It's not why I do this, but (there's always a but) it is the case that when you write a decent zine or manage to put a few tracks together for the radio people think that you're some kind of omniscient Muso God. Because you've covered bands they've never heard of they think that you can mysteriously tap into the ley lines and find out about the underground bagpipe techno scene in downtown Laos or something. Well, I can exclusively reveal for you today that.. it's all true.
No, of course it's not true. Once you've started a zine and it gets a bit of a name you'll find that all sorts of music will begin to drop through your letterbox. Although I've bought a lot of fantastic records in my time, some of the best music in my collection has come, unsolicited, in the post. It's the reason I keep on doing this. Sure, I have to wade through a lot of crap but the romantic notion that someone, somewhere, has seen or heard about Robots.. and decided that it's worth their while to send a copy their record to me is so appealing that I can stomach opening all the jiffy envelopes, listening to all the badly recorded, badly played, badly composed and badly bad crud just to get that one moment of joy when the next unexpectedly beautiful tune comes bursting out of the stereo.
Such a moment was supplied by The Post Office Tower, the second single from Transistor 6 who consist of Frances Castle, her PC and a 4-track recorder. It's a pinging beauty of a track, coupling Frances' dreams of the Post Office Tower in London, particularly the rotating restaurant at the top, to a steel drum loop that swoons with joyous abandon. Like Solex in love. Prior to that EP for Elefant records, there was a self-released tape of 10 tracks ("more lo-fi-ish 4 track stuff I hadn't really got into using the computer a lot, though I was using it for drum tracks and stuff") and, as a result of sending out a 4-song demo, a 12" for Black Bean and Placenta that mixes scratchy samples and meandering jazz. She also does a bit of a bit of painting as part of the Stuckist movement which was founded by Billy Childish of Thee Headcoats fame.
Where did your love of the Post Office Tower come from?
Just the design and look of it conjures up an time that was more glamorous but also quite innocent. It just sits on the London sky line looking unbelievably cool and spacey.
Were the tracks for the Black Bean 12" written at the same time as the Elefant single? I'm guessing that they're earlier, but only because the 7" seems to be a little more, I don't know, confident in its execution.
You're right the tracks on the 12" were recorded first, probably a few months before. I find that if I do something that I perceive to be in a particular style, I end up hating it and want to do something different. When I made the Elefant single I was listening to a lot of sixties stuff, as opposed to the first, when I was listening to more electronic stuff. I particularly wanted a sixties drum sound on those songs. I didn't want to make a sixties sounding record and I didn't want to make something which had just hip hop or dance beats either. I have to laugh at myself sometimes cos I love really old country music and I'm using a computer.
I find that I'm learning all the time, and I'm slowly getting better equipment. On both those singles I was using a four track, and some basic audio software. I had a really crappy mike. Since that, I've got better stuff. I'm trying to learn about the art of recording, I suppose. Along with everything else.
You sound reticent when singing. Are you shy?
I'm very shy about singing. Sometimes I really wish my voice would come out American and male - which might be a bit difficult on a day to day basis as I'm British and female. I guess I have to get round the fact that it doesn't sound like I wish it would. I've spent a lot of time on the vocals on the next two singles, so I'm really hopping that they will be better than on the first two.
Why do you make yourself sing if you don't enjoy it?
Not all my tracks have vocals but I do have a need to express myself with some narrative. So I'm keeping at it.
One of the beauties of putting your music together on the computer is that it seems to free you from the need to write lyrics.
You're right most modern electronic music doesn't have lyrics... it may also be because a lot of dance music is made in bed rooms and vocals are hard to record. In some ways its like a return to those instrumental bands of the 60s the Ventures and all the surf bands. Music that is made for dancing doesn't really need lyrics. I don't think its a bad thing, but in another way I think it makes it a little one-dimensional. Some people have a need to speak out, or have stories to tell. Words and music have always gone together from the minstrels of the middle ages on down, so I think the need to do it is always going to be there.
Were you in bands previously that left you with a desire to do it all yourself?
I struggled with playing the guitar and did rehearse in a band once, I wasn't much good. I always had a fascination with multi-track recording even as a small child I figured out how to record my self playing recorder and singing at the same time using two tape recorders. So I think I was just waiting for computer technology to catch up, because as soon as I figured out what I could do with my PC I became obsessed with it. It was almost like I'd been waiting all these years to be able to do this.
What's the physical process of writing a track for you?
My process changes all the time, a lot of the time I start with a loop, usually the least obvious loop I can find. I don't like to steal a hook, it might be quite bland, just a simple piano riff that can be built on. Usually something that I like the sound of, something that has atmosphere, the sound of another era. I go to lots of car boot fairs and buy old records, I like a lot of old country records. The last two songs I've been working on I've written the complete song on an acoustic guitar first, and then taken it onto the computer. I'm trying to keep away from working to a formula.
Do you work on loads of tracks at once?
Yeah, I try to because its good to get away from something and work on another track to get perspective.. I work slowly, I'm anal and I also have a full time job - doing computer animation for games - and then I paint as well, so records seem to take a long time to make. I'm working on a full length CD for Black Bean and Placenta at the moment, but I don't know when it will be finished, I have a couple of art shows in November so I'm having to do a lot of painting at the moment. I'd like to have more time to spend on my music, and to speed up the process of making records.
You don't choose straightforward break beats. Why not?
I've purposely tried to stay away from them, I really like hip hop but I like a lot of other things as well. Once you use a break beat or a typical dance beat the track becomes 'dance' music as such, and all the other interesting things underneath get over looked, because we're become conditioned to hear these sorts of drum patterns with sampled music. I've tried to sample drums off old country records and a lot of old 60s stuff because the drums were recorded so beautifully in those days. Having said that I have used hip hop breaks in some tracks.. they just sound so good you can't always resist.
Who are your kindred spirits? I'm thinking of Printed Circuit, Solex, Cobra Killer..
Well Claire from Printed Circuit emailed me about a year ago, and since then we have been helping each other out, she's putting out a split single with us both on (on her Catmobile label.) I've given her some equipment and software, I'd say we were kindred spirits, definitely in the way we work and the kind of labels we want our music to be heard on. Though I think the actual music its self is quite different, which can only be a good thing really. I haven't heard any Solex I keep meaning to give her stuff a listen. I don't know any thing about Cobra Killer so I'm going to have to keep an eye out for that.
How do you feel about sampling?
Its difficult.. I really hate when someone takes the most obvious hook of the song and just sings over it. I think that's a cop out. I think it depends how 'well' you steal something. You can warp something out of all recognition, and make it your own, if you are clever.
Do you think you should pay royalties for a sample?
Umm... I think it depends on how much of it you have used, and how it has changed. I don't think you should have to pay for a few drum hits.
I presume you make no attempt to clear your samples?
No, often samples come from such obscure places that I forget who I nicked them off in the first place... some weird record I picked up in a boot fair for 10p, I can't remember which track or which bit of the track I used.
What about if someone copied part of one of your paintings and used it in theirs?
I'd be flattered on the whole, if it was used subtly but if it was someone very well know who took it and made out it was their creation and then made a lot of money on it, obviously I would not be pleased.
It's a hard question, but how do you distinguish between "a lot of money" and "some" money?
Umm... well I guess the whole thing would be something you judged by instinct, if the person was just out to rip you off, if they weren't giving you credit. I think you know when someone has stolen something off you.
Tell me about the Stuckists. I read a manifesto of sorts recently. It said that the objective of Stuckism was to bring about the death of post-modernism. How?
umm... well Stuckism has changed a lot in the last few months It started off as a group of artists just sitting around in the pub talking about their work, and deciding to set up an art movement to herald a return to painting. I believe that art shouldn't need explaining, but Stuckism in itself has become an intellectual exercise recently. I just paint what I paint, I don't want to bring about the death of post-modernism - what ever it is - and I'll just continue doing my paintings and let other people talk the talk.
Is the music part of the same aim?
No not at all. I don't think my music is Stuckist at all. I'm sure by nature all Stuckists should hate anything made on a computer. Stuckist music is probably the stuff that Billy Childish has been churning out for the last 20 years.
How do you join an art movement?
This was in a pub, the Bull and Gate, I can't remember what band we went to see, Charles Thompson was there, he'd already started it with Billy Childish a few weeks before. He just asked me as far as I remember, everyone had had a few drinks.
It's cheeky to ask, but have you got an art college background?
Yeah but I did illustration and I always wanted to do fine art, it was a very commercial uncreative course so I always felt I missed out.
Did you find art college a useful place, given what you're doing now?
No college for me was very uncreative. I learnt all my skills after I left college. My drawing instantly improved. They were just interested in turning out back room designers. We weren't expected to do any thing original, we were taught to rip off other peoples styles.
Was it full, as all class-warriors would like it to be, of pretentious middle-class wankers?
No! It was full of Thatcher's children who wanted a good job, a car, some kids. They learnt design like you might learn to lay bricks.
Luckily Frances is not at all workmanlike in her music, more of which will be on plastic shortly in the form of a split 7" for Catmobile and a split CD with 4-5 tracks on for Hub City in America. Next year, the first full-length release will be out on Black Bean and Placenta.
Contact Frances by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Transistor 6 web site at www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Towers/6171/tran.html
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