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WRANGLER (STEPHEN MALLINDER) INTERVIEW [2014]

PROBABLY MOST OF THE PEOPLE WHO READ MY SITE WILL KNOW YOU BEST FOR YOUR WORK IN CABARET VOLTAIRE, BUT WE'RE HERE TO TALK ABOUT WRANGLER, YOUR NEW PROJECT, WHICH DOES SOUND LIKE IT CONTAINS ELEMENTS OF CABARET VOLTAIRE IN IT... IS THAT DELIBERATE AT ALL, OR IS WHAT I'M CALLING THE SOUND OF CV ACTUALLY THE SOUND OF STEPHEN MALLINDER?



I think in both cases it's unavoidable that any particular motifs that are associated with me personally will come through. It's not deliberate or affected, it's just that's how my voice inherently sounds and that's how I approach music. Both Cabaret Voltaire and Wrangler are collaborations, they are the result of people coming together and gelling, I just happen to be involved in both.

I know there is an inevitable overlap as both are electronic in their foundation and as Wrangler deliberately look to analogue sounds and ways of constructing tracks - not using samples or made on a laptop – then people will see similarities to mid-period Cabs. Although it's funny that Wrangler don't use samples and the Cabs were known for using a lot of found-sound but no one has picked up this. Sometimes we see and hear what we choose to despite the evidence.

From a personal perspective I have a very rhythmic approach to music and that is perhaps the key overlap. Both musically and vocally I look to that kind syncopation - although with Phil and Benge, as with Richard before, in the groups I make no claim to any individual template. I'm inherently a collaborative person, whatever I've contribute it is brought out by the others.

AS WELL AS YOU, PHIL WINTER AND BENGE ARE BOTH PART OF THE WRANGLER PROJECT, DOES THAT MAKE YOU A BAND, OR IS IT MORE OF A COLLABORATION?

We consider ourselves as a band. I think music has become too 'project-orientated' and the business context seems to have impacted a lot on how music is presented and perceived.

Everyone seems to want to give themselves an automatic 'opt out' clause by saying 'oh well I've got this project and we'll see where we go from here'. It's a culture of short-termism, which reflects the current social and economic climate – to do something then discard it, move on and then repeat the process, usually with the same results. Music should look more to sustainability than inbuilt obsolescence. I love the idea that Wrangler is about using rescued technology, we are inhabiting those lost machines, that a few years ago people just dispensed with replacing them with something small, functional and shiny – obviously that's no longer the case and everyone wants them. So yes, we're a band and we operate in a very human, slightly dysfunctional way.

GIVEN THAT YOU ALL DO OTHER THINGS AS WELL, IS WRANGLER A JOB, A HOBBY OR SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY?

Wranglering is an occupation. We had this discussion the other day: are we born to wrangle or do we learn to wrangle? Here's Phil Winter's definition: 'Wrangler = someone who wrestles analogue technology until it submits to your will'!

I think to consider 'making music' a job is problematic. It always was - everyone I know who does it would say it's something they just have to do, it is part of who you are and like any creative process it's a necessary expression. It's the human condition. In the current digital, download ecology, where the product (and it's exchange value) has largely disappeared, it's pretty difficult to consider it a job where you get a regular return. Don't get me wrong people make money out of music but making music as a career requires a strategy. We all tend to do a range of things to support the broader goal of making music, although often this is making more music.

HOW DID THE THREE OF YOU FIRST MEET, AND HOW QUICKLY AFTER THAT DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU SHOULD TRY WORKING TOGETHER?

Well I've been friends with Phil since the early 80s, I had just signed to Some Bizarre/Virgin and met Phil through mutual friends. We were mates who occasionally made music together in between going to the pub and going to gigs – we were both into similar music – Go-Go; Electro and stuff. In another life Phil had met Benge through mutual friends – Mike from Tunng amongst them, who shared a studio with Benge. Phil and Benge began Wranglering.

They both invited me to the studio about three years ago – we'd recorded four tracks within the first few hours, including our first 7" 'Sequence On'. I kept going back and we kept making music – the rest is sort of history. We were asked to play a gig in Vienna about 18 months ago which was when much of it (the Wrangler album and lots of other recordings) came together as we had to consider a workable format and structure. Playing live is good for focussing the mind.

IS PLAYING LIVE SOMETHING THAT YOU LIKE TO DO, OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT'S A NECESSARY EVIL?

Oh no we love playing live, why would you want to make music and not do it live, I never understood that. I get a bit fed up of being a roadie but that's because I'm older and like to complain. I'm really good at disappearing when the heavy cases have to get lugged up the studio stairs though… that's the kind of wisdom that comes with age. Having said that I drove the van to Manchester a few weeks ago and nearly killed us all so hopefully that's got me out of it for a while, until everyone forgets.

WHEN YOU FIRST WENT INTO THE STUDIO TOGETHER DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS ABOUT WHAT YOU WANTED TO CREATE AS WRANGLER, A MANIFESTO IF YOU LIKE, OR WAS IT MORE OF AN ORGANIC PROCESS?

We're not the type of people to have a manifesto – we argue on a weekly basis about how much sugar we have in tea and whether it differs when it's Earl Grey. But within that there is a - largely unspoken - code amongst the three of us. I think if you want to collaborate doing music your personalities have to naturally work together in some way. We're friends but as we are into similar things making music is an inevitable extension of that. Benge's studio is common ground, it's the hub and it determines how we operate – I think if it was three people working around a laptop it wouldn't work. We like to get the machines plugged in and make them sing. We fight with them but often they win.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THE SONGS THAT APPEAR ON 'LA SPARK'?

Well it varies, some – 'Lava Land', 'Space Ace' and 'Theme' - are a bit older and were in our first live set. A couple – 'Harder', 'Modern World' - came from us playing live together in the studio to work out ideas. 'Peace and Love' was originally made in combination with a film by our visuals guy, Dan Conway, for a piece that was shown in the Tate Modern's Turbine Gallery last summer. 'LA Spark' was conceived by Benge when he was holed up in LA last year, then we worked on it when he came back.

WHAT WAS THE WORKING PROCESS FOR THE ALBUM? WERE YOU PHYSICALLY TOGETHER IN A STUDIO TOGETHER SOMEWHERE?

The process is very 'hands-to-the-pump'. The technology requires a more tactile approach, the machines are physically worked as opposed to using plug-ins and soft-synths where it's all mouse and mini-controllers. Some of the fledgling ideas might come from a drum part, sequence, or a rough sketch which someone has and then we explore it together trying different things.

We like to take things into the live room and all plug into the PA – play together live so we can see how the dynamic of three people works. Then you have a good idea of what you want to do when you finally record. We tend to do a rough vocal very early on, it might change and get rerecorded later but it seems more integrated if we build in the voice at an early stage. I've worked so many times, even with my own stuff, where the vocal gets popped on over a very structured and arranged piece and it feels a bit false, like a joke nose. But having said that Music IIC was the odd one out – I recorded the vocals at home and sent them in and they were worked into the track in the studio later. It's good to have different approaches.

ON THE WRANGLER FACEBOOK PAGE YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELVES AS AN 'ANALOGUE ELECTRONIC BAND' WHICH SEEMS TO ATTACH A LOT OF IMPORTANCE TO THE WORD 'ANALOGUE', WHAT IS IT ABOUT ANALOGUE SOUNDS THAT MADE YOU WANT TO CONCENTRATE ON THEM EXCLUSIVELY?

Well I think we're smart enough to know we should have an identity so it's good to make things clear – this is who we are. There is so much digital out there so it's information – people like to know how you do things. We'd hate to get off on the wrong foot.

A lot has been invested over a long period of time for all of us – Benge has been working exclusively with this technology and people should understand and appreciate this. Phil and I come from this world, it's not a fashion statement. There is a real, tactile, visceral aspect to analogue which we all love. You can almost see it and touch it. Digital is a cloning process, analogue is a representational process – unique so it can never truly be the same again or be repeated in exactly the same way. Special, different.

THERE SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING OF A REVIVAL OF ANALOGUE SOUNDS GOING ON AT THE MOMENT, BROADLY SPEAKING IS THAT JUST THE CYCLICAL NATURE OF MUSICAL STYLES OR DO YOU THINK THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN THAT?

I'm sure people might feel they have explored digital technology to what they consider its limits and want something new. I'm also sure that it is a gentle rebuff of technology – we like to think we can in some way control it. Digital technology seems to have an inbuilt system which we tap into but ultimately we are buying into someone else's design and perhaps never really own. Analogue seems a bit unruly, flawed, incomplete – I think we like those inherent, human, characteristics. Although the idea of authenticity is deeply flawed – there's no cultural starting point – analogue seems more authentic than digital in electronic music. People feel more real if they use it.

But finally - yes for some people it's kinda cool and a bit trendy. In the end its only technology, a tool, it's what you do with it - loads of people bought the same synths and sequencers when they first came out years ago... most of them sounded shit.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HOW WRANGLER IS RECEIVED?

I don't think you ever know how material is going to be received. You should make music that you like and enjoy, the rest is up in the air. But we have close friends who we trust implicitly so we play mixes to them and they see us rehearse, so we have an idea of whether we're on the right path – they tell us if we're getting better or worse. It's good to test things out, we get excited about our music and I think it transfers to others. You have to have belief. If they don't like it they're stupid.

I'VE BEEN LISTENING TO MUTE'S CABARET VOLTAIRE REISSUES A LOT RECENTLY AND IT REMINDED ME HOW CV PROVIDED A VEHICLE FOR YOU TO WORK IN SO MANY DIFFERENT STYLES... DID YOU THEN, OR HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF AT A POINT WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE RUN OUT OF AREAS YOU WANT TO EXPLORE MUSICALLY?

It is good to take a step back – I wanted to do other things as well. The thought of sitting in a room making 3 CDs a year for the rest of my life sounded uninspiring and all you do is repeat yourself so I enjoyed other things. I had a production company and promoted festivals, had long running radio shows, and was radio producer. I took some time wrote a lot about music and technology - I wrote my doctoral thesis about rhythm – we sometimes run the risk of becoming too self-absorbed as musicians so it was nice to address music from a wider cultural and social context. I would like to think we are all rather complex and multi-dimensional so it's good to explore those things… I also ran an Asian Supermarket and worked as a door-to-door salesman, although I wouldn't recommend that one!

WHAT SORT OF THINGS ARE YOU LISTENING TO AT THE MOMENT, AND DO YOU THINK THAT THE CURRENT MUSIC SCENE IS IN A GOOD AND HEALTHY PLACE?

Music is where it is - it's no different from the rest of the creative world. We democratised the tools and are able to make and share freely so like everyone else I try and figure it out but get drowned in a sea of plenty. I'm not one of those people who resent the way things are – I know there are a lot of dissenting voices regarding the world of free music but they're generally the ones who made a lot of money from an old music industry model and they tended to complain about that one as well. When I started it was exploitative and if you made money they had you by the short-and-curlies. I began making music because I wanted to - I'm still doing that.

Like all areas of life the shift to digital has changed everything. Compression and MP3s, as well as the capacity to archive the past, have transformed music. We live in the eternal present and everything is freely at our fingertips – brilliant in some ways and crazy in others – how we monetise creative production when there's nothing tangible to sell now is difficult but you just have to be clever – find your niche, rebuild the old world in a new way. People use and value music in the same way, we just access and store it differently.

In consideration of collapsed time I'll pick a couple of current things I'm listening to: Crooked Man – soon to be released album (Ninja Tunes) wicked house with a message and meaning; Ekopletz – Unfidelity (Planet Mu) beautiful but brittle electronic music; Eccentronic Research Council – Magpie Billy and the Egg that Yolked (Desolate Spools) twisted Sheffield storyville with Maxine Peake; Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio Soundtrack (Warp) top film, top soundtrack – of the period; Bohannon – Bohannon (Brunswick) from 1975, whatever that means. Hamilton Bohannon is never out of date – quite literally - while we have the internet.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR WRANGLER, AND FOR YOURSELF OUTSIDE WRANGLER?


Well we keep writing stuff and there were originally 21 tracks for LA Spark so we'll probably look at the next release soon. We have gigs coming up and hope the album touches hearts and minds.

I've got a few other bits and bobs, but unconnected, low-key, one-offs: Kula's 'Tenement Noise' which is a moody-cinematic rework by myself and Ron from Hula of an old piece we made. Looped for Pleasure, 'Information Entertainment', a dark disturbing house track, Dub Mentor's Obsession, an acoustic dub cover of the Cabs track with Israeli musicians...

WRANGLER - LA Spark (2014)

Wrangler's new album 'LA Spark' will be released on May 5th 2014.

MAY 2014

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