| Sputnikmusic

After two busy years, releasing a couple of beautiful, critically acclaimed solo records (Abandoned Dancehall Dreams & Stupid Things That Mean The World), it was time to talk again with Tim. Fortunately, he was kind enough to provide me all the information I wanted to know, including some fresh updates regarding some of his other projects such as Henry Fool or the second collaboration with Peter Chilvers (with whom he created a gorgeous LP 13 years ago, entitled California, Norfolk).

Hello Tim! How are you?

As of now, I’m suffering from a fever and in bed with a coat on (in the middle of Summer). A perfectly miserable condition to discuss my work perhaps?!?

It’s been over two years since your first interview for Sputnik. It has been a busy period for you, releasing two solo records: Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World. I am sure they have attracted a completely new audience to listen to your music. How do you feel? What do these albums mean to you?

I’m really pleased that both visually and musically the two albums have seemingly established something new for me.

As I’ve often said before, My Hotel Year – from 2004 – was a solo album in name only. It consisted of songs I’d co-written as part of several ongoing and unfinished collaborative projects. It was put together as a way of collecting material from disparate sources that would have been lost otherwise. I like some of the songs a lot and I hope it has a consistency, but even at the time I felt there was something a little dry and colourless about the album (not always a bad thing). I also felt it only expressed a fraction of my musical interests and ideas.

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World were very much conceived as album projects. In both cases, I wrote a lot more of the music than I normally do on albums I’m involved with – bar Schoolyard Ghosts, perhaps – and in both cases everything started and ended with me, so I wasn’t going through the filter of a band or collaborative mindset.

It’s been great to create something that excites me at this stage of my music making and the external response has been genuinely heartwarming. When your name’s on the cover of an album, it makes you feel a lot more vulnerable than hiding behind a band identity does. I’m more comfortable with the latter, believe me!

You mentioned Stupid Things That Mean The World is the follow-up of last year’s Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. It builds on paved ground, yet I feel it is more aggressive. ADD was tame, quite melancholic at times, while STTMTW evokes some feelings of anger and frustration. Was it on purpose?

In my case, these things are ever expressed on purpose. What comes out comes out unforced. Although I think about what I do a lot after the event – I spend an inordinate amount of time on track selection, honing arrangement and track order, for example – everything that emerges compositionally is entirely natural.

I think you’re right that there is more aggression in parts of this album and I suspect that it’s because Stupid Things is a more comprehensive expression of my tastes and emotions than a lot of what I do. I’d like to think that my solo work is an honest distillation of my musical interests, ideas and lyrical preoccupations.

In other projects I’m involved in – Bowness/Chilvers, for example – the Rock influence is nonexistent as it’s something Peter hates.

One track got dropped from the new album at the last minute that would have completely confirmed your theory. It was quite a brutal combination of Rock, Afro-Groove and Minimalist Classical elements with a lyric I was pleased with. The structure was right, Andrew Keeling’s orchestration was fantastic, David Rhodes’ guitar was blistering and the Booker/Edwin rhythm section were on fiery form. Ultimately, every mix of the song – called ‘The Longford Lover’ – was a mess and nothing sat as well as it should together. As such, it was one of about five tracks that got dropped from the album along the way.

Describe us a bit the writing process. How did the songs take shape?

I use any method that works to come up with something I like.

Musical material is generated by writing on guitar, programming on the computer, improvising with other musicians and so on.

As for lyrics, they generally take longer than the music to get right. Mostly I right the melodies first and then write the lyrics to the melody (sometimes a long process). That said, sometimes I will work from existing lyrics and create a melody from them.

‘Press Reset’, ‘Stupid Things’, ‘Soft William’ and ‘Smiler At 52’ came about from me writing on my computer studio. ‘Know That You Were Loved’, ‘Everything You’re Not’ / ‘Everything But You’, ‘The Sweetest Bitter Pill’ were originally written on my guitar.

‘The Great Electric Teenage Dream’ was a case of Stephen Bennett sending me some musical fragments and me hearing one that I felt could be made into a song. We developed it further through discussion and some live in the studio improv.

As I love your lyrics, I must ask: is there a direct connection between ADD and STTMTW? Are there any common themes?

In the sense that there’s plenty of melancholy, reflection and regret, yes! Also in the sense that there’s a sort of unifying thread. In this case the new album’s title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are or help us through our lives (it could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth and so on). I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

That said, the lyrical content is quite separate.

The lyric to ‘The Great Electric Teenage Dream’ is part of a larger project called Third Monster On The Left. A few tracks from it appeared on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and I’m hoping to present it as a complete project at some point in the future.

‘Know That You Were Loved’ was the last song written for the album and it’s possibly the most emotional song. To an extent, it deals with death bed reminiscences and has roots in the work I used to do with the elderly at old people’s homes in the 1980s.

‘Press Reset’ is about somebody escaping from the pressures of their lives.

Who are the main collaborators that have helped you shape STTMTW? How significant was their input?

In the terms of the songwriting, I’ve either written the songs myself or moulded things I’d co-written with other musicians (Stephen Bennett, Phil Manzanera, Andrew Keeling and Steven Wilson).

In the case of SW,  he sent me several early No-Man demos that I’d completely forgotten about. One particular demo, from 1994, really stood out for me and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t developed it further, As we were then working on Wild Opera after Flowermouth, my guess is that it just didn’t fit with what we were doing at the time.

I heard it for the first time in 20 years in October of 2014 and felt it was exactly what I needed for the ongoing Stupid Things That Mean The World album.

The original No-Man demo (called ‘Best Boy Electric’) is just over a minute long, whereas ‘Sing To Me’ is six minutes long, features new lyrics and a couple of new musical sections. I like it because it reminds me of things I liked about early No-Man as well perfectly fitting in with what I do now musically.

In terms of musical collaborators, I was lucky to have a cast of gifted and distinctive musicians such as Anna Phoebe, Andrew Keeling, Peter Hammill, Stephen Bennett, Colin Edwin, Michael Bearpark, David Rhodes and Andrew Booker, who gave me what I wanted plus something extra that occasionally took the music to unexpected places.

You have mentioned on your website that your favorite tunes are ‘The Great Electric Teenage Dream’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’. Why?

Because the songs turned out to be nothing like I was expecting to write. I’d say those two plus ‘Press Reset’ are my favourite songs on the album for that reason.

I still feel a novice when it comes to being a musician (as opposed to being a singer), so it’s always a thrill to finish a song. In the case of ‘Know That You were Loved’, it was compositionally quite detailed, so I was pleased with my writing (which was hardly complex, but was something different for me). ‘Press Reset’ emerged out of a computer studio experiment and I just followed it through to its conclusion and then heightened aspects of what the experiment suggested. At the end of the process, I felt I ended up with a song quite unlike any other I’d written and a lyric and lyrical subject I really wasn’t expecting.

What are your favorite tracks from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams?

I like the two ‘Smiler’ pieces for how they work as completely separate pieces yet are crucially linked, but my favourite piece is ‘Dancing For You’, which was a song I wrote with Stephen Bennett. It came together quite quickly and as with ‘Press Reset’, it wasn’t a melody or a lyric I was expecting to be singing or writing. It may seem strange, but it was a subject matter that took me by surprise.

Of all the songs on Stupid Things That Mean The World, the one that surprised me most was ‘Press Reset’. It starts with a powerful drum beat in the background then it gradually becomes a rather urgent rocker. Was it conceived this way or is it the result of a spontaneous idea?

It was conceived that way. The album version is a fleshed out and more organic version of my home studio demo (which mainly worked from samples). Ditto ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, ‘Soft William’ and ‘Smiler At 52’ from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams.

‘Press Reset’ evolved as it was being re-recorded and one point slightly deviated from the original idea I had for it, but one of the nice things Bruce Soord did was to reinstate the brutal simplicity of my original guitar and bass lines.

It was the second piece I’d written for the album and although it’s now seen as one of the best songs on Stupid Things, it’s fair to say that it was initially a harder track to push to the band than most.

Do you plan on touring any time soon?

I’ll be doing a couple of UK dates (London and Bristol) plus a Polish festival. Hopefully there’ll be more. There have been some offers, but nothing’s been decided yet.

We tend to use the live experience as a means of allowing the songs to work to the strength of the live band rather than opt for the emulate the record approach.

Any plans on recording a new Henry Fool album? Also, You mentioned last time there was a new album in the works with Slow Electric. Was it put on hold, is it still happening?

Yes, to Henry Fool. We have at least 40 minutes of unreleased material, which is quite a departure from Men Singing.

I’ve also nearly completed another Bowness/Chilvers album (it’s only taken us 13 years so far!). It’s perhaps even more detailed and melancholic than California, Norfolk.

Slow Electric looks like it will end up being a one-off project. The Estonian Jazz musicians Aleksei and Robert were great and very easy to work with, but due to ill health it looks like Aleksei won’t ever play again. A great shame as he was such an inventive and tasteful player.

The inevitable question: Is there any chance for us to hear some new No-Man tunes in the near future?

I really hope so. I’m still in regular touch with SW and we still get on well, so who knows. The SW ‘eternally full schedule’ isn’t on our side, though! :-)

Tim’s official website: http://timbowness.co.uk/

Official webstore: http://www.burningshed.com/store/timbowness/

Sputnik’s Stupid Things That Mean The World review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/67856/Tim-Bowness-Stupid-Things-That-Mean-The-World//

Sputnik’s Abandoned Dancehall Dreams review: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/62938/Tim-Bowness-Abandoned-Dancehall-Dreams/

Sputnik’s previous interview with Tim Bowness: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/blog/2013/08/13/no-mans-tim-bowness-interview/“>

There's lots of details regarding the albums he released lately. A great read for those who are interested in Tim's music!

Nice interview. I still think that new no-man album will be recorded earlier than new porcupine tree.

Yeah, that's how it looks like lol. I'm bummed Steven Wilson mentioned that if PT will ever return, it's gonna be as a side project. Still, a side project should be better than nothing...

Lets look at it from a different angle. no-man's best albums were recorded when no-man became a side project of wilson :)
Im gonna attend Bowness show in Poland in 2 months. I wonder how will it look without Wilson.

That's true.
I'm sure it's gonna be awesome, the live band kicks ass. I wish he did more gigs.

This is really cool - nice work as always Raul! Love reading your interview write-ups, even if it's an artist I don't typically pay attention to

Thanks man! Here's a lot of fanboy-ism, I wanted to ask so many things, but then again I had to keep it at a normal length (plus the man might have thought I'm an obsessed fan)

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