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JOHN FOXX INTERVIEW [2012]

YOU'RE ABOUT TO RELEASE A NEW JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS ALBUM, 'THE SHAPE OF THINGS', JUST A YEAR AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE LAST ONE, 'INTERPLAY', WHICH IS PRETTY FAST GOING. WHEN YOU MADE 'INTERPLAY' DID YOU EXPECT TO BE DOING ANOTHER RECORD TOGETHER, AND IF SO WERE YOU ALREADY GATHERING MATERIAL WHILE YOU WERE MAKING 'INTERPLAY'?

Shapes is a sort of continuation of Interplay, but one where we felt we could be a little more informal and release some things which were rawer and more experimental, alongside more 'worked-on' tracks such as Vapour Trails.

We're still on the case – there are lots of ideas, approaches and ideas for approaches, that we haven't got to yet. It would also be good to involve Hannah and Serafina and Rob Simon and JeanGa in recording, too.

I INITIALLY CATEGORISED 'THE SHAPE OF THINGS' AS A KIND OF 'INTERPLAY 2', WAS THAT YOUR INTENTION?

Well it's certainly a sort Tabla Rasa of that particular phase of recording and writing - all the ideas we generated on the first sessions in Benge's studio - but certain new strands and unexpected developments did begin to crop up…

WHEN I STARTED TO ACTUALLY LISTEN TO 'THE SHAPE OF THINGS' PROPERLY, AND GET TO KNOW THE TRACKS BETTER, I CHANGED MY MIND ABOUT IT BEING SIMPLY A CONTINUATION OF 'INTERPLAY'. THERE ARE A LOT OF PARALLELS BUT FOR ME 'THE SHAPE OF THINGS' IS MUCH MORE SCHIZOPHRENIC IN A WAY. IT ALSO SOUNDS MORE CONFIDENT AND MORE AMBITIOUS…

Yes – I think we got more assured and were able to take more chances second time around. Songs like 'The Shadow of His Former Self' and 'Falling Away' for instance. They took some really unexpected shapes when we worked on them. Very exciting, 'Shadow' also developed exponentially when we played it live – Hannah's violin was a revelation. Got to use more of that. Delicious.

I USED THE WORD 'SCHIZOPHRENIC' TO DESCRIBE THE ALBUM JUST NOW, AND I THINK THAT'S PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE VARIETY OF STYLES YOU USE ON THE RECORD, BUT ALSO BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE ALBUM IS SEQUENCED. IT'S QUITE A DRAMATIC AND UNNERVING LISTENING EXPERIENCE, WAS THAT SOMETHING YOU SET OUT TO ACHIEVE OR IS IS JUST ME?

Oh it's just you!

PERHAPS PART OF THAT 'UNNERVING' ELEMENT TO MY LISTENING EXPERIENCE IS DOWN TO THE FACT THAT THERE ARE SEVERAL VERY SHORT TRACKS ON THE ALBUM WHICH MAKE THE 'FLOW' OF THE ALBUM UNEXPECTED. DO YOU SEE THEM AS INTERLUDES OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, OR ARE THEY EQUAL TO THE OTHER TRACKS FOR YOU BUT JUST DIDN'T CONFORM TO THE LONGER FORMAT WE'RE USED TO FOR SONGS?

They are interludes –- intended to surprise and refresh the palette before the next course. We really enjoyed recording them – there's certainly something emerging there – another thing we can develop. A future album of wee delights.

WAS THE SPEED OF THE PROJECT A FACTOR IN THE WAY THE FINISHED ALBUM SOUNDS? IT MUST TAKE A LOT OF DISCIPLINE TO NOT KEEP RETURNING TO TRACKS AND TINKERING WITH THEM...

Oh yes - we've now got to the point of enjoying the rough bits - the stuff you might work out of songs and recording if you refine. I've always hated the sound of overworked tracks – but you do need some courage and confidence to keep your anxious little thumb off the re-record button. I guess that comes with experience – and certain tracks from the past that you always want to kick across the room.

WHEN WE TALKED ABOUT 'INTERPLAY' LAST YEAR I MENTIONED THAT I THOUGHT THAT ALBUM HAD A NARRATIVE OF SORTS, AND YOU SAID THAT IT KIND OF REVOLVED AROUND 'A MAN, A WOMAN AND A CITY', A REPETITIVE THEME IN YOUR WORK. ALTHOUGH I FIND IT DRAMATIC AND SOMETIMES CINEMATIC, I'M NOT SURE I CAN IDENTIFY A SIMILAR NARRATIVE ON THE NEW RECORD, ALTHOUGH MAYBE I'M BEING TOO LINEAR. IS THERE A THEME (I HESITATE TO USE THE WORD 'CONCEPT') TO THIS ONE?

Oh, it's there all right, and it's the same – I always write from there. It's the Quiet Man, really - along with his viewpoint and relationships with the city, trying to maintain dignity against the odds, ever hopeful of romance.

But the point is – these relationships and their nuances are changing all the time. I see new aspects and incoming dilemmas becoming apparent as I get older and the city changes and perspectives alter. Some things I wouldn't admit even to myself, I can write about through these lenses. They've always been incredibly useful.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THE NEW ALBUM DOES HAVE IN COMMON WITH 'INTERPLAY' IS THE FACT THAT IT SEEMS TO BE MADE OF PRETTY MUCH 'PURE' ELECTRONIC SOUNDS - BY WHICH I MEAN THAT YOU'RE LETTING THE SYNTHS YOU'RE USING SOUND LIKE THEMSELVES RATHER THAN TRYING TO EMULATE OTHER INSTRUMENTS. YOUR WORK HAS EXPLORED ALL SORTS OF STYLES OF MUSIC - THE INFLUENCES OF WHICH CAN BE FELT ACROSS THIS ALBUM I THINK - BUT WAS IT IMPORTANT TO GET BACK TO THOSE SOUNDS AGAIN?

Absolutely. It's all Benge's fault – he simply will not use anything that's not analogue. Always patrolling the border. So Digits won't do, and we became the first Post-Digital band on the planet - by necessity.
Suited me just fine – I'm pre-digital myself. Needed a bit of a reboot and Benge's studio certainly did the job. But not - I repeat - not for nostalgia's sake. I'm not at all nostalgic. Truly hate all that crap. So does Benge. The sirens go off.

The real reason is to make an expedition to see what you missed the first time – technology was primitive then, and you couldn't really hear what as going on properly. Now even domestic sound systems are 5000%+ better than studio systems in the 1970's and 80's.

Digital technology also swept analogue quickly away, before analogue could be properly appreciated or explored, so it all got forgotten for decades. You know the scene – A ruined city in the jungle. Legends abound - it's full of exotic lifeforms that could save the planet, make us into demigods and replace Viagra and school…Then someone finds an old map clutched in a dead man's hand…

Well, Benge already had the equipment for a wee foray, so off we went, like deserters from Dad's Army. He was Attenborough and I was Captain Mainwaring. Interplay was what we came back with. Better than a stuffed monkey, any day.

WHEN YOU SING YOU SEEM TO DISTANCE YOUR VOICE BEHIND VOCAL EFFECTS - AND I THINK THAT ALTHOUGH THAT MIGHT A GENERAL COMMENT ON YOUR WORK IT PARTICULARLY APPLIES TO THIS RECORD - WHICH MADE ME WONDER HOW IMPORTANT THE LYRICS ARE TO YOU IF YOU'RE PARTLY OBSCURING THEM IN THIS WAY?

I do like to hide behind effects. Feel a bit naked at Paddington station otherwise. But I also love what effects can do to perspective and texture and harmonics. As for lyrics, I think they're absolutely vital - but I also know that texture rhythm and form are what hit you first and most people seem content with that.

So lyrics are certainly a second-wave impact, but if they're good, they are what makes a song truly effective and beautiful. Otherwise it's another gift-wrapped pair of Argyll socks!

'INTERPLAY' ATTRACTED SOME FANTASTIC REVIEWS AND WAS EXTREMELY WELL RECEIVED CRITICALLY (IT WAS MY FAVOURITE ALBUM OF LAST YEAR!), WAS THAT SOMETHING YOU EXPECTED? 

Excellent. Thanks. Well - we imagined it might get a couple of polite reviews, with everybody else either locking the door or jumping up and down on the cot. So it was a great surprise, and something of a relief!

AS A RESULT OF THE MEDIA ATTENTION 'INTERPLAY' RECEIVED, YOUR CURRENT PROFILE IS PROBABLY HIGHER NOW THAN IT HAS BEEN FOR QUITE A LONG TIME. DOES IT MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, RAISING YOUR HEAD ABOVE THE PARAPET LIKE THAT?

Oh yes. Crash helmet on.

YOU'VE ALREADY PLAYED A COUPLE OF SHOWS FOR THE NEW ALBUM, ARE YOU PLANNING MORE LIVE WORK THIS YEAR?

We'd all love to, and we've actually managed to do some of that in the UK and Europe. It was really exciting. Pure electricity. Best band I've ever worked with. Serafina and Hannah are magnificent – howling violin and wild chords - Benge isn't bad either!!!

But the price of working with truly excellent people is that they've all got projects going on. Even trying to get them all together in one room is like knitting fog. Hannah is touring with a 30 piece choir and writing for Sadler's Wells theatre, Serafina is recording with Jarvis, Benge is recording with Tara Busch, then there's a queue of about thousand requests for productions and he's also flying in and out of Los Angeles like a Peruvian chemist. So we'll have to see…

MARCH 2012

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