La première fois que j'ai rencontré James Kirby, c'était en l'an 2000, dans le cadre d'une interview pour un fanzine photocopié, avec Jedrek Zagorski. Son projet d'alors s'appelait V/VM et j'en étais un adepte transi: pas fan de satire et d'ironie, j'étais fasciné par le sens du tragique, de la mélancolie qui sourdait derrière l'hilarité fantasque de chacune de ses attaques ad nominem (Craig David, Aphex Twin, etc.) ou plus vaporeuses (le monde de la pop culture dans son grand ensemble). Nous sommes ensuite devenus amis, et il me fit même l'honneur de m'inviter à participer à l'une de ses compilations avec Hypo. Puis ce fut la bérézina: une sombre histoire de copyright pour un artwork reproduit à l'identique condamna V/VM Test Records au silence, et James se consacra presque exclusivement à The Caretaker, dont les oeuvres devinrent de plus en plus saumâtres et désespérées (la dernière évoque littéralement les effets d'Alzheimer sur une âme en voie de dislocation). Pourtant j'ai mis du temps à réaliser l'importance de ces disques au noir. Quand il est rené en 2009 sous le nom de Leyland Kirby, j'ai eu l'impression qu'une béance était à nouveau comblée - dans la vie de James, dans la vie de la musique des années 2010, surtout. Cet entretien, dont j'ai seulement traduit des fragments, a été réalisé par e-mail dans le cadre d'un long dossier sur l'hantologie (co-écrit avec Julien Bécourt) paru en décembre 2009. Une chronique de ses oeuvres récentes est lisible ici. Un portrait inédit qui se concentre plus spécifiquement sur les deux premiers volumes de sa série Intrigue & Struff et son tout récent Eager to tear apart the Stars, est à lire dans le Chronic'art #74 qui vient de paraître.
Can you tell me how this new project was born? Did you envision it as a mammoth project from the start or did it grow that way?
I started working on the new release towards the end of last year, initially the plan was to just record a more personal and emotional album, probably a single album. That then expanded as i found the tracks i was making were longer so i could immerse more feeling into them as oposed to shorter tracks. In the end i finished enough music for a double album but was inspired enough to keep making more, whilst that inspiration was there i just went with it and carried on recording. In the end i felt there was enough audio to justify it being a triple CD album without it being too much. The important thing is people know by it being this length it demands more time to get into too, more attention which is something we have all lost in the past few years of musical consumption.
You've started your career with one of the most ambiguous artistic gesture in the history of pop music (including, if I'm not mistaken, early Caretaker works). Yet this Leyland Kirby project seems completely devoid of distanciation and irony, even if, as highly emotional music, it is not devoid of ambiguity. What happened? (I don't know where I read that, but I'm thinking of this simple phrase: "Life happened", and it seems to fit).
It's always important to change, the V/Vm project was important and certainly of its time. A lot of what i was doing then is more commonplace now although V/Vm was always apart in the bootleg scenes etc. because the music was never made for the dancefloor or to be commercial. It was always a suprise that the lawyers never really got their teeth into things. Reviewers often labelled a lot of the older work as being ironic, but to be honest it was never an ironic gesture in releasing things. The main thing was using new technology to make new interpretations of existing pop music and look for some forms of new energy and excitement. A lot of those releases are aurally disgusting and you would think nobody in their right mind would release them. The point is by being so extreme in output i think i encouraged a lot of other people to have a go too and to experiment with copyright abuse without so much fear, a lot of people made it more friendly and for sure made cash from their work, as bootlegs for a while came overground and became mainstream for sure.
I have no idea how you made this music, if there are samples involved or real piano playing, but: all the musical "events" happening are coated or muffled in a heavy halo of reverberation and mystery, and I was wondering what signification you gave to those spaces created... Also, when (and if) you use a sample, do you ever think about the ghosts contained inside? (it was more obvious in The Caretaker's tracks, which were full of hisses and cracklings from the sources).
In terms of taking music there are no samples of other peoples works on any of the new releases. Everything was made from the ground up, i have worked a long time learning things and have always been capable of making albums like this all along, the time felt right to be more emotional and personal with this work. er of course is built totally from old ballroom music and that music for certain has a ghostly air and that is always heavily emphasised by the production techniques i am using. Getting back to my latest works i had ideas in my head and really for the first time i was totally able to recreate those worlds and spaces.
Do you think Leyland Kirby's music is haunted? Were you yourself when you conceived and recorded it? The act of slowing down preexisting pieces of music in an extreme manner seems akin to an act of actually chasing ghosts... (Actually, I read that interview of Broadcast in the Wire and I quite liked what they make of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as "sonic thaumaturgy", as thet "gave voice to the objects around them").
I think the music itself on the new releases has an uneasy sound as it was an uneasy time for me, lots of changes and also taking the chance to put more of myself into something. Other projects such as The Caretaker and The Stranger i am always one step removed from the audio emotionally. This time i played all the cards as i wanted to play them. I think there is a definite sense of loss on the recordings, as it was a time of loss in many ways. Also a loss of collective spirit and optimism is prevelant in the tracks, this is based on what i have seen in the last year or so. There are a lot of lost and confused people out there, exisiting and living through dead, energyless eyes. The optimism that was there in the 70's, 80's and even 90's has all gone, everyone feels totally alienated and exploited these days. The future we were promised never really materialised.
Have you ever thought about your affection for (and almost systematic use of) luctuating tones and modulating transformations? Where do think this love for wobbly melodies come from?
I guess it comes from influences over the years, i love 80's pop music and not in an ironic way, not the cool audio when people were making synth music, but mid-80's and the fusion of digital and analogue. The productions of Trevor Horn are a big inspiration, also the work of Martin Hannett in terms of production and working with effects. Being in Manchester too is an inspiration and also the relocation to Berlin. Both cities are very similar, both are grey, industrial and very dark, damp too. I am one of the best people to be around in Berlin in the Winter as i love it, the sun barely creeping into the sky, endless grey days and rain, sleet and snow. I think this love can creep into productions. These style of tones never seem to eminate from warmer climates.
The Caretaker was about musing processing of other times; Leyland Kirby is about an idea of the future whick came to pass. In mathematical terms, they're at the same time opposites and the same thing. Do you see a difference between the two? And when you muse about the disparition of the future, is it mostly a personal statement or a general one? Is it sentimental or social one?
I think it's both sentimental and social, at the time of recording my own future was not so stable, it was important to refocus and make some great work firstly for myself. It's been overdue as i was kind of burnt out after that 365 project. The difference in output and sound between The Caretaker and my new work is based on The Caretaker as i said before being one step removed from my own emotions.
Being, as I take it, filled with remembrances and autobiographical sources, Leyland Kirby's project (and its artworks as well) seems self-referential in many ways. Do you think there's something peculiarly British about Leyland Kirby's music?
It is definitely British influenced as my past plays a big role in creating the feelings and what i wanted to convey musically in terms of setting moods and creating emotions. The artwork closely links to the audio as a very good friend of mine Ivan Seal did that, he like me is from Manchester and has relocated to Berlin. He also has known my work for a number of years and it was great to involve him with the artwork, i think he's done a brilliant job of capturing visually what the audio is suggesting.
Is Leyland Kirby a nostalgic project?
Nostalgia is a strange thing really, i don't think i'm an overly nostalgic person in general. I think however that we can re-open older ideas by slipping back in time. This release would never have been possible without the internet and downloading. I have been watching so many old things from the past which back then had a massive impact on what i have done over the years, trying to get inspiration from many of these and working out what i got from them initially. It's strange because in our minds we have an idea of how we perceive things and you expose yourself again and things are totally different to how you remember. It certainly has been food for thought. Musically too the internet is great now, so many obscure blogs are out there too with amazing productions which have been out of print and lost for 25 years. They too have been a huge inspiration, it's hard to be nostalgic for this music as it comes across as new. I think we are entering a time when time itself (in terms of music) has become really flexible, everything competes with everything,
Did you have references in mind, before and during the recording of the album(s)?
The only motivation initially was to be personal, i think judging by the responses i have got thus far that i succeeded in releasing a personal document based around the time. I did want some specific references, i needed to use the piano on the releases but wanted to also reprocess it so it sounds totally effected, still almost normal. Also i worked very hard to find all of the classic sounds from the 80's, all the fairlight sounds, the roland D-50, it was crazy, i was online looking everywhere for everything, a lot of these sounds are totally buried, but now and again traces of them appear through and i guess we sense these sounds and maybe some distant memories are unlocked.
Listening to Leyland Kirby's music for prolonged durations is a rather unsettling experience, as it is as the same time a sweet, slow torture, an intoxication of the mind and pure ambient bliss. What type of listening experience would you advocate?
I havn't really listened to the release as a total whole so often, for me i have heard those tracks 100's of times so now it's finished and it's out there i guess for myself it's an empty feeling. It was music made at an unsettling time, looking towards an uncertain future, at the outset i didn't even know if i could afford to make it. I think the releases themselves demand time, it's something we have less and less of and it's hard to ask people to listen to things in depth these days, but it should reward the listener if they give it their attention.
Would you say Leyland Kirby's music is rather: a) highly self conscious b) mysteriously spontaneous c) an eruption from the secret mind?
I would say it could be all three and one of those three, the one thing it is for me having made it is personal and honest. I could make it no better than it is or make it no different than it is. I was lucky as i had time to just cut off and immerse myself into the production and creation. During this time i had an amazingly crazy year full of adventures and inbetween all of this chaos made work which i hope will stand some test of time and that people will relate too in some way.