There are bands that spit out new albums every year in slap-dash style that focuses on volume, rather than content and then there is Engineers. Like their name, they carefully construct atmospheres and layers that suffocate in a way that has never been more pleasant. Their mini-album Folly was released in 2004 and was followed in 2005 with their self-named first full-length. That album rarely left our “most played” lists and left us gasping for more. We had to wait until 2009 for the brilliant ‘Three Fact Fader’ to enter our world. Taking the spirit of shoegaze, Cocteau Twins and ethereal bliss and spinning it to it’s next logical step they’ve created one of the best records of the year. Bassist Mark Peters took some time to explain the process that is Engineers.
TDOA: After your split with Echo, there was some conjecture that the band was breaking up. Was there ever a point where this was a possibility? If so, why and how did you manage to keep it together for the release of a new album?
MP: After the Echo split we were a bit tired of living in each others pockets, so we decided to have a break and get jobs and do other things. Apart from Simon we have known each other for a long time and took breaks away from working together before, so this was not a big deal. I think we all would have had a feeling of disappointment if the album hadn’t come out because we were happy with it and after putting some tracks on Myspace we got a really positive response which was something that did us all a lot of good. When Kscope approached us to release it we then came back together to record the extra tracks and do a remix for Steven Wilson. These things went well so we decided to do some gigs which is a thing we have missed having in our lives, and we’ve loved doing the five we’ve done (three with Porcupine Tree) up to now and are really looking forward to the European tour we have lined up in December. Ultimately we want to come to the U.S again because that’s where our music was written to be played.
TDOA: Can you give us some insight on your collaboration with DJ Sasha on the remix of Sometimes I Realize? How did you meet and did he in any way influence the songs on Three Fact Fader?
MP: Unfortunately we’ve never met him, although. The collaboration came about after we were approached by Barry Jamieson (A Sasha collaborator who was once in the techno duo Evolution), an old friend of ours who had heard the record and thought that that track would fit on Sasha’s new remix album ‘Involver2′. I really like that mix, it compliments the album nicely. We’ve had a good remix done of our new single by Ricardo Tobar from Chile that takes our stuff in the right direction too.
TDOA: Do you feel like Kscope has been supportive and do you forsee releasing the album in the U.S.?
MP: Yeah, Kscope have been fun to work with. Not to rubbish echo (who looked after us very well while we were there, it has to be said), but we feel a bit more at home on that label in terms of the general ethos of the people who work at the label, and even though we are not technically signed to the label, we may soon be recording a new album with them. ‘Three Fact Fader’ has been released in the U.S which is something we are very happy about, and we feel like it’s only a matter of time before we start to gain a good reputation there.
TDOA: You’ve said that there aren’t many bands around now, who try to be an enigma. Can you give us some insight as to the meaning of the title and cover art of the new record.
MP: I don’t think you can try to be enigmatic, as this usually has pretentious results. If there are fans would like it if there was a profound and mysterious reason behind our title and artwork, I have no intention of spoiling that.
TDOA: Do you enjoy making videos or do you consider them a “necessary evil”?
MP: We have shyed away from appearing in videos in the past (apart from ‘Home’ and the super 8 video for ‘Clean Coloured Wire’) as we’ve never felt that we are an image band, so there should be something interesting instead a generic performance based video. When we did do that on ‘Home’, I found it a bit narcissistic and wouldn’t rush to do it again. Having said that, I don’t consider videos to be merely promotional tools – they can often be great works of art, and sometimes much better than the actual songs they accompany. My favourite of ours is the animation video for ‘Forgiveness’ We asked for the director to portray us in an unflattering light and to me it captures the vibe of the band really well.
TDOA: You’re very up front about the wide range of influences on the band and specifically this record. As we grow older our influences change. For someone who has only heard the first record, how would you describe the differences between it and the new one and how those influences patterned that change?
MP: The first record was very much a studio record and we were living very much in our own world whislt we were recording it, which was great fun, but on this one we wanted to get over the energy of our shows and have more of a live feel to the production. The songs were written as a group as opposed to in pairs or alone as they were on the first, which I think enhances the feeling of this being a group record. The influences are alot different too, which is important, as while we don’t want to keep radically reinventing ourselves in the quest for commercial appeal, I don’t think any band should keep making the same record over and over as it’s boring for both them and their fans. The 70′s Beach Boys albums, Phil Spector and The classic Eno and Warp albums were the template for the first albums and then we were listening to Sonic Youth, Harmonia, Neu and The Breeders. I don’t think influences always have to have a bearing on your sound or writing. Sometimes when you get a feeling that you relate to from a track, the effect that it has is that it makes you pick your guitar up, but that doesn’t mean you imitate what you’ve just heard.
TDOA: Can you describe Ken Thomas’s influence as a producer? Was he there primarily to capture the sound of the record or did he provide suggestions about song structure and overdubs?
MP: He had a subtle influence on us whilst recording I’d say. Although he did help us with some of the technical aspects of recording, he had more of philosophical approach to his production style with us. He helped us get what we wanted and took care of the technical side, encouraging us to focus more on playing and getting good performances. He did help us a little bit with structures to start with – we worked at our small studio in North West England getting the songs right before going to a studio to record them. Ken’s suggestions about overdubs was quite candidly minimal. He just wanted us to do what we do as well as we could.
TDOA: When I hear ethereal songs that don’t have obvious “pop” melodies, I’m always curious about the gestation of the music. Can you tell us how a typical song is born for Engineers? Do you start with a bass or guitar melody and build from there or do you start with a vocal melody?
MP: Not usually with just a bass, but maybe a bass line over a drone or a sample perhaps. Often with a guitar, but usually vocals never come first. I like cutting loops out of effected guitar passages because I like the idea that a random fleeting moment in a jam can make up a song. I’m glad we sampled Harmonia because Michael Rother sent me a genuinely nice email about the track, explaining that we had got the right feeling and that it gives him goosebumps.
TDOA: Do you write your lyrics after writing the music or do you have the proverbial “notebook” of lyrics that you match to the song once it’s been written?
MP: No, lyrics either come off the top of our heads or are written after the melody. Lyrics are something of an enigma for us. They either come all instantly or take weeks to get right.
TDOA: You appear to be vociferous music listeners. Who are you listening to now that may end up influencing your next record?
MP: I’m listening to Lou Reed at this very moment, so maybe he will… It tends to be that I listen to the vocals more in the older music I listen and the instrumentation on stuff from the late seventies onwards. That’s not always the case though. I would love to make a record that has a very futuristic feeling about it. Not just in terms of sounds, but something that makes you feel what it will be like to be a human in thousands of years’ time. Not comic book futurism but music that is genuinely more developed emotionally. At the moment though I really like the track that Bradford Cox has done with Laetitia Sadler from Stereolab called ‘Quick Canal’ for his new Atlas Sound album, Seefeel’s ‘Quique’ and the new Fuck Buttons album.
TDOA: We’ve interviewed bands like Ride and Catherine Wheel who hated the “shoegaze” tag. Can you tell us your feelings about that tag specifically and the concept of music writers need to pigeon-hole bands into categories?
MP: Those bands were on the receiving end of that term when it was very negative. I don’t think we would have had a record released on a major label if there hadn’t been the revival in the press, but there’s been some anti-shoegaze reviews of our stuff, so it goes in waves. The most interesting thing I have to say on this matter is that I recently did an interview with an English paper about the shoegaze revival and when I googled his name and the topic, an article that he wrote in the early nineties called ‘Shoegazing R.I.P’ was the first thing I found. Shoegazers have to remember that people are just doing their jobs, and that life isn’t all just about ethereal walls of sound…
TDOA: What’s next for the band once you’ve finished the current dates you’re playing through December? Any plans to come to the U.S.?
MP: As I’ve said a few times, we would absolutely love to come over there to play again. The idea of the band was sort of concieved on a fly drive holiday to the U.S when a few of us drove down the west coast and back up through Nevada listening to our favourite music for a few weeks, so if anyone wants to bring us over we are more than willing…