To say that Jack Duckworth is a prolific post-punk powerhouse is an incredible understatement. For nearly two decades, he’s been a catalyst in the punk scene with a resume that is hard to match. In addition to being one of the principal songwriters in Radio Berlin, A Luna Red, and Primes, Duckworth is also known for his considerable work with the short-lived Savage Furs, and most recently Soft Riot.
In 2013, he’s made considerable contributions to the punk landscape in the form of several projects: Soft Riot’s debut, No Longer Stranger, was rereleased on vinyl and digitally through Volar Records (http://volarrecords.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/soft-riot-no-longer-strangerfiction.html); He contributed a track to the And You Will Find Them In The Basement Compilation, released this Spring on French label Desire Records (http://desire-records.blogspot.fr/2013/02/and-you-will-find-them-in-basement.html), and his latest LP, Fiction Prediction is set to drop via Other Voices Records (Europe) and Volar (North America) in June.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Duckworth as he made plans for a UK summer tour with NOI KABÁT (a documentary about the bands’ former tour together is available below) to discuss the record. This is what he said about it…
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
All the tracks were written over a couple of condensed periods starting from the summer of 2011. I was coming up with a lot of ideas and where the direction was going based on the interest from the No Longer Stranger EP; a record that was written in pieces over a very long period of time before its release in early 2011. Around that time that I started writing stuff for Fiction Prediction the band I was playing music with, Savage Furs, sort of went on an indefinite hiatus and with that my outlet for more upbeat, post-punk music sort of went and in turn got absorbed into the sonic environment of the new Soft Riot tracks at the time, hence why the sound started getting more and more “pop” and up-tempo I guess. The first six-seven tracks I shopped around for which three became the foundation for the Another Drone In Your Head EP on Tundra (released February 2012). Further tracks were written in sessions up until late summer 2013. There’s definitely a progression of sound over that period.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
For me the majority of the ideas behind a song are conceptualized before I even touch an instrument. I do sketch out a lot of melodies and concepts in my head, usually doing other things unrelated like walking, sitting on transit or maybe riffing on sounds I hear in an urban environment. From there it’s mainly a case of translating those ideas through the hardware and set-up I have in my studio and often further ideas will come there. A majority of the tracks from Fiction Prediction were written with live performance in mind, unlike the first release, No Longer Stranger.
The track “A Spinning Wheel” was stuck in my own version of “development hell” for around a year as I couldn’t figure out what sort of vocals to lay over it. But a year can be a long time and when I came back to it some ideas were there in my mind that didn’t exist before. Some of the ideas were there from the beginning, like the weird, pitch-shifting “kick drum” that was created by sending an external audio trigger to sequence my Yamaha CS15 set with a gliding detune and a slow LFO on the pitch.
But I think the biggest challenge was that I consciously tried writing in a different lyrical style than what I’d usually do for some of the tracks. For songs like “You’ve Got To Use It” or “Terminal Love Song” I opted for a more narrative storyline, almost like a film or short story. I’m a big film buff and I think I was listening to some old Johnny Cash stuff or something and really liked the whole “It all started one day…” sort of lyrics so I tried my hand at it and despite it behind a lot more difficult to get the idea rolling when it does it goes.
“You’ve Got To Use It” tells the story of a protagonist seeing an undescribed vision of the future and then being told by a hidden race of creatures to share that information to save the world. “Terminal Love Song” I wrote about two lovebirds escaping to an island on a stolen boat after some unnamed apocalypse and when the rescue finally comes they decide to stay on the island.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
I would say “Cinema Eyes,” most definitely. I have all of these early arrangements I recorded for that track but for some reason I wasn’t feeling the vibe. Then on a whim, months down the road, I took the chord progression from this very guitar-driven, almost “glam” sounding demo I think I was gonna use for Savage Furs or something and gave it a more “Soft Riot” sound treatment. There’s a lot of sparse counterpoint between the synths that weren’t there originally; like dissonant blasts from different corners of a large alien canyon all tied together by some more classical synth sounds: arpeggiations through a JX3P, gated toms, that sort of thing…
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
MM Lyle, synthesist from another London band called A Terrible Splendour, as well as my girlfriend, provided some very authoritative vocals at the end of “There Just Isn’t Enough Time.” Other than that I pretty much did everything else! I’ve been entertaining the idea of some more guest musicians for future recordings as there’s a lot of talent amongst the scene of musicians here in London that I interact with.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
Fiction Prediction was entirely self-produced from a period starting summer 2011 until fall 2012 so any progression in terms of production was entirely an internal affair. I don’t have an official education in the field of audio engineering but having worked with some pretty reputable engineers back in Canada (including the staff at Vancouver’s The Hive who are now internationally renowned) and having a definitive ear for music I think my skills are definitely getting quite sharp but I do have limitations, especially for a home studio.
I try to have a “of the moment” approach to production and don’t speed a ton of time cleaning things up so there are a number of mistakes in the performance and the production. I like music that has imperfections in its execution. Maybe it’s sort of a reaction to the fact that a lot of music is over-produced today, especially with the computers and software that we have available.
I do think for my next set of recordings I’d like to work alongside with an actual producer who understands what I’m doing, if only to advance the sound just on that change alone. I’ve got a few people I’ve been talking to in London about that so we’ll see where that goes when I move forward into working on new material.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Oh yes, definitely! The record is called Fiction Prediction not only because I like the alliteration but it’s a phrase that embodies this concept I’ve embraced regarding how a lot of fiction, especially science fiction, has essentially predicted a lot of the advancements in technology, turbulence and social engineering, both good and bad, in our world over the last century. 1984 is an obvious one, as well as others like concepts from books like Blood Music, Neuromancer, and so forth. We are living in a pretty bizarre time at the moment in where progress is in a mode of hyper-acceleration and there are these themes of “good vs. evil” becoming more and more apparent every day, especially in our struggle to preserve our freedom, good will and also the environment we live in against the institutions of power, capitalism, patriarchal dogma and, well, the list goes on…
I think each track on the record covers some topical matter or scenario in this general story arc. There’s the obvious linear story lines I mentioned in a previous question but also others: “There Just Isn’t Enough Time” I wrote after posing the question, “What is a major conflict I have to deal on a day to day basis in this modern world we live in?” and given that was it was an easy concept to work with. There’s some absurdist fantasy in it: bankers not having enough time to hide their funds offshore, black holes and vessels in outer space. I think in my head I have this vision of the time in my life constantly accelerating past the day-to-day stuff I do almost to hyper light speed or something.
But yeah, everywhere I see there’s is definitely weird and ominous stuff worthy of fantastical fiction: sheiks digging canals so their names can be seen in space, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, corporations taking bids on shipping routes through melting Arctic ice caps, the emancipation of someone like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper from modern democracy, splitting god particles, young men belting trousers around their knees to attract women, the list goes on.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Unlike No Longer Stranger, the majority of songs on Fiction Prediction were written and arranged based on how I’d play them live so there’d be as little backing tracks as possible. Some tracks literally just have the drums on the backing track, the rest being played by hand or going out by MIDI or external audio trigger to the synths I play with live. Most of the songs are in the set but as my tracks often go over the five minute mark I can usually only get 6-7 tracks in a set. There are only a couple of tracks off Fiction Prediction I haven’t played live yet but intend to do so at some point. It’s an obvious statement to say that the more anthemic or danceable tracks garner the best reaction, currently “Another Drone In Your Head,” “There Just Isn’t Enough Time,” “Your Own Private Underworld,” and “Cinema Eyes.”