10th May2010

History Lesson: Mark Van Hoen

by Todd

Mark Van Hoen has made a career of making your world a better place. Universally regarded as influential composer and performer, his work as a founding member of the seminal group Seefeel was followed by a career as a solo performer under the name Locust, before releasing records under his own name. He has worked with and influenced a who’s-who of great electronic bands, like Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Slowdive, Autechre, Massive Attack, Sing-Sing and more.
His new album, “Where Is The Truth” is a work of genius in a career marked by brilliance. His use of melody has always separated him from others within the genre and his ability to build songs that are orchestral in scope are trademarks of the new record. Set against the lyrical backdrop of having just discovered his own hidden adoption, the record offers incredible levels of depth.
Given all of this, it was a genuine honor to get an opportunity to talk with Mark about the new record, the past and the future.

Seefeel- Blue Easy Sleep

TDOA: The story of discovering your adoption whilst emigrating to the U.S. is amazing. Given that you haven’t made a record in a while, do you think this event solely inspired you to record again?

MVH: No, the record was already mostly done before I found out, though the vocal element was not. The discovery certainly was fuel for that aspect of the record, and the music itself offered catharsis from some of the more negative aspects.

TDOA: You’ve said that you’ve experienced the sensation of displacement throughout your life and that this record was cathartic for you. Has this caused you to go back and listen to your earlier work to rethink the meanings of those records lyrically? Perhaps you were working out inner demons without being aware of it?

MVH: I would agree with that to a large extent. Having said that though, I still have a darkness in my musical identity. Just because a lot more things make sense in my life does not mean I’m going to start making disco music. I am a firm believer that your musical taste and identity is formed probably in you teenage years. The rest of my musical life will be spent trying to gain the expertise to communicate what’s in my head…or to get closer to the source, as it were.

TDOA: Is it important to you for people to understand the journey involved in making this record or are you comfortable with people hearing it without the backstory?

MVH: I think it’s vital that the music should stand on it’s own, or at least intrigue people on some level to perhaps be interested in it’s reason for being.

TDOA: Can you talk about your musical relationship with Neil Halstead. The two of you have known each other for so long and have worked together frequently. I can’t think of too many artists who continue to work with each other that aren’t “forced to” due to the constraints of being in a band together. What draws you too together and what was his contribution to the new record?

MVH: I met Neil (at a least started to share a house with him) just as he was finishing up with Slowdive. He came to some Seefeel recording sessions, and I also turned him on to some music that I believe was influential to the last Slowdive album, Pygmalion. Ironically, it was on the second Mojave 3 album, Out Of Tune that I first worked with him, and that record contained no electronic elements whatsoever. He was just interested in having me work on the production, I think because he respected what I could do sonically. On the two subsequent M3 records, I began to contribute more as an instrumentalist.
Ultimately, I’m just a fan of Neil’s music over the years, both Slowdive and M3, as well as solo. On the new record, he played guitar. It was pretty much improvised, and you’ll hear it as the guitars on the record that have a shoegaze/psych feel.
Our collaborations have never been obligatory in any way; I think it just happens when it occurs to either of us to draw on the other’s skills.

TDOA: The production and sonic construction of the new album is truly amazing. How long did it take you to write, record and mix this record?

MVH: I started it in Brighton, England in 2007, as a few jams based around radio intervals and shortwave recordings. I wanted to make a record that reflected my love of Krautrock, so I thought it was a good starting point (an idea originated from Stockhausen, via Holger Czukay). It took a reasonably long time because of personal circumstances, like buying and selling a cafe/music venue, moving to the USA, and of course the discovery of my adoption. If the recording and writing were condensed into a continuous period, it would probably be 6 months, though of course the outcome would be different, not having been influenced by those events.

TDOA: Perhaps a minor point, but what led to the decision to release albums under your own name rather than Locust?

MVH: Originally in 1996, when I released ‘Last Flowers’ it was because R&S records wished to use the name Locust for the more accessible ‘Morning Light’ album…I understood that, because they had invested money in the name. I then decided to use Mark Van Hoen for the records that continued stylistically on the same lineage as earlier Locust releases…. though more recently, because I’m very tired of the confusion on many internet sites between ‘Locust’ and ‘The Locust’ (grindcore band from LA)

TDOA: Your influence on music has been widely documented. Yet reviews of your new album compare it to Low-period Bowie and early Eno. Do you find those types of accolades gratifying or was this album to personal to be swayed by critical opinions?

MVH: I take those comments to be complements, I prefer comparisons to music that influenced me over more recent music that did not, though sometimes the comparison to a more recent artist may help younger listeners discover my music. I am always confident that my music is never an attempt to copy or pastiche other artists, though. I have never attempted to do that, even though for many modern artists it is almost expected of them.

TDOA: Can you talk about what you find rewarding about producing records versus making your own?

MVH: It’s simply the variation in the process, of course it’s great to be able to make a record exactly as I want it to be, but then collaboration can also be stimulating, interesting and unpredictable.

TDOA: In interviews, Mark Clifford has said that his ego made it difficult for people to work with him. Do you think that’s an accurate description of what made you stop working with Seefeel?

MVH: Well yes in a way I suppose so, though more recently Mark and I have seen a lot of each other. I think he may have been a little insecure in the early days, but now of course everyone knows he is the driving force of Seefeel, and he has the recognition he deserves.

TDOA:: Slightly off topic, but we were huge fans of Lush. Can you talk a bit about your experience, working with Emma Anderson? Do you think the tragedies of her past and the mistreatment by the music press deeply impacted her music with Sing-Sing?

MVH: Emma was really great to make music with, she was open minded, and is a great song writer. I enjoyed making the Sing-Sing records very much. I think perhaps they were made just a few years early, it seemed like that sound really got popular just a little later. I know that some of the events in Emma’s life informed her song writing, but in person she has always been very pragmatic. She’s a good friend.

TDOA: Lastly, can you talk about your plans for 2010 and the future? Will there be another long gap between recordings and will you perform this record live?

MVH: I have already played one show featuring music from the new record, with members of Anthony & The Johnsons, Edison Woods, and Jeff Buckley’s old band joining me for the performance.
I am also talking to promoters about more shows.
I have just finished building a new studio in Woodstock, NY. It’s the first time I have a dedicated studio space since 2000, so I am without a doubt going to be more prolific in the coming years.

Choosing the music that should accompany this article was an incredible challenge. Suffice to say, this is a starting off point. Listen to these selections with the knowledge that his music must be enjoyed as a whole. To purchase his music, visit his website.

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