INTERVIEW: BEAK> On Couple In A Hole

Geoff Barrow and Billy Fuller talk to Tom Marsh about a new movement in British psychedelia, public safety films of the seventies and feeling warm and weird

Initially released in September last year and in cinemas across the country now, Couple In A Hole is a beautiful, harrowing and deeply odd film, the second feature by Belgian-born, London-based Tom Geens.

The film follows a Scottish couple, played by Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie, as they return to nature in a big way following personal tragedy, becoming cave dwellers in a forest in the French Pyrenees. Fitting perfectly with this unsettling experience is a soundtrack by motorik rockers BEAK>.

The duo of Geoff Barrow and Billy Fuller (following the recent departure of Matt Williams in February) make the kind of claustrophobic, hypnotic music, drawing as it does on krautrock, post-punk and Interstellar-Overdrive psychedelia, that slots into Geens’ world with ease and we got together with the duo to discuss the process behind their work.

How did you two approach this soundtrack, then? What was your process?

Billy Fuller: We saw a first draft of the film and it had all of Tom Geens’ favourite BEAK> songs in different places in the film, and some of them worked, and some of them didn’t.

Geoff Barrow: We then very quickly decided what needed re-recording, and what didn’t work. And we worked it out with Tom and he was very open minded about it, so it worked out incredibly well. As relationships working on films go, it was very smooth. And then we went to the studio for a week, went through the film, and what was nice was that we had a big screen and we could play stuff to it just looking at the film.

When you’re working on the recordings, I’ve got the sense previously that you’re quite limited to what techniques you use, playing live and using minimal overdubs for example. Is that something you were doing here as well?

B: It was the same BEAK> approach as all the records, which was playing live – the screen playing the film in the live room and us playing along to it. There might’ve been one overdub on something but it was still pretty much playing to picture and that’s sort of how we’ve always done it anyway.

The points where the tracks were in the film had already been specified by Tom?

G: Yeah, he had his ideas, I’d say eighty percent of which remained the same, and then we wrote some new tunes, where we just didn’t feel like there was enough energy, or was too Earth-sounding, or we replaced where we had a synth with bass, you know. The weird thing with that re-recording thing is that it can be [more orchestral], like the track in the very last scene [‘Embers’], which is built up by Billy playing double-bass, so it’s more orchestral, you know what I mean?

B: Yeah, thinking back there were about three takes of double bass, low, and up, in more cello-like positions. With a synth running as well.

Given the film’s setting, do you have it in mind that you’re working with the omnipresent forest sounds? There are always the birds or the running streams, are you thinking – we’re competing with that?

G:, Well, it’s strange you say that, because on our first BEAK> album, most of the track titles are named after very woodland and country-based things… you know, hill forts and that around the West Country. And our instruments, we consider them organic – a mono synth looks like something that could’ve grown out of a tree. And double bass… it’s not like, laptops. It actually felt like they were very in tune together. It never felt like we were bringing computerised music to an outside environment.

B: I think it would’ve been tempting to put a Nick Drake-sounding score across it, I suppose. But that’s not us.

G: And also, [the central characters] have been in the forest for a long time, they’re very malnourished and dehydrated. So a lot of their thoughts would be very woozy, and pretty trippy, so we wanted to play on that in our score, that’s what suited our sound.

Who or what did you draw on? I’d be tempted to suggest that you’re not looking at composers and sountrackers for this, as it feels very much like a BEAK> album as opposed to a BEAK> soundtrack album.

B: Not for me, no, just the BEAK> sound really.

G: The BEAK> sound, everyone says about the German influence, and Gong. But we wrote this last year, and by then we were pretty confident on what our sound is. We use very specific instruments which make it sound like us. So we were very sure of ourselves, that we could make it sound like a BEAK> soundtrack.

It absolutely sounds very similar to your previous works and I think that does fit, because there is, and you’ve put it better than me, a sort of earthiness to it despite it not being folky.

G: It’s most probably also like a sonic… I believe in the sonic unconscious, and because it’s very slow, it reminds me of films like Kes, or…

B: A Taste Of Honey.

G: Yeah. Slow moving. And back then the instruments would’ve been very similar to what we’re using now. It’s retro in a sense. It could almost be like one of those films that tell you not to go near train tracks, public information films of the seventies. You don’t want to say that you’re primarily going for a retro sound, and we’re not, but it makes you feel warm… and weird.

B: I think it’s only retro in the sense that we’re using a drum kit, bass guitar, a synth and an organ and maybe a guitar. While it’s limiting of what we can use it’s also kind of refreshing because you can work harder with what you’ve got.

I mean negative rules, do-nots, can enhance creativity.

B: Yeah.

And it doesn’t feel like you’re rehashing to me, it’s got a very modern sound.

G: I’m glad you said that, because that’s a good place for us to think someone feels about it, because it could quite easily be dismissed as retro, you know.

Are there any composers at the moment whose work you’re enjoying?

G: There’s a nice scene at the moment with people like Clint Mansell, what he’s done with Moon, and Cliff Martinez.

B: I got The Ipcress File from a charity shop the other day, that sounded good.

G: On vinyl?

B: Yeah, down the charity shop. Great isn’t it?

G: It’s a ton of money that.

B: Is it? I got it for fifty pence.

G: You did well there. I can remember spending, I think, 60 quid on it, years ago.

B: Oh, result!

G: Yeah! It’s weird with scores, because technology plays so much of a part of it now. What I really enjoyed about doing this score is that it didn’t and that it was kind of wrong, and had its own character. A lot of scores now, particularly for mid-level science fiction and thrillers, rely on the same tool, a bit like dance music does. So it was really nice to do something fresh. I tell you, I went and watched The Greasy Strangler, you know that film?

B: No.

I don’t, actually.

G: The soundtrack was made by, ah, one side of the Fuck Buttons, not Ben…

B: Blanck Mass?

G: No, that was Ben, it’s… Andrew Hung. Mica Levi, too. I actually think [Under The Skin] is my favourite soundtrack, possibly of all time. I think it’s up there with the best. We did a special edition of that for one of the companies, and I walked in and it was playing, and I just went, what the hell is that? Not as a soundtrack, just as a record. So I think that’s amazing. I’d like to see what she does next.

And what are you guys doing next? Any projects coming up?

B: we’ve got some gigs coming up, starting from the end of May, with our new member.

Oh really, who’s that?

B: He’s called Will Young. We’ve got some new shows coming up and through June, Barcelona, Porto, Green Man in August, loads of bits and bobs.

G: We’ve got a beach festival in Italy.

B: And we want to crack on and get some new stuff recorded as well, because we’ve got a few ideas.

G: hopefully we’re going to go in in mid-May. We’ve got some rehearsal recording dates in, and we’ve got three tracks that’ve been around for a long time but they’ve just never sat, and we were rehearsing with Will the other day and they clicked, didn’t they.

B: They’re ready to start baking.

G: They’re in the incubation cupboard.

Very exciting. Anything else you guys want to say?

G: No, other than, we really like it as a film, and we urge people to go and see it. Because it’s really tough, it’s such a strange thing, film, it’s so dislocated from the music industry. And hopefully I think with what Tom’s doing and Ben Wheatley’s doing and Peter Strickland’s doing, hopefully there’s a new movement of British psychedelic film. And I think it’d be really interesting if it goes alongside with music, it could re-energise music and film together. And I think that people should go out and support that.

BEAK>’s Couple In A Hole (Original Soundtrack) is out now on Invada Records

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