Come 20 September 2014 and 65daysofstatic‘s debut album, The Fall of Math will be ten years old. It’s an album that thrust an instrumental post-rock band from Sheffield and all of their odd time signatures and samples of film dialogue firmly into the limelight. With radio attention and a lead single that resonated with many, it has led to the band having a healthy career of four more excellent albums, a soundtrack and a collaboration with Robert Smith of The Cure. Not bad. Here, we ask guitarist Paul Wolinski to talk about the album, track by track, ten years on.
Another Code Against the Gone
The beginnings of 65 were so wrapped up in mystery, sloganeering, noise, cut-ups, bootlegs, interference, mixes, remixes and a total belief in both the cause and the inevitable doomed ending of it all, how else could we have opened our first proper album other than with a blast of radio static and some gloriously bleak hyperbole?
I stand by it. All of it. Anyone who calls 65 pretentious is well within their rights to do so but they can’t have ever met us in real life. Taking ourselves too seriously would be stupid and we try hard not to, but taking our music seriously is something I will never feel embarrassed about.
Install a Beak in the Heart that Clucks Time in Arabic
I remember coming up with this chord sequence on the not-quite-in-tune piano that lived in one of the early 65 shared houses. It was exciting because it was one of those moments when I thought I was writing in one key, but it turned out to be another, and once you’ve learnt even a little bit about making music, it’s quite hard to make your fingers do unexpected things. Or it is for me anyway. The programming is admirably minimal too. I think the aim was to make something that sounded like the production style of Chemical Brothers on Dig Your Own Hole. (It completely fails on that score, but there you go).
The first time we took the programmed beats down to the rehearsal room and Rob figured out that crazy, tom-heavy part on the live kit to go with them was special.
One of the first songs we wrote as a ‘real band’, with actual drums rather than a sampler. It came together really fast, which is as it should be, since there’s only three chords in it.
There’s probably lessons in this song which we stubbornly refused to learn that would have taken 65 down an altogether different path.
When we play it live, it’s also the only point in our show where the crowd get to sing along.
One time during one of our early visits to Japan, when everyone seemed to think we were about to become some kind of much more successful band, we got taken to Sony HQ in Tokyo to do a combined interview with Boom Boom Satellites. These guys were a major influence on me and I was really intimidated, but we bonded slowly and awkwardly, talking about drum samples though a translator who had no idea what he was being asked to translate.
BBS were of the opinion that using samples from other places was not as effective as creating your own loops with a drummer and then creating samples from that. I was in awe at the resources that were apparently available to them. Imagine the luxury of being able to go into a studio with your drummer – not to record an entire album on a tiny budget in four days but just to be able to record live drums to turn into unique loops for you to work with!
Default This was not made like that. Default This was made by scouring 512k broadband internet late at night when nobody else needed to use the modem, looking for drum’n’bass loops or obscure jungle tracks on Napster, throwing them all into Soundforge and mangling them with distortion and those great ACID looping tools I have yet to find anything as good as, then chopping them all up into tiny samples and rebuilding it from scratch on a pirate copy of Cubase in a small attic room in Sheffield. (These days we try and buy software, which is the right thing to do, but they don’t half punish you with DRM for trying to do things properly…)
I Swallowed Hard, Like I Understood
I wish I could remember how we made that noise in the ‘chorus’ (i.e. the louder bit) that switches between 6/4 and 5/4 every bar. (6 then 5, geddit?)
Probably it was made by opening files that were not audio files in Soundforge, which is something it was good to do to instantly create some fresh glitches to work with. It’s quite biting though, and it has a note to it too, whereas the glitches from Soundforge tended to be atonal, better for percussive stuff, rather than melody. So where did it come from?
I can’t remember.
Anyway. I like the title. Another futile effort by 65 to make a song be a metaphor for EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE.
The Fall of Math
This is a crazy song. If we were a different set of people then we might have pretended to have written a song like this as some kind of badly-conceived, avant-garde sound collage, a naive, aspiring-to-high-art comment on the troubles of post-modern genre in modern music, written at the time when digital-signal-processing was really revolutionising laptop music and super producers like BT were writing songs like NSYNC’s ‘Pop’ that sounded more like Aphex Twin than Backstreet Boys, doing for the glitch aesthetic, in a nefarious, calculating way, what Kurt Cobain did for grunge by accident… blah blah blah.
For the record, that’s categorically not what we were doing.
We just liked being loud with guitars and samplers and smashing ideas together. Following those two things to their logical conclusion resulted in a song like this. I remember us writing this in a dingy rehearsal room in Sheffield during the evenings and then going to the night club next door and dancing to At the Drive-in like our lives depended on it.
This Cat is a Landmine
I think this song was one of the last ones written for the record, after we’d got a bit more touring under our belts. You can hear (or can you?) that we’re a bit more at ease as a live force here. The programmed beats and live drum parts are a little more complimentary to each other, rather than viciously fighting for space like they do elsewhere on the record.
Out of all the songs, this one seems to point most towards One Time For All Time, the record we made next.
The Last Home Recording
I deleted what I just wrote about this song because it’s too personal, not in a private way but in a too-specific way to be anything other than indulgent. In brief, I guess this is the soundtrack to that rising tide of real life that you helplessly watch creeping toward you when you’re stood on the coastline in your early twenties, (and have been lucky enough to be born into a time and country where you can put off real life for that long in the first place).
Yeah, I don’t know. Got something of a shanty about it, hasn’t it? Digital shanty? Guitar pirates? (d)Rum?
Now I think about it, there might be a 65 remix floating about that mangles this with some actual sea shanty singing. Hmmm. Digital jetsam, lost somewhere in Old Hard Drive Ocean. Probably for the best…
So yeah, we had a brief flush of radio success with Retreat! and needed to follow it up with another song; Hole was the only other thing on the record that could remotely make sense as something for the radio. I remember it getting played by Zane Lowe at one point in the evening and he talked over the loud bit near the end really enthusiastically, which was nice, but I could tell even then that it was a bit of a stretch. “There’s no singing but honestly it’s really good!” he beseeched, but in a more polished, diplomatic way. “Take no chances!” yelled the BBC in return.
One time in Maida Vale, we did a session for Zane Lowe. In the green room, restringing guitars, Daniel Bedingfield walked past and asked which band we were the crew for.
Fix the Sky a Little
I absolutely remember the very beginnings of this song. We were in our rehearal room. On the G string of my guitar, I played C… B, G… like that. And thought, “Oh, that’s nice.” The details after that are a bit fuzzy, but some time later we ended up with this song. It’s in 7/4, which is the joint best time signature (5/4 is the other one).
I think it remains one of the best chord progressions we have ever written: (Am, B, C, Em, F, C, G, Em, if case you’re wondering).
Aren’t We All Running
Bit scrappy this, isn’t it?
I mean, I’m cool with it – I still love At the Drive-in’s Acrobatic Tenement and In Casino Out and some of the songs on there sound really sketchy, but it just adds to the charm.
I can’t quite work out how to hear 65’s stuff in the same way though. I hope the energy and urgency carry it through – I guess it must have, to a degree, otherwise nobody would have cared and I wouldn’t be writing a ten year anniversary reappraisal of it, so that’s reassuring.
Used to love finishing shows with this, all the battering and clattering and bombast.
When we were making the record, I seem to remember having conversations that if Aren’t We All Running was the endpoint for The Fall of Math, whatever we did next would need to start at the level of intensity we’d reached on this song and ramp up from there… I’d like to think that we followed a slightly more subtle interpretation of that idea, rather than taking it too literally. There’s only so far you can go with pure noise. Once you’ve filled all the frequencies there’s nowhere else to go. Need to remember that it’s just as important to sculpt chunks of silence into songs too. Nobody needs a Fall of Math Part Two. If you ever catch us doing that, somebody please make us stop.
If you had today’s technological resources to hand back in 2004, what, if anything, do you think you would do differently?
It’s not really about the technology. I guess it’s more about all the stuff you can figure out in ten years. I’m probably just taking what should be a simple question too seriously but I can’t figure out how to answer this. I would do loads differently, but then it wouldn’t have been The Fall of Math that we made.
Would you agree that Wild Light is the closest stylistically and sonically to The Fall of Math. Why do you think that is?
Maybe stylistically, I can see where you’re coming from, but not sonically. We’re really, really happy with the sound on Wild Light. We feel it’s a big step forward for us and Fall of Math, for all its charm, sounds like a band recording an album in a tiny recording studio for four days. I’m not saying that either approach is better or worse than the other, but I do think that they both generate very different sonic palettes.
As for the style… I’d like to like that Wild Light is equally intense/urgent/focussed. So thanks.
How important was the idea of soundtracks to creating TFoM? You perform a Silent Running live soundtrack, after all.
On equal footing to all the other ideas I imagine, although it was never considered so explicitly. One of our very early songs was a remix of Assault on Precinct 13 and we sampled Bruce Campbell from the audio commentary of Evil Dead for the live version of Play.Nice.Kids.
I remember when I was fourteen or fifteen, saving up to afford a new CD. I went into HMV to buy Smash by The Offspring, but instead found myself walking out with Mark Mancina’s soundtrack to Speed instead. And a life of melodrama was born.