Eleven years together as a band can often see an act become trapped in the confines of traditional album cycles, along with an identifiable ‘sound’ that finds them very much within their comfort zone. Not so for Sheffield four-piece 65daysofstatic, whose music has continually transformed since their formation in 2001. Indeed last year saw the instrumental band being dominated by their live re-score of ‘Silent Running’, as well as performing music for modern dance productions and working alongside scientists. Before playing an ‘intimate’ show at The Garage for their record label Monotreme’s 10th anniversary, Heather Steele has a lengthy chat with Paul Wolinski about the future of his solo project Polinski, Dustpunk Records’ recent revival and progress on 65’s next full-length album.
Last year 65daysofstatic seemed to be centred upon scoring and performing the soundtrack for ‘Silent Running’. How did that project come about?
At the end of 2010, Glasgow Film Festival asked us to be part of their programme doing a live soundtrack and said that we could pick whatever film we wanted to do. We picked ‘Silent Running’ for a few reasons, one of the main ones was that we’d always wanted to write a soundtrack, but we had this image in our heads of when bands do live soundtracks it’s often just jamming ambient stuff over the top of the film, but with the sound turned off and maybe with subtitles, so it’s not like watching a movie. So we wanted to do something that still held the narrative of the movie and actually worked like a soundtrack. On ‘Silent Running’s existing soundtrack, there’s only a couple of seconds in the entire film where the soundtrack overlaps any dialogue, so it was quite easy for us to pull the music out, leave the dialogue in and rebuild the whole thing.
Were their any other contenders at all?
I think ‘Blade Runner’ was, but as soon as we started thinking seriously about it, it’s a terrible idea because we’re never going to top that soundtrack and ‘Silent Running’ just clearly made sense.
Did you expect it to become the year-long project it morphed into, with the physical release and all the extra shows and tour around it?
No. I mean at the start of 2011 we needed a break, just to take a breath really, ‘cause we did a load of touring for ‘We Were Exploding Anyway’ throughout 2010 and we weren’t ready to write the next record. So we were going to have quite a quiet year, but we actually ended up writing ‘Silent Running’ instead, which was much better than a break! We just thought that it was going to be two shows and that would be it, but because it was very well received we did a few more film festivals, a few standalone shows and went around the UK and Europe, and then they went well and it then got turned into a record.
What was the song writing process like? Was it easier to write when you had something visual to work with or harder because there was something concrete there already that wasn’t your creation?
It was easier in some ways, and more difficult in others. It was easy because we had something to write about; when we’re just writing for ourselves and for our records it’s wide and intangible and hard to explain to each other what we’re trying to do because it’s just this ‘thing’ we’re trying to capture. But with ‘Silent Running’ we were writing about space and robots and being stuck alone and the end of the world and all of that – it was right there, so that was really good. And it allowed us to do things that we’d never really dare to do on a 65 record. There’s lots of cheesy, sci-fi, arpeggiated synths and fake synth trumpets and things like that that we couldn’t get away with. So it was quite nice to not take it too seriously and have a bit of fun with it. But on the other hand a score is locked down. Songs had to be right to the second to fit in with what was going on. As soon as we decided that we wanted to do it that way – to be totally in sync with it – that opened up the really hard side of things.
Would you score more films in the future?
We would love to. I mean it would be nice to do a film that’s being made so that it’s more of a collaborative process, and so we’d be able to work with the edit while it’s still in liquid form.
I was also going to ask about your solo project Polinski, as that was obviously quite central to you in 2011 – was that something that you decided to do last year because it was supposed to be the year that you were going to be taking a break?
It was partly that, and partly because during the writing of ‘Exploding…’ we were all playing more synthesisers and v-drums and things and it was going in a more electronic direction. I do most of the electronics in 65, but not all of them by any means, but some of the music that I was writing during ‘Exploding…’ was clearly not going to fit in 65. But I still liked it, so I collected it. And eventually there was some threshold that I hadn’t really been paying attention to that was that I had all this stuff that was different enough to do something else with. But also I thought that if I didn’t get it out of my system in some way then when 65 did start writing again it would be hard to do something new. And because it didn’t fit before, there was no reason to believe that it would fit in the future. So it was best to get it out, and make it a real thing and hopefully move forward with something new.
Did you tour it at all?
I did a little bit. Not as much as I would have done if it had been my only project. It’s so hard – I mean 65 has a really great, loyal following and that’s really wonderful, but it’s taken us 10 years to build that and we’re still by no means a famous band. Essentially the Polinski thing was as a brand new artist and that’s hard enough to get off the ground at the best of times. Ultimately 65 is always going to be more important to me, I didn’t have the luxury of doing what 65 did, which was just tour relentlessly forever until people started taking notice. So I did some shows, I did a few dates in Russia and Japan and the odd show in the UK, but it was like a juggling act between the album coming out, getting live dates and commitments with 65.
So is Polinski something that you’re going to continue while you’re doing 65 as well?
Well, right now I’ve got a show at the Future Everything festival in Manchester with loads of visuals and then another show in Sheffield with Errors, but other than that things with 65 are really exciting at the moment and that’s what I’m going to be spending most of my time working on.
Since the last album came out you’ve done a modern dance production of ‘Inside’, the film score for ‘Silent Running’ and a radio score for ‘Slaughterhouse Five’. Was it a conscious decision for the band to do a less conventional album cycle for a while?
To be honest we’ve been lucky that these things have all come to us, and more and more we’re being able to do things that other bands don’t necessarily get the opportunity to do. We worked with a scientist last year called Adam Rutherford who made a video about space shuttles and it got shown at the Uncaged Monkeys tour, and so we remixed a couple of our songs for the videos. And we did ‘Inside’ with choreographer Jean Abreu at the Southbank playing behind a curtain while some dancers danced in front of us. It’s really satisfying being able to pull that kind of thing off. In fact the first time we ever performed ‘Inside’ was in Edinburgh just after playing Sonisphere – so it’s great that we can play to a metal crowd and win them over and then go to Edinburgh Fringe and do something with dancers and work with scientists. But we’re one of those bands that I don’t think are ever going to have a No.1 single, we’re quite a strange band and trying to spread ourselves wide and into lots of different interesting areas seems a lot more sensible, rather than try and headline Glastonbury or something. Although that would be cool.
65daysofstatic has always been a thrilling live band. How did it feel to have that element taken out of your hands when you were live soundtracking these shows?
The dance thing and ‘Silent Running’ shows were quite similar in terms of the technical set up, it’s not as exciting as the live show but it is rewarding in other ways. Being able to build the rigs that kept us in sync with the dancers, and learning to trigger programming and getting to grips with all that geeky technical stuff to keep us in sync with the dancers and live instruments was really satisfying once we nailed it. With the live shows themselves, you have to concentrate a whole lot more because there’s so much more that could go wrong. At the Southbank Centre, it was actually one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever had on stage, because there’s a dance solo in the middle of the show, but it’s just me on a piano, playing through a click track as some electronics come in towards the end of the song. And on show, some random cable that hasn’t broken in 10 years broke during that song and it made the piano come out two seconds after I’d hit it, so I had to play two seconds ahead of this click track. It was pretty scary. 65 have got this safety net of being glitchy and weird, so if something goes wrong, people often assume it was supposed to go like that.
I was going to ask about Dustpunk Records’ recent revival…
About 10 years ago the four of us had the Dustpunk name and some friends and us just came together under that banner to try and start a collective in Sheffield. There were a couple of Dustpunk nights and video events and we kind of took that forward. It was in Sheffield, you see, and it was hard to get anything like that off the ground – at the time it was all about indie so we kind of moved on. We really were very DIY back then, and still are now I suppose, but we already decided that we weren’t gonna wait for a record label, we’d just make our first EP, invent a record label name and press it ourselves. We invented a press release full of fake quotes from Steve Lamacq and people like that, and that was used to book our first tour. We called it “the seventh release on Dustpunk Records” and made up a bunch of band names. And fortunately for us that EP got us touring and got us round the country, we made some friends and then Monotreme heard of us and that was great, as we didn’t know what we were doing! So Dustpunk was done with until last year, but because ‘Silent Running’ was a fan-funded thing it made sense to bring it back. It doesn’t exist in any tangible form, it’s just us, it’s just 65.
So would you do that again?
Maybe. There’s just so much changing at the moment. There’s definitely still a place for record labels. There are people who maintain that crowd funding a record and releasing it yourself is able to compete with all of the other stuff that goes on in the music industry – but it isn’t the same yet. Maybe in the future it will go that way but at the moment there are still too many things that a record label can do that we can’t.
I was going to ask about the custom made sound boxes that were created last year –do you like experimenting with new ways to release music and the ways that fans can interact with the band?
I’m really torn about that. I really like the idea of it… I mean CDs are rubbish, everyone agrees now, it’s just some plastic with a little bit of paper inside and people just burn them onto their computers and you can just get those for free if you go on mediafire or something like that. So I like the idea of having something nice that’s still a tangible, physical thing – like vinyl – so the noise boxes that Simon made were great. But at the same time, it’s still ‘stuff’ and the last thing that the world needs right now is more stuff. I like the idea of music being above just being stuff and the idea that it’s all just floating in the air is really nice, but it just doesn’t help a band survive at all because they’ve got to make money somehow. You don’t really make money from being on the road, unless you’re Coldplay and you make an insane amount of money from touring, but with 65 you don’t and it’s a constant struggle. The noise boxes specifically were Simon’s idea. He had absolutely no idea how circuits worked or electronics and paid no attention to it at all, but then because he’s ridiculously clever he got interested and within two months was building these machines. He built the 10 noise boxes and he’s building synthesisers at the moment. It’s fantastic. He should have realised 10 years ago because he’d had been very successful!
You once said: “All 65daysofstatic has ever tried to do is write pop music.” Do you think you’ve got any closer to this yet?
I guess that I meant pop music in that we’ve never wanted to be self-indulgent. And although the music we make often has weird time signatures, is quite noisy, has a lot going on and there are no clear melodies, we’ve always tried to make it as immediate and direct as possible, because those are all the great things that pop music does. And it’s as simple as that really. We don’t really listen to our music once it’s finished, but I listened to ‘Exploding…’ for the first time in about a year a few weeks ago and I was amazed at how complicated it was! In my head it was the most immediate, simple record that we’ve done so far – and I think it is – but listening to it fresh you do realise that we do still have a long way to go before we get to that ‘pop’ stage.
So, you’re writing new material at the moment. Any idea of what direction it will take?
The material we’re writing will eventually be a full-length record. It’s still early days, and I think that if we handed in a finished record to a label tomorrow the chances of it coming out this year would be slim. So it’s not going to happen this year, unless something crazy happens. There’s quite a divide with the music that we’ve got so far. There’s a new song that we’ve just started playing live, but I’m not sure just how good an indicator it is as
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