PLUGGING INTO THE 21st CENTURY

I must admit, I’d been reluctant to start up this website. I’m a self-confessed fuddy-duddy when it comes to musicians providing information and selling their music on the web or via social media. I admire the business savvy of it all but I’ve always felt it takes a bit of the magic away from the music.

I miss the good old days before easy access and instant gratification, when you had to work at it a bit to find that one emotionally charged record that shone above all others. I liked going into a local record shop and buying an album just on the vibe of the cover, from an artist I knew very little about. Of course, there was always the risk that the record would be awful, but some of the best music I found was on albums I wasn’t sure about at first. By some strange force of nature and repeated listening, this was music that often turned into the best thing I’d ever heard.

But hey, that was then and this is now. I’ve come to realise resistance is futile. I’ve been amazed in recent years by the younger musicians I’ve worked with who have absorbed vast chunks of musical history in a relatively short space of time. Talk to them about the ’60s, ’70s, or even ’40s music and they seem to know it all. They have a vast knowledge of all genres and music collections that took me a lifetime to obtain. This has been possible primarily because of the internet, so I concede it’s high time I had my own website. It’s taken me 20 years or so but I’ve finally got over myself.

Welcome!

1st November 2018

A FEW WORDS ABOUT DRIFT CODE

A friend of mine told me of an interview he’d once read with the legendary electronic band Kraftwerk. When the interviewer asked why it took them so long to write the music, they replied, “the writing of the music was very quick, it was the building of the instruments that took the time”. I really hope this quote is true because not only do I find it hilarious, it’s also totally relatable to my latest album, ‘Drift Code’.

Now I’m not claiming for a moment that I made instruments specifically for the record, but I’ve come to see myself as a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none when it comes to being a musician. Like Kraftwerk, the writing of the songs came relatively easy to me, but learning the instruments to a decent enough standard to play them took ages. I had to build my arrangements gradually, adding and subtracting layers of sound until it felt complete.

Ironically, I also wanted the music to have a live feeling, as if it had been recorded by a collection of musicians playing together in the same room. I never meant to take so long attempting to create this illusion, but on reflection I’m happy that through the necessity of recording over a large period of time the album has a kind of ‘unfixed’ and ‘uprooted’ quality. As if the songs belong nowhere so in turn hopefully belong everywhere.

Some of the lyrics come from personal, family and friends’ experiences all mixed up and combined, like taking someone else’s story and then writing about how you might react or feel if you were in their shoes. With other songs I thought of fictitious scenarios, then adopted a different persona to react within them. I found these particularly enjoyable to sing because there’s something quite liberating and playful about pretending not to be yourself for a while.

Guests on the album include my life-long friend and amazing drummer Lee Harris, alongside some very good local orchestral players. A rare electric keyboard called a Clavioline also features. Designed in 1947, this is one of the instruments that Joe Meek used on The Tornados’ 1962 classic ‘Telstar’. It’s owned and played by the gifted musician Snowboy, who’s perhaps better known for his Latin percussion playing.

I’ve called the album ‘Drift Code’ because I like the tension that’s created when things seem regimented, rigid or stable on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you discover something free-spirited and against the grain lurking beneath. I also like the idea that life is just a puzzle that can’t be solved because the answer is always changing.

I hope you enjoy the record.

10th November 2018

MY MUSICAL HISTORY IN BRIEF

Before I became Rustin Man, I was known as plain old Paul Webb. After playing bass in a local reggae band in Southend, my school-mate – drummer Lee Harris – and I became the rhythm section and founder members of the band Talk Talk, along with the exceptionally talented Mark Hollis and Simon Brenner.

We signed a record deal with EMI in 1982 and spent a large part of the decade recording albums and touring. From our first gig at the Starlight Club in north-west London in front of five people to our last, a sold-out concert at the Zénith arena in Paris, the decade was quite eventful to say the least. Some of the records didn’t turn out too badly either, and it hasn’t escaped my attention how influential the band has become 30 years on. ‘Spirit of Eden’, released in 1988, felt like a special record at the time, but even so, it’s incredible how revered it has become. Especially when I think back to EMI’s initial disappointment with it as a follow-up to 1986’s far more commercially successful ‘The Colour of Spring’.

This all seems a very long time ago to me now, but it’s still nice when I occasionally cross paths with someone who eagerly and nostalgically insists on relating how a Talk Talk record was the soundtrack to their time at university, or reminds them of a certain endless summer holiday they had.

Talk Talk music is the same for me – once a backdrop to my life but now just a fond distant memory.

In the early 1990s, Lee and I wrote a collection of songs. They never made it past the demo stage but they did get us a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music, which in turn helped finance our own recording studio in London. By the time we’d set the studio up our ideas and musical direction had changed quite drastically, in favour of a more percussion-based, improvisational approach.

So we dumped all the songs and started afresh, the result being two albums released under the name ‘O’rang, 1994’s ‘Herd of Instinct’ and 1996’s ‘Fields & Waves’. Upon the release of our first record, The Times wrote, “Be thankful that albums with the depth and diversity of ‘Herd of Instinct’ can walk tall in a hostile environment. Inspired into a music which suggests, among other impossibilities, Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ as recorded by Can in Kingston, Jamaica.”

Unlike Talk Talk, ‘O’rang never toured, and in the late 1990s we closed the studio down. I relocated to the Essex countryside and married my darling wife, Rustin Sam.

In 2002, Beth Gibbons and I teamed up and released an album called ‘Out of Season’. We’d met some years previously, when she’d auditioned as a singer in the early stages of the ‘O’rang project. Beth had gone on to become hugely accomplished in her own right, singing and writing with the band Portishead. Having stayed in touch, I was thrilled when she suggested we should have a go at writing some songs together. With all the experimental music I’d been immersing myself in, it was refreshing to return to a more orthodox approach to songwriting.

It took us a good few years to create an album of songs worthy of release, but we got there in the end. The album was well-received with Mojo magazine boldly stating ‘it’s among the best albums ever made’, while Uncut ranked it at number 23 in their top 150 albums of the decade.

This was also the first time I’d gone under the name Rustin Man, taken from the song of the same name on the album.

The tour that followed was, for me, as good as touring can get. We pulled together a super band and hired a beautiful 18th century harmonium to replace some of the orchestrated parts of the album. We played shows in the UK, Europe, USA, and finished off in sunny Brazil. A fitting place to celebrate the end of an extremely enjoyable project.

After the tour, I began thinking about a solo record. I’d collected a shed load of instruments over the years, and set up a home studio. I was curious to know what would result if I wrote some songs specifically tailored to my voice. In 2004, I eagerly sat in front of my piano and started putting combinations of chords together and singing melodies into an old cassette Dictaphone. Lee weaved his unique style of drumming into my tunes, and he and my wife were happy to engineer when I was singing or laying instruments down.

In 2006 I produced an album for James Yorkston, which was a lovely experience but meant I had to down tools on my own music for a few months. In 2008 and ’09 I also produced albums for the Swedish band The Tiny and the Belgian band Dez Mona. Again, it was an opportunity too good to miss but the Rustin Man recordings were delayed once more.

I finally knuckled down and in March 2018 I finished mixing the songs that make up my latest offering, ‘Drift Code’. The album is released by Domino on the 1st February 2019.

1st December 2018

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE BARN

I’ve come to believe that the space in which you write or record music is extremely important, and that it’s worth making this environment as magical and unique as you possibly can. The theory being that the magic and uniqueness affect the way you’re working and seep into the music somehow. For me, a studio should feel like a playground, with an atmosphere that frees the spirit and allows you to go wherever your imagination leads you.

I thought it was a smart move when Mark left a bubble-light projector in the control room for the ‘Spirit of Eden’ album sessions. It was a good visual focal point that enabled your mind to go walkies when listening to playbacks. Then, when Lee and I had our studio in Tottenham for the ‘O’rang albums, he came up with the genius idea of inviting a graffiti artist into our live room to paint a large exotic mural in fluorescent colours that glowed in the dark under ultraviolet light. The result wasn’t unlike the passing walls found on fairground ghost train rides. This provided a great backdrop when recording our long jamming sessions for those albums.

So, when Rustin Sam and I were looking for somewhere to live, some 23 years ago, we were also hoping to find an inspirational space in which to make records. We planned to start a family so were looking for a place that functioned on several levels.

When we walked into the barn for the first time it was a vast empty shell and looked uncomfortably stark. It was on the market for a very reasonable price because it had been deemed an undesirable property. Not only was it directly beneath the flight path into Stansted Airport, but the previous owner had stripped it bare; there wasn’t even a kitchen or a bathroom. It was spacious, with plenty of room for a family, but without any walls or doors it was totally lacking in privacy.

Despite this, we both instantly fell in love with it. There was just something special about this barn in a field, in the middle of nowhere. It was a listed building that had been renovated around a large exposed industrial steel frame. This gave it a very fresh feeling. There were also large oak beams stretching right up inside the roof, which made it look church-like. This combination of traditional and modern architecture was very reflective of some of the furniture we had accumulated in our separate homes in London, and it wasn’t hard to visualise how the building would look and work as our first home together.

So, we bought the place and moved in. I set up the studio and as the years have gone by we have added statues, ornaments and other oddities to intermingle with musical instruments and hidden microphone cables. The Hammond organ doubles up as a clothes shelf and the sleeping harmonium proudly displays memorabilia on top of it. There are golden velvet draped curtains and a large amount of fairy lights dangling from the ceiling. Collectively, all these things have turned the barn into our own little world, a remote island of treasures that time has forgotten, gently influencing our lives and the music on a subconscious level. Some of ‘Out Of Season’ was recorded here, and all of ‘Drift Code’.

We’ve heard a range of comments from people when they’ve stepped into this place for the first time. One person said it resembled a curiosity shop, another that it was like being a visitor on the set of the classic 1972 film ‘Sleuth’, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Only the other evening we had our youngest daughter’s dance teacher over. All the lights were on and the large dancehall mirrorball hanging from the roof was spinning. When she walked through the door she gasped, before remarking that she felt she’d just walked into a dream.

It makes us laugh because when the place gets untidy – which is quite often given that we have two teenage daughters – it can end up looking more like Steptoe & Son’s junkyard than anything else. This place may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is home to us and has proved to be an incredible place to work.

I think the atmosphere of the barn has found its way into the very fabric of the music and songs on ‘Drift Code’. Rustin Sam and I had a moment listening to the completed album the other day, and we agreed that it sounded like a fitting soundtrack to our home. However, that moment was fleeting as the kids insisted (like they do most weekends) on taking over the audio system, cranking it up and killing the mood with their latest hip hop and drum & bass playlist. As Sam and I surrendered ourselves to the fat beats and danced with the kids, I wondered if ‘Drift Code’ would sound different in any way, beyond these magical walls. I guess that when the album’s released in February, I’ll find out.

16th December 2018