Name: Tim Friese-Greene
Occupation: Musician, producer
Current Release: A song in Latin... A song in Hindi... by Tim Friese-Greene and Lee Friese-Greene's new project Short-Haired Domestic is out now and available on bandcamp.
Jean-Luc Goddard’s Vivre da Vie
Kathleen Jamie - Findings
If you enjoyed this interview with Tim Friese-Greene, you can keep up to date on his projects on his Heligoland website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing songs as soon as I started playing piano about the age of 11, but as soon as I started working in recording studios at the age of 19, I stopped doing that and concentrated more on developing my knowledge of recording studios. So the writing side of things took a hiatus for 20 years or so while I was producing.
My early passions in terms of writing were all the records that I listened to on pirate radio; Radio Caroline, Radio Luxembourg; most of it was mainstream but no less valuable for that. I also listened to some quite adventurous classical music, but maybe that was slightly later.
I was interested in how the records I liked sounded the way they did, and from that I extrapolated the idea of how you fit sounds together in order to make a satisfying whole. That has been something of a lifelong pursuit, an exploration, because there are no rules to that game and you feel like a perennial student in that there’s always new things revealing themselves to you in that sphere.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I came at this from a slightly different angle in that when I first came back to writing and performing having finished with production, my main goal was to avoid sounding like the band that I’d just spent ten years working with. So it actually became a way of trying to escape from something rather than copying something - it was the opposite of copying something - I was trying to forget something.
I think that took me quite a long time; I had to junk about an album's worth of material because I considered it too derivative of what I’d done previously with Talk Talk. Incidentally, this is why the first catalogue number is 002, because I considered 001 to be not sufficiently removed from what I’d done previously.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The production challenges over time are the same for everyone in that it’s a constant battle to find a new way of expressing yourself that you’ve not done before, that avoids you treading over ground you’ve already covered. I do that by constantly setting myself new challenges or putting new limitations on the things I do in order to force me into new ways of working.
Compositional challenges are the same in that you’re always struggling to not repeat yourself, but that is the only thing I have difficulty with - musical ideas always come quite easily to me.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I’ve always kept my studios really simple. In the early days that was due to financial restrictions but over time I’ve come to see a very limited studio set-up as very positive; it stops you getting bogged down in constantly thinking about gear, which I consider to be very distracting and an easy procrastination exercise. I keep things simple also because I have this tendency to try everything out, and the more things I have to try out, the longer it takes me to actually commit to anything. So I limit my choices as a matter of expediency in order to actually finish a project, otherwise I doubt whether I ever would.
I'm not really wedded to equipment in any kind of affectionate sense - they all have different sounds and are quite useful, although I do quite like my WASP synthesiser on account of its quite limited, but quirky capabilities, and the fact that its dirty sound suits my aesthetic. There are plenty of other things that would do the job but I like the fact that it’s a very basic, no-frills synth.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Machines are good at being rational and humans are good at not being rational so I think there’s quite a healthy symbiotic relationship to be had as long as there’s a good balance between the two. For me, if you allow machines to take a primary role, you run the risk of moving into a landscape that I find too sterile.
So while I appreciate the rationality of machines and technology, I also really appreciate the untidiness of human agency in human music production.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I don’t particularly acknowledge the part that software plays in my recording process, I see it as a means to an end and it simply fulfills the role for me that tape machines did when people were still recording in analogue.
I still use an ancient version of Pro Tools 5.2 (I’m probably the ONLY person still using Pro Tools 5.2!). But the reason I like it is because first of all, it’s incredibly stable and never crashes (and that’s the one thing most recent upgraders of Pro Tools 10 and later always complain about), and secondly, it limits me to 24 mono tracks of audio and I like the restrictions of that, it forces me to make decisions early in the process rather than keeping 50 tracks of vocal or 50 tracks of guitar and saying I’ll sort them out later - you have to sort them out early and that means that you can see a more definite picture of your track evolving because you don’t have so many options.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I like talking about ideas, I’m a great fan of talking about music, but I’m not a great fan of collaborating. I have no problem with file-sharing, it’s just not the way I prefer to work. I think that may be a legacy from years of production and years of collaborating on Talk Talk records.
I just feel that I make so many decisions a day, probably several hundred, some of them very small and some of them quite large, so for me to have to defer to others or even to have to verbalise what it takes to arrive at a decision for any one of those 100 things would be really time consuming.
Most of the time I can make those decisions without really thinking about it and that really helps me purify and speed up the creative process. So collaborations are really behind me. Although I have to say, this Short-Haired Domestic album is a departure from that, largely because Lee and I had our own, very particular areas of jurisdiction which we kept to pretty rigidly.