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by Bret Miller
Spring Heel Jack is John Coxon and Ashley Wales. The name is from an old “pennydreadful” story of a ghost with a spring in his head. I guess you had to be there. If the duo were from the U.S. they might have called themselves Casper. Frightening thought, that. Together the two create a musical stew of beats and bass, altered guitar tones, samples and synths that fits in the Drum’n’Bass genre but is much better than anything made specifically for the clubs. This is listening music in the vein of Orbital, the Orb or Meat Beat Manifesto: you can dance to it but there is much more going on in the grooves. On their latest effort Treader, Spring Heel Jack attempt to synthesize the elements of their past albums into an organic whole, with noise, atmosphere and the tasty beats that you have come to expect from the duo. Dub, jazz, musique concrete and dance beats get the Coxon and Wales treatment and it sounds like heaven. Here is what John Coxon had to say about collaborations, touring and recording.

Where are you right now, are you in the studio?

We’re just completing a few things. We have an EP that we just did with Low. We have our own EP which is going to be called Music for Aeroplanes and we’ve been mixing a few other things, getting our next album ready. We’re doing a lot at the moment. Kind of busy. A little bit too busy for my liking but I’m sure it will sort itself out.

You’ve worked with several different artists and we’ll talk about that later, but what do you think it has contributed to your own sound?

Most of the influences on our music are from people we haven’t collaborated with. The energy [of the collaborations] is relevant but I wouldn’t say it directly influences our music. Spiritualized, I play with them and I’m working with Jason [Pierce] at the moment, on his next album. I think his methodology kind of influenced me a bit. I like the way he works, he’s much more patient than I am and he’ll try every avenue. His production style is…he’s very meticulous, much more than me, I’m more expressionist about it. Musically, my main influence is Ashley, and vice versa. Every day we bring new music into the studio, and say ‘fuckin’ hell, have you heard this?’ or we get music from friends like Robin Rimbaud, Scanner, who sends us stuff.

I think that your sound is very thematic, and that sets you apart from most electronic groups. Some of your songs have titles that suggest a theme or mood or place.

We tend to make the music and retrospectively title them. We don’t have a scientific process where we say ‘let’s do a track that sounds like…’ It doesn’t really work like that. You tend to make the music and ask yourself what does this remind you of. It is during the process of making the music that you say this sounds like such and such.

What can you tell us about your album of collaborations?

We wanted to release all the collaborations and extra stuff that we hadn’t released in the last four years. We put it all together on one album and we don’t really have a title for it. We were going to release it about now in fact. What we are going to now is release it after the next [Spring Heel Jack] album. That includes our version of [Spirtualized’s] Shine A Light, we did a piece for Radio 3 which is a classical station, which is unreleased, so we thought we’d put it on this album. It’s all a bit more experimental sounding than our own albums. I think it will come out by the end of this year, I imagine.

Is Treader everything you wanted it to be?

I’m really proud of Treader. I think it is a really good album. I think it represents us, Treader is definitely up to date. People will play 68 Million Shades… in bars but they won’t play Treader. Mainly the title track because it’s got that big noise in the middle of it. When you’re making music, you have to make it for yourself, really. What you’re trying to do is make music that represents you and if people enjoy it it’s a bonus. I don’t think our music is that challenging to listen to, think it all is pretty…pretty (laughs). It is all quite attractive, its not ‘let’s fuck people’s heads up and do something really weird,’ none of that. It’s all kind of…We aren’t trying to make some kind of dark or psychotic record. We’re private people in a way, but we aren’t Throbbing Gristle.

You’re not trying to turn people off.

At the same time we’re not trying to make records which will pander to people’s expectations of us. If you do that, you’re fucked, that’s it, that’s the end. As soon as you try to make something for somebody or for a person, you’re becoming involved in commerce and as soon as you’re involved in commerce your music becomes something else. Personally, I want as many people to hear our music but you can’t bear that in mind while making the music because then you’re making music they want to hear. Music is about freedom and expressing yourself, saying meaningful about yourself. It does have elements of egotism in it but we try to avoid that as well. As soon as you stop being honest with yourself, that’s the end of the road. You should stop making music.

Who does what in the recording studio, do you have distinct roles?

I supposed it has changed from when we first started. Sometimes I’ll do the programming and structuring and Ashley will bring the source material and sounds and sometimes it’s the other way around. I would definitely say that Ashley’s musical knowledge is so vast, he’s a real one-off. I’ve never met anyone with as broad experience in music that he has. He’s got photographic memory, he remembers everything. He listens to music all the time. He came in the other day with some English Choral music, he listens to and writes classical music. He’s also got an encyclopedic knowledge of Drum’n’Bass and Hardcore dance music as well. He’s my biggest influence. Sometimes we make tracks on our own. The way we make music is sort of like making a collage.

The end result of Spring Heels Jack’s collages is a highly listenable and thought-provoking hour of abstract guitars, horns, samples, synths and fast beats with the occasional noisy interlude or tone poem thrown in for good measure. Treader is a culmination of their past efforts sure to make old fans happy and get the attention of fans of electronic music. Out now in the U.S. on Thirsty Ear Records. Also look out for their EP this summer and their upcoming album at the end of the year.


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