Perfect Sound Forever

The Fall Imperial Wax Solvent

Pete Greenway, Keiron Melling and Dave Spurr
Interrogated by Jason Gross
(August 2018)

For this Fall album, we thought we'd do something a little different and let some of the band talk about the record's creation and how they reckon that it stacks up against other Fall platters. Many thanks to guitarist Pete Greenway, drummer Keiron Melling and bassist Dave Spurr for responding to questions via e-mail.

PSF: What was it like working on IWS?

KM: Imperial Wax Solvent was the first (Fall album) I worked on, in Dusseldorf. We had a great time! It was a different approach, recording an album that way for me. I really enjoyed the whole process and was amazed (at) how much freedom Mark gave us. We went to Dusseldorf with almost no songs written and came back with a full album! I also discovered that I would drink until I couldn't walk, then wake up with no hangover. God bless German beer.

PG: I was asked (in 2007) if I wanted to go to a Dusseldorf studio to record with Andi Toma and put some over dubbed guitar on an album that 'the dudes,' as Mark liked to call them (Robert Barbara, Tim Presley and Orpheo McCord), had written and were due to record. Expecting a fully recorded LP to play over, I was told when I arrived that there was no 'dudes'; they couldn't make it over. Dave got on the phone to Keiron who scrapped his immediate plans and came straight over. I was there for only 6 days, so I had my work cut out.

DS: Imperial Wax Solvent was possibly the craziest album I worked on with The Fall, but the outcome was great and I'm very proud of what we did. I'd been with the group for nearly a year when we came to do the album.

The idea was to go out to Düsseldorf with Mark to the studio where he'd just finished the Von Sudenfed album with Andi Toma from Mouse on Mars. We'd set up shop and await the arrival of Rob, Tim and Orpheo A.K.A The Dudes. For one reason or another, The Dudes never came and Pete Greenway and Keiron Melling were flown in instead to start work on the album.

The next three weeks were pure madness. In the best possible way of course! The studio was situated inside a former brandy distillery so it was a pretty big place and whenever Mark came in, he'd be into everything like a mischievous little kid! Great to watch if you were us. Not so great if you owned the gaff!

Mark told us that the headquarters of some Neo Nazi party was around the corner from the studio, so that's why Keiron and I, both with shaved heads, kept getting verbally abused in the street from passers by. Mark found this highly amusing, which is probably why he took us to the local boozer so much!

This was the start of a great relationship the three of us had together with Mark.

PSF: How did the songs come together?

KM: Dave, Pete and I slept at the studio, in some bedrooms in the back, so we would just come up with ideas and record any time we wanted. Mark would come over and have a listen to oversee what we had done, then give us his notes on what to change and guide us through the process.

PG: Mark had a few ideas; "50 Year Old Man," "Senior Twilight" was already in the live set at the time, a few ideas that never made it to fruition ("Bicycle Man" was one I remember). Mark suggested covering "Strangetown" after discovering our mutual love of the Groundhogs. Dave arrived a week before I did and dealt with the predicament of having no band by heroically recording various bass lines and loops which became the foundation of most of Imperial Wax. The music on "Wolf Kidult Man" was the first song that myself , Keiron and Dave ever worked on. I remember recording lots of sections of music for "50 Year Old Man," very little ended up on the album.

At this stage, we hadn't really gelled together as a band, that would come later through touring and the recording of the next LP: Your Future… Most of the songs were built track by track which is a method we abandoned soon after this recording. Due to Andi realising far too late that I had a flight to catch and couldn't hang around, most of my guitar tracks were recorded on the last day, probably within an hour, in a blind panic. Mark, Elena (Poulou), Dave and Keiron stayed on and recorded a few extra tracks, Keiron bringing "Alton Towers" to the table, Elena recording "Taurig."

I later went down to a London studio with Mark for another rushed recording session with Grant Showbiz, putting additional guitar tracks and textures on the LP. I remember Mark having me do the acoustic guitar on Alton Towers in the fire escape, sitting half way down the stairs, he liked how it sounded there. I remember being surprised at how cohesive the final LP sounded considering the chaotic environment that it was recorded. I later learned that Mark would thrive in these situations and use the chaos to his advantage, taking control of the project and steering it his way.

DS: I'd worked on Reformation Post T.L.C. which was the album previous to IWS, so I already knew the way that Mark worked in the studio. Basically, the band would write and record some ideas. If Mark liked them, they were keepers for him to sing over. If not, they got binned.

PSF: Do you have any favorite songs on IWS?

KM: I think my favorite song has got to be "50 Year Old Man." I remember having lots of fun recording that one. You can actually hear me laughing my head off halfway through! I love how there's so many different sections but it still sounds like a Fall song. We recorded it at Andi Toma's studio (Mouse on Mars, Von Sudenfed). Andy's so full of cool ideas so (that) made it interesting.

PG: I don't listen to any of the Fall records that I've done, after the recording and mixing process, the last thing I want to hear is those songs again. So, for this interview I've listened to IWS for the first time in 10 years and was pleasantly surprised. I think it starts off strong with "Alton Towers"- I like the ambient noodles on synth and guitar. "Wolf Kidult" still sounds strong and I love it when Mark's vocals are double tracked giving them a more urgent frightening quality. "Tommy Shooter" sounds better than I remember and I love Mark's line "reduce your knees to noodles"- I've often tried to use that in every day conversation.

DS: I've a couple of favourites on Imperial Wax Solvent. One that makes me smile is "Senior Twilight Stock Replacer." A friend of mine used to wash dishes in a restaurant and to make his job title sound a little more important, he told everyone that he was a 'Sub Aqua Ceramics Operative.' In between Fall gigs in the early days, I worked night shifts at a large hardware superstore, so I decided to steal my friend's idea and told everyone I was a 'Senior Twilight Stock Replenishing Technician.' It's damn near impossible to fit all that into a chorus, so it got shortened to 'Senior Twilight Stock Replacer' and the riff to the song was born!

PSF: How do you think IWS stacks up against other Fall albums?

PG: In my opinion, Imperial Wax stands up as one of the more cohesive and interesting albums of later-day Fall, I think this is down to us, at the time, being a new line up who were yet to gel as a band. We hadn't played together, really at the time and we had to rely on recording songs in layers rather than putting down live takes (which we did on pretty much everything after this). This meant that we could get quite experimental during the recording process, trying out weird daft sounds etc.. I don't think that IWS can be compared to The Falls early work. It was a completely different set of people and a very different Mark whose style of writing had changed from pages of script to a more concise method. He also put more thought towards the aural texture of his voice (i.e the growling) in the years that I was involved.

DS: I like to think that Imperial Wax Solvent is some of the best work we did in our time in The Fall. I know it will never be classed as a classic Fall record, but of the last decades' material, I'd say it was one of the best. Definitely one of my favourites.

KM: You know, I purposely have never listened to any of the other albums before I joined. I didn't want to subconsciously influence how I write. I was aware (that) Mark liked the fact that Dave and I had never heard of the Fall (before) and I didn't want to try emulating past sounds.

Dave, Pete and I have a new band called Imperial Wax. It was our first album all together so (it) feels right to move forward under a name where it all began.

Also see this separate interview with Pete Greenway, Keiron Melling and Dave Spurr about their entire time in the Fall

See the other items in our Fall post-millennium discography review

Also see our Fall tribute

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER