Broadcast were an amazing English electronic band composed of the principle duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill. Across six LPs, the band stitched together analog organs, dusty samples, and Keenan's sweet, beguiling voice to make music that sounded both futuristic and dated; ghostly transmissions from some unknown time and place. Keenan died on January 14, 2011, less than three months after this conversation. She was only 42.
Interview: 26 October 2010
Is the sense of time passing a quality that's important to your music?
"What we've always tried to get at is a sense of... memory. Not my memory, but more the idea of things that feel like memories. What I like is when something feels as though it's come from a place that's not necessarily true. Some people see their memories as truth, and I see that as being tied with nostalgia: being tied to something in the past. What we've tried to get at is pretend worlds, in which there's no real connection to you, but there's still some kind of gut reaction that makes you seem like it could be yours, but that feeling comes from a kind of... human-ness."
Like a shared cultural nostalgia?
"I don't like the word nostalgia, because it conjures up trapper bikes, and old toys from the '70s, and it's not really about that for Broadcast. It's more about a kind of make-believe. It's storytelling, it's fiction, with no real autobiography. It's more about a magic that exists in the past, but not your past. A time that has gone, but not your time. The past as a place to draw from. A lot of films and music I like are before my time; I never experienced them, not even as a child would I have heard them. But, there's something interesting about, say, music from adverts from the 1950s: you know it's the past, but it's not your past. It's not your memory, it's not culturally yours, but you're allowed to tap into it, because it's been given to you by the collective memory; the human need to hold onto things. Using everyone's memory for inspiration is something that I like."
How much did the album you made with The Focus Group play into that idea?
"When we created Witch Cults of the Radio Age, it was really about conjuring up old films that didn't exist, then pretending that they did exist. Music and sound is a form of fiction to me, a way of telling stories. I've always been intrigued by those old Radiophonic Workshop recordings, the way they were able to tell a story through sound. I avidly collect samples of everything possible, it's all I do. I'm a sound enthusiast. I record things like going to the shops. I sample films all the time. I have this huge bank of samples, and you throw a few things together from it and, suddenly, I can feel this story come together; it's like my own literature."
You have a reputation of moving quite slowly. Does it feel that way, to you?
"I would agree with that. But, if we did put them out really fast, I think we'd be all over. That'd be it. Because the quality control threshold that would have to be much lower. In between albums we accumulate lots of songs —staggering amounts, we've got hard-drives full— so the editing process is really important to us. There's a whole load of songs that Broadcast fans never will get to hear. So much of what we do is about hand-picking an album. Selecting those ten, 15 tracks for release. It can be frustrating, and sometimes really good tunes don't see the light of day because they don't fit onto an album. But, I appreciate that frustration of being part of our process."
Have you ever felt the digital-age temptation to just dump everything online, like cleaning out your closet?
"Well, we do things that aren't official Warp releases: tour-only stuff like the Mother is the Milky Way EP and Microtronics (Vols.) 1 and 2. It's just always a matter of finding context. I think context is so important. Even more now than ever. Because there's just so many bands, and so many prolific bands. Just throwing out releases, you actually dilute what you do. Feeling under pressure —either from other people or from yourself— can be damaging. Maybe only about 25% of the stuff I write I think is actually perfect for Broadcast releases. And that's fine. People don't need to hear everything I write."
The album-as-artifact is obviously an important idea to you.
"Yeah, it really is, actually. Selecting and editing, it is the album, it is the art, in a way. Making everything to fit within the title, in the context of the album. Even, sometimes, the time in which you release it. Sometimes you have a track that you think is great, and then someone else releases a song that has the same title, or something; like, your relationship is always shifting, and things are changing so quickly in music. So, you have to keep re-editing. And that's part of the process, and the enjoyment of it. If you release too frequently or put out the wrong thing at the wrong time, that can be more detrimental than not putting out anything at all. Because you don't have to release everything! Sometimes I get a bit fed up with the way things are with the internet and people's blogs, that sense that: 'I'm going to make everything available! All of my demos!' That's not a good thing! Your editing can never be underrated. Selecting the right context for your music, at the right time, is massively important. And if, because of that, some things don't see the light of day, so what?"
How far along the process are you with your next album?
"We're quite far in. If we weren't doing this Australian tour there would be a chance that we'd have the album in before Christmas. But, as it happens, it'll probably be handed in sometime in early Spring. So, yeah, we're quite a way along. We have the album title, the album artwork is done, and we've even finished a few films to accompany some of the tracks. We're still recording loads, but we don't know what the final shifts and shapes will be. We're still editing. But things are very much full swing."
Is the title something you can disclose?
"No! I'm not going to say it! Because it might change. Then that'll be a complete waste of time. So, I'll leave it at that. But I can say that we're a good two-thirds in, and it's not too far away."