Exploding In Sound is proud to present the second installment of our "EIS Artist to Artist Interview" series. The feature allows for some of our favorite bands to interview some of the musicians that have helped inspire them a long the way. For this edition, we present you with another international affair as RIBS' Keith Freund interviews the prolific Terry Abbott of Vex Red, Fears, Septembre fame. The two chat about self producing their records, influences, a shared love of Autloux, and much more. So without further ado...
Keith Freund: So first of all, thanks Terry for agreeing to do this. When [Exploding In Sound creator] Dan [Goldin] asked who I'd want to do an artist-on-artist interview with, it was so obvious that this would be a perfect fit. I've been a huge fan of Vex Red since high school, I found [Fears' song] "My My" through one of Dan's compilations, and then the full Fears album, again through Exploding In Sound, once it came out. I just saw that RIBS and Fears are related artists on Last.fm. It's cosmic.
Terry Abbott: Very cool. I have to say, RIBS sounds really good. You have a good ear for production.
KF: Thanks. And to top it all off there's barely any information on you online. So I guess it makes sense to do this the old fashioned way and ask what I want to know. The new Fears record, 3AM, The Beautiful, The Bittersweet, is genius. Easily my favorite album of the year. Can you talk a little bit about the creation of it?
TA: Sure, I'd had a few of these ideas kicking about and although some became realized and were gigged, most of the early bits were never really given a chance. I had made a decision to shift my focus a little and to do this. I packed everything up and relocated to Spain and got stuck in. It was a quiet time for me, mostly spent in isolation – a great opportunity to ask myself the questions that I'd been shying away from. It was all recorded by me on my laptop using various things I could find. A bit 'punk rock' for an electronic based album!
TA: I'd given myself a few months and had set a target of having 12 songs written and recorded. In the end I managed 20. Some were completely new and written in about 15 minutes. Some took a couple of days. It was a peaceful experience and I'm very happy with the results.
KF: One interesting thing about Fears relative to Vex Red is that it has a healthy dose of optimism, musically at least – maybe not lyrically. Are you in a different place in life now?
TA: Vex Red was a snapshot of life back then. It was almost 10 years ago and we all go through changes. You can't be an angst ridden teenager forever. It just gets old. With this, it was about setting a challenge to myself. With production techniques and software, using the environment as much as possible, just really embracing where I was at the time. Yes, I am in a very different place in life. I am happy, comfortable with where I sit. There are no problems. I am content. Vex Red was coming off the back of growing up, finding our feet, etc. Fears is the sound of someone just seeing what they can do.
KF: There's a lot of mythical imagery in 3TBTB – ghosts, devils, demons, fires. What inspired the lyrics?
TA: Being completely 100% open to myself and having no secrets. At points, we all feel haunted by things we can never change. Being contented with how things are going doesn't cancel out any worry or doubt. It makes you more able to see these things for what they are. Being in total isolation and maintaining a routine within that can really open your eyes to all sorts of crazy stuff! I found the trick to be to use these things as fodder and not be afraid of them.
KF: Your lyrics are almost always written in second person, which gives them a very direct, personal feel. I think there's a tendency as a listener to assume that those types of lyrics are love songs, but a lot of times it's not clear what sort of relationship you have with the person you're singing to. Do you write love songs? Is there someone that you write about over and over?
TA: Yes, I find it easier to pick a focus and stick with it. Many of the songs I write are love songs. In an non-obvious way. Perhaps, the content of the lyrics may be more about the feelings that this person has inspired, or has left me with, or has made me long for. There have been a few people that were, at the time, incredibly important to me, making me realize things and feelings that no other has before or since. So there are certainly repeating themes due to specific people, yes.
KF: Near the beginning of [Fears song] "Pins & Needles", it sounds like there's a woman angrily saying "get that smile off your face" far in the background. What is that?
TA: Yeah, "wipe that smile off your face." It's a sample. Originally that was actually me saying it but I have this little MiniDisc recorder and I decided to use the originally recorded version. It was part of a conversation I had with someone. I shall say no more!
KF: I could've sworn it was a clip from a movie.
TA: Hahaha no. It's quite effected too so it's not overly obvious as to who it is, but it's part of a telling off I received once!
KF: Haha. What made you decide to release the record for free?
TA: Basically, these songs were sitting on my hard drive just static and still. My drive and desire for record deals and such is not what it perhaps should be. I figured I would much rather have this work listened to than not. Hence the free release.
KF: The production sounds incredible, and as someone who did the same with my band's EP I am especially in awe that you did it yourself. How did you get so good at it?
TA: It could be so much better. I know that. I was very restricted to what I had at my disposal. Namely a prehistoric version of Cubase, an old Apple Powerbook, a few synths, a decent microphone, and an open mind! I think having worked with some really world class production guys has helped me. Sonically I'm aware of how things can and should sound. So much of the atmospheric sounds are actually my vocals that I have effected and played with. I could never afford the greatest outboard gear, so to achieve the sounds I wanted, I'd have to sing them and twist them into what I needed.
With mixing, it was all done on the computer. I mixed it as best I could and ran it through an internal mastering suite. Again, if I had the opportunity to use some decent gear, it could sound so much better. But hey, you work with what you have right?!
KF: Well I think you should keep doing it. It sounds fantastic to me. Have you produced for any other bands?
TA: No I've not. I have thought about it once or twice. I think I'd like to try but I'd have difficulty only wearing the producer hat and not the songwriter hat! Having seen how other producers work, I'm glad that what I bring to the table is actually a complete article. I could not go into a room with half a song and some ideas and expect a producer to piece it together. How did you go about recording the RIBS stuff?
KF: Same as Fears basically, except time-wise it was the exact opposite. The songs were off and on for about five years. A lot of the demo tracks from 2005 made the final cut. Vocal takes and whatnot.
TA: Really? Did they evolve much over time?
KF: Absolutely. Although eventually we had to just call them finished because as a band we were evolving too fast for the songs. And I definitely had the same feeling about my production that you have about yours.
TA: Are you too proficient? As in, once one songs is realized and ready, you have a backlog of 3 or 4 more? All moving in various directions?
KF: Yes exactly.
TA: Haha! Yeah. We sound very similar! It's actually a bit of a curse.
KF: Yeah... the songs have to take their turn and go in order... but lately I've been toying with the idea that we might be better off telling the backlog to fuck off for a second and try releasing something brand new.
TA: Something so non-formulaic, although great for us, is awful for any other band members!
KF: Speaking of which, what was the songwriting like with your previous bands? I read that you entered Vex Red after it was formed. Were the songs already written?
TA: No. Vex Red was formed to a degree but they were very different. They were much more 'Massive Attack'. The singer only sang. When I was asked to join and add vocals I insisted that I bring my guitar and add noises! The Vex Red songwriting varied from tune to tune. I think towards the completion of the album writing sessions, [Vex Red keyboard/programmer] Keith [Lambert] and I had pretty much stumbled on a process. A bit long winded but all the same, effective. I would generally come up with a song start to finish: guitars, melodies, etc. and he would then add electronica and beats to it and hand it back and we would kind of all mold it into what we felt worked. Some songs were heavily started by him, others by me. The end product, having taken different amounts of time would invariably be given thumbs up by all of us. There was no real set process. It just took us a long time. I'm sure you could appreciate how frustrating it was. Septembre, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite. I wrote the songs, we played them. Much quicker. Probably too quick.
KF: Most of our next EP is going to be songs almost exclusively not started by me. So that'll be interesting.
TA: Yeah dude, I'm not sure how I'd feel about a body of work that had sparked from someone else. You cool with that idea?
KF: Well, our bassist [Blake Fusilier] is my best friend, and I've been writing with him for 10 years, since I first started writing. But I wouldn't want to do it without the right people. I've tried that too. It doesn't feel good.
TA: Painful. As long as you have an understanding, a respect for one another, it will work.
KF: It's very hard to start writing a song at the same time though. We've been trying over our last year and a half being a band, and we're still coming back to having one person start it on his own and presenting it to the rest of us. It's hard to get in the zone as a group, to get inspired simultaneously.
KF: Maybe with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs...
TA: Prog rock!
KF: When we're arranging and producing RIBS material, I'm always referencing certain albums or songs. For example lately we've been bringing up "Scissor" from the most recent Liars album, which has a unique arrangement during the beginning and then a surprise section that comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the face. Are there any artists, albums, or songs that you find yourself referencing?
TA: Not really, no. Although I do understand how that can work I generally find the melody will take a song where it needs to go. In the very early days, I would really try to emulate Smashing Pumpkins. The way they sounded, the whole amazing vibe of Siamese Dream just struck such a profound chord with me. I soon realized that I wasn't, and never would be Billy Corgan! In terms of production, there are sounds and soundscapes that will always make me tingle. If I could ever get even close to the epic heart-wrenching sounds of early Sigur Ros I could die a happy man!
KF: What did you grow up listening to?
TA: Well, my parents did have good taste. [My siblings and I] were never really forced to listen to music but I was always aware of what was available. Led Zep, Beatles, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Kinks, Stones, The Who. Loads and loads of really cool Sixties compilations. When I started to buy my own music, I think the first album I had that I played over and over again was Achtung Baby by U2. I still listen to it. I listened to "Acrobat" just yesterday actually. It's a shame what happened to them! But they will always have a special place in my heart.
KF: Are there any artists you'd like to collaborate with?
TA: Oh yeah, so many. Emiliana Torrini, Efterklang, Explosions In The Sky, Jamie Lenman (from Reuben), Deftones, The Cure... dude, the list is endless. If I found myself recording in a studio with any of these people, I'm sure I would just be a dribbling mess on the floor!
KF: Back when Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire first came out it was my go-to recommendation when people asked me for something new. Do you have any underexposed or underrated artists to recommend to Exploding In Sound readers?
TA: Ah, that's nice, thanks Keith. My knowledge of brand new bands is not what it should be... Recently I have been trying as hard as possible to turn people on to Autolux. Their new album is fantastic. Certainly in regards to underrated artists yes, I think Múm, the Icelandic band are amazing. Silversun Pickups can always sort you out with a decent tune too!
KF: I'm going to see Autolux tonight.
TA: OH I'm jealous JEALOUS JEEAALOOOOUUUSS!
KF: My friend's band is opening for them. The Dirty Dishes – who were also on one of Dan's compilations. It's pretty freaking crazy
TA: I bet! They NEED to come back to London.
KF: This will be my first time seeing them. I'm excited.
TA: I don't think they are venturing this way on this Transit Transit tour. Have you heard the record?
KF: No I haven't.
TA: You HAVE to! Mate, you will love it.
KF: Haha. I'm even more excited for the show now.
TA: Oh shit, I'm excited for you! And their drummer is so good. Sooooooo good.
KF: Key to a great live show.
KF: According to Wikipedia, Vex Red litigated their way off [producer] Ross Robinson's label. What happened?
TA: Er really? Haha that's funny. Okay, well, his label I Am is an imprint that he kinda takes to wherever he wants to take it. It had been on Roadrunner, Warner, etc. With us, it was Virgin. Now everything was going kinda okay, apart from the odd weird tour slot, etc. (don't ask...), but then things started to get cocked up. Our first released single had the wrong vocal takes on it. The second single was advertised as being released on various dates, making the initial sales spread out over 2 or 3 weeks, therefore charting not so good, etc. etc. Then, and this is the real killer bit, Virgin signed Mariah Carey for an utterly ridiculous sum of money! She subsequently had a breakdown. Virgin subsequently went into panic mode, paid her stupid cash to clear off, having to close some of their offices and fire staff and we were left in limbo. It wasn't a great time for us and we were really frustrated by it all. I'm not sure on the finer points but I think eventually they agreed to let us go. It's actually quite funny looking back on it!
KF: Ha, yeah... That sounds like a nightmare.
TA: Well... Yeah, I guess. It's all good.
KF: I read an interview from before the Vex Red album came out that there was some reluctance to work with Ross because of the preconceptions it might create for the band. Did that become a reality once the record came out?
TA: In truth, there was no pre-conceived reluctance whatsoever. We were just really, really, super happy to be working with Ross Robinson! We had all known and loved Sepultura and other albums he had done. I was well into Korn, Slipknot, At The Drive-In, Glassjaw, etc. In no way would he have made us sound like any of those bands. We had the songs written how we wanted them and we were so lucky to have been given the opportunity.
KF: What was his production style like?
TA: Intense. I think that he quickly figured out that we would not respond to his style in the way that he was famous for... if that makes sense. He was very into exploring the songs full meanings before even attempting to lay a take. He wanted us all completely on point in order to capture the sincerity and emotion of the music. He didn't throw things at us like he did with other bands! He never even got angry. He's a very sweet man. An amazing soul and really unique character. I'm blessed to have worked with him more than once. It was an amazing experience for us four English boys to be there in LA, just having a really life-changing time.
KF: What else did you work with him on?
TA: I worked with him on an album after Vex. It was Septembre. I had a load of songs written and it wasn't looking like we would explore them properly with Vex Red so Ross invited me over to record them. I was incredibly lucky really.
KF: Wow. I discovered Septembre in preparing for this interview and I love it too.
TA: Yeah man, Manny from Glassjaw came and played bass, Ash, the drummer on the Vex Red album, came over too, and the three of us recorded some incredible songs.
KF: I love Glassjaw.
TA: Yep. Me too. Unfortunately the label I signed through to, Artist Direct, went into financial difficulties and, other than a 4-track EP (Rule 3: Conceal Your Attentions) I got released though Mike Darby at SugarShack, an independent UK label, none of it was ever released or heard! One of the songs, "I Am Weightless", was used on a video game once too which was pretty cool!
KF: No desire to put it on iTunes or anything? Or for free for that matter?
TA: Er... not really. It's not mixed or mastered and I've no access to the right stuff to be able to do it!
KF: Are you a Robert Greene fan?
TA: The goalkeeper? No.
KF: The author of [the book from which the Septembre album takes it name] 48 Laws of Power.
TA: Oh, yeah, well I have the book. It's not something I study or anything. It made a good title. I thought you meant the ex-England Footballer who cocked up in the World Cup!
TA: Sorry. Hahaha.
KF: So what would it take to get you to do a US tour? Or am I going to have to go to London?
TA: Well, firstly, I have no shows upcoming at all. I've been looking at ways of taking Fears live again and it's gonna need a full band. I know the musicians I want involved but there are time issues and logistics involved. I would love to do another tour of the US. But right now, I'm writing again. I'm thinking of doing it Damien Rice style and mainly acoustic.
KF: Didn't Vex Red play some Warped Tour dates in the US?
TA: Yeah, we played a few shows over there. Warped Tour and a few other shows too. It was cool.
KF: This question comes from Dan [Goldin] as well as me: why did Vex Red end so soon?
TA: Well, I left. I was disenchanted with it and it wasn't making me happy. But, you never know.
KF: Because of the slowness you talked about when writing with a group?
TA: Yes, partly, plus our attitudes were not great and with the whole Virgin situation it seemed like the right thing to do.
KF: So what's next for you?
TA: Musically, I'm writing some more. I'm looking at possibilities. Perhaps a guitar band. I miss the live cacophony! I miss the guitar feedback and piercing cymbals. Fears will become realized soon enough I'm sure. It's just gonna need a big push. I'm looking at maybe doing a video for one of the tunes and seeing if it gets any attention. I'm not sure really!
KF: Do you have anything else you'd like to add/any advice for songwriters who haven't made it yet?
TA: Just that I wish you the best of luck with RIBS or whatever else your path takes you down dude. For any others... don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to be on your own, to ask yourself questions you may not like and just for guitarists... stick to the dots!
Download Fears debut album 3am, The Beautiful, The Bittersweet for FREE HERE.