Dead Voices On Air
Hello Spybey and welcome to Brutal Resonance! Let’s start off with a warm-up question, one that I always love to ask. What are three of your favorite albums of all time and why?
Spybey: "Tago Mago" by CAN. Why? Because it is entirely perfect and blissfully flawed. I can always find something new in it and that is after living with it for over forty years.
"Hex Induction Hour" by The Fall. Why? Well my top ten albums would invariably include at least one album by The Fall and this is my favourite I think. It is epic, bristling with northern English anguish, humour and rage.
"Jack Johnson" by Miles Davis. Why? I could have chosen half a dozen albums from Miles’ electric phase so I chose "Jack Johnson" out of the hat really. The absolute master of measured interjection, he knew exactly when to play and more importantly, when to stop playing. A colossus. I love Miles’ funk phase.
Let’s go back nearly thirty years. You’ve been working under the Dead Voices On Air name for quite a while. Where did it all begin? Where did you get the idea for the project?
Spybey: When I moved to Vancouver I started to make music with two friends, who were the co-founders of Dead Voices on Air (DVOA). Clancy Dennehy and Scott Harker. We made music in Clancy’s apartment and it was all quite conceptual I guess. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Clancy and Scott. Within a couple of months we played our first concert in Kamloops, BC and by the time of the second concert later that year Clancy had departed. We played a fifteen minute set at an electroacoustic festival. I walked around the stage with a toy Godzilla, with Scott clawed at a violin. The show was very sympathetically reviewed by Alex Varty who wrote for the Georgia Strait paper. Alex and I would go on to make music together. We also played live, the only time I have done so using the name of my ‘other’ project Propeller, supporting Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius.
Where does the name Dead Voices On Air stem from? I always interpreted it as being bands who are played on the radio, whose members might have already past into the afterlife.
Spybey: That’s an interesting interpretation but not correct I am afraid! No, we found those words in a book on sound art edited by a friend of Clancy’s, the same guy who put on our first show in Kamloops. The chapter in question was written by Gregory Whitehead and he referenced Marconi’s theories about radio waves and the fact (apparently) that once transmitted, they do not die, they simply become inaudible to the human ear. Scott was reading aloud from the book whilst we were improvising and when we listened back to the tape we all suddenly focused in on these words, “Dead Voices on Air.” So Marconi basically said that if we had the capacity, we could actually hear the voices of people who had died. You know what, I’ve been regretting using that as a band name ever since. People think it’s goth or something. No offence to Goths or something but I really don’t affiliate myself with that or any other genre or label of music. Band names are not easy to come up with though but once you do, you kind of have to live with it.
You’ve appeared in dozens upon dozens of albums and have collaborated with so many other musicians in the past. Tell me, what are some of the highlights in your career? Does being an original member of Download trump it all or are there other memories that inhabit a more special place?
Spybey: Every collaboration is special, if it works! It’s not easy for me to highlight one over the other, as a collaboration for me, is all about working with other people. It’s not something I enter into lightly. I have to want to make it work, it has to generate energy and I have to feel a connection with the other person, which transcends the music. Actually, the process of collaborating is more important than the end product. Or it should be. I loved making music with Phil Western as Beehatch and I always find working with Robin Storey as Reformed Faction to be joyous. I’m really proud of the work that I have done with The Gnome, as Gnome and Spybey and with Anatoly Grinberg too. DVOA has had a cast of many collaborators and they know who they are and I hope they know how important they are to me.
Whilst I am very proud of my work with Download, and very grateful to cEvin and everyone involved, as a teenage fan of the band CAN, my most memorable collaboration is the work that I did with Michael Karoli who was CAN’s guitarist. I suspect that he could have invited pretty much anyone to be part of his band and I sincerely doubt that many people would have turned down that opportunity. But he didn’t ask anyone, he asked me. It was accidental I think rather than by design but that’s cool too! To rehearse with him and to play over a dozen shows with him was very special. To be part of CAN’s thirtieth anniversary concerts was an honour and a privilege. He very sadly passed away nearly twenty years ago. I have my Manager at the time Thomas Ziegler to thank for opening those doors for me. I recognise that Download did do something at the time, that was special. At least I felt it was special, so yes that project does occupy an important place in my heart. I felt so very proud to be able to play live with cEvin and Phil between 2010 and 2011, some thirteen years after I had departed the band.
Coming all the way into the present, then, you have a new album coming out with Snowbeasts. Where did you meet them and how did this project take off?
Spybey: We have a mutual friend, David who very kindly brought me out to play at a festival in Providence, RI a few years ago. Rob from Snowbeasts also played and we hung out. He very kindly drove Robin and I back to Boston and he’s a very nice guy. We stayed in touch and quite embarrassingly, a couple of years ago I (hopefully very politely) turned down an opportunity to collaborate as I thought the music that Rob sent was pretty much perfect and that if I touched it I would likely mess it up. During the first lockdown I noticed what Rob was doing and I really liked the way that Snowbeasts were developing. I’m not into synthesisers, I don’t own any and I get a bit bored of noodling sounds but I heard something in Rob and Beth’s work that excited me. I heard the similar tones in some of Phil Western’s more ambient works. I think you have to be accomplished in a reserved kind of way or genuinely intuitive to make minimally beautiful music from gear that can generate pretty much endless sonic permutations.
I didn’t set out though to do a split CD with them, I started to collaborate with several people, at the same time: Marco from Argentina, Lori from Utah, Anatoly from Moscow and Rob and Beth from RI. I ended up with two albums and felt that the material with Rob and Beth probably benefitted by being on one CD. I felt it was right to co-credit the album to Snowbeasts and DVOA. The other album is finished and in the queue to be released on CD.
When I read the press release, your words had quite a philosophical approach to collaborations. Can you tell us how you view collaborations with other artists and how they should work?
Spybey: Thank you! I don’t know if our words are philosophical but I think I do have a philosophy about collaborating. I have to feel a connection to the person I work with, that has to transcend the making of music. I have to feel like there is a possibility of creating something that is exciting, at least to my ears!
Secondly, it is really important to respect the contribution of others. I am a bit of a bugger for changing things quite radically but I tend to go with the flow: I hear sounds in sounds and have a feel for where I might like to take them. If I think the piece must benefit from some vocals I tend to improvise vocals and then refine them. I often go for first takes, as I think they can capture the essence of intention. I do edit, sometimes over edit but I never fuss over work.
I consider myself to be an improviser and I learnt my trade improvising with others. I use the cycling analogy: I have put in the miles. So I value listening as much as playing and not playing as much as playing. I also never try to offend nor scare people. If people feel scared or offended, then it’s not by intention. At the end of the day an album is just a collection of ideas. It’s not definitive. For me collaboration is about the process and not the product. I can’t work with anyone, willy nilly. I do need to feel a connection and I think projects do take a bit of scoping out. It might be that the hard work is done before you start to make music together.
The cover art was assembled by Marco Roberti. Tell us about your relationship with Marco Roberti and what photos were used when assembling the artwork.
Spybey: I have made music with Marco for wow, I guess nearly ten years and he has appeared on numerous DVOA releases. Like Anatoly Grinberg in Moscow, we have not met in person but I do feel very close to Marco and it’s wonderful that he is releasing his own music now. He has such a gentle touch. Great musician, lovely guy. He also formats quite a lot of my sleeves for me and we have generated ideas together that he has really made into very accomplished products.
The photos for the CD are merged images of seascapes, taken by Rob and Beth in RI of the Atlantic and by myself, of the North Sea in Yorkshire. Beth has also made a couple of videos using the same approach, merging images from the two locations. You can find them HERE.
Out of the six songs on the album, which one is your favorite and why?
Spybey: Ah well, this is where I claim not to know any of the titles as I tend to never listen to my own work after it has been released. I am always thinking and concentrating on the music that I am working on at any point in time. Or the next project on the horizon. However, given that this is a collaboration, I have a bit of a more detached viewpoint and I confess that I do know most of the titles! My favourite (at the moment ) is ‘The Summer Storm.’ It blasts off at one point and it always gives me a bit of a start, a pleasant start I should add but I do find it powerful.
Following this release, what else do you have in store for 2021? You are a busy musician, I can imagine. Do you have any albums, EPs, single, remixes, etc. in the works?
Spybey: I do yes. I am working with a label out of Austin called Emergency Hearts which is very exciting. I have another CD coming out on Re:Mission Entertainment later this year which is a collaboration I did with Jochen Arbeit from Einzturzende Neubaten. There is a double CD by Reformed Faction due to be released by Soleilmoon. The other new DVOA CD should be out this year too. I’ve also committed myself to releasing at least one new album a month on Bandcamp. I started this during the first lockdown. It’s a way of cataloguing ideas I guess.
Lastly, I would like to thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck and leave the space below for you to mention anything you wish. Cheers!
Spybey: You are most welcome, thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview. Best of luck with all of your endeavours!
This interview was commissioned through our Ko-fi page.
May 15 2021
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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