Interview 1997 - by Tom Coppens
TC Like many other EM-musicians you started your career by releasing some cassettes on a small label. What were your expectations at the time and how did you get into the EM-business ?
MS I started writing and recording E/M back in 1977 using very basic equipment. At that time a guy called Martin Reed was running an excellent magazine called Mirage, he asked if he could release my music on his cassette label. The truth is that I had no real expectations at that time-I just did it for love(still do). After a few cassette releases a guy called Tormod Opedal from Norway called me and asked if he could release some of my new material as the first vinyl product on Uniton Records. That album was called Thoughts of War.
TC Soon afterwards, you got your real breakthrough when Assassin was an enourmous success at the UK Electronica. How did you react to that ?
MS "Success" in E/M is always relative, it is a very small and generally unnoticed area of music. Yes,the audience at UKE 83 did like Assassin, but you must remember that there were only about 500 people there. It was also my first ever live Performance which made it very exciting for me.
TC Your first LP-album Thoughts Of War seems to be somewhat forgotten if you look at the rereleases of your other albums. Was this deliberate ?
MS There are 2 reasons for this....l. I don't believe that it would transfer well to CD, it was the last album I did on my old basic equipment and...2. I don't know where the master tapes are!!
TC You signed a contract with Jive Electro in the 80's, which made you one of the few electronic musicians who could earn a living through their music. Is this something you alwavs wanted to do ? How do you feel about all the other projects you have done: film music, your pop-career with Samantha Fox, the library albums...Is there any of these projects you prefer(ed) or are/were they more or less side-projects ?
MS I have been earning a living from music full time for 13 years now, I'm getting paid to do what I would probably do for nothing anyway. I feel very, very lucky to do this--very few people get the chance to spend all their time doing what they love. The Samantha Fox stuff was great fun (and very difficult!) but writing pop songs is a lot harder than writing EM, there is much more discipline involved. EM is one of the easiest forms of music to create. I did 3 soundtracks, I'd like to do more in the future....again, very hard work. I've haven't done a library album for about 5 years now, maybe I should. I don't consider any of these things as side-projects. Whatever I am working on is the most important thing at that time.
TC Both stylistically and technically there is a giant leap between Assassin and Legion, was it a conscious decision on your part to begin composing the rhythmical/heavy/powerful music you quickly became known for ?
MS No, basically it came down to equipment availability. I recorded Assassin at home on 8-track with 3 synthesisers and a few FX. With Legion I had the use of one of the best recording studios in London (Battery Studios), I also had access to virtually any kind of instrument I wanted to use, thats why there was so much Fairlight on the album (don't forget, sampling was still a fairly new thing back in 84/85,at that time the Fairlight was the best). As a result Legion became a much richer/heavier album than Assassin, there were many more layers of music, a wider variety of textures. But there was no deliberate decision to do this-it just came about naturally.
TC The Franke Factor ;-). While with Jive, Christopher Franke co-wrote Icon from the album Legion, later when you were looking to release Nocturne, you ended up on Sonic Images, Christopher's label. What's the connection between Chris and yourself ?
MS Initially, the contact came about because both T/Dream and myself had signed up to Jive Electro at about the same time, and, as you say, we worked together on a track for the Legion album. After Christoph left T/D I lost contact with him until he phoned me in 94 saying he had heard the planned Nocturne album (Ash Prema sent him a copy) and that he would like to release it on the Sonic Images label
TC Recent releases have been on Champagne Lake productions (Ash's label), do you plan to continue releasing your albums on this label, or are you still signed to Sonic Images for the general releases of your music ?
MS My own live album (Collide)was released on C/Lake because Sonic Images did not want to release a live album. The first Redshift album is a BAND project and therefore has nothing to do with Sonic Images. If I release another Mark Shreeve studio album (like Nocturne) then Sonic Images have the first option to release it. I don't yet know what label the next Redshift album will be on.
TC Mark Shreeve concerts are known for their powerful performances. How do you approach playing a live concert, and how do you feel about playing live in qeneral ?
MS Live concerts of modern style E/M are usually a forced compromise. For example,if we take the track Storm Column from the Legion album and decided to play it live, how would you do it?. There is so much going on that if we tried to recreate it on stage with 3 guys playing synths and a drum machine it would sound ridiculous. The audience would soon get bored. What I do is to pre-record the bass/drums/general rythymn parts along with some sound FX put at particular points to remind us of key changes etc., then we play all the chords, lead lines, harmony lines live over the top. I should say that I do completely start again when I prepare a live track-I don't just use the original multitrack tapes-this is why it takes about 3-4 months to prepare for one gig! Doing it this way we can retain the power of the music but also add a live "edge" to it. I remember seeing T/Dream in 1982 (the Logos tour) and they were clearly miming everything, as does Jean-Michel Jarre. This seems pointless to me-if you don't play ANYTHING live then you are not going to feel "tense"-therefore there will be no excitement to the performance (at Klemdag 1995 I made a few horrible bum notes which 1000 people heard!!!). And,despite the fact that we use drum/bass backing tape, I had over 60 patch changes to remember for one gig!
TC The live versions of your tracks have some more 'raw' power in them than the studio versions, which have a perfect finish on them. How do you go about composing a song ? You seem to spend a lot of time both on the basic melody line as well as choice of sounds, samples and rhythms?
MS One of the major problems with most current E/M is that musically it sounds so bland. Somebody sent me a tape of a recent T/Dream album and....aaarrgh!!..it sounds like lift music---totally devoid of any emotion or daring musical ideas. Even the sounds were crap, they just play the same old presets as everybody else who can buy the same synths. I'm afraid I think that they are ripping people off...some people buy it only because it has T/Dream written on it, very sad. To create music that people will remember you have to "connect" emotionally with them. With albums like Legion or Nocturne I tried to do it but using strong themes/melodies with a powerful rythymn base,then switch to a more sparse/darker mood---this is the key with music--- you need light and shade. In the early days of E/M you had such beautiful albums such as Phaedra and Mirage....they both had so much intense emotional contact with the listener....now all you get is washing powder advert music. I try to create layers of sound, a 3 dimensional audio picture--it is very difficult, from a technical point a view, to mix so many different sounds and make them cohesive. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn studio craft from some of the best producers and engineers in England, I would say that 99% of E/M musicians who produce music in there bedrooms don't have a clue how to sculpt sound. They do it by themselves, and because they have nobody else around to pass any knowledgeable critique, they are convinced they're doing it right. This is why so much E/M sounds so amateur.
TC Your recent project 'Redshift' sees you return to the old analog synths. This is quite the fashion these days, but I know you've been playing with the idea for a long time already. What made you want to compose in this style ?
MS Simple---I got the chance to purchase an old Moog 3C modular synth, I just couldn't stop playing it. The sounds were so rich and powerful that I felt compelled to create music with the Moog at the core of it. Like everybody else I have been buying all the new and latest synths...but...I started getting really bored with the dead sounds they all had. With the Moog the sound is alive, constantly moving and unpredictable. It seems to have a dark and menacing prescence that no other synth can even get near to. Unlike, say, a Roland JD800 or Korg-whatever, the Moog has an inspirational sound, you know that any sound you come up with is totally unique and not some awful preset that everybody else has used.
TC What is the general idea behind the 'Redshift' project ?
MS Mainly to create an album of dark, flowing and true electronic music. I wanted to use heavy "synthesised" sounds rather than trying to get a shit acoustic guitar type sound from a JD800 or whatever. I wanted to capture an atmosphere of organic but somehow "other-worldly" music---therefore that wouldn't be many overtly strong tunes as such, but more in the way of atmospheric frontier music(hmm!).
TC What can we expect from 'Redshift' in the future ? I've heard about some live releases and also a new album. Does this mean that your work as 'Mark Shreeve' solo is currently on hold?
MS Redshift is, at the moment, a 4 piece band. We played our first gig at the Jodrell Bank Planetaruim last December. The difference between doing a Redshift gig and a Mark Shreeve gig is that the music is 100% live using the Moog Modular with analog sequencers and many other analog synths. obviously the music has a considerable amount of "free expression"...we don't have any rigid arrangements to follow, just a rough outline. We actually recorded the gig to digital multitrack any we were so happy with 2 of the tracks that we are going to include them on our next album along with some studio tracks.
TC How did Ed Buller and Martin Newcomb get involved ? They also were involved with the band Node, if I'm not mistaken.
MS Ed rang me a couple of years ago, we became friendly and he helped me out with all my questions I had about using the Moog 3C. Martin is not in Node, he runs the Museum of Synthesiser Technology which has easily the largest collection of old synths in the world. It was Martin that found a Moog 3C for me in the States and he also lent me some extra modules when we played live.