Spurious Transients main man Gavin Lloyd Wilson essentially goes it alone with new album, the fascinatingly-titled, The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle. It’s the first full album from Spurious Transients since 2014’s Portraits Of A Landscape. We caught up with Gavin to find out more.
A mashup of post-krautrock, chill-out, electronica, with smatterings of trip hop and dub.
First up, tell us a bit about yourselves - who are Spurious Transients, and what were you doing before making music together?
Spurious Transients has been going for a LONG time on an off-and-on basis. I hope this isn’t a cop out, but for the main part Spurious Transients is me, Gavin Lloyd Wilson, on my lonesome. It has in the past functioned as a band, we’ve played gigs with up to seven people in the line-up. Different people get involved at different times depending on the current project. However, the current album is essentially a solo affair with me as the only person involved in its making.
But if you want to go to the origins, I’ll betray my age by telling you that back in the mid 1980s the idea for forming Spurious Transients was initially kicked around between me and a friend Simon when we were working together as computer programmers. (Truth be told, I was a lamentable programmer and was soon sidelined by my boss into the area of writing software manuals because no-one else in the computer department could spell).
I played guitar (badly) and fooled around with cheap Casio keyboards, recording them all via guitar effects pedals into a Fostex X15 four-track cassette recorder. Simon had bought an MPC-1 analogue drum machine he’d seen advertised at a bargain price on the back of Electronics & Music Maker. I believe it was discontinued stock that the manufacturer was trying to get rid of. It had eight octagonal pads that allowed it to be played with standard drumsticks. The problem was that it didn’t function as it should, and I recall Simon tinkering around within its innards on his desk at work. He soon became disillusioned and I took the Spurious Transients moniker and applied it to my solo low-fi sonic endeavours.
Who did you take inspiration from?
At the time I would have been into a lot of the post-punk bands, and was very into the then current electronic music scene with bands like The Human League (I liked their earlier stuff the best, I mean they had one guy who didn’t even appear on the records, he was a slide projectionist at live shows - how radical was that?), Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Blancmange, etc. I was already a huge Kraftwerk fan, I remember paying just £2 to see them during the Computer World tour. I was really into Bauhaus too, although I found I much preferred the more experimental outings of Tones On Tail and the psychedelically inclined Love & Rockets.
A friend Paul, who I also worked with and had made several “demo” tapes with, introduced me to a lot of bands I hadn’t heard before and many names I have since forgotten: prog rock bands, jazz-inspired things, avant garde stuff and albums by BBC Radiophonic Workshop, White Noise, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, etc. He played me Gong for the first time ever: Angel’s Egg, which made me think “Where has this music been my whole life?” I went out straight away and bought the first album in the Radio Gnome Invisible series, Flying Teapot.
Why the name ‘Spurious Transients’, what do you stand for?
That was Simon’s malfunctioning drum machine again, triggering sounds when you didn’t want it to. Literally spurious transients. I liked that “random bursts of noise” definition as it gave carte blanche to any weird sonic experiments. Another definition would be Spurious Transients as being the various different people coming and going; those involved in the project at different times in its existence.
How would you describe your musical style?
This is something I am constantly re-evaluating. A few years ago I would have said jazzy psychedelia but things evolve and now I think it is more of a mashup of post-krautrock, chill-out, electronica, with smatterings of trip hop and dub. I never consciously try to make music in any distinct style or to fit any particular pigeon-hole; first and foremost I make music that I would like to listen to myself. Then I just hope that others will like it too.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would you love to work with?
I did once help Captain Sensible who was writing a song for The Damned’s So Who’s Paranoid album. I remember we were looking at rhyming dictionaries online, trying to find the right words to fit. I think that maybe one single word that I suggested may have made it onto the finished track.
Anyway, to properly answer the question, I feel I ought to name a singer, as very often I will make instrumental pieces simply because I am not a singer myself. Someone like Dieter Meier from Yello, perhaps. I really love his “Out Of Chaos” solo album from a few years ago, and that deep Leonard Cohen-like vocal style of his is quite wonderful. He’s a fascinating guy with fingers in a lot of pies.
And - not a vocalist - but to work with Daniel Ash (Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Love & Rockets) would be really something because not only have I always admired his work, but I feel a kindred spirit there with his musical approach echoing my own (or vice versa). The off-the-wall way he plays guitar for instance; he developed a sound that was totally his own. Like him I am a big fan of using things like the EBow, a sustain device allowing the guitar to sound otherworldly or like a synthesiser or a flute or something, and also techniques like bowing the strings with a drumstick (similar to the glissando guitar of Gong’s Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage), or using fuzz bass as a lead instrument.
Tell us about your album The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle. That’s quite a title! What’s it about?
The title came about from a conversation I was having one day with my parents. I do not remember how it came about or what we were talking about, but my Dad somehow came out with “Nocturnal Mock Turtle” and I made a mental note of it for perhaps a song title or a lyric or something. “Internal Inferno” was my own addition as I wanted a grander-sounding title.
I envisaged it as describing the thought processes of this bizarre nocturnal mock turtle, who I imagined to be a solitary creature, possibly on some long mission where it would have a lot of time to let its mind wander, lots of thoughts whizzing around its brain. Each song on the album would represent one of the things that the turtle had been thinking or dreaming about.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
The album was composed and recorded in my little home studio in a cottage in Pembrokeshire, Wales, during an intense period of creativity between October 2019 and February 2020.
Funnily enough for someone who started out as a computer programmer, was later a mathematical typesetter, and has worked with computers for many years, when it comes to music production I was always something of a Luddite. Obviously I didn’t shun machines entirely but would prefer to record on a standalone recorder with similar functionality to that of the 4-track cassette machine I used in the 1980s, rather than record onto a computer using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). I didn’t like DAWs. I had a bad experience about 15 years ago with CuBase Lite: following a crash I couldn’t get the program to reinstall properly, then forgot my password and lost all access to it as well as songs I had been working on.
Using a standalone TASCAM 32-track digital recorder I wasn’t quite getting the results I wanted. Some of the material I produced was good but it wasn’t what I was hearing in my head. And so I took the plunge and downloaded and started to teach myself to use Ableton Live 10, and it really was a revelation. The album is made up of tracks that I produced during this learning process. And of course, I’m still learning. There is so much more that Ableton can do. I’ve only just scratched the surface.
For instance, Ableton Live is said to be good for playing in a live performance situation - hence the name - but I have barely glanced at that side of doing things yet. I expect I will do so at some stage. The last couple of times I played gigs as Spurious Transients I used a program called Soundplant which assigns different samples and loops to the laptop’s keyboard. When I think back to my last stage set-up it now seems like a right Heath Robinson style affair.
How does The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle represent you?
On one track in particular it represents my political stance. More generally it represents my sense of humour, my thought processes, and probably more than anything it should illustrate my fondness for the surreal.
Not everyone gets it, but I’ve always had a sense of the surreal. Looking at things from an unexpected angle. It’s like “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp; is it art or is it just a urinal laid down on its back?
I was born in the sixties so I was brought up on Monty Python. Later, while people like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer were often very silly, they had their moments; I especially liked their series Catterick. Then there was The Mighty Boosh. All of these probably had their genesis in the theatre of the absurd, the plays of N.F. Simpson. One Way Pendulum begins with one character trying to teach a group of Speak Your Weight machines to sing.
Can you talk us through each track?
‘How To Spot A Despot’ was recorded the day after the UK general election last December and was my reaction to this and the disturbing rise worldwide of all these right wing leaders: Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro… The dialogue I sampled in this piece is from an American public information film made in 1946 but it is still perfectly relevant now 74 years later. It makes you want to scream, have we learnt nothing? Did the events that lead to World War II mean nothing? In a way “How To Spot A Despot” is the sound of me screaming.
After that, it’s time for a deep breath of fresh air and so ‘Airborne’ is a motorik piece inspired by Michael Rother, Neu!, Can, etc. Motorik, as the name would suggest, seems to imply driving and so we think of cars, of traffic on the autobahn. With “Airborne” I wanted to take the traffic into the sky. The lead guitar on this I played on a Fender Bass VI.
‘Time For A Break With Coffee And Cake’ is admittedly a novelty track in which about 90% of the instrumentation is derived from samples I had recorded in our kitchen here at home in Wales. All sorts of utensils were used: pots and pans, baking trays, a cheese grater, cutlery, bottles, a boiling kettle and the beep of the microwave. Everything including the kitchen sink!
‘Geranium’ is maybe not so obvious as ‘Airborne’ as being another krautrock-inspired piece with a motorik beat. Extensive use of kalimba (otherwise known as an mbira, a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe, although mine was built from a kit I bought on eBay), a set of chime bars, and electric mandocello. I like to play mandocello in preference to the guitar as I am still getting accustomed to the tuning which encourages me to try different ideas, different shapes, and not just automatically play the same licks and riffs that I would do on the guitar.
The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle represents my sense of humour, my thought processes, and probably more than anything it should illustrate my fondness for the surreal.
‘Taking The Mickey’ is a bonus track on the CD version of the album only. The whole thing is built around a highly manipulated sound sample that originated in an old cartoon. I love watching those old black and white cartoons on YouTube, although some of them are cringe-inducing through being very politically incorrect. Some of the old Felix the Cat cartoons have had me howling out loud with laughter. Very inventive with lots of surreal gags.
‘Transporter Beams And Radiant Beings’ is probably as dancey as Spurious Transients has ever got, and is unapologetically EDM/dubstep, the twist being that most of the sounds come from bass saxophone and clarinet samples and that includes all the drums and percussion.
‘Successful Party Tips’ came about after I’d been trawling through a whole pile of old public domain films looking for copyright-free footage I could recycle in music videos. As well as the images, I found plenty of dialogue that was just crying out to be sampled. I noticed that the vocal delivery of the narration on 1950s-era public information films is always the same, irrespective of the gravity of the situation; whether they are advising what to do when the bomb drops or how kids should behave at a party. On another level, it probably also represents my own feeling of awkwardness at social gatherings such as parties.
‘Resplendent Sublimity: in 1841 the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror ventured further south than any previous Antarctic expedition, whereupon Sullivan the blacksmith on the Erebus was moved to write that “no imaginative Power can convey an adequate idea of the Resplendent Sublimity of the Antarctic Ice Wall.” This was actually the first piece I started working on with Ableton Live 10 and started out as a classical piece. But then I added the beats. I had it firmly in my mind that I wanted to create a piece that sounded like part of a soundtrack, then adding in the guitar in the latter part of the track made it feel like it could be the theme of a Nordic Noir crime drama.
As the title suggests, ‘Kalimba Chant’ again features the kalimba. And chanting. It also uses a percussion instrument I built myself with six steel plates of varying thicknesses suspended over magnetic electric guitar pickups and the whole thing housed in a tea tray. I call it an electric metallophone but perhaps gamelan would be a more accurate name. I borrowed the idea from experimental musical instrument builder Yuri Landman, who has famously built weird stringed instruments for the likes of Sonic Youth. ‘Kalimba Chant’ is all about movement, a procession of people engaged in a celebratory march or a joyful demonstration,all drumming and chanting. It’s about ending the album on a positive note, when the situation referred to in the opening track is quite bleak.
What are your hopes for The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle?
I’d love for the demand for the physical edition to be high enough to warrant me having to order another batch of CDs from the manufacturer! Personally I like my music on physical media, CDs or preferably vinyl, but unfortunately a lot of people these days prefer music from digital platforms such as Spotify. Nocturnal Mock Turtle is available on Spotify and all the major platforms now, but for the artist it is a right pain in the arse to get onto playlists and get the music heard. It seems that to be a musician these days, you have to play this game in which you need to choreograph all your social media carefully to make even a small impact. I just want to make music. I’m not interested in marketing; that’s using time I could be creating something
I just want to find a way through this maze, make some kind of a splash with the album. I’d like to gain a few new followers and get the music out there to people, because I have played gigs and I know that people do like the music. They come up to me and tell me so! At the psychedelic festival that we played last year, we played our set and I went outside to the car to grab a box of lathe cut vinyl singles that we had had produced and I was surrounded by people wanting to buy a copy. I was literally selling them on the street before I had the chance to get back inside the venue.
I feel also that I’m trying to lay some foundations with this album, because there is more to come and I think that it’s stuff that would appeal to a wider group of people than are getting to hear what I’m doing at the moment.
What are your other plans for what’s fast becoming a crazy year?
It has indeed been a crazy year. I’ve commented many times, as have others, that it’s been like something out of a dystopian science fiction story, what with the COVID 19 pandemic and the rise of the far right.
One result of being in isolation was that I was able to spend a lot of time being creative and was able to get a lot of music recorded. I already have another album lined up, hopefully for release in early 2021. “Something Strange Came Out Of The Skies” will be a concept album telling the allegedly true story of UFO and alien encounters during the “Welsh Triangle” incidents of 1977. Recorded in lockdown during the Coronavirus COVID19 pandemic, it is a collaborative work with 15 people involved in its making, everyone working remotely from their respective homes whilst in isolation. It is a soundtrack documentary with spoken word content as well as having a few tracks with more traditional vocals, and musically it has elements of Indian music, dub reggae, hip hop and ambient soundtrack.
Before the new album is released, Spurious Transients’ version of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn (an extract rather than the full 22 minutes!) will - all going to plan - be made available on a Various Artists double LP of krautrock cover versions from psychedelic label Fruits De Mer Records. I actually recorded this in November 2019 in the middle of the Nocturnal Mock Turtle sessions and am itching to get it out there as I think there’s a lot of potential interest in this one.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourselves one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
I’d go back to the 1980s and tell the 18 year old me to learn some music basic theory, it makes things easier. Also with the guitar and bass, learn where all the different notes lie on the fingerboard. It’s not difficult, you know the note value of each string and you know the alphabet, you just need to remember which two notes aren’t followed by a sharp. And I’d add, when the time comes, don’t be scared of using the computer to make music.
Listen to The Internal Inferno Of The Nocturnal Mock Turtle on Bandcamp below. For the latest, go to the Spurious Transients Facebook page.