Incendiary chew the cud with Space Siren

I don’t wanna be a member of a club that wants me as a member. I never had the feeling that I wanna be part of something. I wanna be part of my band and I love my band members and that’s a scene on its own.

 

I’m off to Voorhout to interview Space Siren and talk about their brilliant new record but I’m a bit early and I’m wondering what to do (just think of that…. “being early in Voorhout”… that must be one of the most un-rock concepts that’s ever been described in this magazine). So I decide to sod it and knock up Corno Zwetsloot anyway, only to see Gwen and Inneke from the band coming towards me, weighed down by shopping bags bulging with drink – mostly bought for me. Things are looking up. After a quick chat with Corno and Gwen, I’m ushered into the studio where countless Dutch bands have recorded over the years. There’s a bit of psychological warfare going in on here, in that Corno and Gwen have high-backed chairs to sit on, as if they are king and queen of a court and we journalists are the jesters here to amuse them. Fair enough; as Incendiary, emboldened by a glass or two of export Guinness, is up for this.

IN: I think your record’s brilliant – and I found it very instructive to listen for one main reason - in that it is very much a record that plays by its own rules… I made a note that the two tracks that open each side of the record remind me of The Tempest – Shakespeare’s play…

GWEN: (Laughs)

IN: And for a while as a listener you don’t know where you are for three four minutes – on both sides of the record. It’s completely disorientating. This is deliberate?

CORNO: (Silence) Yeah… do you always ask such long questions?

IN: Well, yes…

GWEN: The only answer we can give to your question is yes! Hahaha! But yes, it’s something that we talked about and it’s something that we wanted when we came to put the record together.

CORNO: We could have made up a sequence that was easy going or pleasant but then, that’s not the record we wanna make… it was a bit like you said yourself.

IN: I also thought the record is like an ingenious machine.  You know Heath Robinson?

CORNO: No…

IN: This guy used to draw these incredible pictures of fantastic machines which seem far too complicated for the tasks they are made to carry out – for example a massive contraption for chopping the lawn – using scissors…

CORNO: Like the machine that goes ping? Something that exists on its own rules…

IN: Yeah, that’s it seems to survive… I imagined the record living on its own – like the Fall’s records.

CORNO: You know it’s funny you say that because to me it’s like a Beatles album, I think it’s like Revolver, because we wanted to make a record that’s pleasing and unpleasant at the same time. When you listen to it in a way –it sounds… you know I don’t understand the first reactions to it it’s a difficult dark record, it’s weird and I don’t understand it because there was a point where we (looks to Gwen) felt that we made it too convenient and pleasant an album.

GWEN: Yeah.

CORNO: The only thing we hear are the songs which I feel are really nice and easy going – I mean if you listen to it a couple of times you can sing along!

IN: I thought that there are some great pop songs on there, Girlfriends Who Don’t Love Their Boyfriends for example. And the Revolver idea is interesting because a record that yours will be compared to, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything tried to do the same thing.

CORNO: Oh now here is a big difference, because Kevin Shields made a record using band members and I didn’t. This record is made by me and Gwendolien together you know with the sounds, the arrangements…

GWEN: The way of recording, talking a lot about what we were going to do…

IN: It’s not a difficult record then, just that it’s just living by a set of rules… But your LP runs totally against the grain for a guitar record in Holland. It’s expansive and opaque and illogical.

CORNO: You know the reaction I got when I’m around, when people are listening to it? When it’s finished, mostly they are quiet for about five minutes, they just sit around and don’t know what to say.

IN: Why do you think people react like that?

CORNO: Ah… because I think it really sucks you into it and when you are willing to let that happen then the album propels you towards the heavens.

IN: Nice you’ve released it on vinyl…

CORNO: It’s also on CD….

IN: I’d love to hear it on CD, bet it’s completely different.

CORNO: I prefer the vinyl, dunno why.

IN: I like the vinyl if only for the fact you can flip it, in that each side’s an act and in that respect it is like a play.

CORNO: We were really satisfied with the sequence. I agree with you it is nice on vinyl but the CD tells a longer story and I feel it works amazingly well.

IN: It’s like a weird film a tale on an old analogue soundtrack; you know stuff like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders…

CORNO: A bit like what Broadcast did. That’s what they call retro futuristic? The whole thing is a completely analogue experience because the band you hear is just the band on one run through, it was just “1-2-3-4 and play” and listening back afterwards we heard things and in some songs we did a layer on layer, and on several other songs it took us four or five days each because of finding sounds that were exciting… I really like inconvenient sounds and inconvenient bands. And that (laughs) took some time to find out, probably because it was an old fashioned way of doing things.

IN: Sometimes you seem to get lost in sound – both on here and when I see you live.  Are you a band that plays on the moment in that respect?

GWEN: Well in different ways… trying to (lose ourselves) but also hearing what’s there and deliberately looking to change things…

CORNO: I think it’s also that things within the band have changed. In the beginning it was more that I had a vision and Gwendolien helped me to record it but with this album we made a plan together and found a way and that’s quite a big difference.

IN: This record is very different to your singles and EP… this record has a big reach and is more sensual…

CORNO: That’s difficult to answer, because during recording we had some moments of doubt (Gwen laughs)… and erm… lots of moments like “fuck it it’s not there”, and “let’s start over” and I remember my daughter playing our EP and I listened to that and normally I don’t listen to my own music and I thought “phew that band is good, man, I wish that we could be that good with this album”… and then we finished the album and I listened to it and I thought I was wrong… that we had actually gone to a completely different level.

GWEN: I’m very, very proud of this LP.

IN: It interests me when you said you were hearing things in the LP which sort of suggests you didn’t know how to finish it?

CORNO: What often happens is that we start with a song, record things then throw away the basic parts. Ontstaan, you know… the synthesis? You get away from the original guitar parts and find something in the equation between two guitar parts…

GWEN: We’re not logical at all… we’re just listening and listening and seeing what’s happening.

CORNO: What I like with the album is that when it starts it is a bit inconvenient especially with the first song, and then you get completely out of tune when the second starts and when you get used to all of that, well it’s loud, sweet, ugly…

GWEN: The first two songs take you to a level where you can relax…

IN: That’s why I think the LP is very filmic because as with a film it has to grab you and keep you interested… and I thought the last track on your LP started to stray into that kind of thing, almost Fairport Convention territory.

CORNO: And, almost no bands have a singer like ours, I mean I have recorded for twenty years and in twenty years I could mention four or five times in twenty years where I’ve had goose pimples all over, where I feel there is something special… and I think with this album I cried about five times because she sang so beautiful, I could look into her soul, and to do that, to have the guts to do that…

IN: I kept thinking the singing was like a lullaby, the vocals are very soothing. Very plainchant, monkish, building up a sound with a voice…

CORNO: We recorded a song called lullaby on our EP and there’s no vocals on that (both laugh)

GWEN: Sometimes singing was difficult but most of the time I really enjoyed it actually. A lot of times it was emotional and we liked to look for the moment of point that it was true for me, and erm… not a theatre thing but it was true what I was singing.

CORNO: Straight from the heart. You know last week there was a person who mentioned the vocals were cool and distant and it really pisses me off because that says to me they didn’t listen to the vocals, and they were just using what other people said before…

IN: I mean I’ve said that in the past! But not on this record because the vocals are completely different.

GWEN: Maybe there are bits where sometimes I’m a little angry but that’s not cool or cold… actually I was really angry! (Laughs).

IN: What is a cool vocal?

CORNO: I mean sometimes I understand. I have heard reports when people have said that Gwendolien’s vocals are sort of undercooked? I understand what they mean but they have to listen to this album. If you’re writing things like that about this album you didn’t listen to it. And that’s just… fuck it!

IN: The recent split single you did with the Sugarettes was an eye opener for me not only the vocals but the structures were different.

GWEN: The way we record things now is different.

CORNO: With the first record, Gwendolien had just joined and I had the urge to teach or tell something and Gwen was like “tell me what to do”, and the fact she progressed so quickly made the recording of this LP completely different.

IN: It’s a key release, one of the key releases in Holland.

CORNO: It’s gonna stay that way (laughs). It’s all about variety! That’s why it’s comparable to Revolver because it’s got a strange variety of songs in it; outside of Yellow Submarine we’ve got all things in there (laughs).

IN: It’s the best Beatles LP isn’t it? You could throw the rest away. Maybe outside of the White Album… I think they are a side issue after Revolver.

CORNO: For me it’s the same.

IN: Oh yeah while we’re on the subject of similarities to other records, remember when you moaned at me and told me to fuck off because I said that bits of the LP sounded like Sonic Youth?

CORNO: Do you want me to say fuck off again?

IN: Actually let’s set this straight! (Laughs)… ‘Cos there’s a bit in It’s Your Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To, which is classic Sonic Youth!

CORNO: OK yeah yeah… OK obviously but if you listen to the very first attempt of that song when we talk about that song we still call it Sonic (laughs)… Anyway when I make up a line and I really love it there is always a quest to avoid too much Sonic Youth or whatever… but I don’t think Sonic Youth is a big influence on this album and although I completely love them this last two years I haven’t really listened… What’s your favourite?

IN: Daydream Nation

CORNO: Really? For me it’s either Evol or Sister… Listen; a band that got mentioned a lot during recording was Muse (Laughs).

IN: ??

GWEN: (Laughing) in that when it goes wrong, as an anti-example -we had to stop and go “wait, wait we sound like Muse, stop!”

IN: I’d like to talk about the fact that maybe your record has a hippy or pastoral vibe...

CORNO: Eh? What’s hippy about it or us then? You tell me as you mentioned it! We didn’t start it…

IN: Maybe one of the reasons I felt the record was a bit hippy or was that here you are in the middle of the Bollenstreek, there’s a bit of a pastoral vibe like as I said earlier echoes of Fairport Convention in one or two tracks?

GWEN: Maybe it’s a hippy thing because some of the record is friendly or we are?

CORNO: We’re not friendly…

GWEN: Oh come on yes we are.

CORNO: OK maybe I’m friendly to you.

IN: Hippy to me was agricultural, agrarian, not interested in fashion, and happy to be DIY – so in that respect very close to punk… These back to basic, self-sufficient elements are very much the thing Space Siren are about – you are independent people it’s fair to say? I mean you have got strong opinions…

CORNO: OK then yes... and I certainly don’t want to be part of a scene. For me it’s always been a case of… I don’t wanna be a member of a club that wants me as a member. I don’t think there are scenes that are completely what you like... I don’t feel they exist. I never had the feeling that I wanna be part of something. I wanna be part of my band and I love my band members and that’s a scene on its own.

GWEN: I don’t like big groups and “opinions” and when “things are going on”, I really don’t like that.

IN: Pop music is always about opinion, though… I mean I spout a lot of opinions, your label does…

CORNO: I like opinions a lot and I agree everyone in the band has strong opinions… not being part of a scene doesn’t mean we can’t have them!

GWEN: Well more in groups, where you have some kind of consensus, “this is this and that is that” more that kind of thing, and (laughs) I don’t feel comfortable in big groups, and I don’t feel I can easily fit into a group. What I feel in Space Siren are the connections between people which I don’t really get in big anonymous groups of people. I don’t like it! (Laughs)…

CORNO: What I really like is when you’re having a talk and exchanging opinions, maybe it’s why I have a studio – for fifteen years I have had amazing conversations with people in here - and we can talk freely here and it’s so much nicer that being in some crowded bar, if you take people out of scenes they tell you who they are. If they’re in a scene they tell you what the scene’s like. Scenes are also about imitating. And you see that with bands. Bands I like the last few years are the Liars, Broadcast and they’re all bands on their own and they are not comparable to other things.

IN: Your record sounds just like a carbon copy of what you have said.

CORNO: I also think a lot of opinions that come together as one don’t make a strong opinion and that’s the way we worked we start with the four and after the basic tracks are on tape it’s just me and Gwendolien; because if you have too many opinions all the way through you start to doubt matters, and if there are just two people then it’s clear and that works in a way that means you can come to a good decision. Otherwise you end up wondering what to do, and then it’s “let’s drink tea” (laughs).