Personality Clash: Maps x The Invisible

James Chapman and Tom Herbert in conversation...

James Chapman aka Maps’ new, third album, ‘Vicissitude’, is the sort of set that makes a man stop what he’s doing and ask, enthusiastically, what this is on the office stereo. 

Reviewing the record for Clash, our own Mat Smith called ‘Vicissitude’ “10 tracks of soul-bearing introspection swathed in layers of rich reverb, icy chill and ephemeral echoes of 30 years of synth pop”.

Read that review of the Northampton-based artist’s latest LP in full here.

The Invisible is Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor. The London-based band’s second collection, ‘Rispah’, was released to much acclaim in 2012. Check out the Clash review of it here.

Clash was pleased as punch to premiere the Invisible remix of Maps’ album-preceding single ‘A.M.A.’ recently – listen to it here.

And to continue our love-in with these brilliant British acts – both of whom earned Mercury Prize nominations for their debut albums, Maps for ‘We Can Create’ in 2007, and The Invisible for their eponymous set of 2009 – we thought we’d let Chapman and Herbert natter on about all things musical for half an hour, while lurking in the background with a Dictaphone.

It’s not stalking… right?

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Maps, ‘Vicissitude’ album trailer

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James: I was gonna say, I really love your remix, man. It’s awesome.

Tom: Oh, thanks.

J: So how do you find remixing other people?

T: I find it really interesting and challenging, as it’s a very different creative process from how I usually work. You’re taking someone else’s idea, so it’s more production-like than writing.

J: I feel the same, because the source material is already there. It’s a different starting point.

T: Often, with a lot of music-making I’ve done in the past, it’s always been collaborative, with other people. So, more often than not I’m the bass player – so I’ll do my bit, and then the drummer will take care of the rhythm or whatever! And recently, doing remixes on my own, on the whole… it pushes me in a different way, and asks lots of questions about what it is that I want to get across with the music. I’m trying to think about what the original song I’m remixing is trying to convey, or the feeling I’m getting from the song. There are so many possibilities. I can find it quite daunting.

J: I know what you mean. I sometimes feel that I have more freedom to experiment with a remix, rather than with my own work, as the song is already there for you to mess around with and try different things. I really enjoy doing them, and I really enjoyed doing yours.

T: I liked how you did some different stuff with it. It’s always interesting to hear how other artists have filtered our material through their own processes. You know, the way they might set it, with different harmonies, maybe. A lot of the time, for us, we’ve had remixes of our material done that we’ve used aspects of for when we play live. Like, we might like something they’ve done with the harmony more than on the original version, so we’ll use it.

J: I’m quite interested in what you said about working in a band, as I work on my own. So I’m interested in the process of you making your last album, as some of the songs are quite complex. I wondered how much comes from just jamming, and how much was already all there, and was then rehearsed?

T: Sometimes we just get together in a room, but it changes from song to song. A lot of our ideas do come from jamming. We’ll be rehearsing, and then we’ll just start playing on a tangent, and find an idea. In the past, we’ve got our phones out and recorded what we’re jamming into them. Then we might listen back to, like, half an hour of jamming, and find a minute of it that’s interesting.

J: Sometimes I’m just lying in bed, singing into my phone. Because if I don’t I’ll wake up in the morning and forget what it was I was singing. Normally when I do listen back, it’s rubbish anyway (laughs).

T: Or you realise you’ve actually written an existing Beatles song. I’ve done that before, when you’ve been working on something a while before you realise it’s actually someone else’s song, just not as good. But you do all of your writing on your own?

J: I do, yeah. It’s just what I’m used to. You kind of find the best way to do things, and I’ve always locked myself away. Really, I’m just jamming with myself until something comes together. It’s really trial and error. So I guess it is the same process, but you can go a bit insane if you’re second-guessing yourself. You need to know when to stop.

T: That’s always the big problem, making music, knowing when a song is done. Especially with so much technology at our disposal now.

J: Totally. You can spend a year on a hi-hat or something.

T: For me, our development as a band has been based around knowing when to say: that’s it. Because that can be really hard sometimes. You have to learn to let go of things.

J: I find myself really questioning myself about my music, until it’s time to put it out there. And then, when you get those objective opinions, I think they can be really helpful. Otherwise you can forget what a piece of music will sound like to new ears.

T: That’s the good thing about having a band, having those extra ears to know what’s working and what isn’t.

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The Invisible, ‘Wings’, from ‘Rispah’

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J: So are The Invisible working on new music, now?

T: Yeah, we’ve just started working on new material recently. We have our own space, a base of our own, so it’s amazing to come in and work on stuff without having to watch the clock. It feels like a really important creative thing to be able to work on stuff whenever we want, with no restrictions. Although, sometimes those are good, too! They make sure you’re getting on with stuff.

J: When I started out, and even on the last album, I was using a lot of old equipment, and I found that the limitations of said gear was actually a good thing. You can run out of tracks to record. And I’ve only just started using software, and it’s a whole different ball game. You’ve so many different plug-ins, you do have to know when to stop.

T: I need to step back from things, get some space and get fresh ears.

J: I’ve another question here that you’ve probably answered about 1,000 times. But you were nominated for the Mercury Prize, weren’t you?

T: Yeah. And you were, too, right?

J: Yeah. For my first album. And you were for your first, too. So I just wondered what that nomination did for you? Did you feel pressure for the second album?

T: Not really! I don’t think so. I don’t know how you felt, but being nominated was an amazing thing to happen, for us. It really opened some doors in terms of exposure, as I think we were one of those bands that makes the list that people really don’t, or didn’t, know. We weren’t up there with Kasabian, or whoever else was on the bill that year. But it kind of introduced us to a lot of people, and we know that a lot of people did find out about us through the Mercury, especially abroad. I don’t know how it was for you…

J: Well, never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect anything like that, and it all happened so fast, from me getting signed, to making the album, to the Mercury. It was quite a surreal experience, the whole thing. But I feel the same as you, really – you can’t let something like that change the way you do things, or you’d just go crazy.

T: Yeah. What you don’t want to do is add layers of creative interference to the process. I think it’s really important to not let things get in the way of that. It’d be easy to get worried about other people’s expectations. Your next record might sound very different to the one before it, but you saw every aspect of the process, so to you it feels normal, natural. Worrying about other people’s expectations would just get in the way.

J: With my new album, I just took myself out of everything for a while, and really focused on what I wanted to do. I wanted to get back to what’d got me excited about making music in the first place. And I had the luxury of time – to take stock, and remove myself from everything else, and immerse myself in this new music. I wanted to concentrate on the songs, rather than the sound of it. I guess that was the starting point. But a lot of songs didn’t make it this time. In the past, when I wrote, the end was the end – but here, there were a lot of unfinished things and experiments. Which was good as it meant I’d have time to try different things.

T: I know what you mean. It’s good to have that space for reflection. With our last album, we started making it but a lot of the songs we had at the start weren’t there at the end. But we had to go through that process. And then the shape, and character, of the album appeared through that process. By the end it was obvious which songs fitted and which did not.

J: Yeah. These things rarely turn out exactly as you initially envisage them.

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Maps, ‘Don’t Fear’, from ‘We Can Create’

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The Invisible photo by Tom Skipp

Maps photo by Phil Sharp

‘Vicissitude’ is released via Mute on July 8th. Find Maps online here

‘Rispah’ is out now on Ninja Tune. Find The Invisible online here

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