In Conversation: 65daysofstatic

Clash chats ‘Wild Light’ with Paul Wolinski…

Now 12 years into a career encompassing six long-play studio collections (including their ‘Silent Running’ soundtrack), a number of EPs, a live album, a bunch of rare-release round-ups and too many amazing performances to count on the toes of their average crowd, Sheffield foursome 65daysofstatic show no signs of slowing down.

Album six ‘Wild Light’ finds its makers – Paul Wolinski (keys), Joe Shrewsbury (guitar), Rob Jones (drums) and Simon Wright (bass) – on typically impressive form. Instrumental but swollen with more emotion than myriad vocal-led outfits, 65days’ sound continues to push at the extremities of both rock and electro territories, while maintaining a considerable grasp on attentions via deceptively engaging hooks and breakdowns that simply can’t be beat.

‘Wild Light’ – reviewed here – represents new beginnings for the band. Their rocky relationship with the typically hardcore/punk label Hassle (Cancer Bats, We Are The Ocean) has ended, and a new deal has been inked with Superball Music. Clash chats with the band’s keyboard player Paul Wolinski about the genesis of ‘Wild Light’, of 65days’ on-going progression, and why they’re not ones to linger on past glories…

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‘Prisms’, from ‘Wild Light’

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‘Wild Light’ continues from your ‘Silent Running’ soundtrack project in feeling like it has a real narrative to it. It doesn’t feel like these eight tracks could play out in any other order. So how gutted are you going to be when listeners put these tracks on shuffle?

It’d disappoint us a little bit, but I guess that’s the way people listen to music these days. But ‘Wild Light’ was planned to be one cohesive whole – and I think that even that is losing its place in today’s world, the idea of a 40- or 50-minute piece of music, strung together. We wanted to make something that made sense like that.

Also, for the first time, we only went into the studio with those songs that are now on the album. Usually we have extra stuff – but this way we could just focus on these eight songs. I think two or three of the tracks swapped their positions on the final sequence, but otherwise, even before we started making this for real, we knew the general flow of it.

We’re lucky that it all worked, as if a track had fallen apart in the studio, it’d have been irretrievable.

A few of the tracks, most obviously the opener ‘Heat Death Infinity Splitter’ and the closing ‘Safe Passage’, seem absolutely tailor-made for their positions on the album.

‘Heat Death…’ was planned as the opening track for ages. ‘Safe Passage’ went through various changes, but that always had a real end-of-record feel to it. Because we were writing these eight songs together, they started to find their places within the record fairly naturally.

You released your alternative soundtrack to the film ‘Silent Running’ in 2011. Has that whetted the appetite for similar work in the future?

Doing more soundtrack work is certainly on our list of things we want to do. It’s a hard world to break into, though, with a lot of competition out there. But I do think we’ve always had a cinematic element to our music.

We approached ‘Silent Running’ as if we were writing a real soundtrack, to prove that we could do it. And it really taught us how different it is to write for film compared to writing album tracks. It was a really interesting experience.

Although our music is instrumental, it does have to be standalone, and demand attentions on its own terms. Soundtracks can be complementary in style, not grabbing anyone too heavily just as a piece of music, working instead with the visuals. Maybe we’ve missed a certain degree of subtlety in the past, but doing ‘Silent Running’ helped us grasp that a little more. I think that comes through on this new album.

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‘Safe Distancing’ (audio only), from ‘Silent Running’

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There have been some changes since your last studio album ‘proper’, 2010’s more dance-focused ‘We Were Exploding Anyway’. You’ve changed labels, the sound is slightly less breathless. There’s more space for reflection on this album. Would you say that it’s more emotionally heavy than what’s come before?

Well, we wrote ‘Wild Light’ over a couple of years, and plenty of things happened to us, on a personal level, in that time. As things would to any human, both good things and bad things – some of which I don’t think any of us would want to be too explicit about.

I think we’ve realised how lucky we are. We’re in a rich country, relative to a lot of places in the world. We’re well protected. So I guess, even though a lot has happened in two years, including bad stuff, it leads us to writing music that’s reflective of coming from the position of being lucky ones. Although I appreciate it isn’t always the most upbeat music. There are worse things out there, than here.

But I’m guessing the period between ‘Exploding’ and now was more turbulent than, say, the period between that set and 2007’s preceding ‘The Destruction Of Small Ideas’?

Yeah, I’d say so. And also, with ‘Exploding’, that felt like the end of that first decade of being 65. We wanted to get to that place, to be good enough to write that record. And we finally got there, and it… Well, I think the release got fluffed a little.

In terms of the music, ‘Exploding’ is an album we’re hugely proud of. But in terms of how it was released, how it was supported, it didn’t lead to the exposure, to the new experiences, we were hoping for.

So, once we’d finished touring ‘Exploding’, we stepped away from the industry side of things for a while. ‘Silent Runnings’ was meant to be a fan-only, limited-edition thing that we did ourselves. That was nice to do. It got a bit bigger than we’d anticipated, but it was still just the band behind it – crowd-funding support allowed us to make it a bigger release. It was nice to not have to engage properly with the industry side of things on that.

So having gone down the route of crowd-funding once before, for ‘Silent Runnings’, why not do so again for ‘Wild Light’?

We did talk about doing it ourselves. We look at the bands who were beside us when we started, though, and so many have fallen by the wayside. We’re stubborn enough to be sticking around, but the music industry is a scary place, a tough place to survive in. I think if we’d self-released this album, it’d have come with the kind of responsibilities that we perhaps couldn’t shoulder – and we’d lose so much if it went wrong. I think it’d mean the end of the band if we were to put out a record like this and it didn’t achieve what we needed it to.

So, that there’s a label out there, willing to take a chance on a band like us, that’s a chance we’re going to take. Our deal with Superball is a proper old-school record deal. They put a good pitch together. Previously, when we were on Monotreme for our first three albums, they had a really diverse roster – and that was cool, as that was Monotreme’s style. Then, when we went to Hassle, they had all these bands that we were, again, nothing like. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.

Looking at Superball, they’ve a lot of more rock-style bands – we certainly share an affinity with …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, who are on the label, too. They’ve got a great distribution set-up, though, and can offer us great support networks. Crowd-funding is great for one-off releases, small ones. But we think we’re still improving as a band, that we’re still developing. And if we were doing this all by ourselves, I’m not sure we’d be able to realise that progression as well.

I saw you post, after previewing the album with its lead track ‘Prisms’, that you now needed to learn how to play the song, for touring…

We certainly approached this record in a different way to any we’d done before. With ‘Destruction’, we wrote it without too much thought into how to play it live, and only ever got about half the songs up to a satisfactory live standard. That taught us some hard lessons.

With ‘Exploding’, we wrote the entire album using our backline and live electronics, so we knew that, from day one, we could play the whole thing from start to finish – albeit without Robert Smith’s vocals (The Cure frontman appears on the track ‘Come To Me’). That was a very deliberate choice.

And we planned to do the same with this album – but then we thought about the production on ‘Exploding’, and while I think it sounds really cook, it wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be. So for ‘Wild Light’ we ultimately stripped everything we’d previous arranged down, allowing us more space to really focus on individual sounds. On a song like ‘Prisms’, that meant ripping apart all of the electronics initially in place for it, and creating all-new samples and loops.

It was an intense process – and afterwards, when we came to rehearse ‘Prisms’, using the original set-up, it sounded too weak. We were not using what we’d built in the studio. So, we’ve set about building the live set around new electronics, to do justice to these new songs when played live.

Is it fair to say that a lot of those cleaner, more dancefloor-focused basslines and synths on ‘Exploding’ have made way for a greater emphasis on guitars for ‘Wild Light’? It sounds like a record that connects with your overall catalogue, rather than a direct descendent of ‘Exploding’…

I think this album is a lot warmer-sounding that ‘Exploding’, and there are a lot more guitars on it. A track like ‘Taipei’, I think that’ll really appeal to the fans who’ve always preferred (debut album of 2004) ‘The Fall Of Math’ or (slosing track on 2005’s ‘One Time For All Time’ LP) ‘Radio Protector’ over the ‘Exploding’ stuff. I don’t think that there’s an obvious ‘single’ track on this album, but we chose ‘Prisms’ to lead with because it was a relatively immediate track, and represents fairly well what might else be on the record.

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‘Radio Protector’ (live), from the live album ‘Escape From New York’ (Clash review)

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Having played so many times, over so many years now, do you still get excited to wheel out the older numbers?

I do still enjoy ‘Radio Protector’, but that might be specific to me because I get to go all Jim Steinman on the piano. It’s good fun. To be honest, no songs we play live have ever got boring. In rehearsals, that can be different – songs we’ve been playing for 12 years don’t fill us with the same excitement as the newer ones.

When we get asked about why we don’t have a singer, we always reply that it means our songs can mean different things to different people at different times – taking away the vocal aspect helps to not anchor a song to a specific situation. The meanings behind the songs can change quite dramatically, even for us, as we’ve been playing them over the years.

We’re also realising, more than ever with this record, that songs are rarely properly finished – we’re always slightly changing things, so our songs have constantly evolved. But it’s always exciting to play before an audience.

And you’ve played to some pretty huge crowds, at festivals around the world, and in support to The Cure…

We’ve always forced ourselves to not get too nostalgic, because we’re very ambitious. I do think that we’re a great festival band, but I’ve seen other bands, who were once around us, progress at a much faster speed than we have. And I do wonder why that is. I don’t know if it’s anyone’s fault. But I do think that we’re a great festival band.

That said, I stuck on ‘Exploding’ the other day for the first time in ages, and found it to be about 300% more confusing than I remembered it, compared to how I heard it in my memory. It’s not quite this immediate dance record – the first track’s in something like 11/4. So maybe it’s us – maybe we’re just that little bit too weird, and that’s what’s kept us on this gentle incline.

If we didn’t feel like we were writing better music each time, we’d have grown tired of fighting this battle by now. But it feels like we’re getting better – and hopefully, if this album goes all right, then we’ll continue to improve. We’ve had some great moments – massive festivals in Japan, touring arenas with The Cure – and one day it’ll be great to look back and be proud of that. But we’re a bit scared to do so right now, in case we get lazy and revel in nostalgia instead of trying to do something even bigger.

So just how unstoppable does 65days remain in 2013?

We’ll keep pushing this until we’re completely unable to, until everything breaks.

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‘Retreat! Retreat!’ and ‘TD’ (aka ‘Crash Tactics’ on ‘Exploding’), live at Summersonic, Japan, 2009

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'Wild Light' is released on September 16th and reviewed here. 65daysofstatic tour as follows…

22: Liquid Room, Edinburgh

23: Sound Control, Manchester

24: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

25: Scala, London

26: Thekla, Bristol

Find 65daysofstatic online here

Photo: Chris Saunders

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