ndrew Weatherall is a true maverick. Over the course of his long and storied career as a producer, DJ, musician, label boss, fanzine writer, and whatever else, he has always made it a point to do things “his way,” maintaining his idealism and principles (not to mention his extremely wide-ranging tastes) while others have either sold out to the man or fallen by the wayside. His latest effort under the Two Lone Swordsmen moniker (his main project, alongside partner Keith Tenniswood) is no exception: From The Double Gone Chapel is light years from the electronic machine funk of its predecessor, Tiny Reminders; in fact, it’s like nothing else you will hear this year, or any other. Stylus scribe (and obsessed Weatherall collector) Todd Hutlock spoke to Weatherall from his recording studio recently on the eve of his departure for a DJ gig in Montreal, and as with everything else he touches, the topics were quite varied indeed.
Before I begin, I don’t know if you remember or not, but I interviewed you a few years back, when Tiny Reminders came out…
Weatherall: Okay. Well, I’m having difficulty remembering what happened last week at the moment, so I’ll just have to take your word for it! [laughs]
No problem. So, I’m talking to you in your studio, correct? Is there anything going on in there today?
Weatherall: Absolutely nothing. I’m supposed to be getting my records together for a flight to Montreal tomorrow, so after I finish with you I’m going to start doing my record selecting.
So, let’s talk about From The Double Gone Chapel. I suppose the big revelation on it is your singing. What made you decide to sing after all this time?
Weatherall: It’s been something I’ve been talking about for years. Every album that we’ve done, someone has heard a track and said, “Oh, that would be great with vocals,” and they suggest that it would be great if it had a certain person singing on it. And that’s kind of nice, but then you think, “Hold on a minute—you think it sounds like a backing track for somebody else?” So it’s sort of a backhanded compliment. And also, I just think that sometimes it adds a little more identity and a little more communication and focus to music if you have some kind of lyrical or vocal content on it. So, perverse as I always am, instead of phoning up some of my minor celebrity friends to sing and selling ten times more records than we would usually do, I decided to just do it myself. [laughs] You know, the more famous your guest collaborator, the more it takes away from the identity of your music and you do end up just becoming a backing band to somebody else.
True, and especially given how much remixing of other people’s tracks you do, it would almost take on the identity of that sort of a project, where it’s someone else’s record altogether.
Weatherall: Yeah, it does make me feel a bit hypocritical. Here I am, I’ve pretty much made a career bringing my baggage to other people’s projects, and now that other people want to do it to me, I don’t want to let them do it. We have tried to steer clear a bit—Keith has said, “Oh, I want to remix this,” or “We should get remixes done,” but I don’t even want to do that at the moment. To me, it feels so much like a new project to me, I want to make a few more statements first before I give it to other people to put their twist on it. We’ll probably get remixes done eventually, though at the moment we’ve got so many ideas floating around, I’d rather just keep putting out tracks—not even necessarily remixing them much ourselves—just keep putting out statements, and then maybe a year or two in the future, we can start getting remixes done.
So you mean to continue putting out Two Lone Swordsmen material in this current style you are working in, i.e. with live instruments and vocals and the like?
Weatherall: Yeah, I think so. We’re going to put “Sex Beat” out as a single, and we have actually remixed it ourselves. After that, we’re going to put a single out in the autumn and I think that will be four or five totally new tracks, like mini-LP or EP kinda style.
So new stuff in the pipeline already—that’s great.
Weatherall: Yeah, that’s sort of how the new stuff came around. Over two years, every time we’d get an idea, however minimal—it could be just a bass line or a rhythmical idea—there were times where it would just disappear into the ether… which can be quite nice actually! [laughs] But then we thought, well, it only takes a few minutes to put it into the computer, even if it’s just a loop or something very minimal. So we have basically got literally hundreds of little sketches and rhythmic patterns and chord progressions that we’ve forgotten about, which is kind of nice. Because we know we can just dip into the computer and look up a file with some weird title and we just go, “Oh yeah, fuck, I forgot about that!” And then that will become the basis of a track. So we’ve got quite a bit of material waiting to be worked on at any given time. It’s just sort of easier to let the digital multitrack run and let the computer keep it all. We’re just really sort of inefficient! [laughs] I mean, we’ve had the studio for ten years with this nice live room and it’s only in the last year that we’ve thought, “Oh, why don’t we put a drum kit in it and make live music!” Sometimes we’re really sharp, but other times we just don’t really put our brains in gear to be honest with you.
Well, it’s the results that matter though, right?
Weatherall: I think it’s that spontaneous, happy accident thing that keeps work enjoyable. I mean, even if we sit there and say to ourselves, “Fuck, we should have done this five years ago,” if we had, the results might not have been the same or as pleasing. I thought as I’ve gotten older I would have been in more of a hurry, but I find that the opposite is true. I think maybe being in a hurry and trying to do a hundred things at once is something you do when you’re a bit younger.
You are still fairly active, but it does seem like you put out a bit less material than you did a few years back. Is that true?
Weatherall: Yes, but we do use a lot of aliases and pseudonyms as well. There’s records we did two years ago that people are just realizing was me and Keith. We do keep pumping out the stuff.
You just don’t tell the press about it all, right?
That’s been a bit different with this album, as well, because I’ve pretty much done every interview that’s come my way. There was a point when I first started and I thought all of my favorite bands never do interviews and were very enigmatic, so I thought, well, that’s the way to go. But as the years have gone by and there’s more and more music out there, I think you have to let people know you’re there. Sometimes it’s quite easy to hide in the underground, and that becomes too easy. It’s hard work and it’s a bit more fulfilling if you sort of rise to the surface and put your head about the parapet a little bit. Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine and he said that it must be quite tiring doing all of these interviews and having to put yourself forward. And it is, but it’s like when you’ve done a hard day of physical work. At the time it’s a nightmare, but when you’re finished there’s a greater sense of satisfaction if you have put yourself out there then if you have just been sitting around lurking in the shadows. And sometimes when you do that, you feel a bit like you’ve been playing a game of hide and seek for like five years, and you’re still stuck sitting in a cupboard waiting for people to find you, but everyone else has fucked off and gone to another party! [laughs] Perhaps my hiding place is a bit too good!
Speaking of which, what’s going on with your labels now, Rotters Golf Club and the Hidden Library?
Weatherall: It’s had to take little bit of a backseat at the moment, but Keith’s pretty much got a new Radioactive Man album written, so hopefully in the autumn there will be a new single and album. We’ve got a few other little projects that are sort of waiting to go…
You mean lots of little projects that are you and Keith under different names?
Weatherall: Sort of, yeah! [laughs] And some friends of mine have just done two tracks for the next Hidden Library single, which is basically some great two-minute sort of punk tracks. A lot of it is down to financial constraint—you can’t really embark on a new project until the project before has paid for itself. So until I get rid of the last few boxes of Hidden Library singles… [laughs] And now that [online record shop] Bi-Wire is no longer selling records, they were our exclusive home for the Hidden Library. So really I should be out trolling around London with boxes of singles under my arms asking shops if they want to buy them, but I’ve got better things to do really. [laughs]
Like going to Montreal. On that topic, you’ve been DJing for twenty-odd years now—do you ever see yourself getting bored with it? I know you change what you play a lot…
Weatherall: That’s definitely got something to do with it, not playing the same records or the same core of records every week. It does make life a lot harder. Sometimes I wish I just had one box that I just added a few to every week and just went out and did the same thing, but I don’t do that. I think that’s why I get booked a lot though, because they know I’m not going to show up and do “my thing” regardless of what time of night or what sort of crowd it is or who I’m playing with. In one weekend, I can be playing anything from reggae to house to electro to garage punk records. It is quite tiring because I put a lot of preparation into it. If I have a gig, I like to spend the better part of the day working out the set. Not working it out like, down to the last record, but just sort of making sure that I know what my records sound like and trying to put some sort of basic structure to things. There’s nothing worse than standing there in front of a thousand people totally unprepared and not knowing what your records sound like, believe me. I put sort of a skeleton together, but with various little escape routes if something isn’t quite working or if the crowd wants to go a certain way. There’s always room to maneuver, you know?
And it never gets old really, when you hit that one record, and the crowd really responds to it…
Weatherall: No, not at all. That’s totally it. That’s when the work is worthwhile. Or when they respond to a record that you believe in that you’ve been playing for six months and no one gets it, but you’re determined to make it work. That same person who three months ago came up and said, “What’s this crap?” comes up and asks for that very same record—that’s happened a lot. Or if you’re the first one to play a record that goes on to become really big, and the people that dissed you for playing that record are now going crazy to it. It’s weird because you play a record for a while before it’s a hit and then once it gets big, what’s the point of playing it? Those people come up to you and say, “Play that record,” and you say, “Well, no I don’t play it.” And they always come back with, “What do you mean you don’t play it, it’s a huge record!” and it’s like where were you fucking six months ago! So I do get some sort of perverse satisfaction from it, people saying that I’m not a proper DJ because I don’t have such-and-such record in my box. You get that satisfaction from knowing that you were playing it for months before and you’ve now moved on to something else, and they’re all telling their friends that you’re a crap DJ because you don’t play that record.
You can be a crap audience member too, though.
Weatherall: Exactly! That’s the way I look at it! I don’t want to go out and hear records that I can hear everywhere else—I want to hear records I can’t hear anywhere else. That’s the reason behind what I do, regardless of what genre I’m playing. I want to play records that people may not have heard before.
Do you think that attitude has something to do with your longevity as an artist and a DJ? Because the other day I was looking back at the old Boy’s Own lineup and you really are the survivor of that group. Like, where are Terry Farley and Pete Heller now?
Weatherall: Yeah, but those other guys are doing stuff, they’re just moving in different circles now. But I think that is the case. Even if it is a struggle to get through with a certain sound, eventually when it breaks through, people think, “Fuck, those guys were doing that years ago.” And you get a reaction where people may not always get what you’re doing, but they respond to the authenticity of it. They know you’re playing because you want to do it, not because you’re trying to be the next big thing. It’s why you come to our parties, because you know we take risks. Every time it doesn’t work, there’s another time when your mind is blown. Someone’s got to stick their necks out. But the sad thing is that the people that do take risks aren’t the ones that benefit financially later, but that’s what I’ve taken on board. I always get the question, “How do you feel about the Chemical Brothers or Paul Oakenfold?” because we kind of came from the same beginnings. And my response is that it would be foolish of me to be bitter or envy their success because I’ve done enough to know that what I’m doing isn’t going to lead to mass adulation and $10,000 DJing checks. I’m not sitting here thinking that I want to play this music that I believe in but I also want lots of money. The two aren’t connected to me. There was a time about six or seven years ago, I did have a little chip on my shoulder about it, but that didn’t last long because it was just pointless. If you choose to go a certain route, then there’s no point in being envious of someone else’s chosen path.
And it’s not like you haven’t had the opportunities over the years to “sell out”…
Weatherall: True, but these days I don’t see it as much as selling out though. I don’t mind doing a bit of “buying in” now and again. [laughs] If you waste the money on a big gold watch or a diamond studded whatever then it’s not so good. But basically people I know have been able to put out records because I’m able to play the game a little bit and had money to finance their art. That’s the reason I “buy in” every now and then and do a major or overground or multinational project—because I know that money can be put to good use.
To your credit, even the “above ground” projects you’ve chose over the years have been very tastefully chosen. There’s Primal Scream, Beth Orton…
Weatherall: Right, we don’t just do them because they’re big projects that can bring the money in. It’s stuff we like that just happens to be on a big label or whatever. It’s all relative. We’re not asking for massive amounts of money. To us, it’s a lot of money but to Sony Records, it’s not a big deal. Projects are never done just for the money. I know we’ve never ever just looked at something and thought, “Well, fuck, we need the money so we’d better do this.” It’s more like, “I like this project and it just so happens to be on Mega Corps Records and so I can get my manager to ask for some reasonable money.”
And I think that comes through and that’s why your reputation has been so stellar for so long. Speaking of which, I hear that you might be producing the Warlocks.
Weatherall: I actually don’t know what’s happening with that. A friend of mine is a press agent for them and a few months ago he asked me if I’d be interested in working with them and I said yes and it was left at that. I’ve got the feeling that the band were interested, but the record company might have gotten cold feet. I told them that I haven’t go the time or the inclination to go sit in a studio for weeks or months at a time while the drummer says, “Turn my drums up,” or whatever. The way I produce stuff is to have the band go and record the basics and give me the multitracks and then leave me alone for a couple of weeks. And there’s probably quite a few bands that would be willing to do that, but then they go back to the record company and they freak out. So I think there might have been a little of that. I may still end up doing something. If they want a few tracks mixed or remixed, I’d love to do it. But I can’t see me sitting in the studio producing the standard way. There may be a time when I do work like that, but at the moment I’ve just got too many other projects of my own to work on. My mind would start to wander, to be honest. If I sat in a studio for a week trying to get the right snare sounds, I’d just be thinking, “Fuck, this week I could have written two or three new tracks,” and that isn’t fair to the band your working with.
Besides your own stuff, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Weatherall: We’ve done a remix for Ricardo Villalobos which is kind of nice, a track called “Dexter” from his last album. It’s actually more of a cover version, because he didn’t have the computer disc with the parts on it, so he said, “Oh, just sample the record.” But when I heard the track, it sort of has like a Joy Division/Cure bass line, so I thought that we could just do a live cover version. We’ve also done a remix of a new two-step artist called MC Shystee who was on the first Dizzee Rascal record. And then I’m going to be mixing a track for a band called Headshop, who are a British kind of stoner band on a label called Monacle 78 which are friends of mine. And then we’ve got to finish our own new tracks for that EP by the end of July, so we’ll be busy with that, and of course DJing as well. Actually, I think my next project should be a week in the countryside doing absolutely nothing. [laughs] If I ever get bored or jaded, I just walk away for a couple of days, and sometimes within hours I’m just itching to get back in there to do something.
You recently did a new Throbbing Gristle remix. I know you’ve always been a big fan and they are an influence on you.
Weatherall: Oh yeah, I just saw them live at a one-off gig in London a few weeks ago and it was pretty fantastic. But I do follow what they’re doing. The book, Records Of Civilization, which is kind of the story of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV and all that—I still go back to that, and it still gets looked at and chapters read every now and again. They’re pretty inspirational to me. In moments of self-doubt, I usually read it to gain some sort of strength to it. They were such massive risk takers. Like, I’ll be sitting around moaning, “Oh, I’m a bit worried about singing on my record,” and I’ll think, well what the fuck do I have to worry about that for compared to what they had to worry about—basically being attacked in the streets for what they are doing—it sort of gives you a bit of perspective and gives you a bit of a kick up the arse and makes you realize that they were at the forefront of intellectual risk taking.
Double Gone Chapel has a bit of their influence, but it isn’t so much in the music—it’s more in the feel of it, the adventure of it.
Weatherall: There’s been a great response to the album because you can play a track to ten different people and they can name influences and they will all be different, which I like. It leads to it not sounding too contrived. It’s not like, “Here’s our punk funk number.” I played it to Steve at Warp and when it was done, he said, “That sounds like your entire record collection from 1979 to the present day compressed into an hour.” The reason it works is that you can put your finger on the influence, but you also can’t, if you see what I mean. In some cases, people mention groups I haven’t listened to in 20 years, that I’ve kind of had a cultural purge on because they went on to be crap or they represent something I’m rather embarrassed about, but are still part of my subconscious. I think the record works because it is the sum of its parts, and people hear different things in it. It’s mine and Keith’s influences coming out, but in a totally uncontrived fashion. When we first started doing it, I hoped that it didn’t sound like we set out to make some sort of statement or that we’d gone back and gotten our 400 Blows records out and sat and studied them. At no point did we sit down with a record and say, “We want it to sound like this.” All of the tracks were written electronically first, and then the live instruments were added later, so it was a real fusion between the analog and the digital, but it evolved very naturally. So the influences are there, but they aren’t worn on the sleeve really. A lot of the influences that people name are from a certain time period, from around 1979 to the mid-80s. I suppose if you’re going to put one influence on it, it would be various groups within that time scale. But I don’t think you can put your finger on any one particular group, but rather an era.
It isn’t like something like the Rapture and bands of that ilk, where their influences are a bit easier to spot.
Weatherall: You’re right, and I like those bands, but sometimes the influence is worn a bit too much on the sleeve. It can come down to vocal styling or whatever. We just made the music with what we had in the studio—I didn’t go back and read old interviews with Martin Hannett and say he used that, that, and that, so we have to as well. And some groups go down the route and it gets a bit too studied and they must have the exact equipment, and it can become as bad as a lot of electronic music where the process is more important than the results. It’s always the end result that is the most important. I mean, we’re obsessed with our old equipment, but we’re not that obsessed with it. We don’t care who might have used it in the past, we just think that it’s old and it’s probably breaking down and so therefore we must put it on the record! [laughs] I’ve been in the position before where I’ve had lots and lots of equipment, and if you can’t get the right sounds, you don’t investigate it fully, you just move on to the next piece, like you’re in a sweet shop. Now, we know our equipment a bit better and we investigate things a bit more than we might have in the past. I think we’re better musicians and studio technicians now because we’ve been doing it for a little while.
Well, that’s one of the good things about getting older, I suppose.
Weatherall: Yeah, the only good thing! [laughs]
As Two Lone Swordsmen (with Keith Tenniswood)
The Third Mission 12” (Emissions Audio Output)
Azzolini 12” (Emissions Audio Output)
The Tenth Mission 12” (Emissions Audio Output)
The Fifth Mission (Return To The Flightpath Estate) CD (Emissions Audio Output)
Swimming Not Skimming CD (Emissions Audio Output)
Stockwell Steppas CD (Emissions Audio Output)
Sticky / Gay Spunk 12” (Warp)
A Bag Of Blue Sparks CD (Warp)
Stay Down CD (Warp)
Receive Tactical Support 12” (Warp)
A Virus With Shoes 12” (Warp)
Tiny Reminders CD (Warp)
Further Reminders CD (Warp)
Peppered With Spastic Magic (Rotters Golf Club)
Faux 12” (Warp)
From The Double Gone Chapel CD (Warp)