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Paul Kendall interview

WMO, 1996

Kevin Eden [KE] talked to Paul Kendall [PK], at Worldwide Studio, where he spoke about working with Wire and the setting up of his own label, Parallel Series.

KE: How did you start working with Mute?

PK: I was in a band called Dry Rib. I think it was a reference to something in Eliot's The Waste Land. They were a very political rock band. Then through a really old friend I got a connection with someone who was playing keyboards with Fad Gadget. At that time they were looking for some female backing vocals and then my wife went for the job, got it and so I met Frank Tovey and I subsequently met Daniel Miller. I got on well with him and gave him an LP of compositions of Dennis Smalley's which blew him away. So I think that gave me a certain amount of credibility with him. Shortly after that my mother died and left me £16,000 from her pension fund. So I bought a load of recording equipment and set it up in my front room. Through the connection with Daniel, who was also interested in buying the same equipment as I had for some of the Mute bands for demos. I did a 'B' side for Start Counting which turned out really well. Then Daniel said, "Why don't you go ahead and do the album?" So I did. The other job I had was to nanny Daniel's Synclavier. I'd have to go off to Berlin and set it up for Depeche Mode sessions and other bands. Then I remember Daniel signing Wire. I thought, "WOW!" I had to put the Synclavier in the studio when they did Snakedrill and I finally got to meet my old heroes and immediately got on with Bruce and Graham. I was quite a good drinker at the time.

KE: You already new about Wire?

PK: When I was working in a bank in central London I could see this craziness going on: Punk. But I felt too old to be part of it, even though I was probably 21-22. I was still excited by the immediacy and energy of it. The main influences then were Wire. They were always the most interesting of all that bunch. I saw them play at City Polytechnic (6th October 1978). That was the first 'punk' gig I'd ever gone to.

KE: What was the first Wire session you were actually involved in?

PK: German Shepherds. I engineered that but Gareth (Jones) did it all really.

KE: You were actively involved in IBTABA though?

PK: Yeah, that was the first one I was completely involved with. We'd gone out to this ludicrous studio in Brussels, Kitsch, which hadn't been finished. At the time it was a Spanish builders paradise. They just hadn't got the wiring done and the reason we'd gone out there was because Colin and Malka had just had Ben and were still living in Brussels. The night we got there I realised we weren't going to work the following, which was wonderful—the pressure was off—we got Colin completely and utterly pissed on champagne celebrating Ben's birth and then we had the following day to watch a studio being built in front of our eyes.

KE: The album utilised live backing tracks that they performed over?

PK: Well, one side of it was all four of them recorded live in the studio. It was a weird set up. The studio was down the end of the garden and they had this really beautiful recording area which was almost like a mediaeval court with balconies, a big wooden room where Wire set up and played. The studio hadn't ever thought anyone would want to record in this space and we saw it and said it was a wonderful space to record. We just literally fed mic cables into the room and set up a video link so we could see them from the control room. Wire were going to do a segueway of three tracks: Illuminated, Boiling Boy, and Over Theirs. Anyway, they started off and it was absolutely fantastic, they were playing brilliantly. They were halfway through the second piece and it was really hot in the control room so I went to turn the airconditioning on and the whole studio just died, the power went! I thought we'd got one and one-half brilliant tracks and I didn't want to lose that so what we decided to go from the beginning of the second track and edit them together. Fine, no problem. I then went up to the multi-track and asked for a blade, but all they could give me was a blunt Stanley knife. So we had a scout round and couldn't find a proper editing blade so I ended up doing it with a Gillette! I still can't hear the join. Then the band went in and layered on top of that. After that we left it up to John Fryer to sort it all out.

KE: From those session came the concept of The Drill album.

PK: That was well up my strata because it was a completely blank canvas, with just the concept. We just sat down and made it up as we went along. We hired loads of brass instruments and percussion and violins and everyone just picked up what they fancied and made a racket. I'd sample a bit and start structuring things and they'd react to that. I remember Robert being quite actively involved because for some of the drum sounds we used him hitting himself. His chest was a huge barrel of a bass drum which we used on one of the tracks. Bruce and Graham would then retire to the pub to write lyrics, come back and shout away.

KE: You also worked with Bruce on Insiding and Music For Fruit.

PK: I think the most successful thing we did was the animation piece for Martyn Pick: Push. We also did the Royal Ballet piece for Ashley Page; Bloodlines. I can remember going to the premiere of that in Covent Garden. It was the most ludicrous situation hearing something I'd worked on, being done by the Royal Ballet, coming out of a tiny PA. You realised that the grand gesture is the only thing that you can do. A lot of the sound was lost with the PA the size of a peanut.

KE: You also engineered the 20 minute remix of Ambitious for Stephen Petronio's Middle Sex Gorge dance.

PK: Yes, we had to go back to the CD to use as source material because the original master tape didn't arrive from Berlin. I remember when we finished it, Stephen and Michael Clark were in New York itching to get the tape as they were going into rehearsal and we phoned them to say it was finished. Michael then ran out to the local five and dime store to buy an answering machine with a record facility and we then played the track live over the phone so he could record it and so they rehearsed to this answer machine version of Ambitious. They must have been really disappointed when they got the master!

KE: You also worked on Graham's Take Care.

PK: I worked on ABC Dicks Love with Keith LeBlanc and a couple of other tracks just engineering. My input was quite minimal really. The only thing I can remember is being absolutely petrified of Keith LeBlanc. He's a formidable personality and I'd never come across anything like him. He'd be barking information at me like, "Fourth bar, fifth beat drop in straight then ready, Now!" All the time I was thinking, "What am I doing. What am I doing?" For someone who does not come from a classical engineering background it was frightening. It was really good experience. I think Graham was pretty much bemused by it too. "What's going on? This is my music!", kind of thing.

KE: At the same time the A.C.Marias album was being put together.

PK: One of my favorite records of all time. I was a bit sad that I didn't get involved in the mixing process, but I think John Fryer did an absolutely marvelous job. The pecking order of involvement, if you discount Bruce, was Fryer, me and then Gareth Jones. I did a lot of recording and experimentation with the sound and Fryer just pulled the whole thing together. He also did tall the vocal recording. He had an environment in which Angela felt comfortable working and a lot more experience with her than I did. My only real memory of the recording of it is a rhythm section done on the back of a plastic chair and I think Gareth was involved in that too.

KE: Then came Wir's The First Letter.

PK: I think that fell between two stools really. I think the real problem with The First Letter is that it was obviously going to be a sequenced record and Colin was the only one who knew how to operate the sequencer. And because of their different approaches it was a trifle unfair and Ithink there was quite a lot of frustration from Graham and Bruce that they weren't more involved. There were a lot of battles between myself and Colin, but even so there are a couple of tracks on it that I'm extremely proud of: No Cows On The Ice was one. The whole atmosphere and the way the drums sound and the way we got Graham's voice going through different effects and Bruce's guitar parts are wonderful. Tailor Made doesn't sound as good as it could. Ticking Mouth is wonderful. I suppose, in the end, I knew that Colin was looking over my shoulder so I had to do something that would keep him quiet, and at the same time make Graham and Bruce happy. I always remember talking to Daniel about it and for me Wir(e) has to be the dilemma between Dome and Colin. That's why it's so good. It was a tough record to make and it was OK for as far as we could go with it.

KE: You've started the Parallel Series label. A long time coming?

PK: Yes, it's been a bug-bear of mine for a long time. It was born out of drunken conversations with Bruce really. The initial idea was to do a label that also encompassed spoken-word, with a particular slant on truing to buy up readings of Samuel Beckett from the BBC that I remember from my youth. So we knocked this idea around and eventually pooh-poohed it. But then I spoke to Daniel about it and he seemed quite keen, because he knew I wanted to include more classical electronic music into it. We'd already recorded Orr a year to 18 months before. That was originally going to be 10 one minute tracks, with one minutes silence between each tracks, on a 10 inch vinyl with the other side blank. Then another record of longer pieces. But it sat in the cupboard and I'd dip back into it and listen to it and started to construct it more as an album. Although it was originally recorded four years ago the last bits of work were done almost at the last minute. I didn't want to tinker with it too much, although I did.

KE: How was it created?

PK: The two of them sat in the studio looking at each other. The problem is that Josh (Robert Hampson) is in complete awe of Bruce and Bruce finds that a difficult situation to be in. He's a very self effacing man. I had to push them, "Well just play something". So they would and I would extract that, sample it, loop it and get them to play something else to that. Josh would be twiddling around with his effects, Bruce would just sit there banging away. It was a bit like pulling teeth I suppose. But we got quite a lot done and I took it away and just played with it. I went through so many processes with it that I actually wondered if I should go back to the original tapes and listen to the, . it think it lost a lot of purity in the digital processing that I did. It would have been opening a can of worms really if I'd have done that.

KE: And it was all guitar?

PK: Yes, That's what excites me about it because it's a lot easier to give yourself restrictions than it is to give yourself a blank canvas because you know you have to work within certain confines. It was obvious that it had to be a guitar record and every sound had to be generated from the guitar, apart from the two voices which were recorded through guitar pick-ups. That was it. It was simple to record. Putting it together and trying to make sense of it was the time consuming part.

KE: What is the future of the Parallel Series?

PK: There's an album ready by Andrei Santanov, who's a student at the Royal College of Music. He's been the Queen Elizabeth Scholar at the RCM for the past two years running which means he gets a huge rant from De Beers. He's absolutely extraordinary. He's recorded for Sony Classical, doing Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. He's also into extended clarinet techniques; Stockhausen, Webern, etc. He's also given me a tape various electronic pieces that he'd done. Then there's a remix of Simon Fisher Turner's Schwarma, half of it by me and half by Bruce using the twin CD player. I also want to do another album with Andrei. He's already got the Stockhausen clarinet piece, which is brilliant. But we want to get clearance to record Steve Reich's Music for 16 Clarinets or whatever it's called. It's never been recorded before. There's also a piece by Berg on it and a couple of Andrei's own pieces. So with that we'll have real pukka classical clarinet album, which from a profile point of view will be extraordinary for the Parallel Series because then we'll be competing in the big world of Classical music. This in turn will help the perception of the Classical world with everything else we do on the label. They are totally different worlds, but what I've found out is that we're all using the same technology. We're also trying to put together an evenings worth of entertainment with Andrei, myself, and possibly Bruce for some time next year. I think that's it, we've got enough to jeep us going for another four releases so far. Plus a few other ideas for public events Hopefully we'll get them all done before my ears go!

Kevin Eden

Originally issued with a WMO newsletter in 1996.