(6th October 2000)
It's all about opposites. Their influences are the classic guitar band heroes, but they make electronic music. They're deadly serious about what they do, but they slip in the odd double entendre title. They like to mess with your expectations, but they want their sleeve artwork to reflect the music.
Magnétophone's new album, I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me, for new label 4AD comes after You Should Write Music (the 'red' single) for Earworm, a 7" and 12" for Static Caravan and several compilation appearances over the last couple of years or so. The album, and the Come on the Phone single that immediately preceded it, reflect the oppositions in the Magnétophone mind. There are always at least two musical levels working both for and against each other. It's a dichotomy and symbiosis between rough and smooth, melody and noise. Beauty and the Beats. As with Mu-Ziq's finest moments, there's the pretty tune and then there's the jaggedy-assed crunching cut-up loops, neither permanently dominating the sound, on this listen or the next one. Why Stop When It Feels So Good? sums the album up. The rhythm staggers out of static bursts but the floating, low-key melody could be a melancholy Kraftwerk and it ends, not after an exuberant and lengthy celebration of its strangely mellow groove as you would expect, but cut off in its prime at a contrary 3 minutes-odd.
Their debut single being virtually a song, with guitars and words and so on, and having heard nothing by the band since then, I was intrigued as to what had prompted these developments so I took myself over to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham one October evening. Magnétophone are John Hanson and Matt Saunders.
The last thing I heard from you before this album and single for 4AD was You Should Write Music. What had you done before that?
John: We went under the banner of Rocket Science for a while. Pretty much just experimenting with sound. I think as it went by... you build up a relationship by playing together and that, and it just developed that we were writing songs but always buying new equipment. It just got to the point where we'd recorded a few things and Dominic from Earworm was interested in one of the tracks, the guitar track, and he released that as a limited-edition red 7". It's just snowballed from there really. Geoff [of Static Caravan] got involved and we did a single with him, we've done a few splits, plenty of gigging and then a 12". Then Ed [Horrox, of 4AD] heard the album that we'd finished for Dom and intervened so we came in that way.
Were you playing in other bands round Birmingham?
Matt: We were in bands separately for some time which were really Led Zeppelin style bands. We were just at a level of gigging...
J: ...just playing around with influences...
M: ...the kind of thing you do when you're learning to play guitar, really. But we got to know each other and ideas grew between us...
J: ...it was just comparing influences. That's how we got to know each other and that's how we formed a relationship. From then we just started making music together. It was a couple of years as Rocket Science but then we decided to release the single we thought "new time, new era" and I guess Magnétophone was born with that red 7".
That single was obviously a song. Has it been a gradual evolution away from songs since that point?
M: We just wanted to get more out of sound. We actually use more vocals now that we ever have done. I think the album's the first time that we've really used vocals on a recording.
But there's no songs as such...
M: We still call them songs...
You could call them pieces [laughing] ...
J: It's just lazy terminology. We don't call them pieces because it just sounds, yeah, terrible. We just wanted to get more out of tone and texture.
M: We learned to play guitar and found that it couldn't do what we wanted it to do. So we moved on to other tools that could get us the sounds that we wanted.J: It just happens to be that it's electronic tools that get us the sound and the feel that we want. We like the idea of playing around with opposites. Maybe a hard beat with something softer in the background. Something you don't normally get in electronic music. We like that mixture really, but it's never anything that we ever sit down in the studio and plan. It's just been an evolutionary thing over three years that's lead to where we are now. You can only do so much with one genre and then you move on.
M: We were doing electronic music when we recorded the 'red' single even though one side was guitars and the other side was electronic
J: It was the last guitar track that we did, really.
What music were you listening to three years ago that brought you together? And is it the kind of music that you're making now?
M: Not really.
J: We never really wanted to try and... if we were listening to anything, there was never really any point in trying to copy it or get it onto a record in our style. What we were listening to was quite the opposite. The same in attitude, but different tools. We were listening to Zeppelin, I guess...
M: ...Spaceman 3...
J: The Velvet Underground, Suicide.
The classic list of influences, really.
M: Yeah. All the good stuff. That's how we formed a relationship. Just loving good music. The influences that show on record are more in attitude than actual notes or beats or anything. The attitude to just do what you like, to see what the outcome is, to have fun with the experimentation with the beats. Even with the song titles, they're very expressive and you don't usually get that with electronic music. To have something soft, like a piano, in the background with a fuzzed-up beat interests us. It's something new.
Do you think that you're pretentious? Having a mispronounced French name, a long album title...
M: No, I think it's the opposite in a way. We could have called every song Geometric Shape or Atmosphere 9, there's so many bad titles out there. All our titles just come from everyday language. Things we say and things that we see.
J: I think there is a bit of it in there that we want to, in a secret way, want to annoy people. Whatever reviews we get, our worst fear is to be called mediocre, or just all right. So when it comes to the band name, or the titles or whatever, we want to do something extreme or not expected, or not at all. I'd hate to be down the middle. So when it comes to long song titles or long album titles, it just comes from "who can we annoy?"
The thing I liked about the album title was that when you read it once it sounds nice, but when you read it again you think: "no, it's not that nice at all."
J: [laughing] It does sound a bit bitter. I don't know where it came from. We were just writing down titles and it was on the page.
M: We were trying to make them human, get some emotion in it.
Do you think your music isn't emotional then?
M: No I think it is. That's the point. There's so much cold, distant techno out there and we don't really want to be a part of that.
There are some very intense tracks on the album, but very short tracks too.
J: I think it comes from listening to such a wide variety of music and then when you come to electronic music... it's great that The Orb released a 40-minute single, but we got to the point where we thought "well, what's another thing that electronic music doesn't do?" And it's the 3-minute pop song. So we thought it'd be nice to do some leftfield songs, but for radio play. It's nice having the track short because it plays with people's expectations of what electronic music is.
M: You have to make every second as interesting as possible.
J: Yeah, we wanted to cut out the fat on this album. There were 18 tracks to start off with and we narrowed them down to the ones that felt right at the time. We had to go with the feeling.
M: Our second album will be a bit shorter.
How do you go about recording? Do you jam? Is it computer-based?
M: We do jam. It's a bit of everything.
J: We don't use a computer.
M: It's all loops and samples.
J: We wanted to keep that live feeling. We are musicians and it comes naturally to us to play with dynamics in the studio. If something's happening and we get it down on tape, brilliant then it'll get released. There's a few overdubs here and there but generally the most exciting tracks are the ones we've just gone bang! in the studio. One-take wonders, really.
M: The worst thing for us would be to just put a song down onto a computer and then that's finished and that's all it does. Each time we play a track it's different. Different dynamics. Recording is like capturing the most dynamic.
J: It's like photography, really.
M: Sampling accidents give you things that you might not be able to repeat, a certain tone or something. You have to put some of that in there too, just to surprise yourself.
J: I think it was Public Enemy who had all the musicians jamming for 40 minutes with 15 samplers and vocals and scratching but they'd get two seconds of something that they could use and develop into something else. That special moment. That's what really excites us.
The single, Come on the Phone, which I initially thought was telephone, could easily be Magnétophone. Is that what it is, like "COME ON!!!"?
M: It's both.
J: You [Matt] come up with it didn't you? It was a nice double meaning, a double entendre...
Yeah, I was thinking of phone sex...
J: Geoff wanted to release it as a porno version. But it's like a chant as well, "COME ON THE 'PHONE!" so that's quite nice. Fuck it, it's humorous. We try not to take anything too seriously...
Why did you sign to 4AD? Were there other offers on the table?
M: There was a couple of other people but we'd been speaking to Ed for some time and he was buying our records and we became friends and he was into what we did. It was a case of us finishing the album and that was it.
J: There was no big master plan. He enjoyed it and we always wanted to sign to a label that genuinely got excited about what we were doing. The whole creative process was in there. The last thing that we want to do is get tagged down on a label known for electronic music. So we can spread our wings on this label so long as it's exciting.
M: We'd have been stifled on a techno label.
Broadcast signed to Warp.
J: I mean, if Warp... [laughs]
...if Warp had asked you...
J: I'm sure we would have signed. What I like about Broadcast signing to Warp is that Warp is known for its electronic outfits. I love the idea that Broadcast signed to Warp because they're instrument-based and they're playing live, and I like that. I guess Warp would just have to accept us on what we do. And I feel that we have that with 4AD, we have that comfort that if we presented them with an acapella album for the second one then, if it was good, they'd go with it.
Was there any cachet in signing to 4AD because of their back-catalogue?
J: We didn't want to get intimidated by a label's history. If you take that on then we'd start to think about what we do too much. We just want to keep on writing good music and releasing it on 4AD.
M: We liked the things that they were telling us and that was the most important thing. They made space for us and let us know that we could do what we liked?
And who did the artwork?
M: That's V23. We'd just say what we liked and didn't like about things Martin [at V23] would come back with new ideas. he's absolutely brilliant and understood exactly what we were doing.
J: It's so important that we get what we want visually. It's great working with 4AD for that reason.
You're obviously very serious about your music.
M: It's very important that we keep everything first-class. It's so easy to write music, but it's so difficult to write unique, interesting music. That's the most important thing. It's hard, but it's fun. You have to be serious about it or you start putting out rubbish. We want to be judged by our last record.
So, on that basis, do you think there's any scope for giving up the day jobs?
M: [laughs] erm, let's hope so.
J: We could give up the day jobs, but we'd starve...
Send Magnétophone a sandwich today. Or at least give their album a decent listen. You won't be disappointed, unless you like your music to come with a note saying whether or not you'll like it and what your mates are going to think. www.4ad.com
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