Githead Interview: Colin Newman & Malka Spigel On Making A Perfect Landing

Don't-call-them-a-supergroup-group Githead's new album is a Quietus favourite of 2009. Luke Turner sat down with Colin Newman and Malka Spigel for an animated discussion on its whys and wherefores

"You’re the first person we’ve done an interview with who hasn’t asked us if it’s a concept album," says Githead’s Colin Newman. "All the Americans think it is, just because it’s called Landing, there’s a track called ‘Take Off’ and there’s a picture of an aeroplane on the front." Those daft Yanks, making their London Bridge errors once again. What Githead’s third album actually is is one of the most surprising albums of the year, Newman, Malka Spigel, Robin Rimbaud (who you might better know as Scanner) and drummer Max Franken turning in a seemingly piece that’s at once accessible and deeply inventive, motorik neo-shoegaze pop. For although Newman says "our last album was quite Ronseal with the title, Artpop", that title is a word that might be better applied to Landing. Only one track, ‘Over The Limit’ features Newma’s sardonic, instantly recognizable vocal – across the rest of Landing it’s largely Spigel who takes the fore, her vocals warm and accommodating, sitting just above the intertwined fuzz of Newman and Rimbaud’s guitar. The Quietus caught up with the pair to find out more.

So Colin, can you tell us a little about how you recorded Landing?

Colin Newman: I’ve always had this ambition to make records that sound as good as anyone else’s records, but without their serious budget, because unless you’re trying to do charming and quirky… which is great but I’m not really sure if I know how to do charming and quirky.

Malka Spigel: We tried! Kind of what I wanted from this album before it because what it was, I wanted it to be more charming and quirky, or more organic somehow.

CN: But it was partly to do with Art Pop. We got great reviews for it, it was a very polished kind of record, and I didn’t really know if we could make a better record than that, but Malka said we could…

MS: People say ‘how is it different?’ and we say ‘it’s harder and softer and faster’.

CN: In a way it goes back to the basic question, ‘why bother doing Githead?’ Wire’s very respected and has an inter-generational following, anything you could want, so why would I want a different band? For me, that’s not the logic at all. For me the logic is Githead is something that has to be done. It demands existence, because it’s too good.

Does that come from the forming of the band as a one-off project for the SWIM label anniversary?

MS: It does grow like something that has its own life. It’s not like a project where you go back to it and do another record.

CN: It’s not based on any decision. In the beginning it always felt completely right, it was unforced. It’s very different to Wire in its very nature, it just is. It’s different people. That was really instructional in doing that thing with Tortoise is that’s what it is – it’s just different people that makes it different. It’s sounds so moronic and obvious, but that’s what it comes down to.

MS: But have you ever been in another band apart from Wire? Before Githead? You’ve had no experience of what it’s like!

CN: I was in a band with Desmond when I was at school. It was really important! We rehearsed and everything. It was brilliant because whatever was in the NME he wanted to be. We’d be getting our heads together in the country one week, and whatever the bands were doing he’d be doing that, and then he’d leave the band three times a week.

MS: Did you fall out?

CN: No no, it was artistic reasons. hahha artistic reasons! He played guitar and I hit a box! [cracks up]

So Githead’s not like that?

CN: There’s enough, there’s enough. Internal relations in a band are always complex. It is special the way that Malka and I can work together.

MS: We worked together for years on different projects but never in the same band. It never even crossed my mind until you collaborated with Minimal. We stood in a room and suddenly you played, I played, and Max played. There was this moronic power, of three people playing moronic together.

Does Colin bring the moron element?

MS: We’re all morons.

CN: Malka’s pretty moronic…

MS: Pretty?

CN: Pretty and moronic. See what I did there haahaha. Apart from not being Wire, which is one of the things that Githead gets beaten up for, it also gets beaten up for not being hard enough, or not being experimental enough…

MS: Because they hear the pop tunes and not everything else that’s going on.

CN: Why should we have to be more experimental? You don’t start with a category and try and make the music fit it, and believe me plenty of people do that and that’s why their records sound shit. You start with having some ideas and try and make them into something that works.

What were these ideas when it came to Landing?

MS: We had some abstract ideas of how it should progress from the the last one.

What were they?

MS: I don’t know. I can’t even put it into words, it’s very strange.

CN: I think the parts are less divided. It’s not like ‘here’s a rhythm guitar’ and ‘here’s a lead’. You don’t know who’s playing what at any one point, which is what makes it interesting in a way. One of the things has been to encourage Robin to play inside my guitar, because it’s a more interesting space. The guitars merge. It’s a way more powerful thing than having the traditional thing of ‘here’s a rhythm guitar and here’s a lead guitar’. Malka’s got very driving basslines, and Max can do a real mean boom-cha, there’s no jazz there of any kind, that’s what you’ve got, so you might as well exploit what you’ve got and use it. The other thing that we always think about this record is, and it sounds ridiculous, but we wanted to return to our Krautrock roots. On Headgit, our first EP, everyone said oh they sound really Krautrock, and we really liked that.

So you mixed it all, Colin?

CN: Yeah. The way I mix a track is to take out all the things that annoy me, and at the end it must be finished because I listen to it all the way through and it doesn’t annoy me. I don’t really know technically how to do it.

You both recently played an unannounced gig in Calgary as part of the preparations for the Sled Festival that you created. How was that?

CN: We came offstage on a high thinking that was so pure. In a way that’s what we’re looking for, maybe we’re naive to think that people will listen to it that way. We know that 10% know the difference, and 90% don’t. And that 90% can be all kinds, editors of magazines, all kinds of people, they don’t know. You have to judge it for what it is, not what you think it is. We’ve all got preconceptions about stuff, but if something is good, it’s good. I don’t care who it is making it. You have to be like that. We might sound arrogant, we might sound like we’ve got a ghost’s chance in hell, but basically we’re trying to make contemporary music. We want to make a rock record for now, and we don’t want to sound like anyone else. Malka and I, we’re complete and utter fashion victims. It’s about now. I don’t know anything about 30 or 40 years ago.

MS: It’s completely obvious! Why do we have to say?

CN: Because people don’t get it. It’s the great conundrum of it all, because to a person who understands it you don’t have to explain anything, but to a person who doesn’t understand you can explain all you want but they’ll never get it.

MS: It’s their loss.

Githead play the Toutpartout agency birthday gig at the Scala this Thursday, November 26th, alongside Todd, Shit & Shine and more. For more Githead, visit their website.

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