Friday, September 16, 2011
The Rebel: INTERVIEW!
It's a pleasure to be able to share an interview with The Rebel, Ben and Sophie answered a few questions for Gilded Gutter about their new EP on Monofonus Press and some facts about what Romans used to do with mice.
For those new to The Rebel, to get acquainted here's a list of Ben Wallers top 5 favourite things:
Favorite programme: Fighting Talk, radio 5, saturday 11 a.m.
Favourite film : Election starring Matthew Broderick and Reece Witherspoon
Favorite clour: Brown
Favourite book: At Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brien
Favourite LP: "Pyst" by Datblygu
But i can recite Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" from start to finish, with all the sound effects, at exactly the correct running time.
The Rebel played at Power Lunches recently, how was the show?
Unfortunately, because we haven't been able to practice for a while, and learn new songs between us, I played solo, which is the default setting for The Rebel in such circumstances. It's not a powerful presentation, because it lacks the machine-like drums that I chose Sophie for (in 2004), but I feel that it's a Lie to call oneself a band and not play fresh material. I don't blame myself: I blame LONDON, MONEY AND THE CHRISTIAN SYSTEM. So I do these gigs solo where I can improvise a bit, play my songs with automated Game Boy accompaniment (Nano Loop and/or Korg DS 10) and tell the odd joke. The show at Power Lunches was enjoyable from my point of view. A nice crowd, 2 cans of red stripe and £12 - you can't argue with that!
Was The Rebel started with a predetermined goal in mind – or do you work in an improvised way when approaching new recordings?
Sophie and I have recorded an E.P on which we improvised and collaborated and it remains the strongest material released under 'My' brand, The Rebel. It's called Live Aids and was released by the people from Aids Wolf, Montreal. I think the label is called Mongo or something... But most of the releases are recorded by myself. They come from notes made at any time, then are developed, in a long multi-tracking process which is completely studio and contrived.
The lyrics in ‘Northern Rocks Bear Weird Vegetable’ have been described as a kind of narration, I was wondering if story telling was an important part of The Rebel’s songs?
Lyrics is a touchy subject because I only add them at the end, reluctantly, because I have to. But yes the best lyrics tend to be the story-tellingest. Talking about something outside oneself rather than egocentrically moaning about one's prombles. But it's not conscious or deliberate my lyrics usually start off with a line that scans or a funny joke and then write themselves.
Do you prefer playing or recording?
Playing. I hate recording. Unless I'm doing it all by myself.
I prefer recording, but I love performing live. In recording you control the UNiverse, whereas in performing you ... er ... get to show off.
I've been thoroughly enjoying "Prove It" from the ‘The Five Year Plan’ EP on Monofonus press – can you tell us about the track?
"Prove It" was made from a looped drum pattern which I recorded at a practice studio called Scar in Camden where, one summer, I spent about a week recording drum patterns from my notebooks and taped melodies over the previous year or so, because I couldn't/can't play drums at home, it's too loud. So I have a vast library of drum recordings, which I am gradually working through, and the relevant melody, which I re-work with instruments. I think the song ran long because I hadn't gotten everything into it that I wanted and the loop didn't seem to want to stop. The lyrics are difficult to make out because I don't want them to be at the forefront but the first verse is about sexual predation. "Just another predatory male on the prowl, something ... eyes like an owl?" I forget. I'm proud of the line "Standing much to close to the girl with the pear, leering". I'm afraid that I don't usually remember what I've done once I've finished with it.
Do you ever revisit your previous work? If so what is it like listening to it now?
Yes sometimes I do listen to my old albums, very rarely the Country Teasers albums though, because I've got mixed feelings about how the production turned out, on all of them. I think most of my albums are still ok, and have some nice bits. Often I think, "How did I do that?" which is good. It's nice to hear evidence that I must have been having a great time, there in my parents' garage, or at my piano, or in the garage at our studio, etc.
What’s your take on people comparing The Rebel material to the Country Teasers stuff?
Well... It's fine, because I do agree with the FACT that listening to/watching a band is BETTER than listening to/watching one guy.
The Rebel's stuff is Country Teasers' base material or stock, so I'm not envious either way round, and it is a correct appreciation to deem Country Teasers songs "Better" than The Rebel songs because if you have 4 or 5 people plus 1 that's the fucking producer you NECESSARILY get a BETTER result than one guy executing his pure will or ego with no editors or censors. I'm trying to hold down my rage, can you hear it!? Yes I HATE collaboration because it's HARD and I HATE the sound of most of Country Teasers albums because they aren't how I'd have done it myself but I had to let a producer handle it in their own studio, dig, I'm the same way when I'm recording someone else in my studio. Er... now what was the question? Let's see... But I DO know that er ... You know, if I could get lucky with time, money, studio and producer, the group as it is could hammer out a great album, much better than what I could do on my own. But we've never had that luck. So it's great that people like our albums but they're not as good as we all hoped. And my solo albums are always a bit rushed but I think I get a lot better sounds in my studio than we've managed to get as a group in other people's studios. ANd SOund is the thing!
Ben, on your Wikipedia page it says you were born in Hertfordshire – that’s my neck of the woods! Did you spend much time in that area? If so did rural England make an impression on you when it came to being creative?
Herts! You're a Herts chick like myself! St Albans hospital I was born because my mum was a nurse there, but we lived in Hemel Hempstead. Leverstock Green. I don't recall that place, we moved to Pimlico, a tiny section of the Hemel area, and lived in a "big" house called Bedmond Hill with my grandparents, my aunt, her 2 teenage daughters, a cat called Mog; there was 2 lawns, a rose garden, a wood, a pond in the wood, fields with my other aunt's horses, she lived in ... Leverstock Green? With my cousins James and Sarah; so until I was 5 I lived like a feral prince surrounded by women and 2 patriarchs in a rural idyll. We finally went back to check it out a couple years ago when Sophie was working nearby on the harry Potter films. Watford you know. Earlsfirled" Levington? What is that place called where they shoot Harry Potter. My birthday that year we went on a tour of the set. Well we just wandered around. Anyway I would often go to Kings Langley and pick Sophie up after work and this one time we went and checked it out, the old place. Man it was weird. I didn't remember a damn thing about it. It was about a quarter of the size I remember it. There was no lawns, no rose gardens, just scrubland. Plenty of dogs. I started to walking up the drive, the old drive that arcs around like a crescent and I used to ride my tricycle to the end and back? But I didn't even get onto the drive before an ARAB pardon my French a MAN FROM ARABIA with a GUN and a DOG axed me what I wanted. I recall the gun, now, but I'm not sure it was actually a gun, when I think about the actual memory, analyse it. "Well I sued to live up there see," I says. I mean I used to live up there. "I used to live up there," i said. "Fuck that," says MR EGYPTIAN in perfect English. "Get lost. We're using your old dream house for a Armament Storage and Holdings facility now." Well! I ran to Aunt Meg's in the Viz cartoon Jack Black Solves the Mystery and rest as they say was History.
Anyway when my dad remarried we moved out, and lived in a nice house in Berkhamstead. I still can't spell Berkhamsted! Montague Road, at the top of the hill, next to Anglefield Road, where we moved, into a massive house, when I was 7, because the kids had been born, the twins, my beloved brother and sister, Christo and Em. He came out first. Well that's what they told me. But growing up in a patriarchy didn't do EMily any harm, it toughened her up. Anyway. I left Hertfordshire (apart from every term, to relocated to north London where I lived in an institution for Male Youths) in 1989 to attend Edinburgh University, which I had chosen because a)it was far away, b)Mark E Smith lived there and c)it began with E so it was the next one on the list after Cambridge who turned me down because I was too thick. MY DAD HAS NEVER FORGIVEN THEM!
Now mum and dad live in Tring where they've been since about 1991 I think, a really nice cottage next to Tring Park, you ever been there? The woods? You ever go to Tring museum? It's the best museum in the land, mang! I had done a lot of recording in Berkhamsted on my holidays back from Edinburgh but i didn't start to get a good sound and ok lyrics until my parents moved to Tring. I used to walk the dog for them and write lyrics on the park or in the woods. It's the rural idyll, a great combination, not quite pastoral, but it probably was pastoral when Rothschild had it all mown and shit with his flamingoes, his turtles, his giant tortoises, his uh what you call it zebras that's it. You know they roamed around there, right? And he's to be blamed stroke credited for the invasion of glis-glis (edible doormouse; actually the Romans brought them over, they were a food source ... they kept them in jars, did you know that? Ugh! Those fucking Italians and their food!) and uh what are they called Munt-jac, the ugliest being since the human on god's mean earth. I'm sure that red light-bulb is gonna blow. Yes so well to answer your question, uh ... Well I was very happy there, executing the ideas and melodies I'd noted down in Edinburgh during the terms, on my four track etc in my parents garage. In between meals, dog-walks and visits to fucking London to see my girlfriend and her sister, my former friend-now-heroin-addict, the guitarist in the bands we had formed in Edinburgh, well no that's an exaggeration, I formed Country Teasers and he joined, but he'd also invited me to join his band The Male Nurse which was more of a democracy. The singer Keith Farquhar was away on an exchange in Baltimore for a year so I filled in for him and when he returned I moved to guitar and keyboards, sometimes drums etc. Sophie's moving around upstairs ... she didn't sleep all night .... I'm on holiday. Have you ever seen "Stroscek"? When he's released from the asylum he goes to his local bar, the Himmel. Eva, a prostitute friend, asks him where he's been. "ich," he says, pausing for emphasis, "war auf Urlaub!" (I was on holiday). I recall that every time I remember I'm on holiday. Got the whole week left too! Back to work on Sunday. MotherFUCKER!
Anyway. Yes the countryside influenced my music because I was totally relaxed there. And totally uptight and miserable, because "In Space no one can hear you scream" i.e. alone with one's thoughts you can't escape them can you but if you just wait loong enough like say if you're walking and you sit on the bench and just stare at the undulating, jurassic parkland and listen to the ssssccchhhhhhhhhhhhhjjjddggggggggggge of the A41 there and watch the little vans and cars going nowhere you can usually get a funny line and a poem out of it. Oh I dunno, what a lot of horse-shit. All I know is I wrote a lot of lyrics on Tring park and I still do whenever I get a chance to go back there which isn't fucking often enough in my opinion.
Well heroin tore through the Male Nurse/Country Teasers like it tore through Elastica in that book by that guy from Autechre or what was its name that band ... the Douglas Baader Gang. Hello Tammy. Fucking junkies. I used to feel like I was escaping from junk every time I returned to Tring from London but I wasn't usually unscathed. That's what my album Treble Lives was about. Eventually London and my girlfriend sucked me in and I moved here in 1996 or 7. Big mistake. Anyway it panned out ok in the end. Touch wood. Got a wife, got a cat, got a great house in de Beauvoir town. To quote that pin-up recovering junky from The Scheme (best show of 2011) "Cood not be happiar!" Clode Nane! Pure brilliant but!
In London to get the same kick I go to Parliament hill fields and wander round Hampstead Heath trying not to lead on too many guys with the wrong type of look. My favorite bit is the little circle of trees with the black iron fence around it. Used to be where they hanged witches. SO the witches still haunt it there. You can see where one of them bent the wrought iron fence post and exscaped. No human woman could of achieved that magaick.
My worst beef with London is that it's too big, unfriendly and expensive for bands to hang together so if the internet can solve that then well that's good. Glasgow always seemed to have a good bands culture where it's easy for people to play together, hang out ... And Edinburgh was good ... but then perhaps i'm missing a point about cities and there vibes because although Edinburgh's smaller than Glasgow, Glasgow has the friendlier more cooperative bands culture, or it did when I was in Scotland. And Edinburgh was the haughtier more intellectual place; and we, the Edinburgh group (our drinking club The White Feather would have been notorious and infamous if anyone had known about it) looked down upon the friendly bumpkins of Little Bosnia, as we called Glasgow. Sorry i can't answer your question: i don't have a clue about the internet.
Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp et al make it simpler to find music especially if you’re from a small area with no record stores. From your experience pre and post internet do you think these social networking platforms are a help or hindrance for bands?
The Internet HAS to have been great for bands, it can't have been a hindrance! I'm not really clued in though, and hence not really interested; but I'd like to know if it has helped the songwriting process. I mean I assume that people in bands share ideas and record together virtually, right? As far as getting music out and heard and all that yeah it must be great. I do wish ... I mean I do hope that the money side of it is all sewn up for the composer, right. I can't seem to get around to that aspect of my work. Those PRS forms are so long. Oh I didn't know there was one called Bandcamp! This one time? at Bandcamp?
Sophie, I’ve read you make work in a variety of media - does visual art influence music you play and visa versa at all?
Probably, although I think you draw on your influences instinctively, not consciously. I enjoy watching and making films and I think film as a medium is actually very similar to music - much more so than literature or painting.
If time and money were no option what would you like to achieve creatively?
I'd like to spend all my time in my studio. You get out as much as you put in.
Time and Money! Money and pain; pain, pain! (McCabe & Mrs Miller. We hired all pretty much nearly of Robert Altman's films this week. It just happened. Sophie liked Nashville and went on from there.)
I answered it up there, if we got time and money I'd like to execute a really complete Country Teasers album with the group. It would take AGES and cost A LOT. The recording process ... It takes me DAYS to get a song right sometimes, and then it gets chucked in the fucking bin because it sucks! Multipply that by 5 plus 10 for a producer and that's .... 32 days per song. So it might hafta wait til i get the Most Old Person in Music award from Sounds magazine in 2050.
If you could – or wanted to, what would you change about English culture?
Fucking England! I think it is changing already. I mean SURELY the Sun can't be as bad as it was when I last read it. News of the world has gone. I know its left wing reactionary to aim at those lame victims but I HATE that aspect of our culture. The tough survive in London and seem oftentimes to perpetuate it. "I'm tough, I landed here in 1250 from Sweden/Poland/Ireland/Yorkshire and if I took it well I’m fucking bloody well got my rights to dish it out to the next cunt what lands here and tries to take my jobs. Set fire to my daughter!" But I feel that it's changing, I really do. I hope it is. The Star Wars generation can't let it continue, can they?
Did you follow the stories on the recent riots? If you did, what was your view on those events?
The riots was an interesting time for me. I was between residences. But I was here, my new place, which I love, and Sophie was ill so I was staying up late alone, and I had the radio on, I had the TV on and I had the BBC news on the computer. And the doors open so I could hear the cop cars. Nothing touched us here but I could see people on their balconies looking up Kingsland road to Dalston and Hackney. I was pissed off about the coverage angle and hearing 5 live middle England callers whining. We know all that! I don't like the use of "feral" to describe children. Children are wankers, they suck, and they go apeshit if you let them, of they feel like it, because they're encouraged to. But you got to educate them properly etc. Food, housing and hobbies also help. Hospitals etc. I dunno, what do I know. I went to see Doug Stanhope on the Thursday. He commented very well on it. He identified with the poverty: "You have to wash your dishes by hand? You like in a crumbling stone tomb on the bad side of town? Check it out I live in a crumbling stone tomb in the nice neighbourhood. And I wash my dishes by hand because I can't operate my top of the range dishwasher. It has a row of symbols that are completely not analogous to washing: a crescent moon, an asterisk crying a tear, a hammer and sickle and a gonk. So you just go out there a get yourself a dishwasher and a widescreen TV if you want. It ain't make you any happier! Look at me!"
What else ... oh you must ask Sophie this. I defer my political, social and economic opinions to her: whatever she says, that's what I think. I don't have the education she's got. The streets. Poor wretch, I liberated her from Battersea when she was a puppy. But yes in answer to part 2 of the question I was GLUED to my set. The yellow and red on black with the orange of the streetlights (what's that word?) was mesmerising. Different compositions, different sets, but the same colour scheme. Lovely. Croydon, Ealing, Tottenham etc. Well, I bet a lot of cramped depressing family-ruining flats got cleaned out in those clearances. Ask Sophie (father is an architect) about the poor housing in London, the way it prevents family life.
Are there any bands you’d like to rave about - something we should check out?
Well my favorite band is Datblygu, whom too few have heard, from Wales. Sing in welsh but translations are available now and his (David R Edwards) lyrics are pretty amazing, second to none, in my opinion. Hilarious, bleak, personal and objective. Is "Genius" too strong a word?
I'm struggling to stay afloat in modern music; since John Peel died I... well I keep forgetting to try to keep track of when Tom Ravenscroft broadcasts and I do enjoy his show and his manner every time I listen but you see I have really lost that old yen, which made me put up with all the shit I didn't like that Peel played because I'd hear something good and bingo off I would go to Record and tape exchange or the new record shops in Edinburgh etc. Now, because there's too much, and I can't manage my time as it is, I can't find new bands. My favorite live band is Please, but they're friends now so it doesn't count. Do you like Brainbombs? I like Deerhoof. But I've got no secret new bands to tell you about that I can think about. My band The Devil (Sophie on drums, me on vox and synth, James Sedwards from Nøught on guitar) is probably the 'best' band around, and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it, I'm saying it because it just probably is, and it's only realised about one tenth of its potential, like an ice berg. Oh, Bomber Jackets! they're good. Friends again, but. You know Russell.
My area of expertise is probably the same as Absolute 80s! I can listen to Now That's What I call Music 1 through 4 without lifting the fucking needle, even though when I was alive then I HATED most of that ROT. Oh the decay! A once great mind! Can you believe it, I'm to be 30 on Thursday? Where did the time go!
But as John Peel said about The Fall, if you don't know Datblygu you're really stupid.
What’s the future for The Rebel?
The FUTURE?! My only big problem in life is that I can't see into the future like most people can. I understand only the present; my memory's so bad I can't go back in time either. Never been able to conceive idea of being alive next week. Hence can't pay bills, can't make phonecalls, can't tie up laces on shoes, can't buy food and prepare meals. There's never been a future for The Rebel, only the present of recording. You can stop time when you're recording, it's real simple. You capture time and continually replay it. A song is a bit of time, recorded, forever. People playing their instruments and having a good time. Like the moving photos in Harry Potter or on the tube escalators now. Er but sorry to be serious for a moment well I have very nice people who put my albums out (Junior Aspirin: best record manufacturers in Rock) and a few fans so as long as I don't get too much worse The Rebel should always be ok and Country Teasers seem to gain gradually in popularity when we make our occasional re-appearances, the future should continue to be a gentle uphill climb towards a happy death!
"I'm full of dust and guitars" Syd Barrett - if you were cracked open what would be inside?
What, like Bukowski: filled with meat and cheese, like a greasy filo pastry? I wouldn't like to guess.
Well, synths; I mean ... I love my guitars, but I wouldn't be able to part from my Kawai City-Life Piano or my Realistic Concertmate (by Moog). And when I'm reduced to a 4 track and one instrument I can get by with the Yamaha PSS 50 which has a setting (99) where you've got bass down at the bottom, piano the middle and drums at the top. So that's what you'd find. A Fostex 4 track, the Yamaha PSS 50 and no dust. I'm only 27!