No Man in particular
Somehow or other, three young English musicians called No Man persuaded two-thirds of the original line-up of Japan to join in on their recordings and gigs. The result was a great deal of interest in their debut album Loveblows & Lovecries just over a year ago.
Now the band, revolving around the duo of vocalist Tim Bowness and multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson, have a follow-up, Flowermouth, ready to roll. This time, not only did Tim and Steven arrange for two of the former colleagues of David Sylvian to make a return appearance, they repeated the trick with three more of their favourite musicians.
Robert Fripp, master of the white-noise guitar, joins drummer Steve Jansen and keysman Richard Barbieri, while the horn section would breeze past the bouncers of any jazz club without so much as a glance at the guest list. Add saxophonist Mel Collins and trumpeter Ian Carr, and your table is ready.
When it came to recording, each of these luminaries was invited to the Wilson residence for tea, dark-chocolate Hob Nobs, and a spot of fun on a new toy from Alesis.
"Previously," says Tim Bowness, "we'd worked in studios where, obviously, you're paying by the hour. Even if the engineers had been sensitive, they were never quite fully attuned to exactly what you wanted. So we spent this recording advance on our own studio."
ADAT duly became the chosen medium, plus a little automation on the desk which takes up more space in Steven's bedroom than his mother would like.
"It was liberating," says Tim. "It was also interesting to use ADAT with people like Fripp, Ian Carr, and Mel Collins. Ultimately we could tape as many solos as we wanted - imagine 32 channels of Fripp solos! From that, we sampled the ones we preferred. In many cases we built up such a collection of solos that entirely new pieces were created. We're compiling them separately under the title Wild Opera."
Having been fans of Ian Carr's work since first hearing his early Nucleus albums - a British response to Miles Davis' groundbreaking Bitches Brew - No Man procured his services as soon as the opportunity arose. Fripp and Collins, meanwhile, first impressed a short-trousered Tim in the days of King Crimson. Indulging a sense of awe in the studio, the duo gave a pretty open brief to their seniors.
"We just allowed them to do what the hell they liked for as many tracks as they liked," admits Tim, "although there were some basic ideas as to what we wanted from them. Within those guidelines, we just let them improvise and see what accents came out. And we got some incredibly interesting results."
Some of which can be heard on our exclusive mix of the track 'Simple' on this month's re:mix CD, featuring Robert Fripp...
"With 'Simple', we weren't sure about it until Fripp came up with this amazing, soaring sound which I think had first been used on Another Green World with Eno. It totally rescued the piece. It was really odd how this sort of sonic interference made what initially seemed a pleasing but non-committal pop song into something far more dangerous and interesting.
"We could tape as many solos as we wanted - imagine 32 channels of Fripp solos. From that, we sampled the ones we preferred..."
"It also features this extended Frippertronics coda. Frippertronics seems to have developed from some kind of thin, electronic loop into something more akin to an orchestra. It was superb to witness. And it was in Steve's bedroom! We had Fripp, his equipment, his sound engineer, myself, Steven, and Ben Coleman all squeezed in there."
Mel Collins and Ian Carr took up slightly less space - but their contribution was just as large.
"Mel Collins is a very, very strong improviser. From his improvisations we would have about five tracks, which Steve would sample from. In certain cases, we used entire solos as they were performed. On 'Animal Ghost', however, the part was assembled from about 11 solos - although Steven's digital editing makes it sound quite organic and intentional.
"By contrast, Ian Carr had prepared a score for his part on 'Angel Gets Caught In The Beauty Trap'. We completely destroyed this and asked him to solo over the track. We did have our own composed lines for him to play, and he was obviously used to working with scores, so there was a lot of give and take. But in the end his performance was just what we wanted, and his tone is still very beautiful.
"Working with these people was a real privilege because they already have a highly elevated perception of music. You don't need to persuade, say, the drummer who really wants to be in a Rolling Stones covers band, that you want something else."
Speaking of drummers, Steve Jansen was sent a timecoded master of 'Angel' and built up the acoustic percussion parts in his own studio. The rest of the drums on the album were either programmed by Steven Wilson or recorded during one single day at a commercial studio. Richard Barbieri, meanwhile, developed a whole series of electronic sounds on a vintage Korg MS20 synth and sent the DAT to our boys...
No Man are carrying their lush, sumptuous songs into the centre of a new community, and capitalising on a renewed interest in instrumental music - weaving romantic vocals into the sonic fabric. You suspect them of being able to make anything happen. Flowermouth, indeed, is a fitting title for an album made by such sweet-talking guys.
On The Re:Mix CD:
33 No Man: Simple
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #1.
Interview by Phil Ward
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