Beats & Melodies

An Interview With Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, he of Hood/Remote Viewer, has a new album out on Home Assembly. If you’ve heard the song “Vote Malcolm Eden”, it’s a nice reference point as to what you’re in for: looped beats and melodies that fester and grow. Much like the video, which avoids editing and camera movement in favour of sticking to one well framed shot, the music is at once minimal and yet engrossing. For songs that progress very little, it’s rich with personality and somehow feels more vibrant than it ought to. Also part of his repertoire: Andrew gives a really damn good interview.

Beat and rhythm in general seem to play a big role in this album. Even the songs that are essentially beatless seem heavily focused on how rhythms drive the songs. Was creating a record that was more beat heavy a conscious decision in shaping the record?

I suppose it was a reflection of the sort of things I was listening to really…Deepchord, donato dozzy and the Italian bods.. basic channel….I think that if someone who has no idea what they are doing tries to emulate a sound or artist it usually gets skewed into a nice, naive version of what they were trying to achieve. I tried to create a deep, hypnotic, sexual house music record. But failed. I created a naive basic electronica album, much like the last 20 years of shit I’ve put my name to.

The songs are quite diverse here. Even though they are all as you put it “simple”, each one is quite different and seems to reference different genres and influences, but it all works. Was there a focus on intent to create a cohesive work with the album?

There was plenty of debate about track listing between me and the label. But Home Assembly were the first people really to mention artists that I aspired to when they heard some of the songs… But they also insisted on including tracks (like Great Palaces) that I deemed a bit too not fit-in-able and I argued for others that I thought might add some diversity to the thing. But all in all, I wanted repetitive, long tracks and most fall under that remit, although they may use different palates.

Pitchfork recently reviewed Actress’s Ghettoville and said “Cunningham’s work has always offered a crucial interactive component, giving listeners the opportunity to unpack the origins of his musical baubles”. I found myself wanting to describe this record as obtuse/difficult but conversational – in a good way. It seems keenly aware of how the audience will interpret it. Do you think about listener reactions a lot?

I did/do think of what people would/will make of it. I’m acutely aware that I’m no longer part of the musical zeitgeist. In fact, I’m pretty well an embarrassing dad, literally actually. If I had released this album in 2001 I reckon it would have been successful, now I am preparing myself for a small wave of faint praise and patronisation. If I’m lucky. But I’m very happy that the people who have heard it have been positive. Especially the record label who have been really, really amazing. So fuck everyone else. Apart from the people reading this. I hope they’ve had a nice day at the office.

The more minimal techno-ish songs on the record seem to evolve very little but they have intricate or odd rhythms that are hard to settle into in under a minute. Was that a deliberate strategy to force people to actually real listen to the beat?

I have no idea what I was doing. I just fucked around with delays and kids effects called Monster and Space gun. And squirrel. I surprised myself really when some bits sounded intricate. It was a mistake. It’s all 100% 8 bar loops, live mixed, one take. So, whatever happened, happened. It’s a nice way to make music really. Quite liberating.

This record explores a lot of terrain your work has hinted at the past but it explores them in a much more expansive scope – It really does touch on elements that were hinted at as far back as Hood and Famous Boyfriend. Do you feel there’s an element of trying to bring all these musical worlds together?

Not really. I think you can see though that most things I’ve been involved with musically down the years share a common ground dominated by electronics, regret, mistakes, sorrow, weight gain, hair loss, drinks problems, resentment, anger and late-period talk talk. And the field mice. With this record I wanted to add to the mix my desire to make sex music to play in sexy French clubs whilst sexy people did sex. All sexy like. It’s a sex album. Or it’s supposed to be.

Going solo for the first time, was it ever daunting?

Man…Tattersall? The Adams brothers? I carried those losers for too long. It was time to show the world that I’m not just the fat, funny one. I’m the fat, funny one with an iPad.

To talk about Moteer for a moment, the label really evolved over time. It seemed much more focused on minimal electronic music of a similar ilk with a few outliers (Manyfingers for example) in early days. The final 5 or 6 releases felt like they had little in common in the way of genre but they all retained a similar sensibility. Was that a deliberate shift or something organic to what you guys were interested in?

With the 20 moteer releases there was the Craig choices, the Andrew choices, and the ones that we both agreed on. You could probably, with enough time allocate each one to each of those groups. But I love the fact that it all felt pretty natural. To have some bearded Ukrainian enigma sitting next to shambling, Australian psychedelic pop, that felt like we might at least piss some people off. Which we enjoyed.

What prompted the creation of the Mobeer sub label, did it allow you guys to explore something that you felt was not suited to the Moteer label? Mobeer offered limited editions in handcrafted packaging, was that in any way a reaction to shifts in the music industry where it was becoming less personalized but also struggling to sell in volume because of the internet? Did the intimacy of the smaller runs and hand designs play a big part of the appeal for you guys?

We wanted to some promotional beer mats to leave in bars and pubs. Craig somehow realised you could fit a 3″ cd on one. And then that each beermat fitted into a wages envelope……. After that, it gave us the chance to get releases out quicker than pressing real CDs, through a real cd company, with real artwork..and we sold bloody loads of them, an amazing amount now I think of how difficult it is to shift stuff these days. Boomkat sold 350 of the remote viewer one in an afternoon. Essentially I think Craig and that label were real trailblazers in respect of the whole handmade, hand crafted thing. But it did become apparent as we struggled to sell 300 jewel cases that there was a real shift in the way people liked releases. They wanted an art piece. To sell on discogs.

I can’t imagine this record not coming out on vinyl because of the way the tracks are structurally layered and because of those beats. Was it a priority to see this one come out on vinyl?

No. I urged the label to reconsider. It’s just a very risky format to get involved in..but, they, like you, started to only see it as a double vinyl thing. Financially suicidal. Aesthetically wonderful. If only I had a record player. I could actually hear what the fucking thing sounds like. But you know, Peter Tong gets hold of a copy, canes it in Ibiza. Bingo, I’m doing beach parties in my speedos whilst my wife does the Asda shopping. On line. Click and collect.

To look for reference points, On Fell seemed to have more in common with Hood than the Remote Viewer, whereas A New Line (Related) is more on the Remote Viewer tip. Do you ever feel you are of two minds musically?

Basically, I had nothing to do with any bands mentioned above. I did some song titles. But mostly I just loitered around bedrooms and studios until eventually each band split up. I’m even thinking of splitting this new project up because I’m not happy with my lack of input or effort.

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