The drummer takes us on a tour through his new single-track album.
When the one-of-a-kind shoegaze band Slowdive began to split apart in the mid-90s their members were flung into wildly different solo projects. Simon Scott is best known as the drummer of this band, but in the 20-year gap between leaving in 1994 and taking part in their triumphant return in 2014, he has carefully honed an impeccable discography of experimental electronic music.
His new album out this month, Insomni, takes the form of a single track that builds over 42 minutes of contrasting sounds and inspirations: electronic processing is woven with spacious acoustic guitar, field recordings from extended nature trips meet the household sounds of Scott’s refrigerator and fish tank, beauty melts with harshness throughout. It all makes for a highly detailed, exciting recording and one he spent three years working on — a period before, during, and after Slowdive’s rebirth. We caught up with Scott recently to talk about this fascinating recording, how touring the world with his band again influenced his work, and the early stages of Slowdive’s next album.
When did you start recording this new record?
I’ve been writing Insomni since spring 2012 and after three years it suddenly and unexpectedly came to completion in spring 2015. I kept going out into the sunken landscape of East Anglia, either to relax or to play my guitar and it never ceases to creatively inspire me, but I wasn’t happy to plunge immediately into writing a successor to Below Sea Level, an album field recordings of the Fens that 12k released in 2012. I wanted something new to be inspired by, so I started looking for a new sonic pallet to work from for this album.
Some of the music on here sounds like it was heavily processed through a computer, but other parts feel untouched and raw, almost like field recordings. What was the process like creating that balance?
I often employ a process of combining audio tracks to create musical illusions from balancing layers of sound. What is raw and what is processed is intentionally ambiguous. I also take my speakers out into parts of the Fens and play my recordings out into the landscape and rerecord what comes back, so I see this process as collaborative and a juxtaposition of natural and man made. Using digital technology to record and playback environmental sound is an abstraction of a place anyway so I wouldn’t ever intend to present a field recording as a real representation.
You describe the “domestic” sounds that went into the album. The hum of the refrigerator, the fish tank, dvd player, etc. I was curious if you could elaborate on that as it sounds very fascinating.
I always start an album project by hunting for a new sonic palette to use to compose with. It could be a music software patch I’ve created or a new piece of equipment that I begin to compose and experiment with. I was lying awake at night and found that my perception of sound became heightened and I really started to enjoy the fact that everybody was asleep and I had some deep listening space. I spend my days uncontrollably immersed by unwanted sound, impossible to escape sadly, but I discovered these hidden sounds that were right under my noise and it was liberating. The fish tank filter engine created a hum in the key of G and the fridge was in D#, for example, so I had pitches to work with and these also had interesting textures of sound that I could play with. So very early on in the project I started collecting sounds during the quiet hours and layered them up or editing them during the day and suddenly I had a new sonic area of sound to work with
What made you want to present the album’s 11 songs as one track?
As I played the album back out into Holme Fen, the lowest geographical location in England, through my portable speakers to finally rerecord and mix it all I enjoyed how it flowed from beginning to end and I didn’t want to cut it up. It’s also my way of trying to encourage people to actually listen to the album all the way through, as I intended, rather than choose a few tracks that initially stand out to only listen to. Our ears are becoming increasingly unable to focus on long layers so I’m simply making it harder for listeners to jump around inside the album.
What’s it like coming back to a solo album following Slowdive’s massive return tour? Did that experience have an influence on this record at all?
I started creating Insomni before I received the telephone call from Slowdive to rejoin the band in 2014 but subsequently, as we increasingly travelled around the globe, flying from the US to Asia and back to Europe etc, I found I had time to deeply observe many international political situations unfold daily. My despair and frustration with the worrying contemporary political landscape influenced the mood of certain passages on the record, alongside some deeply personal emotional musical segments. There are pertinent reasons why the audio sounds broken in places and becomes aggressive, particularly during the first half of the record, but the light pours in and fragility also penetrates this album.
The beginning of the year brought the news that Slowdive is working on a new album. People are obviously very exciting about that. Is there anything you can share at this point? What’s it been like working together again after the tour?
Yes, we are in a room bouncing ideas around and it feels right to be making new music together again. We have some great new songs and loads of ideas but it isn’t finished, we are in the flow of it all right now, and we still don’t know how the final record will sound but it’s exciting to be working on it.
Insomni is available now via Ash International, buy it here.