Hi-Fiction Science Interview - June 2011
by Jodie Humphries
How Bristol‚Äôs Hi-Fiction Science come together is a story that took place over a number of years, as members changed and their sound grew. Jumping in with both feet to tell Live-Music-Scene the story of the band is James McKeown.
‚ÄúI met ex-Suncoil Sect member Ralph Joseph in 2007 and after initial freeform jams, at his suggestion, we brought in his Suncoil bandmate Jeff Green on bass. We found a drummer Jack Stanbury, who was full of stamina and jazz/rock chops. This led us into long extended, overtly psychedelic space rock jams. Jack left to travel to New Zealand and Ralph decided to focus on the other band he was in at the time, Freehold Revival, but not before winning the competition between us to decide on a band name 'Hi-Fiction Science'. Jeff and I continued but were slightly unsure of how best to proceed, until we attended a gig at The Croft by Mobius and Michel Rother (two thirds of Harmonia) and that got us thinking about less of a full band sound and more in terms of samples, drum loops and drones,‚ÄĚ James explains.
‚ÄúEnter Matt Rich a work colleague of Jeff's with a laptop and a primitive keyboard. We cribbed drum loops from Pink Floyd, drones from Fripp and Eno and I started thinking about different guitar textures rather than 'classic rock riffing' and experimented with the Ebow. An embryonic version of ‚ÄėZabriskie‚Äô (now finally realised on our debut album) was created. We advertised for a drummer and after a couple of false leads finally Aidan Searle answered the call. His technique, influences and style came from a clipped post-punk background, informed by bands sure as Wire and sighting Kraftwerk as an influence.‚ÄĚ
When it comes to the first gig, James says, ‚ÄúOur first gig was at Totterdown music festival where we played a somewhat haphazard instrumental set containing an early version of ‚ÄėZabriskie‚Äô and due to a technical problem we ended up improvising a song which later developed into ‚ÄėKosmonaut‚Äô.‚ÄĚ From there, things started to take shape for the band. ‚ÄúOver 2008/09 we played several gigs playing all the classic Bristol underground venues and eventually managed to get some better support slots with bands such as North Atlantic Oscillation. Around this time Maria Charles joined us, initially as a guest vocalist, later to become a full time Scientist. Maria's clean, English, folk delivery gave us a wonderful contrast between our stripped back krautrock/post-punk inspired instrumentals and we started to try and shape and meld this around Maria‚Äôs voice and looked at more song orientated structures.‚ÄĚ The change in the sound again led Hi-Fiction Science to the studio. ‚ÄúFeeling confident off the back of some successful gigs and wanting to progress we booked into Toybox Studios to work with engineer/producer Ali Chant to get onto tape some material. No tracks from the initial recording sessions made it onto the album,‚ÄĚ James explains. ‚ÄúEventually the protracted process of recording - due to our time, budget and studio availability - was completed in 2011 and combined with striking artwork from Rocket Recordings designer Johnny O based on a concept we had around Bristol and unconventional dystopian landmarks, we have created a debut album we are all really pleased with and proud of.‚ÄĚ
If James were personally asked to describe the sound of Hi-Fiction Science, he says, ‚ÄúInitially we were heavily in debt to bands such as Can and Neu! Yet our sound has evolved considerably and currently touches on an amalgamation styles and genres. A recent posting on the Rocket Recordings blog playlist sited us as 'contemporary psychedelic-folk-electronica tinged pop' which is a fair stab at describing how the album sounds.‚ÄĚ Moving back to talking about the bands‚Äô debut album, James says, ‚ÄúThe experience was somewhat fractured due to the fact that it was self-funded and balanced between our availability and studio availability. The other slight blip was Maria‚Äôs solo project ‚Äď A beautiful baby girl, Isla who was born during the recording and subsequently came into the studio while we were recording and mixing. As we became more adept we also overdubbed some parts at my home studio set up and took them in to overdub in Toybox which produced some surprisingly good results.‚ÄĚ
When it comes to the writing for the band, James explains, ‚ÄúPredominantly the songs will grow and get shaped from jams which can originate from a guitar motif, chord progression, bass line, keyboard sound or even sometimes listening to a particular band or song to find a way into a sound or style. On other occasions I have brought in a song, such as ‚ÄėBlack Flower‚Äô, with chords and lyrics which we worked on and turned into a full band production.‚ÄĚ And when it comes to what inspires the band, James says, ‚ÄúAs a band we are informed by a common interest in music. We jokingly refer to some of the gig‚Äôs we attend as ‚ÄėR and D‚Äô particularly if they are gigs by bands that we really admire - last year Jeff, Aidan and I went to the Barbican to watch Hallogallo ‚Äď Michael Rother‚Äôs incarnation of Neu! Featuring Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth on drums. Another pinnacle for me, certainly on a personal level, was seeing The Charles Hazlewood Allstars (Charles Hazlewood, Adrian Utley, Will Gregory, Tom Jenkinson etc) playing a version of Terry Riley‚Äôs ‚ÄėA Rainbow in Curved Air‚Äô which in terms of musicianship, space and improvisational technique was a real education. It‚Äôs not just musical. We are also influenced by art, design, architecture, film and literature. Hauntology and Dystopia. Ballard and Kubrick.‚ÄĚ
So we‚Äôve talked about the album and what you can expect recorded, but why should you go out and see Hi-Fiction Science live? ‚ÄúAs a live band we have really honed our set and now have a good live sound. In addition we have some new material and a couple of cover versions that we haven‚Äôt yet recorded which get a live airing such as a stormingly original ‚Äď post-punk meets psychedelia version of ‚ÄėPrivate Sorrow‚Äô by The Pretty Things.‚ÄĚ While for James, the best gig he‚Äôs ever played was ‚ÄúThe comeback gig we played at the Louisiana after our live hiatus due to Maria‚Äôs pregnancy. We played well, there was a good crowd ‚Äď many friends of the band were present and there was a great vibe which we fed off and made for a wonderful live experience.‚ÄĚ
Despite playing in many venues, if James could play any venue, where would it be? ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve still not played the Thekla which I would like to rectify with a decent DHP support slot in the near future. Also St. Georges Hall is a rather auspicious venue. I would love to play a decent festival gig too, which again I hope we will address in the near future.‚ÄĚ Sticking with Bristol, we spoke about how James would describe the current Bristol music scene. ‚ÄúVibrant, healthy, interesting. The Bristol sound has become stereotyped as 'Trip Hop' central but a lot of the more interesting underground music is much more diverse, for example bands on the Invada label such as Beak> and Thought Forms. I was blown away by Minator Shock back in April when we played a gig on the same line up at Rise for Independent Record Shop Day. Also there has been some great support from Rise records who have been really supportive of local bands, both selling their products and hosting instore gigs.‚ÄĚ I just have to say that it‚Äôs great to see a shout-out for Rise as they do a fantastic job!
Talking further about local bands, James would recommend; ‚ÄúDefinitely the aforementioned Beak> - and their other offshoot on the Invada stable Anika and Thought Forms. Pro-players such as Get The Blessing are always a joy to watch - incredible technique, finesse and groove. Recently I've liked 3 Cane Whale as I've been a fan of Paul Bradley‚Äôs guitar playing and zany virtuosity since the early 90's. Also many of the artists the QU Junktions promote are worth watching.‚ÄĚ
When it comes to balancing everyday life with the band, James says, ‚ÄúIt can be quite tough to be honest. I‚Äôm really quite envious of bands with a manager and backing of label support and the freedom that brings to creativity ‚Äď our debut album has been released on our own imprint ‚ÄėNegative Drive Records‚Äô and self-distributed physically and digitally ‚Äď but I guess that has always been the case for bands starting off. I used to be keen for us to play as many gigs as possible, these days we play less gigs but hopefully of better quality and generally on more musically compatible line ups.‚ÄĚ
Looking to the future for Hi-Fiction Science, James says, ‚ÄúI would like to see us get picked up by a bigger label and certainly a goal in the medium term is to follow up our BBC 6Music airplay with a session. I love Bristol and I‚Äôm proud of its musical legacy from The Pop Group to Portishead and I would like us to be recognised as part of the lineage.‚ÄĚHi-Fiction Science Facebook