Here is an interesting chat with trumpet-player Andy Diagram, one of the two Spaceheads together with drummer and percussionist Richard Harrison while listening to their recent release, the vibrant, peaceful and highly uplifting “A Short Ride on the Arrow of Time” they made for their own label, Electric Brass Records. I highly recommend listening to their sound, if you haven’t encountered it before.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi guys, how are you? I can consider you proper guys, can’t I?
Spaceheads: Hahaha – I like it …….what is a proper guy? I don’t mind being called a guy …but I better warn you …I wear a dress sometimes! I consider that proper!
Chain D.L.K.: I saw you had a couple of gigs in Germany. Your personal report?
Spaceheads: We played over a weekend in Leipzig and Berlin. They were two great gigs – the audiences could have been bigger, but I think that was due to a lack of publicity. Hopefully, we can build on it for next time and come back soon. We first played in Germany in the 1990’s and Berlin was quite different. We were a bit disappointed that it was a lot more gentrified – but it’s only to be expected, as all the major cities in Europe are changing that way. Leipzig was more what we were used to, as the gig was in an old factory space that was being used by independent artists. We had a great crowd of young people dancing that had never heard us before.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s reverse the “arrow of time” for a while…first of all, when and how did you decide to turn into Spaceheads?
Spaceheads: Me and Richard had been playing together in various bands for about 9 years. We were playing together regularly in Manchester with Dislocation Dance and The Mud Hutters and The Bedlamites. The Bedlamites were employed in 1987 as a back-up band for Nico (yes…the singer with the Velvet Underground) and we did a 6 week European tour with her in 1987, shortly before she died. Over the years we put our money into building a recording studio in the basement of the house we were living in, and we used to jam endlessly onto tape and edit the bits together and create recordings. Our friend who was running a label (Bop Cassettes) encouraged us to release some of them. The first cassette came out under the name “Bip Bap Bop” and featured me and Richard with a lot of different musicians. We then put together a second cassette album, which was just the two of us, and released it under the name “Spaceheads”. We took the name from a track by Lester Bowie (Art ensemble of Chicago), who we were listening to a lot of the time. His brass fantasy band influenced some of our bigger, brassier tracks. The album was called “Ho Fat Wallet!” and we released a 4 track 12 inch single with hand printed covers at the same time called “Pay Me My Money Down”.
Chain D.L.K.: Your personal background before Spaceheads?
Spaceheads: I grew up in London and moved to Manchester in 1980. Richard grew up on a farm in Cheshire, and we met at the Manchester Musicians Collective. I joined his band Dislocation Dance, who rehearsed on his cousin’s farm. I later joined his cousin’s band The Mud Hutters. I also met the Diagram Brothers at the Manchester Musicians Collective. It was a very, very creative time and Manchester was a perfect melting pot of musicians of all types reaching for new sounds. It was very inspiring and I haven’t seen anything like it since! A Liverpool band called Pale Fountains supported Dislocation Dance, and I eventually joined them as well. They ended up getting a big recording deal which gave me my first experience with the major music business.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve never taken part in one of your live gigs, but some people I know who took part in one of them said you really manage to “electrify” the room in an amazing way… have you ever been so shocked by your performance that you experienced a sort of proper rapture?
Spaceheads: Playing live is what it is all about…me and Richard have an intuition after playing together for so long. We always leave our songs/pieces (whatever you want to call them) open-ended. We like to experiment…jam…and improvise live. And yes, the idea is to achieve an escape velocity. The sound should take off…and achieve a rapture. We don’t always get there…sometimes we go further…but the idea is to transform and electrify the audience, to take risks and excite ourselves as much as the audience. We don’t see ourselves as entertainers, but instead as inspiring people to go on a journey. I remember the feeling back in the late 70’s and early 80’s where bands inspired people to form their own bands… It is life affirming and life changing…that’s what we seek to achieve.
Chain D.L.K.: Jazz plays an important role in the definition of your sound…I’ve heard many more or less poetic definitions of jazz by musicians…what’s your definition?
Spaceheads: Jazz is not a term that we would use. Other people call us jazz mainly because I play the trumpet, and the trumpet was the lead instrument in jazz. Of course, jazz is an influence…but so are many other genres, especially electronic music, dance music, and experimental rock music. I would define jazz as one of the 20th century’s most inspiring forms of music. It started with the wild, free blowing of African Americans in New Orleans and went full circle to the wild, free blowing of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. In between it became the world’s first true globally popular music. Today, as a genre, I consider it restrictive. We play many jazz venues and jazz festivals, but the best people playing there usually have so many other influences and have broken out of traditional ideas of what jazz is.
Chain D.L.K.: Andy, have you ever imagined how Cat Anderson or Dizzy Gillespie would play in the age of electronics?
Spaceheads: It’s hard to imagine because I consider people’s art to not have as much to do with individuals as to being specific to a time and a place. It was the freedom Duke Ellington managed to bring out in his big band that helped Cat to scream out over the top – that band was just pure magic and one of the first examples I know of orchestration that took into account who was playing the parts. Dizzy was similarly mind blowing and came out of the whole be bop movement of the 1940’s with Charlie Parker, Monk and others. They were rebels – the wanted to blow away the “nice” jazz that was becoming popular on the radio – they were a cry of anger that jazz had been appropriated by big record companies and commercial radio. If they had been products of a different time and place – who knows what they could have come up with. How would they have approached electronics? I don’t know and it’s not really something that I think about. I draw my inspiration from their spirit as much as their sound!
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s speak of your last release… what’s the target of that arrow?
Spaceheads: The arrow of time moves forever forward. It can’t go back and we felt it represented how we feel about what we are doing. Spaceheads has been going since 1990 – that’s 25 years. That in itself is a journey through time – and looking back over our releases, we could see that each one brought back memories of when it was made. We thought we could apply that to the actual album making process as well. In the past, we’ve tried to capture our sound and make it as good and “perfect” as possible. The editing possibilities on today’s recording equipment are so much more than when we started out – we felt that we were trying to make perfect albums – but it was like taking a photograph and then changing lots of bits and colors to make it into a painting. We wanted “Arrow of Time” to be different than that – we wanted it to just be a photograph of a moment and represent what we do best. We hadn’t made an album like that before. We had made live recordings from stage or from radio sessions, but we wanted to make one that captured us in the studio just jamming. We always jam – and we have gotten better and better at it over the years – so we made an album of us jamming. In the past we would record our jamming with the idea that we would edit the best bits and create a piece later. So some ideas and loops would go on for 10 or 15 minutes, and then we would cut it down to a 3-4 minute piece. This time we wanted to keep the ideas flowing, so the rule was to not stay on any idea or loop for longer than 2 or 3 minutes and keep developing it, and then make the sound of us developing the ideas integral to the listening experience.
Chain D.L.K.: You compressed many different tunes into single, long-lasting gigs… did you try to give the experience of a live-set, or what?
Spaceheads: The experience isn’t so much of a live set but an insight into how our playing morphs and develops through a range of ideas very quickly. Nothing was pre-prepared, we just played and kept the ideas flowing. So what you are hearing is us as it was played in the studio, with absolute minimal editing, but with a multitrack tape that we could change the balance of the parts on. It is live in the studio – live improvising – live jamming. We jammed in a friend’s studio over a weekend in 2014 and another weekend early in 2015. The only rule to our jams was that we should play in 20 minute chunks and develop a range of ideas in that time. We called the chunks continuums – as they were rides on the space time continuum. We ended up with 21 continuums and over 9 hours of material. Out of those we chose four for the record. We slightly cheated with the end of the 4th continuum; “An Air of Gentle Gravity” was tacked on from another continuum and is the only track with any overdubs – mainly percussion.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve just listened to the first and the third ride… really amazing! I’m going to listen the other two you included in another version of your ride… any advice to help me appreciate it at most?
Spaceheads: Each of the continuums have been divided into sections, which we have given titles to. This is to help people to play bits on the radio and for us to pull bits out and play them live. I like to think that people will listen to a whole 20 minute continuum in one go and enjoy the sense that we are moving and playing in real time and throwing ideas backwards and forwards to each other – I like people to hear the flow between the ideas and the hesitations and surprise when we don’t necessarily know what is coming next. The exciting thing about live looping is that you can create many “happy accidents” and be surprised by what is captured in a loop.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you performed it on live stage? Any significant difference between live and cd versions?
Spaceheads: We have played sections of it live and attempted the complete 1st continuum at a gig in France recently. The more tuneful loops are easier to reproduce live…the more abstract sections tend to take a different path when we play live, as a lot of the loops on the recording are impossible to play again without sampling them, and we try to keep as much of what we do live as live as possible.
Chain D.L.K.: You released this and your last albums on your own label… any reason behind the decision to create your own label?
Spaceheads: We found that when we’ve release with other labels in the past like Merge (USA) and Bip Hop (Europe), we were quite often lost within that label’s catalogue. We have a very unique sound and the idea of creating our own label was an attempt to define that sound and maybe search out other musicians playing in a similar way.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to produce other musicians on your label? If yes, what are the main features they should express through their sound?
Spaceheads: We would like to eventually release records by other brass musicians – and the main feature would be the prominence of brass instruments being played through electronics. On our label’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/
Chain D.L.K.: You live and work between Manchester and London… can you describe the “musical soul” of those astonishing cities from your own perspective?
Spaceheads: I grew up in the center of London, and in the 1960’s it was the center of the developing rock and pop industry – so I grew up surrounded with the culture and vibrations and excitement of that. I didn’t appreciate it fully until I was a teenager in the 1970’s. I was able to access and play with orchestras, brass bands and jazz bands as a young musician learning at school. But when I was 17 years old, punk rock happened and London was the center – the excitement of this passionate, non-technical music exploded around me. Even though I was a trained musician, I found its energy and creativeness inspiring.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Spaceheads: :We have recently renewed our connection with a friend Vincent Bertholet, who plays double bass in Geneva with a great band called Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp. We have made some recordings with Vincent and hope to release them as a mini album later in 2016.
visit Spaceheads on the web at: spaceheads.co.uk