What does the name Nine Horses stand for?
Whilst Steve, burnt, and I were able to find common ground musically we found it more difficult to come together philosophically so we settled on a name embraced for its absence of meaning which may or may not be imbued with meaning over time
Which is the reason to create a brand new name instead of releasing this one as a Sylvian album?
Because I'd always viewed the project as one created by this somewhat disembodied band. Because the contributions of both Steve and Burnt were important in determining the general direction the project would take.
Can you say something about the birth of this project?
Initially Steve and I started writing together in late 02. We were using the writing as a means of exploring some of the newer technology in the samadhisound studio. The writing took off in all kinds of directions whilst we searched for common ground, passions, interests. Progress was slow as the tools were still new to us but other than that the writing came relatively easy. Around Feb or March 03 I felt compelled to get to work on a project that seemed pressing and asked Steve if it would be ok to take time out from our project for about 6 weeks or so. It was during that time that I wrote and recorded 'Blemish'.
As 'Blemish' and the label seemed to take off in ways we hadn't really foreseen or been prepared for so my time became increasingly absorbed in these matters. Soon there was a tour being discussed taking Steve and I further and further from the work we'd been doing together as a team.
On the European leg of the Blemish tour (Oct 03) we met Burnt Freidman for the first time at our concert in Koln. I'd been listening to Burnt's work of late and had been enjoying it a good deal. When the chemistry between Steve and I lacked fireworks in the studio I often thought a third element would be beneficial to the proceedings and oddly enough it was Burnt who'd come to mind during those times. That evening we spoke of working together at some point in the future.
After a period of a few months in the Spring of 04 I delivered five completed vocal recordings to Burnt based on a series of demo tracks he’d sent to me. The idea was that I'd make a contribution to an album project instigated by Burnt, featuring Jaki Liebezeit. About two months later I heard Burnt's mixes for the album. I was a little taken aback as the pieces had been stripped back to their barest bones with my vocal floating very much to the fore. All traces of group interaction appeared to have been jettisoned. For my money these pieces needed to be built up, they needed greater dynamics, group interaction. The demos had, on the whole, suggested large scale accompaniment. I wanted to salvage that notion and build upon it. I asked Burnt if I might take a crack at reworking the material. He magnanimously consented and sent me the sound files to work on.
I made guitar, keyboard, and vocal additions of my own. I asked Steve to replace Jaki's patterns with something entirely his own (often in a different time signature from the original) and to add percussion where they'd previously been little or none. As I'd been layering my own voice on these recordings I took things a step further by adding male and female backing vocals to a number of the tracks. By this time I'd already grasped the opportunity of bringing the best of what Steve and I had done a year ago into this project. Both Steve and Burnt were quick to give approval. The challenge was finding and sustaining the coherence, the continuity. This was certainly helped by Steve's contributions to the songs I'd written with Burnt, also by some of the musicians who were added to the mix.
The title of the album suggests a winter picture. How much the introspection suggested by the winter season can feed the creativity?
I've always found the Winter months to be conducive to creative work. It's like a form of hibernation, gestating, nurturing. A wonderful time for introspection.
After the minimalistic structure of Blemish’s songs, this new album sounds like a comeback to a more rich and traditional pop expression. Is it an indication of what will come next or just a side-project in your musical production?
As noted above, this work was instigated prior to the work on Blemish. I see it as a continuation of the work I've done on solo albums of the past such as Dead bees on a cake etc. This is because the forms are very similar to the ones I'm more used to working with. The work on this project doesn't necessarily indicate the road ahead for me.
Would you say something about the balance between you, Steve and Burnt describing role and artistic/human aspects of each of you in Nine Horses?
I guess I touched on some of this in my answer above. Steve is a very reliable player and programmer. He designs beautiful architectural patterns on which to build the arrangements. He works quite painstakingly on every aspect of his contributions. He's also a marvelous sound designer. I have never had the pleasure of sitting in a room with burnt and working side by side with him. All the work we did together was via sound files sent to one another so it's a little more difficult to be specific about burnt's contributions and the chemistry between us. Burnt is a strong willed character with an equally strong vision. His programming and sound design abilities are what drew me to his work in the first place.
With a very few exceptions you’ve always been not used to the vocals collaborations. What’s behind this time choice of singing with Stina in this new album? How did you get in touch with her?
I'd been aware of Stina's work for years and the thought had occasionally crossed my mind of singing a duet of sorts with her. Once I'd completed the lyric for 'Wonderful world' I knew I'd found the opportunity for us to work together. We corresponded via email at first then Steve and I flew to Stockholm to record her vocal.
And what about Sakamoto? Your friendship started more than 20 years ago and went on in a very discontinuous way… is that discontinuity the secret of your undying understanding?
Possibly. We never speak of a next time when working together. Each time we collaborate could potentially be the last but somehow the partnership keeps extending its life span. There's a good deal of mutual respect and we tend to speak the same musical vocabulary which is quite invaluable actually.
If you look back, from the very first Japan days to now, which are your records or songs that you feel closer to you today and which the most distant ones?
I couldn't relate to any of the albums as a whole. Certainly nothing from the first two releases...as far as memory serves me. I can relate to 'ghosts', 'nightporter', and one or two others that I have performed live over recent years.
How much the music industry and scene have changed if you compare your first steps with Japan with today’s market and media laws?
Oh, so much has changed that I don't really know where to start. The majors still exploit the artists for all their worth though. That much hasn't changed. With the advent of digital technology and the internet the nature of the game (the business) has changed dramatically. It is now possible for the individual or the collective to work relatively successfully on the periphery of the music industry and still make an impact. Over time these individuals and companies will help redefine how business is conducted in the industry at large.
During your solo career you’ve been working with several musicians very close to Brian Eno’s area. I wonder if you’ve ever had a chance (or the intention) of making a proper/official collaboration with Brian Eno? Have you heard his new album “Another day on earth” (which is sang as his old 70’s albums)?
No, I’d never intended to work with Eno on a collaboration. I did hear the last album but I must admit that I found it disappointing.
A very personal curiosity: have you ever heard the Blue Nile albums and the one that Mark Hollis (ex-Talk Talk leader) released some years ago? If yes, what do you think of their musical approach?
I never kept up with BN’s work. It was always too polished for my taste. I thought Hollis' album was very strong.
During your solo career you’ve often shown to have a strong link with our country (several gigs and tours in Italy, your collaboration with Andrea Chimenti and your longtime friendship with the guys of Time Zones festival). Which is your feeling about Italy? Have you ever took in consideration the idea of living here (if yes, where would you like to) ?
I guess my affinity with Italy is played out in my relationship with the people there along with aspects of the culture (cinema, literature etc). I have never considered living in Italy but if I did I think I would be drawn towards Tuscany...Sienna...
If I’m not wrong, you, Ingrid and your children are now based in New England after spending some years in California (from the west to the east coast: a big change, i suppose…). What pushed you to leave England for the States,
I'd decided to leave England just prior to meeting Ingrid. I'd never considered making America my home prior to that time but once Ingrid and I had made the decision to stay together we settled on the US by default.
do you still feel as a foreigner in a foreign country,
Less so than I once did. American culture is a relatively easy one to negotiate but culturally I do feel somewhat alien here.
what do you miss of Europe and what did you find over there that it’s not available in the Uk/european kind of life and mentality?
There's a liberal european sensibility that, for the most part, is missing here. History and culture are at the service of entertainment and the tourist industry....money. Too much emphasis is placed on money here, not enough on compassionate human values. For all the talk of God in this country for the most part it feels like it's every man for himself. Analogies to life are often sport related. There are winners and losers. This is as far from my own perspective as it’s possible to get. On the other hand there's a rather naive optimism here which I think is one of the more endearing traits of the American character especially on the West Coast where the open mindedness of groups and individuals leads to some truly positive developments in the culture.
Are you still practicing Buddhism? Are you also into Hindu teachings? Do you meet your guru very often?
I am still involved in my practices, yes. I see my Guru in the flesh once or twice a year.
Which are your core motivations as a musician today? And do you feel more comfortable with the definition of composer rather than musician?
Motivation: to remain interested, excited, impassioned and capable of expressing what needs to be addressed. I don't really care how my role is defined.
Music, painting, photography, movies, literature: which is the medium that you consider more healthy, wealthy and interesting on these days?
Music, the visual arts, and literature hold the greatest interest for me at present.
How do you consider today’s revival of the 80’s pop music: is it a sign of a serious creative crisis or just another chapter in the neverending tale of the historical currences and recurrences?
I'm not aware of the revival so I have no comment.
The very last question: what is changed in your creative process (if any change there is) and which is inspiration for you (something to feed/grow or something that can’t be mastered in any way)?
For inspiration you need to be in a state of readiness, preparedness. How one goes about this I suspect is different from one artist to another. The creative process feels more and more intuitive to me.
May we expect other releases from Samadhi Sound in the near future?
I suspect the next release will be Steve Jansen's first ever solo release.
I would thank you a lot for having spent some of your time in answering to my questions for Rodeo magazine.
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