Dead by sea [2006-09-12]Xela is the depraved audio offspring of John Twells- He’s just about to release the projects third album called The dead sea, a concept album based around a zombie attack at sea. Musically the project is very varied taking in drone heavy dread, decaying sea shanties, brooding synth banks and guitar elements. with more than a nod towards the Italian zombie film genre in both sound and imagery. I reviewed the album here. John Is also one of the brains behind the one of the most inventive and challenging electronic labels around the Uk based type label. John Kindly agreed to give me an email interview.
m[m] How did you first become interested in making music?
John I can't actually remember when, it was just so long ago - but I've always been interested in music. I started playing flute and learning music theory when I was seven years old and got very good, then I moved onto saxophone which was more challenging and more interesting.
Eventually since my music tastes were moving further towards metal,punk and rock I picked up the guitar, somewhat grudgingly, and played with a few bands, some of which were my own. It was bound to happen though as my dad is a guitarist and huge music fan, so I was brought up with guitars around and going to record fairs and record shops constantly...
John I can't remember a time when music didn't play a huge part in my life really. When I was around 17-18 I got really sick of guitar music and was shocked by electronic stuff I was hearing - this kind of nudged me into the mindset that I could make electronic music rather than rely on a band, and I started buying synths and drum machines which would lead me into writing music under the name Xela. When I finished 'For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights' I hadn't really heard a great deal of electronic music, I think thats why I enjoyed making it so much, I felt like I was learning as I went along. It was funny really because by the time I'd finished I was kind of bored with purely electronic stuff too and felt like picking the guitar up again. I have to keep finding ways to keep myself interested I suppose - keep finding the things that get me excited about music and creating music.
m[m] You mentioned you enjoyed metal - have you every thought of doing a metal album? and what side of metal do you enjoy most i.e Black metal, doom, etc?
John I think about doing a metal album more and more, but I don't know whether I'm capable to be quite honest. I suspect if I did it would verge more towards the noise and black metal end of the spectrum, I'm heavily into that stuff at the moment - black metal wise music like Burzum , Akitsa and Striborg really has my jaw on the floor and noise bands like Prurient, Hair Police, Wolf Eyes - I'm really lapping it up.
The doomier stuff too really made me took notice also, I'm a big fan of Sunn o)))'s albums, especially 'Black One', seeing them live with Earth last year was mind-blowing. I've messed around with my effects pedals and guitars a bunch but it would take me some time to make music I was really happy with in this vein. I reckon it's much more likely I'd inject further elements of metal into my productions than make a straightforward metal album to be honest, that's more my style. Maybe if I was in a band it would be different!
m[m]How did you become involved with set up the Type label?
John Type was at first an idea I had, I was really sick of the lack of diversity in so many electronic music labels. I was coming into contact with and I wanted to do something which explored darker soundscapes, soundtrack music if you will. At this time I was also coming into contact with artists such as Khonnor and Sickoakes who I felt needed to be heard by the rest of the world, and with the help of some friends I became blessed with a way to do it. I started the label with Stefan Lewandowski who I ran a club night with in Birmingham - we hung out a lot together and played each other music so it felt like a good idea to do this together - plus his design and web expertise helped us get the label's identity sorted. Before long my perceptions of the label, just like with my own music, began to change and hopefully it still is changing - I think labels should challenge and surprise their listeners and followers rather than sticking to a safe option, hopefully that's what we're doing.
m[m] How did the concept of the album come about? Did you story board it ? or plan out what was going to happen?
John I'd always wanted to write a concept album, my dad was a huge prog rock fan and I was always fascinated by the idea of the grand concept album.
Once I started to pencil down ideas for tracks and record sounds I found myself drawn towards a deathly nautical theme, from the first couple of tracks I wrote I knew what the story would have to be. After this I penned a lot of notes and put tracks together around the story if you will, like chapters - sometimes they would work, sometimes not - it took quite a long time to get it right. The finer points of the story were changing all the time, I'd kind of let that go as I wrote the music, people will be able to get a better idea in the finished package of the album I hope!
m[m]You talk about the packing for The dead sea- can you let us know what else to expected with it? is the booklet going to detail the story?
Well the front and back covers have been totally designed by Matthew, as has the disc itself and there will be a booklet indeed detailing the story, in part. I don't want to make it too explicit so it won't be particularly wordy, just enough to let people know what was going on in my head as I wrote
m[m]you clearly very influenced by Italian horror movies- have you any favorites? and if you could are they any you would have liked to done an alternative soundtrack to?
John Yeah I'm hugely into Italian horror movies... I've been into horror movies for so long now, it started like with most people as a schoolboy fascination with the darker side, but slowly it developed into a geeky obsession. Favourites would have to be Dario Argento's 'Suspiria', Lucio Fulci's 'The Beyond' and 'Zombi 2' but I'll really watch almost anything, no matter how crappy. I'm surprisingly picky with films having studied filmmaking, but with Italian horror movies my taste gets tossed out of the window. It probably has something to do with the soundtracks too - Goblin, Fabio Frizzi, Riz Ortolani, these guys made incredible music and listening to it repeatedly obviously had some effect on me!
If I could do an alternative soundtrack to something it would probably be 'Zombie Holocaust', simply because it's got such a crappy one at the moment... it's a great (and underrated) zombie movie and could probably handle the Xela treatment. I certainly wouldn't want to re-score something like 'Suspiria' or 'The Beyond', simply because taking away those classic themes would diminish the films effectiveness significantly.
m[m]Have you been offered any soundtrack work? I could really see your stuff fitting in with Dario Argento's modern films- have you thought of offering your services to him?
John I've never been offered soundtrack work, no. I've worked with people on soundtracks when I was at art school, and I've worked with designers before in that way, but as for a film soundtrack - it's a dream but one which remains un-realised as yet. I'd certainly jump at the chance of working with Argento, but I don't know if I'd have the drive to bug the man by 'offering' myself to him
m[m]How did it come about you using the drawings of Matthew Woodson?
John I've been in contact with Matthew for some time now, I originally saw his work on a website and was really impressed, so I emailed him and we started chatting. It seemed we shared a lot of the same interests and tastes and he became assimilated into the Type working family - he did the cover for Helios' 'Eingya' too and he's working on a whole bunch of other stuff too. I originally told him about the concept album idea a long time before I'd finished the album because I knew how crucial it would be to the finished product to have the right art, so we've been working on the 'look' together for a while now... I think he let me go all-out on it, which made me very happy. The inside cover on the finished version is a gruesome underwater battle... my tribute to Lucio Fulci who gave us a zombie vs. shark fight in 'Zombi 2'.
m[m]What scares you?
John Being alone, religious people, processed food, unclean kitchens, rom-coms, Saturday nights in Manchester, hard drive failure, the price of Belgian beer
m[m]list you top ten favorite albums and why?
John You do know this is unbearably difficult for me, and this changes day by day... but this is it as it stands in my head right this minute...
1. Sonic Youth - Sister
I could have said Daydream Nation too, but whatever, I was listening to Sister this week, so it's Sister. Sonic Youth are my heroes , not only have they written some of the greatest albums of all time, but they continue to write some of the greatest albums of all time... incredible.
They meant a lot to me when I was 16 years old and they mean a lot to me still...
2. The Cocteau Twins - Head Over Heels
Yeah it's soppy - so what, The Cocteau Twins totally changed the way I felt about 'emotional' music... Liz Fraser's voice is just so ethereal, so haunting, it feels like she's singing just for you. As with SY I could have picked any number of albums, I usually go for 'Heaven or Las Vegas' but today I'm feeling like this one pips it to the post. 'Musette and Drums' is one of my favourite songs ever
3. The Smiths - The Smiths
Another indie album - they're going to be hunting me down for this. Still, The Smiths are another band that I've been listening to for far too long to pass them over, amazing songwriting, amazing lyrics... they haven't been bettered in my opinion.
4. Broadcast - Work and Non Work
I could easily have gone for Stereolab's 'Emperor Tomato Ketchup' but this just means a little more to me. Broadcast are from Birmingham, which is not far from where I grew up, so they always gave me the sense that I could do it myself, which felt great. Seeing them live in about '96 put a lot of stuff into perspective for me, the whole 'using samplers in rock music' or whatever. I still didn't really know anything about electronic music but it was priming me for what I was about to hear.
5. Shuttle 358 - Frame
This is just one of those electronic albums that forced me to take notice, and I don't think it's dated either. So much 'idm' or whatever you want to call it sounds incredibly forced and rather bland now you've taken away the 'newness' but 'Frame' still sounds beautifully fresh to me. The first time I heard it I got shivers down my spine, I couldn't believe someone had created something so absolutely 'perfect'...
6.Mogwai -Young Team I'm resorting to a lot of these childhood favourite albums... but it's better than doing a 'what's on my stereo' chart I think. Mogwai, like Sonic Youth, taught me to embrace feedback, enjoy 20 minute songs that didn't do a lot and taught me the beauty of the drone.
7. Earth - Hex (or Printing in the Infernal Method)
I had to put in something fairly recent, and it had to be Earth. Rather than going for an old fave though I wanted to give 'Hex' some extra props because this is an album I think just gets better and better.
It's a metal album that doesn't sound like a metal album, and seeing it performed live just made that so utterly clear to me. 'Earth 2' may have been a more important record, and 'Pentastar' still makes me rabid with joy, but 'Hex' is just jaw dropping - it makes me giddy every time I hear it.
8. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
I was listening to this again yesterday and it dawned on me just how damned inventive the man was. Okay it sent him insane, but when you've got albums this phenomenal, it's probably worth it. 'Moonlight on Vermont' makes me want to go out and ransack something... dangerous, dangerous music.
9. Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks OST
Probably the biggest influence on Type, when I started the label I remember thinking that I wanted to release music that sounded like the jukebox in the diner when Audrey is dancing (hence the current
sleeve-art on the 7"s). The man can do no wrong!
10. Goblin - Suspiria OST
It's almost impossible to choose my favourite Goblin record but 'Suspiria' is probably their most complete. The theme tune is one of the most haunting pieces of music to grace the silver screen and the album goes on to explore the band's darkest recesses. Horror-prog never sounded better than this!
m[m]what are you working on now?
John I'm actually working on another kind of soundtrack album at the moment - Matthew Woodson, the artist who did the cover on 'The Dead Sea' is penning a graphic novel which I am writing an audio accompaniment to, it's mixture of sci-fi and western so should provide me with quite a challenge! I have no idea when the project will be finished, but I can't wait to see/hear how it turns out.
Thanks to John for his time for the interview. Go to here to find out more about Xela and Type records. All Photos and images (c) Type records- used by kind permission.Roger Batty