Into The Inheritors: James Holden interviewed

Part 1

Into The Inheritors: James Holden interviewed

16-05-2013 | 20.32

Three years ago – the day after James Holden played Trouw for the first time – the London-based Border Community-label boss gave us a sneak peak of a new track he had been working on. It was at the end of a three-hour interview we did in his hotel room in Rotterdam, just before he had to start his second set of the weekend, in Catwalk. We ended up talking about catching musical moments, primal music and seventies krautrock.

Back then he didn’t wanted to reveal much about his new music – now it will finally see its release. Seven years after he his debut mini-album The Idiots Are Winning and fourteen years after he – still being a math student on Oxford – released his debut single Horizons, James Holden will release his first record that’s actually an album. At the 17th of June, The Inheritors – named after a William Golding novel – will see daylight. Before its release Holden plays some all-night-long dj-sets through Europe, with Trouw as a second stop.
We had a chat with Holden again this week, with the track titles of his new album as the only guideline. A conversation that leads from nerdy talk about hand coded software and unpredictable synths to stories about Neanderthals, Buddhist funerals and the beauty of light bulbs.
Did you came up with the album title recently?
‘It was kind’a after I was done. I had another idea in my head, but I decided it was too terrible to ever be mentioned to anyone, ever. It would confuse people too.’
Your first album, The Idiots Are Winning, had a confusing title too.
‘Hahaha. And I got sick of trying to explain it. I remember talking on the telephone to a journalist from Japan, who really didn’t understand a lot of what I was saying… but then I accidently embarked on a 10-minute explanation about the irony in the title.
This one, The Inheritors, is a lot about old methods of making music, tangled up with super-modern things you’ve couldn’t done two years ago.’
Do you deliberately take a step away from the contemporary musical trends?
‘Yeah. The Inheritors, the book, is about the idea that the story of evolution is already told, but it picks out an old idea, the characters of the Neanderthals, which you can empathize with throughout the book. It fits the idea of the record: following some threads that have lead to things in the present, then going back to these threads to follow them in a different direction.
I didn’t want to make a pastiche krautrock album. I’m not German and this isn’t the sixties or seventies. Although I love all that music, I didn’t want to make a copy of something that I’m not, it had to be genuinely me. It needed that English… kraut.’
What part of your personality can we hear in your music?
‘It’s very hard to… Music is tangled up with your whole brain while making it, but it’s very hard to explain why I make the things I make. It just comes out. It’s quite instinctive. There was no thinking of what people would like or not like, or how it fitted in with everything. But it did work, somehow. I was just getting lost in the machines, I guess.’
A critique on modular synthesizers is that people get lost in them, they end up tweaking more and making music less. How did you experience that?
‘One I learned to use the modular, I think it helped me finish things quicker. If you got the synth working today, it’s probably not going to work tomorrow, so you record it today. Switching to an analogue studio pushed everything forward faster.’
When did you make the first track that ended up on the album?
‘Probably three years ago. It all came together, I made three or four tracks and then I side-tracked the album a bit, doing the DJ Kicks and the Kate Wax album.
Working through that Kate Wax project was a good thing, because I learned how an album takes shape - how to make things fit together that on a first stance didn’t want to fit together. I could almost rattle through the rest, there weren’t much things that where ditched along the way.’
A lot of track titles have a reference to England. We thought: let’s start with your track titles and see where they lead us.
‘Haha. That’s worth a go. Some of them less than others will be useful though.’
Rannoch Dawn
‘I unintentionally made a slightly Celtic-sounding track: some things that sounded good also ended up also sounding Celtic. Rannoch Moor is a flat piece of land in between mountains, in the highlands of Scotland. I remember sleeping in the train that brings you there: you wake up at 6 in the morning, open your window… it’s spectacular. For me, it’s the ideal place to listen to the whole record.’
Was the experience of being there and making the track close to each other?
‘Not really. I don’t feel like I can sit down, think about a thing and then write a song that actually reflects the situation. I realized that the Celtic parts on the album are tied up with all the times I’ve been to Scotland. My mom and dad live around there. It’s nice if you like to drive a really long way.’
Shall we try the second track?
‘Yeah, A Circle Inside a Circle Inside a Circle… etcetera, haha.’
Something witchcrafty?
‘Yeah, and just playing around with Max/MSP-patterns. You’ll see, it doesn’t bare much explanation.’

This is part one of a three-part interview.

Text: Berend Jan Bockting & Luc Mastenbroek