IN CONVERSATION: Loop's Robert Hampson - ‘What would you have done if the new album was shit?’

IN CONVERSATION: Loop’s Robert Hampson – ‘What would you have done if the new album was shit?’

News of Loop releasing a studio album after a mighty gap, brings with it mixed emotions. Comeback – for want of a better word – albums rarely satisfy. Sure, Loop have been around; the ‘Array 1′ EP in the mid-2010s, vinyl reissues, festivals and shows like All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Cure-curated Meltdown and a glorious night in Liverpool’s Kazimier venue – a poster was liberated from the latter and lives in a spare bedroom in my house, seven years on. Each of these remain high and close in affections.

Surprises aren’t all bad however and ‘Sonancy’, out today, praise be, threatens to be the best album yet. It’s still seeping through and bedding in, but minimalism is Sonancy’s wonder and power, the lyrical sparseness in itself feels as if Robert Hampson is handing at least  some responsibility over to us.  Passive consumption is never constructive, after all.

It’s the album we didn’t expect but desperately need, now we have it. It’s relief as well, the Loop visionary proves a cordial man, one happy to talk. He’s completed plenty of interviews in recent days by the time he gets to me but up for it anyway and most entertaining; stories and opinion pour out of him, making my job incredibly easy. Ask him anything, and off he goes.  Paris had South London-born Robert for a decade – whilst there he was part of experimental collective Groupe de Recherches Musical, but he calls Leeds his home these days. (‘I like it here. It kind of reminds me of Bristol, because of the canals.’) The only gripe is the city’s lack of art galleries; he’s been to the British Music Experience in Liverpool, where I am. (‘That was okay. I mean, there’s only so many flea bitten jackets you can look at!’ )

That’s the getting to know you chit-chat out of the way. Sonancy has been a long time coming, three decades after disbanding Loop and exploring other avenues including a temporary tenure as member of Godflesh, and of course creating electronic project Main. It’s not without significant pleasure to receive Sonancy but one has to ask, why now? Array 1 was meant to be first of a three parter he explains, but reasons  too dull to go into here prevented the project’s completion. Happily Cooking Vinyl with a workable budget arrived, expanding plans.

‘I could make the album that I really wanted to make,’ he says simply. COVID made the creative journey bumpy, of course, meaning Sonancy is in fact a year old. ‘It’s taken forever to get it done, but hopefully the result speaks for itself really.’
With pretty coloured vinyl and delays holding it up further, you’re bang on trend Robert. ‘Fuck all that, I hate all that. I mistakenly said something about being “awakened” the other day and it made me sound like I was woke…’

Album title Sonancy is based on the Latin word for ‘to make noise’. It feels worthwhile to remind Robert that our current Prime Minister has a habit of quoting the very same language. ‘That fucking guy. I hate him. I’ve said it before and I’m probably going to say again. I grew up through Thatcher , I was in my in my late teens. I saw the miner’s strikes. I saw disillusionment in this country. Taken apart by the fucking Tory bastards. No love there, I’m afraid. He can quote Latin as much as he fucking likes but it will never get him out of trouble.’

So. To create noise. Talk us through that. ‘I’ve always, always been very interested in the structure of sound and the way that it can be created. That obviously goes through all of Loop and all of the other projects that I’ve done. Nearly all of the material that I had written for the album has been sitting around for a while before we actually recorded it. I demoed it quite profusely at home. For me the title was so perfect. I’m very particular about titles, as you can probably tell. I’ve always tried to have a very descriptive nature to them all. This is the angriest record. I’ve ever made. Even though you wouldn’t necessarily know it, it’s not screamingly obvious. We’re not Fugazi, it’s not a protest record. It’s using my frustration, brewing for quite a few years. Brexit and the Tory government with David Cameron and Theresa May, the general Tory rule made me a lot more politically aware again. Like many people, I became quite ambivalent. Even now I can check myself and think we’re never going to beat these bastards. we’re never going to win this war. I was only saying yesterday to someone, I can’t believe we’re not on the streets. I can’t believe we’re not protesting to everything, obviously the Ukraine problem has taken away a lot of the heat from our beloved clown. he obviously thinks he’s gonna fucking get away with it, but I think we need to stay here and remind him that he won’t.’

When Loop last were about and had an album out, John Major was in charge.

There’s a silence, then ‘God. He doesn’t seem that bad now, looking back, does he?’

Sonancy was a word noted down ages ago for future use. The album title needed to have an energy behind it, he says. ‘It really was very apt to describe this new record. Consequently, the album has got a lot of noise in there. There are a lot of noises, many, many layers of noise far more than with other Loop records. There’s much more layers of guitars. For instance, with this one, it’s kind of like stripped back the guitar and put a lot more kind of grungy noise underneath it or you know, a lot of textual noise. So when you’ve listened to it when your ears become attuned to it, like I guess a lot of Loop records, you’ll see lots of little details that aren’t necessarily upfront, or in your face straight away.’

The songs on Sonancy are shorter than your average Loop songs.
Yep. And that was again very conscious decision. I really wanted to make a very urgent record. And I’ve always been interested in trying to make different records, don’t necessarily want to rest on my laurels, not keep making the same record or a slightly different version of the same record over and over again. And even though it’s taken 32 years, I think people can see you know that this obviously isn’t part two to A Gilded Eternity or Fade Out. It’s a completely different energy. And consequently, I stripped away all the lead guitar lines or stripped away a lot more of the layering that I would normally have used. I wanted something that was very immediate. Basically, it was it was a very, very deliberate and conscious decision.’

Robert stresses on multiple occasions how he hates labelling, how the practice is restrictive, but can’t help stressing his want to make a record with a strong post-punk energy. He gets very animated talking about the positivity of the creative aftermath following punk, alternative bands appearing on mainstream telly not unusual but seeming alien now. To encapsulate the post-punk vibe on Sonancy he stripped away a lot of things to make it more minimal, more immediate.

‘Slightly more uptempo I would say. Not as lysergic but there’s still very sort of kind of lysergic moments in there. I mean, it’s always been an amalgamation of all these different elements. But for me, I guess I’ve never been able to leave post-punk behind.’

There was a feeling of frustration from Robert after Loop ended back in 1991, his audience’s discontent with his dispensing of the guitar in the following years. Different to contemporary times, one can’t help but reflect; artists now are expected to deviate and diversify. To tread the same path is seen as a creative failure, lazy, uninspired.

With Main, he binned the guitar completely.  ‘There was a very conscious effort to abandon it. It was difficult to convey to people that this is a completely different thing. I think some people wanted me just to make Loop part 2. I’m a very difficult character in that respect. I go completely in another direction. It’s a hard thing to shake off, guitars. It’s so iconic, an iconic form and an iconic sound and obviously people get used to you utilising something in that in that respect. So, I think it’s perhaps difficult for some people to – oh, God, this sounds awful – but for some people to share your vision. I don’t mean it to sound as pretentious as that! I do apologise,’ he laughs. ‘Some people wanted to follow me along on that trail, and other people didn’t and that’s their choice. I have no problem with that. I never expected to sell those kinds of records in the amounts of Loop record sold. I wasn’t crestfallen. I’m not that arrogant.’

You say you were angry making Sonancy, did you find it cathartic?
‘It’s a tough nut to crack because at the time, I was absolutely fucking livid. It was frustrating in the sense of not being able to be in the studio altogether at the same time. Unlike some people I could mention, we were doing our best to contribute to society by following the rules. I was desperate to get this record made because it’s been hanging around for so long. To use COVID as an excuse not to do anything was not on my radar really. I was insisting that we carry on, but unfortunately, as you will know everything was changing on a you know, on the spin of a dime, dictated to by a bunch of fucking morons, who don’t know what the hell they were doing. I’m a great exponent of supporting the NHS. I’m a socialist at heart. Standing outside your front door banging a tin pot or clapping is not going to save the NHS. There was frustration making the record that went with doing everything by the book.’ The inevitable stops and starts, rebooking and cancelling train tickets to Bristol to record. ‘I mean, my problems are minuscule compared to what’s going on in Eastern Europe at the moment. I’m just trying to explain how frustrating it was to make this album, finally get a release, and then to have all the shenanigans with this vinyl shortage. I’ve got this feeling it’s fucking record’s never gonna come out. And then Putin launches missiles and we’re all done for.’
We’ll be nuked, but as long as the new  Loop comes out before then we’re golden.


I love a quote of yours, that you don’t call what you do space rock, psych, or  Krautrock. You’re Loop. That’s an incredibly liberating way of approaching what you do.

‘I don’t like being called this, that or the other. I’m just we’re just a band, a Marmite band. You either like us or you don’t. Why do we always have to attach these labels to everything I know it helps to describe something or I know it helps give someone an idea of what it is where it’s about, but at the same time, you know, we are none of those things. Really, I mean, at the end of the day Loop is Loop, I like to think we’ve certainly been at it long enough to have the chance to stand on our own.’

They certainly have. And Sonancy being so fucking great, has rescued them from any chance of becoming a heritage band, the new label (sorry Robert) for reliance on back catalogues.

What would you have done if the album was shit?’ he throws at me unexpectedly, as we’re saying our goodbyes. I’m the one asking the questions here but it’s worth pondering on.  How do we preserve positive memories if a cherished artist loses the skills? My turn to think. ‘Quietly unfollow the Facebook page, delete all emails, pretend the new record never happened and try to get on with my life,’ I manage eventually.
The Loop poster upstairs however, would stay up. That’s not going anywhere.

Sonancy is released via Cooking Vinyl.

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