Every musician needs to take action to keep themselves fresh from time to time, but James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco have really gone to extremes this time: they’ve completely abandoned every tool they previously used to make music.
The duo have never been ones to follow anyone else’s methods in any case – the title of their last album Unpatterns says it all about their penchant for disruption and reinvention – but for the recording of their new record, Whorl, they’ve started from the ground up and created an entirely new electronic system, and recorded everything entirely live, from scratch.
Over the years – as members of the criminally underrated “prog-psychedelic band” Simian, as one of the UK’s finest electronic duos, and individually as esteemed producers for other acts – James and Jas have accumulated mountains of incredible vintage synthesisers and other general sound-making boxes.
The sounds of these devices made Unpatterns what it was, but this time around they’re putting them all away, denying themselves the almost unlimited freedom they afforded, and limiting themselves to two suitcase-sized boxes each. No laptops; no racks of hardware; just one synth and one sequencer each, which they took into the Joshua Tree national park in California and recorded the album in front of an audience.
“This forces us to commit,” says Jas; “when we record with it, this is the system, and there can be no turning back. When both of us have worked with bands, we’ve always banged on to them about preparing songs before you come into the studio so you can get them done fast and don’t get bogged down in the process once you’re there…” “…and now we’re giving ourselves a taste of our own medicine!” laughs James.
The entire process has been completely open-ended and exploratory as they work their way around this new system – until the very moment of recording, at which point they commited 100% to the sounds they are making.