Minotaur Shock’s new album Maritime has been out in the UK for a minute, but only just hit shelves stateside this past Tuesday. It’s a digital effort with a distinctly analog literary sensibility; the sound of computers making peace with each other, trading sea tales to the wayward rhythms of the open ocean. A tiny epic!
The man behind the Minotaur mask is David Edwards, remixer for Bloc Party, Badly Drawn Boy, and SFA, as well as the drummer for Bronze Age Fox. We sat down in NY while David sat down at his home in Bristol and rapped about the record, it's influences, and listening to old music you made when you were young and impressionable. Dig.
How did the sea theme come about?
Well, we recorded the Bronze Age Fox album at a studio in Cornwall. It was off this little creek and was really isolated. I was reading novels about Cornwall, and that Cornish pirates and smugglers vibe came back with me to Bristol. I kind of built this little world to try and get myself focused a bit. The last album I did was all sort of bits and bobs and stuff, so this one I wanted something to hang the bits and bobs on to give it focus. Also, I got really bored with electronic music being so abstract, so I wanted something quite solid to base the tracks around.
That’s also why there’re so many dodgy sounds on the record. There’re a lot of presets and things that you shouldn’t really use, but I was trying to concentrate on what the sounds were doing rather than what the sounds were, if that makes sense.
So do you hear the record as one big piece?
Because it all came pretty quick, it’s got quite a coherence to it that my other albums didn’t necessarily have. Once I settled on the sea theme, it kind of all flowed. I think it was because I’d been working for so long with proper songs, singing and playing the drums - I got all of that out of me. Now I could just sit in front of the computer and work out some inconsequential instrumentals.
That has a nice ring to it.
[laughs] Probably not the best way to sell the record.
The record feels organic, but was obviously made on a computer.
If I’m listening to electronic music it’s normally dance music, rather than abstract stuff. I don’t listen to a load of it, but if I do, I want there to be a beat; I’d rather listen to Detroit techno than laptop glitch stuff.
It’s tricky because I kind of went off electronic music for quite a while, and I was listening to a lot of pop stuff from the late 80’s like Prefab Sprout, which I didn’t really listen to when I was growing up because I was just a bit too young for it. Sometimes it’s really good to listen to laptop stuff if you’re in the mood for it, but I wanted to make an instrumental pop album, really.
But you’ve worked with vocalists in the past. While making the record, did you ever find yourself thinking that you wanted to have a vocal and not putting it in because you’d committed to not having it?
Sometimes. After I was making the tracks I thought, “Oh, a vocal could work on this.” But I wanted to make an instrumental album to see if I could do it, really. A lot of the songs have got quite over-the-top synth lines or something pushed up to the top to take the place of a vocal, which is quite scary to do because I normally sort of base things on textures. But I wanted to put melodies right on top to kind of compensate for not having a vocalist.
Do you have any sort of relationship to the "Bristol sound"? Or do you sort of respond against it?
The Massive Attack thing was never really a big influence, although it was difficult to get away from it. I think if you’re making music in Bristol - even now - the question pops up a lot: “What do you think of the trip-hop scene and that?” I’m big Portishead fan, but there’s always been quite a tight little experimental community in Bristol with bands like Flying Saucer Attack, Movietone, and bands like that that I’ve felt more of an affinity with - although I didn’t hang out with them particularly. When I was younger, that kind of thing had more impact on my music-making than Massive Attack did.
So what were you listening to when you were making the album?
I’ve always listened to Steve Reich, and I’m fascinated by trying to get elements of that across while still keeping a song structure. I was listening to Andrew Poppy, this 80’s English composer who did stuff on ZTT, which was the label Frankie Goes to Hollywood was on. I’ve only came across him the last couple of years or so, but in the late 80’s he was making that minimalist classical stuff, but an almost pop version of it with drums and singing on it. He turned me on to the fact that you can actually take this kind of quite abstract processed music and then fit it rigidly to a structure.
“Muesli” [the first track] gives off a Philip Glass Glassworks vibe.
I was bit worried that it sounded a bit too much like Philip Glass. I was trying to make it a little more pop. There’s another track on the album called “Twosley” that I actually scored the clarinet for, but it ended up being really confusing and messy. So I toned down the clarinet in and took notes and made “Muesli” out of that. But you can still hear the clarinet in the original.
You’ve said you find yourself influenced by old FM rock. Have you spent a significant amount of time in the US?
I think I like the whole romantic notion of FM rock more than the actual reality of it. Coming from rainy Bristol, this image of Steely Dan’s little world really appeals to me, and it’s probably a dark little world. Playing Outrun on the computer when I was little, you’d get all these palm trees and fancy flash cars and tree-lined streets and that kind of thing - I wanted to get that across on the album as well. But I’ve never been to the US, so it’s not a physical thing. It would probably shatter all my illusions if I went there and found it’s not like Miami Vice.
What about the Art of Noise? You mentioned Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whom Trevor Horn was also involved with.
I never really listened to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but that whole Trevor Horn - and Thomas Dolby as well - kind of production is almost like Max Tundra now, but they were doing it in the mainstream. It’s quite crazy some of that stuff.
It’s also crazy thinking about the gear that they had. The first samples were so short. That’s why a lot of it sounds so stabby.
I’m working on the next album now, and I’m sort of deliberately using short samples and pitching them down and stuff because it’s obvious it’s a sample. When people sample stuff and then loop a whole bit of a song is fair enough, but I’m more into what the Art of Noise did just with one vocal sample or whatever, pitching it across the keyboard. It must’ve sounded mental at the time. It even sounds crazy now. If you pitch a sample right down you get a natural kind of tone as well.
How do you respond to a DJ Shadow? What do you think of his sampling technique?
Endtroducing was a massive influence on me when I was in college. I remember waiting for that record to come out and then being blown away by it. I haven’t listened to it for years, but between that and listening to the early Warp stuff, that kind of turned me on to electronic music, really.
It’s funny, I remember a Mo’Wax record would come out and you could see it from a mile off in the record shop - they all had this really cool look about them. You basically knew what you were getting, but then looking back on it now, it’s only really DJ Shadow that was any good. The rest of it was just substandard stuff, but packaged quite nicely. You kind of felt like you should buy it. I think that was to do with the whole label-as-the-star kind-of-thing.
This album is your first on 4AD. You were previously on Melodic UK - how did the move from a smaller label to a larger one happen?
When I initially sent out demos about five years ago before my first single came out, I sent one to Melodic and I also sent one to 4AD. And Melodic got back to me first and said they wanted to do a record. At the time I was sort of working in an office and I thought, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Do a record.” So agreed with them verbally that they’d do it. And then, a couple of weeks later, 4AD phoned me up and wanted to come and see me, and it was all a bit, “4AD, hang on a minute,” but once I’d already committed to Melodic I felt I couldn’t really turn around and say “No, I’m going to 4AD.” So I stayed with Melodic and did the single and two albums.
I was kind of shocked that when I fulfilled that commitment to them, 4AD was still interested. I kind of bumped into them - they were at another gig in Bristol, and we just had a chat. It was just before they signed TV On The Radio, and they were sort of excited about that. We were just talking, and they said they were still interested in working with me, and I was like, “Whoa, really?” It kind of tied in nicely with things with the band, and I could stop working full-time to do the music.
It’s weird because the 4AD that signed me I didn’t associate with the 4AD I used to listen to when I was growing up - I was massively into the Pixies and the Cocteau Twins and stuff and it occasionally hits me that it’s the same label that’s got this history.
Are you going to tour behind the album?
I’ve been looking into ways of doing that. I’ve done a couple of gigs around the UK and I’m going to do a little UK tour in September. At the moment it’s just me and Emily who played the clarinet and the flute on the album. She also plays keyboards, so she plays the live keyboard lines and I play the guitar. We’ve got a video projection of me playing the drums on some of the tracks as well. We’ve only done one gig with that, but it seemed to go down quite well.
I think because it’s me playing the drums, and the drums are all recorded live and filmed live, it’s almost as if they’re live. With a few carefully constructed deliberate false starts and muck-ups it works alright. I also got someone to animate the record cover, so we’ve got quite slow projections and animation - all the visual things are coming together. Hopefully when we do actually do some more touring, we’ll be a bit more confident on the show because it’s a bit tricky when it’s electronic music. Unless you sort of want to stand behind a laptop. Which I’m not keen on doing.
Do you think you’ll actually head over to the US?
I’m hoping to. It’s going be nice to take the live Minotaur stuff over there to see how it goes down. I’m still intrigued to see what you guys are going to make of the record anyway because with Melodic the music only ever got anywhere else on import, so I never really got any proper reaction.
It’s also a bit nerve-wracking because I kind of fit in this middle ground of not being a band and not being a laptop guy. It’s a bit weird, but you get over it.
How do you approach the remixing?
It was sort of novelty for a while because I don’t do loads of remixes - it’s kind of a little treat. When I first started doing remixes, I used to just take the vocal and then write a track underneath it with my own music or whatever. But more recently I’ve decided to just use what they give me - the separate parts - which is kind of more challenging and fun, I think. Like for the Bloc Party one, I just used what they gave me, chopped it up a bit differently, and tried to build a track out of that. I think it’s better for the band as well - they can recognize what they’ve done in the remix, rather than it just being a wholesale new track with maybe a little snippet of the vocal or what-have-you. I wanted to really make it obvious what the song was that was being remixed. Kind of like the old disco remixes that were just extended versions. But the song’s still there.
The Bloc Party one was done before they released their second single over here, so it was just before they released anything on a bigger label. It was kind of before they kicked off, and was through a friend who worked at the label, a guy who sort of knew that I did stuff and just said, “We’ve got this new band, do you want to do a remix?” So I didn’t approach them and the band didn’t approach me. Instead it’s more of a kind of, “We need people to remix, would you like to do it?” And then it was by a happy coincidence that Bloc Party got massive all of a sudden. So that’s quite good for me.
Do you ever go back and listen to old things you’ve recorded?
It’s weird. The year before last I did a compilation album of early singles [Rinse] which came out on Melodic, and that was the first time I’d heard some of that stuff since it was out. And it’s been four or five years since it came out, so it was a good two or three years between me putting them out as singles and then re-listening to them to sequence a compilation. It was strange, but I was quite surprised that I liked it a bit more than I thought I would. There were some things that made me cringe, but on the whole it was alright. But then when I hear stuff I did when I was younger - stuff with the band - and it’s terrible. I don’t know where the cut-off point is.
We saw a video the other day of a festival we played in 1999 - with the band when we just started - and someone actually produced this video that they took of it that we didn’t even know existed, and it was terrible. Unbelievably bad. What we were doing then, I couldn’t believe. Now we’re basically a pop band, but back then we were doing ten-minute instrumentals that weren’t actually any good. I don’t know how we managed to get this festival but it was quite a big tent. And I think James were on later in the day, actually headlining. And we were just playing to nobody in a Massive tent. There were a row of security guards in front of us, and about ten acid casualties lying out in this field. We were just young boys with little crew cuts playing stupid space rock with Casio keyboards. [laughs] Which I guess back in 1999 was quite crazy, but terrible. Oh, I wanted to destroy it.
It’s great to have a document of the bottom, at least.
The thing is, the guy who recorded it found the tape and went to drop it off at our singer’s house. But actually he got the wrong house, so he put it through the letterbox of our singer’s next-door neighbor with no note or anything. This guy watched it, and finally worked out whose it was because the first hour is us in the dressing room before, just like “Ah,” smoking cigarettes like we’ve just been let out of school.
When you’re an individual in a band, you’ve got your own sensibility, but there’s a certain dynamic. When you’re on your own you feel like, “Hey, where are the rest of the guys?”
With the band, because I play the drums, there’s not much I can do melodically. I’m involved in the songwriting process, but I don’t actually play it when we play live. We’ve got a singer who can actually sing and it’s quite comfortable to sit at the back and know that it’s not going to go wrong. All I can do is muck up the drums, which is easy to do, but if you muck up the drums you can cover it up - as long as you don’t muck up again.
So it’s quite nice with my own stuff to be able stand up and play the guitar - I’m not very good at the guitar - but at least to stand at the front of the stage instead of sit at the back of the stage. It’s a bit scary, and I don’t know why I like that. Probably because it’s a different kettle of fish.
Would you ever record under your own name?
I had quite a lot of fun with the album because there are a lot of references on there that I’ll get and no one else will. Me taking the piss out of other artists. Stuff like that I felt I could do with this name. If I was doing it under my own name, it’d have to be this overarching conceptual piece of art. And I don’t think I’d be up for the task.
When you say taking the piss out of other artists, have you ever had someone come up and recognize where you’re sort of mocking them?
No. It’s quite subtle. It’s a reaction to things. If someone goes in one particular direction, I’ll go in the other direction. It’s all very internal, it’s all in my own head. I don’t actually dis anyone audibly on my records but if I get compared to someone in the press, then I’ll go to great lengths to try and not sound anything like them ever again. Which is good fun.