An interview of Alan Wilder by Bruno Ouvrein (Supreme, french Recoil blog & Myspace) , Perrine Braz (pictures) & Gilles Braz (Recoiline, Pimpf)
We met Alan on April 22nd in Paris in a nice hotel near "La Chapelle" in 18th arrondissement of Paris.
When we got there he was already answering to an interview, sure that was a long promotion day for him and not a relaxing one as he had been travelling those last days by car through Europe because of what happened with the ashes from that Icelandic volcano that prevented flights in Europe.
We saw Britt also there surely working probably on some of the reviews of those last days . A few minutes later arrived Paul Kendall and Olivia Louvel while we were waiting for our turn to interview Alan. Alan was just nice as usual , and we talked a bit about his recent travels having to travel by car through Europe, because of the flight crisis going on, as well as some last troubles with the display screen with the Parisian venue.
GB : Selected has been officially released this week. We know from recent interviews that Mute brought you the idea for the release of SELECTED , was it hard to select the songs for this album and did you think about a special theme to produce this album ?
AW : There's no theme about it really, it's a best of , it's just done with more care and attention and hopefully in a way that you can enjoy as a kind of new album in a way.
There's very few best of albums where you could just play through and it feels like a real album.
You normally just pick the tracks you want to hear.
I hope people might listen to this one in a different way.
Mute really just wanted something very quick, when the idea first came up they wanted a really quick thing they could take to retail, something record shops would stock , they like best of albums, they don't like new albums you know , unless you're Madonna, so…
So that's was the thinking, and they said :"Look we 're doing this actually for a number of other artists on the label."
I think they did the Nitzer Ebb one, and they're doing others for… (I can't remember who else…)
So this was the idea, and then over the course of the last year, the thing keeps changing.
Actually now Mute is very much into this multi-format thing because they realize this is the future in a way.
GB : This is what most of the audience, people require
AW : This is what people want at the moment, they want to have choice, they want to have something tangible as an option, everybody wants it, but the choice needs to be there.
When we first talked about this idea, no one was really thinking about that. This was quite a new changing way of thinking.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, it's evolved into this multi-formats thing, and then the tour came, it's become a much bigger thing than it started out.
BO : Are there any tracks amongst your favorites that aren't on 'Selected' because you considered they didn't fit in?
AW : There were few others we try to put on there; I wanted to have "New York Nights", I tried to get the Sonya Madan track which was on a EP I think that was called "Don't Look back " (NDLR : from the single/EP "Strange Hours" in 2000) and there was just not enough space on one CD to fit them all on, which is a good problem to have of course.
I wasn't upset about it, I mean that you take a practical view of these things and you say that whatever's best is what you do.
The good thing about editing them, was that it allowed us to have maybe one extra track.
Actually I quite liked the discipline of having to edit something sometimes because you can often with time see an improvement, with editing.
I think some of these actually benefit from being slightly shorter and bit more to the point.
We did lot a of trying outs, we tried a lots of different running orders, there was another song for while … err… it was "Missing piece" maybe, it was in there for a bit.
That's not on the final thing, is it?
BO : "Missing Piece" is on the remix CD
AW : When the remix idea came up, when Robert Schilling said we can do a second disc of remixes, then if affects your thinking of the first disc
GB : You could put extra songs on that one
AW : Exactly, like " I can use that remix , I don't have to have it here", it just kept changing.
We did manage to find all the master tapes to all the tracks. It took a while.
GB : From what we read on previous interviews you had to also go again through a baking process
AW : Yes, we didn't do that ourselves, there's a company that does the work.
I don't even know what they do exactly and what the piece of machinery is, if it looks like an oven, if you put a cake into.
I'd be curious to see it. I wonder what they do.
I know there are different levels, you can have a big bake or a full roast, or you can have just an omelette.
Yes there are different levels in baking depending on how bad your tape is.
BO : It must be interesting to know what is exactly going on when they do that.
AW : it creates some kind of chemical reaction with the oxide on the tape which flakes off after a while. It binds it back together.
I guess it's almost like melting it back into place, I imagine.
GB : And probably also some kind of magnetically sub-process.
AW : Yes, something like that, though I don't know.
GB : What did you feel when you had to listen again on those old tracks from previous albums, that you chose for SELECTED?
Did you remember the time when you were creating those tracks in the past?
AW : A little bit, I think that's always the case when you listen back to things that remind you of the past. It can be surprising if you haven't heard things for a long time you can go "Oh I forgot all about that …" especially when you got multi-tracks on.
There was not so much with this, because you just listen to the finished masters and I'm quite familiar to them all really.
But when you get multi-tracks songs like the Depeche Mode 5.1 for example, and you put up the individual sounds and I do not remember doing that, going like "What was that? What were we thinking? What is this sound?"
And I kind of think: "Oh "you get what you say, you get this memory, a very strong memory…
It's like a smell that reminds you of something.
You remember exactly how you recorded something and where you were and in what room it was and what I was doing. Everything comes back to you in an instant.
The sound can be very evocative; actually music can be very evocative as memory to memory just like smell can be. It's a different part of the subconcious that works than visuals.
BO : About the tour, Paul Kendall is on stage with you and we know his input in the studio, can we start now to consider Recoil more as a band than the "Alan Wilder solo project™"?
AW : No, you can't
BO : Ok thank you (laughs)
AW : No, I'd never wanted it to be a band, for all the reasons that I sort of said before about what I don't like about being in a band.
The good thing about Paul is that he knows what the kind of score is anyway.
He knows I like sort of be in control, he never considers himself as part of the band as it works. You know he has his role to play, which is reallly important and I really enjoy his contribution and he knows that too, he understands that I value what he does.
The problem being, in any kind of band,... I think if you're in a group where someone's in complete control, that's not much fun for you if you're the other person right ?
So therefore, the only way of being in a band really works is if everyone is kind of equal, but that doesn't really work for me either because I don't really like having to put things to the vote.
I like to have the final say of things. I don't like the politics of compromise and democracy when you're trying to be creative.
GB : That kind of compromises the first idea you have when you are creating...
AW : Exactly, right. It's like having four film directors direct a film. It's never going to work really...
GB : Talking about the tour right now, what pushed you, motivated you in starting this tour to promote SELECTED ?
AW : I think it was the thought of going back to the same place like Prague and Berlin for example.
GB : As you did for subHuman
AW : Yes and doing exactly the same thing again, I would have feel like some kind of sham, a cheat, "here he is again shaking hands"
I thought "I cannot really do that".
I wanted to go out and do some promotion and go to some cities, because I think it's great to make connections with the fans.
It worked really well for me not just for this tour but all through the years making those connections, and making those connections is now paying off, because so many people I've met over the years are contributing directly to the project and helping support and running websites.
You know how it works...
So I really wanted to do the promotion and I thought "well I can't do the same thing, so what can I do?" and that's really what sparked it.
And of course having all those different remixes, you suddenly think: well there is something we can do, and it just evolved from there... And when you're going to commit to that then you think "how is it going to look?"
You can imagine the thought process.
If I'm going to do it , I'm going to do it properly, I don't want to do something half fast, that doesn't really work , that wouldn't be very RECOIL, and I'm kind of perfectionist about things and I love the details so I would want to do it as best as I could possibly do it.
And I still think it could be improved maybe with more money, time, more production, more people on the road, you know...
It was quite a big experiment for me this whole process... performing
So I kind of took it fairly gently, I didn't want to go into the deep end, have loads of people in the road and lose money...
GB : That way you're able to manage everything that goes around it
AW : yes it's a very small production , 3 people , sometimes 4 and it's sort of cost effective, quick to set up, so you can use the local production even there as some problems as I've said...
BO : Now that you found, let's say, a formula that is working to promote Recoil on the road through events, do you have any regrets not to have started before for previous albums?
AW : I think there is sort of a small man in my head saying "you could have done this before", yeah. I justify that by saying I don't think I really could because the cost of making films, even ten years ago, would have been just too difficult, and the time it would have taken, the equipment, whereas now I think it's possible to make films fast and cheaply of good quality. So that's a difference, which does make a difference. So I probably couldn't have done it in this way before, but maybe in a different way or maybe I should have been more adventurous.
BO : Or maybe you didn't feel it was right to do it as I read in past interviews, you were thinking maybe the soundscape was impossible to recreate on stage?
AW : Even now I'm not sure that what we're doing ... I'm not sure how well it works.
There are times when I think: I can't tell if people are just transfixed, hypnotized or bored
AW : There are times in the show when there's nothing , people aren't doing anything , they're just listening and I think "Oh god they hate it"
AW : It's difficult to tell because there are not too many breaks in the music for reaction
BO : I read you got quite strong reactions in Prague and Budapest, I think, and you were quite happy with that.
AW : They were the best ones. Budapest is the best crowd, and Prague also…
BO : We can't promise anything for tomorrow evening but we'll do our best!
GB : We tried not to listen to much on the internet , to be surprised by the show.
AW : Exactly, I don't know if you're going to look on Youtube but Youtube just gives everything away... because there's hundreds and hundreds of clips...
BO : You're not happy with that ? you want to keep the surprise?
AW : You can't, how can you ?
GB : It's hard to control all that madness
AW : You can't control it
BO : A German journalist gave all the surprises on the air, it was for Hansa I think.
Do you remember that?
AW : Recently someone uploaded the whole show on RapidShare. They got hold of a DVD and I don't know how they did it. There's only two existing DVDs, I've got one, and they still managed to get it and get it on RapidShare somehow. I don't know how it happened but that's very disappointing. But with YouTube, I'm just not going to waste energy getting upset about it because I know you can't control it. And there are obviously some benefits of being available on YouTube and everywhere else on the Internet. Of course, I understand that. And I think the advantages I've gained from online activities and the Internet out way the disadvantages. I'm just slightly sad that people don't have any surprises in their life anymore or very few. It's very difficult to keep a secret.
GB: That's something we were just discussing together before the interview. We remember a time in the past when we didn't have internet, we were more surprised by the release of an album, and we were expecting the release date in order to get it through a local record shop and discover it , and sometimes we kind of miss that approach now...
BO : Time changes...
PB : We try to reproduce it ...
AW : Wait and enjoy the spirit...
PB : Regarding youtube actually I'm trying not to look at it... otherwise I know that I wouldn't be surprised
AW : Exactly! We're using YouTube specifically for video updates and things like that. So we want people to go and look at the video updates and the blog and all that stuff. And then, of course, you look at the blog and next to it are all the clips. It's very tempting, it must be "ah, look at this, and this". You can look at the news and then not look at these, it's very difficult to do. So I imagine most people who are coming to these events because they are fans will have seen something already. On the other hand, it also helps to show people what to expect and not to expect a band.
GB : A question we had both in common about this tour and the promotion. Do you have a real support from Mute & EMI from all around the countries to help you for this tour?
AW : It varies from place to place. Mute themselves have been very good around this release. They're doing everything they can to help.
They put money behind it with the various formats; they're helping out when they can with the extra money for better projection in London for example.
You know it's helpful , and I've no complaints about Mute. They set up a more new independent kind of stream for their artists now which goes through for example Naive and I think that's been good for me rather than the generic EMI stuff.
Some of the EMI licensees in some countries have been better than others.
We just came from Poland and they were doing really well, lots of good promotion there so they were very supportive. And in Czech Republic they were good.
Other countries not quite so good... so it's difficult with EMI sometimes...
GB : That's also something we were talking about, the financial problems we also heard recently with the selling of the Abbey Road studios that made the tabloids.
AW : No one's got really money to spend really ... there are big problem with the costs...
And that's why a lot of artists are going out on the road.
I mean I 'm not doing this to make money but I can see how doing this is the best way for an artist to make money rather than trying to rely on CD's and get some income for the shows, sell some t-shirts , sell some CD's on the road.
We're doing that too and it works, oh I can see that this works.
So the record company sort of tag on to the end of that.
Things have been driven more by the bands or the artists rather than being told what to do by record companies.
This is not a bad thing...
GB: We just had one last request
AW : Which one?
GB : Do you have anything to say in French for your French audience? I know it's a hard question ... sorry...
AW : "En Français ?!" I can't think of anything. I can speak a few words…
BO : Even slang, go on!
AW : I'll probably have to spend two or three weeks in France and then it starts to come back. Every time I leave, I forget it all again.
GB : Ok, thank you...
BO : Your "en français" was good , thank you.