Il 4 novembre 2013 corrisponde ad una di quelle date difficili da dimenticare, ad uno di quei giorni belli e leggeri di cui di tanto in tanto abbiamo bisogno, uno di quei giorni in cui ci si ritrova a pensare che certe affinità elettive fanno di noi delle persone più complete.
A Milano, quel lunedì, suonavano i Pixies e noi, irrequieti in attesa di intonare sottopalco Wave of Mutilation piuttosto che Velouria, apocalittici muovevamo pesantemente i piedi al ritmo delle sonorità industrial degli appena conosciuti AAAK, gruppo spalla dei bostoniani succitati.
Degli AAAK, formati da Paul Rawlinson (voce) e Ding Archer (basso, sinth) ventisei anni fa a Manchester, ci siamo innamorati a prima vista, abbiamo amato quei suoni incalzanti, turbolenti e senza stacchi che si propagavano con forza avvolgendo tutto e tutti. Abbiamo desiderato il look e le movenze di Miss Tamsin alle tastiere e abbiamo sperato di suonare, almeno una volta nella vita, la chitarra come Neil Rowbotham o sfogarci dritti sul crash come Dan Woolfie.
Per tutti questi motivi, intervistarli è stato per noi più che un obbligo un grande piacere: Ladies & Gentlemen ecco a voi gli AAAK.
To introduce you, if you can, I’d like each of you to choose a quotation (from anything: a book, a movie, a song, a comic strip, a TV series, something a friend said…) that you think is closest to your way of thinking and being at this moment.
Woolfie: “The only difference between myself and a university graduate, is how much we paid for what we know.” – Eric Nally, Foxy Shazam.
Ding: “But… I’m only one man!” – Neil, AAAK
Tam: “You don’t owe me nothing and as far as I know Lord, I don’t owe nothing to you” – Steve Earle (Tom Ame’s Prayer)
Neil: “We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution” – Bill Hicks
Paul: “You’d be nothing without me…” – Neil, AAAK
Let’s begin with the group’s history, from when you got together in ’87, the robbery in the recording studio, to your great comeback with the Best Of, in 2009.
Ding: Yeah, Paul & I were the founding members way back in ’87. We formed AAAK whilst I was learning to become an engineer/producer and we spent many nights composing and recording in the school’s studio, who were kind enough to lock us in through the night. We were listening to bands like Front 242 & The Young Gods and trying desperately to sound like them without the necessary equipment or know-how and so the end result was kind of different. Manchester at that time was in the middle of the MADchester scene, which was something we wanted no part of, so that kind of made it difficult to make a big impact in our home town. Fortunately there were enough other groups of people who equally wanted to disassociate themselves from that scene and one of those was SCAM Records, who gave us our first deal after some good press.
That first record was a 6-track mini-lp called Buildingscapebeat and it got mixed reviews in the UK, probably because it is so European sounding, but we got several airplays on the very prestigious John Peel show on the BBC and we played quite a few shows to promote the album around the U.K. Shortly after we were approached by the now cult label KK Records from Belgium about releasing a full length album with them, which we did in 1990. The second release is called Big Fist, it came out on both vinyl and CD and was released in Europe and the USA. Again we received some great reviews and KK were up for releasing another album, but whilst we were in the middle of recording it, our studio was burgled and the thieves took absolutely everything we had, including all the master disks and tapes of the recordings. We were totally devastated, we’d lost months of work on what was definitely our best work to date back then. We didn’t get over it and the band just fell apart – Paul and I stopped hanging out and drifted part, it’s quite sad really.
That was 1992, so jump forward 17 years in time and out of the blue I receive an email from a German record label, Electric Tremor, expressing an interest in re-issuing the old AAAK material, with us performing a couple of shows to promote it. At the time I was creatively bored and the possibility of resurrecting AAAK for a couple of shows was intriguing to say the least. I tracked Paul R down and he was equally keen to give it a go.
At this stage I realised that to do a live show we would pretty much have to re-create all these songs from yesteryear from scratch and seeing as I had spent the last 17 years working in studios, it seemed a much better idea to release the re-creations of the tunes, rather than just re-issuing 20 year old work. So that’s what we did. The label insisted that the new versions were exactly the same as the originals in terms of sounds used and structures, we were told not to change a thing . That first CD release for Electric Tremor was a monster. There’s 2 cds with 35 tracks. CD1 is the new recordings, whilst CD2 is made up, in the main, with mastered songs from cassette tapes that Paul and I had safely tucked away from the nights back in the school studio.
We had that much fun doing that album and those first 2 live gigs that we decided we’d carry AAAK on and write some new material. One thing we decided about then was that we didn’t too much care for the way the Germans were categorising our music. They called it “EBM”, which stands for Electronic Body Music and it is a very small musical movement that we have never aspired to be a part of. So that’s when we started to look for other people to bring in to ensure we had elements alien to that genre – guitars, female vocals, real live drums, that kind of thing. You can hear that in the Totalitarian Tip-Toe album, it has a distinct switch towards more live musicianship and song structures rather than dance track ones. Just after TTT came out we got offered 5 shows supporting Red Hot Chili Peppers and I think that forced our final stage of metamorphosis from 2-piece electronic outfit to 5-piece stadium rock band. It was an amazing challenge for us before going out on tour to make our mad tunes something that a massive mainstream crowd like that could even begin to understand. After this shows we were a completely different kind of band and more importantly, the more people we added, the more fun we had. The German record label hated our move away from EBM and we parted company. As the 25th anniversary of Buildingscapebeat was rapidly approaching we decided to write a new 6 track mini-LP to mark the occasion and release it on our own label, but just as we were about to release it, we were offered a new record deal with Eromeda Records. They were unhappy with the mini-lp format though and so, in order to provide material quickly we re-recorded Buildingscapebeat, but this time as a 5-piece band… Ooops I’ve gone all the way to 2013, you only wanted to 2009!!!
Your 2013 tour ended in November. You toured Europe opening for the Pixies for eight dates. All in all, how did it go? What have you got on the back burner? I’m just saying, a performance or two in Rome wouldn’t be a bad thing…
Woolfie: The word “Rome” got Paul’s ears pricked up, thumbs up from him straight away – the rest of us would also love to, maybe we can make a trip over in 2014?
The tour was incredible as you can probably imagine. We were really well looked after on the road by Pixies and their crew, they have an amazing team of people travelling with them. We can’t thank them enough for giving us the opportunity to tour with them. European crowds are always great too, our show at Alcatraz in Milan was a particular highlight!
Ding: On the back burner we have a new double ‘A’ side single coming out, it’s been recorded, but we’re holding off the release until next year now and filming a video for one song and compiling a live video from our recent adventures for the other track. There’s hints at some shows in Europe next year, but nothing confirmed just yet.
The last album, Buildingscapebeat XXV, especially the song Tough Luck, is so powerful. Every time I hear it I want to start running and never stop. Remember the movie Run Lola Run? Let’s talk a bit about the making of, the words and, most of all, the spirit of AAAK.
Ding: Ha! The video for Tough Luck is pretty scary with an appearance from The Grim Reaper, so wanting to run is a good reaction. The lyrics is something Paul should answer, that is his realm. As for the spirit of AAAK, it is a healthy and happy one right now. We’re looking forward to writing new material as a band. The line-up is very healthy in creativity with all 5 members more than capable of starting something special. We have spent so many hours together on the tour bus recently, that there is a strong bond between us. Between the 5 of us there is a quite diverse taste in music, but with a lot of common ground too and that helps in creating something away from the norm. We have always said that indifference to us is the worst possible reaction. I’d much rather someone absolutely hate what we’re doing than it having no effect at all. Because of that we always try to put elements into songs that you wouldn’t expect or that sit awkwardly.
Paul: Most of the later lyrics have come from life experiences. Particularly the last two releases.
Out Here comes from the album Totalitarian Tip-Toe from 2012. It catapults us into a world of steep descents, like SSX. Your music, at least in my opinion, would be perfect for lots of soundtracks. What would you like to write the music for?
Ding: Quite a lot of the music I write for AAAK almost is a soundtrack, because it is a total reflection of whatever mood I am in at the time. We have always added lyrics and vocals to finished musical compositions, so they all start out as instrumentals. Film work is something I have an interest in getting involved in at some point in my career. We had a track commissioned off us last year for the end credits to a psychological thriller called The Psychiatrist, it should be out next year and was great fun to do.
Under Interests on your Facebook page, it lists: Fast cars, Miami life, girls and money… money is fine, but the rest is somewhat surprising. It makes you sound more like a hip-hop band. What do you think of social networks and how they affect the way people communicate and interact?
Woolfie: Ha! We have a song called Fast Cars and the Fast Cars, Miami life… are Paul’s lyrics. I think social media is paramount right now, it’s just one of those things you’ve got to do whether you like it or not because the majority of people now seem to base their lives around their social media networks. If you’re not there to poke your head up every so often to let people know what’s happening with the band, you can easily be overlooked or temporarily forgotten about [As harsh as that sounds].We’ve got a really good Facebook page and that’s been running nicely for the last few years and we’ve JUST set up a twitter account (@asableaskane) which we’re starting to build on now. I’m a complete Instagram addict too (@danwoolfie) as is Neil (@sethleppard) which reminds me, i must set up a band account. We’ve collated a lot of cool pictures from the last year of touring.
Tamsin: Also, although as Woolfie says, social networking is vital, the ease of access to art via the internet means that consumers give music less of a chance. As soon as they think they’ve heard/seen enough to make a judgement they move on to the next thing. I’m guilty of this as much as the next person, but I think it’s a shame because you can miss out on something really great in your haste to find something that makes an immediate sonic impact on you, rather than allowing the subtleties of a record to sink in and take root as you would if you’d bought a hard copy.
Ding, you’ve played with loads of artists, from PJ Harvey to The Fall. Who would you choose as an opener for AAAK? Who would you never play with, and what historic band would you like to play with?
Ding: If AAAK were big enough to warrant having an opener I’d give the slot to an unknown band that was doing something suitably obtuse.
Who would AAAK never play with? As I said earlier, we’re not too keen on the MADchester scene that our city is so often remembered for. I don’t think we’d agree to play with any of the bands from that scene. Or did you mean who would I never play with? That would be a lengthy list. I only play with artists who’s music I get and enjoy; who are not arseholes to work with and have no dodgy politics going on. I’ve recently joined Leeds’ band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry on bass who are one of my all time favourite bands, so I’m not looking for any others right now. Bands from history though, hmmm. I think I would have enjoyed a spell with Captain Beefheart.
At this moment in history, what’s the equivalent of: Zero Tolerance
Woolfie: I think we found the meaning of zero tolerance on the streets of Prague when our tour driver was stood at the roadside breathalising himself after a pint of beer to check if he was OK to drive or not. Two very helpful, armed, police officers happened to be walking past and explained their meaning of zero tolerance to him there and then. Needless to say we all walked back to the hotel.
God save the…?
All: Moog Woolfie – The Drumkey Ding – 9v Battery.
Tamsin: Sterling! No British euro!
Neil: Family of Christophe Bride.
Paul: My iPhone.
Manchester: United or City or…?
Complete split up the middle. Ding & Paul are United, Woolfie & Neil are City. Poor Tam’s stuck in the middle.
Ask and answer amongst yourselves.
What is your perfect AAAK moment?
Tamsin: For me playing the world’s tiniest venue in Hoorn. NL to a room full of people who were right in your face and digging it, whilst trying to squeeze past the kit to have a piss.
Woolfie: Everything Neil does. He’s a mess. We were staying in a hotel in Germany whilst on tour and I woke up about 3am to see his giggling head staring at me from the outside of my hotel room window, which I thought was odd anyway, then I remembered we were on the 4th floor. I went back to sleep then found him the next morning, asleep in the bath.
Neil: 4th Sept 2012, 8.14pm, Athens Olympic Stadium, Stage Left.
Paul: Having to look over 77,000 people in Athens only to see the word “AAAK” on a huge screen at the other end of the Olympic Stadium.
One last thing. I know it’s asking a lot, but would you dedicate a wild AAAK playlist for us?