Bailter Space played at the Coffee Club in Moorhead, Minnesota on July 17,1995. They all turned out to be extremely nice, and were nice enough to allow this, my first attempt at an interview. c = Me, j = John, a =Alistair, b = Brent. Transcribing the interview was more difficult than I imagined it would be, and it was very difficult to tell by listening who exactly was answering, but here's what I typed out:
c= First of all, who's in the band and what do they play, and that sort of thing?
j= This is myself, I'm John, and there's Alistair, and there's Brent, and Brent plays the drums and he plays samples, and Alistair plays guitar and a little bass, and I play bass and a little guitar and sing and that's it.
c= Ok, when and how did you get started as a band?
j= We started playing together under a different name in 1980.
c= The Gordons?
j= Yeah. We played for 18 months or so and then sorta kinda went various directions and ended up in 1987 or 88 or around there, we became and worked together as Bailter Space and we've been playing as a three piece.
c= So, were the Gordons, was the sound the same as Bailter Space?
j= No, that was like... they had some similarities, but it was like a different band, really. It was a different concept, and a different period of history and it was like a new thing. When we formed Bailter Space it was like a new thing. We weren't trying to... in any way trying to recapture the past. It was not an interest.
c= What is the concept, would you say, behind Bailter Space?
a= What kind of magazine do you have?
c= It's gonna be a zine, he's just starting it up. He's into philosophy and music and the interrelation and that sort of thing.
a= Because yeah, you know, we can answer in many different ways to the last question, and I just wanted to make sure it wasn't like a --
c= (rudely interrupting:) Well I guess in a musical way, mainly, or aesthetic or whatever.
a= So, can we have that again?
c= What is the concept behind Bailter Space, as you see it?
a= (chuckles) There are many. There are many varying and shifting concepts, like something that's in orbit, you know. It changes, you know, the form of it changes, but the concept being the orbit of the star or what, you know, the sound or whatever, and then the sun is in orbit.. (asks Brent:) ...does the sun orbit?
b= Well, yeah, but we're kind of orbiting the sun.
j= Yeah, we're orbiting the sun.
a= Anyway, we're in orbit, basically. I was trying to make a parallel, but it tipped out a bit, you know.
j= Is the sun orbiting (unintelligible)?
a= But, the orbit being the main concept... the forces of gravity. We have a concept of sound sometimes, where we talk about how we're going to make a textural sort of production. And, the song kind of speaks for itself more, in concept. It's not like we make a law for a concept, so finite is that it's more like the listener conceptualizes with the song.
j= Every song extends, in some way, the concept. Every song we write is like another step forward.
c= What initially made you want to start making music?
a= It would probably vary for each three of us.
j= We all started playing music when we were really young, and we hadn't met each other at that point. I'm not sure what it was for me. It was just like hearing music and just realizing I loved it. It had a lot of power. I don't know. I guess it had a lot of influence on my life as a youngster, and I just gravitated towards it. And as soon as I could get my hands on a guitar, I did, and I taught myself and never thought about it from that point. It was just something I loved doing, so I kept doing it.
c= You're from New Zealand, right? (them: Yeah) And you're living in New York? (them: Yeah) How do the two compare, as far as, in general and musically speaking?
a= Musically? I don't know, it's a lot different, it's like three times the size of New Zealand, so there's three lots of New Zealand there. We're there, and there's a lot of music going on. It's great. Maybe you have to wait for things more in New Zealand, whereas in New York, if there's something you wanted to see and it's not there, then you can probably come up with another idea about something else you might want to go and absorb. So I think that that would be one of the things mainly different.
a= Yeah, time runs on a different kind of... it's a faster pace, really a lot louder. Faster food. (laughs)
b= Faster cars.
j= Not really; we've got pretty fast cars over there too.
c= How's your tour been going? When did it start, how long will it last, and where are you going after Moorhead?
j= That's like good, good, good, yes, good, and yes. (laughs) It started about two and a half weeks ago and the U.S. part lasts six weeks, and after Moorhead we're heading to Seattle, but I think we've got one show before Seattle.
a= Missoula, Montana.
j= And two weeks after the tour we go to Europe for a month, so it's the start of a bigger tour.
c= How do you like touring, anyway? Do enjoy playing live?
a= Yeah, playing live's great. The road runs you down from time to time.
j= It's like the point of our existence at the moment. When we moved from New Zealand, all three of us dedicated ourselves to the band, as being the main drift of what we were wanting to do. So, when we finally get out on the road and tour, it's like we're fulfilling part of what we're doing. That's what we do. We're in a band, we are musicians, and we've had a great opportunity to stay together as a band, and most of the time just be musicians. And touring's a great way to keep playing. I mean, we've been on the road for two weeks, and I feel like we've been on the road for a couple of hours. I think I could do it forever, and probably will.
c= For some bands, it's kinda hard to tour.
j= Sometimes you can have a bad day, I think, and you go "arghhh", you've had enough, but the next day...
a= Getting tired is tough.
j= It's nice to have a day off occasionally, and have a good sleep and catch up.
a= The driving...
j= The luxury of being in your home, surrounded by things you like doing. But it's a small compromise for what you...
a= We'll be back home in like three weeks. We'll be able to hang out all we want then. But at the moment it's fine.
c= So what type of venues do you normally play? Is it kinda like this, or bigger, or?
a= It varies. From this to larger warehouse type places. No stadiums or such on this tour.
j= There's been a few larger 500 or 600 capacity rooms, not that we get that many people.
c= How have the audiences reacted to your show?
j= They like us. We get a lot of people that have never heard of us, never seen us, who just happen to be there that night. They really get surprised and go, "wow, this is really cool". But apart from those people, we occasionally have the hardcore fan thing happening around America.
c= How big do you think is your fanship or whatever in America?
j= In America? Well, we don't know. Matador has never really told us how many records we've sold.
a= But every night we play, we're playing new towns to new people, and if we play good or people like it, well you're always adding to that. So we're in a way doing the groundwork. But even before we came to New York in 88, was the first time; even before we arrived here there was a pocket of people in each city that were familiar with our music through Flying Nun Records releases. So now that we're signed with Matador, and we have domestic releases, that's really helped us a lot to get through to a larger audience.
c= How did that signing thing happen? Did they find you, or did you find them?
j= Well, it was a bit of both. We were working with Gerard from Matador before Matador existed. He used to work for Homestead and we were thinking about working with Homestead, but it was really because of our respect for Gerard. He's just a great guy, and he's done a lot of good things for the music industry.
c= What is Matador like, as far as promotions, and how much creative control do you get and that sort of thing?
j= They're great, as far as that goes. They really give us complete creative control, for one because that's the reason they signed us. They like the way we operated. Before we were working with them, we were largely independent and we managed to survive for quite a few years and build our own thing, and they liked our record covers, they liked our songwriting approach, they liked our overall direction. They don't really tamper with that, at all. They just leave us to our own devices, and that's one of the reasons why we like Matador too, because we don't want to be told how to dress or when to go on tour too much.
c= How many tours have you done in the past, and how do they compare with this one?
j= Countless. I wouldn't be able to count them. First off, we toured New Zealand too many numerous times to count, and toured Australia three times, and this is our second national tour in America, but we've done a lot of minitours on the east coast over the years, and Europe we've toured I think four times, and we're going back there again very soon.
c= What's your following like at home, in New Zealand?
j= It's one of our biggest audiences, and it's actually grown out of proportion since we've left the country. From reports that we get, it's like we've become... I think New Zealand is whipping up a patriotic storm about Bailter Space while we've been away; they see us as carrying the flag, or something like that, so they're kind of proud of us. Even though, they think we're a lot bigger here than we actually are. It's grown in their imagination.
c= How do your live shows compare with your studio recordings?
j= I think they can be pretty close, because we've always recorded in a similar manner to how we actually perform live. We play all the instruments at the same time, except for vocals, which are standard because vocals have to be done separately. Otherwise, you get lots of instruments going through your vocal mic. And occasionally we do a guitar overdub, but we didn't even do that on the last album; there's no guitar overdubs.
c= Really? Because, it sounds really layered, a big thick sound.
j= We were very pleased with the producer we were working with. He immediately understood what we're trying to do, and he didn't try to change us into some other kind of band, and he just went straight to it and got the sounds we wanted. And we hardly even had to produce it, because it was already sounding good before it was produced. We just got it on the tape sounding good, through careful microphone placement and taking a bit of time before we laid the tracks down. So it's no problem for us to play our songs live. Some people say our live performances are better than our records, some say the other way around.
c= Tell me about the new album. I've heard it isn't as noisy as previous ones, but I haven't personally heard it. What are your feelings on noise in general in music?
j= Well, I think it has a little more space in it, here and there. Less overdubs. But I think there's definitely moments where there's plenty of noise going on. It's not lacking noise. But it's true, I think some of our previous albums were more layered with overdubs. But we wanted to, with the new album, we just had a quick talk before we wrote the songs and recorded them, about the direction we wanted to take, and we decided that we wanted to get to the heart of what Bailter Space is. We didn't want to do any fancy overdubs or anything like that. We wanted to record the songs directly onto the tape, as honestly as we could, and see how it worked out. And we did that, and we're very pleased with it for that reason, because it somehow catches the freshness of the songs, that were brand new songs, and that were recorded in a lot of cases just as the first take. Sometimes we did a lot of takes to get the right take, but most of them were very early takes. So they're recorded before they had become overplayed and before they been toured ten times and got sick of them, so they're still new and exciting to us, and somehow that excitement was retained in the recordings. That's what I feel, anyway.
c= Are you more of a texture type band or a song/melody type band?
j= Both, I think. We definitely have songs that are quite melody strong, but are also heavily into texture. That's one of the main elements we play with. That, and harmonic overtones and all the instruments ringing together as a whole.
c= What's your favorite Bailter Space album and song?
j= It varies on the week. There are times when I just don't want to put on a Bailter Space record. Sometimes it's too close. We're all in the band and you don't always want to play your own music. Sometimes it's hard to be objective and take a step back. At the moment I'm a lot enjoying playing the new album. I like "Retro", I like a lot of songs off that album. But, I like "Thermos" as an album, a lot. Which, actually, it's going to be re-released very shortly, including "Tanker". "Tanker" and "Thermos". And that catalog is going to come out on Matador label.
c= Yeah, I just bought them in London for too much money, I didn't think they were available over here.
j= Yeah, they're not available, but however your money is not wasted, because what you would've bought is the original pressing, whereas it'll be a different product by a different company. I mean, it's the same master tape. But, if you're interested in the collective value of it, maybe the import will be worth more eventually. But that's one of the reasons why we like the idea of having a domestic release in America is because the prices are more fair. We don't want to be expensive, we want people to be able to afford to buy records. The more people that buy our records, the more people that get to hear it. It's a good thing for them, it's a good thing for us.
c= Are you ever going to be distributed through Atlantic?
j= That's always a possibility. It has been loosely discussed at different points, and that could happen, but it's up to both parties. For a start, it's up to them to come forth with the idea, and up to us to decide whether we want that, or whether we want to stay more on the indie type label.
c= What do you consider your influences to be?
j= I don't think our influences have really been largely from other bands, and I've never been able to understand why that should necessarily be the case. For instance, everyone on this planet walks around, and we're all influenced by common things and by different things and everything around us, being the cycles of the moon or television or makeup or your mother, all make up part of what you become, what direction you take in your life, so I don't see why you have to necessarily be directly influenced by another rock band. Why can't it be the sound of a vacuum cleaner or something like that? All three of us listen to very different music from each other, and undoubtedly different things have influenced us at different times, but I honestly couldn't think of one specific band that we could say, "that's our main influence", it just wouldn't be correct.
c= Do you listen to music much, and what are your favorite bands?
j= Well, while we've been driving along in the van, we've been listening to John Coltrane, just while we're driving here today, and Can, and we've been listening to some Schoenberg and a little rock stuff. Early this morning we just picked up a big box of CD's from Amphetamine Reptile. We know (?), so we visited him, and he gave us a box of those. We don't even know what's in the box yet, but we'll probably end up playing some of those. So we're open to listening to anything, any form of music. I know Alistair at the moment is listening to Latino kinda beats, like Tito Puente. We're all listening to an incredible variety of different things.
c= What makes you want to continue making music?
a= How derogatory is this question meant?
c= Oh, it's not derogatory. Like when you walk up in the morning, what makes you say, "oh I want to pick up my guitar again"?
a= I love music, and very much enjoy playing and working in a group. You're learning about music all the time.
j= I think you hit on it there, Alistair. I think it's mostly just the personal satisfaction of it more than anything else. It's not so much like a job, even though we have to be professional and work in a professional manner. It's not a job to us; we love it, we like what we're doing. Otherwise I don't think any of us would bother.
a= It's great fun to be in a band.
c= Do you want your music to affect what your listeners feel, and if so, how?
j= Yeah, we would like to think that people are going to be moved in some way, that everyone is going to be moved in a different way from another. For instance, lyrics could be interpreted any way whatsoever. You can write a song for a specific meaning. One person will take it right, and then someone else will have a totally different idea on it, and sometimes it gets back to us what someone thinks a song means, and some of it can be really interesting. Even just the name of the band, Bailter Space, travelling different parts of the world, people ask us what it means, but just as many people tell us what it means to them, and that's really interesting to find out.
c= What does it mean, anyway?
j= I don't know. It's an open-ended sort of name. The "bailter" part of it you won't find in any dictionary, so it's kind of like a blank for people to fill in whatever way they've been touched by the music, becomes what the name means to them. It's their space, the "bailter space".
c= How do you go about writing songs?
j= That varies with different songs, too. They often start with guitar, sometimes just with a simple riff, sometimes they start with a sample.
a= A melody, a harmony.
j= Sometimes with a whistling sound in your head.
a= There's various different kinds of approaches, and various different kinds of inspirations.
j= It's not as though we've got a pet formula, where we know we're going to write a song like "this". We like to approach each song as they come up. Sometimes they just emerge, and other times we're really working on them in a more...
a= Going for a sound, maybe.
j= Yeah, or a concept, an idea, or a kind of a beat.
c= Do you all work on the songs together?
j= Yeah, as much as we can.
a= We check every song we have as by the band. It's the way that we choose to work, to write together.
At this point, the opening band, Bossk, started playing extremely loudly, and we ended the interview. The crowd was pretty sparse when Bailter Space took the stage. Apparently few in Fargo had heard of Bailter Space, and fewer still wanted to be exposed to new music. I think Bailter Space were a bit disappointed by this and the non-demonstrative nature of the upper-midwesterners who did stick around to see them. They put on a good, albeit short, show despite frequent difficulties with Alistair's Rickenbacker going out of tune and subsequently having to switch guitars after every song.
After the show I briefly talked to John a bit more. For guitar geeks amongst you, John plays his bass through a marshall guitar amp. He does this so that the chords aren't muddled in the way they would be through a bass amp. He uses a Rat distortion pedal on a couple songs. When he plays guitar, he mainly uses a Fender Jaguar. Alistair mainly uses a Rickenbacker with a Rat distortion pedal and a Boss digital delay pedal. He plays through a Marshall amp and a Fender amp at the same time.
Among other things, I really meant to ask more about their use of a sampler, which they didn't use live. After having heard "Wammo" for myself, I can report that it is quite an excellent album, although my favorite remains "Robot World". Thanks again to Bailter Space for letting me interview them.