Interview by Al Crawford (December 1996)
When did you start recording as New Mind? Why did you decide to start recording as New Mind, and why this particular style?
I think it probably started seriously around 1990. I'd being playing around doing tape manipulations and recording weirdness on portastudios for a few years, but it wasn't until I got my hands on a sampler and sequencer that what became New Mind started to develop. The first actual New Mind demo was done without much equipment, had four tracks and was called "Bacteriophage", it was recorded January 1991. The reasons behind New Mind.....hmm....Up to that point I had been playing guitar and sampler in a kind of noise/experimental band. I was listening to a lot of guitar orientated noise music...Swans being my main interest, while listening to a lot of electronic music, mainly Helden, Neu, 70's euro stuff. I was at that point an ardent tape trader and someone in the USA said "You gotta hear Skinny Puppy". I did. What can I say, it was like a light bulb going on in a cartoon, a revelation that you could mix electronics with that crushing industrial sound. I'd always looked at electronic music and what I perceived as industrial music (at the time) as two separate entities. But it was apparent to me that Puppy had captured a mixture of really nasty aggressive grinding electronics with a vicious attitude. So I set out to write some music in that vein and New Mind was the result.
Inspirations? (I don't just mean musical here)
Well, yes initially Puppy and the other people around at the time (FLA, F242, etc..) were a big influence. Swans also - if you weren't aware, the name New Mind is from a Swans track. But I have really wide musical tastes, I mean my CD/record/tape collection is just mind boggling. I have to say I have always been interested by movie soundtracks, there is just such an art to evoking an atmosphere to existing images rather than imaginary images (if that makes sense). "Morricone" & "Schifrin" are just wild! It's no doubt deeply pretentious, but I am trying to make my music "filmic" - atmospheric, kinetic, cinematic, whatever.
I am a classically
trained musician, and I found the conditioning that goes with that very
claustrophobic - being forced to listen to and learn classical music as a teenager only served to strengthen my interest in extreme musics which at the time was death metal and avant garde electronics (Stockhausen and Slayer!!) It's only over the last few years that I've actually started listening to more "conventional" classical music.
On a non-musical
note (hah!)....ideas, influences, whatever, are derived from my
environment and interests I guess. I am a serious cinemaniac, I spend too much time watching too many movies! I love film. I spend the remaining time reading all manner of left-field weirdness, sociology, psychology, religion, mysticism. And a lot of horror fiction! I've spent a lot of reading time over the last two years reading work by, about or connected to H.P.Lovecraft and yes, it's seeping into my music.
What's the reason for the split into Bio-Tek and New Mind?
Mainly this comes down to the fact that I am a compulsive writer/recorder of music. But, New Mind has evolved a long way from it's beginnings. I see it as my "Total Freedom" project. It's always going to be very dark electronic based music 'cause that's what I write, but there are no rules about writing New Mind. You know from listening to the CDs I tend to cover a lot of ground/genres in one album. Bio-Tek came about because I still love that wonderful European EBM sound. I'd written some material in this style and new that it wouldn't be part of New Mind's future output, so Bio-Tek was born in 1994.
How do you feel about the recent evolution (devolution?) of industrial/EBM into what's effectively a sub-genre of metal?
I don't think EBM in it's purest form fits into the metal sub-genre. I mean it doesn't have guitars for a start which tends to be a stumbling block to the metal crowd. You see reviews in metal mags by industrial bands with guitars, such as NIN and FLA, but you aren't going to see reviews of Leaether Strip and XMTP. But yes I would concede, the integration/addition of guitars has given birth to the whole "Industrial Metal" scene. You will hear guitars on the latest New Mind Forge CD, but I hope they come over as just being part of the overall mix of a track, and not the reason for writing it. What I'm saying is, if you took the guitars out of the mix you would still recognize the song! I hope. I think industrial/EBM has got to develop and change. I am writing things for New Mind that I would never have dreamed of doing 4 or 5 years ago. I think you have to be aware of what else is going on in the field of electronic music and draw what you can from it, be it techno/jungle/ambient or whatever. That's the only way industrial is going to develop.
Do you think it's likely that industrial/EBM will ever leap-frog the other genres? That is, of late it seems much of the growth in the genre has been through taking on board influences from the other types of electronic music that you mention. Do you see industrial/EBM reaching a point where it becomes the influencer rather than the influenced?
No. I think the "Glory Days" are over. The nature of electronic music is change/flux. All it takes is for someone to find a way of mistreating the equipment in a new and creative way and a new genre appears, gets imitated, mutated. Also, I think the big industrial names have shown that if you want to break out of the industrial ghetto you have to make your music acceptable to a wider audience. I think you can get what I'm driving at here. The phrase "Thrash Metal" is a key factor.
Sum up your experience with Cyber-Tec in as many or as few words as you want :-)
A great idea that degenerated into my worst nightmare.
Still on speaking terms with any of the other band members?
It would appear not. I haven't had any contact with Jean-Luc or Ged for a year or so. All I would say is that I never had a difference of opinion with either of them, my problem was with the person running the label. I only found out my services were no longer required when someone faxed me the news page from New Life, which had a news item saying I had been replaced by Marc Heal.
I was recently reading your interview in the booklet half of MFTEQ's Ghafran comp. You mentioned two side projects there - Gunhed and Freezone. Whatever happened to them?
Freezone first. I had a track on a Ladd-Frith compilation tape, "Objekt 5.5". Track was called ''World One'. Kind of atmospheric instrumental music. The project got put on the shelf, though I've since re-cycled some of the music from this project for use elsewhere. Gunhed - this is something I've been playing around with off and on for several years. It's very fast break-beat based music. I've remixed New Mind and Hexedene with my Gunhed hat on. The first actual Gunhed track to be released is called 'I Want Your Cancer', and it appears on a comp CD named "Hardware" due out soon. This project has really been on a backburner so long - I think 1997 is the year I finally make it take shape.
What side projects do you have on the go now, aside from Bio-Tek and New Mind?
The main one is undoubtedly my collaboration with Sevren from X Marks The Pedwalk. It goes under the name of HYPERDEX-1-SECT (rhymes with CyberTec...) and the first release is a CD maxi named "Metachrome". I can't give release details as yet, other than it's been licensed to Synthetic Symphony for European release. It's been a very bumpy ride getting this release together, I hope it will be sorted soon! It has been great working with Sevren though! I am a long time XMTP fan! After my departure from Cyber-Tec Project I was determined to do a similar release and collaborate with a recognized European artist on a CD maxi. Fortunately I found a label that was up for it, MCT Productions, and someone to work with - Sevren Ni-Arb.
My other main involvement at the moment is Hexedene, which is a collaboration with two friends, Katie Helsby (vocals) and Ian Palmer (guitar), with myself programming. Ian and Katie are long time friends, they have both helped me out with New Mind and I've done production work for them (in fact they are signing their own band Floodmark to Roadrunner). We just decided to work on some songs together and the project went from strength to strength. So far we have only released tracks on 1 or 2 compilations, but I'm talking with labels at the moment. We'll see. There is an album's worth of material already recorded waiting for release.
What sort of style is Hexedene in?
I think it's probably very overt techno in places. Musically it's a lot closer to the electronic music produced in this country - rave/techno/trance whatever you want to call it, with the exception that it all has vocals and (subdued) guitars. It initially got kick started by a desire to do something along the lines of 'Control' by Traci Lords. I had it described by someone as Cubanate with tunes and a girl singer. I found that fairly amusing all things considered.
A number of people have observed that during the more hyper-productive periods of, say, the Leeb/Fulber pairing, they've seemed to spread themselves a bit thin over their various projects. Do you worry about this happening, or are you confident that everything you do will be wonderful?
By the time something I've written has got through the
recording/mastering stage I can barely stand to hear it again. I have a low opinion of my own work, it usually takes a month or two until I can come back objectively and say "Yes, that's actually not bad". The next 12 months is going to see a deluge of Jonathan Sharp related product, maybe up to four albums (in various guises), which I will concede is a lot of material. It's really just the way it's turned out. Maybe in the future it will take me longer between releases but I've written/recorded a hell of a lot over the past 12 months and I'm determined that it gets released as soon as possible and doesn't remain in my tape cupboard for 18 months prior to release.
A lot of industrial's roots, both in the "traditional" (early CV,TG) and EBM (Portion Control, Some Bizarre-era CV) sense, lie in the UK. How do you account for the fact that the UK is now, with a few noticeable exceptions such as yourself, an industrial wasteland (that is, a wasteland for industrial music, not the regular kind of industrial wasteland)?
There is no "industrial" scene in this country, outside of a very small, very dedicated fan base. Why? I put the blame firstly with the UK music press. For those who don't know, in the UK we have two weekly music papers. They have a stranglehold on the music that is exposed to the public. They don't like industrial music, they won't cover it. It's perceived as a Euro or USA product, and hey, if it's made by foreigners (i.e. non-English ) then it's no damn good. So, it gets no coverage. So, no distributors want to take CDs which don't get reviews or advertising, so virtually no industrial CDs get into the country (well other than major label releases like NIN, Ministry etc.) So you can't buy the music. Outside of one or two clubs you can't get to hear it either. This situation is not going to change. So, if you want to release industrial you have to find labels in mainland Europe and USA. It has oft been said to me "Why bother, why not just do UK friendly dance music?" Why should I have to compromise what I do just to release it in this country. No, I'd rather do what I do! So, yes this country is an industrial wasteland. In every sense.
If you had several members of the UK music press at your mercy, what would you do with them?
Something deeply unpleasant.....I can't say shoot them cause firearms are about to be made illegal in this wonderful bastion of democracy. And if I profess an interest in fire-arms - I don't need to invite investigation. Guns in the UK, complete no-no.
Is being located in Cumbria a help or a hindrance or both?
Both. UK industrial is a cliquey little scene and everybody knows everybody else's business and I am distanced from that by being so far from London. It can frequently be a hindrance, from a technical standpoint. If I suffer equipment failure, I can't get repairs done in the county. I have problems getting DATs and things like that, it's a 100 mile drive to the nearest rehearsal studio, etc. etc., but I wouldn't live anywhere else.
Do you build tracks around the mood suggested by a sample, or write a track with a particular mood in mind, then search out the appropriate samples?
I think you are referring to my extreme use of dialog samples? With New Mind, it's the a case of write the tracks first, add samples later. With "Forge" tracks, most of the samples come from news/documentary footage so I see these tracks as being rooted in the current world environment. There are several samples from news footage from Sarajevo.
With Bio-Tek, it's very much the other way around. I spend several weeks (months) amassing the kind of samples I'm looking for: a lot from horror movies and religious related topics and they are the starting point for writing.
So does Forge have a political theme?
Not so much a political theme as my opinion on politics, apart from the Sarajevo sourced dialog. One track in particular 'America K.I.A.' makes my opinion on politics very clear. I had better point out in advance that this is not an anti-USA stance on my part. I am using the USA as an example of the perfect democracy (irony alert) I've already been branded a woman hater from the last New Mind CD, I don't want to be a woman hating American hater into the bargain. Anyway, my feeling is that no political party in this country represents my opinion. Disenfranchised, that's me.
Will the follow up to Forge also be on Off Beat?
That's certainly the plan. I hope my days of label hopping are now over. So far I'm very happy with the way things are going with Off Beat, I think we understand each other.
How long does it take you to produce a track, from first conception to final mix? Is it a quick thing or does it take months?
At the moment, maybe two or three days going from scratch to some kind of basic demo with vocals. I then tend to leave it for a while and come back to it. By this point I'll maybe fine tune various sounds/arrangement details and then begin a mix down. Depending on how difficult/involved the track is, mixing can take as little as two hours or sometimes two days, but I frequently do several mixes of one track. Such is the benefit of having my own studio! For "Zero To The Bone" I ended up with eight and a half hours of different mixes on DATs.
Do you record tracks with a particular project in mind? Is it "Right, time to put together half a dozen tracks for the new Bio-Tek!" or "Hmm, that sounds like a New Mind track"?
First of the above. I write in a block for each project. With the new Bio-Tek I wrote the bulk of the material, one track after another during late summer this year while waiting to begin mixing the tracks for New Mind's "Forge" CD. I then mixed down the New Mind album and decided that I wanted an EBM fix and wrote the final two tracks for Bio-Tek. I tend to write in fits and starts for New Mind - two or three tracks at a time and then a break, but for the next one I already have so many ideas I think I'll just sit down and do the whole thing. We'll see.
Does your day
job (and the resulting ability to view large numbers of films) help
Oh yes. The way
I write is from compiling note-books of ideas, which is where I lay out
ideas/samples/lyrics/song-structures. So I'll frequently get come home with my head spinning with ideas that scenes/sounds/dialog from movies have sparked off.
Any favourite movie genres or movies (other than the aforementioned horror stuff)?
I'm a sucker for Euro "art-house" movies - give me sub-titles and I'm a happy man. Similarly Hong Kong gun-shed movies are a total addiction. It seems a bit self indulgent to reel off a huge list of personal favourite cinema so I won't. Pick your favourite film is like pick your favourite music, changing all the time.
Short term is
to have the next New Mind album written, recorded and released within nine
months of the release of "Forge". Get the second
Bio-Tek album out by April '97. Hopefully 1997 will also see the releases
from Hexedene and HYPERDEX-1-SECT. On top of all that, I would like to
take on more remix work, so I'm open to offers...