Incendiary Interview Maps



It was, it has to be said, one of the most forthright press releases we've ever had: " If We Can Create was the birth of Maps this second album, entitled Turning The Mind, is the fully formed manifesto.”  A potted history in case you need to catch up: sometime in 2005 James Chapman started releasing tunes onto the internet under the name Maps, which eventually led to a record deal with Mute. James then spent most of 2007 touring relentlessly with a conventional guitar/bass/drums band - admittedly one that boasted two absolutely enormous keyboard stacks - and somewhere in the middle of this released We Can Create to massive critical acclaim; just a few weeks later it was nominated for the Mercury Prize. It didn't win, but then the best entry usually doesn't, does it?

In July 2008 the band played their last ever gig at Oxfordshire's Truck Festival (of course we were there - read Martin Percival's review here) after which James returned to his bedroom to start work on the follow-up. Months of largely nocturnal creation later (including a lengthy stint working with Death In Vegas' Tim Holmes at The Contino Rooms) Turning The Mind was released a few days ago; you can read a review elsewhere in this issue. Incendiary's Cath Aubergine had more of an idea what was coming than most people, having caught a few Maps gigs over the summer - these days there's no guitar, bass or drums, just James Chapman and Danish techno wizard August Jakobsen, but the sound they make is nothing short of immense. Their UK tour kicks off in Oxford on 17th October (see Maps Myspace for listings) with a possibility of continental dates to follow; so it's time to ask James about this new direction and indeed all things electronic....

IN: When did you first get into electronic music, and what was the catalyst?

MAPS: Well, I guess I properly got into it when I went to university. I hated university. (Editor's note: Specifically Reading University, also the unlikely alma mater of our beloved British Sea Power, which probably proves some sort of point about shit towns and finding interesting things to do in them. Think about that before you apply to Manchester or Amsterdam, budding creatives!)  I used to just sit in my room and drink, listening to music, until I met a guy who just sat in his room smoking weed and listening to music too - but stuff I'd never heard before. We'd do mix-tapes for each other and the stuff he put on his tapes was mind-blowing, I'd never heard anything like it before. He was into Modest Mouse and Slint and stuff but it was the electronic stuff that inspired me the most. We went to see Fridge playing with To Rococo Rot at King's Cross Water Rats one night which was phenomenal. Then I bought Boards Of Canada's 'Music Has The Right To Children' and that was it for me. It was like an atomic bomb. I'd found my path. IN: You played in guitar bands as a teenager, how did the transgression come about?

MAPS: I moved away from guitars slowly as I got into electronic artists more. I became tired of the fact they were un-reliable tuning wise. I know it sounds funny, but with a guitar there can always be an area of error with the tuning. But with a synth you have COMPLETE control. You can control if you want to de-tune it (which I do a lot) or you can get the perfect pitch you're searching for straight away. I just find synths more exciting to be honest! IN: What did you start off with? Like your basic essential kit...

MAPS: Same stuff I use now really, ha ha! Yamaha AW16G 16-Track Hard Disk Recorder, Yamaha RM1x (a synth and drum sequencer) and a tiny Yamaha SU10 Sampler. I've added a few things over the years but they're my original babies! I've never used a computer - don't even know how to switch 'em on (laughs) IN: The one thing everyone knows about Maps is that he makes the music at home in a village just outside Northampton, which if you've heard "Turning the Mind" is actually pretty hard to believe - so with this new album how much of it was created in the legendary bedroom?

MAPS: A lot actually. These demos were much more advanced than the ones for the first album because I'd got to know my equipment better. Some of the demos didn't change much at all for the finished album, just tweaks and stuff. But other ones were completely over-hauled with Tim Holmes (y co-producer). He's fantastic and hugely talented. 'Nothing' was probably the song that changed the most in the studio from my original demo. IN: 15 years ago you could go into a guitar shop and buy a guitar without  any idea what you were doing, but if you wanted a sequencer you had to  go to a specialist shop... Do you think it's easier / more accessible these days when kids can research stuff online?

MAPS: Definitely. We're in a really exciting age now. The internet has broken so many boundaries. It's almost like punk again! It's changed the way people go about pretty much everything. You can buy a synth/sequencer knowing that you're DEFINITELY getting what you want and knowing you're not being ripped off. IN. A lot of our favourite albums of 2009 have got a distinctly electronic feel, as have a lot of the ones the press are having a wank over  (although not necessarily the same ones) - are we in a new golden age?

MAPS: Great electronic music has always been out there but you just had to look harder and dig deeper. I think as technology advances things just keep getting more and more exciting. There's no limit to where it can take us. But, to be honest, as usual a lot of stuff gets 'watered down' for the mainstream. As you say, the press get hooked on some stuff that isn't very good (I ain't mentioning no names!!) and it's starting to be about the best hair-cut rather than the best music!! But there'll always be great music out there. IN: So you're about to head off on your first major tour since 2007 when  of course you had a band behind you. Is it a different feeling just  two of you and a load of synths up there? Do you feel more exposed?

MAPS: I don't really to be honest. I actually feel more confident using synths and a laptop - I'm kinda in my element. I never meant for Maps to be a guitar-based band and that's what it was turning into and being perceived as. So I went back to my original roots and feel a lot more confident. I'm doing what I wanna do, it's ace!


IN: As well as your own records you've done a load of remixes for all  manner of acts, many of which sound very different to the original tunes. (We recommend checking out his version of Kyte's "Secular Ventures" which came out as a single on Sonic Cathedral and is officially one of the most awesome records ever). What's the thought process when you get your hands on something to remix?

MAPS: Every track needs to be looked at separately really. It's hard explain a 'general' method, I guess you have to hear the track first before you think about how to tackle it. It really is reliant on hearing the song over and over before you make your decision where to go with it. IN: Equally some of the mixes people have done of your stuff are quite a  long way from the starting points - do you give them any remit?  Got a favourite?

MAPS: I just let them do what they want really!! It's always exciting getting back someone's remix. It kinda defeats the object if you tell them what to do cos you could just do it yourself then, ha ha! I love the Mock And Toof remix of 'It Will Find You'. I guess from the remixes so far from this album, it has to be Steve Lawler's remix of 'I Dream Of Crystal'. BANGING!!!!

IN:OK, last question - who else should we be listening to?

MAPS:  Deadmau5!!

IN: Argh! OK, if we must. Maybe.

Cath Aubergine 2009

Pics: Alex Staszko