Monday, March 12, 2007

I Think I'll Call Myself Johnny Racket

Feedle - song for dogs live

Feedle is a prime example of how a bit of exposure from a net label can lead to bigger things. Despite our apparent love for downloading music, we are all still reluctant to trust anything that isn't also getting an 'official' release, and by that I mean pressed onto vinyl or CD and available to buy in HMV. The odd exclusive download from an established artist here or there is fine, but labels that exist solely on the internet are viewed with curiosity, but aren't yet accepted as the real deal by the majority. Feedle first came to prominence when his debut album, 'Leave Now for Adventure' was released as a download-only album for a bargain £3 by the fantastic SVC Records, a net label spin off from the music blog Spoilt Victorian Child, back in February 2006. The low-key release was picked up on and championed by Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq at Radio 1, and also received an unbelievable review from Drowned in Sound, where the reviewer was moved to say, "It may come from a near-wordless place with a synthetic heartbeat, but this album packs the sort of intense emotion and hot, blustery passion that by rights should have people fawning over it past a time when the bar is raised even higher.

The net release brought Feedle to the attention of the London-based indie label Illicit Recordings, who are releasing a remixed and remastered version of the original net release with additional tracks, along with a 12", 'Song for Dogs', which should be in your local record emporium as of today. To follow is an interview with Feedle's owner, Graham Clarke, the Sheffield-based purveyor of odd melodic noise, in which he drolly expounds on a variety of subjects, including his tardiness, how the burning of stubble inspired a song and strategies to get coverage in the NME. He has kindly given me an exclusive live version of the single 'Song for Dogs', which is epic, inventive and constantly surprising, and reminds me of the Orb when Dr Alex and Thrash were at the peak of their powers. Over the space of a thrilling 10 minutes, Feedle weaves elements of other songs (including his own) through the original distorted barnstormer. It's a case of spot the track - I've identified elements of 'Cannonball' by the Breeders and Vashti Bunyan's 'Diamond Day', along with 'Everything Slow' by the man himself. This version of the song has been providing the conclusion to his sporadic live sets for a while now and is probably going to be retired soon, so do try and go and see him at some of his forthcoming live dates (listed below) in order to catch it while you can.

Joe C: Morning Feedle. Cram you life thus far into a glib sound bite that could be carved onto your headstone were you to cark it tomorrow.

Graham Clarke: "Here he is, dead now. He slept late and missed everything, then pretended he didn't care."

JC: Most people are fairly snotty and dismissive of internet record labels, but you are a prime example of how a net release can lead to bigger and (some might say) better things. How was that process for you?

GC: Refreshingly hassle free. It's good to have that extra stepping stone in the process, I think.

JC: When I'm telling people about what you're doing, I often use Kevin Shields as a reference point, mainly because the way you manipulate white noise and distortion into something rather beautiful is reminiscent of KS in his pomp. Who or what are your influences, musical or otherwise? And does it annoy you when people like me go round comparing you to other musicians?

GC: It's not annoying, it's obviously flattering. It does however leave lofty impressions which I then have to try and live up to, and feel like a failure for not doing, so in the long run you're making my life a living nightmare.

It's hard to pinpoint musical influences, because that just sounds like you're going cherry picking through your record collection. You just write stuff and each song dictates it's own rules. If other people see connections with other artists then that's fine for them. I suppose it helps.

JC: Tell me a story from your childhood that had a direct bearing on the music contained on 'Leave Now For Adventure'.

GC: That's a very strange question. Not childhood specifically, but when I was young and lived near the countryside they used to burn the stubble on all the surrounding fields and for a few days every Autumn the air was filled with ash and burning smells. It was gently surreal on a morning. So 'burn the fields' was an effort to try and capture that feeling. I've since discovered that 'Cattle and Cane' by the Go-Betweens appears to reference the same thing, but with words, and better. Late, as usual.

JC: You have chosen to make a home in Sheffield. Does the city influence the music you make? If so, in what ways? It's obviously famous right now for being the hometown of the Arctic Monkeys, but it has a rich heritage in pioneering electronic music, from the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, through to Warp Records. Do you feel part of any specific scene? Is it a supportive environment in which to work?

GC: I don't really like living in Sheffield that much, and I suspect that Sheffield is not that fond of me living in it. I suppose a lot of what I write at the moment is a result of sheltering from it, or trying to take ownership of a part of it, and make it how I prefer it to be. People often speak of the 'rich cultural heritage' of Sheffield – what is this thing? Is it like a sauce, or some kind of relish? I'm not aware of it, whatever it is. I don't think it's helpful to think of yourself as part of anything. As soon as you do that, you're erecting boundaries of some sort, and that's counter productive.

JC: I know you are a subscriber to the Martin Carr-school of never repeating yourself, even over the course of one song. This is very evident in the music you make; each song is crammed full of ideas, making it refreshingly unpredictable. Do you find this ethos piles on the creative pressure? Do you work under the mantra 'Must Not Repeat', or does it just come naturally? Would you deliberately shelve an idea for being too similar to something you've done before?

GC: Well, I try and most probably fail to not to repeat myself, but yeah ideas do get shelved if they sound too similar to something else. I chuck away the majority of what I write for being either done before or too rubbish. But then again, there are always going to be sounds I like and keep coming back to, so I always repeat myself to an extent, despite my best intentions. I always preferred those records which swerved off at odd angles – ‘Wowee Zowee’, ‘Giant Steps’, ‘Parklife’, ‘Barafundle’, so really it's just trying to be attentive to keeping it fresh without being too academic about it at the same time. I've just heard ‘The Faust Tapes’ for the first time, finally, and that does remarkable things with that idea. Then again, there's stuff like 'Halleluwah' by Can or ‘Selected Ambient Works II’ which do relatively little for seemingly hours, and are genius. So I don't know what to think, frankly. I don't think I'm going to worry about it.

JC: I've been lucky enough to hear the recent session you recorded for John Kennedy's XPosure show on XFm, and all four songs contain vocals of some form or another. On the album, you only sing on the one track ('This Troubles All Dust'). Are you deliberately taking your music in a more vocal-led direction? If so, why has it taken you so long to start pairing your voice with your music? Could you ever see yourself fronting a traditionally structured band?

GC: I've tried 'deliberate' before and it always ends in a mischief. It's not intentional at all, it's just another offshoot of trying to keep things interesting for me and for the listener. Plus I like singing and words, so I thought I'd make some room for them. It's taken this long for two reasons: 1) Previous lack of confidence 2) I couldn't afford a microphone. I'd love to have a band. It's definitely a direction it could go in, and probably should. I can't really see myself as a frontman, more of a 'lurking by the monitors looking edgy' sort of character. I'd hire women to stand at the front, wearing stiletto heels, so I could get in the NME. I think I'll call myself Johnny Racket.

JC: I guess this question is linked to the last - live, at the moment, it's just you and a laptop. Is this frustrating? Do you find the set-up limits the sort of venues and audiences you are able to play to? Are you ever tempted to rope other musicians in?

GC: Massively frustrating. I think people are unwilling to book it on the basis that it's not a very interesting spectacle, and for good reason. I'm concerned with show business, and it's currently watching a man operate some IT, and that's quite weird, and I wouldn't really want or expect people to pay to see it. It would be more helpful if I was a show off, I suppose, but short of pressing buttons with a mild flourish, I don't really know what I could do. I do have live visuals, which we're hoping to develop into something more central, to try and distract people from the central oddness of the whole thing. We're going to try and shoot little films to show.

JC: I notice on your My Space page you have chosen to highlight the negative reviews for the album and single garnered thus far, rather than accentuating the positives. Does this say something about you, or are you just having a laugh? Having spent so long making music without making it commercially available, are you nervous about what people might think? Presuming the two are not mutually attainable, would you rather be successful or critically acclaimed?

GC: I imagine it's a wry comment on the self-promotional nature of My Space, and how it highlights the weird desperate urge for acceptance at the heart of society. Not really, I just thought it would be amusing. My copy of the Wasp Factory has extracts from all the reviews and alternates between glowing and damning, and I always thought that was great. No, I'm not bothered by what people think. I wouldn't release anything if I didn't think it was alright. Having said that, I'm interested in people's opinions, I'm just aware that they don't validate me. I do get the feeling that people make their mind up too quickly about things at the moment, because they have the access to vast amounts of music they have to make a swift decision on whether they like stuff to move on. But that could be purely imaginary on my part. I tried to produce something which I could imagine people living with for a while, and come back to. All the best records are the ones you can climb inside of, and continually rediscover. I can't really imagine what either acclaim or success would consist of. I don't really mind if only 9 people buy the album, as long as those 9 people play it. Aspirations are for the faint hearted. I think it's more useful to not have any achievable aims, day to day.

JC: To end, briefly describe what would constitute a perfect day in your life. Then reverse the scenario, and reveal the worst day you could ever imagine. Then finally, if you could live your life alternating days between these two extremes, would you?

GC: Good - awake to the sound of woodland birds. Eat a mixture of yoghurt, honey and fresh soft fruit. The day thereafter should be utterly unpredictable, but should involve a really good sandwich at some point.

Bad - awake, hungover, to the sound of a dog snarling directly into my head. Force-fed pine cones and bracken. Vomit twice. Spend the remaining daylight hours at work. Spend evening listening to all the records in history that are better than mine.

Alternating between these two extremes made me think it would be like 'Groundhog Day' had it been directed by Darren Aronofsky. Would I like to live my life in this endlessly purgatorial manner? No.

JC: Thanks Graham. Now we know...

The limited edition 12", complete with hand-drawn sleeve by the artist himself is released today on Illicit Recordings. The album, 'Leave Now for Adventure' follows on the 26th March 2007, snugly packaged in a lovely digipack.

Feedle is the Artist in Residence on John Kennedy's XPosure show on XFm w/c 19th March, where an exclusive four-track session will be broadcast, featuring brand new material. Well worth tuning in for.

Feedle plays live at the Cheap Thrills 2nd Birthday Party at the Magnet in Liverpool on Friday 16th March, then for Opus at Sheffield's Riverside Cafe, with exclusive live visuals from Medlo on Sunday 18th March. He will also be supporting Battles and Clark at the Corporation in Sheffield on Thursday 17th May.

Purchase the 'Song for Dogs' 12" from Norman Records
Pre-order 'Leave Now for Adventure' from Norman Records. They are selling it for a very reasonable £8.95, plus they are getting it a week ahead of the official release date, so you can get your paws on it early!
Feedle website (currently in the middle of an overhaul - new site imminent!)
Feedle My Space