Illuminating accidents: Clark on Body Riddle
Images: Greg Eden
1609 words, 00:05:21
Earlier this year, Clark announced a remastered edition of his 2006 album 'Body Riddle', alongside a 2LP companion record, 05-10, that compiles new material, unreleased tracks from the period and sought-after rarities (the two releases are to be anthologised in a 'Body Double' 2CD set). Ahead of its release, WARP sat down with Chris to discuss his process around the time of the original release.
How did you start working on Body Riddle?
I can remember that period as getting really into krautrock and spending the day drumming on pillows along to Can records for six hours a day, when I think of that record that’s what I think of.
It was such a release from the previous album (Empty The Bones Of You) which was quite meticulous, more like a bonsai tree garden. It was quite delicate because of the constraints of purely electronic sounds. Whatever you do, the music ends up sounding like it has this constrained ‘in the box’ quality. But Body Riddle, because of being so influenced by old music and also Broadcast who I was pretty close to. They lived about ten minutes from me and I borrowed James Cargill’s drum kit and some mics of his, and all of the drums on that album are his old drum kit. There were some jams that me and James had, there’s one at the end of ‘Roulette Thrift Run’ which is basically just him on guitar and me plundering away on some drums, and I just pitched it up.
So those are the influences and it felt like really externalising this world of electronic music, and the introverted world of Empty The Bones Of You that was quite concise and measured, and it feels like an exposure of something that was more alive in a way, more carefree, and more embodied and visceral.
Is Body Riddle the first album you played live drums on, and what is your background in drumming?
Yeah it is, I used to play once a week in this orchestra and they had a drum kit that I could play after rehearsals for about an hour a week. I never had a drum kit because I’m not from a musical family, it wasn’t encouraged really. Orchestra was just something I did at the weekend that kept me out of trouble, it wasn’t like a posh orchestra it was just run by the school, and I just always enjoyed playing the drum kit for an hour a week. It was such a release and it was so fun. I wouldn’t say I had proper training but it’s always been the same for me: I just get what I want from any instrument and use it on record, and that’s part of the fun for me, manipulating it into a recorded artefact rather than necessarily being a session drummer with session drummer chops. It’s just about getting something out of what you’ve got to hand.
Were the drums the starting point of the record?
It’s really hard to say, I would say yeah they probably were. It’s not like a drummer record but they did inform it. To me it’s like an abstract krautrock record, I know it doesn’t sound like that but that’s the beauty of plundering from things, stealing from someone else’s idea and working on it until your own thing comes out. I always associate Body Riddle with Broadcast and Can, even though it doesn’t sound like them.
Did you get any input from the label at the time?
Steve Beckett loved it and he said “what track do you think should be the single”, and I said ‘Herzog’, and he went “when you say single, what fucking world are you in?!” Because I think it was at the time of Maximo Park and stuff, and it was still quite an abstract electronica record. I didn’t have much input into the singles really, probably for the best I think - it can confuse things, it’s a delicate balance.
The album sat around for about six months, I had this really strong collection of tracks, but it wasn’t quite complete, and I can’t remember if it was me or Warp, but ‘Night Knuckles’ was this separate track that was floating around. I wrote it before ‘Clarence Park’, I was about 18 when I wrote that, and it just really worked on the album for some reason and pulled it together.
What was Birmingham like as a place to make music, and how did you end up there in the first place?
My girlfriend at the time got offered a job there basically so we went there, and I had a few close friends there. There were lots of young musicians with egos basically, and I remember it being quite fun but also you know what people in their early 20s are like, everyone trying to make their mark!
Broadcast weren’t really in my circle of friends at the time but going to their place was sort of like a holiday from my normal social life, and I just loved it. Both Trish and James were both so full of wisdom, but I wasn’t really in with their scene of people at all, I’d just go there on my own and listen to records and have cups of tea.
How about the version of Herr Barr with Broadcast?
It’s definitely a collaborative track but I can’t remember what the context was at all, I can’t remember finishing that track and I can’t remember recording it, but we did record quite a lot of material. I think we recorded their celeste, and possibly Broadcast’s glockenspiel, at their studio, and then I did some overdubs at home.
Can you give us some background on the extra material?
It is that thing of collecting things that would otherwise be lost to the internet and wanting to put a shell around it. It’s important to do because I really love some of that material. I suppose what I love is some of those processes, there’s a modular jam called ‘Boiler The Wick’ that I just had all my gear setup and was recording like five modular tracks a day. I still miss that time because my studio is very different today and I’m slightly sick of modular because everyone’s got modular and everyone’s doing it, but this was like ten years ago and I can’t really say it’s connected to Body Riddle exactly, but it feels like a companion piece of sorts. For example that ‘Boiler The Wick’ track has a very similar energy to ‘Re-Scar Kiln’ and it feels like it could be from the same world.
The Throttle Furniture EP was 2005, and some of those tracks could have gone on Body Riddle but they would have took it in a more clubby direction, so it felt good to put a fence around them and just use those for live shows. Around the time of the Body Riddle live shows I was playing those tracks out a lot in various forms. So ‘tracks like ‘Urgent Jel Hack’ were written before Body Riddle was finished, that was me getting into Valve and Dillinja and loving that stuff as well.
There’s a few more reflective, beatless pieces, how did those come about?
They connect to my recent album on Deutsche Grammophon, and also other ambient pieces I’ve done for Warp, they’ve been peppered throughout my back catalogue. ‘Sparrow Arc Tall’ is like a cousin of ’Springtime Epigram’ or ‘Dew On The Mouth’, it’s that vibe of something captured on 4-track and rendered in a session. So they all feel connected to that family of pieces, and it’s nice giving people ten more tracks after however many years.
How do you feel about Body Riddle now?
Yeah I feel really good about it, it’s interesting hearing it again. It seems to be an album that meant a lot to some people and be a significant record, but for me it is just another album of mine.
It is a bit of a blueprint for how things have gone with my music since then, because it’s just so dynamic and all over the place and messy, but intentional, and the mess feels deliberate and the accidents feel illuminating and exciting, and that’s a spirit that I think I always want to capture in music. You know when you hear music that is less than the sum of it’s parts, and it should work because everything’s tidy and in its place but something doesn’t work? I think I always aspire to make music that’s more than the sum of it’s parts, that shouldn’t really work but it does, and that’s such a magical quality. I don’t know wether the record has that or not, but the album is certainly the result of trying to be like that, all of these diverse styles sitting alongside each other but the overall album makes it coherent.
I’ve always tried to write albums rather than tracks for streaming services. I’m always going to be an album artist whether the form’s alive or only loved by a hundred people on the planet, for me it’s still the ultimate form of expression. An album’s a perfect length of time, it’s like a short story, you can do it in a sitting and it’s not too much. With an album you can just go for a walk and have it in your headphones, and Body Riddle is that classic ‘go for a walk and listen to an album in one go’ kind of record. It’s not trying to be a club record, it’s pure listening music.