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A Chat With : The Field

Too long staring at a laptop does strange things to a person. The Field found that out when he started an extended bout of touring in support his debut album, ‘From Here We Go Sublime’. There was something about that record, something one man staring at a laptop could not do justice. So in November 2007, some six months and many gigs after the record’s release, Alex Willner changed his mind. He went back home, recruited some musician friends, reworked the stage show and came back stronger. And one year later, when the time came to work on the follow-up to the rapturously received debut, those emergency running repairs ended up having a profound effect on the six tracks that make up his second album, ‘Yesterday And Tomorrow’.

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“The big difference between this record and the last was how it was made,” agrees Willner. “It was a different way of recording for me. I usually make music quite quickly, so this was a new approach. I put more time into it, so it had more time to evolve naturally. But this grew out of a year of playing live with the band, and after that I realised that I wanted to do the recording differently, with a more acoustic approach.”

While the use of the word ‘acoustic’ might seem misleading – we’re nearly sure Willner means less ‘electronic’ and more ‘live’ – it’s an interesting choice, as the record glistens with a different sheen to its predecessor: where ‘From Here…’ was perfectly precise, ‘Yesterday and Tomorrow’ moves at a different pace. It is – predictably – more ‘organic’. Willner speaks about wanting to achieve a more layered sound, something closer to a conventional band set-up.

“I was quite comfortable playing with a band – I come from punk rock, I spent my teenage years in bands, I missed it. And recording this way was my call. We moved to an island near Stockholm for one week and worked there together. It was very synchronised, very connected.”

The mood has changed with ‘Yesterday And Tomorrow’ – not a lot, but it’s significant. The overt, trance-referencing euphoria of his debut has been replaced with a hazier form of bliss: if ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ was too precise for some, ‘Yesterday And Today’ feels looser - an album recorded not only by staring at a computer screen, but by looking others in the eye.

The reference points have changed also, with Willner citing “older electronic music – like Manuel Goettsching – and other old things… disco, Krautrock, rock…” as his sources of inspiration. The psychedelic, kosmiche touches to ‘I Have The Moon, You Have The Internet’ and ‘Leave It’ and the loose percussion on ‘Sequenced’ are the results of this new approach: still the same, but definitely different. Lead single ‘The More That I Do’ is perhaps the most traditional track on the record –synths and vocals are diced and spliced into a looped, melodic bliss – but loose enough to qualify under the new rules. You can’t keep a good idea down.

The sessions in Stockholm also resulted in one of the album’s more memorable moments– albeit one that might also confuse. An unlikely cover of ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ by, um, The Korgis (one of those songs everyone knows, but how many can name the act?) becomes an oddly addictive focal point for the record, if only for the fact that it features a standard vocal. “It came from a moment in the studio. We had a little wine and this song came on… I really like it, and we started to play around with it. So it was like a jam from the beginning, no pre-production. Why not do it?”

It’s a track that Axel sounds most pleased with, perhaps as it was created – lyrics aside – as a ‘normal’ band would. And it feels like this is the where this project ‘has’ to go, this is what success demands. The Field now records as a band (pre-production, session, mixing and mastering, by Jorg Burger and Michael Mayer in Cologne), plays festivals as a band, gets ‘proper’ reviews like a band, collaborates with real people from other real bands (John Stainer from Battles – “We met a festival in Brazil, and recorded in Germany. What we got from that was a sketch, and we worked on the sketch and then used it on ‘The More That I Do…’) and, indeed, has its ‘product’ treated like a band: no digital copies of the new album were promo-ed in the run up to the release, such is the concern around an untimely leak.

‘From Here We Go Sublime’ was released in 2007, and the subsequent critical tremors are still a source of wonder for Axel. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would get a reaction like it did. In a way, I am still trying to adjust to it – but in a good way of course. To do what you want to do, and make the music you want to make… it ended up bigger than I ever expected. And in a way I think it put pressure on for the second album. Not in a bad way, but we toured a lot. And when then it was time to get creative again…”

The press release that accompanies the new record mentions the fabled 9.0 mark from Pitchfork his debut received, and then goes on to suggest that Animal Collective were influenced by the record’s strangely addictive psychedelia. If Axel is pleased – or, indeed, if he believes it – he’s not telling. “I don’t know! Maybe?! It went to many different camps of people, so perhaps.”

‘From Here…’ was something of a watershed moment for Kompakt. Perfectly timed, it managed to distil the positives about the label into 70 hypnotic minutes: it was the one that finally moved it out of the ‘minimal/Euro’ section. Gui Boratto followed with similar, if less deserved, breakout success, but then came the wobble. In the past two years, the 12”s – the label’s bread and butter - have been disappointing, and – through a combination of questionable choices and changing trends – it no longer feels as relevant as it did, as it should. But this is true of current minimal music in general – the retreat to tougher, more purist sounds has been good for dancers, but not so much for home listeners. Axel agrees: “I don’t listen to any modern techno, or minimal music. I have not paid attention, and I haven’t done for a long time. The music that is being made now is more interesting for the dancefloor. And it is beautiful on the floor, but only there… I mean, I live in Berlin, but I never go out. And if I do, it is for dinner, or to a bar. Maybe I am just getting old.”

But maturity is – for the most part - a good thing. The arrival of ‘Yesterday And Tomorrow’ confirms The Field as a genuine force, albeit a different one from what we know to date. Here’s hoping that his much-loved label undergoes a similar transformation.

‘Yesterday And Tomorrow’ is out on May 18 on Kompakt.


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