BARKING UP THE RED TREE Wire’s Robert Grey

 

The drumming great spills
the beans on the theory behind and the making of the forthcoming Wire album,
along with sundry flight plans.

 

BY WILSON
NEATE

 

January 2011 sees the release of
Wire’s Red Barked Tree, the second
album by the pared-down lineup of Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey
(and the follow-up to 2008’s Object 47).
The band’s capacity for repeated reinvention – not so much a matter of choice
as a hardwired aesthetic imperative – has always made the arrival of each new
album an especially compelling event. In recent Wire history, for instance, the
transition from Send‘s decidedly claustrophonic assaultiveness to the
more expansive, song-based Object 47 was a textbook case of the band’s commitment to reimagining its sound from one
creative phase to the next. (For our review of Send Ultimate, an expanded edition of Send, go here.)

 

Rather than corral the band’s
usual chatty spokesmen for some insight into their latest work, BLURT sought
the seldom-heard opinion of Robert Grey, Wire’s quiet man. What follows is an
appropriately succinct chat with one of drumming’s great minimalists about the
making of Red Barked Tree.

 

***

 

BLURT: You’ve just
finished work on the new Wire record. Should we expect something different
after Object 47?

 

ROBERT GREY: The
idea was to draw on the period after Object
47,
the past few years, when we started playing live again and doing a lot
more performances: we wanted to try and establish the songs for the new album
with the three of us – Colin, Graham and I – actually playing together. In a
way, I suppose that sounds like an obvious process, but the idea of the three
of us playing live together and putting songs together in the studio was a huge
step from when we’d been making Object 47.

 

So did you feel more
directly involved this time around?

 

Well, as we’ve become more able to build the songs through
playing, one of the results has been a more equal share of input. For the
album, Colin worked everything out on acoustic guitar first, and then we went
to Resident Studios in London and put our additions in at the time we were
recording it. As a result, I think the playing on the new album has a dynamic
feeling to it, rather than being overly considered and created in Pro Tools.
It’s really getting away from doing things like that, from things being
processed by computer; it has a much more human feeling to it.

 

In a sense, it sounds
like the band is returning to an older model of making records.

 

Yes, it’s how we used to do things a long time ago, and
that’s quite nice. I’ve always been much more interested in playing than
programming, so I’m very happy with working that way. Also, the live
performances strengthen what Wire can do. It makes it all worthwhile, and it
leads us into the next era of new songs and a different album.

 

In the past you’ve
been wary of the overuse of technology.

 

I think you can be over-reliant on the power of the studio;
your musicianship has to be key to making it work. I’m completely in favour of
that. I like the human dimension in the studio – using your hands, playing in
real time – and using that as the basis for live performance, so that the
studio recording and the eventual live playing are much closer together. That
certainly wasn’t the case with Object 47.

 

Did you find the
process for Object 47 slightly
restrictive, then?

 

There were some songs from Object 47 that we couldn’t play because they were constructed
mainly using Pro Tools. I thought we could do live versions of some of those
things, but I didn’t get a lot of agreement from the others. I don’t think they
felt we could do the songs justice: if it hasn’t originated as a live piece,
then maybe it’s asking a lot to reinterpret it from computer to human.

 

The album comes out
in January, and you have some shows lined up to coincide with that.

 

Yes, we’ve taken a break from live work for rather a long
time now, and I’ve been busy with my farming activities. We’ll be paying for it
next year, though, starting in January. We’ll be going to Australia and also
New Zealand. Australia’s too far! It was built in the wrong place [laughs]. If Australia was nearer, it would
be all right, but a 22-hour flight is too much. If you want to experience jet
lag, that’s a good way to do it. Obviously, it’s worth going, but it’s just a
bit of a test of endurance. It’s also a shame when you go that far because it
always seems a bit difficult to combine touring and actually seeing the places
you visit.

 

(Red Barked Tree is released physically on January 10, 2011.
It will be available digitally from December 20th, 2010 – consult the group’s
official website for details on this, tour info, the group’s recently-launched
live bootleg series, and more.

 

[Photo Credit: Fergus Kelly]

 

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