Martin Bowes of ATTRITION
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Martin Bowes. Martin is the headmaster of the gothic/dark wave/industrial band, ATTRITION as well as the wearer of many, many other hats. Check out the interview and links below.
BIGSMILE: You are thirty odd years into your musical career with Attrition. What inspires you to keep pushing genre boundaries?
Martin Bowes: I don't try and push any boundaries...except maybe my own.... maybe I’m always looking for something...I think I am...I think we all are... I just look for ways of expressing myself and use music as my art, as a way of making some sense of this world... and i started life as an artist rather than a musician... so maybe I do things "wrongly"... and if that pushes musical boundaries I’m happy with that...
You embraced the concept of the mix tape compilation back when it was just fans exchanging cassettes. You are still actively compiling samplers. Can you tell us about your latest one and the benefits to artists for taking part in compilation discs?
We all used to tape songs of the radio...John Peel shows or something back in the late 70's... I remember my old mono cassette player.... somebody told us taping was killing music back then.... little did they know.... everyone made tapes and passed them round.... it really helped... later with ATTRITION I took the same idea further and got us on so many cassette compilations...and then later vinyl and cd...and now download compilations.... its where a lot of people heard of us first.
This month I carried on the tradition by releasing a 40 track sampler of bands I have worked with in my studio.... The Cage - celebrating 20 years work... producing/remixing/mastering etc.... it’s actually a free, or donation only download throughout official Bandcamp pages.... it’s got some great tracks and some rare or unreleased ones too
You are a prolific writer. But have you ever gone through a creative dry spell? If so, was there a creative mindset or muse that you revisited to get things flowing again?
I have occasionally... but i have so much work to do on other projects or promotion work that when that happens I tend to take a diversion.... leave things to settle and work themselves out in the back of my mind... then get back to it.... and if that still doesn’t work... I try and approach things obliquely... start messing round in the studio... not intending to work on a new song.... and that takes any pressure off me... so things tend to flow.... it seems to work
Attrition has a solid reputation for high quality musical output. The new CD, The Unraveller of Angels, is an amazing piece of work and is catching on worldwide. Does this feel like a new level of development in your career?
Thank you. Well I worked on The Unraveller for about 4 years...I know.... a long time.... but I wasn’t exclusively working on that... I spent time composing the film score for an independent horror movie with my wife Kerri...which was released last year as the "Invocation" soundtrack.... and I’d also opened up my studio commercially so have been a busy boy....So yes The unraveller developed slowly... and after so many releases I wanted to develop it and fine tune the production on this one.... to take it somewhere I hadn't been before...both in compositions and the sounds.... I think it kind of worked...I’m the worst judge of that...but i am happy with it.... maybe the next album will be done in a day.... we shall see
I see tour dates popping up all over the world. What are the biggest challenges to you when gearing up for a tour like this?
Oh touring is a constant challenge... and a thrill... and nightmare sometimes... the great adventure... I couldn’t have done without touring...even if sometimes, when things go horrible wrong... I feel like staying home.... I need both sides of my life.... the travel and adventure and the time at home with friends and family... oh and my studio, yes there is that...
Can you tell us who is in the touring band?
Like the recording band, it does change a lot...ATTRITION is basically me... although I have worked with regular contributors... at the moment the live lineup is me on vocals and electronics... Tylean has been singing with us... and Kerri is occasionally singing and occasionally playing keyboards.... and there are some guests in the pipeline.. I like that variety...it keeps things interesting...
In the mid to late 1990’s, when industrial and dark wave was peaking in popularity, you began adding more and more acoustic instruments to Attrition’s sound. That was really the time of the computer and the machine making its presence felt in music. Did you consciously move away from that sound at that time? Was it a reaction to what you were hearing?
Actually I have never thought of it that way before.... but you are right... that did happen... for me I probably didn’t even notice I just do my own thing when I need to do it.... I think having been almost exclusively electronic for most of the 80's...with some exceptions... I wanted to explore new avenues...and I started getting offers from people like Frank Dematteis who played viola on a few albums with us in the 90's...he was a long time fan who was performing with the Paris Opera at the time.... I knew it was a good idea to invite him over to England to record with me... so yes... it just happened, you know. There was no great design...
Your work is so cinematic in its scope. Everything sounds like the soundtrack to a movie. Your album art is visually interesting. How often do you visualize scenes as you are writing?
Well it goes back to the fact that I started as an artist rather than a musician....so I tend to "see" the music... not as a picture but more as an atmosphere... a blurring of the senses perhaps... I do tend to paint with sound if you like... I never did learn a traditional instrument... electronics will do me fine though... so yes I’d say I always visual scenes...
Attrition has done a proper soundtrack. 2008’s All Mine Enemys Whispers: The Story of Mary Ann Cotton. Would you care to share your connection to the main character?
Mary Anne Cotton was a Victorian serial killer... hanged in 1873 for murdering around 20 of her own children and a few husbands and relatives.... mostly for the insurance... my ancestor Tom McCutchan was the arresting officer...and his daughter Louisa had even worked for Mary Anne as a seamstress for a while... so she had Mary Ann's sewing box.... and it got handed done the family...until it arrived at me.. a few years ago... so I had to research this.... and i decided to look at the story from an emotional point of view and I made that album... a soundtrack without a film... although afterwards it was actually used as the soundtrack to a UK TV documentary on Mary Ann Cotton... making that album was an experience...strange at times.... but I am glad I made it...and pleased with it...it kick started my work for more film and TV
You are a studio owner and a label boss as well as a writer and performer. What do you do in your spare time? Are you still teaching music?
I used to teach music technology as I set up a course at the local college here in 1995...but I left there a couple of years ago as it had run its course...and I had always had my studio...but initially just for attrition and a few other projects... I went full time with the studio 2 years ago and I’ve been so busy ever since... producing bands from all over the world...remixing and a lot of mastering... there's a lot of file transferring going on from here these days as I mentioned earlier I’ve just put out a free sampler of the cage studios first 20 years.... oh spare time....hmmm... well I see my kids when i can and hang out with Mrs. Bowes and our friends... and if I’m left with too much time I end up buying church antiques on eBay....
Attrition always uses guest musicians to the maximum advantage to the song. There never seems to be a guest musician that is just there to have another name in the liner notes. Who is on your wish list to have as guests on your music? Whose music do you hear and say to yourself: “I’d like to contribute to that writing process”?
It’s weird I don’t really ever think like that...it’s the same when people say who do you want to perform on stage with...I love so many bands and musicians but when I bring in guests it’s a very organic thing... I’m usually just working on things and talking to people online and just ask them on the spur of the moment if they fancy getting involved...sometimes it doesn’t work...more than often it does...I get something from it...I edit and manipulate audio a lot too... so a performance may even end up in a different song on an album in the end.... i like that.... just letting things develop and grow and see where they take me...
thank you for the interview Dave!
Martin Bowes. Coventry, England. 2013
Dave Buzard, BigSmile Magazine