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Interview with Attrition July 2004

Attrition is back, with us interviewing them for the fourth time now (holy cow, QRD is ten years old).  Attrition is an electronic act led by Martin Bowes best known for their dance tracks with operatic female vocals though over their twenty year career they have had excursions in the ambient fields as well.  So find out what he's been up to & why he feels music & politics belong together.

QRD – With your recent remix contests, were you more pleased with how much songs came back sounding the same or how different they come back?

Martin – Well they weren’t “contests”!!!!…I don’t like the idea of music “contests” … those sort of things seem to be increasingly popular and I really can’t see how you can put up one piece of music against another...  Beethoven or the Sex Pistols? You know what I mean… it is ridiculous!  Anyway, I digress… I’ve had a lot of remixes done by people…I really like to let the remixing be open to anyone who would like to have a go…not just “name” bands…I generally prefer the surprises…the tracks which are very different…

QRD – Your last album was a remix album, how long ago was your last studio album & why the delay?

Martin – The last full studio album was The Jeopardy Maze released on Projekt records in 1999!  That’s too long ago… since then we had the limited live album, the remix album (the hand that feeds in 2000) and the rarities album (Keepsakes and reflections… in 2001 (yes the title track is the one I gave you for your Alleviation compilation CD…).  We even had a couple more reissues in Europe in 2002 and 2003…including action and reaction which was originally a cassette release in 1983.  Why the delay on the new one…a number of things…I had a very turbulent time these past couple of years…splitting up with my long term partner and finding a new place to live and fighting through the courts and… well it’s all documented well on the new album….  So it took some time to complete…I also wanted to spend time over it…after all I have done rather a lot so far so I wasn’t in a hurry…I’m very pleased with the end result though.

QRD – Could you go over the different recording setups you’ve use from the start of Attrition to the present day?

Martin – Well briefly, we started with a 4 track cassette portastudio, a small mixer and some cheap FX pedals, and bass guitar and recorded the first couple of albums on these. We then did a few albums in “proper” studios during the late ‘80s.  Tthen as technology started to get affordable I started to build up my own studio proper and have worked with this set up ever since, gradually moving over more to computers as the years go by and it is worth doing so.

QRD – I know you’ve been a fan of some relatively cheap effect processors, is that still the case as you get towards more computer oriented recording?

Martin – While I am using more and more computer technology (not always the latest everything though...I don’t always need to keep up for the sake of it) I find I am happiest with the creative and sonic possibilities from combining the new digital freedoms with the older analogue warmth and hands on approach.  With my analogue synths, tape echo, and analogue desk combined with my digital synths, digital recorder and editing on the computer I get the best of both worlds.

QRD – What do you feel would be the thing that could happen to make Attrition more known?

Martin – People always say “write a hit tune” don’t they? It makes me laugh… like telling Van Gogh to paint a nice proper picture that people will buy!  I think my music isn’t too immediate…it takes time to appreciate…and these days no one has much time…or rather they do, but they don’t realize it…Hmmm… I don’t know…

QRD – What are the best & worst decisions you feel you’ve made in your musical career?

Martin – I think the best was to invest in my own studio…it has given me a lot of creative freedom and allowed me to take on other projects.  It also meant I learned so much about the equipment I could start teaching people about it which has meant I can live from my music or music teachings.  The worst decision? I can’t say as I do have an optimistic approach (believe it or not!), so that any mistakes I have made I feel I have learned from and so I believe we all have to make mistakes…and if we are truly open as human beings and willing to try new things, which I believe we must be in order to live fulfilled lives, then there will always be mistakes.

QRD – Have you ever gotten in any kind of legal trouble for your use of samples from films?  Are you concerned about this possibility?

Martin – No I’m not…I would have to be selling a lot more for anyone to be bothered… but I don’t use many samples from films…the new album doesn’t have any…I used vocals samples I recorded myself or I took from discussion programs on the radio…In the past I used samples from very old films which are out of copyright (with one or two exceptions).  I don’t like those obvious samples.  I like to put things in a new context to derive a new meaning from that new juxtaposition.

QRD – How do you get rid of all the background noises in the samples that you use?

Martin – Well on the new album all the radio ones were recorded to cassette! I then use a program called Wavelab to edit my samples and some de-noising plug-ins… works well it seems....

QRD – What is your secret to having an intense live show while the only instrument being played is a keyboard?

Martin – Well there are usually 2 synths, plus random mini-disk sounds, plus effects from our live sound engineer (who I see as the fourth member of the live band…), plus two vocalists.  The bass lines/sequences/drums are on the backing track…as they should be!  They were never played live…in fact we play a lot more live than we ever do in the studio!  The intensity is in the music and in the performance of it, not in how much is played!

QRD – How has raising your children effected your music?

Martin – I have one daughter Naomi, age 9, and one son Jordan, age 3. They are beautiful!!!  Everything I have recorded has been dedicated to them. Raising them hasn’t really changed my outlook on my own life…of course I care for them. They don’t live with me now but I see them regularly. I wish they did.

QRD – After doing Attrition for twenty years, do you think you’ll ever stop?

Martin – Doesn’t look like I will does it!!!!! I have phases where I say “No more!!!!”… but it doesn’t last very long…  I’ve got more into production for other bands recently…maybe I will go more that way…we’ll see…
I have a lot to achieve with my own music yet!

QRD – Having dealt with so many different labels, do you think Invisible is going to be your permanent home?

Martin – Well I doubt it! I am also on a different label in Europe (Big Blue…formerly SPV Poland…)…
Independent labels change around so much that it is rare to find a long term home… that’s ok though.

QRD – Since you’re on Invisible, does that mean you’ve contributed to Pigface?

Martin – Actually I haven’t!!!!  Although I did just do a remix for the Damage Manual, Martin Atkins’s other project!

QRD – You used to have a lot of side projects & make a lot of comp appearances, why have you slowed down on this lately?

Martin – For the same reason as the time it has taken to complete the new album.  We used to be on so many compilations… it was good to get our name around, but it isn’t a priority.  I do concentrate my energies on the albums and on the live show more nowadays.

QRD – As relatively major parts of Attrition, do Julia or Rafael come in with their own parts or just follow your directions?

Martin – Julia always comes up with her own parts…writes new words and tunes…I work with her suggesting ideas.  Raf improvised and worked round the music I had made.  I let them express themselves and then edit the bits I like (which was most of what they did actually).  It just “clicks” with some people and not others.

QRD – What is the single song you’re most proud of writing & why?

Martin – Another hard question!!!!!! That really does vary depending on my mood!!!  There are also different versions of some songs…. I don’t know… from the new album “Two Gods…” I am very proud of… for the moment…

QRD – In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel you need to write music?

Martin – Because we live in a bizarre fucked up society and we are totally inadequate as human beings in the current stage of our evolution to express most of the important feelings, emotions, and ideas we need to in any other way than in some kind of art form…. Art is a purer form of communication, which is why it is a shame when it is commercialized….

QRD – You once told me that Crass played a major role in you starting Attrition, exactly what is the story?

Martin – I always loved Crass and what they were about. They inspired me politically if not musically. They still do…I picked up one of their albums I was missing only recently.  In 1983 I submitted one of our songs for their Bullshit Detector compilation series of new “anarchist” bands… it sold very well… I find it sad that the political edge is missing from a lot of bands work these days…

QRD – You think politics & music do belong together?  Do you think that you should just open up lines of discussion for different topics or actually change people's opinions on issues?  What are the political issues you take a stand on within your music besides animal rights?

Martin – I don't see how politics and music can ever be divorced from each other! I don't mean party-politics... I don't like the abuse of music in using it for propaganda...in the promotion of political or religious parties.  I mean human social political thought... this is such a part of music.  Music is one of the most powerful ways of expression known to man and we should use it to express our inner feelings... and that includes our philosophical and political thought. Sometimes opening up lines of discussion is good,but there are some topics where I would not want to even give a platform for discussion. Racism is one of these. As a vegan I have always supported animal rights, but of course human rights are as important and there are many things... from supporting low paid workers to fathers denied access to their children to making a stand against murderous foreign wars fought on our behalf...

QRD – Your new record seems especially cinematic & seems somewhat story oriented; does it actually tell a story?

Martin – It does tell a story…not an intentional “concept” thing… but other people have noticed that… It is the story of what I have been through these past few years. In fact I notice that about all my albums.  When I (rarely!) listen to an old Attrition album it is like listening to an audio scrapbook or photo album of my life at that point. Of course it should be, but it isn’t always obvious at the time as I don’t contrive a concept for anything I do…it just happens…

QRD – The new record seems highly stereophonic & spacious, what did you use to create such a big audio field?

Martin – Well as I said I did spend a lot of time working on this album…and I allowed a lot of space and yet there are a lot of subtleties too. I tried a lot of new techniques. Working with loops and new software as much as the vintage equipment and I learned a lot from it…
QRD – Your cover art looks different this time, has there been a change in the artist you’re using?

Martin – Actually, no…the new album cover is also by John Santineross who created the last 2 or 3 covers… I admire his work and feel it fits well with my current musical output!

QRD – What skill or knowledge that you’ve gained do you think would have been most beneficial to you twenty years ago?

Martin – Well I’ve obviously learned so much in the recording and manipulation of audio that would have helped…but then everyone should have more “naïve” early recordings…we all have to go through life and grow… I think the more important side is the confidence I have now and the knowledge in how things work… from a synthesizer to a record label…it is all part of the same thing…all tools for us to work with…

QRD – How much do your co-workers at the music library know about Attrition & what do they think of it?

Martin – I don’t work at a music library!!!! I teach music technology at City College Coventry…when I am not doing my own music…the others know about what I do…well something of it… I keep it a bit separate…I’m not a “teacher”… I just happen to work there…

QRD – Anything else?

Martin – Thanks for this interview… Not a mention of vampires anywhere….