After a week of listening to his new album non stop, we decided it was time that we found out more from Alex Smoke about his new project "Wraetlic". Hoods up, heads down...
If you need to put a name to it, Alex Smoke's music is best described as techno. But to simply stop here would not do him justice. Alex's music could easily fit into so many more brackets, yet through a process of intelligent controlled experimentation he finds himself in a place of his own. If you don't know about his latest album "Wraetlic", then maybe it's time to meet the Alex Smoke.
The name Wraetlic comes from the Anglo Saxon “Wraith like”, how far does the past inform your music today?
I find the things which inspire me are ideas really, and I am certainly deeply interested in old ways of thought and past modes of imagining. For them life was less proscribed and much more open to imagination and interpretation, and that's something I like to preserve for myself if possible. These things aren't necessarily audible in my music I guess, but they inform who I am and my music reflects that. I am also more clearly still influenced by my years in a cathedral choir and by my background playing music of past centuries. Those influences never leave you, and sometimes I think I can hear it in my harmonies and the way I write.
The loneliness of musicians, is no secret. Working in solitary conditions, exposing the self musically and often never meeting people outside the circumstances of a perceived fame. Where music can become self medication, can it become a negative force?
Good question. I think anything which is used as a personal remedy has the inherent danger of becoming a crutch, and it's that losing of control which I think is the negative. many creative people have periods I think, where they feel disconnected from what's going on in the real world and if it is ignored it can certainly lead to things like alienation and depression. The trick is to remain engaged with life, and not to surrender entirely to you creative whims. The lifestyle can be very solitary but for me it's a big positive, as I can choose when to be engaged with other people, and work to my own rhythms. I just make sure that I maintain contact with nature and my friends when necessary.
The making of “Wraetlic” has been set to the back drop of a series of unfortunate personal realities. Has the process been at all therapeutic? Did you come out better than when you went in, so to speak?
The press release is a little poetic in its presentation! I am an extremely upbeat person and have a positive outlook on most things, so I don't really recognise myself in there. I had a shitty couple of years and certainly breaking up at the end of it was also hard, but the music really just flowed as a result of the limitations being removed, as opposed to being turned to to aid my recovery. I am like a river when it comes to music... It just continues and I write it down. And I guess in that analogy I was dammed for a bit (not damned!). And now I am feeling back to my old self and can just sit down and write music as it comes, every day without interruption and that is the greatest feeling.
In the past, you have been quoted as saying of making music “It is as Picasso said... simply to create. It's the pleasure of making something…” When does the pleasure become a need? Does “Wraetlic” confront us with the more carnal Alex Smoke?
"If you are careless with your recording techniques as I am, you also end up with lots of unexpected background mess, chatter, spill and noise which just adds to the interest."
Making music is pure pleasure. I do it because I enjoy it and I largely do it for myself. I realise how intensely lucky I am, getting to do this for my whole life. I am now aware too, that if I am not able to make music for a while, it can also have a negative impact because I probably "need" to make music. If I can't then I will not be happy. Wraetlic came at a time when the blockage was removed so I guess it does have an element of necessity about it, but it is still mainly about the pleasure of writing. I loved making it.
“Wraetlic” is arguably your most cohesive album to date. In the themes, sound palette and also stylistically, there are consistent currents running throughout all of the tracks. How does the writing process begin? Is there a strategy of sorts? Or is it a more organic process?
It is more cohesive because it was started with a strong set of guidelines as to what it was to involve: i.e. short songs, vocals, no 4/4 beats, a pop structure. It is the first time ever I think where I have started writing a song with the vocal. Usually I would get the melody down first and the vocal would just present itself, but in Wraetlic I had a few vocals in my head to start with, including lyrics. The process is always fluid to an extent. I just let it guide me as to what to do next, and I probably revisited these tracks more than I have ever done with any other project, just to get them as I was hearing them. I like spontaneity so this is risky, as you can kill the feeling in a track all too easily by over-working it.
Some of the vocals are still the first takes that I murmured over the song as it played, because they just naturally have the right feeling, and contain the one line which I wanted to include. Others are more carefully written. I also found it helpful to start a lot of tracks playing in the beats with the drum machine as it gave it a different feel from my previous work. I have also just remembered something else! It is the first time that I have ever been so inspired by an instrument, and it made a huge difference to the way the album sounded and the way I worked: I refer to Aalto. It's a huge component of the album and was a massive inspiration in writing it. As I say, not an experience I've had before, but I owe the creator a beer.
"The trick is to remain engaged with life, and not to surrender entirely to you creative whims."
In tracks like “Anothering”, “Rats” and “The Watchful Eye” you employ your own heavily processed vocals, stepping out of the traditionally faceless anonymity of the electronic producer. Does singing create a more personal connection between artist and listener?
Singing is just the best for engaging the listener. It's like the ultimate transducer of emotion. I feel a certain way, I express it with vocals, the listener hears it, the listener understands how I was feeling. It's always been a part of my work, but I had never fully explored it like here. A vocal works on several levels too. It is expressive musically, but it is also the carrier of an explicit message so it changes the meaning of the music too. As a purely musical tool, it reacts brilliantly to manipulation so that if you mangle it with software it creates timbres and noises which won't appear another way. And if you are careless with your recording techniques as I am, you also end up with lots of unexpected background mess, chatter, spill and noise which just adds to the interest. Controlled chaos.
While “Wraetlic” sees you moving away from the dance floor, remixes have come in the shape of Jon Convex, SCB and dBridge. How far were you involved in the decision for remixes and the remixers involved?
The label has a strong ethos and a recognised group of affiliates and musicians so the remixes were the label's choice. I am a musician but I am not precious about things. A label has a lot of pressure on it to sell enough to cover costs so I do not begrudge there being remixes added to the CD in order to widen its appeal. It is clear to anyone where my work stops and where the remixes begin, and it makes it an appealing proposition as it contains some excellent remixes for the dance floor. They will ironically probably end up being the most popular bits… ha ha.
If there was one thing that you wish people to take away from the album, what would it be?
I always just hope that people make up their own minds about the music they hear and don't let anyone else tell them how to feel about it. We live in the media age and everything is so dictated by fashion and by inference. I hope people listen to it and enjoy it on its own terms. I don't find it remotely dark, and in my head it's kind of poppy, but some people do and that's the power of personal interpretation. I hope people allow themselves that freedom.
Alex Smoke Presents Wraetlic is out on Convex Industries on 4th Feb.