“There was always that feeling that maybe this is the last time we can do this special thing that few other people get to do.”
The release of Imbogodom’s third LP Metafather is a momentous one, as it brings to an end the close relationship the duo had with Bush House in Central London. The beautiful and somewhat imposing edifice was, until July of last year, the home of the BBC World Service. And it was there Imbogodom members Daniel Beban and Alex Tucker would hunker down overnight to record using the studio’s old tape machines and mixing boards (Beban was employed there as an engineer).
As with the previous Imbogodom albums, Metafather finds the strange Venn diagram midpoint between psychedelically inclined mood pieces and feathery English folk; it’s a sound akin to Mad Professor producing a Steeleye Span session. The album also carries with it a palpable delirium, a byproduct likely of the strange hours and location of its recording.
Beban and Tucker, separately, as the former is back in his native New Zealand and the latter in the UK, spoke to TMT about their unusual working methods, lyrical inspiration, and the future of their project.
What was it about the Bush House that made it so conducive to what you two were creating?
Daniel Beban: I would always feel like an artist-in-residency even though I’m supposed to be doing my work. There’s quite a lot of downtime, so I could sit up in one of the studios and make music. The night is really quiet there, and you’re underground in huge, empty, labyrinthine building. You start to feel like you’re in this bunker trapped away from everything. We would meet around 10 o’clock at night and leave about 6 o’clock in the morning and spend the whole night fiddling away with music.
Alex Tucker: The building is so amazing. Just being in central London at night, there’s this feeling that you’re tapping into the current. The big Masonic temple is just around the corner. You’re close to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Hunterian Medical Museum. The Law Courts are really close by, and the Thames River is really close by. You’re in the heart of so much knowledge and history. There’s a bit of psychogeography or deep topology going on with the recordings there. It was an intense experience altogether recording there. I’d be waiting for Dan to say, “Tonight’s the night.” I’d be doing whatever in the day and then he’d ring up and say to come around. And because it was going to be decommissioned, there was always that feeling that maybe this is the last time we can do this special thing that few other people get to do.
Were there people there who knew what you two were up to?
DB: There weren’t that many people around in the night. We could just disappear into the walls. A few other sound engineers took an interest because not many people were using the equipment like we were. It was quite nice because it started to get a few other people involved. There’s a guy who calls himself Robin The Fog; after he saw what we were doing, he started doing tape loops of things he recorded around the building.
I think the good thing about a collaborator is getting them to do something they wouldn’t normally do and vice versa. Having them make a decision that you wouldn’t necessarily make.
What was the typical process for recording in Bush House?
DB: Because it was a proper studio, we’d have one person in the control room and the other person on the other side of the glass. Alex might play a cello or a piano and then I’d be manipulating it and recording it. We’d listen back and go, “Oh, what does it need?” One of us might write a couple of lyrics and it becomes a song. This time around it was a more constructed thing. Not premeditated, though there were a few more songs that we had brought along. There was some structure but it was more of an improvised thing.
AT: We tracked everything to ProTools, but we mainly used that to do editing, fades and cross fades, and things like that. There were no plugins. All of it was instruments being played or sound being made and passed through the tape machines and tape loops, then using the EQs or the volume to create effects.
And the tape machines you were using belonged to the BBC, correct?
DB: Yeah, the studio we were using had the last three or four tape machines in it. The stuff we’ve been doing actually spanned the shift from the last remaining use of that analog gear. When I started there, unbelievably, World Service radio was still on reel-to-reel tape. It was only in 2005 that they finally got their shit together and made a digital system able to handle the massive amount of data that goes through there.
Now that they’ve decommissioned the building and a lot of old equipment, were you able to get out of there with a tape machine or two?
DB: They had this weird policy about not giving away or selling gear to employees. They finally opened it up for employees to buy some stuff. A couple of people I know got some tape machines. Hopefully they went to good homes. It would be horrible if all that shit ended up in a rubbish bin.
I was interested in how you two create lyrics for songs like these, if they are reactions to the music you are making or if you’re bringing words in and finding a place for them in the album.
DB: For this record previous ones had done mostly written altogether, in the studio, including the lyrics and things. This one, partly because we had less time, we each pre-composed a couple of songs, mainly the lyric side. One of the songs, “Soaked Into Walls,” was written on a balcony on the top of Bush House. There’s all these little areas were you can sneak out to have a smoke. There was one balcony over looking the Thames, I was out there and saw a flash of light, which was a security guard in the building walking around. It was a sudden feeling I had and started writing that song. The other, “Mirror Dust,” was written around the time of the trial with the Murdochs, Rupert and his son on trial for corruption charges. And they kept talking about them being “willfully blind” to what was going on. Seemed to me that everyone is willfully blind to what is happening in the world.
AT: For me, it was coming up with stuff then and there. Dan would be working at the same time, so maybe he’d have only one or two programs to do for the World Service and would go off for an hour, I’d have time to write lyrics and figure out parts. He’d come back and then we’d start putting it together.
Seemed to me that everyone is willfully blind to what is happening in the world.
What inspires your lyrics?
AT: Imagery and whatever I’m reading at the time. I always love the balance of domestic imagery and something sci-fi or supernatural. There are always threads of personal stuff worked in there as well. Being in Bush House when you’re staying up all night as well, your mind set gets to a certain framework, so I find Metafather to be such a dark album. We were both going through some things at the time, going through some relationship things.
There’s also a sample on the album, a spoken-word piece that’s in the track, “The Living Creatures.” Where did that come from?
AT: That was from a YouTube thing about possible descriptions of UFOs and aliens in the Bible. I don’t know what they did to the voice. It sounded robotic and scrambled somehow. I recorded it on a Dictaphone through the computer speaker. I’m quite obsessed with UFOs and I just like the trippy imagery. The title of the last album, And They Turned Not Where They Went, actually came from that same clip. It makes no sense really, but it’s still quite beautiful.
And there’s a female voice here, which is a new addition to the Imbogodom mix.
DB: That was an amazing night.
AT: The Tottenham riots were blazing. They kicked off that day. Dan’s girlfriend [was] visiting a friend in Birmingham and came through Charing Cross and we told her to come straight to Bush House because it was really dangerous to try and go into Northeast London. We were watching it all on big-screen TVs in the canteen. Saw the Sony building burning. It was only later that I found out that some of my records were going up in flames because Thrill Jockey had some records stored there. It was an intense night but we made a little encampment there on the floor of the studio and carried on mixing. That’s how we got her to sing a bit on the album.
This album was recorded in 2011, is that the last material you’ve done together?
DB: Since then, Alex came over to New Zealand about a year ago and we toured together. Played four or five gigs. Alex had the same set up that he uses for solo material, with loop pedals and guitar stuff, and I had tape machines. We ping-ponged off each other with the live stuff and recorded it all with the intent of releasing a live album.
What do you think makes you such good collaborators?
AT: We’ve got the same birthday but we’re a year apart. We’re both Pisces. Dan’s very different…how to describe him? He’s an amazing artist but he’s almost like a woodland worker at the same time. He does forestry and loves chopping wood and sweating over something. I’m not like that at all. I’m a bit more open emotionally than he is. We’re both really excited about sound and music. I think the good thing about a collaborator is getting them to do something they wouldn’t normally do and vice versa. Having them make a decision that you wouldn’t necessarily make.