Chain D.L.K. talks with Alan Wilder, creator of Recoil, about his early influences, changes in the music industry, and words of wisdom for new musicians.
Chain D.L.K.: What was your main goal in starting Recoil in 1986? Was there one specific aspect of music you wanted to explore when it began?
Alan Wilder: I had nothing specific in mind except for a desire to keep making music in the downtime between DM projects, and it seemed to make sense to explore areas we weren’t covering within the group – in other words, more experimental music. I was very interested in sampling techniques and using loops of performance. The initial Recoil recordings consisted almost entirely of these loops, rather than the individually sampled sounds that we’d been using in Depeche Mode. I wanted to see what effects could be gained by restructuring existing sections of music in a completely different way, to create pieces which would take longer to develop and would also form unusual atmospheres. My approach ever since hasn’t changed much from that, the difference being that the ideas have developed and the arrangements have become more complex.
Chain D.L.K.: When you left Depeche Mode in 1995, did you have a specific expectation of going into other genres?
Alan Wilder: One of the many reasons I left the group was so that I would have more time to devote to other music. And it was clear to me, especially during the compiling of the ‘Selected’ project, that from ‘Unsound Methods’ (which was the first post-DM album) there was a significant step forward with the music I was making – hence ‘Selected’ consists almost exclusively of material recorded since that time. It has been a freeing experience working as a kind of musical director rather than being part of a group, which suited me less and less as I got older. Call me a control freak if you like but, whilst I love collaborating with many other talented people along the way, I need to be able to have the ultimate say about how it is all put together.
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve come a long way from your initial classical training in music by pioneering other ways of creating music – sampling, using electronics – what inspired you to deviate so much from your origins?
Alan Wilder: I guess I started deviating in my teens when the idea of practicing Beethoven on the piano didn’t seem so appealing as attempting to play the Glamrock hits of the time, or exploring blues and the origins of pop-music. By the late 70s there was the Punk movement to distract me, and the discovery, largely via Daniel Miller, of Krautrock and the electronic acts that were spawned from that. I realised that there were many interesting and different approaches to making music and it’s my nature to always want to explore all avenues.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you choose what you wanted to rework for this album? Do you often find yourself looking back at music you’ve done in the past and wanted to experiment further?
Alan Wilder: It’s not my natural inclination to go back and over-analyse what I’ve done in the past. However, in this case, it was appropriate to do so – in fact unavoidable in a way. And I found that I quite enjoyed the experience. The most rewarding aspect of the whole project was actually creating the live music mash-ups, trying to predict how the tracks could work in a venue, at volume, where people are listening in a different frame of mind. This was an aspect I also enjoyed when preparing the DM live shows.
Chain D.L.K.: Did going back through some of your past music make you at all nostalgic?
Alan Wilder: On occasion maybe – certain musical parts evoke memories from the time we made the records.
Chain D.L.K.: Now that you’ve seen some of the reaction to ‘Selected’, did anything get more attention or a different reaction than you were expecting?
Alan Wilder: For the next leg of the tour, I’m reworking some of the aspects of the live presentation that I didn’t feel quite worked the first time around in Europe. What I’m saying is that I learned something about how the remixes are received or ‘perceived’ through performing them in a live context. Part of the fun of putting together music to be presented in venues, is to try to imagine upfront what the reaction will be.
Chain D.L.K.: How is working with Paul Kendall and how did the two of you come to work together for this tour?
Alan Wilder: We go back a long way – Paul has been associated with Mute since the 80s, working as an engineer and editor in their studios. Paul is great, a gentle man – he is one of the few people that I’ve worked with for years in the studio who doesn’t get on my nerves We met when he deputised briefly during the making of DM’s ‘SOFAD’ [Songs of Faith and Devotion] album. With this selection, Paul assisted in all the re-editing (as well as the listening process) but his role generally is to fill in the gaps where I am not either technically skilled enough or to take a more sideways look at how the music comes together. We come from very different angles with sound, and that works in our favour I believe. I turn to him for unusual effects, lateral thinking, and his patience and knowledge in front of a mixing desk. We both have a desire to squeeze the very best out of what we work on, without compromise, and now we are taking that same aesthetic onto the road.
Chain D.L.K.: In 2008, you told Side-Line Magazine the masses were engaging in a sound war – with all the technological advances that have occurred in the brief time since then, do you think that is still in effect?
Alan Wilder: I think there is slowly a move back towards higher quality products rather than just MP3s and heavily compressed low-bandwidth formats. People are realising that this format can be quite unfulfilling and seem to be choosing more tangible products once again. I guess the compromise is to make everything available and allow the consumer to choose what they want.
Alan Wilder: Word of mouth via social networking has been very important for the last 10-15 years I’d say. It’s particularly useful for artists who don’t enjoy the luxury of major corporation backing, with large amounts of cash being poured into TV ads and so on. I have cultivated a whole network of pro-active supporters who host unofficial websites, run Facebook pages, blogs, forums etc. I certainly find that I have to be a lot more pro-active myself these days; I can’t just sit and wait for the record company to make things happen. Outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have been very useful to me when it comes to promotion, and also as a way to garner support, get hands-on help from fans, street-teams and so on.
Chain D.L.K.: Many times, there is a feeling towards musicians that if they make it commercially, they are “sellouts,” and musicians should be in their profession for the love of what they do, as opposed to the money. What view do you take on balancing the two and what advice would you give a new band on achieving that?
Alan Wilder: I haven’t met a musician yet who is happy surviving with hardly any money. It’s a common excuse amongst struggling musicians that there is somehow romance in poverty – as with painters, sculptors and all other artists, the musician is no different – but let’s be honest, we all want to make a good living doing what we enjoy. My advice would be to have the courage of your conviction if you really believe in what you do. Try to find a way to survive, to get your message across. It may not happen for you, but at least this way, one retains one’s integrity – there’s nothing worse than feeling you’ve sold yourself short for a quick buck. Perhaps that’s easy for me to sit here and say but I’ve experienced virtually every perspective there is – from being a young, struggling musician on the dole, to becoming very successful whilst trying to keep a balance between commerciality and credibility, and today with Recoil – I’m a ‘smaller’ act again Thankfully, I’ve accumulated a fair amount of respect and a very devoted, loyal fan base over the years. I’ve also been lucky enough to enjoy the consistent backing up of my record company, [which has] always given me free reign to indulge my desires.
Chain D.L.K.: It seems like you’ve done everything and been everywhere – where do you derive the inspiration for new compositions?
Alan Wilder: It’s always difficult to say where any form of inspiration comes from. I quite often find that when something’s upset me (could be anything), this can often be drawn upon to spark the imagination. You sometimes only need the seed of an idea to get your musical thoughts going. One thing I do find is that the more time you spend working in the studio, the more ideas you get. In other words, you have to put yourself in a work situation to get the ball rolling.
Visit artist on the web at: http://www.recoil.co.uk/