“We’d passed through the worst times of our lives”: King Midas Sound and Fennesz open up about Edition 1
Both acts revel in a combination of searing noise and quiet moments of fragility, and King Midas Sound’s last record, ‘Ayoo’, was based on the sort of high-emotion guitar riffs that have been associated with Fennesz’s work since breakthrough album Endless Summer. Live and on record, both acts go from quiet to extremely loud at the blink of an eye – a dynamic that King Midas Sound’s Kevin Martin refers to as a “fragility-to-avalanche equation”.
Edition 1 is the first of four collaborative records that King Midas Sound will release through Ninja Tune – each with a different collaborator. Ahead of its release on September 18, Tom Lea quizzed the group on how to make a collaborative record work and the personal strife that shaped Edition 1.
So I believe this collaboration stems from you [King Midas Sound] seeing Christian play live?
Kevin Martin: Well the actual idea of doing a collaborative series came from a conversation Roger and I had in a hotel room. It was in Holland, after a festival show we’d done. We’d started to feel that people were getting the wrong end of the stick about Midas, and like we were trying to run away from dubstep – despite the fact that Waiting For You didn’t have anything to do with it. The mix we did for FACT was a pretty clear indication of the project’s starting points, actually.
Well you described it as a lovers rock act around that time.
KM: Which in a way is where it starts from … this parallel universe of zoned loneliness. The idea to escape club culture was very much at the forefront when we were describing the collaborators that we wanted to work with [for this project]. Also, I’m always the one that has to apologise to the others for taking my time and delaying stuff, so we came to the conclusion that we should make a series of records that were more like sketch pads, whereby you collaborate with someone in the style that, say, jazz musicians would in the late 60s; spur of the moment.
Roger and I were huge fans of [Christian’s] work and shared an empathy with his sense of deep melancholy. The more Roger and I talked, the more we started to – I think it was him who came up with this phrase – think about these recordings as a tape archive. The initial idea was to release these collaborations on tape only – failing to be able to record it on quarter inch tape, we were going to release it on cassette tape. But now it’s like there’s this horrible hipster thing surrounding cassettes, and also once the album was done Ninja Tune just wet their pants about it – like ‘why would you want to marginalise this?’. And as much as people might think I like to spite myself, I’ve always wanted as wide an audience as possible to hear my music. We were also blown away by how good it sounded – and the fact that for once we’d managed to make a record in less than a year.
Were you in the same room making this record, or was the collaboration mostly remote?
KM: We weren’t in the same room as Christian a lot of the time, but we were in the same headspace, which is crucial.
Christian Fennesz: We were sending files back and forth, but we were talking a lot during the production process … Some of [the music I contributed] is five, six, seven years old. Some if it is brand new and made for this.
In terms of the album taking less than a year, was that due to having extra responsibility – i.e. if you delay things, you’re delaying Christian as well as just your own group – or a desire for it to sound natural and not overthought, like, say, a jazz album that was recorded in one take.
KM: You know what, it was more a case of setting myself limits, and not beating the shit out of myself about every single sound on every single track. And by doing that, it really worked a treat. I was never thinking ‘how do I recreate this live?’, I was never thinking about the specifics of each sound, it became more about creating this emotional palette.
And to go back to why we approached Christian first – sorry, I still haven’t actually answered that question – it was because he used to go to God and Techno Animal gigs, he was really into noise-rock and a really nice guy. Having first met him in those contexts, I was surprised by how quiet his music could be. Endless Summer was the first thing I heard by him, and I was absolutely blown away by the fragility-to-avalanche equation that he works with, on record and live. We played a festival with him in Russia and it just confirmed to us that this guy was kind of a soul brother, in terms of how he presents his music live. He’s got a similar appetite [to King Midas Sound] for being overwhelmed by his live shows.
CF: Kevin and I have known each other since the 90s. We have talked about a possible collaboration a few times over the years, but we were both too busy doing our own projects, the time was never right. When they asked me again, over a year ago, the timing was just perfect.
Christian, you have a long history of collaborative records, how did this compare and/or contrast to some of your albums with Mika Vainio, Fenn O’Berg, etc?
CF: The other collaborations you mentioned were based on live recordings. This is a studio project, so I’d say it compares more to the work I’ve done with Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian.
Water is a reoccuring theme in both the lyrics and track titles here – and it’s also present in Christian’s back catalogue, with Black Sea, Venice, etc. Where did this come from?
Roger Robinson: I didn’t even realise it was a recurring theme until Kevin pointed it out to me, believe it or not. I wrote most of these songs when my child was born and he had to stay in hospital for 14 weeks. I’m sure the water is some kind of subconscious symbol of childbirth and survival.
“There’s a shared knowledge [on this record] that we’d passed through the worst times of our lives”
Since Waiting For You all three members of King Midas Sound have moved away from London and had children. How different are you as people and as musicians, compared to Waiting for You?
KM: Well, with Roger and I, the majority of the work that we put into this album came shortly after our children surviving perilously close-to-death beginnings to their lives. Undoubtably, for both of us, this was the most major influence on this record. Without a shadow of a doubt. There’s a shared knowledge that we’d passed through the worst times of our lives. I’d felt emotions that I’d never felt in my life before, in the worst possible sense and then the best, when he survived. It’s impossible to be specific, in how those experiences can affect a record, but I know – as far as I’m concerned … it just changes everything. It changed me as a person – especially combining it with moving out of London, where I’d lived for 20 years, let alone finally meeting a partner that I felt I could have a child with, after spending my life running away from being a dad. And then after becoming a dad, realising how weak I was as a human being – it was me, not my partner who was breaking down in the hospital, not knowing if I’d ever see my child again.
I was on a huge emotional rollercoaster and so was Roger – although Roger, god bless him, was a rock for me but was very quiet about the problems that he was going through. You see life very, very differently, you realise how fragile life is and how special life is. I’d spent my life running away from being a dad, but now I am, I can tell you that every cliche you heard about people becoming parents, it’s that and a thousand more. You learn about humanity – seeing a child grow and develop from nothing at such close proximity – for me, that was miraculous. But while making the record, Roger and I never talked about this. Our conversations, as ever, were simply about how we made the best possible record. King Midas Sound has always been very concerned with this analysis of melancholy – it’s about really, really intense soul-searching. But those shadows that are present in King Midas Sound, that sense of dread … it’s a reminder that these experiences can repeat. They never leave you.
RR: As a musician I definitely feel less connected to the strength of scenes and that my shoulders are strong enough to carry the weight of my own personal artistic endeavours. So now I’ll go where my artistic radar wants to go regardless off the dictation of any scene. I’ve also released a good deal of solo music since Waiting for You so even though I like that album I’m also glad that to some extent I’m horrified now by where I was at with my musicianship. As a person I’m a father now and that’s a great change for me. The change has made me pursue riskier and riskier stances in music writing and my career and I have no idea why, but it may be because I wouldn’t want my son in later years to be safe and give up on his dreams.
How do you see London now?
KM: Oh, through totally different eyes. It’s a shocker, I wonder how the fuck I ever lived there. The speed of the place, it’s nuts, and the way that social interaction works in London … I always thought it was parasitic, but it’s full-on open conflict! There’s things I really miss: the vast multiculturalism, and the explosiveness and the friction, the social collisions, are great for creativity. I miss that, but there’s been enough madness the two years I’ve spent in Berlin that I don’t feel like it’s going to water down my creative output. And I don’t miss London. I always felt that my musical output was due to London, and there was a fear in the back of my mind that it would just dry up.
Kiki Hitomi: I moved to Berlin in January 2013 and found I was pregnant in March. My baby’s father is based in Leipzig so I decided to move down there. I didn’t have any friends at all that time, but Leipzig is such a nice city and I also have lots of nature right next to the house. I lived in London for 20 years and in the end I could not see myself growing in the ground. There was no nutrition in the soil for me to have flowers and fruits. How have I changed now? I guess as a person, I became much less materialistic. I am much more happier without materials and appreciate what is given from nature. Music-wise I think I write more positive and happy songs, especially for my other projects.
Christian, you’ve been based in Vienna for a long time. As someone based in a quieter city, do you think we’re mad for living and working in London? And how is it being an artist in Vienna?
CF: I think its difficult anywhere these days. Quality of life is great in Vienna. It’s getting more expensive now but you still get something for your money compared to London or Paris, where I have partly been living for 10 years. But then London is still the capital of music. Being an artist in Vienna? I don’t know to be honest. I mostly work abroad and try to keep a low profile here. I guess it’s all based on socialising and networking like everywhere else these days.
KM: The irony is, I feel more creatively sharp now than when I was in London. I think there’s many reasons for that. One, when you have a child, you have to focus your time and energy much better. When I go to the studio I’ve already been thinking about what I’m going to do beforehand, and I come in focused.
You don’t have the same amount of time to waste.
KM: Exactly, exactly. And also, as a touring animal, there’s enough chaos involved in that. Anyone who reads my war reports [on Facebook and Twitter] can testify. I choose to operate that way [live], and I don’t need to come back to more friction at home. And generally, changes in environment or situation is healthy. I remember doing this remix for Thom Yorke a few years back, and I almost quit music over it – it took me five or six months, just listening to this fucking piece of music every day. The only thing that saved the track was buying a new piece of equipment. A new piece of equipment, new environment, whatever it is – sometimes you need something that knocks you off a comfortable path to kickstart your creativity.
Catch King Midas Sound and Fennesz at Clock Strikes 13, London, with Dean Blunt and Shackleton.