If Martin used his solo [Counterfeit e. p.] project to simply kill time, Alan used his to kill frustration. He had tasted the solo waters before, in 1986, when he first got his hands on a sampler. "I was experimenting, chopping up pieces of Depeche Mode songs and [making them] into a weird piece."
That was 1+2, a barely noticed twelve-inch single, and both it and his latest Recoil project, the five-track Hydrology, grew directly out of Alan's own perception of his role within Depeche Mode.
Widely regarded, even by his bandmates, as the most accomplished musician in the group, Alan had also grown pleasantly accustomed to seeing himself described in print as the band's other songwriter, and that despite the fact that his credited contributions to Depeche Mode's output still numbered in single figures-half a dozen B-sides and just three album tracks, spread between Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward.
It was, he said with a smile, a rather pathetic tally, but in all honesty, none of those tracks particularly pleased him. "I never felt [those songs] came from me," he confessed in a moment of surprising candor. "They camefrom something in me that said I should be writing songs. Consequently, when I listen tomy songs being done by Depeche Mode, I don't like them."
Hydrology, if not aptly described as Alan's revenge, was nevertheless a reminder that his own energies were not laying dormant until the band called him in to program the computers one more time - and also his acknowledgment that there were deficiencies within the Depeche Mode setup.
"The main thingthat unifies Hydrology is that kind of hypnotic effect it gives you," he commented. "I like that feeling. There are elements of it within Mode music, but because the band is so basedaroundthree- or four-minute songs, it's very difficult to havethat idea of drawing people gradually into the music as it goes on. It would be nice to become a bitmore flexible within the group."
Happily, Alan admited that "I didn't know how anything would end up until I was finished." Ideas would be followed to their ultimate musical conclusion, then scrapped or retained as Alan saw fit. Starting from a single sequence, "a bass line or some kind of mid-range part," he would "let it play around, let myself be hypnotized, and then see where that led me."
This sense of discovery even permeated through to Recoil's caused some good-natured rivalry to erupt between the two burgeoning soloist. "[Counterfeit] was quite good, but I thought it was a littlebit incomplete- a little bit like well-recorded demos," Alan pondered; and compared to his own Hydrology, that was a fair critism. But, as more than one reviewer pointed out, at least you could sing along to Counterfeit!
Alan alone retained his musical vision, the consummate musician spending his time only way he knew how. Almost as sonn as Depeche Mode came off the road in 1991, Alan was back in the studiounder his Recoil disguise, beginning work on what would become the Bloodline album.
As usual, he worked in seclusion; even as a member of depeche Mode, he had often found himself alone in the studio, working out the arrangementsthe others would drop by to listen to the following morning. He called it the "screwdriver work," sifting through endless tapes and restructuring them to meet the moods of each song.
But his style had changed in the years since Recoil had last stirred. Bloodline was intended to be an instrumental album, but track after track suddenly appeared incomplete, calling out forlyrics, and with them, vocalists - Curve's Toni Halliday, techno-raver Moby, and Nitzer Ebb's Doug McCarthy repaying Alan for co-producing (with Flood) his own band's next Mute album, Ebbhead.
It was McCarthy, too, who took control of what became Bloodline's most astonishing track, a spine-chilling rendition of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's classic "Faith Healer." But Alan wouldhave little time to enjoy the enthusiasm with which both "Faith Healer" and Bloodline were to be greeted. After no more than a year in seclusion, Depeche Mode was stirring again.
Recoil was born in the early eighties, the brainchild of Alan Wilder. It allowed him licence to explore and experiment with his own individual ideas alongside a rather higher profile role as the acknowledged musical director of Depeche Mode. The early Recoil recordings revealed Wilder's position as a pioneer in the newly emerging world of sampling technology and demonstrated how he could turn the Depeche sound around to create something entirely new. Simply entitled "1&2", this collection of primitive demos, though completed some years before, was inconspicuously released as a mini-album in the summer of 1986, alongside Depeche's top five album, "Black Celebration".
The second album, "Hydrology", saw Wilder develop his ideas further providing an indication of how the Recoil project could work alongside the more established sound of Depeche Mode. The enormous popularity of the band restricted him from promoting his own work as its release in Jnauary 1988 clashed with the huge world tour that accompanied "Music For The Masses". With over 100 dates swallowing up most of that year, Wilder's next priority was to return to the studio to complete the live recordings that would eventually materialise as the top five album "101".
It wasn't until Depeche finally allowed themselves an extended break after the enormously succesful "Violator" album and tour that Wilder could return to Recoil. During 1991, as well as producing the "Ebbhead" album for label mates Nitzer Ebb, he began work on his next album, "Bloodline". Here, for the first time, Wilder recruited guest vocalists Moby, Toni Halliday and Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy resulting in his most accomplished project to date. It also marked the first Recoil single, a cover of Alex Harvey's song, "Faith Healer".
Between 1992-1993 Wilder reassumed his Depeche duties as the band recorded the album, "Songs Of Faith And Devotion". Released to universal acclaim, it topped the charts in the UK, US, Germany and a host of other countries. They then embarked on their most adventurous tour to date enduring a gruelling 14 months on the road.
In 1995, having spent 13 years as an integral part of one of the most popular bands the UK has ever produced, Wilder made the difficult but inevitable decision to leave Depeche Mode and spent the rest of the year taking a well deserved break.
Free from his group commitments, he could now begin to focus solely on Recoil. In September 1996 he began work in his own studio, gradually piecing together the unnerving scores that would eventually become "Unsound Methods" before, again, drawing collaborators into his net of intrigue. The final results are more impressive than ever. Guest vocalists this time feature Maggie Estep, a spoken word artist from New York, Siobhan Lynch (who came to Recoil by way of a demo cassette), the reappearance of Douglas McCarthy, and Hildia Cambell, who had also previously worked with Wilder as a backing vocalist on the last Depeche tour. The styles of each could not be more removed from one another helping to create a starting original and diverse collection.
Working in this unique way has afforded Wilder far greater freedom of expression allowing him unrestricted access to all his favourite musical areas. During the nine haunting and sultry tracks that comprise "Unsound Methods" we are taken to the edge of unease, though dark, dub-infected landscapes, reverberating with shivering piano, seductive strings and a deep electronic pulse. Prepare for a breathtaking journey that cannot fail to affect.
February 2000/Mute Records
Water, alcohol, blood, tears, adrenalin, sweat... Water may change into ice. Alcohol can change the situation. Your life depends on liquids. Diamanda Galás, Nicole Blackman, Samantha Coerbell, Rosa Torras, The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and others fuel ‘Liquid’, the most fervent and unsettling album yet from RECOIL mastermind Alan Wilder.
Following his 1997 LP, 'Unsound Methods', Wilder’s latest offering possesses a hypnotic and deeply charged allure drawn from its intense tapestry of desire, fury and violence. At its axis is 'Black Box,' a two-part track inspired by the former Depeche Mode member's experience witnessing a life-threatening air crash. As 'Black Box-Part One' draws to a close, we are left inside a man’s head, a man forced to confront the inevitable. His life flashes before him and ‘Liquid’ unfolds with moments of intense action punctuating the shifting imagery, occasionally jolting him back to the present before he drifts off again towards some other fragmented recollection - sometimes beautiful, often not. Liquid. His memories are liquid.
"Recoil is an ever-mutating thing." says Wilder. " I always start with a blank canvas, a kind of jigsaw where you have to make all the pieces first. There are no rules or preconceptions, just self-imposed emotional boundaries. And I trust this intuition implicitly."
The first collaborative session for 'Liquid' took place in the Spring of '98 and involved recording rhythm tracks for source material. Drummer Steven Monty, Curve bassist Dean Garcia and guitarist Merlin Rhys-Jones were invited to Wilder’s studio: ”I asked them to jam through a whole range of different styles and tempos. We recorded 2 and a half hours of material before transferring everything into Protools."
After much cutting and pasting, Wilder added his unusual blend of electronic orchestration to construct the LP’s unnerving scores before drawing each collaborator into his net. For him, the casting of 'Liquid' set the tone for the album's direction: "It’s like having to solve a conceptual puzzle, trying to make sense of what others bring and how their words connect with the nature of the music. I didn’t impose any boundaries because I knew some rationale would evolve by choosing the right people, leaving them to their own lyrical devices and allowing the overall style and sense of continuity to follow naturally."
Internationally acclaimed fellow Mute artist Diamanda Galás contributed a lead vocal to the bluesy, southern voodoo of 'Strange Hours', the album's first single. An extraordinary singer of unparalleled emotional intensity, possessing a near four-octave range, her sessions produced a diverse and powerful selection of material. "I'd always wanted to work with a classically-trained singer and Diamanda has an exceptional range of singing styles. She tends to work very off-the-cuff which was fine since I mainly wanted her to ad-lib. She was a dream to work with and I think her work on ‘Liquid’ sounds completely different to anything she's done before." Galás also provided additional vocals on perhaps the LP’s most avant garde piece, 'Vertigen', as well as the fire and brimstone tale of Babylonian whore, 'Jezebel', which features The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet. New York spoken word artist Nicole Blackman has been involved with a wide variety of musical projects, most notably supplying vocals on the darkly disturbing Golden Palominos album ‘Dead Inside’, in addition to recording with Bill Laswell, Scanner and KMFDM. "Everything I write is a bit burnt around the edges" she explains, "and I'm most intrigued by stories of people with strange attractions." She appears on three ‘Liquid’ tracks, including the vitriolic assault, 'Want'. "I liked what I'd heard on ‘Dead Inside'," explains Wilder, "but I wanted to bring out a different side of Nicole with more dynamics. I also felt that her voice was somewhat buried on the Golden Palominos record so I was determined to bring her forward in the mix and make it a real feature." Wilder and engineer PK pushed Blackman to the very brink of exhaustion, even having her run around the studio gardens to evoke authentic panting for the chilling and erotic 'Breath Control'. "For 'Chrome', she demanded that I actually vacate the studio while PK recorded her singing" Alan laughs. "Of all the collaborators, she was the toughest on herself but in fact turned out to be a real jewel in the crown because everything she did perfectly suited the essence of the record." "The only rule I have for a collaboration" Blackman says, "is knowing that we share some common direction or style but that our frames of reference are different enough that we'll challenge and inspire each other. I think 'Liquid' indicates my vocal abilities better than any other record I've done."
Samantha Coerbell, a native New Yorker with Trinidadian roots, has been active on the NY poetry scene since 1991 and has performed with numerous musicians and writers. After hearing her work on a compilation, Wilder was impressed by her unusual approach to poetry and descriptive language. "I was immediately struck by her words and delivery and felt she stood out from everything else on that record - I knew she would suit this project. After we spoke, I sent her a CD of three tracks to see if she could write something specifically to the music." "When Alan called I was so surprised that I didn't even tell him he was interrupting my bath, so we had a half-hour conversation with me in the tub" Samantha recalls. "I didn't know what to expect but the 14 year old in me was really excited to meet someone who had a place in my social development. We spent a couple of months trading music and text to get a feel for the project." Coerbell's intensely claustrophobic urban storytelling is featured on 'Last Call For Liquid Courage' and 'Supreme'.
The story of how Rosa Torras came to work with Recoil may inspire devoted music fans everywhere. She is a Recoil fan from Barcelona who responded to Wilder’s request on his official web site 'Shunt', for anyone to send in a recording of themselves speaking in their native language. Rosa’s Catalan prose appears as the narration to 'Vertigen'. "For someone who'd never been in a studio before, Rosa was remarkably calm and collected" Wilder recalls. "Although I'll never be able to really understand how it sounds to a Catalonian, her voice works beautifully from a purely aesthetic perspective. It possesses a very sensual and emotive quality." Strangely enthralling and genuinely unhinging, ‘Liquid’ masquerades as the aural equivalent of a disturbing movie. Wilder’s intoxicating soundscapes kick up clouds of the same dark dust that falls on David Lynch or Nine Inch Nails, but where others may hammer out their message with histrionic force, his touch is lighter and characteristically more subtle. ‘Liquid’ is designed to seep into your brain and drill holes into your psyche - a remarkable work for not-so-quiet reflection in the company of one’s darker side.