Behind his new album...

In his own quiet way, Bill Wells has enjoyed a stellar year.

The Scottish musician completed a collaborative album with Aidan Moffat, which found his near baroque compositions matched to the bard’s morose musings on mundane life and mortality. Completing a number of shows with Moffat, Bill Wells also continued to work with the National Jazz Trio of Scotland before heading out to Japan for one of his most daring yet fulfilling projects yet.

Out now on Domino, ‘Lemondale’ allows Bill Wells to distil elements of Japan’s experimental scene into something approaching pop music. Flying out to Tokyo, the Scottish musician hand-picked some of his favourite artists for a typically ambitious project. “I think it was the first time I had been given an actual budget to make a record!” he laughs. “It was some of my favourite musicians. Also I had got to know Jim O’Rourke a wee bit in my travels back and forward to Japan, so I was keen to work with him as well and that was a big part of it. I knew that the only way I could work with him was by actually doing something in Japan.”

Writing out a series of compositions before departing for Tokyo, Bill Wells knew what he wanted to achieve – it was a matter of finding the right musicians to pull it off. “You have to use people for what they can do and I think it’s a good idea to give people their freedom to contribute something” he explains. Despite writing sessions occupying several months, the actual recording of ‘Lemondale’ took place in one day. “What I did was to give everybody the same part which is the way I kind of ultimately decided was a good way to work” he muses. “Just organising that was as difficult – if not more difficult – than actually writing the music for it. I went across for two and a half months and I just started at the beginning of those two and a half months to get everybody together. I mean I had tried to do it by email well in advance, like a year in advance but it seemed to be so far away, so far ahead that people didn’t actually reply very much. Ideally, that would have been the best way to do it – just to say look, let’s do it this day in nine months time’. I can understand why people are loathe to single out one day when they can or can’t do something!”

Bill Wells 'Lemondale' Sampler by DominoRecordCo

Recorded in one sustained burst, ‘Lemondale’ features everyone from trained singers to avant garde artists – including one performer who ‘played’ an electric fan. With the tapes full to the brim, Bill Wells flew back to Scotland where he began the arduous process of piecing the album together. “Another thing that people probably don’t realise listening to the record is that it took me about two or three months at least to mix it - edit it” he says. “Because I took out quite a lot of what had been going on at the time there are tracks where there was a drum part which I didn’t think was working so I just missed it out, y’know? But to actually go through that process and find out what works took me quite a while.”

“It did actually occur to me that I could have just started recording stuff on top of it as well!” he laughs. “I think you have to set yourself certain parameters to do something. It was tempting at times because I did have other ideas but then I thought, I’ll try and keep it more or less as it was. All I really did was take things away from it. But everything was played was played more or less at that time, it’s just not as busy as it was at the time. The other thing was that doing it like that meant that I wasn’t really sure what the record was on the day was recorded it because to be honest with you a lot of it was a complete mess. There wasn’t time to listen back so we would do this recording and do three or four takes of something and then went onto the next thing whether or not the tune was working or not. I was lucky in that most of the tunes seemed to gel in some way.”

Continuing, the composer almost seems to show the odd tinge of regret. “It was a strange experience because I came away from it feeling in two minds whether it really worked or not. Having got back home a few months later I started to get a bit happier about it. Just because there was so much going on and then one thing that doesn’t work can obviously then spoil something. It’s a kind of a strange way to make a record” he admits. “Ideally I would have liked to have gotten into the studio for two weeks with these guys because there are elements of what they did, it became quite like what I would say, a pop record. Some of the things we did in the studio were much wilder and maybe highlighted peoples playing a bit more. It could have gone in different ways if I had more time. The drums on it are really good but I know what he can go and there’s aspects of that I didn’t really capture. But you can’t have everything!”

Peppering the conversation with a boisterous laugh, Bill Wells occasionally stutters over his words as if his mind is attempting to catch up with his instincts. The title ‘Lemondale’ apparently came to the musician in a dream, floating out of his unconscious to drape itself over the new album. But is this a sign of an ongoing attempt to dredge the unconscious, I put it to him, like so many other improvisatory musicians? “That happened at the beginning of my stay there so it was one I felt I should use. It was funny because I had been watching that Steve Coogan show, Saxondale. So there was a dale thing going on –Emmerdale. So I think it probably comes from some of those thoughts it’s probably my mind combining these different things and making Lemondale. It seemed quite a memorable word!” he laughs, rather bursting my bubble. “Aye well it’s funny the dream thing, I only seem to tap into it that deeply when I’m asleep unfortunately!”

‘Lemondale’ is a triumph but ultimately it is only one in a series of collaborations between Bill Wells and Japanese musicians. A stop off point in an ongoing journey, the composer struggles to define his kinship with a scene which exists halfway around the globe. “The people there that I work with have got very broad tastes in music and they’re generally up for not repeating themselves and doing different things” he says. “It’s sometimes hard to get a balance. Sometimes there’s almost no improvisation. I suppose it’s the nature of different things. For me, it makes things feel alive when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It can fall flat on its face but that’s the price you pay, I suppose.”

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'Lemondale' is out now.

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