In Conversation
Daniel Avery Discusses Writing Processes & New Projects With Simian Mobile Disco

Ahead of the return of Daniel Avery's Divided Love residency to Room One on Friday 15th May we arranged a conversation between Avery and Jas Shaw and James Ford, aka the brains behind the Simian Mobile Disco, where the three people involved could properly interface and generally just geek out and interview each other on our behalf. With Avery a big fan of SMD and in particular, their new album Whorl - which, incidentally was recorded out in the American desert, outside of any conventional studio, literally performed under a canopy that changed from sky to stars - we knew the flow of discussion topics would come easy but the three way chat yielded some decidedly interesting points...

Daniel Avery: For me Whorl was easily the best and most confident SMD album as it felt like several ideas had really galvanised for you. Do you agree?

James Ford: Thanks, Dan. It definitely felt like our best album when we made it. It was the most fun to make and I think it's probably the album that most honestly reflects our music tastes for that reason.

Jas Shaw: I think that the things that really came together on that record was the confidence that we had developed touring live for a long period and our understanding of how to make a record in the studio. We knew the bare minimum that we would need to make a record without major compromises and decided to use only that. It's silly really because up until the late ‘90s all electronic music would have been made that way: couple of synths, handful of FX and a mixer, press record and see if you do a good one. Everyone knows this but still the methodology of recording things one at a time into a computer and then chop it up and fuss over it persists. I do think you can hear the lack of consideration in Whorl, its rough and the structures are things that often don't look right on a computer screen. If we had really thought it through I suspect we wouldn't have been able to resist ruining it.

"...the presence of the desert felt like some sort of justification for letting go of the kick drums." - Jas Shaw

DA: Yeah, I often hear producers saying that editing is the biggest challenge for them. Having known you both for a few years I think it’s fair to say that you’re studio obsessives. I can imagine your jam sessions would last for weeks if you didn’t have to eat or catch up with Homes Under The Hammer. Do you ever find it difficult to finish tracks or albums because of this?

JS: Editing can be a massive pain. It's not that either of us get overly emotionally attached to things, we are pretty mellow folk and work fast enough that it's usually quicker to make a new track than it is to labour over something that's just not quite working. The problem is, as you suggested, jams can go on for a while. The first few things we did were in the 45 minute region, by the time you have listened back to it, you have forgotten which bits were any good. It's a half day job to chop out the ropey bits and by the end you just hate the track. So we learnt that rather than jam endlessly we would do several stabs at bluffing our way through a structure - any bits that worked well we would note down and try to do them again in the next one. It's quicker and more fun to do this and much less laborious than chopping sections out of a longer take.

JF: We are also pretty busy independently so any studio time together is generally pretty short and focussed. I do sometimes wonder, if SMD was the only thing we did if it'd be better or worse. I often wish we had more time to mess around but, by the same token, having deadlines and pressures is key to moving things forward.

JS: I think the most difficult part of any record is in committing to where you want to go next. Our solution to this has always been to just shoot at random and draw a line around the clusters but that doesn't really get you out of it; at the end of the day you still need to look at the pile of tracks you have and say to yourself 'is this progress?'

DA: I would file Whorl next to artists like Donato Dozzy, Boards Of Canada, Tin Man, ambient Aphex Twin… hypnotic, dream-like electronica. Did you set out create those particular atmospheres in the studio or did it happen naturally?

JF: It happened really naturally. We approached by trying to push the machines into a place we were excited by and Whorl was the first group of tracks that came out.

JS: All four of those are artists that we are big fans of. Boards and Aphex were big turning point artists for both of us in terms of getting into electronic music and Tin Man and Donato Dozzy are fantastic examples of people who have a similar ethereal aesthetic to Boards and Aphex but have a foot in club world too. I love to hear people play their tracks on a sound system as they are as dreamy as they are propulsive.

In terms of how that manifested on Whorl, I guess the desert played a huge part. Making records that sound like they would make sense played in an open air venue, under the stars in the desert definitely got us thinking about more spacious textures. It's not like we were not interested in that kind of stuff all along, it’s always been there for us but I guess the presence of the desert felt like some sort of justification for letting go of the kick drums.

SMD: In terms of a DJing I've always thought of you next to a DJ like Ivan Smagghe, an Andy Weatherall or a James Holden… All DJs who crowds love because they know they will be challenged as much as they will be pleased. I know that you can just do your thing unedited in somewhere like fabric but how do you approach the sticky issue of taking that thing and transferring it to festivals where sets are often during the day and comparatively short?

DA: I think I approach the situations in similar ways. Whilst there are many spontaneous decisions made during a set, my favourite thing about watching the best DJs is that I know every record has been considered at length before being placed in their bags. These records mean something to them and they want to shout about every single one. It’s the mentality I try and adopt at all times, wherever I may be playing. I fully believe that if a DJ you trust plays a record with enough belief and conviction then it is worth listening to, even if you happen to think it’s shit…

SMD: Divided Love has been really successful in a pretty huge venue whilst maintaining a defiantly outsider booking policy. Have you found that people have become more open to odder dance music over the last few years?

DA: From where I’m standing, from something of an outsider’s vantage point, it definitely feels like it’s a healthy time for electronic music at the moment. Different genres are coming together and shaping each other: techno, drone, ambient, noise, acid… To me it feels like a new wave of psychedelia. Its music to get lost inside and it would seem that crowds are responding to it. Divided Love has been running for less than a year but I already feel very proud of it. It’s always inspiring in life to be surrounded by people you feel are doing something genuinely interesting.

SMD: The remix album is not something that I'm generally a fan of as often it's a pretty tawdry label-driven promo activity but I really felt that your recent New Energy collection didn't fall into that trap at all. It was clearly all artists that you feel strongly about, doing tracks that fit with their aesthetic resulting in something genuinely collaborative and also sounds not 100 miles off what I imagine a mixtape from you could sound like. Did you labour over the sequencing? Also, did any of the remixes turn out way different to how you imagined them?

DA: Phantasy would never let me put anything out that wasn’t the absolute best it could be and I love them for that. Yes, it was definitely sequenced in a way to sound like a mixtape; I’m an eternal fan of the ‘long player’ in whatever form that may take. As for the remixes themselves, I didn’t give anyone a brief as, since these are all producers I genuinely respect and admire, I wanted their unadulterated take on the music. I love them all but it was pretty amazing to see what Silent Servant and Volte-Face did with the ambient tracks they were given.

SMD: I know it's bad manners to ask but I bet everyone is wondering: when's your new album proper out?

DA: I’m in the middle of recording it right now. It feels exciting and there’s a good energy in the studio at the moment. It’s going to be a long process and I have no idea when it’ll be finished but it’s definitely happening.


Friday 15th May

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