Colin Newman and Malka Spigel interview
The following extracts come from a telephone interview with Swimmers Colin Newman [CN] and Malka Spigel [MS], and Charles Snider [CS], held sometime in June 1995.
CS: What was the impetus to start your own record label, Swim?
CN: It was logical really. Having a studio... being married to a musician started it. We started acquiring equipment which eventually turned into our studio, then we had to find away to release it. Nobody else seemed that interested in doing it so we decided to do it for ourselves. It's a kind of 'self-help' thing really. You come to find a way or a level where you can somehow sustain yourself doing something you want to do without being compromised.
CS: Swim's first album was Malka's Rosh Ballata What are your thoughts now on that?
CN: Basically it was a side project of Oracle. That was how it started. Someone in Israel approached Malka about doing a record. I think the original idea was we were to go to Israel and make it in a 'traditional' way by going to a studio with musicians, etc, but we didn't find that interesting. We then proposed to make it in our own studio so we would get money to invest in equipment. Well it didn't really work in the end but we started work on it anyway.
CS: Oracle took a long time to get out.
CN: It took a long time do! It was a whole transition with Malka and I, to be able to work in a space which was our own, with equipment we knew how to work.
MS: It's not like you spend years doing something every day. You do something then you go a long time without doing anything about it. You look at it again but because such a long time has passed you change it. In that way, it did take a long time.
CN: The late eighties were an interesting period that developed with popular music—house, hip-hop—everything was new and exciting and that was something we knew we wanted to be involved in.
CS: So the changes were not only the 'what', but the 'how' as well?
CN: It has something to do with being able to do the music by ourselves. That was the big change in the industry that happened between the first half of the eighties and the second half of the eighties. More and more people could actually get their little setup together at home and make something with it that they wanted to release to the world that didn't sound like a very bad four track demo. That was the biggest step we took along the whole journey; the realization that we could make our own music in our own space. It's totally liberating.
CS: Most 'dance' music is being recorded by desktop record companies such as Swim. When is this going to run it's course? What happens as it's been around for some years now...
CN: The music evolves. I think we've seen all kinds of evolution going on with electronic music and what kind of combinations can be put together. But basically your talking about an ecology which has to find its way to the mainstream. But the concept is very good. The idea that someone can make their own thing in their own space and sell it to the world by their own means. I think the next step is people doing their own multimedia presentations and people paying for access over a modem.
CS: But hasn't the technology or lack thereof influenced the type of music being produced today?
CN: Inevitably. Sequencers are quite timing-based so you tend to move to more rhythmic based music. I don't mind people knowing I'm into computers, but at the same time I'm not a torch bearer for the information superhighway. Right now it's more of a ramble in the woods avoiding the thorn bushes I would say! (laughs)
CS: Listening to the new EP, Voice, are you tired with the 'song' format?
CN: It started in the mid-eighties, all that about "all the good songs have already been written". I don't think it's hard to write songs but the narrative aspect—I listen to music for music's sake not for what the words were about. Oracle was all about breaking down the song format. A Colin Newman record now is a different thing than a Colin Newman record seven years ago because I'm a different man. I'm every bit Oracle or Intens or on Malka's record. It's a total partnership. I've been making records all that time, they just don't happen to have 'Colin Newman' written on the cover. Voice is the first thing to have Colin Newman on it. It's a totally under publicized record, we didn't work it all. I kind of just wanted it to come out and seep. It's just a slice. For us to even define what should be on a Colin Newman record is sometimes quite hard. I'm not at all sure what I should be doing now. I have no particular direction for my personal work.
CS: As you get away from the 'narrative' aspect, does that necessarily mean no singing?
CN: That basically is a problem. How do you do that? That's why it is called Voice. There are voices on all of the tracks.
CS: The Immersion remixes are interesting. The term 'remix' means quite a different thing than it did a few years ago.
CN: People took the tracks in different ways as they had them in different formats—some sampled directly from the CD. But there remains something of Immersion in all the tracks. We were generally pleased with high standard of remixes. It was mind blowing to put out a record with this person that you think is really good and feel really proud of it. That was the way of disseminating Immersion through people just talking about it which is similar to the whole on-line situation. It's a different kind of commerce.
CS: Is there a new Malka Spigel album in the works?
MS: We just go into the studio and start to make music without deciding what it is for. After a while you just feel that it belongs somewhere. We worked around Colin's record but then we felt its more Immersion. It's hard to kind of separate it. I guess when it's Colin's record, he gives it more direction than when its mine. With mine I say I want it to go that way. But it's all done in the same way!
CS: As Colin says, you are partners on so many levels.
MS: We are very free with each other. When you are in a group it's always you hold back things. You criticize people but you never say "this is rubbish, let's do something different". We have that freedom which is great. I don't know if we are missing some kind of tension—I used to think that some is good—but I'm not sure anymore. It works the way we are.
CS: Intens—hard, Immersion—melodic...
MS: Sometimes I think we use too many names. It's all us.
CS: Do you ever tire with having a home studio?
MS: I used to laugh when I was in Minimal (Compact) to just go somewhere and not think about anything but the record. Hardly eat or sleep and work with a producer you never met and have this kind of tension—everything is either great or terrible. I miss that sometimes—to go somewhere else and just drop yourself in that kind of extreme situation. It's not practical for us. So I guess it is the best we can have with having a child and not wanting to screw him up. When you are parents you have to be practical as well.
CS: There's a resurgence over the last few years in 'pop' and Wire. Are you still proud of that?
CN: It's taken 20 years for people to make punk songs into pop songs. The market has moved to such a point that something like the really commercial things on Pink Flag could be hits. In hindsight it wasn't pop at all. Pop is a bit more crass than that.
CS: Wire were never really popular.
CN: We were not very popular in the beginning. If you look at the history of '70s rock there are documentaries and TV stuff for all those groups, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, etc... Wire were never part of that or included in that period. It is not a name that people drop. Wire were regarded as something being a bit other...
CS: ... but Wire were a bit other.
CN: For me, Wire is slightly fairly moronic. I don't mean that in any disservice. That's its sense of humor really.
CS: Wire didn't take themselves very seriously.
CN: Of course not. We didn't say "oh look, we are doing art". We really liked music. As Bruce would say: "It was done in all innocence". I think an awful lot of spurious intelligence has been described to the group. We aren't particularly intelligent anymore than anybody else. The basic understanding within the group was we knew that there was a canvas in which we could explore and it centered somewhere around punk. There was the possibility...
Originally issued with a WMO newsletter in 1995.