Interview: Ian Black (SLUG)

Interviews / News / Special Features / May 1, 2015

SLUG is the alias for UK musician Ian Black, who just released his debut album “Ripe,” as well as wrapped up a small tour of northern England. After listening to the album a few times — the 31 minute time allows you to easily absorb it in one sitting — and reading some track by track commentary on NME, I decided to reach out to Ian with some questions of my own.

Ian was backed on the tour by old bandmates David and Peter Brewis of Field Music, both of whom recorded and co-produced the album with Ian.

Modern Vinyl: Can you tell me a bit about the North East music scene that you hail from? Are there things (good or bad) about the region that are reflected in your music?

Ian Black: There’s a real smorgasbord of different artists in the North East. Sunderland had a real punk movement in the late ’70s and early ’80s and I’m sure Newcastle was one of the cities that championed black metal in its infancy. Fast forward to today and you have real DIY movements and bellicose micro labels who release everything from noise to twee pop.

Besides the music, I love Sunderland, it’s beautiful in parts, I even enjoy its little quirks (multiple Greggs bakeries on every street, the most weird, unpredictable football team ever) but it’s hard not to be equally frustrated with it.

MV: What was the recording process like for this album? Did you have most of the songs finished before going into the studio?

IB: I am absolutely terrible at explaining how I want things done. So it was always best when I went into the Brewis’s studio armed with some demos, with some of the parts played badly. The writing process was locking myself away for a few years and learning how to arrange and write by myself, something I had not done before and being aggressive in the self editing process. It’s cruel when you think, “I’m a great songwriter, this will be easy” only to find out you’re not and it isn’t. But this was also very exciting, you got to learn about those weaknesses that you never knew you had.

All the songs were 95 percent written before I got into the studio and myself and the lads spoke about the different sound for each song, building them from the foundation up. Sometimes with some real polishing from Pete and Dave, the demo was used. I’m still flabbergasted that “Running To Get Past Your Heart” was played on BBC Radio 1. Its drums were recorded on 2 vocal mics! Most of the instruments were recorded in the red, distorting the hell out of it….fantastic!

MV: How much of a perfectionist are you with the arrangements? How can you tell when a song is finished?

IB: Usually each song had been through 4-5 different guises and when the shape felt right that’s when you would start to feel as if you had something. Rightly or wrongly, a great deal of my decisions are made on gut instinct. For Ripe only 12 tracks were selected but there were dozens of sketches of different ideas.

People may see this as being a perfectionist, but I just wanted to create a body of work that I was moved by and that I was 100 percent behind. I wanted a mix of different approaches, where there were instances of dense instrumentation amongst sheer primal simplicity.

I personally believe that if you are not pushing yourself and being slightly ambitious then what’s the point. You are not growing as a musician and you are not growing as a songwriter.

MV: On “Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic” it sounds like the guitar and synth play a lot of their lines in unison — does that come from any specific sound you like? I hear a bit of early Genesis in that tune.

IB: The squelch bass idea comes right out the Goblin rulebook, even though they’ve done it on synth and the guitar section at the end was myself trying to imagine an electric Miles Davis rhythm section with a Trashmen-esque guitar solo played by Free Your Mind-era Funkadelic. As for the main riff? I’m not so sure, it sounded better overdubbing the part because it was a complicated riff and needed to sound BIG! I do enjoy Genesis though.

MV: Ok, this is driving me nuts: is the tempo actually slowing at all during the end of “Sha La La,” or is it just the drum phrase change that gives that illusion? Either way it’s really clever and always perks my ears.

IB: Thank you, if it’s the last bar you are referring to then it does slow down marginally. It sounds slower again because the drums go half time if I remember rightly, It helps emphasize the section and creates a satisfying ending.

MV: Are there any guitar effects that you have an affinity for — whether it be a brand, type, or both?

IB: I use the RAT as my main distortion, it has bite and real nastiness to it. Big Muffs might sound thicker, but often sound weak depending on who is operating them. The effect unit I use as my main “soloin’ lickin’ out” pedal is the Prunes and Custard. They just sound ridiculous, I remember watching the Fiery Furnaces live and I heard this sound, ever so peculiar.

The Prunes is all over Ripe, it’s used on both guitar and bass and that’s where the squelch originates from.

MV: Are you into buying vinyl? What does your collection look like?

IB: Yes I do buy vinyl, but still enjoy CDs for they still sound superb. It is hard not to fetishise vinyl, because the product is beautiful. It’s a cliche but I the reason why I enjoy listening to vinyl is the ritual of looking at the artwork and the physicality of the product. It’s a real joy to place the record on the turntable and be locked into it, something you can sometimes lose with CDs (unless there’s a real informative booklet to read inside like the RYKO re-issues).

My record collection, if we go off vinyl only, is a mixture of soundtracks, noise albums, electronica, dub, avant garde, German rock bands, classic rock and ’80s hair metal….you can never have enough of that.

MV: You mentioned some horror composers as inspiration in an interview with NME – what are some of your favorite soundtracks/scores? Are you into buying the new releases from Deathwaltz, Mondo, Waxwork, etc…?

IB: The film soundtracks I was listening to whilst recording Ripe were written by Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, Lalo Schifrin, Andrzej Korzynski and the synth maestro John Carpenter. These works have a mix of experimentation, minimalism, funk rock, synth drones, noise and Steve Reich drumming. They jump from genre to genre! Something I personally find exciting.

I’m a fan of both Death Waltz and Mondo, the quality of their products are fantastic. I’m also a fan of Finders Keepers too, I’ve purchased some real gems from those guys such as L’Etrange Mr Whinster by Horrific Child. That too served as inspiration for Ripe, it’s so strange and fearless, like if The Residents happened to be a prog rock band.

MV: Are there any plans to tour the USA?

IB: I’d love to do a small tour, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 week stint as a live bassist for Field Music in 2010. I’d have to check with Memphis Industries and my bank account though. Would there be any promoters in the US interested in a SLUG show?

The new SLUG album “Ripe” is available on white vinyl at Memphis Industries.

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Alan Miller
Alan is a songwriter and record store clerk living just north of Nashville, TN.

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