From Here to Eternity
A NEW ALBUM AND LABEL, LOOP SUCCESSFULLY MANAGED TO CAPTURE THE RAWNESS OF A LIVE PERFORMANCE ON TAPE. KEITH GRANT FINDS OUT HOW. PIC: SIMON CAMPER.1990 HAS ALREADY BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR Loop. With a new record deal and a new LP - "A Gilded Eternity" - which has retrieved the critical high ground lost with their second album, "Fade Out", well as a highly successful 21 -date UK tour, the last three months could hardly have been in starker contrast to almost the whole of last year.
"Virtually all we did in 1989 was tour Europe," reflects Robert Hampton, vocalist and principal axeman. "It was a very low period for us, though not usically -I still stand by 'Fade out'. We were very own-hearted at the way we were being treated (by their previous record label Chapter 22, who they deserted after their last European tour). The new hase with regard to the label probably saved the band. It was simply down to money (Chapter 22 weren't giving them any), just to stay alive. All our gear was falling apart so we couldn't even go out and play. The Situation 2 advance has sorted that problem and paid for all new gear. We've also been freed from all the frustration and making this LP has made us feel the way we did before."
LOOP are a band who appear to have been critically tarred with a sense of nihilism, both in terms of association and acclaim. It would seem that their adopted approach has shrouded their true intentions in a haze of guitar thrash.
"We've always been classed as a rock ad but we're not gonzoid rock. The tools of the trade are the same but there is a conscious structure to it all, rather than just verse, chorus, verse, chorus. A lot of people think that our music is easy to do. But there's a lot of time and thought put into it - it takes a long time for a loop song to evolve, for ideas to actually prove themselves interesting enough to us. We ditch a lot of stuff.
"The way we approach writing is that one of us will come up with an idea and then everyone has their input. I write all the lyrics and guitar parts but we'll just take that as the starting point and all chip in on each others' ideas. It's all quite free-form.
"We try and keep live work and studio work as separate as possible. It has been said that we never play the same song twice, so what goes down in the studio is just how it went down in that one particular instance. There is a basic, a very basic, structure - the barest form of the original idea, a set pattern of chords maybe - that we keep to so that the punters can recognise things. But we try and let it happen as naturally as possible.
"On the last tour we were playing quite severely different tracks to what's on the album. We don't like to repeat ourselves but to give people as much as we can give (the Glasgow gig was done entirely instrumentally due to the non arrival of the PA). So we don't like putting singles on LPs or pulling singles off LPs that are already out. We don't go for the album of greatest hits approach."
What the band do go for on their albums, however, is the densely textured riffing guitar drive that they weild live. And where others completely fail to capture on vinyl anything resembling their onstage credibility, either wimping out or creating two totally separate identities, Loop unswervingly succeed. It's a process that requires a disciplined use of their chosen sound sources within the confines of the modern recording studio.
LOOP have actually made all their recordings as a three-piece with Robert handling all guitar duties, a practice continually required due to the "unsteady position with second guitarists".
"In the studio I use the same amp set as live, except for a small five watt practice amp that I picked up for a fiver that has the most incredible treble range - like a bee trying to escape from a jam jar. I use two Marshall 2 by 12 cabs with an old Yamaha G 100 amp head. It's solid state but it's so warm that it sounds like a tube amp, it could be an old Fender. It's the best thing I've ever had. It' s got a Hammond reverb unit in it. I used to use Vox stuff but it kept breaking down and we just couldn't afford the repair bills in the end.
"I use two customised Strats, which are my main live instruments. They've been hot wired and I've stuck a Gibson '59 humbucker at the back - don't really use the other pickups at all. In the studio I also use a Telecaster, a Music Man Stingray (a highly active guitar, it's like launching a rocket) and a Fender Jaguar. I haven't had that long so I'm still getting used to it. It's an old one, '64, so I daren't use it live. It's the only one I really look after, treat it with kid gloves. It's a bit chunky for rhythm work but nice for lead. We did a track, 'Shot With A Diamond' which consisted of about 1 5 tracks of just switching the pickups in and out - no playing - and recording it at differenttape speeds. It just created all these different harmonics with the hum.
"I use various pedals. An old Colorsound Fuzz, it just ,goes hand in hand with the amp sound. You can get quite 6 variation of tone from it, from high and trebly, to very low range. I collect fuzz pedals, but this one is my mainstay. I've tried new ones butthey're shit.I also use a Morley Deluxe distortion unit - one of the small compoct ones which eats up batteries. I normally play with the Colorsound on constantly and boost with the Morley. The Morley is a very high range sound and I combine it with the Colorsound in very low range mode. There is a Colorsound wah wah which comes in for lead lines, but principally as a noise feature - you get some fairly severe sounds out of it. I also use two old Boss pedals, a flanger and analogue delay. In the studio we also augment all that with stuff like SPX 90s for delays and phasing and especially old stuff like the Bell Flanger.
"I've just purchased a DBX 1 20 Sub Harmonic Equalizer (known as the Boom Box) as used by a lot of reggae bass players. I' m experimenting with it on the guitar. My sound is very bottom end oriented anyway, but you can use the Boom Box to bring out top end and middle frequencies as well. "Over-tracking the guitars is an important part of our studio sound.It's a very orchestrated sound, structuring the different textures to getthat symphonic feel. Starting off with the basic rhythm track, sometimes I'll go over the pattern with different sounds but often it will be a case of putting down different rhythms to ad with or even against one another. Thats much more in evidence on this album. I will often play one part of a rhythm part with one sound and another part with a different sound, building in different textures again.
"We did most of the recording - all the backing tracks and almost all the vocals - during a three week period at Slaughterhouse up in Humberside which had a really big live area, so nearly all the backing tracks were done live with Neil, John and myself. Just occassionally we had to do it drums first, which was usually a result of not being able to get a headphone mix which could cope with the volume. We tend to leave a trail of broken cans behind us whereverwe go." _ The most notable feature of Roberts vocals are their almost complete submergence in the mix, making them, relative to your average SAW mix, virtually inaudable.
"Lyrics are never more or less important than the rest of what's going on in the track that they're submerged into. We don't really feel that anything should be listened to in isolation. Often with modern pop the voice is so up-front that it detracts from everything else that is going on.
"Ninety per cent of the time we record without a vocal - even a guide - and it is usually the last thing to go down. I usually have lyrical ideas about what It's going to do, but the melody either happens or it doesn't. So things may sometimes remain instrumental."
Mute in-house producer (Depeche Mode, Wire and Laibach) Paul Kendall might seem like a strange choice for a dark bunch like Loop but this was not his first outing with the group; he also handled productiol on "Fade Out".
"He'd got in touch having heard what we did and wanting to produce an overtly guitar-oriented band. Previously he had worked with more technologically-based people. He's now like a fifth member of the band. He says he has learnt a lot from us and we've definitely learnt a lot from him in terms of studio technique. He'll take massive risks with the sort of effects and technology we wouldn't have come across. He and our live sound man are the most important people to our operation."
The album was finished off and mixed in Worldwid International, Mute's own in-house SSl facility.
"We made extensive use ofthe desk's recall facility in building up the layers of sound, which was highly complicated. Fifty per cent of it was mixed manually, however. I'm a great believer in mixing manually because I think you get more of a feel."
LOOP are clearly no luddites in their approach t recording and although the band's sound is based on 'period technology' they have no objections to using hi-tech studio techniques to get the best results on record. What is definitely out, however, are synthesizers, in any shape orform - well almost.
"We're not anti-technology, but I am totally against synths and guitar-synths, though ironically a lot of people think that we use them in the studio. Maybe we're using guitars to get the same sort of effect. We have used samplers, though, but only to sample our own guitar lines. But we haven't really got a place for that sort of thing. Or maybe we haven't really grown up enough to use it yet."
Originally appeared in Melody Maker April 21, 1990
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