Vessel's 2012 LP 'Order Of Noise' was at heart an industrial record, it’s dub chamber aesthetics interrupted by the whirrs and hisses of monolithic machine hearts. Now Sebastian Gainsborough has returned with 'Punish, Honey', an album that pushes far further beyond his debut, with the producer almost entirely eschewing digital production, instead searching for a new English folk sound, playing instruments crafted from rusted detritus, clanging out rhythms like a scaffolder in crisis. It's unlike much else being made, and often closer to free jazz experimentalism than anything the dance world is offering - but, still, on single 'Red Sex', Vessel manages to make the most unlikely floor filler we've heard this year. Apparently you won't be hearing it played live though, becuase it'd sound "like Gary Glitter crossed with Swans."...
This album is quite a departure from your debut, was that always the intention?
Yes. I'm always trying to kick away from comfortable places. It would feel completely disingenuous to try and repeat or update that material. I have different needs from music now. At the beginning of the process I was thinking in terms of inverting the first record. Finding the inverse of those sonic qualities that defined Order of Noise. It was a natural way of leaving that material behind, and the most graceful way I could develop from a record that I didn't feel much affinity towards. These two records are a world apart, but I like that there is still a connection between them, however tenuous.
What inspired you to start making your own instrumentation?
Several things. The need to get further away from the processes of making music on a computer or on hardware. When I sit down with a piece of gear or a computer program, I more or less straight away rely on habits which have formed over the years. Even if I'm making a concerted effort to bypass those automatic actions, the routine, the ritual of it, is so firmly embedded that it operates at a subconscious level. I needed to not know what I was doing again. Part of that process involved attempting to unlearn, or block out, certain things which were hindering my creativity. Excessive technical knowledge for example. Part of it involved making these instruments, which, despite their crude construction, allowed me more instantaneous expression then I had experienced in many years of making electronic music. It was incredibly satisfying to be able to shape a sound with my whole body, and without the intervention of those processes which had pretty much calcified. In addition to that I'd pretty much stopped listening to any electronic music. I just fell out of love with it for the most part, barring a few artists. I was looking for music which balanced my need for both physical and mental stimulation, and that was mostly coming from punk, jazz, and other weirdo music.
Once you'd started creating instruments, did they completely reshape the direction the record took?
They completely dictated the direction of the record, from start to finish. It was only when I began to explore the idea of acoustic instrumentation and unconventional recording techniques that the record began to take shape in my mind.
Were there any particular catalysts in your decision to make a work that dealt with notions of national identity?
To be clear, this is not a conceptual record. Unfortunately that statement has been misinterpreted. I never set out to deal with notions of national identity. Whilst I was making the record I became interested in Anglo-Saxon and Middle-English culture, specifically the literature of those periods. I like living in a country that is old, that has a lot of culture behind it, a lot of history. I like the feeling of having roots in a world quite dark and completely alien from the one that I know, but yet still belongs to me and informs who I am. Because I came at these texts as a layman I was able to experience them as works of fantasy rather than linguistically, semantically, etc. They fired my imagination for the record, and gave me a bedrock in which to build it. And because I was reading all of this stuff, I naturally progressed to wondering about an English musical identity. So I ended up listening to a lot of English music, mostly freaky stuff. I was reading about English culture, listening to English music, living in England, working in England. In as much as all that was contributing to what I was making, the record obliquely deals with ideas of national identity but it would be stretching it to say that I made a conscious decision to explicitly comment on those notions.
Do you think this theme is something that's overtly expressed in the music?
Yes, but it's completely subjective. For me, a distillation of a truly English musical identity would probably lie somewhere between Gilbert and Sullivan, Coil, and British soundsystem music. I'll leave it to someone else to decide whether or not I nailed that.
And what are your thoughts on national identity? Do you feel English or British? European? Does it matter?
When I think of national identity I find it very hard to get away from race. I'm an educated white male, and a lot of what I like about this country is a result of other educated white males aggressively colonising, fighting and enslaving others for the better part of 500 years. That is a source of shame, and something which many people of my generation seek to offset by avidly clamping down on any views which might be deemed patriotic. On the other hand, I'm incredibly proud of our culture today, and that culture is largely informed by the fact that we did enslave and resettle other races. When Nigel Farage and friends bemoan the loss of 'our' culture, I completely fail to imagine what would be left without the diverse racial makeup that we have today.
Does the use of hand made instruments on the album come form a desire to create a new 'folk sound' for England?
Red Sex is the strangest dance track we've heard for a while, and as such we've been keeping it on repeat in the office, can you tell us a little bit about it's genesis?
It's about sexual frustration. No one wants to go out with me since I stopped making house music.
Has there been any will to produce more traditionally 'dancey' remixes of the album?
None at all
Changes in home recording technology have made it so much easier for a solo artist to do everything, from drums to lead lines - as I''m assuming you did on this album - meaning the collaboration of a band aren't necessary - do you think this has enabled you to pursue a single minded goal with less compromise? Are you interested in working with other people?
It means you get to evade the trappings of band politics, but you also get the full weight of your own ego to deal with. I get a kick out of being able to do whatever I want to, but it also truly fucks with my head. Working collaboratively is just as important to me as working as a solo artist, and I do work with others regularly. It's often a more straightforward process for me, I get to switch off from some of the more overactive and unhelpful thought patterns that arise from being allowed to do whatever you want all of the time.
Leading onto, are you going to be performing Punish, Honey live? It sounds like it might need a small army of performers...
No, I couldn't do it without a band, and I don't think that would be particularly interesting. We'd end up sounding like Gary Glitter crossed with Swans. It will be as live as I can make it with a bunch of hardware.
What's coming next? And will the next record be another departure from this?
I'm currently working on more Vessel material, an odder companion piece to Punish, Honey. I will also be constructing a multi-performer nose flute, starting a record label, working on new Killing Sound material and playing afro-house as APE. The next record will always be a departure from the last record.
Vessel's album 'Punish, Honey' is out through Tri Angle Records on September 15th