Friday 5 June 2020

Elektrisch Nonne - Interview

Elektrisch Nonne is the collaborative project of Ist Ist front man Adam Houghton and producer Michael Whalley. Out of the frustration of lockdown they've created an album called Winter - we caught up with Adam for a chat about the recording process, his myriad of other creative projects and where the lines get drawn between band and other projects.

Winter is an album that's been written and recorded in isolation with Ist Ist's producer Michael Whalley. Where did the idea come to collaborate - and was the intention to release an album from the start?

Myself and Whalley frequently chat about music gear and whatever on WhatsApp. A conversation with Whalley normally costs me a lot of money because he knows a lot about the top end gear and convincies me to buy microphones, pre amps, DI Boxes (the list goes on).

I very much enjoy messing with synthesisers and I've always been in to Industrial Music like Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, SPK, Whitehouse etc. I think this sort of material is a acquired taste really but certainly something I like and enjoy making. 

I have done a lot of experimental material over the years under different aliases my current one being Mirrorhouse (Bandcamp) that's more of an ambient/soundtrack type project (it's all on streaming platforms) and I just fancied using some of the more aggressive ideas I've had in to a few songs that I knew for sure wouldn't work with Ist Ist. 

I sent some of my bits and pieces to Whalley mainly just so we could talk about the sound the gear was making and how good/bad it was. Whalley has a place with his mixing setup that is where we did all the Architecture mixing that he lovingly refers to as 'the bunker' and he has a drum kit setup in there. He sent me some drum tracks over some of the noises I'd sent him and it started from there. It was just a fuck about really until we were about 6/7 tracks in and I said we should finish something. This is mainly due to lockdown, I don't think either of us would have the time if not.

How did you decide upon the name Elektrisch Nonne? 

Oh that's me and my ridiculous obsession with Germany and German words. It translates as Electric Nun, I thought it sounded a little witchy maybe even a bit sexy I don't know. Whalley never questioned it

How did the creative process and recording of the album work - was it one of you taking the lead and the other taking the original idea and adding their elements to it?

The creative process was Dropbox really, sending files back and forth until there was meat on the bones. Then Whalley would do his magic on the final stems. More often than not my bits would be done early in the morning before I started work at home, we'd then talk about it over WhatsApp all day until Whalley could be relieved of child care duties and visit his bunker and stay there until the early hours doing his bit. I think it was quite funny because it was such a different process than either of us have ever followed. It was like someone giving you a lump of clay and saying 'make something good with that' but not telling you what I want.

What kit did you use to record it?

Oh god, everything. I recently bought one of Martin Hannett's old Strawberry Studios synths called 'The Wasp.' It's brilliant and that was my entry in to this project really. Synth-wise I think I used SH101, Prophet, MS20, and a Moog Sub37 mainly. Then modular gear, soft synths, Arturia stuff. there's acoustic drums, guitars, bass, field recordings of spoons and trains etc. Lots of stuff.

The vocals sit under the music across most of the album and are often difficult to decipher - was that intentional and if so why did you adopt that approach?

Yes, I wasn't going to even do vocals originally but Whalley absolutely stands against instrumental anything. He said I had to, he was right I think it works. A lot of the vocals are snippets of lengthy poems I have written in the last few years. One of the tracks actually features my wife reading a Robert Burton poem, but I made her sound like a robot.

There's elements of some of Ist Ist's unreleased early material in some of these tracks.  Does this project feel like it's an outlet for ideas that you love but wouldn't necessarily work in the band environment?

You might have to help me with that one, I'm not sure which bits you mean but I'll accept as your probably correct. I'm always thinking about and writing Ist Ist music. I have an extensive archive of lyrics and ideas that I'm always adding to and I tend to just cherry pick from these. Ist Ist is and will always be my first and foremost but I almost have too much material in my head for us to use (most of it is shit anyway). 

I enjoy finishing ideas, I think as a creative person the worst thing you can do is not finish an idea, sometimes you just have to see it through. Some of it would work in a band environment maybe but it includes heavily processed sounds with a lot of different parts, I think it would be a total fucking nightmare.

How did you distinguish between something that might work with the band and this project - and did the creation process give you any ideas that you'll take back to the band?

Quite simply I didn't think about it really. Yes, ideas make ideas don't they? Seeds were probably planted. 

You've also talked to us about a solo record and hopefully Ist Ist will be able to tour Architecture soon and Whalley has a single coming out soon through his Double You project, so you both have plenty going on - are you planning to work together on Elektrisch Nonne going forward or is this a one-off?

I don't think the solo things going to happen because I've started stealing bits for Ist Ist and the lads like a few and want them. Hopefully we'll be on tour this year, I bloody hope so because I really need to get back on the horse. Whalley is hopefully going to be very very busy with us later this year (I couldn't possibly divulge why) So probably not but maybe, depends what happens with the current virus/lockdown situation.

If you had to describe the album to someone who'd never heard it before - where would you start?

I think it sounds like a futuristic bad dream. If people ask I'll just say it sounds like Joy Division.

Elektrisch Nonne's album Winter is available on Bandcamp.

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