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The Peace & Freedom Magazine Stress Interview
(Originally appeared in Peace & Freedom, issue 2, Summer, 1985)
Stress are a two-piece band consisting of two ex-fanzine eds, Alan Rider (Adventures in Reality) and Phil Clarke (Dam Latin). formed in December 1981, the duo's first LP, "The Big Wheel", should be available by the time you read this. The six-track mini LP is under the auspices of Adventures in Reality Recordings and will be released simultaneously in the U.S.
The band have released two cassette albums and have featured on many tape compilations. October 1984 saw "The Prayer Clock" as their first track to be featured on vinyl when included on the "Life at the Top" LP. Other tracks are due to be used on an American compilation "Compulsory Overtime" and the British compilation "A Touch of Class".
Musically, Stress embraces bass, percussion, keyboards, vocals, cut-up tapes, electronic rhythms, sequencers and various acoustic instruments that "provide" a sound that fuses commercial and experimental elements with a pointed lyrical edge".
In the second half of this year, the duo will begin work on a second album and a video project. UK live appearances will culminate in a European tour in September. Alan of the band has just returned form a European tour working with Attrition.
Thanks to Alan & Phil for such in-depth, constructive replies to some pretty inordinate questions.
Trivia: Alan & Phil's fave venue is The Clarendon [in-joke -Ed].
As one of the few bands around actually risking something different, have you discovered a healthy respect from the music media for not joining the mainstream jungle?
Not in the UK, especially; I think that's mainly because the press are blind to anything that's different. They like to play safe. We've had bits in Sounds (by far the most open to new talent of the "big three" nationals), which is encouraging, and glossy electronic music magazines (like Electronic Soundmaker).
As far as healthy respect goes, I'd say that the press in the UK don't really look for new bands. They expect to be pestered, but will lose out in the end if they don't pull their socks up. I think it will come as we get more well-known, but I'm not going to crawl to them for it. The foreign press are a lot better, on the whole. They are much more open to new bands, which is a far healthier attitude.
We've got a very strong promotional set-up at the moment (i.e. we know what we're doing and have literally hundreds of addresses to send stuff to , and we keep finding new contacts all the time). People can't keep their eyes and ears closed forever, so, eventually, we'll "break" the press on our own terms.
Do you both find gigging more of a buzz than recording?
It depends on the particular gig or track we're working on. The early gigs we did were a bit timid, but we're tending to put more into it now energy-wise, so it could get to the stage where gigs are more of a "buzz" than recording instead of both things being equally studious and premeditated.
Tricky question, as both have their pro's and cons. I love playing live when it goes right, and, likewise, for recording. It's a different feeling really. A good gig is a really good feeling and we are capable of doing very strong gigs (the music is well-suited to love performances), and, of course, we can offer films and slides, too. I think foreign gigs have more "enjoyment factor" than UK ones. The UK venues are so shitty and the management have a very poor attitude towards bands. It's almost as if they are doing you a favour by letting you play.
Recording, I enjoy also, though it's always hard work getting the best result. I know a lot about the technical aspect of recording and feel at home in the studio. We're very much into building up our own studio, so we can work at our own pace and perfect songs without rushing them. I don't know if I prefer it to live work. I wouldn't like to choose between them, but if I had to do one or the other, I think I'd have to opt for recording.
As former fanzine ed's, how long had the yearning to become part of a band been burning inside you [did I really say that?... embarrassing -Ed]?
The idea of being a "musician" has just grown from the early days of Stress. It's just something I've fallen into doing, although, I've (and still don't) consider myself to be any kind of a virtuoso performer.
The means of doing a track justify the end result, and as I'm keen on getting the best results I can I tend to like doing drum tracks and sequences where things are set and relatively trouble-free after they're arranged.
Fanzine writers are generally frustrated musicians; it comes to a stage where you feel you should "lead by example" rather than exhorting others to try something.
"Burning"? That's a bit strongly worded isn't it (totally! -Ed.)? When you've been observing groups and writing about them for a while, it's only natural to feel an urge to have a go yourself. All music journalists are frustrated musicians, and when you've featured so many bands that obviously are not that special, you pretty soon think "I might as well try to prove my point, rather than just tell other people what they should be doing".
Have you come across other fresh bands who are capable of shaking up the general sterility?
Well, bands like Attrition and Bushido operate in the same sort of area as us, but the similarity is one of approach to the musical medium, rather than sounding like one another. As far as us and Attrition go, it's a case of our New Wave roots being allied to modern technology. You don't have to sound like a H.M. band to sound forceful or, conversely, you don't have to be wimpy and self-indulgent, because you're using electronics and synths.
Most of the bands I really rate are bands that I know as friends - we tend to stick together (safety in numbers?). Names to quote are Bushido, Attrition and Legendary Pink Dots. I like Coil (well, the new LP, anyway), but, on the whole, I'd say that I can't feel that a hell of a lot of bands are capable of "shaking things up" - does this sound big-headed? [No, it's fair comment -Ed.] I hope not.
What sort of music do you listen to in your rare spare moments?!
I listen to mainly chart and electro stuff, because I can associate more easily with tracks that have structure in a commercial format. I can appreciate more noisy or soundtrack-type music, though, and I'm quite selective in what I listen to in a commercial vein.
Things I've been listening to lately are The Yello LP, "Stellar", The New Foetus LP, The Coil LP, "Travelogue" by the Human League, "Koyannisquatsi" by Philip Glass, The Velvet Underground & Nico LP, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Anne Clarke and the new Bushido LP. I don't have a particular favourite brand of music, as such. I like stuff that has quality and depth and this applies to Velvet Underground, The Doors, Pink Floyd - as well as bands like Yello, and composers like Philip Glass.
Your company, Air, has some promising bands under its wing - who do you think are bands especially to look out for?
Leave this to Alan!
New bands seem few and far between. Aside from Stress, I'd say Attrition, Bushido and, generally, any Third Mind records. Hula are a basically good band, if still to realise their potential. Portion Control have their moments. Overall, though, I feel there's a big gap in the area that we're working in. There's either really commercial electronics on one side, or soundtrack/noise stuff on the other side. That could be good for us, but I think it's a shame that there aren't more groups that we can feel an affinity with.
Do you think certain media people have tunnel vision as regards equating good music with a band's place of origin, rather than just judging the music, per se?
I think it's a case of some towns/cities suddenly having their importance exaggerated by being deemed "trendy". It's the worse thing that can happen to a group or set of groups, to be "flavour of the month", because you're just thrown on the scrapheap afterwards.
Definitely. Take the Liverpool bands and John Peel's patronisation of all of them - good and bad. If you look at The Smiths and The James, all those wimpy bands coming from Manchester. It happened in my home town of Coventry, too, a few years back, with the two-tone thing. They like to create movements and fashions. Sounds is guilty of this a lot, with all that stupid Oi Movement, followed by pathetic attempts to start "Herbert" and "Casual" movements. It's totally stupid, but typical of the English press. I'd like to drop a bomb on the whole lot of them and start it again with a new set of people. The music media is dominated by aging journalists who call all the shots.
You both seem pretty busy - what projects are you currently involved in?
Currently, we're involved in the release of our first mini LP, "The Big Wheel" and it's promotion, both here and abroad, via gigs and reviews, etc.
Gigs in London and abroad. New songs for our second LP and some sort of video thing in the future. In other words, we plan to do a lot!
Are you happy with your situation of being in control of your musical output?
I think that the situation of control over our output and the way it's marketed is good in one way, but it's always restricted by lack of money to do a really big "push". What we would like is to have the same degree of control (or very nearly the same), but have a record company to finance us to some extent, and take some of the chores of putting out a record away, so that we can concentrate more fully on the music itself.
I wouldn't refuse an offer from another company if the terms were right (i.e. we retain artistic control). Putting out your own records is great and really frees you from having to wait for a deal. However, it does cost a lot of money and takes up a hell of a lot of my time getting it all organised. I'd be happy to leave all that to someone else, so we could concentrate sole on the music. It's good to be able to do it, though.
Where do Stress go from here?
Upwards, hopefully! We should have a full LP out by the end of the year, and there always projects that we'd like to work on, e.g. videos, which we can't do at present, because of lack of finance. If we had that I'm sure we could give the independent scene and even the charts a run for their money.
One thing's for sure - we won't be going away now. Once more and more records appear, we'll receive decent recognition. We've continued where others might have become disillusioned, so I think that bodes well for the future. There's always improvements to be made, and new things to do. We've only scratched the surface of what it is possible to do. In fact, there's a hell of a lot of work to put in, but I'm pretty confident that it'll pay off.
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