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BLANCMANGE (NEIL ARTHUR) INTERVIEW [2015]

WHEN WE TALKED ABOUT ‘HAPPY FAMILIES TOO’ LAST YEAR YOU MENTIONED THAT THE NEW BLANCMANGE ALBUM WAS ALREADY IN THE CAN EVEN THEN. WHEN DID YOU ACTUALLY START AND FINISH WORK ON ’SEMI DETACHED'?

Some of the songs had been lurking around in a semi-finished state for a while, both in my head and on paper or file. But it was finished in terms of recording and mixing in the first half of 2014. I started actually recording 'Semi Detached' in January 2014 and finished mixing in the early summer, then there were edits and remixes that got signed off in late December. Essentially the recording was done in several stages. The first I did on my own, cobbling together the structure and sounds by hook or by crook along with a guide vocal. Then I took them to Adam Fuest's studio, up in the Brecon Beacons, where we added David Rhodes' guitar and I then added lead vocals. During that process the files were transferred from Logic and Ableton into Cubase to prepare for mixing. I then took them back and added backing vocals. Finally me and Adam mixed the lot at his place and went and had a pint!

I’M ASSUMING THAT AT SOME POINT YOU WERE WORKING ON ‘SEMI DETACHED’ AND ‘HAPPY FAMILIES TOO’ AT THE SAME TIME. IF THAT’S RIGHT THEN DID THOUGHTS/INSPIRATION/IDEAS FROM ONE PROJECT EVER SEEP OVER TO THE OTHER, OR VICE VERSA?

I'm always messing around with ideas and there probably was an overlap with both albums, but the two were very separate projects in terms of creativity and the writing process, and Happy Families was already over 30 years old! I always like to try and learn something new from each project - by setting a challenge, like using a different sequencer for example - and I think that more on a technical level 'Semi Detached' may have been influenced by the programming and recording of 'Happy Families Too', rather than on an 'inspiration or ideas' level. One aspect of 'Happy Families Too' that did influence 'Semi Detached' was the deliberate effort to strip back the songs to... not exactly the bare bones, but tp something approaching that.

THE ‘HAPPY FAMILIES TOO’ RELEASE, AND THEN THE TOUR THAT FOLLOWED, WERE REALLY WELL RECEIVED WEREN’T THEY? WAS THE SUPPORT FOR THAT PROJECT INSTRUMENTAL IN PUSHING FORWARD WITH ’SEMI DETACHED’?

I think it was well received and the audiences on the tour seemed to enjoy the gigs as much as we enjoyed playing the set. 'Semi Detached' would have come along as the follow up to 'Blanc Burn' anyway, but it was great to have had the opportunity to re-imagine 'Happy Families' and to then take it on the road.

IT MIGHT JUST BE ME BUT IT FEELS LIKE THERE’S AN IMMEDIACY TO THE MUSIC ON THE NEW RECORD, IT’S PERHAPS AN ODD THING TO SAY ABOUT ELECTRONIC MUSIC BUT IT SOUNDS ‘LIVE’ SOMEHOW. WAS THAT DELIBERATE?

That's very kind of you to say so. I don't know really. Some of the electronics on the album aren't quantised. There's David's and my guitars too, which possibly add to the live feel you mention, but there was no deliberate intention. It may have something to do with that stripped back approach I mentioned before. I was trying to go for something simple, and simple is quite hard. You've got to have the confidence to cut out parts and sounds and know that what's left is able to look after itself.

I THINK THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU’VE MADE A BLANCMANGE RECORD WITHOUT STEPHEN BEING INVOLVED TOO, HOW DIFFERENT DID THAT MAKE THE WRITING AND RECORDING PROCESS FOR YOU?

Yes, that's correct. Both Stephen and I have written separately for several decades since Blancmange stopped writing together in the 80s and since 'Blanc Burn' was finished in 2010 I have been working on Blancmange projects without Stephen's input, on 'Happy Familes Too', the live dates, and now on 'Semi Detached', so it's not something that has suddenly come about when the time arrived to be writing and recording this new album.

Many times, both in the 70s and 80s, and again on 'Blanc Burn' when it was recorded, we'd work apart then would bring our efforts together and react to what each had to offer. This time obviously the last stage didn't happen. I introduced the ideas to myself!

DOES ANYONE ELSE APPEAR ON THE ALBUM OR WAS EVERYTHING DONE BY YOU?

David Rhodes plays guitar, Adam Fuest mixed the album, Dinesh plays on 'I Want Your Love' and friends and family contributed backing vocals, while I programmed, played - and I use that term loosely - synths and guitar, and sang.

YOU’VE CHOSEN ‘PADDINGTON’ TO BE THE FIRST SINGLE TO INTRODUCE THE ALBUM. IT’S A SONG THAT HAS ELEMENTS OF THE CLASSIC BLANCMANGE SOUND ABOUT IT, BUT WHAT’S IT ACTUALLY ABOUT IT? IT’S NOT THE LOVEABLE BEAR IS IT?

Oh blimey! It ain't about the bear! I like to leave individuals to 'figure it out' and reach their own conclusions. I make suggestion but leave ambiguity to reign. But this is what I wrote when my manager asked me to explain it: 'Lyrics follow a trail and train, no pun intended, of thought from Paddington Station through the streets of London. Triggering memories that in turn produce options for word play. Paddington - it could and possibly should have been Marylebone or Waterloo, oh that's been done! It is a first point of physical contact when I return to my favourite city. I kiss the station concourse. I thank people who bump into me unapologetic. I am, like you, here, anonymous. London (Paddington) I love you. The music with words are the description of a journey starting at the station. I'm referencing memories that helped to build the strength in a relationship. Between a City, between 2 people.'

LYRICALLY YOUR SONGS DO OFTEN SEEM TO VERGE TOWARDS THE OBSCURE... WHERE DO ALL THE LYRICAL IDEAS COME FROM? AND DO THEY COME SEPARATE FROM THE MUSICAL IDEAS?

I used to say my mum wrote them! I think some of it comes from a dyslexic mis-reading, which I try and use to my advantage. So playing with words and deliberately jumbling them up might give me something to start with. Things people say in everyday conversation are not like they'd be written in a film or play or a book. Its more surreal, or just plain odd, at times.

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE TRACKS ON ‘SEMI DETACHED’ IS YOUR COVER OF CAN’S ‘I WANT MORE’, WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT SONG IN PARTICULAR?

I've been a long time fan of Can and this song has been in the back of my head for a number of decades. I first did a version of this with Malcolm Ross and David McClymont - who both used to be in Orange Juice - in the 80s... it's been in my head for a while. We actually approached Can to produce our second Blancmange album...

I ASSUME THAT CAN ARE PART OF YOUR MUSICAL INFLUENCES, HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THEM AND WHO ELSE WOULD YOU PUT ON THAT LIST OF INFLUENCES?

Discovered along with Kraftwerk, Neu, Cluster and so on. Then there's Capt Beefheart, Roxy Music, The Velvets, The Carpenters, Slade, Fats Waller, Eno, Sparks, Bowie, This Heat, Pere Ubu. Thomas Leer...

DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR FAVOURITES FROM AMONG THE ‘SEMI DETACHED’ SONGS, OR IS IT THE CASE THAT, LIKE CHILDREN, YOU HAVE TO LOVE THEM ALL EQUALLY?

I think when we play them live at the Red Gallery I'll have maybe found a favourite. Right now I'd say 'Bloody Hell Fire' and 'Acid'.

BLANCMANGE WAS ONE OF THE BANDS FEATURED ON THE NOW LEGENDARY SOME BIZARRE ALBUM, HOW DID YOU FIRST LINK UP WITH STEVO AND WHAT WAS THAT PARTICULAR CHAPTER IN YOUR STORY LIKE?

Stevo picked up a copy of our first release, the 'Irene and Mavis EP' which we released ourselves, from Rough Trade, and then contacted us via the address on the back cover. He used to come along and see us at Stephen's flat or when we played gigs. He asked if we had any more tracks and we chose 'Sad Day' for him. It was then that we started meeting other electronically minded musicians and artists like Depeche Mode, Fast Set, The The, Daniel Miller etc, sometimes sharing the stage with them at gigs Stevo had help organise or was attending. I remember at one gig a bit later where we were opening for Nash The Slash (who was very supportive), something happened and I ended up tipping a pint over Stevo's head although I did apologise a few years later. But Stevo and the Some Bizarre album he invited us to be on were a instrumental in us getting a publishing deal and then a recording contract.

THE SOME BIZARRE RECORD ASIDE, IT FEELS A LITTLE LIKE YOU HAVE ALWAYS ACTIVELY AVOIDED BEING PART OF A ‘SCENE’, WHO WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR PEERS TO HAVE BEEN OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER?

It was not that Blancmange 'actively avoided' any 'scene', it's more that we never looked or sounded the part to ever be considered being a paid up member of any one movement. I suppose unconsciously we plough a lonely furrow! We aren't people who feel a need to belong to a scene, and we were quite happy trundling along making it up as we went. Another thing that possibly had an effect was that Stephen and I both had friends unconnected to the world of music, people who are still good friends of ours today. Sometimes seeing the music world through their eyes helped to level us out, and they'd give us a kick if our feet started to leave the ground or we got carried away by the self-congratulatory nature that pervades sometimes in pop-art music culture. That's not to say that with filters on I've not made some good friends in music, but it has never been because of the music they make, but because of the person or people they are. I'm not one for gangs.

EARLY SIGNS ARE ALREADY VERY POSITIVE FOR ’SEMI DETACHED', DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL OR COMMERCIAL HOPES OR EXPECTATIONS FOR IT?

Christmas Number One and a slot on The Queen's Speech.

YOU HAVE TWO SHOWS IN LONDON LINED UP IN MAY. DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO TAKE THE SHOW FURTHER AFIELD AT ALL?

I'm concentrating on getting these two shows together. Hopefully they're going to give an insight to another side to Blancmange. We'll be opening the vaults to
the early material, as well as taking in some from the London Records period, and of course focusing on 'Semi Detached' with a nod to 'Blanc Burn' too. It has been discussed this idea of taking Blancmange out later in the year. We'll see, and you'll hear if that's the case soon.

ANYTHING ELSE COMING UP THAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?

Work is nearing completion on an instrumental album...

BLANCMANGE - Semi Detatched (2015)

Blancmange's new album 'Semi Detached' will be released on March 23rd 2015 and the band will play two shows at London's RED GALLERY on May 15th and 16th.

MARCH 2015

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