BROADCAST AND THE BEAUTY OF MINOR KEYS
In a genre where duos seem to be the norm, Broadcast is welcome exception. The mixed quartet use 'real instruments', have a distinct love for soundtracks but are signed to an electronic record label. With their remarkable album The Noise Made By People, Broadcast provides us with a different perspective on things.
Ever seen an Ed Wood movie? Ed Wood was a director from the sixties who's movies rank along the worst ever. But today his sleazy horror movies are considered cult, and can be found in every respectable videoshop. What's the relevance with Broadcast? you might ask. No, there is nothing wrong with the quality of their music. But Broadcast (Trish Keenan, Roj Stevens, James Cargill and Keith York).managed to capture the ghostly, scary atmosphere of Wood's cinematographic disasters, and turn it into a beautiful soundtrack for movies made long ago. Scary movies.
"Soundtracks are definitely an influence in our music, admits keyboardplayer Roj. "Especially because of the way the music is put together. It's a different way of writing music."
In what way is it different then?
"For instance, Trish comes up with a melody on guitar and we then replace it all with music underneath it. Or it starts with the music and Trish puts her voice on top of that."
"Or sometimes another member comes up with a chord riff and I throw a vocal bit on top of that", adds Trish. "We compose about half the songs on guitar or piano", Roj continues. "A song can also start from a sound.
It's more about ideas that eventually are processed in the computer. So it doesn't really matter how it starts. It kind of ends up in the machines. That's where all the sounds meet and get their final shape."
But your music doesn't sound like computer music at all
Roj: "Well, that was the idea when we started. We wanted to use our equipment in a way that it didn't infringe our writing process in any way. Using the machines is only part of the writing."
Perhaps that justifies Broadcast being on an electronic label like Warp. Because you are a bit of an outsider, among all those electronic duos
"Possibly, yes. But as far as Warp is concerned it's a logical progression. It's a bit of risky that we signed to them. But it's risky for us as well as them. But you can draw some parallels with the other artists on Warp. Just the way we approach our music, doing it all ourselves."
What's the main difference between your first 'album' Workandnonwork and this album, besides the fact that the first one was a compilation?
"I think the main difference is that we didn't write and record the whole thing in the same room, by ourselves. Looking back on Workandnonwork, we realised that it didn't really have a continuity to it. And this new album has, we think.
"We mainly put that out because people started to pay silly money for our first singles, which were all released in small quantities. We never had the intention of pressing many copies, but that was mainly a matter of money. We couldn't afford to press any more. When we noticed that people were paying huge sums of money for our old singles, we wanted to stop that by releasing a compilation of the old material."
"There are three years between the two albums. In the meantime we spent a lot of time working with different producers and engineers. That didn't really work out."
"Because we were getting more and more specific about what we wanted to say with our music. And all those people didn't really fit in with our way of working. We started to realise that making the sound and recording the sound was pretty much the same thing."
So you produced the album yourselves, as I understand it?
"Yes, well there is a couple tracks on which we got help from various people."
Was the problem with the producers the only one to overcome? Because when I spoke to Trish in '98, you were already recording material for this album
"Well, that process kept on beginning and beginning again. Every time we had someone new, we would start again. And also we didn't feel much pressure to get on with it. We knew that Warp wouldn't be happy until we were happy. It was weird, because we kept on appearing in magazines. Not our choice, by the way. Magazines were raving about our upcoming album which was destined to be a classic according to them. And we had not even recorded anything, ha ha. Journalists even phoned us up in the studio while we were recording. That was pretty ridiculous. We had to say: 'leave us alone so we can actually do something!' Even when the album is finished now, it is still hyped up beyond proportion. We really don't feel that we are operating in a massively important place in music. While looking at all the fuzz, it slowly became more abstract."
Most of your songs sound quite melancholic, sad almost.
James: "That is the minor key we always write our music in. We like the kind of emptiness it has."
Why write in minor keys?
Trish: "I think the climate more or less forces us into writing songs in minor keys. Whenever I sit down to write a guitar song, and try to put a couple of major keys together to get a happy sound, it sounds like britpop to me. Horrible. So then I change them to minor."
Roj: "Five years ago in Britain, music wasn't that interesting. Especially if you were into the idea of music coming from a band, generally all you got was all this Britpop stuff. We never really got into that.
To a certain we started Broadcast as a reaction to Britpop. We like the possibility to make another kind of music as a band, without being part of this scene. To us that whole Britpop thing seemed like flag waving.
We heard music that was in my dad's record collection. Why get into something that is so apparent and so immediately available to everybody already? Why not make something people haven't heard before? In that way,
you enrich music. We didn't see the point in going over the same obvious stuff.
James: "You know, a lot of hip hop producers like the Gravediggaz and the Wu-Tang-Clan also use minor keys in their music. Therefore it all sounds pretty dark. I guess you could say we are influenced by hip hop. Not so much the rhymes or the beats, but the middle section, the samples and the keys. Put songs over that key and you get a melancholic key."
When I spoke to you in '98, you assured me there would be some 'happy tunes' on the album. But I didn't hear many, to be honest
Roj: "I would like to advise you to have a closer listen, because to us there are. We never wanted to have it happy like, for instance, Aqua. That's a dimension of happiness we would never build. But I think the album is an honest reflection of how we felt at the time, I guess. We weren't really miserable, with black fingernails or anything."
How long did the actual recording of the album take?
"Probably about a year, all together. Most of the album was recorded between April and September last year, so that's about six months. That's because our drummer (Steven Perkins, rp) left and was replaced by a new one,
Keith York. That coincided with a quick visit of Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher, rp). He came down for a weekend to mess about. During that time we got into percussion quit heavily. And that's almost the opposite of working with a computer.
The idea of integrating random percussion into something to static as a computer is quite contradictory."
Is it harder to keep a band with four people together?
"It's actually easier. Numbers bring a different kind of pressure. The more people that you have, the easier it is to keep together. When you have four or five people in a band, you're able to look at them and say: 'right, you do this'."
You mention the United States of America, a band from the States, as very influential. What was so special about them?
"It was set up by a guy called Joseph Bird. It's basically a college band, based in Los Angeles. What they did and what was important to us, was that they wrote folky popsongs and took away all the traditional backing and replaced it by electronic stuff.
I still haven't heard anything else that has equalled it. It's such a basic idea. But making music that actually sounds like a band as opposed to generic music is actually quite difficult. I hope our music also sounds like a band. We didn't want to sound
like a project. There is plenty of those bedroom danceprojects. We wanted the identity of a band. That was important to us. To a certain extend we feel acquainted with bands like Tortoise and Kreidler. We like their music."
There used to be a time electronic music was mainly aimed at the dancefloor. But though your music has some roots in dance, it is little resemblance to dancefloor orientated records
Roj: "That has to do with people being honest about where their music comes from. References aren't something you can always control. Often enough you ask yourself, why did you do this for? You often come to decisions that seem quite natural, though you can't pinpoint why you did it."
Forcefield - April 2000
interviewed by Rene Passet