Tunng have spent the last decade travelling from pioneering folktronic duo to full blown prog-pop psychedelic roadshow. They've released a clutch of strange, sparkle eyed albums, recorded sessions for everyone from Rob Da Bank to Gilles Peterson, toured with Doves and collaborated with Tinariwen, and can regularly be seen taking the stage at festivals round the globe. Now looking forward to sharing a tenth anniversary gig with their record label Full Time Hobby, Tunng’s leader Mike Lindsay has returned to London following a three year stint running his studio from Iceland. We caught up with him in his temporary London studio, which he shares with a guy you might mildly describe as a ‘synth obsessive’. Surrounded by well over a hundred vintage noise machines, Mike took us through the gear he had just had shipped back, and looked forward to another ten years of music…
Yep. I took that on a £50 Samsung phone. No shame.
So you’ve just got your studio back–
First of all I spent about 2 months deliberating on how to get it back. It took me two months to realise it was a piece of piss – some bloke came, shrink wrapped the lot, put it on a boat and bought it to London. It’s one palette stacked. I thought I had loads. I didn’t have loads. Now I’ve unpacked it all in Benji’s studio which is covered in synths I almost feel like I shouldn’t have bothered…
What’s your favourite thing?
My favourite thing is this Russian synth. I don’t even know what it’s called, it’s all in Russian. E? EM? Something?
Here’s a badly focused image of the synth for all you collectors…
Where did you get it from?
Iceland – I got it from this guy Kitte who’s this uber producer over there – he got it from Russia. It just sounds like a gritty, dirty filth machine. It’s been on every single thing I’ve done since I bought it. Farao came out to Iceland – I just produced her record out there – and she ended up buying one off EBay. They’re not expensive, about £300, but only because people don’t really know them.
So as well, there’s the Moog Little Phatty, the Nord drum, this old spring reverb, a fake 1176 compressor.. I’m just listing kit now… and I’ve got a Saz from Istanbul and a Sitar from North India. The Saz is like this 5 string, electric Saz, it looks awesome. It’s got 2 pick ups and 10 pick up selectors. It’s got these quarter frets to play quarter tones – they make you feel a bit sick. It’s the Turkish national instrument
Are you any good on it?
No, rubbish (laughes)
Have you ever sought out a Saz tutor?
Once actually, when I was living here. I went to this Saz school in Dalston. There’s a weird guitar shop with Saz’s in it, and in the basement there’s this Saz school, and it was me and about 20 ten year olds, all sat. And I had this electric Saz, not plugged in, and all the other kids had their proper acoustic Saz. It was all in Turkish with one guy teaching, and a blackboard. I kinda felt a bit out of place, not speaking any Turkish. But I picked up the right tuning and the right fretting for the tonic open C chord
Maybe you could get one of the 10 year olds to duet with you…
Well, I thought I should record them all playing, because the sound of twenty 10 year olds all tuning up and playing chords at the same time was kind of amazing
So now you’re back in London, what’s happening with Tunng?
I don’t know, is the answer. We’ve got the gig next week for ten years of Full Time Hobby – and ten years of Tunng. We had the first single out in 2004 when it was just me and Sam. Which I actually haven’t got anymore.
Have you got the lathe cut single you put out back then?
No, but I want it, have you got a copy?
So have you not got your back catalogue?
Well, I’ve moved around quite a bit and I keep losing stuff. Then I rented a studio on Pitfield Street that was covered in spores and mould, and when I took stuff out it was all green and furry, so I had to throw a lot of stuff away.
Have you made songs you’ve completely forgotten about? If that’s possible to answer…
There’s tunes that we’ve lost, on hard drives. From the last album, there were two tunes that never made the record, and I threw a load of stuff away, thinking I had them backed up, and I didn’t have them backed up. There’s probably a mix of them somewhere, but all the pro tools files are gone.
That’s incredible, the lost songs!
They weren’t very good! But I spent a lot of time on them.
So all the stuff you did at the start of Tunng, do you have all that on hard drive?
No. Going back to the first record, it might be on a computer that’s in the spore studio still, but mostly it’s all lost, so it only exists on vinyl or CD, or online.
That’s interesting – there’s a tendency for people to assume that in the digital age things are there forever, but there’s going to be a whole swathe of stuff from the early noughties on corrupted or lost hard drives that will just be gone.
Yeah, all that stuff only existing on a drive. I mean it’s online as well, but when the web goes down we’re all fucked.
Would it be possible for you to play the first album through then?
Well we’ve got a lot of beats, like backing tracks, from all the albums on various drives, so we can play the old stuff. In fact this gig at the Purcell Rooms, we’re playing three songs from every record, running in consecutive order, with visuals going along, it’s kind of a celebration of 10 years of Tunng.
Is (original Tunng vocalist) Sam appearing?
He’s playing the show as well with his band Diagrams – but he’s also going to sing on one Tunng song, although I’m not saying which one. He did sing with us at Heaven last year for an encore, but it turned out no one could hear him. So this time I’m going to stop, everyone’s going to stop, and we’ll get him to sing the song.
Do you even think of yourself as a singer?
No, I never wanted to be a singer – I only started because Sam didn’t want to tour, so I thought, I’ll do it then. And when I started I had an accidental Northern accent – which I’ve now lost…! But I much prefer singing when everyone is singing at the same time. We all dirge along. Except Becky, who I should say is an excellent singer.
So that’s what’s happening with Tunng next week, but beyond that we need to write another album. We just need to decide what kind of record we’re going to make. The last one, we rented a residential studio and went in with no songs, so we wrote and recorded them together. There were a lot of late night arguments, there were a lot of cooks. And we came up with a record that we’re all proud of, but I don’t want to do that again. This time I want to set some boundaries before we do anything, in terms of exactly what sounds and exactly what equipment we’re going to use, and write some songs before we record anything. We’re going to start writing at the end of this year and see what it happens. I’ve also got a secret project that’s going to be out next year. But you’ll have to wait and see what that is…
Mike will perform with Tunng at Southbank Centre's Purcell Room with support from Diagrams on 16th October. The gig is to celebrate Full Time Hobby's 10th Anniversary, alongside The Leisure Society/Smoke Fairies/Samantha Crain (19th October) and Erland & The Carnival/ John Steel Singers (17th October) at Southbank Centre. For tickets go here .
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