Learning a New Language: Tim Gane on Leaving Stereolab Behind and for Cavern of Anti-Matter
Much beloved, Stereolab are the past and Gane is now COAM, with a new record featuring collaborations with Bradford Cox and Sonic Boom's Pete Kember.
When Stereolab announced their “Hiatus / Sabbatical / Pause / Intermission / Breather” in 2009, there was little doubt that multi-instrumentalist and creative director Tim Gane would use that time to relax. Hell, the very next year the band released Not Music, their tenth (and final, for now) full-length, because they had so much unreleased music just kicking around. The band’s dormancy has allowed Gane the freedom to work without any one project in mind. Alongside regular collaborator Sean O’Hagan, he’s written scores for multiple French films, while contributing to albums by O’Hagen’s High Llamas, Pharoah Chromium, and Deerhunter. But recently Gane has been focusing on the first full-time, post-’Lab outfit he formed in 2013 called Cavern Of Anti-Matter.
Based in Berlin, where Gane has lived for the past decade, the trio also features German synth virtuoso Holger Zapf and Stereolab’s Joe Dilworth on drums. Since their inception, they’ve released a string of vinyl-only singles as well as a limited edition full-length that was commissioned by Grautag Records, but have now prepared their first release for mass consumption. Void Beats / Invocation Trex is also the first real product of a band at work: a collection of bubbling synthesizer oscillations, trancelike motorik rhythms and groove-riding forays into interstellar hypnosis that pay homage to their home city’s rich history of Krautrock and Kosmiche. About the group, Gane explained in a statement that "Cavern of Anti-Matter are spectrum addicts, setting up tiny rhythmic cells and expanding on them in certain ways, splitting the melody and stretching out. The melodic movement is much slower due to the lack of words. At the moment, the Cavern sound is more what I want to do."
We talked with Gane from his home in the German capital about how he was coaxed into forming the band, the trials and tribulations that come with establishing a new band, the misnomer that he is a gear enthusiast, and why you shouldn’t be buying any of those Stereolab vinyl reissues.
Noisey: You told the Quietus last year that you’d prefer it if people didn’t know you were in Cavern of Anti-Matter. Why is that?
Tim Gane: It was probably an answer to a specific question, but what I meant was that I don’t want the past to inform the present in terms of expectations or ideas of sound because sometimes it’s better to start from scratch and learn a new language, but it seems impossible. I don’t want the benefit of being in a band that people know from before. And I don’t want to suffer the negative side of it either because this isn’t that band. We are trying to do something different. I would love for it to come without that knowledge, but it can’t be avoided and you can’t pretend because of the internet people would find out in two seconds and it would be pointless anyway.
So I’m not hiding because it’s silly to do that now. I just wish it wasn’t such a major thing because you’re already set up to listen to it in a certain way if you know these facts, and good or bad that is going to change your listening style. I’m just trying to say that it’s not the same thing as before, but if you hear certain similarities in melodies or the way I play guitar, well, yes that’s me, and I can’t seem to break this any more than any host of other musicians who have made music for a long time under different names. And I wouldn’t want to de-nature that because that is where you mess up. To me things come out the way they come out, whether it’s through improvising or writing songs as I did before. But if it has a slight resemblance or familiarity, then that’s the way it happened. I’m not going to obliterate it or force it to sound different because it’s natural.
To my ears, Cavern of Anti-Matter has a very distinct German sound to it. How important is Berlin to the type of music you’re making?
I’ve been asked similar questions before, and I suppose it’s a thing you could think. Yes we do touch on some Berlin or Germanic sounds, like electronic music from the late 70s and early 80s, as well as Krautrock and Kosmiche, but I liked all of these bands before I came here. It’s not like I came here and discovered all of this music and it turned my head. But at the same time, when you’re living here an atmosphere might begin to seep into your bones. But I don’t really buy into that because I find that environmental reasons are more of a thing people like to write about. I’m not sure how much of a real influence it is on people writing music. I can’t say it’s not completely true. Since coming here I have changed the instrumentation that I began to use. I wanted to lose some of the familiar instruments and get some different ones. I tended to be attracted to the sounds of the instruments that I like from an electronic point of view. And I did spend about five years, about 2005 when I first came here, working with plug-ins and soft synths, and after about three or four years I got fed up with it. I didn’t find it satisfying at all. I was deciding between a proper studio and a computer, but I wanted a proper studio with hardware, so I got some old sequencers and that type of stuff.
So that kind of sound comes from an early 80s Berlin period, so of course it could also lead people to think that. There is also a lifetime of influences on the music, and I think it’s hard to pick out one. I suppose in a short answer, it is very possible there is some element of influence, but I’m not sure what it is and I don’t try to control it.
This is the second Cavern of Anti-Matter album. The first was released through Grautag instead of Duophonic. Why is there more of a push with this new album than their was with Blood-Drums?
The first album was just a limited edition, vinyl-only pressing on a Berlin label, Grautag. His aim is to get experimental musicians to collaborate with him to make a record, which is always a double vinyl LP in a 500 edition with a special cover he designs. It’s a joint effort: half is music, the other half is the cover and design. It wasn’t just a normally commercial record, although it was available. I approached it like I would a soundtrack. It was a very specific thing, and I devised the sound of that record through conversations I had with the guy. And then when it came out I did what I could and played a few gigs, did some interviews and it got some reviews, and then it went away. So there wasn’t really anything to do afterwards.
On this record, it was a bit different because I just wanted to do the music without necessarily having this other element to it. I also wanted the record to be available to anyone who wanted to hear it or buy it. This is a normal record. [Laughs.] Not some rarefied thing. I like doing those because it influences the way you do music and I like to think about music in different ways. But sometimes it’s good to do one where everyone can hear it.
So there was never a plan for you to release or even re-release Blood-Drums on Duophonic?
No. I was committed to doing it for Grautag. To be honest, if he hadn’t asked me the group wouldn’t even exist. I did it for him, as a specific project. All of the music was done in a month, really, really fast in a chaotic style. It really did free me up to go for it. So that was just going to be the LP, but then he wanted to do a live showcase of all the bands on Grautag playing in Berlin. He asked us, and I said, “No, no, we’re not a live band. It’s just this record, that’s it.” But he kept asking and I said OK. So Joe, Holger and I got together to do this concert and that’s it. But then since we went to the effort we did another gig, and then got asked to play ATP with Deerhunter. So gradually it snowballed a little bit and it became the main band I was doing. But we didn’t really didn’t change the methodology for the new album. It was still chaotic. In a sense it was still similar in a vibe to the first album. But the new album is much more “the band.”
What I take from this is that you were kind of coaxed into forming this band by a label.
Coaxed? Well, yeah, coaxed. But it’s just because I had thought of it as a one-off project that wouldn’t develop into anything later. That catalyst was being asked to play live. Literally we had two weeks from being asked to play. We had to learn how to make that work as three people. And it kind of worked. We’ve actually done worse since then. So one thing kicked off another thing. We will see where it goes. I think it has the potential to develop into something where I don’t know where it will go. Some people might think it’s strange to have a pop song with Bradford singing on it. But I thought it’s great because it’s disconcerting.
What made you want Bradford Cox and Pete Kember to contribute vocals?
I asked Pete a long time before because when I was trying to get some tracks together for an LP, I wanted to make some changes, one of which was to get some vocals. And I just thought of Pete because sometimes we correspond and he used to play with Stereolab back in the 90s, so I asked if he was up to do the vocal and he said fine. And about eight months later I sent him two or three tracks, and didn’t really hear back from him for a while, and it was getting further and further into the mixing, but we saved this one track till the very end. And we were just finishing up, and then three days later he said, “Here they are!” So had to reinvent the track in a different way and mixed it around the vocal. I just like the sound of his voice. I’ve always loved how he sang in any of his groups: Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Sonic Boom, whatever.
And Bradford, that was a bit different. That didn’t come from a Cavern of Anti-Matter thing. I was doing a soundtrack, and two weeks before the deadline the people couldn’t afford to get the electronic music they wanted for this party scene so they asked me to do the music. So suddenly I had to do all of these electronic pop songs, which isn’t typical of what I do. And they wanted vocal tracks on them, and I needed to do it quick, so I asked Bradford to do it because we always write each other. So he was ill and didn’t get back to me right away, and boom, he just sent the track over and it was great. It was crazy times, so the version is a bit weak, but his vocals are really good. And then a few months later when I was doing this record I wanted to do justice to that track, so we basically re-recorded all of the music again. I just thought it was great to have a little pop song in this environment.
Even though they weren’t, the songs feel as though they were tailor made for Pete and Bradford to sing.
Yeah, well Pete, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he was going to sing. But when it came back it was spoken word; he’s reciting words that he’s written about an artist. And that was quite difficult to mix into the track. We went back and opened up the studio again, because we had shut it down right before he called back. Luckily we still had enough equipment in there to mix. It was really difficult, and took longer than any other track on the LP. So it was tricky, but in a way we had already orientated the track around his voice, so it sounds like it fits. I was kind of thinking of this Canadian band called Intersystems from the late 60s. They had this really thinned out, middle range, drone-y kind of voice without any inflections, and that helped the zombie, psychedelic vibe.
And with Bradford, he just sings the way he sings. He sang into a digital recorder and sent the file. It’s got that kind of distortion that seems inherent with his voice. And it was quite dynamic, which was odd, because on the first version the song wasn’t dynamic at all. And then on the new one we tried to play it a bit more with the attack of the singing, in this violent style to keep the melody strong.
There has been some talk the last couple years about finally reissuing some of the unavailable Stereolab albums. What is the status of that?
We would like to put out good reissues of the Elektra LPs that are not available in a good format at the moment. I have all of the tapes sitting against a wall in my studio and I just want to go at a certain point to remaster them and do a good reissue in a classic sense, from the original master tapes before they erode. I want to offer a very high quality of packaging as well. A lot of the digital processing is much better than it was 20 years ago, so I just want to do justice to them and get rid of the tapes. But, it’s locked in a legalese—we don’t own the tracks. We have to license them and it’s a long process of complications, sudden bends, and straight roads going up mountains. So it’s just a complicated situation in which we’re just waiting. I’d like to get on with it as soon as possible but it’s in limbo. It’s a classic thing in music: you can’t just what you want without all of the rights. So we are trying to extract the rights from the owners to do it, and do it well.
We could just reissue the existing files, which would probably sound better. But I would like to go back to the original tapes and try to extract as much of the information as possible. I would like to master the analog files, like we used to do with Stereolab, but with that amount of music and the fact that the costs to do it in analog would be too high, it’s not possible. If you get a vinyl copy of Sound-Dust it sounds different from the CD. The vinyl version is different in many ways to the CD. So there are some differences between them.
Lætitia [Sadier] came out and spoke against the reissues 1972 released. She wasn’t too pleased with them.
These labels like 1972 or whatever they’re called, I’ve never heard the record but I’ve only heard bad things about them. They master just from the CD, so that can tell you about the quality. And the covers are just a print from a CD that is blown up. So not great. But we want to have them available on all formats again because labels like 1972 can get rights to do them on vinyl only. But I don’t want it to be vinyl only. I want it on any format that people want to listen to. I’ve been through the vinyl washing machine from people for many years. [Laughs.] It’s my preferred format in many ways, but I’m not going to dictate my taste on every thing because it should be available in any format. Hearing the music is the number one thing. Choice of format comes after that. So I would say to try and avoid these reissues until the proper ones appear.
Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Canada. Follow him on Twitter.