R. J. Wheaton, author of the 33 1/3 on Dummy, will be talking about Portishead this week over at One Week / One Band.
(By the way, it's worth checking out the backlog at One Week / One Band as well. Good stuff.)
On Monday, 10/24, at 6 PM at Austin's Cactus Cafe, Early '70s Radio will be featured as part of KUT-FM's "Views and Brews" series. I'll be there to talk about the book, answer questions, and will perform a special acoustic medley of '70s radio hits, including "Rubber Duckie," "(You're) Having My Baby," "School's Out" and more.
They combined music in a way everyone is replicating now—without the help of YouTube or FilesTube.com.
Portishead spent years refining their unique combinatory approach to music. “Barrow’s biggest inspiration was hip-hop, and same with Utley although he came from a jazz background,” Wheaton points out. “And Beth doesn’t come from a soul, R&B or jazz background; she did a lot of new wave stuff with a singer-songwriter bent.” This very real mix made Portishead so distinctive. Wheaton feels trip-hop’s packaging forced musicians away from the “fertile ground” of a great moment in experimentation between electronic music and production techniques, with genres like lover’s rock and dub and reggae and hip-hop. Danger Mouse, of Gnarls Barkley fame, has clearly nerded out on Portishead’s production techniques—a casual listener can hear it in his dense atmospherics. It has thinned out traces in James Blake and Toronto’s The Weeknd. More than anything, says Wheaton, it’s licensed people to bring influences together they normally wouldn’t.
The strangest thing, and the most annoying thing, is that “chill-out” thing, that’s come out of it. For me. Dummy as chill-out, yuppie, shagging music. It wasn’t supposed to be about that. It wasn’t like something to kind of like chill to. It was actually supposed to be quite harsh, and alternative, and noisy.That potential for easy listening was something that the band had worked against from the outset. Barrow remembered, as the band added the guitar parts to “Glory Box,” “we were like, ‘What are we doing?’ It just seemed so horribly commercial. I hated commercial music.”
You write songs and you hope you’re gonna communicate with people — half the reason you write them in the first place is that you’re feeling misunderstood and frustrated with life in general. Then it’s sort of successful and you think you’ve communicated with people, but then you start to think you haven’t communicated with them at all — you’ve turned the whole thing into a product, so then you’re even more lonely than when you started. But when you think about something like the mannekins [sic] in Blade Runner, the only reason they think they’re human is the pictures they hold.* * *
As a producer you’ll go through months of working on a track and in your mind you’ll think, “I’m going to tidy that up later.” In the final mix. And then actually when you get to the final mix you tidy it up and you realize that you’re taking out something which actually gives it its character.“We were quite commando at that stage,” recalls Dave McDonald. “We knew what we were doing to a degree but we weren’t sort of high-end studio bods. It’s a policy that … it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as it sounds okay.”
Beth would kind of goad Geoff into not making the music sound too — not that he was [inclined to] — too formulaic. I can remember times where she would just say, “That sounds too normal.”* * *
We sampled one of Adrian’s guitar loops, and it was picking up the radio. The amp was picking up the radio for some reason, just as we were doing the take on it. It was talking about Roy Orbison … that was the only take which was the perfect take. But it was damaged because it had this vocal sound in it. But we kept it — and that’s on the album somewhere … I always remember that as being very very bizarre.The opening chords of “Roads,” so smothering, thick, so absolute, are nonetheless occasionally smudged, individual notes landing fractionally out of time with one another. At 1:25 in the same song there is a noise in the background which sounds very much like someone dropping something. It’s perfect.