Your relationships with Crammed discs were not so good at the time
of "It Seems".. Could this be a reason why you didn't
make a solo album for over ten years after the release of It Seems?
Not sure this is true! Malka & I grew away from the Crammed
scene but that was after It Seems. It is true that it was many years
between the albums "It Seems" and "Bastard".
This has much more to do with various other things. There was this
period after "It Seems" when there were a lot of things
changing. This was the period when Minimal Compact was breaking
up. This was taking place against a backdrop of the end of the 80's
Brussels scene. Our response to that and our growing interest in
sequencing, sampling, hip hop and early dance music was the collaboration
called Oracle with Samy Birnbach. Although I didn't sing on the
resulting record I was as deeply involved in it as I was in "It
Seems" or "Commercial Suicide".. Malka & I started
to develop a working partnership to complement our relationship.
Oracle was actually proposed to Crammed but they never showed much
interest in it but then this was only 1988 and record companies
didn't start falling over themselves to sign stuff like this till
about '94. In the end there was nothing to keep us in Brussels and
we moved to London in 1992. Swim was started in '93. It was a kind
of twist of fate that after working on Oracle for 5 years it's first
release should be Malka's first album "Rosh Ballata" another
album as close to how I was at the time as any could have been.
We ended up taking a decision to release the Oracle album after
we'd had some success with "Rosh Ballata". Then after
that came "Oscillating" by Immersion (in 1994) again this
was as much a "Colin Newman" album as any I could have
made at the time. This is not to underplay Malka's contribution
to these three items. We have a true collaboration, we call the
items different names to indicate the moods or just on a whim J
During the period 95-96 we started to kick around the concept of
what a "Colin Newman" album might involve. There actually
was a 12" in 1995 called "Voice" (with some singing!)
and we started making what would turn in "Bastard" in
What kind of attitude do you have towards the reception of your
music? Did you sometimes feel like having been obliged to plan to
make things as a reactions to the reactions (i.e. "Provisionally
entitled the singing fish" after "A-Z")? Has it become
hard to be spontaneous? Is it possible to be an artist today without
being a post-modern? Do you think it is better not to be too much
aware of the current trends in music?
I suppose one thing that has developed is that I care less about
all that stuff. I mean I don't set out to piss people off. I just
know that if I don't like it then I can hardly expect anyone else
to like it. It's sometimes hard for me to remember how I felt at
any one time. One thing is sure : I dislike to be categorised. I've
been involved in lots of different types of music over the years.
Regarding the current trends, I'd say you can't ignore the gestalt
but following fashion is sad.
it a bit paradoxical with what you said earlier about the kind of
music where everything is dictated by the voice sounding "very
old fashioned right now"?
This is so much a context thing! In the period '90-'96 none of the
music we were hearing and liked had vocals in it. Anyhow art is
all about paradox!! We all tread the unclear line between wanting
to do new things and being a "fashion victim".. For us
this is all part of what makes it interesting.
your stopping making solo album has anything to do with the relative
lack of success of your former attempts?
Depends what you mean by success. It's like the French use of the
word "interesting" (to mean financially rewarding). Nothing
I've ever been involved in has made a lot of money. If I was doing
it for the money I'd definitely do it very differently!
would be your answer if we replace "success" by "public
If you can succeed to be popular (or at least appreciated) by the
kind of people whose taste you respect then wider recognition is
less of a problem. I don't know how it works in France but in the
UK any artist worth their salt would rather be considered "cool"
than "popular". For me specifically Wire is always going
to be better known than me personally BUT even Wire isn't what you'd
call famous. It's nice to be appreciated but in the end you have
to do the work you feel moved to do.
- About collaborations & production -
have produced several albums in the 80's, and nearly all the stuff
which has been released on your label so far. Where does your interest
in production come from?
I only ever really produced two whole albums in previous times ("
I die, I die" by The Virgin Prunes and "Raging Souls"
by Minimal Compact). They were both quite different. The Virgin
Prunes needed some organisation whereas Minimal didn't really need
a producer in any conventional sense although I did influence the
choice of a wider range of material. The second statement is factually
incorrect. I have acted as an engineer on some Swim projects and
obviously Malka & I "produced" all the Malka Spigel/Immersion/Colin
Newman items between us but in that case produced = made. The only
swim release I was credited as producer (co-producer in fact) was
the Silo album "Instar".. This is because I helped them
design the way to make the album. The "production" was
more like working out creative solutions to interesting problems
in partnership with the band. They had all these pieces written
in a tracker program for their laptop PC, a kind of basic audio
sequencer. They had done recordings playing live in a friend's studio
- they are to all intents and purposes a "rock band" line
up (guitar, bass, drums) - but were much more interested in pursuing
the direction their audio sampler was tasking them into. They just
didn't know how to integrate this with the live instruments having
had no history of working with samples and loops etc. So what we
ended up doing was actually have Soren the drummer play along to
the "sequenced" tracks and then used loops taken from
his playing the same way we might use a drum loop from a sample
CD in our work. This worked pretty well although Fred did a lot
of work to really make the whole rhythm sound seamless.
That said, my interest
in production comes from the early Wire albums. When I was younger,
I was very taken with what Mike Thorne did on these albums. It seemed
like production would be a good thing to get involved in so I experimented
- first own my own with "The Singing Fish", I was helped
a lot in this by Steve Parker the engineer. Then I tried my own
band on "Not To". By the time we'd done that Steve &
I felt we could take on another band and I was offered the Virgin
Prunes. It was definitely a quite traditional producer/engineer
To be quite honest I don't really know what a record producer does.
And I've been questioning the role of a producer for many years
now. I personally don't like the idea at all of some other kind
of authority figure judging and screwing around with my work, so
I don't see why anyone should like me doing that to their work.
I also think that the role has been somewhat rendered redundant
by the means of production we have available to us now. Certainly
the "top down" authoritarian George Martin style has no
place in contemporary productions. All that doesn't mean I wouldn't
have something to add to the right project but perhaps the methodology
would be an important consideration.
you say "Certainly the "top down" authoritarian George
Martin style has no place in contemporary productions", does
it also include some regrets?
I'd really have to go into the history of music production to seriously
address this but suffice to say recording started with men in white
gloves operating the machines and musicians virtually employed on
a casual basis. The great thing about the democracy of technology
is that anyone can make their own album in whatever way they damn
well please. I have absolutely no regrets about that development.
I'm an artist first and anything which adds freedom is good!
do you think have you given to the bands you have produced - if
just in terms of sound?
Then & now would be very different. As I said before with the
Prunes it was about organising the chaos into something coherent
while capturing their unique performance abilities. With Minimal
perhaps I added something to the textures. Nowadays I tend to work
much more as an engineer so it's much more about mixing, something
I couldn't do in the 80's.
tell us more about your collaboration with the French singer Alain
Bashung on "Novice"? Your influence is very pregnant in
the sound of several tracks. How did you work together?
My role in the album was really to provide some arrangements, some
of which got used and some of which didn't. I certainly wasn't in
any way responsible for the overall sound or direction of the work.
would you rate this album - his best one from my point of view?
I can't really offer much of an opinion of Alain's work as I only
know "Novice". I'm really surprised that you like this
album as I was told by a journalist from "Les Inrockuptibles"
that I'd ruined it and had the general impression no one much liked
what reason did the album that you and John Bonnar were supposed
to release in the Made to Measure collection was never published?
Long Story!! The MTM record was basically John's and he just never
Could you please tell
us a few words about each of your solo and "Swim" albums,
some kind of brief commentary of what you spontaneously associate
with each of them?
"A-Z" was kind of me proving I could do my own album.
It had compositions on it that could have been on the 4th EMI Wire
"The Singing Fish" was in a way a blueprint for a kind
of record people would be making a few years later (after sampling/
sequencing was invented). At least that's what Ivo - Watts-Russell
- said about it a few years later!!
"Not To" was really the album made by the band that I
was working with at the time, that is Desmond Simmons, Simon Gillham,
Robert Gotobed and I. The band was called "Soft Option"..
If it had gone on longer I think it would have become a band. Unfortunately
4AD at the time only wanted albums with my name on them.
Suicide" was originally designed as a collaboration between
myself and John Bonnar but as the project developed (after I moved
to Brussels and started living with Malka) it became more of a collaboration
between the 4 people involved (with Gilles Martin being the 4th
person). We were definitely trying to make something that didn't
sound like a rock band or really like anything else. By rejecting
conventional rock rhythms it actually formed a basis to re-approach
"It Seems" is kind of "son of CS". Same team
but this time much more with sequencers than live players. It was
the first album I've ever been involved in where some of the work
(the sequencing) was done in our own studio.
- This album has to been seen in the context of the swim work which
preceded it (Oracle's "Tree", Malka's "Rosh Ballata"
& "Hide" and Immersion's "Oscillating").
Malka & I were developing a diverse language through these projects
so we had to really work to see what a Colin Newman album should
be in the mid-90's. You can say that "Commercial Suicide"
answered that question in the mid 80's and "Bastard" did
a decade later. I'm also always aware of the context of being "that
bloke from Wire" and all my solo albums are an attempt to not
do the obvious thing in relationship to that.
DJ every now and then. How do you relate to that?
Djing is fun. However I've often referred to myself as the "world's
worst DJ" I can't beat mix to save my life and I'm not really
interested in the latest floor fillers. For me it's a way to present
stuff we've been releasing. I like to switch the beats around too.
Yet despite that it's great when a crowd starts jumping around to
it. I think the best reaction I got so far was in Chicago when I
dropped my Hawkwind remix in the middle of a g-man track (absolutely
verboten in "real" DJ terms) and the crowd went apeshit!!