that wave for a bit and I need to move back into making music. I love doing what I do and I get to work with some incredible people, and be involved creatively with some of my heroes. But I wanted to make music again. The last thing I did was with Julian Cope. I learned so much. And the main thing I learned is that first takes are the ones. If you can do a concentrated first take, if you can get the improvisation take, you can capture something there that you’ll never ever capture again.

EL: I love that, I love doing that.

DW: Julian’s so hardcore about it. He has this amazing attitude about how you deal with mistakes. First you live with them - just see how you feel over time - and sometimes you’ll think, Actually no, it’s not a mistake, it’s just different to what I intended, and it’s fine. The other thing is maybe you can orchestrate the mistake, so it becomes a beautiful moment, something that rubs unexpectedly or changes unexpectedly. And the other thing is, just cover it up with something. Only after those options have been exhausted, then okay you may need to redo something. On this record, there’s maybe one or two seconds here and there where something’s gone drastically wrong, but pretty much the whole album is first takes. And it’s got this energy to it that you can’t get any other way.

That sounds a very different process to the work you do as a mixer or producer with other artists, where you’re taking what they’ve made and making these changes to it…

DW: It’s piecing it together and balancing. I still do that with our stuff, we do it together. It’s very much both of us involved with all the aspects of it.

EL: I’m not as trained or as technical as David, but I’ve got ears. That’s all it takes, if you know what you want. It’s basically decision-making.

DW: That’s it. If you’re an artist it runs through whatever you do. And we discovered early on that because we feel so comfortable around each other, we’re happy to do something crap and not worry about it. We just laugh at the bits where it’s gone really wrong.

EL: That’s such a massive thing. In other bands, sometimes people make funny comments and it stops you having the confidence. A lot of what I do is shit, but you have to let the person breathe - get through the shit and it gets to the good stuff.

How did you get involved with Heavenly?

DW: I invited Jeff [Barrett, head of Heavenly Records] to have a listen. We didn’t play it to many people at all, we kept it very close.

EL: Jeff got it straight away.

DW: By the first chorus. He turned round and said, “I fucking love this.”

EL: I didn’t think he meant it! But he really meant it.

DW: I’ve worked with him on various things - I was mixing the Gwenno album last year, I worked on Beth Orton with him years ago. He such a brilliant person.

EL: He has such positive energy, he’s so encouraging and warm.

Jeff’s definition of being cool, I think he told me once, is to find something you love and tell other people about it.

EL: That is amazing. So many people just keep things to themselves, they don’t say anything, and it becomes a kind of bitterness. You’ve got to get it out, and then you get it back too.

Audiobooks are playing over the summer:
18 May – Brighton: The Great Escape, Horatio’s
29 May – London: The Lexington (with Mattiel)
26 July – St Germans, Cornwall: Port Eliot Festival
14 Sept – Hawarden, Flintshire: The Good Life Experience

The EP is available on limited edition vinyl here