Too Long; Didn’t Read
GFP meets | 65daysofstatic
by Tom Oberst
For a long time I didn’t think too much about the finale to 65daysoftatic’s debut album: Aren’t We All Running? The names of their songs beguiled me almost as much as the noise they pumped into my shitty headphones and I never read too deeply into them. I must have listened to that record over a hundred times and I still couldn’t recite the track order with any confidence. Speaking to Paul Wolinski though I thought about the name quite a lot. I used to understand ‘aren’t we all running [from something]?’ echoing the outward nihilism of Retreat! Retreat! and – seemingly – a large part of everything 65daysofstatic have ever released.
But the beauty of this noisy, noisy band is their warped absurdist hive-mind message: hope springs from destruction. I wondered then if maybe the title had a more optimistic thrust. It would certainly fit in with their ethos: always looking forward, never looking back. It would explain their discomfort at rebuilding ten-year-old songs in a studio to play a couple of tour dates for the nostalgically inclined.
Two days prior I had experienced this side of 65 in the fullest. A double billing depicting the two extremes of their career, the youthful Fall of Math and the mature Wild Light. It was mesmerising.
The following day I had been too hungover to re-read my emails and discover that I had an interview with my favourite band. I was anxious, chain drinking tea and trying to ignore nervy nicotine pangs. I hate phones. Something about not being able to see slight variations in mouth muscles and pupil dilation. But the opportunity had come to ask a band I love questions I’d always wanted to pose. 15-year-old me would be so smug. And so I hit call.
A dial tone. A question. Hi, is that Paul?
To me 65 are a personal band. One that spans dial up connections and pigment, hostels and festivals, megabytes and pixels. We go way back. Back to the witching hour when 65propaganda came alive and let slip about Oscar Thompson’s disappearance. To their Eastern European polaroids and plays. To me they are still a mystery. And so I sat alone at a desk, speaker phone on, Ableton eavesdropping, breaking the fourth wall.
I caught Paul in Glasgow, on the penultimate show of their UK tour. He expressed the doubts and strains that The Fall Of Math shows had brought about:
It was really nice… in the end. I have to say that we had some concerns going into it because, y’know… it was a really nice idea to do the album in its entirety, but as we were building the project it became clear to us at least that although that order of songs works as a record turning all of them into live versions of themselves ended up feeling – to us certainly – a little disjointed. They didn’t flow like our normal gigs, like the sets that we normally build.
65 are nothing if not proud and stubborn. They just won’t fuck off. They will arrest you with their aphorisms and manifestos as the totality of their sound surges over you. It’s hard to tell whether this stubbornness was born out of the music, vice versa or whether it evolved symbiotically but it showed through in Paul’s voice. A staunch desire to retain purity in their output.
As a concept it’s something I’ve never really understood, the whole playing through albums. I’m used to being surprised and not knowing what’s coming next. So we had a lot of frustrations putting it together, simply because of the way it worked out. But in the end it seemed to go down really well and because we had the second set we came back on a played loads of our new stuff which feels like it makes the most of the live environment. We managed to do both things anyway in the end and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.
Yeah, yeah. I was there and it was really nice to see…
Oh right, cool!
Yeah, it was wicked, I really enjoyed it. Thanks. It was really nice to see the juxtaposition between a record from ten years ago and a record from last year and you can see the progression in…
Yeah. I mean, we’re not really ones for nostalgia. It’s nice to briefly celebrate the fact that we’re still around but the only reason that we think we’re still around is because it feels like we keep getting better and so we’re always most excited about the things that we’re doing at the moment. So it was really necessary for us to represent that. I don’t think we would have done the show if it was just, y’know, playing back The Fall Of Math and associated songs from that era. I don’t think we could have got behind that. But I think we found a good balance. Yeah, it was great.
In the six months or so since The Fall Of Math tour was rumoured all press concerning the band has been retrospective, a fact which has quite possibly galvanised them more than ever to be forward looking. To this end came an art installation in Sheffield and an invitation to speak at a festival of ideas in Manchester:
Is it Monday you’re doing Future Everything?
It is, yeah. [laughs] It’s quite funny that, because I’ve been in one form or another for the past three years now. We did the Silent Running soundtrack at Future Everything three years ago, then two years ago I did an AV bit with my solo side project but I also started going to the conference side of things which is really exciting so last year… we kinda did a DJ set but it was mostly just to blag tickets to the conference really. This time it was the same thing we just wanted to try and get in somehow and as a punishment they’ve decided to put us on as speakers for the event! It’s going to be interesting because we finish tour tomorrow night and the day after we’re going to be talking at Future Everything. It’s gonna be exhausted nonsense really.
Have you got words planned?
No, no. I mean, the reason we’re so interested in it is because some of the speakers I’ve seen over the past few years are not musicians. They’re activists or artists or curators and they’re just talking about the future and all the big concerns and problems that are awaiting us in the near future in a way that immediately struck me because it felt like they had a vocabulary to talk about these issues that we a musicians didn’t. Or at least we didn’t quite as articulately as some of these people. So that really stayed with me because one of the overriding themes of being in 65 I guess is the desire to be dutiful, y’know. It’s not just some self-indulgent musical exploration of the four of us. We want to count because there are already too many bands and too much music so there’s no point in doing something next to the masses. It’s something greater than just the four of us expressing ourselves.
We’ve always tried to push the boundaries of what it means to be in a band especially in a band like us who doesn’t get invited to all the events…
Yeah, the parties [laughs]. Y’know those A-list festivals, the Primavera’s and whatnot. We’ve always been… not left out… I don’t lose sleep over it it’s just that’s that path… we’ve never been in that circle of things. So, as a necessity and as a desire we’ve always tried to find different ways of getting out there I guess. Future Everything and the ideas I took from that led to things like the Sleepwalk City installation, which we were really proud of and it went down really really well.
When I asked him about the installation he told me it was in two parts:
There was a looping installation throughout the day with this system that we built which was 16 speakers in two rows of eight either side of the room. All of which we were able to independently control. So we were creating these drones and noises and we kind of had a twenty minute piece which looped throughout the day where the sounds moved around the room or created resonating frequencies and people could walk through and change the sound themselves.
Ok, so your position changed what you heard?
Yes, yep. There was a visual component to it as well. With the installation part of things we didn’t want to be too ambitious because it was our first foray into that so we were sticking to what we knew best which is making noise in interesting ways. It was really great because the second we started working on it it became clear that we were central, because we’re so used to rolling up to venues and then you take over the venue as best you can. You have to adapt when you’re on tour because every venue’s different and every PA’s of a different quality. But at this art gallery they’re genuinely moving walls and lifting up floors to put wiring in it. We had absolute total control over this room to make whatever environment we wanted which is very unlike touring. But it’s really exciting in terms of creating space for sound. So, that was great and we did the installation part during the day and in the evening we did these live performances. We ended up doing 9 over the course of two days. I’ve no idea why. I’m not sure it was such a good idea to do so many but they were half hour performances. A half hour version of Sleepwalk City using a full PA and these 16 speakers, capturing live guitar noise from Joe [Shrewsbury] and feeding it through one of the 16 speakers and building up this huge wall of noise speaker by speaker and then moving the sounds around the speakers. It was brilliant, really satisfying. It felt like a good way of exploring new mediums for sound because by doing that at least we’re trying to build some new vocabulary maybe to reflect what we’re seeing in the world. I guess that’s the role of a band or artists of whatever we are: you just wanna explain or reflect everything you’re seeing. And the record is a great form of communication, and the live show but just sticking to those two templates in this day and age seems like unnecessarily limiting.
What’s the next medium that you’re gonna try and go for?
There are a few interesting things in the pipeline which I can’t really talk about, which is really good. But Sleepwalk City, the only shame about that is that we… we weren’t too ambitious about it in terms of ideas but with all the equipment it proved to be quite an expensive project. To get 16 speakers in a room, all of the cabling and stuff obviously we’re not able to recreate that yet. But just sound installation as a medium, we’ve barely even got started with that, we’d definitely like to do Sleepwalk City again or explore some more ideas because it feels ripe for experimentation.
Experimentation seems key. Although the majority of people will tell you that they sound like a cross between Aphex Twin and Mogwai, Paul will more regularly namecheck At The Drive-In, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.. and Autechre. Blend that with an ethos somewhere between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fugazi and you may go someway to compartmentalising this band. But you wouldn’t get far.Their sound and aesthetic has flowed over the years yet a core view of the world seems to have stayed starkly similar. Each record has an agenda, an underlying nihilistic, absurdist narrative. The disparity between pure ideals and worldly reality. The Wild Light:
It’s the great unspeakable thing, y’know? There are no words to properly explain it and we feel sometimes it’s better to explain it through noise in different shapes. That’s why, so often there’s no singing – there’s nothing on Wild Light at all apart from those couple of sentences at the beginning – just because what we’re trying to say is… well it’s all that. It’s the songs.
The title Wild Light, I suppose, kinda alludes to that. It’s that idea… you know when you have just the first formings of an idea in your head, before you feel like you’ve managed to catch it and – certainly if it’s a musical idea – before you try and get it out into the real world, that’s the wild light. It’s nothing you can ever look head on or ever perfectly realise in the real world because as soon as you do it you’re diluting that idea. And that’s something that can be really disheartening but you have to do it anyway because either you bring something into existence in a flawed form out in the real world or it’ll only ever stay in your head. And then no one else can share it with you. It’s deliberately ambiguous… But it’s certainly not without meaning. It’s just hard to explain that meaning in any way.
Although vocalless, with a few exceptions, they have a certain way with words and images – shown most distinctly in the liner notes to The Destruction Of Small Ideas. On top of this their varied output, which encompasses live-soundtracking dance theatre and radio, their interests seem broad and fluid. So what influenced Wild Light?
It seems like you’re influenced just as much by books and films as you are by music.
Yeah, well I would say that in duller interviews the eternal question is “what are you favourite musical influences” and I’ve run out of way for answering that question because I don’t understand why it’s interesting to anyone and it’s just not the way it works! You get by influenced by the world and books and journalism and films so much more directly than other music. I’m just trying to think about all the things being read throughout Wild Light. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino was quite a spectacular one, and there’s a book by Milan Kundera called Immortality that I’ve read quite a few times now and it’s one of those incredible books where it gives you a sense of how you change over the years because you take completely different things from it each time. That was read during the final stages of writing Wild Light.
Basically we had a book of… we were quite taken with supremacy and there was a book of artists’ manifestos knocking about in the studio which was funny because it reminded us of our younger days a little bit, in the sheer force of the rhetoric and that massive self belief that it takes to write a manifesto about art in the first place. But yeah, lots of Russian art like Malevich who did the Black Square painting; and Meshes in the Afternoon – which is a really crazy black and white film. We were projecting that onto the walls quite a lot when we were doing takes and so many other things I can’t remember. But yeah, all of that stuff… I mean, there’s just sooo many great things. There’s already more great things in the world than anyone has time to get through.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain sometimes.
Yeah. We always feel like we’re not half as well read as we ought to be and we make these kind of earnest attempts to just get through it without succumbing to the pretension that can come with all these things if you’re not careful!
Their earnestness comes at a price though. The 65propaganda machine monitors and checks it’s output, keeping everything close. Yet as its output grows keeping everything close becomes harder and harder. This came to a head most recently with the video for their latest single Taipei.
Yeah, the video’s a bit of a different approach for us. We’re normally a lot more hands on with everything that we do. Like the Prisms video before this was a much more direct idea. But the way these things work, it’s all a bit… There’s just not enough time in the day for us to ignore the demands of the music industry and get on with doing everything ourselves. There was gonna be this second single and it had to have a video and that’s the… it’s nothing to do with the video itself, it’s just that’s… when there’s so many people talking like that… well that’s the wrong way to be making anything isn’t it. There doesn’t have to be a second single of Wild Light, no one needs a slightly shorter version of Taipei apart from the radio pluggers who try to get it on the radio and the press people who send it to people like you guys to try and generate a bit more exposure for us. And that’s all fine, I understand that that all works like that way, it’s just hard when you’re having to create things on demand. Also, because we’ve been working on the Fall Of Math shows these past few months – which was quite a big project, rebuilding all those really old songs – we just couldn’t get involved in the Taipei video. So… we know this animator who was working with a bunch of students and we sent him a load of the brainstorming we did… at least… a lot of the imagery we were looking at for the Sleepwalk City installation, so there is a connection there, but it’s not not our interpretation of it because our interpretation was the installation, I suppose. But it tries to maintain continuous themes even though we couldn’t have as firm a hand – we’re massive control freaks basically – because we just couldn’t get the time to get more involved, so that’s the approach we took.
It was bizarre to hear a band so precious about their environment, either literally – as in the video for Radio Protector featuring a clip from a 2005 speech by George Monbiot about climate change – or in terms of the dystopian landscapes which music of their music creates. To this end their mythic past has served them well. They became fetishised on forums and were illuminated by apocryphal tales. Weren’t they named after a suppressed John Carpenter film?
I asked Paul about an unsettling email hack from a girl named Iryna who they met on tour in Eastern Europe way back in 2007 and a club that burnt to the ground. For a second the scratchy signal at Glasgow’s Arches hid his voice. All I could make out was something about towers crumbling down.
This convenience echoes something Joe said at the Koko show in reference to the tale of them burning demo CDs by candlelight to save electricity, about how self-mythologising is a load of bullshit – something we were talking about only the other night by candlelight to save electricity.
We segued into the importance of these myths and apocryphal tales on how we listen to music:
Honestly I think that this is an interesting time, because nobody had any idea what is going on. Five or ten years ago you could talk about how important the myth of the rockstar was and how the internet is going to erode all of this because of the pressure on bands to be on social media all the time and letting people know what they’re up to at every moment and keep people’s attention on them. Whereas in the 70’s and 80’s you could have these bands that were so big and mysterious and powerful that they could create this sense of wonder around them. And that conversation, that bemoaning that this thing has been lost through technology has been happening for a while in the music world, I think, and… I don’t know what’s going to happen next. With people like Zomby and Burial, it’s really cool that they’re creating these myths but I don’t think the important thing is to recapture stuff lost through technology, that’s going over old ground anyway. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well… It’s like … the history of music has always been sideswiped by how much technology has changed absolutely everything in such an incredibly short space of time that we’re operating on false assumption… Nah, I’ve not had enough coffee to explain this properly.
I dunno, it’s a shame we we’re not having this conversation after Future Everything because I would have listened to people a lot cleverer and a lot more articulate than me explaining the importance of these things and trying to consolidate whatever it is that I’m trying to say into something that makes a bit more sense. But I can’t… sorry.
Who would he recommend checking out?
There’s a guy called Bruce Sterling, who’s the pinnacle of all of these guys. He’s a sci-fi novelist but these days – actually this is a good metaphor for what I’m trying to say about music (maybe) – y’know in the 80’s and 90’s he was writing sci-fi books with people like William Gibson and Neal Stevenson and was of that world, but these days he blogs for… I think it’s Wired Magazine, and is very active on Twitter and on the internet in general, and he tends not to write novels anymore because that’s not the best form for him and for what he’s trying to say about things. The internet is this weird liquid form that can be many communication tools all at once and people like us, y’know and anyone over 20 right now, they can sort of remember before all this but in five of ten years time are going to be coming through not knowing anything different and they’re not going to have any of these boundaries between music and film and books and the internet as different media, they’re all just one single thing and that’s gonna really change things in ways that we can’t really imagine yet. We’re still busy talking about whether the mp3 is killing the music industry and that conversation hasn’t moved on for five or ten years because, in our heads it’s all about albums but that’s just gonna get wiped out completely.
So we should just brace ourselves?
Yes. Or get proper jobs, one of the two.
The rhetoric was winding down. A band so focused on their output, so militant in message are still just a collection of humans. Sometimes this is unsettling. But as the caffeine runs out and the rambling sets in it is these people who matter.
For everything, always.
The Fall Of Math; 10th Anniversary edition is out now.
The bands sixth studio album, Wild Light, was released in September 2013.
65DaysOfStatic play a run of shows from next week.