Paul Wolinski explicitly told me he likes doing interviews. After our twenty minutes of sitting together in a dressing room, he walked me back to the backstage area of their show in Wiesbaden and I asked him a question I didn’t think of while my recorder was running. Does he actually think it’s a good thing for a musician to think too much about the music they’re making? I liked his answer. He said it’s really not a good idea to do it while you are writing the music, but it’s quite healthy to reflect on what you did after the fact, which is why he likes giving interviews.
It’s probably also why 65daysoftsatic’s interviews are always worth reading or listening to. For an instrumental band, Paul and his co-founding bandmate Joe Shrewsbury have a lot of interesting things to say, and they talk about their music and the dozen or so years of their career with disarming honesty. Of the two, Paul is probably the McCartney to Shrewsbury’s Lennon, if you really want to search for these dichotomies in every band. Where Joe, somewhat reluctantly it seems, takes a scowling center stage at 65daysofstatic’s shows, Paul is the quietly smiling guy with no beard and less unruly hair on his left, bent over a keyboard and apparently really sinking into the music.
I wanted to interview Paul ever since I bought his solo record “Labyrinths” in 2011, a synthesizer-infused trip through 1980s video games, 1970s science fiction movies and their respective scores. When 65daysofstatic released a new soundtrack to the science fiction classic Silent Running a year later, I wanted to interview him even more. There was a throughline I sensed about the music he was involved with, and I wanted to quiz him about it, especially after I saw what he likes to read.
If you have never heard 65daysofstatic’s music, you probably should give it a spin before (or while) reading the interview. The albums of the Sheffielders sound quite different from each other, but they all share an impressive melange of post rock guitar dramatics, powerful syncopated drumbeats and glitchy electronic fiddlings that is hard to put into any one box. They released a free, career-spanning mixtape called “The Last Dance” on SoundCloud in 2012, which is a good place to start.
What is it that interests you about science fiction?
Well, to begin with, I suppose, when I was a teenager, I used to love reading all kinds of sci-fi books and I think it was just about the pure escapism, really, and the geeky side of me. And I really loved the cyberpunky stuff, people like Neal Stephenson. Bruce Sterling, I was a big fan of. Just that kind of tech, Blade Runner sort of sci-fi. I never really got into Star Trek or anything like that. But the dark stuff, I really enjoyed it. These days, I don’t know. I tried to step away from it in my twenties, because I had this sort of weird … not that it was a guilty pleasure, but I started reading Naomi Klein and people like that and thought: fuck, I need to learn what’s going on in the real world. So I put all that aside for a while and stopped reading it and following it in the same way that I did as a teenager for quite a long time. It’s only in the past few years where I’ve just kind of allowed myself to enjoy it. I think it’s really interesting these days how the reality has overtaken what sci-fi used to be good at.
People like William Gibson have said that they don’t write sci-fi anymore.
Yeah, and Bruce Sterling does these talks and these essays. I think he said something along the lines of “This is a better form for me now than trying to write novels. Deconstructing the present gives more of a clue of what I’m trying to get across than inventing any number of sci-fi worlds.”
I’ve always had the feeling that 65daysofstatic’s music also was about going into the future. Your first album, even in its title was about leaving something behind, “The Fall of Math”, and going to new places. Is that what you are trying to do?
Well, it was always about trying to find a new sound, I suppose, or be original. We’ve always been of the opinion that there’s already more than enough bands and more than enough music. You don’t really need any more. There’s more than you could hope to listen to in your lifetime. Excellent stuff. So, if you’re gonna be that self-indulgent to be in a band, if you’re driven to it anyway, then at the very least, you really need to try and do something useful. Try and be relevant to the world as you exist in it right now. Because there’s plenty of stuff covering the way it used to be, so you need to react to what’s really happening and try to articulate it. We always used to be like that. The last record we approached a little differently in one respect, just because as far a electronic music goes, it does feel like it’s plateaued a little bit, in terms of what’s possible. I just heard the new Aphex Twin album for the first time, today. It’s excellent, amazingly excellent, but it doesn’t sound new in the sense of it being unheard or unthought of music. If you listened to Aphex Twin twenty years ago, it was like nothing that had ever come before it, it was incredible, but it’s getting harder and harder to recreate that in music, I think. I sort of don’t think you can anymore.
You’ve used a science fiction metaphor for that as well, once. You said that, in the solar system, you can still find lots of places where you haven’t been, but you know where everything is.
Yeah, it’s one thing to have mapped a place, but it’s a completely different thing to have fully explored it.
So is that what you were doing with your most recent record, “Wild Light”?
To a point. All of this deconstruction of it comes afterwards, to tell you the truth. We didn’t sit in a room and wrote charts about the ideas behind the record, we just sort of made it and then worked out what we were doing afterwards. In hindsight, even when we did [2010 album] “We Were Exploding Anyway” – in our heads, it was this thing that could be proper pop music in the way that The Prodigy are pop music or The Cure are pop music, but still interesting and different and us. We pushed that as hard as we could and I really stand by that record, I’m proud of it, but it didn’t turn out like that at all. It was still pretty obscure. Maybe not for us, but relative to what we were aiming for. I think it opened with a song that starts in 17/8 or something, it’s crazy. But there was this striving to push forward, somehow, that was the agenda of that record. With “Wild Light”, we didn’t have that. It wasn’t about being lazy at all, it was just more about trying to be really good. Following the songs, whatever they happened to be. Don’t worry if it was something that we had done before or an idea that was a bit predictable in some ways. It was more about almost daring to not hide behind this sort of complexity, but strip everything back to the basics. We didn’t care, if it sounded original. Whatever that word meant, we just wrote until we felt it was good.
In general, this year, you found yourself at the other end of the spectrum, you looked back ten years to your first record and played it as a whole. And also, I think, with your solo record you channeled a lot of people that have been there before you. How do you feel about that? If you’re usually someone who tries to find new places to go and now you’re looking back, going to old places and revisiting them.
For the solo record, it was no masterplan that I was doing. It was just a bunch of material that I had started writing during the “Exploding” process, but that didn’t fit with 65. I just allowed myself to have some fun, I suppose, and not worry if things sounded a bit cheesy or generic in one way or another. I put it together and quite liked it. I have a hard time listening to it now. I find it hard to imagine that it was the kind of stuff I wanted to write. Not that I dislike it, I just find it hard to match me now with me then. I don’t know why. But it was cool and I’m glad I did it. 65 was always more important, but it was nice to do the sci-fi thing, because Caspar Newbolt, who has been the 65 artist for four or five years now, maybe a bit longer – he shares a lot of the same sci-fi landmarks and moments in time that I do. He had a spectrum computer when he was a kid and had all the sci-fi books with the brilliant covers that were evoked in the artwork. The Polinski record was the only thing I made where the artwork was finished before the music, so that actually influenced it. This wasn’t really your question, though.
Nevermind. It’s interesting.
So, that was just a little bracketed thing and it was cool. Doing the “Fall of Math” stuff was very different, because it feels like such a long time ago for us and we still play a lot of those songs live anyway, regularly, every night. And the ones that we don’t play fell away from the live show for a reason, because they didn’t translate as live songs very well. We were a little bit ambivalent about the anniversary thing for a long time. Monotreme records wanted to use it as a reason to finally put out a vinyl, which we thought was a really nice idea, because who doesn’t like vinyl? At some point the anniversary shows were suggested and we were a bit reluctant to do them.
Because you don’t want to be part of a heritage music industry?
That’s one reason. We certainly didn’t want it to seem like we have reached a stage where we do these looking back shows. I still absolutely think that “Wild Light” is our strongest material and we still feel like we ought to be an ongoing concern. Even if that’s not the truth, it’s what we’re aiming for. But biggest of all was: we’re so proud of our live show and everything we’ve done over the past decade has made us learn how significantly different the two disciplines are – writing/recording and then performing. Different songs work in different ways and by the time we go to “Wild Light”, we were developing our songs in parallel, we’d have the album version and we’d have the live version and they wouldn’t necessarily be the same, but they played to the strengths of the form. That’s what it’s all about. Use the form you have chosen, find what’s essential in it and concentrate on that. Having done all of that with “Wild Light” and being so pleased with the results, with the record and the live show – to then have to go back and think about the best way to perform songs that we wrote ten years ago and force them into the live template was a bit strange. Part of us wanted to rework them entirely, but that would have gone against the point of doing it in the first place, because it wouldn’t have sounded like doing the record then. We would have ripped them to shreds. So there were lots of conversations of that nature. Eventually we took the gamble, because Monotreme thought it was a good idea and our management thought it was a good idea.
Did you enjoy it in the end?
Yes, in the end. I don’t think it’s as strong as our normal live show, I have to say that. And we did insist on doing two sets, “The Fall of Math” and then the second full set, which we mostly just played “Wild Light” stuff on. Hopefully to show people, who were big fans of “The Fall of Math” but haven’t necessarily been paying attention to what we’ve been doing since, reminding them that we’ve got all this new stuff too. It was good, the crowd made us realize that we probably think too hard about these things sometimes and that it’s okay, every now and then, to just sort of pause and celebrate a thing that meant a lot to a bunch of people. That was really nice. Even the songs that we never play live anymore – they were weird. Certainly on stage it felt very disjointed to be playing them in that particular order, but it clearly worked, as far as the show went.
If you’re doing two sets like that, you’re also marrying something old to something new in a way … like you did with Silent Running. (we both chuckle at my lame attempt to create a segue) Is that comparable in any way?
Maybe as a metaphor. The processes couldn’t be further apart. I think we do that anyway in our normal show, which flows a lot better, because you can mix and match. I’ve never actually gone to a show, where a band plays a whole record.
I don’t like them, really, because I like to be surprised.
Yeah, exactly. But clearly people do, so, you know …
But do you think we are ever going to see a version of Silent Running with the music? It’s just been released on Blu-ray, so that would have been an opportunity.
No. Recently, we weren’t even allowed to do a live show. There was a really cool venue in England, which would have been perfect to do it. They wanted us to do it. And Universal or maybe it wasn’t even Universal but somebody with the Power said: Actually, no, it’s getting re-released on Blu-ray soon, so it would be inappropriate to have it showing with some other soundtrack. Back when we first did it, we somehow found the e-mail of director Douglas Trumbull and e-mailed him to let him know we’re doing it.
Sound’s great. Because he’s a real geek as well, right?
I think so, yeah. And we got a reply, which was amazing. The reply basically said: “Go for it. That sounds great. I’ve got no control over anything that happens with that film.”
It’s a shame.
Yeah. On the scale of the movie industry, we’re just completely anonymous. They wouldn’t make any money by reissuing Silent Running with our soundtrack.
Are you still involved with the video game “No Man’s Sky”? Can you tell me anything about that?
I cannot. (he grins) I can tell you that they did this trailer, about a year ago now, for some big games conferences and they used “Debutante” and then they used “PX3” for another trailer. It just exploded in the games world and it’s really exciting to be associated with that on that basic level.
Did that register with you at all? Did people actually buy some music?
I don’t know if they bought the music. I don’t think many people do that anymore, but there is a regular stream of people on Twitter or Facebook constantly going “Thanks to Hello Games for introducing me to 65daysofstatic, these guys are great”. That’s trickling in. And it’s really good to be associated with that as a thing, because it’s not a world I follow particularly closely, but everything I’ve seen about that game – as soon as they contacted us about using the music for the trailer, they sent some screenshots through. I went: Ah, that looks like those sci-fi book covers I read as a teenager, and everything I’ve heard them talk about is that they don’t just want to do another shooting game. It’s all about exploring the universe. So I said: Okay. That sounds like something that’s nice for 65 to be associated with.
Thanks a lot for taking the time.
65daysoftsatic’s latest album is called “Wild Light” and was released last year. Buy it here or check out the single “Prisms“. Monotreme Records re-released their 2004 debut “The Fall of Math” in early 2014. It’s also still available. Paul occasionally blogs on his website.