Same Language, Different Worlds: Tim Burgess Talks
Tim Burgess appears to be more busy than ever. Alongside finishing a second book (pun-tastically titled Tim Book Two) detailing his crate digging exploits round the globe, he’s just dropped what may be the finest record he’s made in years, Same Language, Different Worlds. A collaboration with New York producer Peter Gordon – who is most famous for working on Arthur Russell’s ethereal avant-disco, the album sees Burgess’s vocals chopped and hazy, tripping through soundscapes of tick-tocking rhythms, cavernous dub and half heard sax loops. It’s a record that easily fits into the New York lineage of effortlessly cool, other-worldly music, and anyone with the slightest love of the much-missed Arthur Russell will find plenty to enjoy. We caught up with Tim to chat about the album, and found him very much enthused with it all…
How did you meet up with Peter?
I was introduced to Peter’s band Love of Life Orchestra through a record shop called Amoeba in Los Angeles – there’s guy called Joel who used to hide some really great nuggets for me in the back. Casino was the 12” he pulled out for me in 2003. I then kind of introduced Nik [from Factory Floor] to Love of Life Orchestra, and Peter was invited over to do a residency with Factory Floor; he played at the ICA with them, and they did a 12” called Beachcombing. I met him in person in a warehouse in Seven Sisters.
So how does that translate into making an album together?
He was rehearsing at the place I was living at, he’d turn up every day for a week, and we just got on. I gave him a copy of my book, and got him to sign some records for me. At this time I didn’t know he was a big part of the Arthur Russell set up, I just knew him as Peter from Love of Life Orchestra. I just got into his world really. He came over and played in Café Oto with Ned Sublette about a year later, and we just got to know each other. He stayed in London, we went out, and he listened to [Tim’s second solo album] Oh No I Love You which was out about that time, and said, well we should work together. I had a song I sent to him, he put some saxophone and some electronic beats on it and it sounded fantastic
The album has got such a classic New York No Wave feel – how much of the collaboration was born from you consciously going in with a certain set of influences?
Well, I wanted it to be a New York record, I wanted Peter to bring his view of what a New York record should be – I love the stuff I’ve been introduced to by him, the Arthur Russell, bringing in Peter Zummo who plays the trombone, and Ernie Brooks, and Mustafa Ahmed who plays the congas on Temperature High – to me that’s the kind of New York record I was interested in exploring. I trust Peter. I’d pretty much send him songs that came from quite an acoustic pop place, I’d trust him with them as part of the collaboration, and what he came back with was always surprising. If it was a fast song it would be slowed down, if it was a slow song he would cut up the vocals and change them, it was a really great modern process mixed with the lineage he comes from. It seemed a good way of moving things forward.
So you weren’t in the studio together?
No, only Temperature High was recorded together, in New York
For Peter Gordon, making a New York record and working with all these iconic musicians is what he does, for you did you have the sense of being an outsider being bought in? Were you ever kind of wowed by the people you were working with?
Yeah, of course, I was thrilled with the people he bought in. Paul Nowinski played bass, he’s played with Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. Larry Saltzman was Paul Simon’s guitar player – Arthur Russell used to call him the sauce, because he would make everything sound like it came together – if anything was needed you’d have to call the sauce. It was a thrill to have all these people involved.
To me it sounds like you’re returning to all the dance sounds that inspired the Madchester scene of the early 90s – intentional or just a natural cycle?
I think that’s just the cyclical nature of things, to be honest I only really found out about this scene in about 2003 with the No New York records that came out, and Soul Jazz’s New York Noise compilations – it was round about then that I was learning about it, obviously Lydia Lunch and Thurston Moore I’d heard of before, but the rest were new to me.
It’s interesting how unaware we were in England of how much of this fed into the acid house scene.
Yeah, when you hear stuff like Go Bang – in fact that was released on City Beat, which was run by Beggars Banquet which was the label the Charlatans were on, it probably came out a couple of years earlier- it’s a very influential sound. And Peter’s very influential, he’s a very cool guy. I always trusted him – sometimes he’d send something back that I was unsure about at first, but I learned to just trust him
Will you record more together?
I hope so, he’s a friend, and when you have friends like Peter you want to keep them close! I like what he does to my ideas – he comes from an abstract place and the songs I present to him were from a pop place, it’s an interesting combination
Have you got any plans to take the record live? Could that work?
The thing that I really want to do is have all the people who played on the record to do something. I don’t know how or when that will happen, but it’d be great. They did Arthur Russell’s instrumentals, and a lot of the people on this album were playing on that – Peter has his computer set up and he’s playing the piano with one hand and the saxophone with the other… I dunno, he has arms…! He has more arms than I have..! But I’d really like a special event to happen
And what about outside that – you just wrote another book didn’t you?
Yeah, Peter was actually invovled in that as well, the book was based on people recommending me records and he recommended Allan Ginsberg’s First Blues, which I wasn’t aware of at all, but I did find it in Barcelona. But sitting around and talking with Peter, and Ernie, and Peter Zummo, y’know they all used to live together in a space in New York in the 70s where Ginsberg was at the top of the building, Arthur Russell was there, Neneh Cheery was there, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were at the very top – these are people I really look up to, I was kind of like a kid in the sweetshop in some ways. I mean, when we were making Temperature High, just sitting around listening to these stories, with Ernie talking about the frustrations of working with Arthur Russell and Jonathon Richman but in the sweetest way… Apparently that first Modern Lovers album was re-recorded quite a few times – they went to Bermuda to record it, and it only ever made it into demoes. One of the best records ever made..!
I did think when I saw the topic of your current book [in it Tim goes round the world buying records his mates recommend], wow, what a blag!
Yeah – hehehe – it’s pretty amazing. I was asked to do another book, and I thought, I’ll write about records, and find a way of talking about myself through records, and ask other people about music, then find a way of writing about them through records. I enjoyed the process
Are you a comfortable writer?
I find it very difficult to be honest. I was doing a lot of it while I was on tour – I thought about the book every day and re-wrote it every day. A lot of it was written on the road, so a lot of it is very fast, it is exciting, but I’m still in the phase of thinking I’ll never write another book again!
When you write lyrics you’ve got space to be vague, whereas writing a book has to be quite specific, I imagine that can be kind of a scary difference.
Yeah, with the first book Telling Stories I had to rewrite it three times. When I first handed any draft to the publisher I gave them 30,000 words typed in capital letters with no punctuation – so I had to learn fast! But there were people who helped along the way, Andy Fraser who’s a press guy, I talked to him about it quite a lot and he’d remind me of things, stories would come and I’d act them out in my own head – it was kinda fun. With this book, I felt I’d written one, so I’d just try and write in the same kind of way, because the first one did OK.
And what’s going on with the Charlatans at the moment?
We’re just doing stuff that we always do between records, just speaking on the phone and sending each other ideas. But there will be another album; we haven’t split up or anything. I like to send people what I’m listening to all the time, and that can be anything from Peter Zummo’s album to Carole King’s The City
Some musicians don’t pay attention to music outside of what they do themselves-
If I listen to bands that were only in my genre I’d be pretty bored I think. I don’t even know what my genre is but I can only imagine..! I don’t think I’d what to be in that gang..
Same Language, Different Worlds is out now