Taking their name from a rather forthright way of telling someone to shut up, transatlantic duo STFU have forged a fittingly uncompromising sound on debut album What We Want.
Despite being literally an ocean apart during the recording process, producer Dean Garcia and vocalist Preston Maddox, of noise-rockers The Bloody Knives, have created a homogenous, dystopian behemoth of a record.
Garcia’s murky futuristic soundscapes, drenched in sludgy beats and electronic fuzz, lay the foundation, while Maddox’ spacey trance-like vocals glide above, burrowing into your consciousness.
Think Nine Inch Nails, or Massive Attack at their most bereft and you won’t be far off.
Best known for his work in ’90s indie band Curve and daughter Rose Berlin in dream pop outfit SPC ECO, Garcia has played and produced music by The Eurythmics, Mick Jagger, Sinead O’Connor and Ian Dury.
He tells Matt Catchpole about the making of What We Want, working with his daughter and the tantalising prospect of reuniting with Curve’s Toni Halliday.
Tell us about your latest project STFU – how does this new music differ from your previous work?
STFU is a musical project with my buddy Preston Maddox from The Bloody Knives. It’s different because of the people involved, the approach is always the same from my point of view in that I’m not interested in creative restriction or boundaries in any shape or form, most of the people I connect with musically have similar views and outlook. As soon as that approach becomes tainted and the person I’m working with becomes obsessive or microscopic I will close down and turn off. Music to me is about a specific time, the here and now and what happens within those moments, not about over thinking and deliberating. I can only be fully absorbed if I work quickly and instinctively. STFU is the very essence of that approach, as is SE / MAD and Curve. No time to fuck about obsessing over the hiss ‘n’ bumps within the sound – just go for it, turn it up, have fun and make it shine. If it doesn’t (this happens) sound any good always remember you have the last word..Delete the fuck out of it, erasing is your best friend, the moment you get something on a track that you’re unsure of mute it, shut it up and eventually burn it out. Done.
I believe Preston also played with SPC ECO – how did you first begin working together?
True, he guested on our You Tell Me record. Working with Preston has never been too far from my mind, it’s one of those rare connections you have that just happens, you tune in with one another on some level and that’s how it works. There’s always a stand out element in this case it’s his voice, then add the words and delivery into the loop and it becomes a no brainer for me, I simply connect. We recorded a few songs together that I used on a solo Das Haus album I made years ago, since then it’s been a matter of time as to when we’d work on something more substantial, thankfully the timing was right and we set about the recordings.
You’re here in London, while Preston is based in Austin, Texas. Was it difficult working with someone on the other side of the Atlantic ?
Never has there been a better time to work with people wherever they are, it’s just a non-issue now, most of the people I work with have an advanced understanding and knowledge of the recording process, so it’s just a matter of sending the various elements or parts back n forth to each other. We Transfer is our friend. Working this way is also good for those who don’t enjoy the band mentality or bro fest that can happen in the studio, I’ve always had difficulty with that and the fact that I find big studios intimidating, uncreative and frosty. I much prefer to work on my own in a small windowless room, whenever the mood takes me regardless of the time of day. I’m a big fan of the fibre optic approach.
Do you see this as a long term project? Any live dates planned?
I see this a something we will do at some level or another until one of us dies. Live dates are always an exciting prospect if all the logistics are in place, the main one being the undeniable demand for us to do so.
Who or what would you say are your current musical influences?
I rarely seek out or listen to any new music unless it’s a new Radiohead song or something made by a band/artist I already know. My exposure to new music is more by way of film or sound design within film. I do latch onto the odd piece that [my children] Rose or Harry play me, but generally most of the new music I hear is kind of empty or disconnected for me, most probably because it’s not for me or my age group, which is exactly as it should be. I’m more drawn to the odd bleep or mood drone that you’d get on an odd Sci Fi or obscure Criterion / Janus film I seem to have become attached and drawn to.
Do you see yourself more as a producer or as a musician/songwriter?
I’ve suppose I’ve developed morphed into more of a producer over the years but I always play on everything I’m involved with, it’s a blurred area, there’s not really that much in it, I’ve never seen myself as a songwriter as that to me is for those who write the words and sing the song, I’m drawn to sound design. The most important tool in the box is the recorder, that’s the thing that I’m most interested in, the layering and combination of sound on sound and the dust audio within…or some shit.
What is it like working with your daughter Rose Berlin in SPC ECO – any family arguments?
Working with Rose is and always will be a mixture of fun, need and therapy for both of us. The chemistry we tap into when working on a song is a constant source of surprise. We have been making songs and odd recordings together since Rose uttered her first sounds. We don’t argue about stuff when recording, it just happens and we’re like: ‘Shit! – that’s fucking awesome!’. We’re a very close family and arguments or heated moments are as they are in every outspoken family, but when it comes to anything creative the argument seems to remain outside of the studio or work place.
What’s happening with SPC ECO at the moment?
We have the third part of our year-long recording surge album named Anomalies which is released in August this year, CD Vinyl and digital all at the same time which is unusual for us as we usually release things as soon as they’re made, we’re relieved to finally have it out there as it doesn’t feel right to us to be on hold and not in the present moment, half of the record has been previously released via various singles but the other half is new and unheard. We’re in the process of recording an additional Anomaly EP that will be all new in an attempt for us to keep the release in sync and relevant. This is probably the last time we’ll hold back releasing anything in the future, it just doesn’t sit well with us.
How has the music business changed since you first set out with Curve? Do you think social media has made it easier for musicians to get noticed? How has it affected you personally?
The whole business has been turned inside out and on its head, which is always good as no longer are the major record companies privy and in control of the artist and their output. The world is saturated in music and as ever it’s not easy to get noticed, but it’s just made everything more accessible and reachable to millions. Regardless of whether the music is to your taste, it’s still relevant to those who make it. I still believe in ‘the good music will always shine through’ ethic, only now it’s more in the hands of those that make the music, rather than those who swan about in their tedious linen suits and moccasins (shudders) insisting you sound like the hip band of the moment. My experience and understanding tells me there has never been such a time where you can make exactly what you want whenever you want and release it at a moment’s notice using the artwork of your choosing with no restriction or diluted input from anyone. Fine by me.
2016 has been a pretty devastating year with the loss of so many musical and cultural legends. Were you affected by that at all?
Shocked and saddened, but Bowie will always be with me as will [Prince’s] Sign Of The Times. Ali is legend and will remain so forever . They’re gone but never forgotten.
Lastly, There’s a bit of ‘90s revival at the moment with the likes of Echobelly, Lush and EMF all going back out on the road – are you tempted to get Curve back together?
Never say never is always my take on all things Curve…
Still in touch with Toni?
‘What We Want’ is available via the STFU Bandcamp. It also features a free hidden track, ‘Paralyzed’, which features separately on the MAD album, ‘Slow Mo’, with Steve Monti (Curve, Jesus & Mary Chain).