Filed under: Interview
Dancefloors the world over are still reeling from the aftershocks of Infusion’s “Girls Can Be Cruel”, and their latest single “Better World” has just debuted on the DJ Magazine Hype Chart at number 7. Queues are beginning to snake around the buildings to get a chance to remix their tracks (latest one: “Love and Imitation” gets the full treatment from Adam Freeland, released December 6th), and if you’ve seen the likes of Dave Seaman, Hernan Cattaneo, or John Digweed spin recently, chances are you’ll have heard them. What does that tell you about Australian trio Frank Xavier, Jamie Stevens and Manuel Sharrad? It tells you they rock, that’s what, as anyone who’s experienced the frenetic energy of their live sets will testify.
With the release of their latest album “Six Feet Above Yesterday” on BMG Australia, Infusion have demonstrated that what came before was merely the tip of a giant, musically diverse iceberg. A generic mosaic of grassroots influences, powerful soundscapes and intoxicating levels of funk, this album will divide music lovers everywhere into two distinct groups: those who’ve listened to it, and those who are going to. Writers, engineers, producers and all-round top blokes, we had the chance to spend some time talking with them before their set at Womb.
Interview by Matt Cotterill _ Translation
HRFQ : Can we begin with the album, “Six Feet Above Yesterday”? There was quite a strong rock flavour to it. Did you approach it with any specific concepts?
MANUEL : Not really, no. It took a long time to put the album together, a lot of the tracks we’d been writing for a couple of years before we got round to finishing them off. So over the period of time we were writing the whole thing we weren’t really concerned about the way the completed work would sound as a whole until we got maybe two thirds of the way there.
JAMIE : I think we found ourselves being drawn towards a particular sound, I think we were finding that we were heading in a particular direction, but obviously that took a while. But I think we wanted to do an album that was different from the last album. We were definitely interested in incorporating a lot of different instruments; something we’d always wanted to do but weren’t able to until later on down the track when we actually had a budget to go to the studio and record the strings and so on. So I think that sound became more apparent towards the end of making the album, but we didn’t know how it was going to sound until we actually did it, until the last six months of making it when we thought, OK, that’s something to sell, it’s pretty cohesive.
HRFQ : There’s so much on it, the variety of sounds, a lot of it’s very atmospheric, and some songs like ‘Invisible’ have horns on them. And there are a lot more chill-out sounds there. Did you decide to make it that way?
JAMIE : I think we definitely knew we didn’t want an album that was just the stuff we play live. Although that’s good for that environment, and when you’re playing different places the energy you get from that is good fun. But there’s so much more we wanted to do, just making music in general. So the album’s the place to do that, you can’t really do it on 12 inches. The album’s the place to explore that stuff, so that was something we were definitely in agreement with. We just wanted to let loose, write some songs, and keep ourselves open to whatever ideas we had. Just trying to write music as any band would.
MANUEL : I think a lot of people do expect us to make a kind of DJ set album as such, because that’s kind of how we play, we’re an electronic band.
JAMIE : And they have no reason to think otherwise. They see us in that environment, they don’t know that when we’re back in the studio we’re trying all these different things.
HRFQ : They’re just seeing the surface.
JAMIE : Exactly, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to them, but for us it’s quite natural, all this time we’ve been working our way towards that.
MANUEL : I think it’s very much an extension of the first album we released about three years ago, which was definitely more electronic, and we didn’t have as many instruments on it. But we were still experimenting there.
HRFQ : Can we talk a bit about influences? There was something we wanted to ask; we did detect some New Order sounds creeping into the album, especially on ‘Love and Imitation’. Given the title, was that in any way a homage, or are we completely on the wrong track?
FRANK : I guess it’s just the simplicity of the bass line in that song. I mean, I guess the whole Hooky [Peter Hook] thing, which is simple bass lines, I mean, he wasn’t a great bass player [laughter]. You know what I mean, so I think that whole bass thing, and always that comparison to “Blue Monday”, which [in a slightly rueful tone] we’re never going to avoid on that thing…
JAMIE : I think it was more accidental. When we were doing it and came up with the idea, it wasn’t something that immediately came to mind. But I guess towards the end when we were finishing the production, it was like “oh… I guess there is that on it…” I mean, definitely, you’ve got the sounds that we all listen to, so I think it’s inevitable that they all come through. But it’s not a conscious “let’s make a New Ordery kind of track”. One thing we’ve never done is, if we like a particular band, go “OK, we’ll make a Depeche Mode track now!” We usually try and avoid that, and if we start sounding too much like it we go, OK, we’ve got to do something to pull that back a bit. You get inspired by these people but there’s no way you’d want to copy them though, it’s not creatively very fulfilling.
HRFQ : So what you’re saying there Jamie is we were on the wrong track! [Laughter]
JAMIE : But they’re definitely going to come through subconsciously, because I mean that’s what inspired you in the first place. They’re a part of you and part of your musical history, part of what you love about music. So obviously it’s going to come through, but it’s not a conscious thing.
HRFQ : This album also had a lot of big, progressive soundscapes that reminded us of King Crimson’s world. Was progressive rock a big influence?
FRANK, JAMIE, MANUEL: Oh, yea, definitely!
JAMIE : When we were growing up Manuel and I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, and I’m very much into contemporary classical music, so you find ways to incorporate that kind of sound, repetitive looped guitars or whatever. I love trying to create some kind of atmosphere around the tracks that we do, and I think that comes from listening to that kind of music, with a very soundscapey feel. Tracks with a lot of atmosphere I find I connect a lot more with.
HRFQ : Can we move onto your studio work? Do you all work together or are you doing different things on different days?
FRANK : It stems from an original idea. I think one of us has got to come up with that initial idea, it’s not like we go in there and say, “It’s Monday, it’s work day, let’s write a song!” I mean, nothing begins without initial ideas, it’s got to stem from somewhere. And then when all three of us get together we either say, “OK, that’s a crap idea, or that’s a good idea, let’s work on it”. And once we’ve established that we come together as a band.
JAMIE : We all live together, and the studio’s in the house as well, and Frank’s got his computer in his room, I’ve got mine, so we tend to have at least one of us in the studio working on something, and generally you can hear what’s going on in the other room. You go in there and say, “OK, well I can hear you’re doing that, try doing that with it”, and you walk away and let them work on it. We found it’s quite hard with all three of us sitting around a computer…
FRANK : Because all of us have the ability to use it, and that leads to problems! [laughter]
MANUEL : We usually get together all three of us on a track right towards the end of it, when we’ve all dabbled with the track up to a point, and we just have to arrange it slightly or give it a few sounds; then we’ll get together and hammer it all out.
JAMIE : Obviously being producers in the electronic realm, you know, the writer, producer, engineer; doing everything at once does take time, so a lot of it’s just a slow process of trying to cut something up and put it through the right treatment.
FRANK : There’s nothing worse than someone standing over your shoulder while you’re doing something [laughs].
JAMIE : You know it’s better to just go, “Right, get on with it, and I’ll hear what you’ve done in the next few hours”. Like I said, living in the same house and walking past and hearing what they’re doing, you can hear wether it’s going in the right direction or not. But definitely in the early stages it’s just one of us working on something until it gets good enough to actually present. Then we pull it apart and put it back together again in our own way.
HRFQ : How about your studio setup and the software you’re using? Are you using mainly outboard synthesizers or software synthesizers?
JAMIE : We’re big believers in not doing everything within the computer. I think we went through a honeymoon period of being able to do everything in the computer, but then realizing that there’s a lot that you can’t do, and that has a particular sound. We like having things a bit more rough than that, so we are lucky to have a pretty good setup where if we want to we can feed things out through external effects. We’ve got a few analog synths that we can play things in, we like sending things sort of outside the chain. We experimented a lot with this album as well, like sending things out through little speakers and then miking them up. We did things like recording guitars down to a tape recorder, then putting them back in and re-recording them. But finding a balance, you know, there are a lot of things you can do on software that work really well, and some things that don’t.
FRANK : It kind of stems back to what kind of music we used to listen to when we were young as well, I mean, the production values back then were quite simple, and that’s what I like about it. Basically they had these synthesizers and they put it down in one take on a track and filtered it on the fly. But now with everything so recallable, bringing up synthesizers really easily and fiddling around with a million different parameters, in my opinion takes away from the music.
JAMIE : Something we learnt through the process of making the album, because the first album we did just with midi; sending out the samples and we mixed it down in one or two days, and once it’s done it’s done, it’s there on the dat. We found that we could record onto the computer and you have everything, you can recall it, keep going back to it and you think, “wow, this is great, you can work on fifty different things at once!”, but you find that you don’t finish things. I mean it’s good in some ways, sometimes you jut hit a mental block with a track and go, “I just need something else!”, and to be able to come back six months later and go, “That’s what it is!”; that happened with a couple of tracks on this album. But I think you’ve got to find a balance, you can’t keep going back to a track after years. So we’ve learnt from that experience, it’s not good to have fifty things happening at once. We found it hard to find a finishing point for the album, you know.
HRFQ : It’s a wise decision though, it’s all part of the process.
FRANK : It is, it’s all part of the whole experiment. As I’ve said, which is a big point, I think people forget about just the simplicity of music, and they get involved in the whole, “I need to go out and buy a faster computer, because that’ll make my life a hell of a lot easier!” But [pointing to Jamie] you should see what he uses! [laughter]
JAMIE : I’ve got this old PC we’ve had for about five or six years!
FRANK : A Pentium 900 or something?
JAMIE : Yeah, and you speak to our friends who are producers and they’re like, “What are you writing on now?”, and I say [mimics an uncomfortably embarrassed voice] “Oh, a Pentium… 900…”, and they’re like, “What!? I just got the new G5!” [loads of laughter]. But I think part of the whole thing is appreciating what you have, you know. There’s people starting out with big G5s, and they’re like, “Wow, I can run 128 tracks, but what am I going to do with them all!?”, you know.
HRFQ : Let’s move on to the live aspect of the group. You guys have got so big, you’ve done Creamfields, in the UK and Argentina, Glastonbury. How has the reaction been?
MANUEL : Generally pretty positive. It varies from place to place on the feedback you get, but generally positive, especially in South America when we just played there, it was amazing.
JAMIE : The places you return to, that’s a good indication that the last time you were there it went pretty well. Most of the places we go to, we get bigger and more appreciative crowds. I definitely found that from doing Creamfields Argentina and Glastonbury, when we did Mexico and went back to Argentina, the crowds are just amazing, you wouldn’t have dreamed of having crowds like that a couple of years before. People are pretty taken aback that this band from Australia has gotten to play big festivals, they’re kind of intrigued, because, as soon as you become successful internationally, the typical Australian thing is to go, “Oh, they’re crap now!” [laughter]
HRFQ : Last one, as a live band, how do you approach the club scene?
MANUEL : The same way we’ve been doing it for years, really. The way we’ve been playing has been pretty much the same since we started, which is basically just keeping the ability to get up there and remix everything we’ve written on the spot, from a totally improvised point of view. We’ve got all the basic elements of all our tracks in sequencers and samplers, so we can rewrite them all from scratch; that’s how we’ve been playing from day one, and every set’s different. It keeps it fresh every time, we’re not just running up one sequence for the whole gig and playing that every night wherever we are, that would get really disturbing! [laughs]
JAMIE : We play such different places that I hate to think what would happen if, like a lot of bands that I won’t name, we had the same set for six months! I mean, they get away with it because they’re much bigger names.
HRFQ : I think we might know a few culprits.
JAMIE : [laughs] Yea! But if we had the same set, things just wouldn’t work in some clubs, so to be able to adapt and say, “OK, we’ll try this”, we can push that little bit further because there’s something to it, that’s the kind of enjoyment you get from it.
HRFQ : We could see you were really enjoying it; last year we went to the gig at Womb, we could see you guys really going for it!
JAMIE : [Laughter] That’s it, when you get to that point when it does work, and you get that synergy of Manuel doing something, Frank’s got a particular combination of sounds, mixed in a particular way and particular effects, there’s this thing that happens when you’re playing that and it’s working really well with the crowd, you get such a buzz from that and the crowd goes nuts, I enjoy the whole process of it, it’s great fun.
HRFQ : As you know, this is going to be translated into Japanese. A message to your Japanese fans?
MANUEL : Rock on Japan!! [laughter]
JAMIE : You’ll have a hard time keeping us away from the country, because we definitely love coming back, and we don’t say that with any other country. They’re great people to play to and it’s lovely to be back.
FRANK : That’s just what I was going to say! [laughter] Just keep a lot of interest in us and don’t forget about us…
MANUEL : We just want to be loved! [even more laughter]
FRANK : As long as you keep the interest in us we’ll be back as much as we can, and, yea, keep listening to our music.
JAMIE : And find Frank a Japanese wife!! [loads more laughter]
End of the interview
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment