At the close of that cursed year 2016, David Wrench – the acclaimed producer and mixer for everyone from Frank Ocean to FKA Twigs via Gwenno and David Byrne – was busy moving from his native Wales to a new studio in London that would be his permanent base. He was to have a chance encounter with Evangeline Ling, a fine art student at Goldsmiths, who also moonlights as a model.
It’s fair to say that neither had plenty of spare time on their hands, but something about their meeting would spark an unexpected collaboration that has now seen the electronic duo – Audiobooks – sign to Heavenly Records, continuing the label’s real winning streak over the last two years.
“We met at a mutual friend’s party and just got on,” David tells me. The next day, Evangeline text him asking if she could pop round to the studio. “I was still doing the wiring so Evangeline was just playing on the synths, and then we accidentally just started jamming! And that day was when we recorded the Gothenburg track.”
“I didn’t expect to be making music with David at all,” explains Evangeline “I just thought I’d never seen a synth like that – I’d never gone on one where you twiddle with the wiring, I’d only gone on keyboard synths, so I thought it was an opportunity to learn some stuff from the wizard!” (There’s nothing in David’s appearance that would suggest a man actively cultivating a wizard-like aura though, you must understand). “I think when you come to any instrument fresh, having not played it before, and you don’t do it in a learned, trained way you always end up doing something really cool with it. I was just really concentrating on the sounds I was making because that was the only thing I knew I could do, rather than how I could do it.”
Working fast and largely improvising, for a long time it wasn’t clear to either of them whether what they were doing was indeed a thing. They bonded over the unusual method of both playing on the same synth simultaneously, hunched together forging something quite unlike anything either had previously been involved with.
“We never clarified it as being in a band” says Evangeline “we just kept having fun and I was learning a lot from David.”
“And I was learning a lot from you” David agrees, “it fed into what I was doing.”
Certainly the most striking thing about Audiobooks on first listen is Evangeline as a lyricist and performer. In live reviews, she’s been compared to Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods, which hints at the startling vitality about her performance, but doesn’t quite cover the spectral weirdness and dexterity of her narratives.
Take ‘Beefy Danny’ on the EP – while ostensibly it’s Ling observing a confrontation spilling out from a McDonalds near Tottenham Court Road, the story quickly begins to feel surreal and disorientated, like Ivor Cutler on cheap energy drinks plunged into modern central London. Or take the EP’s title track ‘Gothenberg’. Just after the halfway mark, Ling as if from nowhere begins rasping and growling as though possessed – or is she actually possessed? It could all be a bit Derek Akorah, but instead here it’s thrilling.
“Around the exact time that I met David I was just doing this thing my sketchbook” she tells me, “where I would want to write a piece of writing – I didn’t have it in my head as a story necessarily, just phrases and words together that had a bit of something about them. And then the writing would finish on the sketchbook side page and I’d try and wrap it up as a finished piece of writing and then just do it again and again and again.”
To test the water, Evangeline would type up the writing on her phone and send them to David as texts. “I just got these texts out of the blue,” David laughs, “and I was like what the hell is she sending me here? But they were really making me laugh and I just thought we should really do something here with music. They’re too good to be text messages.”
Back in David’s studio, Evangeline would read out the text messages while David would respond live and see what worked. Indeed, both David and Evangeline agree that improvisation has been at the heart of Audiobooks so far. In their live shows – and so far, you can count those on one hand, twice – they’ve been trying to maintain the spirit of improvisation by changing the instrumentation to keep the two of them from approaching ease with the material. In a previous interview, they referenced the high wire approach of the Fall or Sonic Youth. “It’s become a different thing live,” nods David, “we wanted to keep the essence of what it was all about. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Keep the risk live and when it works it will be amazing.”
The real heart of the EP is 'Pebbles', a bona fide widescreen cinematic love song, all shimmering synths that threaten to keep on ascending, and Ling’s vocal suggesting a love that’s increasingly clawing and destructive. “I’ve always wanted to do like an ambient banger,” says David, referencing Roxy Music’s late-career, late-night masterpiece ‘Avalon’ as an example. “'Pebbles' was the first one we did where I wanted to sing more,” says Evangeline, “and enjoy my vocal a bit. Most of the time I was trying to channel like Justin Bieber, but it came out back to front!”.
There’s also something of Roxy’s party-to-party elite ennui on final track ‘Kars’. The only Ling/Wrench vocal duet on the EP, it’s a dispassionate freeze-frame of some high end fashion event. “The same people that recognised me from last year almost said hello" deadpans Ling on the track, “one day I dream of having a sports car that is too big to park in most places.”
“We think they’re really poppy,” David tells me, “but we play them to people and they think they’re really weird. We started a year ago last December and didn’t play it to anyone. Towards the end of last summer we thought we should play this to someone.” Wrench had previously worked with Heavenly Records on Gwenno’s latest album, and before that with Beth Orton, and he suspected that Heavenly head Jeff Barrett would be interested in what they were doing. David was correct – by the first chorus of the first track, he tells me, Jeff had stood up from his seat with his arms in the air.
“I don’t know what label people do,” Evangeline laughs, “but it wasn’t like we had a serious meeting with anyone, he was just straight up about it. For all he knew I could have been really dodgy dodger!”
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Audiobooks' debut EP 'Gothenburg' is out now.
Words: Fergal Kinney / @fergal_41
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