Interview by Graeme RowlandGithead skipped merrily into out consciousness with a bright yellow six song CD called Head Git. Who are these Gits?
Colin Newman should need no introduction as the prime melodicist of seminal art punk explorers Wire. His guitar playing foil Robin Rimbaud achieved a degree of notoriety as Scanner, picking up random mobile phone conversations to mix into his techno installation brew. They needed a bass player and Colin's wife Malka Spigel was the obvious choice. Colin and Malka met when he produced her band Minimal Compact. They started up Swim records when they realized they could do a better job than anyone else of promoting her Hebrew dance pop album "Rosh Ballata." With Swim studios at their disposal, Githead could quickly document all song ideas and pretty soon had progressed into brighter, more eclectic realms and had the summery red album Profile recorded. With a couple of celebratory songs sung by Malka, a couple of instrumentals and the rest sung by Colin at his most inimitably jovial, Profile promises to be the album of the summer of 2005. Now they've been joined by Minimal Compact's drummer Max Franken and are ready to roll. And rock.
It's always one thing or another... Practical dreaming?
C = Colin Newman
R= Robin Rimbaud
M= Malka Spiegel
PSF: Profile is very bright and summery in feel. Was it just serendipity that it was released in the summer or was the summer release important?
C: A few people have said that. How Githead sounds is fundamentally a result of how we play together. I’ve taken to referring to it as a “natural” band. By that I mean that for the most part what your hear in a recorded version of a Githead piece is pretty much based on how we play together. We work very quickly and as the “front line” write and rehearse in the studio, so we are constantly also, recording. It’s then easy for me or Malka to come back to a pre-established structure and add a vocal. Githead is quite subtle there’s always something more going on below the surface. Maybe it’s a summer record, I don’t know!
R: It’s clearly a reflection of the fun we have writing and performing together though, and perhaps this ‘summerish’ feel is just an optimism we share.
PSF: Lyrically, most of the songs Colin sings are humorous. Would it be correct to imagine that you seem to have cut up a lot of advertising slogans and spat them back as lyrics?
C: For me the humour is on the surface but there are many contradictions. The found text idea is hardly new but we live in an age where information increases but our ability to attach meaning to that information has not increased. There is an element of just throwing it all that back at its source. There are also not so sly digs at the whole notion of song lyrics as poetry. I am blessed with the ability to make almost any set of unrelated words sound either meaningful or meaningless. Beyond that generality every song is different and not every song is derived from spam.
R: In some ways it’s an exercise in recycling of our disposal culture.
PSF: Is there a sly hope that some advertiser might offer Githead a lot of money to use some of the song "Option Paralysis" as a soundtrack to sell things, and thus bring the artwork full circle in a funny kind of fashion?
C: Ha Ha. Very unlikely. “Option Paralysis” (a phrase borrowed from artist Russell Haswell) is somewhat critical on the notion of “choice,” there are digs about many kind of choices not just choice in products.
PSF: The funniest song is "They Are" which seems to be poking fun at the constant trickle of exciting new arts and acts and the hype that sells them. Is this analysis correct? Could this song be seen as a bizarre press release for Githead themselves, or are you possibly imagining those who are to follow in the footsteps of Githead?
C: “They Are" is very funny but for another reason. Of course it’s open to any interpretation you like and I very much like the idea that you can use a set of words derived in one way to shoot at entirely different targets. The actual derivation is from a site called googlism.com. I entered the names of the members of Githead and edited the lyric out the results replacing the person’s name each time with “They Are.” So on a simple level it’s about Githead or rather what the internet knows about some people who are called Robin, Malka & Colin. But it really could be interpreted in many ways, I’m always happy to be shooting down the self important and their hype. I don’t know if there are yet any that attempt to follow in our path, Githead offers an interpretation of what we consider to be going on in contemporary music culture but it is also quite specific in it’s style to the interaction of the players.
PSF: Is the reference that "They Are Belgian" a little nod to Colin and Malka's past residence in Brussels? Or is it maybe referring to the Antwerp debut of the four piece Githead line up?
C: I think that’s what they call a “link” in magazine programmes :-) I obviously chose Belgian from list but obviously no members of Githead are Belgian (Max is Dutch). However having just having returned from doing promotion on the album in Brussels I’m left with a couple of things. One of which is quite funny in that several journalists pointed out that the colour scheme for “profile” is the same as for the Belgian flag (obviously a thought uppermost in the mind of our Danish designer!)
The other is the fact that the journalists I spoke to seem to really connect with “Profile” specifically & Githead in general in a way which quite surprised me. I have never done a set of interviews for a release before in which every journalist told me how much he loved the album at the beginning of the interview. Quite a few seem very interested in and proud about the fact that Malka & I once lived in Brussels.
It is true that we are now a 4 piece and we did debut in Antwerpen that line up. It was always the intention to have a live drummer and Max is very suitable both in temperament & musical style.
PSF: The title "They Are" also has some resonance and continuation of Wire's Read and Burn where "They can, they might..." Was that apparent to you?
C: As I said the song & title are open to a lot of interpretation. I’ll leave it at that.
PSF: "Alpha" is to my ears the most Wire-like Githead song, and reminds me a little of "Boiling Boy." Was there any reason for opening the album with that song?
C: Perhaps "Alpha" is a bit darker in mood, big & brooding is how it could be described (well, in Githead terms anyhow). It’s not attempting to sound like Wire and in some respects “Alpha” is very unlike Wire in its sonic space. For us it was a natural opener. It feels like a beginning and a step on from Headgit.
R: Curiously the order of the tracks for the album was agreed immediately with the band, and Alpha seemed the most immediate piece to open with.
PSF: Were you aware that the slogan "Shrink the world" already appeared in the Wire song "Follow the Locust"?
C: The words to Wallpaper are all derived from the pages of one issue of one magazine. There are large sections about the construction of something very small with which infinite care and patience must be taken. “Shrink the World” replaced another line which we got fed up with. I must say I’d forgotten about “Follow the Locust” no connection intended.
PSF: Was the film 2001 an inspiration for the song "Cosmology For Beginners"?
C: Ha Ha! Out by a long way! The comedy writer Graham Duff (most recently known for “I Deal” & “Nebulous”) is a very good friend of mine. He phoned me up the other day being rather effusive about the album picking out the phrase “frenzied ambivalence” as being especially noteworthy. That phrase says a lot about how I think. Beyond the humour you could be really deep about it. We are always caught between being desperate to show we care when we really don’t give a fuck and desperate to be cool when we really care. In that way lyrically “Cosmology For Beginners” is pure Newmanism. A stream of consciousness with a lot of bad jokes. However there is an opposition in the chorus that questions if there is any communication going on and not just in that song.
PSF: Does Robin use his scanner at all in Githead? It seems that some scanning might appear on "12 Buildings" - is this so?
R: Since Sept 11 it’s been extremely difficult to travel with pieces of equipment that resemble surveillance devices and as such I don’t travel with it or use it anymore.
C: It’s a complete misunderstanding of Githead to think that Robin does the “funny bits” and Malka & I do the “music.” In a technical sense Robin is actually the most accomplished musician in Githead. It is one of the delights of Githead the way that Robin weaves his guitar parts in between Malka’s bass & my guitar. There are bits of atmosphere peppered throughout Profile & Headgit some from Robin’s hard disk & some from the studio’s. I think there is some short wave recording on “12 Buildings” that Malka & I did because we all felt it needed something like that!
PSF: Is drummer Max Franken living in London?
C: We wish he was but that’s not really possible for him right now. He remains in Amsterdam. If Githead becomes successful beyond our wildest dreams maybe he can afford to get a flat in London!
R: We’ll live in Git HQ and travel in the Gitmobile to all our shows.
PSF: Does Githead now record Max’s drumming to use as samples for composition?
C: “Raining Down” is Max. Our intention is to do a lot more with Max either recording all together or using drum recordings of him. We are waiting for our live sound man, who also lives in Holland, to finish his studio because it would be a good place to do either.
We don’t really use samples as such, it’s a bit technical but everything derives from played parts not loops.
PSF: Has Max had a hand in composing any of the songs?
C: Not really although the bass and drum parts of “Raining Down” were worked out by Malka & Max in a rehearsal room.
PSF: Were you initially using Robert Grey drum samples?
C: No way!! You start with Rob’s drums you get a wire track. That’s how all that Read & Burn stuff was written!
PSF: There is quite a different feel to the two Githead CDs. Would you agree that Profile is more diverse than Headgit?
C: I think it’s a natural progression. Githead starts with no history, people bring themselves to it but not the other projects they may have worked on. So “Reset” is a start (hence the title). Through these two releases we are finding our voice, Headgit is a bit more innocent, like any first release. Profile consciously extends the language of the band, pushing forward. None of us particularly want to repeat ourselves so we are always looking for new avenues to explore. Maybe Githead will make some things that don’t fit within an album or EP framework. No one wants to put limitations on the project other than it remaining something we are all into.
PSF: There is also a fascination with 'Pylons' - is it the imposing shape of these metal structures, or their hum or a combination of these factors that makes them such an inspiration to Githead?
C: That’s a Malka thing!
M: It all comes from being a lomographer (see below), you get really obsessed with stuff you take pictures of, pylons, airplanes, sky, tall buildings, swans…you have to see the pictures to understand, pylons are majestic, awesome structures!!!
PSF: What is LCA an acronym for?
C: Also a Malka thing! The L
C:A (we left out the dash so it wasn’t product placement) stands for Lomo Compact Automatic, a very special Russian built camera.
M: I love that camera, it opened me to a whole new way of looking at the world! There is an on line community connected to lomo. There is a link on my personal page of the githead site www.githead.co.uk to my lomohome where you can see my pictures.
PSF: Is there any chance that you might revisit any of the songs you once intended to rerecord for the aborted WMO Vox Pop album and turn them into Githead songs?
R & M – No way!
C: For the most part Githead music is pretty much written as a band. I tend to finish stuff off so maybe that’s where I have my chance to have a bit of authorship but I’m always respectful of what everyone else puts in. I find that much more satisfying as a way of making stuff as I am adding refinements and focus on top of something that has already been worked out enough for people to get excited about playing it.
I have no wish to impose some old stuff I did years ago on Githead.
PSF: The name Githead is very silly. What was the thinking that led you to adopt it?
C: We did it mainly to annoy you :-)
M: Because we are not pretentious gits!!
The Githead Jukebox
Colin: Those recordy things are always really hard plus of course when Githead get together they are mainly listening to Githead!! Unless we are playing ELO or ZZ Top to annoy Malka :)
Right now I'm listening to Psapp (Tiger, My Friend) I really like Gallia (Durant) as a person anyhow but I also think they are pretty underrated in this country. Earlier this year Jon Savage, Paul Smith and myself were having a sort of what Jon would call "forbidden zone" music. Stuff which is as un-credible as possible but actually rather good. Early Jethro Tull came in for a bit of a caning. I also rather belatedly discovered both the Notwist's Neon Golden which has a fantastic 4 track opening sequence and Death Cab For Cutie's album Something About Airplanes which also has a great opening sequence (apart from the 2nd track). I also played Burial on Hyperdub quite bit (Robin & Malka really like this too)
Malka meanwhile has played the Emiliana Torrini album "Fisherman's Woman" so many times it must be worn out by now! She also listened to the LCD Soundsystem album a lot earlier this year and likes "Death From Above" in the car... We both still enjoy the 1st Lobe album.
Robin has listed...
Röyksopp The Understanding (Wall of Sound)
Fennesz/Sakatmoto Sala Santa Cecilia (Touch)
Meat Beat Manifesto At the Center (Thirsty Ear)
Soldout Stoptalking (Anorak Supersport)
Hanne Hukkelberg Little Things (Leaf)
Oren Marshall Introduction to the Story (Slowfoot)
Evan Parker With Birds (Treader)
Ticklish Here are your new Instructions (Textile)
Arve Henriksen Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon)
Thee More Shallows More Deep Cuts (Monotreme)
Marsen Jules Herbstlaub (City Centre Offices)
Frank Bretschneider Looping I-IV (12K)
- This 1997 interview with Colin Newman
- An interview with Wire from 2013
- A Change Becomes Us era interview with Colin Newman
- Colin Newman's article about The Middle Ground of the Techno Revolution
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