Currently you’re using the modular synthesizer as your main instrument. Once Four Tet said in an interview with Groove jokingly, “everybody I know that buys modular synths stops putting records out essentially”. How do you see that?
Touring with the modular synth is hard, because it’s not repeatable. You can’t play a certain song, because you can’t get back to that state very easily. That’s why I’m combining software with the good bits of the modular. There are things that are really hard for a computer to fake. Like, how analogue circuits distort, how filters act in weird situations. Certain things are never quite as vibe-y out of a computer. But most of the other stuff, a computer is really good at. So I’ve drawn the line in between the two. Now, when I have an idea, it’s ready to play live. Whereas before, I had to record an idea and then work out how to play it live. So as I was writing the songs for the new album, I’d play live a bit and then wait for Tom and the other band members to come around and see if it works.
Stream: James Holden & The Animal Spirits – Pass Through The Fire
Was there a moment when you realised you wanted to record the album live with a band?
“Pass Through The Fire” was the only track that I wrote while we were still touring The Inheritors. When I told Tom about the Gnawa rhythm, he got really into it and played it in his pre-show warm up. At one point we were like, let’s start playing that song. And it took life on stage, literally on stage. The first time we played it was in Australia. We said, “this is a new one, let’s see how it goes.” And it worked! But it was so different from my studio version. The human timing physics guy taught me that everything one person does, affects everything for the rest of it.
What does that mean?
In a band, if I play a bit late, then you play a bit late. The tempo changes and there’s a reaction to that. If you make a record in the studio with layers and overdubs, which is the cheap and modern way, then there’s no chance for the person who plays first to listen to the other players and respond. Everybody is karaoke-ing. So playing it live, the song just took its own shape. Having Tom there, him feeling my intensity and vice versa, gave it the structure.
You went even further though and imposed a self-restricting dogma on the band and yourself. You wanted the album to be recorded live in one room together in single takes, no overdubs, no edits.
True, but it’s like with the original Dogma Manifesto, everybody who makes a Dogma film breaks the manifesto once, right? So on “Spinning Dance”, the vocals, that’s ten takes of me singing it on my own after the group recording. But apart from that, we would all gather in my studio, just going for it three times on each song maximum.