Photo by Mike Cooper
The Interplay album feels very much like a story; not an action novel, but a sort of bleak, bitter, Ballardian retro-futuristic anti-utopia. Is there an actual ‘story’ you wanted to tell?
JF: ‘Well – I guess it’s the story of a man a woman and a city, which is what my songs tend to be concerned with – and what I’m always concerned with in real life, as well.
Writing about the present is an interesting challenge. Usually, we don’t appreciate what’s happening until its over.’
The feel and sound of the album is – as far as I’m able to hear – based on ‘vintage’ synths, or rather actual instruments – synths you actually have to play and drums that you have to program. For me, it’s far more humane than computer-based music so abundant right now. How do you feel about digital technology, and why do you choose the old trusty analogue gear?
JF: ‘It’s not so trusty really. It can actually be quite treacherous.
But it still sounds better – richer and more complex – and it is imperfect. I love imperfection – perfect usually means boring. Nothing duller than a perfect singer or a perfect production.
I prefer to hear some croaky old rogue telling his stories, or a late night melody on an old piano. That’s far more interesting than some over-rehearsed opera singer can ever be.’
Would you agree that computer-generated music based on software will always lack a certain unpredictability of analogue synths? Is this this uncertainty and a certain risk of old gear that makes it alive and kicking?
JF: ‘Analogue sound is much more disobedient than digital. Digital is very nice – always does as it‘s told. You wouldn’t take analogue home to meet your mum. It has a nasty side. That’s what we like about it.’
It might be not super relevant, but I just have to ask: do you still use analogue sequencers? I know that it’s painful and might take weeks – why not switch into elegant sequencing software?
JF: ‘Yes, we do, and it’s no problem – Benge is an expert and he’s very quick. We often use random arpeggios to begin a piece with – It’s surprising where they can lead.’
How do you feel about all this synth-pop revival we are witnessing for the last few years? Is there any creativity there, or is it just playing with nostalgia using the cheapest means available?
JF: ‘New generations tend to base their music on something they only remember vaguely, that they may feel has not yet reached its potential, as The Beatles did with American pop and blues, for instance.
I’m always interested in the choices each generation makes, the reasons for the choice – and in how the music gets developed.’
I assume that late 70s – when you played with Ultravox – was a very special time for the music, which quickly became a massive, mainstream factory producing mostly mediocre, plastic tunes for almost a decade. Do you think that early electronic pop could evolve into something much more interesting, if it didn’t catch up with the ordinary listener?
JF: ‘But don’t you think the ordinary listener is really what its all about? I must admit, the democratic aspect is one of the things that attracted me into music. I began as a painter in Art School and reasoned that I’d prefer to make lots of cheap, beautiful things than one expensive, beautiful object.
In the end, though, the really difficult challenge is to satisfy both yourself and the audience, without compromising either.
There will always be disagreements along the way.
In the end, it’s all a matter of instinct. You both know when you have read the walls properly.’
Back to the new record – for me, it’s a perfect blend of many different styles – from new romantic, through EBM/new beat, classic Detroit’ish electro, towards good old plain pop music, carrying great hooks and choruses and being basically timeless. Do you actually care much/listen to the current club/electronic/pop stuff?
JF: ‘Thanks. I listen to everything I can. There is a lot of very interesting music being made now – perhaps because musicians no longer have to aim at making a hit record and getting a single in the charts. Instead they are expected to develop a completely idiosyncratic style.
I think this release from the pressure of record companies expectations and the charts is something quite new, and music is changing shape accordingly.
Meanwhile, if you are fortunate enough to have lived through most of the decades of popular music and experienced its extremes, you’ll have a huge reservoir of images, songs and ideas to draw from. There is enough in there to last several lifetimes.’
Are you happy about what you do, about your music and life in general?
JF: ‘Everything is moving along. Life is a real pleasure at this moment – so I fully intend to enjoy it while it lasts.’
What is music?
JF: ‘You know, I’ve never heard a good answer to that. The question “What is a melody?” for instance, will usually generate something akin to a minor nervous breakdown in any professor of music or cultural studies.’
What is love?
JF: ‘Well. I guess love is like music.’
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