Finn in discussion with Appleblim on “Laughing Stock” by Talk Talk (1991).
How and when was your first encounter with Talk Talk?
Well, I grew up with ’Life’s What You Make it’ and ‘It’s my life’ being played on Top Of The Pops and Radio 1 as I was a kid, so those are kind of part of my makeup, you know in that strange way that all the pop music u grew up with is just part of your brain make-up almost, it rubs off on you, and I loved those songs even before I really knew why…
What made you choose “Laughing Stock”? Why is it so important to you?
From there I didn’t really hear of them again until I joined a band in 1994-ish. The two guitarists were big fans of Talk Talk, but the later stuff. I’d not heard it before. They were really big albums with a big circle of friends of theirs, in Plymouth where I had moved to as a teenager. “Spirit Of Eden” came first, then “Laughing Stock”, and I just couldn’t get enough of them. They are completely associated in my mind and memory with some really amazing people and a period in my life that had a big effect on me. Obviously those teenage years are intense and I just remember two albums, along with Bert Bansch ‘It Don’t Bother Be’, Nick Drake ‘Pink Moon’, Pentangle ‘Basket Of Light’, XTC ‘Skylarking’, Autechre ‘Amber’, Orbital green and brown albums, they were what we listened to most, in the bedsits, smoking dope, being skint, on the dole, making music in bands….an intense time, but looking back totally magical.
How would you describe the music of “Laughing Stock”?
It’s so hard to say really…it’s somewhere between ‘In a Silent Way’ by Miles Davis, Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’, and something completely and utterly their own, and somehow very English I think.
I think it is nearly impossible to pick out single tracks from the album. Would you say that this should be heard in its entirety or not at all?
You know what, that’s what I used to love about the album, that all the tracks blended and twisted into one another, but I have started putting ‘After The Flood’ on mixtapes and compilations as a whole track on its own, I think it really works on its own…the way the drums feel like they’re floating in space….blissful…
How do you think it was possible to produce an album that is such a coherent and intense listening experience with so many collaborating musicians? How did they manage to make this work so well?
I have no idea! I often think how amazing it would be to be able to see footage of musicians and producers working on classic albums, but at the same time I think that would remove a lot of the magic. That’s what this album is to me, it’s a really magical album, its like musical alchemy. They turn feedback into music, you never know if it’s guitars or harmonicas or voice, or just distortion playing, that’s the beauty of it think.
Since 1988′s “Spirit Of Eden”, the music of Talk Talk was so detached from the band’s pop origins that they were hardly recognizable anymore, apart from Mark Hollis’ vocals. Considering that Talk Talk nearly never were an ordinary pop band, were there already hints to this musical direction in their earlier works?
Well, I LOVE ‘Colour Of Spring’. Like I said I grew up on those singles, and ‘Happiness Is Easy’,’ I Don’t Believe In You ‘ – they are amazing songs that move me just as much as ‘Laughing Stock’ …it’s like you can hear the more cosmic, psychedelic side starting to seep through on ‘Colour Of Spring…it’s amazing, a hint of what was to come, but I actually really love the more traditional song structures, too.
There was hardly any promotion for “Laughing Stock”. Talk Talk refused to release singles or promo videos and were also very reluctant with interviews and photographs. It almost seemed like the more introvert their music got, the more they liked to withdraw themselves. What did you think led them to make such a rigid change in their music and commercial status?
Man, I’m amazed anyone bankrolled the album at all. I mean, I think they had problems getting it released….it must have been pretty draining being in a band that made music like this. Having been in bands, I know what it takes to make an album, and its emotionally intense and exhausting, I can only imagine how it must have been making ‘Laughing stock’….
Does it take an extraordinary amount of perfectionism and thoroughness to produce music like this? What mindstate and motivation is required to embark on a songwriting journey as deep and textured as “Laughing Stock”?
I’m not sure perfectionism is the right word, obviously the mix sounds very precise, but also very chaotic, it sounds like they are almost painting with the mixing desk, abstract clouds of sound, elements of melody changing, transforming…and it sounds like a devotional album, very intense and personal….
While the sound vibe of “Laughing Stock” is very melancholic and complex, the lyrics are very religious. How is the ratio between the lyrics and the music? Is it in unison?
I think u can take it either way. I spent a long time just listening to mark Hollis’s voice as an instrument, without really knowing what he was saying, then I read the lyrics and got another level….it’s like psalms or prayers, very simple and beautiful, and yes definitely reflected in the music, that rawness and depth and simplicity.
Hollis mentioned Can’s “Tago Mago” album as important for his work. Are there any other influences you would pin down?
I wouldn’t like to say, other than jazz, experimental music, folk song etc.
Are there any other songwriters you think are comparable to Mark Hollis?
I think you can group him in with other English pioneers, not in terms of sound, but in terms of doing something utterly different, utterly himself, and somehow very English like I said – I’d say Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno, Andy Partridge, Syd Barrett.
“Laughing Stock” was often described as a blueprint for the emerging post rock scene of the 90′s. To me, post rock as a musical genre always seemed to be an awkward attempt to categorize a very diverse range of bands. Still, there obviously was a desire to play with rock’s traditional patterns, and links to the way electronic music is produced. Would you say Talk Talk could have initiated this?
I don’t think they initiated, but they certainly pushed rock into experimental areas in the same way say, King Crimson, Henry Cow, Can, Faust, Neu etc. did
Were these developments important to your own approach to music? Can traces of “Laughing Stock” be found in your productions?
In a way yes, the album blew my mind, along with certain others, ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine, ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake, Pentangle, the albums I mentioned above, so yes they all influenced me as a musician. In terms of the sound itself, hopefully my music reached similar states of depth, melancholy and euphoria – that is what I aim for, I can’t say if that is really achieved!
Hollis’ latest sign of artistic life was a solo album, released 7 years after “Laughing Stock”. Did you like that as well?
An incredible album! We were so excited to hear it after all that time, and I absolutely love it, it seems like a logical progression of the ideas explored on ‘Laughing Stock’. It’s obviously acoustic, apparently it was recorded in one room and played entirely live, and you can really feel that in the intimacy of the sounds of the instruments, his voice, and again I think you can feel this English folk theme seeping through.
Seemingly disillusioned with the music industry, Mark Hollis has voluntarily quit the music business for the time being. Do you think he might eventually release music again? And acclaimed as his body of work is, is that even necessary?
I really don’t know! There was a great interview with him in The Wire a few years ago, people should search that out. I hope he is well, and yes it would be amazing to hear him do music again.
Appleblim came to light running and releasing on the now defunct Skull Disco with Shackleton. Having been regulars at FWD>> from late 2002, then the only place you could hear dubstep, they were inspired by the likes of Digital Mystikz, Youngsta, D1 & Skream, to set up Skull Disco to release their own efforts at production.
With more and more DJs opening up to their sound after Ricardo Villalobos famously opening his sets with pitched-down Shackleton tracks, the label went from strength to strength when they released Villalobos’s epic 18 minute remix of ‘Blood On My Hands’ , which many saw as a meeting of the dubstep and techno worlds (although Appleblim & Shackleton would just say was a good tune!)
When he and Shackleton decided to fold Skull Disco on a high, Appleblim went about setting up Apple Pips – an outlet for some of the amazing music that he was getting passed and playing round the world.
Appleblim is currently working on remixing a brand new 2-step inspired track by Underworld and is putting the finishes to a smouldering deep house remix of Bonobo for Ninja Tune.
Apple Pips will continue to release quality electronic dance music of all genres throughout 2010, with a concentration on more upcoming Bristol based talent as well as tracks from talented producers round the world. Label showcases are planned for Fabric in London and Panoramabar in Berlin.