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Smoke City
Since Smoke City are a new band, I asked them about the band's history - how they came together, how it happened and stuff.

Marc: We've been together for a year and a half now. Me and Nina for a longer time. We're both from London. We met Chris through a DJ called Patrick Forge and started working on the album. Before that I was working for a charity organisation working with young people doing music.

Nina: I'd been in one band previously in '89. I sang in Portugese and it's got hip hop elements in it and quite a bit of Bossa Nova as well. But I did that as well as design and art in college. Now I dedicate myself to music which is much more fun.

Chris: I've been involved in a few different projects mostly concerning Brazilian music. I had a band called Batu and I worked with Brazilian musicians in Brazil and recorded an album, "Circle of Live" and I worked with DJ Patrick Forge as a production team called Dalata.

How did they find the sound of the band?

Nina: It's almost like we all have been on a search - in a way like in life, you know when you get out, when you travel. We all had quite similar tastes which overlapped without having to speak about it too much. We all have a similar agenda of music that came from the heart, that felt and that was uninhibited. When we jam in the studio I'm very undilated and I think that was what we wanted to keep - the freshness, the buzz, you know.

Did they have a certain sound in mind when they started or did it happen while jamming?

Marc: Yeah, it happened during jamming. We didn't really have a certain sound in mind. All that we knew was that there was going to be quite a large brazilian influence.

Do you think that we need more Bossa Nova in our lives?

Nina: Bossa Nova is so beautiful and calming and pulls on the heartstrings and it's so sweeping. I felt personally if we did a whole album it would be too melancholic. It's to dose yourself. But it's a good thing to have in your live.

There's a sleepy quality to it?

Nina: There's a dreamy laid back-ness, yeah.

How did this thing with the jeans-ad happen?

Marc: The track was on a compilation called "Rebirth Of The Cool". The advertising agency heard it and they tried it and they liked it and they gave the record company a ring. We're pretty happy with it.

Any plans on elaborating on this?

Nina: I'd love to. Cause in a movie you'd have much more time to elaborate and explore, try to tell a story. And it might be fun the other way around, making a film ourselves.

Are you trying to tell stories in music?

Nina: Yeah, I think so. Some of them lyrically might be quite personal but people might find common threads in them that they might be able to relate to their lives. And lyrically it happened from the music, the images I kept hearing. I hope there's enough space in there that everyone could fill for themselves.

Apart from the obvious, who does what in the band? Are you all musicians?

Chris: Well, I'm cast as a musician, because I play more instruments. But we all write together and tell each other what we think of it.

Nina: We all arrange together. Marc programs - samples and stuff.

What about the artwork and videos?

Nina: I did the the artwork for the album and some of the single. And we got very involved with the video because I think when you write a song and you have images in your head that a director not really understands. I mean, they have a take on that and it's interesting - what the director's and other people's point of view is all about. But I think it can all easily be lost and taken away. It's such an amazing opportunity to almost do a film, a video. And you have to get stuck in there.

Isn't it difficult, because so many people are involved in filmmaking?

Nina: It is, but you want to give those people space to do their thing just like we have been given space to do our thing in music. I tried to keep as much control as possible, though.

You mentioned that you write songs together. How does this happen?

Marc: Sometimes we start with guitar or keyboards or try to have a groove together or use samples or whatever. And then we give it to Nina to write the lyrics.

So you have something to work with?

Nina: Yeah, "Underwater Love" was pretty much done that way. But other things happened in a more basic way. And then I write things down when I ride on the train or sit in the park or after a telephone conversation.

Do you actually write your lyrics down?

Nina: Yeah, sometimes. "Underwater Love" was done just putting the tape on and another recording my reactions to it. So it's done very improvisationable. That's why the arrangement is so unusual. Then there's the song "Numbers". We wanted some of the songs almost instrumental. And numbers is a good way to keep things almost abstract. That's so universal and so simple because each number has a different character. It could remind you of Bingo, it could remind you of Sesame Street.

Like in "Drowning By Numbers" of Peter Greenaway, who worked with Michael Nyman?

Chris: I know his daughter.

Nina: Really? Well, you know it's the opposite here. Instead of doing the film first, Peter Greenaway would go to Michael Nyman and ask him to show him some music and then he would get inspirations from that.

That must be the reason why Greenaways last films aren't very good.

Nina: Yeah there's a lot of tension in Nyman's music. It's amazing.

How do you decide when a song is finished? Your songs could go on forever.

Marc: Someone said the other day that the album sounded unresolved and I think that's quite a good description. Because a lot of the things don't necessarily have a finish, because of the nature of the music. A lot of our music is unconventional.

Nina: Which is quite nice because people can almost carry on with the story, they can fill in the dots. Anyway the demos were so good that when we went in the studio we did different versions because we could use the studio. So it got quite confusing with all those different versions. But in the end we stuck to the first versions. And in the last hours or so the song changed again. So finally we ended up with songs that weren't really finished. Some of the songs are almost like sketches, like "Fly Away", the last song - which is nice. It's almost like a teenager as opposed to the other songs as adults.

So what's the function of the instrumentals? There are a lot of instrumentals on the record.

Chris: It's really important to me that there are some instrumental songs on the album because it makes it more varied as well. Every song with the same vocalist is too much really.

Nina: You need a breather. Because the music's so good, sometimes when there's muisc with vocals, the vocals take over a bit. With us it is like letting the music speak for itself. I think there are many characters in the instruments and the arrangements and there are so many peaks - so it needs that space. We even thought about having more instrumental tracks on the album.

Smoke City
Chris: On the next album there will be more instrumental tracks. When Marc and I do the music we end up with instrumentals. Before we give it to Nina we think that it could go either way - also as an instrumental. We need the freedom to do that.

Nina: And also getting involved with other singers and stuff. There's so much to be done. Live we can always push that - extend the songs...

What do they do live?

Marc: It's a mixture. We use some of the drum-samples - I mostly sample percussion stuff, but some of the songs cannot be played the way we played them on the album. We play with a seven-piece band.

What about the drummers? There's this incredible Brazilian drummer-band on "Numbers"?

Chris: They are from Brazil, called Olodum. Olodum is one of the most famous drum schools brom Brazil. We used one of the younger schools - about 15 to 20. And we invited them to play live in the studio. We've already written that track, playing percussion. When we demoed it we did the rhythm similar to their rhythm and then we asked them to play this rhythm their way. Which is called Samba-Reggae. They have like six big drums, snare, two tuneable guitars. And then we doubled it.

The album was produced in London. Would they be interested to record somewhere else to make it sound completely different?

Nina: Yes it would. We recorded a bit in Brazil, for instance. But it's too slick there - which is probably not what you'd imagine. I suppose they feel like a third world country. And they want to prove through very slick production that they can cope with us. The way we work they wouldn't quite understand it. But wherever you'd do it it would be different. It would be intersting to record three tracks in one country, two in another and so forth.

Smoke City
Speaking of different countries: Nina uses several languages in her songs. Only because of variation?

Nina: Yeah, it's for the variation to keep it interesting. But I think in different languages. Some languages are better for expressing certain moods. The vocabulary is specific to a certain country. Like "Je t'adore" in French is so universal - and it's also almost comical. "Je t'adore" is like a clichée of the French. Like in England you get this really corny champagne advert and it goes all about Edith Piaf - I don't know. It's about picking up on what everyone knows and then some other stuff that not everybody knows. Like in the way that The Beatles used "Michelle Ma Belle" - a lot of people learned French with that song. I had some friends who went to Africa and in that part of Africa they speak Portugese. So they ended up speaking Portugese with them because they knew "Underwater Love" but they ended up saying all the wrong things to the people which is not a good idea. But you can see how that would happen so it's quite interesting. So it's almost like a dictionary; this album.

SMOKE CITY will be touring in September, playing small clubs first because of the expierience. (They haven't got any experience playing live yet - apart from rehearsing). Also they will probably play some festivals. And: Watch out for the videos, they are brilliant.

[Erstveröffentlichung im Baby Talk-Fanzine #11, August 1997]

Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer-

Smoke City


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