The title of your latest release means, The Sea. Can you tell us why water is featured so heavily as a theme in your work?
I grew up in the south west of England, which is a kind of peninsula surrounded by the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t exactly grow up on the beach, but going to the sea was a kind of a regular occurrence, and the occasion of many trips and outings. I mean, there’s not a lot to do in the south west of England, especially as a child, so a lot of your “entertainment” consists of driving in the car to go and look at the moors and the scenery and the seaside and so on – in the depths of winter. I think a lot of kids would find that really boring but I later came to appreciate the sense of wonder that that instilled in me… on these trips I’d have my little walkman with me, and because of this I made a strong mental connection early on between landscapes, seascapes, and certain types of music.
These tracks are named after favourite places of mine; places that I like or consider to have an atmosphere. The first album was more land-oriented, and this one, I suppose, is a bit more “by the sea”. It’s a bit of a naff concept really, it’s just the way it worked out.
Tell us about Elly Webb and Five Mile Beach.
Elly is my dearest friend – we have been best friends since we were sixteen or something, we studied together, and we lived together in Devon during our college years and shortly after. She’s originally from Jersey, and I went to stay with her there one summer, after she’d moved back home for a year. This was in 2003. It was a very memorable time and our walk along Five Mile Beach was a particularly evocative memory that was in my mind whilst writing that track.
Jersey is situated between the coasts of England and France; in fact it’s actually much closer to France, so although it’s mainly English-speaking, there’s a massive French influence there as well. The French influence can also be seen in the album’s title and the other track titles like “LaCorbière” and “Val De La Mare”.
Was your production and composition technique any different from Pentimento? What instruments and methods were employed?
I broadly followed the approach I used on Pentimento, which basically consisted of working with layering various old tape recordings and old experimental pieces, and slowing things down on tape to get some more grainy, warped sounds. And when I was back in Devon at Christmas time I found a mini disc of some old recordings I’d made years ago – recordings of the sea, environmental sounds, things like that – and decided to throw those in as well. I guess I became interested in pushing the environmental-sounds aspect of Pentimento a bit further – normally the only kind of music you hear that has the sound of the sea in the background is terrible, terrible New Age crap, so I had an idea that it would be nice to do something a little bit more credible with real environmental sounds.
I’d say the compositional process was broadly similar to the first record, although unlike the first record, there was a lot of rather underhand sampling that went into this one – processing and reprocessing things and slowing things down to such extents that the original source is totally lost and degraded. They’ve been messed around with so much that, in one case, even the person who played on the original record couldn’t tell even when I pointed it out.
There are so many places touched on: La Corbiere, Donford Bay, and Hollow Ponds. Can you describe their impact on you?
I think it goes back to the thing that I touched on earlier – these locations are places that I mentally escape to during the writing process, in a funny way. They’re touchstones of a sort, in the sense that I’m trying to capture something of the ambience of the place by writing a piece of music about it.
I suppose an important point to add is that there’s a certain amount of nostalgia involved – these are all places associated with my childhood or adolescence, places that I haven’t been able to visit much, if at all, since I moved away to the city ten years or so ago. It’s nice to visit these places again, if only mentally – and in fact, these places and the memories associated with them are slightly changed, improved and made more poignant by the fact that I don’t have daily experience of them.
You are incredibly prolific. Have you already started work on your third riverrun project, or will you focus on the Modern Painters in the second half of 2011?
Well, the good thing about the riverrun stuff is that’s is pretty easy to make – you know, compared to making a “band” album with drums and string sections and backing vocal choirs and so on! – so it’s something I can make at home, privately, whenever I have a moment or a laptop or whatever. And it’s good crop rotation for me – whenever I get bored or run out of ideas with one type of music, there’s something totally different I can immediately turn my attention to and get results pretty quickly. So there’ll definitely be a new riverrun album at some point next year.
Excerpted from the original interview originally featured on Headphone Commute.