In writing, chasing the people I wanted to talk to in A New Nineties, some of them never got back to me. Rodan. And Labradford. Sent these questions to the three of them on the 5th March 2013. Never got an answer. I know why, I think. The questions are appalling. But they sum up what I think about their still-amazing music. If any of Labradford see this, I'd still like to know your answers. Here's the original E-mail.
"OK guys, yes these are rambling, vague and somewhat unfocussed but I am rambling, vague and somewhat unfocussed so all apologies. To be fair, I start all over the place then get more specific - answer anything you deem fit. Thanking you again in advance and all apologies if any of these questions bug the hell out of you. Waited 20 odd years to interview Labradford so any answers you can give are massively appreciated. As ever, thanks so so so much for the amazing music you made together and for being willing to talk about it now. Will e-mail you links to the completed article once it’s online. Any time over the next few weeks is fine for the answers. Thanks again, Neil Kulkarni x
1 Were you simply arrangers/sonic architects/players with sound I don’t think I’d have been as fascinated/enraptured by Labradford as I was and still am. I think it’s the fact that within what you did were SONGS, pop songs actually, as melodically memorable as my favourite pop, and though often drumless, possessed of unmistakeable movement & rhythm. Is it fair to say that you weren’t interested in just doodling around aimlessly, THE SONG is always what guided the writing process and that structure and discipline interested you a hell of a lot more than abandonment or ‘freedom’?
2. I’m wondering how ideas were arrived at – jamming, visualisation (did you SEE the shape/feel of songs before you made them), sounds you wanted to explore that THEN got forced into songwriting structures? Was there a ‘typical’ Labradford process or was it all very random and (shudders to use the word cos so reminiscent of compost) ‘organic’? Did the processes change as Labradford went on? Did you alter the technology you used as time went on deliberately or just down to finding equipment you like playing around with? Was there ever an ‘intention’/’direction’ you wanted to go in that was discussed before recording took place or were things simply allowed to emerge?
3. Most bands keep adding to their sound, end up usually less effective/enjoyable as a result, with Labradford it seemed at times that what you were engaged in was the exact reverse, a steady stripping down, paring things down to that which was important and an increasing realisation that it’s what you CAN’T hear that can be crucial, the notes left out, the silences. It’s as if you ended up with MORE sounds doing LESS. A fair precis of the arc of Labradford’s creativity or an over-simplification (I imagine the latter!)?
4. The old Miles Davis quote about ‘it’s about what you don’t play’ comes to mind – reason I harp on this point is because Labradford in a deep deep sense always seemed, though often instrumental (or at least lyrically obscure) to NAIL what it felt like to be alive, to be BETWEEN things, neither believing nor unbelieving, halfway between places and feelings. Feel free to tell me I’m barking up the wrong tree but in that inbetweeness I think is the crux of why Labradford work emotionally, still hit me in the gut.
5. OK, lets get down to some nitty gritty and nuts and bolts. I recall hearing, perhaps erroneously, that before Robert joined Labradford they were a lot noisier/Merzbow-like? Is that correct? What militated towards the band slowing down and developing along the lines that led to ‘Prazision’?
6. What was astonishing first hearing Prazision was that here was something seemingly already fully-formed, coming from out of nowhere like a bolt from the blue, utterly engulfing not just in terms of sound but the whole package, sleeve, titles etc. Was it always your intent not to be dictatorial about the style/meanings your music delivered but always to be massively SUGGESTIVE? Were you unsure/sure yourselves about exactly Labradford were ABOUT as such?
7. How isolated did you feel in the US at the time? Would you say you felt more akin to artists from Europe/elsewhere? What exactly were the influences swirling around in Labradford? What individually (not just musically but in terms of temperament and attitude and ambition) do you think you all bought to the table (feel free to talk about yourself and the others!)?
8. For me stuck over in England Labradford were always enchantingly remote. You didn’t slog thru the live-circuit, just delivered these amazing long-anticipated transmissions from the back of beyond every now and then. Was there an intention to have a ‘mystique’ or was that just a natural consequence of your personalities & what was going on at the time in the mainstream music-biz you were so far away from. Was there a weird disconnect between the attention you got in the UK, and that you received in the US?
9. Clearly, you wanted every album to be a move on, to be different. What do you think happened between ‘Prazision’ and ‘A Stable Reference’? Distillation? Refinement? Expansion?
10. Like Steely Dan, like the Band, always got the feeling Labradford didn’t really like playing live. Was I wrong? Saw you at the Union Chapel in London late 90s and you were incredible so clearly you COULD DO IT but didn’t do it that often. Why? Problems logistical (variability of venues/sound-provision) or personal (shyness)?
11. Inbetween ‘Stable Reference’ and the self-titled album you’re next heard on the oft-overlooked Duophonic single (esp. the fascinating b-side ‘Underwood 5ive’) and that split 12” on Trance Syndicate with Stars Of The Lid. Did remixing other people’s work, and hearing your own work remixed, change things as Labradford moved onwards or were you never ‘precious’ about your music in that sense? You never ‘abandoned’ the guitar as so many musicians did the further they got into sampling technology, what made you keep that umbilicus back to your ‘sound’ up until then?
12. At around the same time I seem to recall (again, I could be wrong) you turning up on the Kevin Martin-curated ‘Isolationism’ compilation alongside people like Zoviet France, KK Null etc. Did you feel as time went on a growing sense of belonging with other artists (even if it never, thankfully, constituted a ‘scene’)? Did you ever feel constrained by that?
13. The self-titled album seemed to demonstrate a deeper immersion into samples & found sounds (a stronger sense of definite rhythm as well?) Is that fair? Also a wider palette of instrumentation? Or am I hearing things (all too likely) ? I hear a heavy British influence (Disco Inferno, Talk Talk, O’Rang, Bark Psychosis, drum’n’bass) and an increased sense of THE CITY in that record. Labradford is most emphatically always urban music isn’t it? Music for city life.
14. I used to walk the streets with Labradford in my ears. You were the perfect soundtrack for movies of my own creation, directed and shot & lost on a constant basis with my vision as the lens. Yup, we were all a bit mad in the 90s but how did you envisage your music being ‘used’: concentrated on? Background sound to drop in and out of? Or didn’t you care how the music was being used so long as you got to express it? What, if any, were your ‘ambitions’ beyond being able to make the next record?
15. ‘'Mi Media Naranja’ as almost-previewed in the last track of the self-titled album ‘Battered’ had a heavily suggestive, rich sound often labelled ‘cinematic’ – how accurate did you find the writing about Labradford? A necessary evil? Did you start seeing yourselves less as a band and more like composers (Morricone/Herrmann etc) for movies that didn’t exist? Did this necessitate the string section, the warmth of the Rhodes, the slide guitar? Would you say this is the first time Labradford felt confident enough to step out of ‘reality’ and into pure ‘imagination’, conjuring landscapes you emphatically didn’t live in, a certain amount of sonic ‘fantasy’ you hadn’t had before, an absolute disinterest in whether these soundscapes could be recreated live? And also, ‘Mi Media’ brings out all of your developing talents as musicians/producers/arrangers to a zenith. Would you say you were finally getting close to ‘perfection’? Did that worry you? As ever, if I’m wrong, tell me so.
16. Was time spent recording an endless hermetic process or something grabbed on the hop? Was there a typical ‘Working Day In The Life Of Labradford’ or did things only start happening once a decision was reached to record another record? I ask because there’s not a lot that’s very ‘bandlike’ about Labradford, none of the gang-mentality or ‘get in the van, man’ sense of endless toil. How democratic a process was the band? Did anyone dominate? Did you enforce a kind of mutual conciseness on each other?
17. By the time of ‘E Luxo’ it seems that you’re actually getting increasingly frustrated with the constraints of being ‘recording artists’ altogether’, as if you’d rather put your music out with no titles, no barcodes, nothing to in any way affect or prejudice the listener in any sense to what they were hearing. The production & credits actually being the song titles is such a blindingly brilliant idea but I’m still unsure as to whether a point is being made or not?! There is that sense of the band pushing at the limits of possibility – perhaps a vague presentiment that Labradford’s days were numbered? ‘E Luxo’ works almost as a Rachel’s-style suite of classical/minimalist music, barely band-like at all. Were you shifting roles within the band-unit at the time – it becomes increasingly impossible to actually unpick who is doing what (in direct contrast to the nuts/bolts nature of the songtitles) and the voice (whether sampled or distorted) has finally been abandoned altogether. Why?
18. 'E Luxo' is the album I remain most fascinated by so apologies for the slight monomania) – more than any other Labradford album E Luxo seems to have a sense of real environment and space – you can HEAR the room, the noises you made moving around it in a way other Labradford records didn’t have (either by sounding quite claustrophobic or by conjuring up the world OUTSIDE the studio more than the studio itself). This revealing-of-the-bare-bones seems tied in with the song-titles, an almost Residents-like attempt to reveal the means of production? Overthinking on my part?
19. How did working with Albini on ‘Fixed::Context’ change the working dynamic of the band, what did he add/subtract to/from the recording process? It seems that where Labradford had been getting more detailed/lush, ‘Fixed::Context’ was a brutal paring down, an attempt to simplify. Did you know it would be your last album?
20. Labradford never officially ‘split’, no announcements, just disappearance. Why? And would any of you consider Labradford dead and buried? Or there to be picked up at any time in the future?