‘The Eysenck Suite I – Melancholic’ is the first instalment of a four part experimental aural jigsaw puzzle from the enigmatic Russian Linesman, who has become a somewhat cult figure over the past eleven years, crossing paths with mavericks such as James Holden, Max Cooper, Nathan Fake, Ryan Davis, Applescal and Laurent Garnier, along the way, via his imaginative transmissions from his secretive studio lair in Nottingham. A musical diarist who deeply values his chosen form of expression as art inspired by his physical and emotional travels through life, he has released numerous singles, EPs and two studio albums. For the uninitiated to gain an insight into the workings of the Russian Linesman’s mind, his last album (‘Nostalgia Story’ 2013) was a sprawling thirty-seven-song flood of inspiration that was recorded live in one take, whereas ‘The Eyesenck Suite I-IV’ is the result of four solid years of dedicated writing and numerous re-records. DMCWORLD checks in…
A big welcome to DMCWORLD and congratulations on your new EP release “The Eysenck Suite I – Melancholic” on Loki Recordings, the first thing we’ve got to ask is where did the concept for the Russian Linesman come from?
The Russian Linesman was conceived as a largely anonymous persona back in 2006. It has allowed me to scratch my creative itch, all while going about my normal day to day life. The enjoyment comes from creating music that tells stories and the reward for me is the verification of someone else liking it. I like hiding in the studio these days and it’s a somewhat rare occurrence to find me out DJing like I used to, although I could be tempted by the right offer!
Tell us about some of the things you are happy to have achieved so far?
I’m proud of a lot of the things I have done in the 11 years this project has been going. It always amazes me when people put their hand in their pocket to buy something I’ve made. I can’t understate how much that means to me. I was proud of my first vinyl release “Bratislava Story” because it was something physical I could show my parents and make them hang it on their wall! I was proud when UK Broadband Company Talk Talk used this song in an advert featuring artist Michael Bosanko:
Recently, I have been proud of the feedback this new EP is receiving. Positive feedback from Max Cooper, Rob da Bank, BBC6’s Nemone and a glowing review from the British Psychological Society really has brought a smile to my face. One of my favourite moments though was finding out Al Lowe, the creator of classic PC game “Leisure Suit Larry”, is a fan and features some of my music on his website.
Your music has been described as a form of ambient progressive electronica that draws inspiration from the likes of Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, My Bloody Valentine, and M83, amongst others. That paints a vivid picture, anything to add for those not already familiar with the Russian Linesman?
Those artists are definitely influences, but if you like Nick Drake or Syd Barrett, you could be wildly disappointed by what you hear from me. I have quite an extensive back catalogue of singles, EPs, remixes and albums. It can be quite overwhelming to try and digest. When people find out I make music they always ask what sort of music it is, so I normally just direct them to Spotify or iTunes. When they get there, they don’t know where to start. This new series of four “Eysenck” EPs are where I am artistically at the moment and the happiest I have been with my output, so I recommend people start with these. Start with the “Melancholic EP” which is out on the 27th March, with the others following at bi-monthly intervals through 2017. The earlier stuff is a bit embarrassing in places but I do still look fondly at “Bratislava Story”, the whole of my first album “Icelandic Skies” and “Great Northern” and “There’s Not Enough Hours in the Night” off my live album “Nostalgia Story”. I’m not great at describing my music, so best people listen and then make their own mind up.
“The Eysenck Suite I – Melancholic” is the first instalment of a four part experimental aural jigsaw puzzle inspired by Hans Eysenck. Tell us more about the catalyst for your latest, bold musical project?
I like to have a theme or concept for my recordings. When I started off making music I did a lot of EPs. They normally had a story attached but generally were quite disjointed. My first album “Icelandic Skies” was my first coherent piece, a concept album about our honeymoon, as a gift to my wife. My second album “Nostalgia Story” was a live recorded journey through my memories, all the way back to my childhood. I like how a concept gives a project a focus and encourages me to try and write in variety of styles yet with a similar theme.
When I was planning my next album, I was having some time out at my parents’ house, and I found a tattered old Psychology book by Hans Eysenck whilst rooting around in their loft. My family always wonder what I’m up to as I disappear for hours on end, if they read this they will know! The book contained an analysis of temperament theory and its roots in the ancient ideas of Hippocrates and Galen. I decided instead of another album, I would try and make four concept EPs based around the four temperamental categories I was reading about: “Melancholic”, “Choleric”, “Sanguine” and “Phlegmatic”. I started writing new songs to fit into each category, aiming to write music to encourage the listener to feel these four very distinct sensations. I started off by writing a poem, and the EPs are a musical interpretation of those words – a mantra I hope to pass on to my son on how to survive in this nonsense of a world. I entered the poem for the Bridport Poetry Prize – it didn’t win, so I am entering it again this year…
Please talk us through the sounds and production of the tracks on this new EP? Are there any intriguing stories behind these tracks?
The songs on this EP are my interpretation of the full spectrum of melancholy. It starts quite resigned; the middle section is downright miserable and the last song “Odin!” morphs into the more anxious, leading into the second “Choleric” EP which is out in May.
“How Can the Sky Look So Beautiful When We Have Been So Bad?” is a sad song about friendships inevitably changing, when you know you are probably at the peak of your powers. I realised this happening in my own life. I then spent two days writing this song at a piano, before blasting it through a severe sounding heavily treated synth and adding a spoken word track of my thoughts and ramblings on this occurrence. It happens to us all but it isn’t all gloom, because in life things evolve.
“Fauna” is a song I wrote in Washington State (USA), sat in a boat on a lake. I’m trying to capture the feeling of the grand old rainforest we were staying in – it was hazy and rained almost constantly, so its a very fuzzy song, with lots of buried layers and automated effects stifling the sound. I’m really happy how it turned out and how the sounds I recorded in the forest add to the ambience.
“Olympiapark” is a very bleak song with lots of space in the mix. I wrote the song about the Olympiapark in Munich as the title suggests. Apparently, it’s really nice in summer but it was just so miserable when I went in October! I sometimes approach writing music visually, and this is a good example. All of the notes were inspired by the structure of the Olympic Stadium itself. It is a fascinating, if sterile piece of engineering. I added some vocals to try and lift the mood but they had the reverse effect.
“I Thought You Were a Legend Until You Apologised” is a phrase I stole from a friend, but the song is actually inspired by the Palace of Culture (formally Communism) in Warsaw, Poland – an austere building built like a warren with a decidedly dark past. It’s a sinister building, shrouded in mystery and secrecy – so the synth line and vocals echo and resonate to mirror the long dark corridors. It had that whole George Orwell 1984 vibe, increasingly a feeling people are experiencing in this political climate. A song about the ominous times ahead, if we can’t get find some stability.
The “Yaqui” are a Native American Tribe who compartmentalise the world. There are lots of parallels with Eysenck’s work. It features field recordings of owls and watery caves, and is another sad song about the end of a chapter. The end of the song is the chaos that ensues if you don’t accept change and things start to shatter – the lyrics “we’re getting worse” drowned by the cacophony of drums and cymbals.
“If Its Not Too Much Trouble Just Get Me On The Plane” is an ambient wash about my loathing of plane travel. Being above the clouds and not wanting to be there can be a forlorn place.
“Odin!” is like no other song I have made before or like any song I will be able to make in the future, and I will be really intrigued to see who picks up on this. A twelve-minute opus, which started off as a minute long vignette, I wrote it using techniques I had learned by reading about Brian Wilson’s modular approach to song writing. A mixture of orchestral instruments, 303s and various found sounds, it was complicated to record and caused major headaches in mastering – I even decided to throw some convoluted reverb in there to confuse things further! I look back at this song satisfied in how it turned out, but with no idea how it unfolded like it did.
Do you think this is your most accomplished creation to date? And if so, why?
I do feel a sense of accomplishment about this project. Four EPs of seven songs each, all following a theme, was ambitious. It’s taken three years to finish and at times I really felt I would never finish it. This was mainly due to me not wanting to compromise on my vision, basically, making work for myself wherever I could! Like going to reservoirs in the rain to get field recordings of water lapping on the shore, when the internet is full of samples like that! I just wanted everything to be as I had envisioned. I had this ridiculous spreadsheet to track all the ideas I wanted on the recordings – I had nightmares about all the red cells. Most of the songs have been re-recorded about four times, but I got there in the end, and I can honestly say this is the first time my recordings have sounded like the ideas in my head. The fact that it has been picked up already by the likes of Rob Da Bank and BBC6’s Nemone are also very affirming.
We hear that you’re obsessed with ‘Twin Peaks’, what’s that all about?
Hahaha… I watched Twin Peaks on TV when I was eleven, and I probably shouldn’t have. I loved everything about it and it was so different from anything I had seen before. Being only eleven years old, it was a bit of a leap from Transformers cartoons and Star Wars! The soundtrack was the first draw – it was the first time music had really impacted my emotions, and it helped me understand the power music can have in altering people’s moods. I was so young and it scared the life out of me but I couldn’t stop watching it! Throughout my life I’ve re-watched it and it never fails to transport me back to that time. It always intrigued me and as I get older I appreciate it for different reasons. Being exposed to David Lynch really did awaken something within me, a need to create things; a need to find hidden meaning in daily occurrences; to look beyond what was directly in front of me. As a result, I ended up reading books I would never have found in the school library like William S. Burroughs “Naked Lunch”. It really opened up my horizons.
I had the opportunity in 2011 to go to Washington State, and it was basically a pilgrimage to visit most of the filming locations. We saw some amazing places and they in turn inspired some of the songs on this EP. I was so jealous when I spoke to Jon Hopkins and he told me about his experience visiting David Lynch’s house and drinking coffee. Maybe if I keep making music, one day I can drink “coffee as black as midnight on a moonless night” with Mr Lynch.
The British Psychological Society has just reviewed your new EP: http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/finding-melancholic-balance
Tell us something about the psychological effects of music that totally blows your mind?
From an early age I realised music could be very potent emotionally and this is what blows me away. When I was hidden behind a cushion watching BOB running riot in Twin Peaks, the first thing I always did was cover my ears. That soundtrack haunted me, overwhelmed me. I have really tried with this series of EPs to capture four distinct emotions. The first EP focuses on the Melancholic temperament that tends towards a somewhat pessimistic view of the world. This first EP is intended as a soundtrack for times of sorrow, reminiscence and regret. But also for moments of withdrawal from over thinking everything, reflecting and triggering memory traces of happier times. The next EP is the “Choleric” EP (out in May) and it’s very chaotic and not actually designed for listening pleasure! There isn’t much space in the recordings, nowhere to hide and just general panic. The third EP is the “Sanguine” EP (out in July) – this is the cheerful one! I tried to capture the idea of frisson – those feelings of sudden excitement and thrill. The final EP is the “Phlegmatic” EP (out in September); this is my interpretation of contentment. It’s been fascinating writing songs to fit these moods, finding the little triggers that can scratch the nuances of our personalities and invoke a reaction.
Your last album (‘Nostalgia Story’ 2013) was a sprawling thirty-seven-song flood of inspiration that was recorded live in one take. What was that experience like?
Making my first full-length album – “Icelandic Skies” – had been a really rewarding experience. However, progress on a follow-up had truly stalled. It had started off as an exciting project, lots of ideas had flowed and I’d written a lot of songs. All the writing was done but I had no song structures, so I found myself stuck in this finishing stage. I was becoming increasingly weighed down with the technical aspects of the production, with hours spent EQ-ing and not actually finishing or making anything new. Then I moved house and didn’t unpack any equipment for a long time, so the project lay dormant for several months. I woke one day and it was snowing – I was basically under house arrest thanks to the weather. I had been asked by Ryan Davis to record a live set for his Back Home Essentials show on Proton Radio and I had been putting it off for a while. I decided to record the new album on the fly with what new songs I had and some reworks of older titles. Two hours and thirty seven songs later, “Nostalgia Story” was born. It was a liberating experience – the album is that one take. I had fun doing it, going crazy in parts with live effects and randomly throwing loops together. There is lots of noise and it is pretty sloppy in places. In retrospect, it probably could have been a really strong twelve-song album but it was what it is and it holds a special place in my heart. It’s messy, it’s too long, but if you really forage there is something for most listeners in there. It premiered on Ryan’s show. I like to think of it as a live album rather than my sophomore offering, which means when I do make a second album proper, I can do a better job.
Let’s rewind for a moment, what is your earliest musical memory?
My earliest musical memories are sitting in the car driving to France with my parents, listening to the Beatles, Moody Blues, Art Garfunkel and the Carpenters endlessly. Borrowing my sister’s Red Hot Chilli Peppers vinyl and being dragged to Folk music clubs and festivals. Formative stuff! The first music I saw as my own discoveries were Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Washing cars on my street to be able to get the train to Action Records in Preston, then spending all day trawling through vinyl and CDs, hoping I would one day have enough money to buy that Japanese import they kept tempting me with.
Who are your 5 favourite electronic producers and why?
- The first electronic music I truly appreciated was Sasha and Digweed’s first “Northern Exposure” mix album. It was during my first week at university, a guy called Nick played it to me – I nearly lost my mind when I heard The Orb’s Transasianexpress Mix of “Satellite Serenade”. So slow burning and atmospheric, with beautiful guitar and ambient sounds.
- Border Community is probably the main reason I got into making electronic music in the first place. James Holden doesn’t need an explanation, neither does Nathan Fake. They are both magicians. They trail-blazed the whole DIY electronica scene.
- When I first heard Stumbleine’s “Ghosting” and “Spiderwebbed” I was immediately enamoured. They are just perfect albums, so emotive and absorbing. It sounds very dramatic but it really hits the spot spiritually. That is no exaggeration – I really feel a connection when I listen to his work. Discovering Stumbliene led me to Swarms, another fantastic project. I’m really hoping to work with them in the near future.
- Aside from the mystical nature of Board of Canada’s existence, it is totally enduring music. Themes, sounds and noises that take me back to my own fuzzy childhood memories, even though they have never met me. They seem to have the secret formula to allow them to engage with a mass audience on such an intimate level.
- And finally… I love Moderat and Maps, listening to these two are probably the reason there are so many vocals on my new EPs. Jon Hopkins astounds me, I remember going to watch him in Amsterdam with Applescal. Everyone was sat on the floor cross-legged, just mesmerised. My two year old son Harald loves listening to “Immunity” before bed, a sea of calm descends over our house when I put it on. Oh and of course I can’t forgot people I have met through Stealth in Nottingham. Max Cooper is another conjurer, his BBC 6Music set last night was remarkable. Also, the Wigflex crew put on some amazing nights and have built an amazing brand with their designs and artwork… Sorry, that’s probably more than five!
You’ve collaborated on remixes with an array of other excellent artists, such as Max Cooper, Wesley Matsell, Ryan Davis, Margot, Avus, Jesse Somfay, Applescal, Roland Kinkenberg, Swimming and Practical Lovers. That’s a pretty impressive list, what are some the key ones that we should check first?
I love doing remixes, being meddlesome and seeing under the hood of other people’s work. It’s normally a very humbling experience, particularly when I got the stems for Max Cooper’s “I”. It was shame Traum decided not to use it, but I think I buckled under the pressure and tried to make something Riley would like, rather than following my instinct. A lesson for the future. I really enjoyed remixing Applescal because he writes music in such a distinctive way. I spent some time with him in his studio, his choices of notes when writing melodies is so inventive. He has a brilliant sound and it all comes from the way he writes his music. He also knows how to put real groove into a song as well. I enjoyed remixing the bands Swimming and Made of Leaves too, having electric guitar tracks to fool around with and mangle was so much fun!
I love being remixed by artists I respect and admire too. Everything Jesse Somfay has touched for either myself or my label has just turned out sublime. His remix of my song “Croston Hall” became the song I was trying to make in the first place! He has such an inimitable style. I also highly recommend Wesley Matsell’s remix of the same song. The Margot remix and the unreleased Betamax Warriors remix of “Bratislava Story” are both great as well. Limbo’s remix of “Demise”… I’m struggling to think here and don’t want to offend anyone I miss out… I’m currently planning remixes for this new EP project, and am more than happy for people to get in touch if they want to take part (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A remix I hold in high regard is Tundra’s remix of my very early song “Talon”. I met him through Paul Hazendonk and the Manual Music crew in Holland. It is such a beautiful take on my original. Sadly, Jonathan passed away four years ago and I always regret not telling him just how much I loved it.
You started out in the world of folk music before moving into electronic music. What made you make that move, who influenced you back then, who intrigued you enough to explore a whole new world?
Before becoming the Russian Linesman, I had performed and recorded as an acoustic singer/songwriter under my real name. Playing at the annual Nick Drake Gathering and doing a few sessions for the BBC. I was inspired by the music of Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Elliott Smith. It was all fairly private and introspective and as a result I hated performing live. I just felt too exposed sat on a stage with a guitar on my own. This all came to a head in Marburg, Germany… The gig itself was not too bad but the local press slated me. A journalist wrote “Stop singing about your girlfriend. Pack up your guitar and go home to her.” Maybe it was something lost in translation but I took it very personally.
I decided I didn’t want to put myself out there like that again – I needed something I could hide behind, so I retreated into the studio and started tinkering with synths and electronic sounds. Things just evolved naturally and it came to pass that I needed a name for the project. The World Cup was on and the inevitable mention of the Russian Linesman in 1966 was made by a commentator. It became a working title for the project that eventually stuck, plus it’s free advertising every four years! I was able to record things and release them on the Internet, never having to come face to face with people who didn’t like my music. The anonymity of the project has enabled me to take criticism more constructively and far less personally. I became so obsessed with electronic sounds, that I just got lost in this new world of possibility. I actually had a meeting arranged with Chrysalis Records about my acoustic songs but I had lost the passion for it, so I didn’t go… I sometimes wonder where that could have taken me?
Interestingly, you still write all your music on acoustic guitar and piano. How has the electronic side your production style has evolved over the years?
Yes, I still write all my chords and melodies on the guitar or piano. I find this method of writing allows me to give the songs an organic spine and what I’ve done with these ideas has really evolved. My recent recordings have started to incorporate more of these live elements. Some of the finished songs on this new series of EPs still contain snippets of the vocals, guitars or pianos, while others (to coin my current favourite phrase) “will be fully enclosed in a digital sarcophagus”.
I use lots of found sounds, with the intention of recreating feelings and settings for my stories. I’m currently bidding on a Zoom H1 on eBay to improve my field recordings so I can use them more extensively. I often hear sounds when I’m out and about that I should capture and use. My son was playing with some sticks in the woods yesterday; I need to record more things like that. It would make perfect percussion once edited and trimmed down.
Every time I use Jeskola Buzz (a Digital Audio Workstation favoured by the likes of James Holden) I learn something new. Often that will be an insight into something I don’t need or shouldn’t add. It’s ugly, difficult to work with, but we have a great relationship. It is very rare it can’t do something I ask of it. It never makes it easy but it always sends me down new creative pathways and it allows an unparalleled way of producing music that I love. My sound is definitely evolving into something a little less busy, allowing more space in the mix. I do have a lot of emphasis on the music side when writing, which is probably why I don’t make a lot of dancefloor stuff. I guess I think more about the emotional reaction than the physical reaction.
A piece of equipment you couldn’t live without?
It has to be my guitar. When I have an idea, it is my go to instrument. If there is an idea in my head I need to play guitar to get it out of there – it’s the instrument I can reliably transfer melodies in my head to something tangible on paper. My house is full of scraps of paper with tablature scribbled on them. Even though a lot of the songs end up with no guitar on them, it is an essential part of the writing process. The piano is also pretty essential when my head is empty of ideas, sitting there tinkling on the keys often leads to something.
As a DJ, you’ve performed all around Europe, supporting the likes of Nathan Fake, Fred Falke, Max Cooper and Lone. What’s a perfect Russian Linesman DJ set like?
The perfect Linesman live set was my album “Nostalgia Story” – a brilliant mess and never to be repeated! In terms of DJing, the perfect set contains very little of my music in it, because I want people to dance! I don’t DJ much now, but when I did people who came to see me were always fairly surprised. I liked to play a lot of upbeat stuff and people didn’t expect that. I liked to play a lot of Format B, N’To, Mattheis Kaden, Ellen Allien, DJ Koze, Rainer Weichhold, Martin Skogehall and Markus Lange; occasionally, some Simone Tavazzi or even really minimal stuff by the likes of Alex Young. Mainly, the exact opposite to the type of music I produce. I love all this stuff, but I just don’t seem to be able to produce more dancefloor orientated music.
What was your first ever DJ gig like?
It was in a bar in Nottingham called Moog, at a night called Pollen run by an absolute music fanatic called Darren. I didn’t have headphones, my laptop crashed twice but there were at least four people on the dance floor! It was worth it though as he booked me again about a year later to play down in Bristol with Lone.
You also run the label – Loki Recordings – what have some previous personal highlights been and what are your plans for the future?
I’m very proud of what we have done with Loki. It has always been quite a selective label, so my new EP is only the tenth release in six and a half years. I was really proud of the first EP from Norsu, because I had wanted to start a label for a few years and I was just waiting for the right song. When I heard “Ammas Mountain” I knew it was time. Then, I was really pleased with the success the “Groj”EP had and was really made up when James Holden included “Arnica Hypericum” as part of his DJ sets. I like to think of Loki as a personal playlist, only adding what I like, so I’m proud of all of it. In retrospect the “Mig Dfoe” EP was probably the most eccentric release we did, so I’m glad I have been speaking to him recently about a follow-up. Going forward the next four releases on Loki will be from my “Eysenck Suite” of EPs.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given?
That you can’t feel right all the time. Sometimes you just have to get on with things even if you aren’t enjoying them. This was my mantra when doing the final work on these EPs. The fun creative bit was done and I just had to buckle down and get it done. I just didn’t realise it would take 3 years! It all seems worth it now though and I am really pleased people haven’t forgotten about me. I have had some lovely messages from old friends and fans since the new EP previews went up.
What are the Russian Linesman’s plans for the coming months?
The plan for the next few months is to promote the “The Eysenck Suite” EPs – Melancholic (loki010) is out March 27th. Followed by Choleric (loki011) in May, Sanguine (loki012) in July and Phlegmatic (loki013) in September. Also, as I said earlier, I’m looking at organising a remix package for the new EPs. I’ve already started working on a follow up. Again there is a theme but I’m not saying any more about that yet. I’ve also been discussing some collaborations with various artists, but again, can’t say too much yet. Spurred on by all the positive feedback on this new EP, I do feel very creative at the moment, so I need to harness this and get as many ideas down before the inevitable drought!
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