‘With it (Shoegaze) coming into mainstream indie now is a little bit suspect it looks like it might be a little bit the next thing to be mined, then obviously there’s going be a backlash and then everyone’s going to be sneering at it again. Its like its cool and worthy to be a stripped down punk band but if you admit you’ve got a lot of a lot of affects pedals then you’re hiding behind it, but then I think those people don’t like their own company and just like not talking for five minutes.’ Engineers bassist/vocalist Mark Peters giving his perspective on a totally different music scene from the one his band left four years ago. With all the talk of a rise in nu-gaze and rapturously received albums from M83, Maps and Kyte, the rise in labels like the Sonic Cathedral and Northern star and the sell out return of My Bloody Valentine confirm that excelling in sonically adventurousness is in fact something that should be applauded not derided. Perhaps unfortunately the phrase took on a whole naff meaning in it’s early years applied to anyone wielding a guitar attached to a stand of affects pedals, wearing a lumberjack shirt and greasy long hair, but was Shoegaze as easy to define as the mainstream music made out? Or was there something more nuance going on at the time: ’Something that interests me that at the time it was only the press that gave it that name they gave it to a lot of the crapper bands that came out at the time the ones that were just taking on the sounds of bigger acts like My Bloody Valentine or Ride when those bands were at their peak there wasn’t really much difference between the Stone Roses, ‘Screamdaelic’ by Primal Scream and Spiritualized it was all just kind of epic, hedonistic kind of music… ‘
It shouldn’t be forgotten that way back in 2005(are you keeping up with me kids?) Engineers debut offering, a intimate, record bore its way into people’s subconsciousness followed by a series of standout shows saw them leading a the first wave of new acts that blurred the lines between dream pop, post rock and Shoegaze.
Indeed Mark doesn’t feel that ‘shoegaze’ is a dirty word anymore, indeed its been embraced (probably before its discarded again) but he thinks his band steps out of any crude boxes through force and intricacy of their work, contacting the listener on different levels: ‘I think its become an accepted genre there’s a big community of people who love that music and don’t care what the mainstream press say about it, or what trendy bands want to do. I’m not going to be so naive to think they we won’t be pigeon holed because I know that we already are but I think there’s a lot more to us. I think if you actually listen to us opposed to just skimming through it. ‘
He’s right to be confident, returning with their startlingly lush, swirling, elegiac new long player ‘Three Fact Fader’ its something of a labour of love spanning writing, recording and production sessions over parts of the past four years, there was a danger that the record that could never seen the light of day, dusting down tracks that started life not long after they finished the debut offering: ‘We started writing this album in 2005, since the first one came out, we finished recording it in 2007. But our record company (Echo part of chrysalis) just stopped releasing records in the traditional way. We’d had quite a long intensive period of writing and recording, so opposed to sitting around waiting we thought we’d take a break. A couple of labels approached us but we didn’t think it was moving on in the right way so we thought we’d wait until the right label to come along.’
In the intervening period the band(full line up Simon Phipps, Mark Peters, Dan MacBean, Andrew Sweeney)worked on different musical projects including the release of a cover of a Tim Buckley classic ‘”Song to the Siren” for the 2005 tribute album Dream Brother: The Songs of Tim and Jeff Buckley.’ while Mark has worked with German electronic genius Ulrich Schnauss producing a single by Daniel Land and the Modern Painters. The final key that finally made it possible for the album to finally come blinking into the light of day, was driven organically by the interest in the recordings from the fans ‘We had a remix done by DJ Sasha that prompted a bit of interest on the myspace so we put up a few songs and that prompted we just got loads of really positive responses from it people asking where they could get it. Then this label (Kskope) approached us and they weren’t even aware that there was another album they were just interested in us as a band because they loved the first album, and what we were doing.’
In the gap Engineers had grown as people, musicians and producers, learning on different projects and bringing a different slant to the recordings that had been lying dormant, bringing new ideas to the table and jamming them out. Working with renowned producer Ken Thomas (M83, Maps, Sigur Ros ect) sounds more like collaborative processesHe’s more of a counsellor than anything else; he’s not really a nob twiddler although he can do that. He just brought an impartial aspect to it, more of a philosophical approach. He did the M83, and the Maps album after he did our album he didn’t even know what shoe gaze was. We just wanted to make a great album and that was his opening gambit. We properly recording in 2006 we were touring, we started off at a place where Ken did his apprenticeship here in Surrey where Meat is murder was recorded, we were the last band to record there actually. Then we went to Rockfield in North Wales.’
Perhaps surprisingly to some there are propulsive Krautrock elements their gorgeous heart bursting swirls of new single and opening track ‘Clean Coloured Wine’ both familiar and disarming yet sounding alarming fresh and modern is in fact it takes a sample from Harmonia’s Watussi, while the title track and ‘Crawl from the Wreckage’ also contain a Krautrock influence ‘We were just listening to a lot of Neu!, Harmonia and Can was a big influence on the album just in terms of an artistic idea of music, opposed to just write a song. ‘ There are more up to date flourishes too the bleeping wide screen electronic rushes of ‘What Pushed Us Together’ of ‘Emergency Room’ influenced by the likes of Panda Bear’s ‘Person Pitch’ and The Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’, I wondered whether the surrounds had affected the sound of each track ‘Most of it was recorded in this lockup in a industrial estate when you’re in a big studio you’re more tempted you’ve got the vibe a bit more but I wouldn’t have liked to record the whole thing there coz I think you’re not truly yourself in a big studio because you can do it whichever what you want it, why would you want to lose your personalities?’
‘Three Person Pitch’ is a personal record: cascading cautionary ‘Song for Andy’ or the grand string led psychedelic ‘The Fear Has gone’ with its haunting, looping vox, or the so-cavernous-you-feel-like-you-could-step-into-their-world Nick Mcabe-esque shimmering guitars and heartbreaking almost Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ sighing of ‘Brighter As We Fall’ bringing back you down to earth with a lump in your throat. These are just a few moments on this long player that ring with a wistfulness, but Mark says they’re careful not to call into a trap that becomes syrupy and commercialised it’s a fine line to tread but Engineers navigate it with ethereal majesty: ‘Anything that’s got a slick manufactured sound loses the personal touch. But there’s also this horrible thing where its a pared down sound, that’s intentionally emotional, that’s seen by some as almost a fast ticket to being worthy and real and that gets used for a car advert. There’s so many people like that you meet when you’re out, they might be 35 but they’re pretending to be teenage girls.’
Carefully and deliberately avoiding the commercial cynicism of mainstream ‘elevator acts’ that doesn’t pierce the heart, another soundtrack to a sales pitch. Engineers create finely tuned sonic patterns attempting to reflect their own voices and hopefully moving the listener with their music, taking them to places, rushes of misty melancholia and epic epiphanies helping them through tough times redolent of Spiritualized and Chapterhouse. It’s an aim that apparently seeps through both the recording and writing processes ‘it’s quite personal from the point of view of lyrics and vocals musically we start off trying to tap into an otherworldly vibe and the lyrics always take it back to a personal experience whether that’s something going on in our lives at the time, or seen in the news or read in a book but its always best to have something to relate to because it can just be vague. We do sometimes approach it as instrumental but we do bring the lyrics in as the focus of what we build the music around, an intimacy, it acts as though one person can have enormous ideas but then at the end of the day they’re just one person and a vocal can portray that, but then music can portray that your imagination is endless. The music can take you to places, a place you remember someone who’s gone, there’s a kind of elegy about it I think that’s how we are as people really. But I think its important, that the material that will come next will have more of a forward of approach about it…’
But I wondered what Mark was listening to right now? ‘The last thing I listened to ‘Lux supreme’ by John Coltrane that’s one of my favourite albums, whatever’s lying around I’m surrounded by CDs or on Ipod Shuffle. I really got into Deerhunter last year; I’m waiting for them to do their brilliant album.’ But what newer acts was he enjoying? ‘A band I really love are this act from Baltimore called Beach house. Although I really love the Animal Collective stuff, but I really love the Panda Bear one that became before it. Someone said the rest of them heard that album and got that I think its really interesting that they got a hip hop producer in they totally not only went into Panda Bear territory but they also took that a step on as well. Aside from the experimental side to it I think they’re just great songs…’ Perhaps burned by experience, Mark’s suspicious of much of the music being pushed by larger label, rightly pointing out the cynical commercialism at the heart of decisions that sees huge big label marketing machines back the likes of Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots, looking hopefully to a future where most bands and music is driven by artistic, personal forces rather than commercial ones: ‘We’re at the end of where big labels dictate the trends now. A lot of the big labels have all got a young, pretty, 80s electro girl at the moment to me that should have been three years ago, really. It’s weird that these so called partially indie acts are being pushed so hard because Girls aloud did it last year. Like anything with big labels its not necessarily what they think is amazing it just kind of ticks the boxes, its just kind of the lowest common denominator of indie oh that’ll be OK because we can relate it to that, is it actually that special? No.’
Yet you really get the sense of redemption in Mark’s voice like they had their one crack in 2005, but this time its about them and for them and their fans and nobody else: ‘Before we had a break we did two gigs and one of them was at the sonic cathedral and it was definitely the best gig we’d played in four years because we had nobody telling us what to play and then people on our message boards saying it was the best gig they’d ever been too and it was just like ‘shit why didn’t we just listen to our own’ you know. I think its just growing up really; I just think you should take your own opinion as the one to listen too. ‘
With such a long gap there’s surely a tour to follow up their recent Sonic Cathedral date? He reveals they will be joined on keyboard by Ulrich Schnauss and a female member for their next live dates: ‘I think the first album was kind of a staying in late at night album dare I say chillout. We wrote the songs for this album with a view to having something more exciting for us to play live. There’s a strong possibility that we’re going to support this band Porcupine tree in October, so that’s going be good, bigger gigs are better for us because we tend to need a bigger sound system to get the music across in the best way. And going to different places especially abroad is more inspiring than anything else, it just writes songs for us those kinds of experiences.’ It will be good to watch these returning Sonic Engineers forge new ground.