Tension, paranoia, doom and sporadic glimmers of hope fuel the best album of 2013. Save for an opening proclamation, Wild Light, like the vast majority of 65daysofstatic‘s oeuvre, is entirely wordless. The Sheffield instrumentalists’ sixth studio record (counting a soundtrack for the 1972 sci-fi film Silent Running released in 2011) often feels like a Choose Your Own Adventure dystopia, the building blocks in place for you to arrange as you see fit.
While unquestionably the high point of an impressive career, Wild Light also offers a wonderfully contained work. It builds and bursts as these things must, but the walls close in from moment one. That the record rarely feels claustrophobic and instead expands gracefully across its 50 minutes perhaps shouldn’t surprise at this stage of 65’s life. Now almost 13 years old, they sometimes scrape the sky, but their grounding has been just as enjoyable to witness.
You’ve said before that you’re all “exhausted” by the time you finish a record…
Paul Wolinski: It’s really hard, man. It’s really hard to finish stuff. I definitely think it’s the best thing we’ve ever written and I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s so hard to finish songs. With this record, right up until the very end, even when we were out of the studio and it was too late to make change, we were still discovering new and exciting things, and the people we had worked with were offering new insights. We learned that at some point in the process you really have to force yourself to stop striving for that sort of unreachable perfection because you’re never going to get there. So you need to trust in what you have done and finish that.
For better or worse, you have to a draw a line in the sand.
Absolutely. There’s a million things we weren’t happy with and that we would loved to have gone back in and re-record even though that was impossible. When we finished the record, there was a long period of uncertainty – had we put the right spin on the songs? Was the track listing right? Tonnes of stuff. Like I say, I think it’s the best thing we have done, by quite a margin, but I do think we can do better.
Who finds it hardest to let go?
These days, I’d say that’s an equal share. We’ve always tried to improve as a band and over the past two or three years. If anyone was guilty of one thing more than another, I think we have all levelled out to some degree. With this record, we all came from the same place. We’d all moved away from … ego isn’t the right word, but the preciousness that comes with your own part. It takes some time to understand that your best contribution to a song might be to not be on it at all. In the early days, we were all playing all the time throughout the songs, creating this dense noise that worked for where we were as a band back at the beginning, but it wouldn’t have worked for Wild Light. We managed to remove certain elements along the way.
It feels like the tightest of all six records.
I think so too. It’s a lot more focused. It’s also the first time we made a record where we took only those eight tracks into the studio, where previously it’d be anywhere from a dozen to 15 or 16, at least. In that case, we didn’t know which songs would make the grade. With Wild Light, although we went through about 40 or 50 songs – of varying degrees of being finished – along the way, there was a point, two or three months before, when we went into the studio, jettisoned a huge chunk, pretended that they didn’t exist, and focused on the songs that made it to the record. Again, it’s that thing of knowing you have to draw the line rather than chase this intangible thing. You need to work with what you’ve got otherwise you’ll never finish anything.
It’s a staggered approach, but once you’re in the studio, it’s much more real. Time is precious and expensive. We’re the kind of band that needs an old-fashioned studio at the end. The production aspect was, and is, hugely important to us. It couldn’t just be Pro Tools in the corner of a room. We prepared for it in a disciplined but scary way, as if even one of those songs fell apart in the studio, we wouldn’t have an album!
The bleeds connect, the codas mirror. The narrative holds.
That’s reassuring. The most unexpected thing was the track listing in the middle of the record. We knew that ‘Heat Death Infinity Splitter’ was the beginning and ‘Safe Passage’ had to be the end, but the tracks in the middle ended up getting swapped around a little. On the one hand, track listing shouldn’t be too important, but at the same time … wait, no, I take that back! It’s incredibly important! It’s just that we wanted all the songs to work as standalone songs because, whether we like it or not, that’s the way people listen now.
Playlist culture has ruined us, in a way. It’s changed so much.
It has. I do both; I still listen to records but most of the time, I’m skipping around all over the place. We wanted the tracks to work in their own right, as every track should, but the flow of the record was incredibly important and it took us by surprise because the way we expected it to work just didn’t sit right. It’s hard to swap things around and get it right as there’s only so many times you can listen to a record in a day, in a slightly different order, and be fresh enough to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. We got there in the end … I think.
Wild Light is quite a cinematic record, perhaps even more than Silent Running.
It was interesting to work on that Silent Running project. We knew what we wanted to do, but what surprised us was how little we had to put into it. The proper role of a real soundtrack is to not get in the way, not to invade the mood but exist underneath the moment. Our songs don’t really do that. I hope they don’t because they need to work in their own right, without visuals, as their own centre of attention, at least in the context of an album. ‘Cinematic’ is a word that gets thrown at us a lot…
No, no, I like it! It’s great. It’s better than ‘post-rock’ anyway. A soundtrack record is a soundtrack record; and with a 65daysofstatic record, I’d like to think that the songs are strong enough to carry themselves in their own right. At the same time, they provide building blocks for the listener to go crazy with their own visuals. When you listen to instrumental music, different things happen in your head than when listening to a song with lyrics. If we designed a record with visuals, which I guess isn’t out of the question, that’d be an interesting concept, but I have no desire to anchor our songs to specific visuals. I think it’s more exciting for people to interpret them in their own way.
The album opens up with a vocal. Sample or fresh recording?
Half and half. It’s a sample but it’s not public.
No further dialogue occurs. Was that always the intention?
Yeah. We constructed it from other audio and we used a longer version of it as an intro to our live shows for about two years. It had a lightness to it that we quite liked because I think a lot of people think we’re an overly-serious band. We take the music seriously, but I don’t want us to come across as boring or pointlessly pretentious. The live show has always been a bit more about enjoying yourself, you know? So that intro stayed with us. There was something about the intonation of her voice and the simplicity of what she was saying – “No one knows what is happening” – it’s so painfully true if you look around the world at any given moment these days. It’s pretty scary. At the same time, there is a mischievousness, somehow, in the lilt of her voice. It felt like a good way to bring a little bit of lightness to the record even if the content isn’t quite light at all.
It feels like a warning.
It’s absolutely a warning. If you’re Godspeed You! Black Emperor you can get away with a five-minute Lee Marvin clip and it’s the best thing ever, but we’re not the kind of guys who could pull that off. It would sound cringeworthy if we tried to be that sombre. This felt like a 65 way to describe the end of the world.
You say that, but ‘Safe Passage’ feels like catharsis. There’s hope there, no?
I don’t think you’re wrong. I remember listening to demos for ‘Safe Passage’ for a long time. As you get older … the four of us are in our early ’30s now and this record was written over two years. A lot happens in anyone’s life in two years, or seems to, at least. There’s a lot going on, good and bad. The songs on Wild Light represent those moments, for us. The hope is that you don’t pull the specifics of what happens but you do pull the feelings. ‘Safe Passage’ has a hopeful note to it, yes, but it has a lot of melancholy to it too. You don’t quite know which way things are going to go and that felt like the perfect way to end the record. Similarly, ‘Heat Death…’ is so noisy and demanding that it felt like a natural opener. If it were the penultimate track, it might just grind you down.
They’re very definite bookends.
Yeah, and as for subtext, the four of us don’t really talk about the songs in those terms because we’re four Northern guys who spend an awful lot of time in a room together and have realised that rather than trying to express our emotions to each other in actual conversation, we trust that we’re doing this with sincerity and thus go with our instinct a lot of the time. It’s not for us to break the songs down to their terrifying core, to whatever it is inside us that is making these noises. We’re OK to float on the surface. The music is explaining that anyway.
I can’t decide if that’s a healthy or unhealthy form of expression. Maybe both.
Probably a bit of both! Being in a band is healthy and unhealthy in equal measure.
Silent Running, though unofficial, brought you into the soundtrack game. Can we expect more?
We’d absolutely love to work on soundtracks, especially something original, writing a score for something yet to be made rather than reinterpret old things. There are actually a few possibilities in the pipeline, and it’s something we’ll endeavour to move into. The reality of being in a band in this day and age … it’s just getting harder and harder and harder. To tell you the truth, the press we got for Wild Light was overwhelming. We’ll never have press that good again. It was wonderful. On a personal level, it’s wonderful. On a cold, commercial level … it’s still not actually done anything to make surviving any easier at all. It’s great that it’s out there and hopefully a few thousand more people torrented it than normal, based on the reviews. I’m really down with that. It’s about spreading the word. Again, it doesn’t really change the reality, so something like running a soundtrack in tandem with making an album seems like a wise move for a band like us.
Do you generally read reviews?
I used to not read them but with Wild Light, there was a new level of confidence within us. We knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we made the best record that we could possibly make. Unlike all of our other records, I’m not bored of it yet. At this point, a few months in, I find it hard to listen back to our albums. I still enjoy this one even though we’ve been touring it for 10 weeks. It could be that we didn’t care anymore about what the music industry at large thought about us. We’ve always been left out of a lot of those parties and that’s been really helpful for us.
It’s not a bitter thing. It might have been when we were younger and couldn’t figure out what was going on. These days, we’re happy to still be making music and improving. I didn’t need to carefully not read the reviews anymore. It’s harder to avoid them with Twitter and that kind of thing. So I read them, and then I started reading all of them, because I was looking for a bad one. It was unprecedented! I haven’t found one yet…
You mentioned survival. Recently, you had a good deal of equipment stolen. Did you manage to retrieve it?
No, not really. We got one bass guitar back. Everything else is gone. We had insurance, and if we didn’t have that, it probably would have bankrupted us. There were a few guitars with sentimental value and they’re never coming back. We’re in a slightly strange position in that we’ve never been successful enough to buy really nice gear! It’s always been that middling price range. Things like laptops got stolen too. It was more about the timing, because we were supposed to do an art installation and this happened four days before. It was an incredibly stressful time but we got through it.
It’s pretty fucking gross to steal from a musician, all things considered.
I think if you don’t really follow the industry or you don’t have friends in bands … if you’re a band and you’re on the internet and some people know your name, I can understand why some people might think we make a really comfortable living from this and have loads of guitars that you can easily replace but it’s not quite like that. In fact, it’s not anything like that.
On a hopefully happier note, you’re due to play the entirety of The Fall of Math live in March. Nervous?
I’ve not started thinking about it yet! There’s quite a few tracks on there that we’ve not played for a very long time and a couple that I’m not sure how we’re going to pull off. It was a flattering suggestion and an even more flattering response when we took the risk and said yes and people started getting excited. It will be fine though. I think.
65daysofstatic kick off their Irish tour on Wednesday 15th January at Cyprus Avenue, Cork before stopping off at Dolan’s, Limerick (16th), Róisín Dubh, Galway (17th), the Button Factory, Dublin (18th) and Limelight 2, Belfast (19th). Wild Light is out now on Superball Records.