Laika: Interview, Laika's Guy Fixsen Talks About Listening To Can And Pil, Writing Songs, And Zora Neale Hurston's Imagery (Too Pure / Beggars Banquet)

Posted August 7th, 2000 by admin · No Comments

Laika: Interview
Laika's Guy Fixsen Talks About Listening To Can And Pil, Writing Songs, And Zora Neale Hurston's Imagery
Too Pure / Beggars Banquet
By: Eric G.

DRAWER B:
I read a few years ago that you don’t really listen to very much contemporary music. Do you still look to the past for musical inspiration, or are there any current bands that you admire? If not, what older music do you listen to?

LAIKA:
We do listen to quite a bit of new music – we just don’t seem to end up liking much of it! Current bands that we like would be PJ Harvey, MC 900ft Jesus, Radiohead (especially their new stuff), Beastie Boys, Tricky, My Bloody Valentine (hard to call them a ‘current’ band mind you). We do tend to listen to older stuff. It seems like the most inspiring stuff comes in the wake of some kind of musical outburst, be it the late sixties pop explosion – we like the early seventies material from Miles Davis, Can, John Martyn, Nick Drake etc. – or punk – we grew up with the post punk thing, bands like Joy Division, The Pop Group, PiL – or the dance explosion of the late eighties/early nineties – drum and bass or trip hop. I guess the thing is that after a burst of pure energy people find the only way forward is to mix styles and take a more thoughtful approach.

DRAWER B:
The new album, Good Looking Blues, seems to bring together all of the varied musical styles you’ve experimented with in the past (jazz, soul, turntables, samples, trip-hop). Most bands struggle to sound so seamless. How do you achieve that purity of sound despite the complexity of the music?

LAIKA:
Actually, turntables are a bit of a new one for us – a very obvious reference to hip hop – it would have been too definite a reference for us in the past but we’re a bit less scared of peoples perceptions now. We do strive to make our stylistic mixtures sound seamless – there’s no point in just putting chalk and cheese together for the sake of it – it has to work. This album is about convergence – we’ve always mixed styles, live and programmed, electronics and samples with guitars and drumkits, but this time we really pushed the live thing. The integration is enhanced by recording live drum and bass parts that were originally programmed – it gives us control over the ‘space’ that the recording is in and that’s key. The other thing is that we throw away a lot of stuff that doesn’t work. Quality control and editing are much underrated parts of the creative process.

DRAWER B:
Some pretty big names have gone out of their way to sing your praises in the past (PJ Harvey, Tricky, Thom Yorke), and Radiohead even invited you to open up for them on their last tour. Did this open any doors for you or, perhaps, widen your audience a bit?

LAIKA:
I think the thing with our music is that people tend to like it if they get to hear it and their hearing it via radio or whatever is hard to get with the way music media has gone. Playing with Radiohead was great in that respect – 5,000 or so people saw us play each night in amazing places (Roman amphitheatres, Italian piazzas.) and we had a great, warm reception. Apart from that ‘real’ thing we also had a lot more people from MTV, radio stations and bigger newspapers wanting to talk to us, which is encouraging.

DRAWER B:
How does the dynamic within the band work? Do both of you contribute equally to the music, or are your roles clearly defined as lyricist/vocalist and engineer, respectively?

LAIKA:
Laika’s concept has always been very much a 50/50 split between us two and it’s very difficult to draw a line between what we each do – if we’re writing a bassline or whatever we’ll be passing the instrument back and forth, modifying each others’ ideas as we go. The only thing is that Margaret has a better voice than I do, and, although I help edit her lyrics and evolve the melodies, it’s her voice that really makes the music work and gives it focus. But yeah – Margaret does just as much programming, engineering and playing as I do.

DRAWER B:
Having only produced three albums since splitting with Moonshake, is creating music a lengthy process for you, or do you just avoid the grind of the music business machine by moving at your own pace?

LAIKA:
Working with electronics and trying to push things musically is necessarily more time consuming than writing with say, guitars. We don’t just write a song in a short space of time and then ‘produce’ it – the production is very much part of the writing and our songs are evolved over time, with us trying very different approaches until it feels right. We don’t just move at our own pace – we work really hard at what we do. We also spend quite a bit of time touring – usually about a solid year for each record and we do other things such as managing ourselves, doing artwork etc.

DRAWER B:
Did you feel any pressure to outdo yourselves after the critical success of Sounds Of The Satellites?

LAIKA:
Not specifically because of any ink flying around. We always feel the need to push ourselves. We’re in the privileged position of getting to make records and want to do something lasting and worthy of a place in people’s record collections.

DRAWER B:
Some of your peers like Portishead and Hooverphonic have garnered significant critical and commercial success with very specific strains of trip-hop. Do you feel, somehow, overlooked despite your clear dominance in the field?

LAIKA:
It’d be fun to be more commercially successful, and I do think we’ve had our own small part to play in pushing music forward without always getting the credit, I guess, but, hey, we make a living doing what we love to do and we’re not prepared to make some of the musical compromises that seem to be required to move crates of records. We do seem to keep getting more support each record, playing to bigger audiences and selling more records but in a gentle kind of way.

DRAWER B:
The vocal stylings remain somewhat aloof compared to similarly motivated bands. There is a sense of restraint and detached superiority in the vocals that’s almost playfully seductive. Do you deliberately hold back emotionally to keep the listener on edge?

LAIKA:
Seductive I like, but aloof not. We try to emotionally reach out, but often the emotional content is not simplistic.

DRAWER B:
The lyrics on Good Looking Blues perfectly match its diverse moods, particularly on “Black Cat Bone.” Which comes first, the words or the music? How important are the lyrics for you compared to the music?

LAIKA:
Lyrics are very important to us – that’s why we always make a point of printing them on sleeves and spend a while writing them They are written to the music. On this record they are more 3rd person storytelling. They are definitely influenced by the folk tradition of the southern states and the earthy imagery of people like Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison.

DRAWER B:
It has taken a while for this record to come out in America, but it seems to be getting stellar reviews in Europe. Do you plan to tour the U.S. any time soon to support it? Does your music translate well in a live setting because many electronic-based bands seem flat and somewhat disconnected in concert?

LAIKA:
We should be touring the states this fall.
We come from a live background, so playing live is important to us. The problem with a lot of electronic bands live performances is that they are simply not live. We don’t use sequencers or tapes – we play our samples live and that means that we can react to an audience reaction or where we are and improvise a little, changing structures or whatever. When we make a mistake we don’t just grind to a halt. Some mistakes are good mistakes and so the songs change as we play more. The live lineup is bass, drums, Margaret plays fucked-up guitar and sings, and I play samples and a little guitar.

end.

Tags: review