IT is a hard imagining what a new duet with Nico would sound like…
but Rogue Sector have managed to make it a reality. For the new track, Spare the Words, they have been able to fuse Nico’s voice into their song – Paul and Andrew explain how that was made possible. They talk about their passion for her music and what we can expect from their upcoming L.P., The Ministry of Love. I ask about their favourite sounds and how they found their newest member, Ellie.
They talk about the video for Spare the Words and what the future holds; advice they would offer upcoming artists – and what the music scene is like in St. Albans (where Rogue Sector are based).
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Paul: Fine, thanks…busy!
We’re working hard on our debut album, The Ministry of Love.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
We are Paul Freegard (Sounds, Machines and Production); Ellie Jones (vocals); Andrew Trussler (Songwriter, Sounds and Co-Production).
Stark and minimal Electronica is our thing!
Give me an insight into the new song, Spare the Words. Is there a story behind the song?
Andrew: Yes. I was lying in bed one day recovering from a throat infection - and listening to Nico’s Marble Index. The final track, Nibelungen, is Nico singing unaccompanied. There’s this line “Will you spare the words for me to hear?” that just snagged in my imagination for some reason.
I had the idea that, maybe, I could write a new song around that line and create a beyond-the-grave duet with her. The ‘haunted’ aspect of the idea really appealed to me. I didn’t want it to be a cheap gimmick: it had to stand up as a song in its own right. Sometime later, the lyrics came to me - after a friend’s relationship had ended badly.
Paul: It was very eerie working on this track in the studio as it, sometimes, seemed as though Nico was in the vocal booth! We made the drone that runs through the song by sampling Andrew bowing a cymbal with a cello bow.
I like to think Nico would’ve have appreciated the atmosphere it created...
IN THIS PHOTO: Nico
It, as you've said, samples a vocal from iconic singer, Nico. What is it about her voice that meant you included it in the song? Which period of her career do you love the most?
Andrew: I love Nico’s solo work: there’s nothing else like it...
I’m also a big John Cale fan and I really like the arrangements and atmospheres he created around her songs (he produced/arranged most of her solo albums). Her vocals have gravitas and a spectral quality that I’ve always appreciated. She had a turbulent and unsettled personal life and she was deaf in one ear - but she wrote some beautifully twisted songs.
Her records are the kind you put on after midnight. My favourite track of hers is Frozen Warnings (from Marble Index). She was born to sing that as much as Sammy Davis Jr. was born to sing Mr. Bojangles.
But, there are other great songs throughout her career that I love too: Sixty Forty, Janitor of Lunacy; You Forget to Answer…to name just a few.
Paul: She also did an unsettling version of My Funny Valentine on her last album, Camera Obscura. Unsettling but beautiful.
The video is quite cinematic and memorable. Whose idea was the concept and what was it like shooting the video?
Andrew: The song, itself, is a kind of séance; so we decided to extend that idea to the video as well. The concept for the video was cooked up by us and the director, Rua Acorn.
Paul: We converted our basement studio into a temporary film-set - and the video was shot on a shoestring budget in one day.
Andrew: Rua and I edited the video and my brother added the ghostly special-effects.
It features footage of Nico. Was it hard getting permission to use the images and what did you think when you saw the video back?
The exclusive footage of Nico that’s in the video is all thanks to the Mancunian experimental musician, Eric Random. He’s been a hero of mine for years; having produced many interesting albums - as well as collaborating with Cabaret Voltaire and Genesis P-Orridge. But, throughout the 1980s, he was also a member of Nico’s band, The Faction, while she was living in Manchester.
Eric and I had become friendly on Twitter so I asked him if he had any video footage of her that we could use.
Paul: To our surprise and delight, he let us have a V.H.S. of a gig Nico and The Faction played in Switzerland in 1986. We started cutting this into (the) Spare the Words video and it was thrilling - Nico seemed to be lip-syncing to the track!
Andrew: Eric was great. He didn’t want any money - just an ownership credit regarding the Nico footage. He’s a really sound guy and is still producing great music. His latest album, Two Faced, is really good.
Have you all been together for a while? How did Rogue Sector come to exist?
Paul: We started working as a duo in late-2015. We’d known each other for a few years and had occasionally talked about making music together. There was a point when the idle-chatter stopped and we actually got into the studio and began experimenting. We hit it off straight away and it all went on from there...
Ellie is the newest member of the group. Paul and Andrew. How did you meet her and what is it about her vocals that attracted you?
Andrew: It was thanks to Pete Jones - who plays in Department S. He asked us to do a remix of their 1980 hit, Is Vic There? – then, a track called Age of Control (from their latest album). We’ve, since, become good friends. We were looking for a singer and Pete suggested his daughter, Ellie.
As soon as we heard her voice, we knew she was perfect for Rogue Sector – and, happily, she really liked our sound. So; we got her into the studio and she did the vocals for the entire album in just three sessions. She’s brought such a lot of personality to the proceedings and is great fun to be around too.
We’re so lucky to have found her.
Paul: Unfortunately, she recently had a nasty fall while she was away in Berlin and has damaged her back. She’s on the mend - but temporarily out of action.
Tell me about the artists you are both inspired by? What music were you raised on?
Andrew: The bands I loved as a kid were The Banana Splits and The Monkees. I got hooked on The Beatles, too. Then, one Christmas, my mum and dad gave me a BBC Radiophonic Workshop L.P. - featuring the Doctor Who theme tune and incidental music from the show. It was, simultaneously, fascinating and scary!
It had a huge psychic impact on me: I’m convinced that the Radiophonic Workshop sort of indoctrinated me (because they were also doing a lot a music for kids’ programmes and T.V. for schools, at the time).
So, in later life, I was drawn to all kinds of sound/music experimentation in songs - and gravitated towards bands like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire; Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten; John Cale and Nico...so, the Radiophonic Workshop were just as big an influence on me as The Beatles.
Paul: When I was a kid, my mum’s friend gave me the entire Beatles’ singles collection - but my sister smashed them all up with a hammer. On a more positive note: I remember seeing Once Upon a Time in the West and being entranced by the Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Also; the Roobarb cartoon was memorable for the distorted guitar soundtrack.
You are based in St. Albans. What is the music scene like there and is it quite easy getting gigs?
We see quite a few local bands play live and enjoy them, too. I’d say the ‘scene’ is mainly guitar-based bands. Nothing wrong with that but there isn’t a particularly visible Electronica scene.
We need to find some friends!
Do you have an E.P. or album coming up? Will we hear new material before the end of this year?
Andrew: Yes. We’re in the midst of recording our debut album, The Ministry of Love. It’s due to be released in April/May 2018. The title-track is finished and has already had some airplay on local radio. We’re planning to make a video for it very soon. By the end of the year, there’ll be some new tracks, too.
Watch this space!
Do you have any future gigs planned? Where can we catch you play?
Paul: No gigs planned at the moment, but we’re trying to figure out the best way of putting a live show together - and hope to start gigging next year.
IN THIS PHOTO: Earl Sweatshirt
Who are the new artists you suggest we check out?
Andrew: Earl Sweatshirt. He’s taken ‘chopped-and-screwed’ Hip-Hop to the extreme on his album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. It’s claustrophobic and menacing in the best sense; particularly the track, Grief. The beats are irrational and the song is always on the verge of falling apart. I really appreciate the bare-bones-minimalism he employs.
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Paul: Reproduction by The Human League
It was the first album I ever heard that had a slant on the human condition and a social commitment. It summed up the period in which I grew up and made me realise I wanted to be a producer. They also pulled off a cover of You’ve Lost That Lovin' Feeling by The Righteous Brothers, which totally blew me away - because it was so different and equally as good.
Andrew: Music for a New Society by John Cale
It is s a perennial favourite of mine. Cale originally went into the studio with the idea of recording an album of songs with solo piano and guitar accompaniments. But then, mercurial as ever, he went back and tore the whole thing apart; deconstructing the songs until they were these bleak and beautiful tracks with dismembered arrangements.
I mentioned, earlier, how much I loved The Beatles and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as a kid - and this album is like a nightmare marriage of the two. It showed me how much you could experiment with the song format; how you could shake it up like a kaleidoscope and get fascinating and original results in the process.
My favourite track on the album is Thoughtless Kind - which is like a dystopian vision of Auld Lang Syne. At times, Cale strips things down to just the click-track, maniacal laughter and distant bagpipes. It sounds as if it’s being performed in an asylum - and I wouldn’t change a thing!
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Paul: Find your own sound and DON’T try to fit in. Find a record label that you admire and respect and try and make music better than theirs. Go against the grain. Don’t tolerate managers that try to mould you.
If you’re a Pop band…good luck with that!
Andrew: Life is fleeting, so put your body and soul into it and get on with it! If you’ve got something to say, say it. Aim high! Even if you fail, you’ll have a much more interesting life than if you just play safe.
Make your own luck and take people’s advice with a pinch of salt…including ours!
Christmas is approaching. Do you all have plans already or will you be busy working?
Obviously, we’ll be helping Santa on Christmas Eve. But, we’ll be in the studio for the rest of the Christmas period - as we have a deadline to meet for the album release.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Thoughtless Kind by John Cale
Paul: Muse by OCAD
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