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JOHN FOXX INTERVIEW [2011]

THE NEW ALBUM, 'INTERPLAY', IS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN JOHN FOXX AND THE MATHS, I BELIEVE THE MATHS IS ONE PERSON SO PERHAPS I COULD START BY ASKING ABOUT WHO HE IS, AND ABOUT HOW THIS PARTICULAR COLLABORATION CAME ABOUT?

The Maths is Ben Edwards, otherwise known as Benge. I heard a great record he'd made called 'Twenty Systems'. It was beautiful - the evolution of synths, all allowed to sound like themselves –exactly what I've been on about since 'Metamatic', achieved by the most elegant means, from a completely different angle.

We started speaking, and I went down to see his studio. Oddly enough, it's around the corner from my old studio in Shoreditch, so I was right at home.

Benge is really like a Shoreditch version of Conny Planck – there's a very interesting scene around that studio...

HOW LONG HAVE THE TWO OF YOU BEEN WORKING ON THIS RECORD?

About a year – but with long gaps for other projects we are both involved in.

DID YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF THE KIND OF RECORD YOU WANTED TO MAKE WHEN YOU STARTED THE WHOLE PROCESS OF WRITING AND RECORDING, AND FOR THAT MATTER ARE THE PROCESSES OF WRITING AND RECORDING SEPARATE, OR DO THE TWO THINGS WORK IN TANDEM. MORE BROADLY I'M INTERESTED TO KNOW WHAT THE WORKING PROCESS FOR THE ALBUM WAS?

Well that's the curious thing; we had no idea at all. If anything, we both imagined it would much more abstract, a sort of follow on from Twenty Systems… I think the power and rhythm and the harmonic sequences of Benge's initial arpeggios from all the various synths – especially that big 60s Moog Modular system - really led us into song mode. They have all the basic components for a complete piece of music - all you need do is sing and play along in freeform until things begin to crystalize. Then you have it. Often it would happen right away!

I don't think we ever struggled with anything. Perhaps only with too many ideas at times – you always have to prune ruthlessly at every stage and that inevitably means there's a lot left on the cutting room floor...

DOES THE ALBUM TITLE REFER TO THE COLLABORATION PROCESS OR AM I BEING WAY TOO LITERAL?

Well that was what Benge used it as… I like it when other connections get made with the songs. That's really what they are for. I was actually thinking about a sort of 'Best laid plans' sort of scenario. It used to frustrate me when things didn't always go as planned – now I enjoy the unexpected. It's always much more interesting!

THE ALBUM'S OPENING TRACK 'SHATTERPROOF' REALLY SETS THE STAGE FOR WHAT'S YET TO COME ON THE ALBUM. ON FIRST LISTEN IT TOTALLY CONFOUNDED MY EXPECTATIONS FOR THE ALBUM WHICH FOR SOME REASON I WAS EXPECTING TO BE VERY GENTLE AND AMBIENT… INSTEAD THE TRACK IS A PRETTY INTENSE SLICE OF BRUTAL ELECTRO (IT REMINDS ME OF NITZER EBB AND BANDS FROM THAT WHOLE EBM SCENE A FEW YEARS AGO). WERE YOU HOPING FOR THAT KIND OF REACTION?

We weren't really thinking about reactions. At the start of a session, Benge was playing some beautifully rough and distorted pieces from some of the New York minimal synth outfits, so we just followed on from that. I'd already got an outline song. It all fitted together perfectly when we got down to playing. I've always liked aspects of that EBM scene and its precedents – from Cabaret Voltaire to Nitzer Ebb and others.

I'M PRETTY SURE THAT IT'S YOUR VOICE ON ALL THE TRACKS, BUT YOUR VOCAL DELIVERY ACROSS THE SONGS VARIES ENORMOUSLY WHICH LED ME TO THINKING THAT THE VARIOUS VOICES ARE DIFFERENT 'CHARACTERS' IN A NARRATIVE THAT RUNS THROUGH THE ALBUM. AM I CLOSE? I DELIBERATELY AVOIDED USING THE TERM 'CONCEPT ALBUM'!

Well I guess the concept is a man a woman and a city. I always imagine it as a film voiceover - an aerial view of a great city - a bit like those 'Naked City' TV programmes when I was very young. You know, 'There are a million stories in the Naked City...'!

I always want the songs to operate as movies, really. It also ties in with 'The Naked Lunch' by William Burroughs. In fact, 'Shatterproof' has a very Burroughs delivery, come to think of it. I was listening to some of his readings at the time. Beautifully weird, this dry old voice that gets right into your head. Crackles like electricity.

GIVEN THAT THE VOCAL STYLES ARE SO DIFFERENT ACROSS THE VARIOUS TRACKS, DID YOU CONSIDER BRINGING IN OTHER VOICES TO PLAY THOSE 'ROLES'? IF SO WHO WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO WORK WITH ON THAT?

We didn't want to bring in many other people. We thought of doing that originally, but things were going so well we simply carried on.

Mira (Aroyo, of Ladytron) was the exception – I've wanted to do a track with her for years, for me she's the absolute personification of EuroElectro; beautiful, cool, intelligent, poised. So here was the perfect opportunity and she was perfect - all you had to do was build a sort of movie from all those elements she carries so effortlessly. Great, evocative voice. She did the main synth riff as well.

Now Benge is thinking of expanding The Maths into a sort of multimedia thing - like a Post-Digital Velvets. Serafina is becoming involved, plus Hannah Peel, Jonathan Barnbrook and Karborn among others. All a bit unformed at the moment, but I think something electrically raw and beautifully brutal is emerging here in Shoreditch.

FOR ME THERE'S A LOT ON THE RECORD THAT SOUNDS VERY COMMERCIAL BUT SOME SONGS SOUND MORE EXPERIMENTAL AND CHALLENGING. BECAUSE OF THAT, WHEN I FIRST LISTENED TO IT I WROTE DOWN THAT IT REMINDED ME OF DAVID BOWIE'S 'LOW' AND 'HEROES' ALBUMS, EARLY HUMAN LEAGUE, THINGS LIKE THAT. I'M NOT SURE IF IT MATTERS WHETHER I'M RIGHT OR WRONG ABOUT THAT, BUT IS IT INTERESTING TO YOU HOW PEOPLE RECEIVE, INTERPRET AND REFERENCE YOUR MUSIC IN THAT WAY?

Oh yes, that's what it's all about. We don't consciously set out to cover any of those areas, but I guess they will inevitably show up at times - they've become part of our grammar after all, bits of what we accumulated by operating through all those periods. The best bits!

I CAN'T DECIDE IF THE ALBUM HAS A SPECIFICALLY RETRO FEEL, OR WHETHER I'M JUST REFERENCING CERTAIN ANALOGUE SYNTH SOUNDS THAT DEFINED SO MUCH OF THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC FROM THE LATE SEVENTIES AND EARLY EIGHTIES, SOUNDS THAT ARE ALSO VERY CURRENT AND HAVE DEFINITELY FOUND FAVOUR WITH THE CURRENT GENERATION OF ELECTRONIC ARTISTS… WHAT MADE YOU RETURN TO THAT SOUND/THOSE INSTRUMENTS AT THIS POINT IN TIME?

Benge. He has everything I've ever used and lost. It's a bit sickening really, when you realise just what you've thrown away over the years! But you also get to recover the excitement of it, all together in one big room. Add to that, working with someone with an entirely fresh view, who really knows his stuff, in an entirely new London scene - all alive and kicking like crazy… I ask you, what could be better?

YOU HAVE A LIVE SHOW COMING UP - THE BACK TO THE PHUTURE SHOW IN LONDON WITH GARY NUMAN - AT WHICH I EXPECT YOU WILL BE PLAYING A LOT OF TRACKS FROM 'INTERPLAY'. GIVEN THE SOMETIMES UNPREDICTABLE NATURE OF ANALOGUE SYNTHS WILL IT BE DIFFICULT TO REPRODUCE LIVE, OR IS THAT ALL PART OF THE FUN?

It's fun - it keeps you right on your toes!

ARE YOU PLANNING TO PLAY MORE SHOWS?

We're getting lots of interesting offers. This kind of music seems to have become pretty global at this point. China and South America sound fascinating, for instance.

On the other hand, I've begun five albums with various people and I'm completely determined to finish them this year. Two have been completed since Christmas - one with Theo Travis, one with Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia. What a pleasure those were, working with such beautiful material.

The only problem is that several other projects are also looming attractively… it's going to be an interesting year!

MARCH 2011

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