Renowned for his unique style of trumpeting with Manchester icons James, Andy Diagram recently took the time to chat to GIGsoup about the upcoming Spaceheads release. Diagram formed Spaceheads with drummer Richard Harrison back in 1990 – their new album ‘Laughing Water’ will be released on November 21st 2016 through Electric Brass Records.
The new Spaceheads album came about as a result of us encouraging our driver to take up the double bass! Vincent [Bertholet] was a friend and a fan of Spaceheads who drove us around France and Switzerland on the long tours we used to do around Europe – neither me nor Richard [Harrison] speak much French and so Vincent volunteered to look after us, as our driver and interpreter on our regular 3-week-long tours covering literally hundreds of gigs across France. Vincent was a big music fan and had decided to study the double bass, studying at the Conservatoire in Paris, and we encouraged him to play and jam with us whilst we were on the road.
At the time, we had a French booking agent and were signed to a label called ‘Pandemonium’, which changed its name to Bip Hop and released four of our albums between 1998 and 2007. They released a compilation in 2008 [Bip Hop Generation Vol 9] which featured Vincent in a couple of tracks that we’d recorded during our jams over a couple of weekends in 2005 and billed us as ‘Spaceheads Trio’, a name we had come up with, intending it to be a separate project running alongside our own Spaceheads work.
Since then, and rather ironically as ‘Spaceheads’, the problems with space and time (Vincent lives in Geneva and both he and Richard had young families, and I then re-joined James and was working a lot with them) have meant that it has been difficult for us to work together much. Additionally, Vincent formed a Geneva-based big band in the meantime (Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp (OTPMD)), who have become very popular across Europe, playing WOMAD festival in the UK recently, as well as releasing albums and touring extensively.
So, as you can see, it has been hard to dedicate any time to developing this idea of a trio – but we all felt that those original jams had the seeds of some very good music and we didn’t want that just to disappear, so have spent whatever time we were able to dedicate to the project editing and re-recording pieces of those original jams until we had the album as it is today – ready to be released.
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11 years is a bit of a difference to your last album ‘A Short Ride On The Arrow of Time,’ which was recorded as an 80 minute jamming session! Do you have a preference as to how long you spend on an album or is just a matter of when it’s ready?
Every album tells a different story, depending on how we are feeling when it comes to writing and recording them. We don’t like to work to any particular formula or timetable and we are very lucky in that way that we are able to release our work on our own label [Electric Brass Records] and are therefore not tied to any music industry or record label contracts or schedules.
Generally speaking, our albums do tend to take a while to record, although 11 years is a really long time! Our last album [‘A Short Ride On The Arrow Of Time’, 2015] was a conscious effort to produce a record as quickly and as spontaneously as we could, in an attempt to capture the way Richard and I work in as raw and natural a state as possible.
It’s a remarkable coincidence that the album that took the shortest time to record was then followed by the album that took the longest – all a trick of that Arrow of Time, I’d say!
After working as a duo for so long, what’s it been like having a third Spacehead on board?
Although we have termed this collaboration ‘Spaceheads Trio’, we have had guest musicians on several of our previous tracks and albums and Vincent is really another guest – a visiting cosmonaut to our Space Station, you might say – rather than a permanent Spacehead.
Paddy Steer guested on bass on ‘Cosmic Freight Train’ [‘Trip To The Moon’ EP, 2014] and we have done two albums with the amazing sound sculptor Max Eastley [‘The Time of the Ancient Astronaut’, 2001 and ‘A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else’, 2007 both on Bip Hop] who has also worked with Brian Eno.
Vincent’s double bass is a great addition to your sound and gives the album quite a jazzy, melodic feel. Is that a style you’re keen to replicate live with Vincent over in the UK at some point?
Although the instruments used on ‘Laughing Water’ are traditionally jazz instruments, any jazzy feel to the album isn’t conscious – because we use a lot of technology with our sound, I think it takes it away from being too jazzy, certainly in a traditional sense. Two of the tracks on the album, ‘Machine Molle’ and ‘Aire de Rhone’, are based around loops on Vincent’s double bass, which changes the feel more to electro than jazz.
Vincent is very busy with both OTPMD and his new duo Hyperculte, which he has formed with a drummer in Geneva. They are committed to a theatre piece in Geneva next year and so there won’t be much time to play with him in the near future, although we hope he will be able to tour with us at some point in the future. In the meantime, I have been able to replicate the double bass line in ‘Laughing Water’ using trumpet loops, so that we can perform it live effectively without him.
During your live shows it’s almost as if you and Richard communicate telepathically, how do you know when to improvise and when your jamming sessions are over?
Jamming and improvising is rather like a conversation. By its very nature it is not planned… so you have no idea when it is going to finish… or start for that matter! A good way of explaining it for a non-musician is that it’s best described as having a chat with your friend – you don’t know when it is exactly going to start or finish, or necessarily where it is going to go – it’s the same with improvising music. The longer and better you know your friend, the more that conversation will flow and stay in harmony.
Looking back at your past gigs, you’ve played a lot of cool and quirky venues, which fits in well with the style of your music. Do you have a favourite venue? Are there any venues that you’d love to play in the future?
We like to play in independent, friendly venues rather than the more commercial clubs where all they often care about is how much money they can squeeze from bands and customers alike and where they have bouncers on the door and a general air of unfriendliness. Therefore, we are always on the lookout for independent venues and promoters to work with.
When we toured Europe we would play in a lot of squats, along with social and cultural centres that were amazing community spaces combining the Arts and involving the whole community in their running. In the USA we would play house parties, which would be in warehouses or the basements of the big houses that are much more common across the USA where they have so much space.
I’m a big fan of your ‘Live 1999’ album – do you think there will be another Spaceheads live album released somewhere along on the line?
Both ‘Live 1999′ and ‘Round The Outside’ were live albums recorded on tour in the US, combining live recordings with recordings from some of the college radio stations and interesting ambient street noises and similar that we recorded during the tours. We also released a live album called ‘Motel Music Machine’, 2006, which contained performances from tours between 2002 and 2005.
We’ve recently been doing two or three gigs rather than a long tour – when we play constantly, night after night we feel that we reach a far better level with our music than we can achieve just by rehearsing, so when we do a proper long tour again in the future, we will try to record the best bits and release them.
We have also been filming all of our shows– we have a big back catalogue of live video from over the years, which we are going through and editing the footage to release onto our YouTube channel regularly (https://www.youtube.com/user/SpaceheadsTV).
You recently released videos for two tracks from the new album; ‘Quantum Shuffle’ and ‘Laughing Water’. The video for ‘Laughing Water’ was inspired by the opening title sequence of ‘The Champions’ – where did that idea come from and did you enjoy making it? It’s always nice to see band mates naturally falling about laughing with each other!
The idea for re-enacting the Champions’ opening sequence came from our collaborator and video mixing maestro, Jaime, aka Rucksack Cinema. He has been supplying all the live visual mixing for Spaceheads gigs for the last 8 years and manages to transform any place we play in to a swirl of psychedelic colour, using multiple projectors, and as we are primarily an instrumental band, we think that this really enhances the whole Spaceheads live experience.
The Champions was, of course, based in Vincent’s home city of Geneva which is where we were when we re-recorded sections of music and video earlier this year for the ‘Laughing Water’ album, and of course features the amazing Jet d’Eau fountain which is such a landmark in Geneva.
It was a daft thing to do and we had to try and keep straight faces to be true to the original ‘Champions’ sequence. We kept cracking up with laughter and re-taking but when we came to make the video, it became obvious that we should leave the laughing in….after all the track is called ‘Laughing Water’!
What does the future hold for Spaceheads?
We will carry on as long as we can – we have been playing as Spaceheads since 1990 …so maybe we can look forward to a 30th birthday party in 2020!
We are also hoping to do some longer tours again …..but it could be a bit more problematic as we are not as young as we used to be! Also many of the cultural centres and squats we used to play in have been shut down as governments across Europe have forced austerity measures on their populations and are turning every aspect of people’s lives into a commercial venture – everything has a monetary value to them. This therefore badly affects any sort of creative and experimental cultural projects, which are so often not termed as being viable financial concerns and so these are very hard times for artists and musicians, especially those that operate outside the mainstream.
In the immediate future, we have a few pieces recorded and a few in the pipeline for another album at the end of next year.
One of the pieces we have been playing live which has been extremely well received by our live audience is called ‘The Revolution Sashays up the Mall’ and will be on the next album. It is also going to be used as the theme tune for a football book and blog coming out in early 2017, which exposes the corruption in modern professional football and is entitled ‘Football Is Fixed’ ….watch out for it!
All of the tracks and albums referred to in this interview are available for listening and download on Spaceheads Bandcamp pages – https://spaceheads.bandcamp.com/