Complete Strawberry Switchblade interview by subject
Jill Bryson interviewed 9 June 01
Rose McDowall interviewed 29 Jan 02
Bill Drummond interviewed 26 April 03
David Balfe interviewed 19 May 03
David Motion interviewed 2 Aug 02 & 15 April 03
Robin Millar interviewed 16 Feb 03
Tim Pope interviewed 22 June 06
Recording the album
Did the record company hold that much sway?
ROSE: Well, we met loads of producers. We met all these guys, they'd come in and say 'this is what we're going to do', and I'd think, 'no, that's not what we're going to do, these are our songs, we have a concept, we created them and we want to see it through to the end, so we don't want to just hand them over to you and say Here you go'. There were a lot of producers we knew who were completely like that, who were completely the producer's more important than the artist sort of thing, like HE'S the artist. We met a few like that who we didn't want to work with.
Was there the inclination to put out another single in that year or so after Trees And Flowers?
DAVID BALFE: There was, but we really felt that we had to put out something that we thought would do something. I mean, it's typical; most bands you're involved with you go through long periods with real difficulty trying to find a way it's going to work, this one was the same thing.
It just wasn't working, so I had the idea of doing something a bit more electronic with it, contrasting their gentle acousticness with something a bit more oomph. Basically we were looking for somebody who'd take the songs and really give them arrangements which would work, and we found David Motion. I can't remember how we found him, he'd obviously done something and been recommended by someone.
When we went to do it I can't remember whether both of them were into the idea of electronics. I always loved electronic music so I know I would have argued for it. I can't remember whether Rose and/or Jill would have argued for it, but generally you're bound to respond more to personalities. You get them in a room with someone and they get on with them and they start saying nice things about the music and they're up for giving it a try, and that's what I imagine would have happened with this.
ROSE: Then we met a couple that we tried things out with, and the one that we ended up with, David Motion, he was meant to be a try-out as well, to see how it would go. I was quite unsure - I really liked David Motion, a really nice guy, he was really easy and pleasant to work with but I was really unconvinced at first because I didn't like some of the sounds that were coming out. They were going 'give it time, give it time,' but the more time you gave it the more money was being put into the project and the more fighting you would have to do with the record company. So in the end we ended up caught in that trap, basically. And in a sense as much as I love Motion I probably wouldn't have gone that way.
What would you have preferred to see it come out like?
ROSE: I would have rather it sounded less dated, I would have rather we used more real instruments, like Trees And Flowers for example with oboe and french horn. I know we did have that on some of the other tracks as well, people like Andrew Poppy did a couple of arrangements and David Bedford did another couple where we'd have an orchestra and that's really nice. I would have rather worked with real instruments to be perfectly honest and not all synths and stuff like that cos it was not my passion at the time.
DAVID BALFE: Almost a part of the band was Rose's then-husband Drew, and Jill's then-boyfriend Peter. They'd all got the flats in Muswell Hill in this one block of flats and lived together, and they'd practically be at every meeting so it was a weird arrangement where the domestic was linked in with the professional. But I got on well with them, towards the end sometimes better with Drew and Peter than Rose and Jill.
I think Drew got a little keyboard, one of these TR808s and I started playing with them on some session we did and I think that might have been the thing that kicked off the electronic thing.
JILL: I remember going to Liverpool, on the Wirral somewhere and doing some demos in somebody's house which was just really weird as well. Because we weren't a band they were just trying us out with different people. They were trying us first of all with this band to see if we were happy and if we thought it worked, then they wanted to try us with a programmer to see if we were happy with that and it worked. And then we weren't particularly so then we tried with this other programmer David Motion who eventually did the album, and we kinda liked him, he's a funny guy.
DAVID MOTION: I don't remember being on some kind of shortlist or anything. I think the idea was we'd work on a track or two and see how it went, and if it worked out it'd lead to an album. At the time Balfe and Drummond were also A&R and had this kind of unit, they were on the same floor as Max Hole and Rob Dickins and Paul Conroy. I can't remember the exact relationship. They were technically A&R, but they were also Strawberry Switchblade's managers.
I remember them saying they'd done this indie release, released it on a friendly label or whatever, but it is seen to be coming out of the underground for it to be authentic and all that. And they thought they could do something more.
Had you heard any of the recordings then, the BBC sessions of the indie single?
DAVID MOTION: I don't remember the BBC sessions, I remember the single. They were more interested for me to hear the next set of demos. The demos were very much along the same lines, quite indie, guitar and vocals. At that time I was really more interested in fashioning pop. Not necessarily commercial - although I have some commercial instincts I still think I am quite left of centre and quirky.
In that early period I remember them coming to my flat in Tottenham, we'd borrowed a synth and we kind of thrashed around a bit with that and a drum machine that we may even have borrowed from Balfey. I mapped out one or two of the songs, then we started recording, then it just sort of developed into the album.
What else has he done? I've never seen his name on anything else.
JILL: He'd worked - [giggles] he'd worked with Dollar!
JILL: I know! We were saying, 'no way! No way! I don't think that's going to be quite us, is it? Are you really sure about this?' And they were saying he's a really nice guy. We liked David Motion when we met him, we got on well with him, we liked what he did, it was really quirky and kinda weird.
It is quirky to be given those songs and want to put really heavy distorted drum sounds on them.
JILL: Exactly. With every song we were like, 'you can't do that David, you can't do that, what do you think you're doing?' We'd come in and he'd ask us what we think of a sound. Like Deep Water, we were like 'WHAT?' But it was great, it just worked, and we said OK, let's go with it. And we did a few and it was, 'yeah, we like this'. It's very 80s when you listen to it now. Which is not necessarily a terrible thing.
It's funny because we did try do play it down, try to keep it folky, keep it poppy-folky-jazzy, keep it quite innocent, quite acoustic, and it just didn't work. We didn't know enough about anything like that to be able to say what we wanted.
There was the whole Sade thing going on, you could've been pushed into the sophisticated wine-barry thing.
JILL: And we really didn't want to go there. When we found David and he was really quirky and a bit weird, we thought we'd go with that. It was mostly just him. Occasionally he brought somebody else in, but it was mostly just him and an engineer and us. It was a nice way to work. You have to let somebody help because we couldn't do everything.
What were your first impressions on meeting them?
DAVID MOTION: I thought they had a vibe, they definitely had a really interesting atmosphere about them, that sweet and sour at the same time kind of thing, dark and fluffy at the same time, fascinating. I found them very bright, very lively, and very very easy to get on with.
How do you remember the working relationship between Rose and Jill?
DAVID MOTION: Very friendly, very kind of tight. They seemed very close. The more I got to know them the more I realised how different they were. They seemed to get on really well, I never really saw them argue but they were coming from slightly different places I think. Rose was always slightly kind of -you can see it in the vocals - her vocals are harder, possibly less... if I say 'sentimental' it sounds like I'm saying Jill's ARE sentimental which they're not, but Jill's were always softer and sweeter and that's why quite often she would be doing the chorus ethereal stuff, Jill's was always more logical and Rose's voice would always cut much more. That's how they were as people as well.
I never really saw them arguing, they seemed quite close. They also had their support network as well, 'entourage' is a strong word but Jill's boyfriend at the time, Peter, was with her everywhere. With her agoraphobia and everything, she would appear in a cab and then he would always be around. I don't know if [Rose's husband] Drew was around that much, but there was a sense that it wasn't just Rose and Jill, there were other kind of lobby parties around.
Did it seem like an equal partnership between them?
DAVID MOTION: It did to me. I was very keen for there to be a good relationship amongst the three of us, but I always saw them as presenting a fairly unified front. I don't remember thinking, 'if I can get Rose on my side on this one we can get it through,' or it ever being anything like that. They seemed to be getting on really well, and be having fun also with the forthcoming success.
ROSE: We actually recorded the album in quite a few different studios which, instead of going into one studio and recording the whole album, we travelled around and did different songs in different studios.
DAVID MOTION: I was very keen to do a week at a time in different studios. Partly for my own experience, to play the field and find where the good studios are, and it was something quirky as well to keep changing the landscape, having been stuck in AIR studios for several months. I wanted to try out all these other places that I'd heard of, so that's exactly what we did.
I would set up a song, record, which was actually quite hard cos when it started I was engineering it and producing it at the same time. At Marcus studios when we were starting certain tracks Rose and Jill weren't coming in until after lunch, so if I were playing the piano or whatever then the tape op would be recording it and I'd be running in to listen to it. The initial arrangement was done quite quickly really. Then they'd come in and go 'we like that' or 'we don't like that' or whatever; generally I found them incredibly receptive.
They did give me an awful lot of control. There was an awful lot of trust. It was fantastic for me, really. Everybody was saying greatgreatgreat and just letting me get on with it. They'd come in and say, 'that's great', and as time unfolded and we finished things - I can't remember if we finished Since Yesterday before the rest of the album or what - they started getting the marketing department and the promotions department taking up more of their time. We were having to carve out time for them to come and do vocals. But it all worked very well.
What you did to the songs was such a departure from what they'd done before. Did they have any reservations about any of it?
DAVID MOTION: Not that I was aware of. Whether or not it was something I was ignoring in the general euphoria of it playing out that way and me having this enormous freedom, but basically everyone seemed happy with the way it was going. I did have a very clear idea about what I wanted to do, and I was always very interested in creating a very clear atmosphere, something very concrete something loaded and cool and with all sorts of interesting sounds. I was very interested in pushing the sonic side of it, lots and lots of processing, I was interested in mucking about more.
I thought it was great to be working with people who allowed me to do all that other stuff. I'd get the demo, listen to the track, figure out what the chords are and build it up from there. Obviously respecting the integrity of the top line of the melodies, I don't remember touching those in any way.
Part of what I did with a lot of it was just change. The chords were always fairly straightforward, the song came as them doing a demo, demo vocals sometimes with incomplete words and very straightforward guitar chords. Nothing wrong with it, but a lot of what I was doing was changing it so there was a lot of substitution so it's not just E or A or whatever, putting different things in the bass, just to make it all flow a bit better and have a bit more colour and texture.
I can't remember the process for that, but it was a very evolutionary thing. Things would get chopped around a lot as well, partly by the way that I was working in the studio. It was quite techno, in the sense that we were using a lot of technology, but it was still very early technology, so it was very early sequencing. A lot of the stuff was triggered - and this is stuff I'd picked up from people like Martin Rushent and Chris Hughes when I was tape-opping at Air - where you put linn drum code down and fire samples off that. Sometimes there'd be delays and the linn code would be before it by a second or something and you'd have to have a delay for the sample. So you'd put down the linn drum where you wanted it to start, just as a reference point. Then you'd load a sample of a particular drum sound into an AMS, which was a delay at the time, trim that down and then that would always be slightly late, so you'd have to turn the tape over to measure how far you were out. You could do it by ear if you like, but if you were doing it methodically you'd measure it so you'd get it bang in time. It was painstaking stuff. I'm amazed it only took six or seven weeks, that was quite quick considering the technology.
And then there was some early sequencing. I can't remember the name of the sequencer, but there was a guy called Gary Hutchens who I worked with a lot round that time. This is pre-computer as well, before Cubase and stuff like that.
Everything else had to support that, but it wasn't like a guitar band, it's not like we'll play this live. You kind of build a concept and graft this on to that, but I always believed about production that you want to leave somebody with a very clear impression after they've heard it, even if they can't necessarily remember the melody you want to leave them with a very clear sense of atmosphere. And the atmosphere needs to kind of match what they look like and what they're trying to project.