How did you start collaborating with Benge? Were you impressed by his Twenty Systems album, or by some of his earlier work?
JF: ‘I heard Twenty Systems first, then some of his production and mixing work for Hanna Peel, Tung and Serafina Steer. I was impressed by all of it.
As well as the purity of the analogue synthesizers, I particularly enjoy the sounds he gets on vocal recordings. There is something magical about a well captured voice, it’s as difficult as catching sunlight.’
What is the idea behind the JF & the Maths project and the Interplay album? Can we say it attempts a sort of synthesis between your song-based albums and your experiments with electronics?
JF: ‘Certainly – We began recording as an experiment, not aiming at making songs, but attempting to make something more abstract. The songs occurred because the arpeggios made by Ben’s on his Moog Modular system – a huge machine from the 1960’s – had rhythm and implied melody in their structure. All I had to do was sing along then capture the melodies more firmly.
You might say the songs were written by the machines. We simply acted as facilitators.’
Was it conceived as a stable band or as a one-off project?
JF: ‘I don’t think either of us were thinking ahead at all. It’s a useful vehicle and I like the idea of using The Exploding Plastic Inevitable as a starting point.’
How did you involve Mira Aroyo in the wonderfully catchy “Watching a Building on Fire”?
JF: ‘I’ve known Mira for some time. Mira has done some great recordings using a Korg monosynth, and I asked her if she would do some of that with us – we were lucky, because we ended up with a complete song and the beginnings of several others, after just a few hours. She gave us enough material for almost a whole album.
Mira is one of the most deeply intelligent musicians I’ve worked with – and she is so beautiful. It’s impossible not to do good, original work when she is in the room. She’s The Maths’ Nico – but has much more to offer – an entire intelligent life. I met Nico once or twice, so I think I can say that..’
Were you favourably impressed by Ladytron’s recent output?
JF: ‘I always liked Ladytron very much – I bought their very first album immediately it came out. A truly cool band in every way.’
More in general, are there other bands blending electronics and pop melody that have caught your attention in the past decade?
JF: ‘I’ve been very impressed by several new bands recently. There is a fascinating electronic minimalist scene in New York – Xeno and Oaklander and Weird Records, for instance, and Lowfish in Canada.
In England there is Ghost Box and Warp and Burial. I already mentioned Ladytron, and there are many other new labels and artists across Scandinavia and Europe. Tara Busch is doing wonderfully alarming things, and Serafina Steer made that nicely eccentric album with Benge. She has a truly beautiful voice and is also great, unconventional musician.
I’ve also been interested recently in how guitars are being used, often electronically cut-up, almost into abstraction – Lonelady, Seefeel and The Soft Moon are all doing this, all in their different, but equally effective ways.’
Do you see any groundbreaking young artist that could change the shape of music today the way you did back in the Seventies?
JF: ‘I think all of the above could. You simply need to be there at the right time, armed with a few ideas and a little independence…’
Have you always remained in contact with Robin Simon?
JF: ‘Oh yes – I think he’s a remarkable and truly original guitarist. One of the best ever. He really changed the role of guitar in modern music – everyone, from Edge to Radiohead and beyond has been influenced by him – whether they know it or not. The guitar sounded different after Robin, it did different things. Also, he has never played a cliché. No other guitarist can say that.’
Is there any chance to see you in Italy again any time soon?
JF: ‘It’s always good coming to Italy – we have several offers of live shows, but I have to finish what I’ve started recording – otherwise I can’t sleep.’
In which other contexts are you currently working at present?
JF: ‘I’m continuing to write The Quiet Man – it’s editing and assembly at present. Plus we’re filming sections of the book with a friend who looks right and is wearing the grey suit.
There’s a film that Karborn and I are making about Iain Sinclair, author of London Orbital. I think he’s the natural successor to Ballard and is one of the two or three really vital authors around at present. He let me have lots of super8 film he’d taken since the 1960’s its beautiful material.’
What is your approach to technology? Does it happen that having new some gear available can have an influence to your way of composing music, or do you only go after the tools enabling you to realise what you already have in mind?
JF: ‘That’s a good question – I think the answer is both – the potential of the technology reminds you of things you might have wanted to do that weren’t possible to do before. I keep notebooks. So I have a fund of ideas and projects. And a long, long list.’
Is there any artist (musician or non-musician) you’d like to have the chance to work with, more than anyone else?
JF: ‘I’ve been talking to Alex Proyas, director of I Robot and The Crow. We both enjoy a lot of the same things and I think we will make a film together at some point.
Macoto Tezuka, too a Japanese filmmaker whose work I like a lot – he’s planning a project with an excellent French cinematographer and I’ve been asked to do some music for it.’
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