Mark Heaney interview
I spoke to Mark Heaney about Monument of Sound, 2.
Hi, this sounds like that you wanted to explore music and make something that could be definitely done live, it has an urgency about it, is that the case?
Hello. Yes, most of the music I create has a very live feel to it which mainly comes from the drums. For me music is about capturing the moment. Obviously it depends on what type of music you’re making, or the vibe you want to create, but I always try to go for a live take of a track rather than piece together bits from various takes.
I think sometimes with the use of computers there can be too much emphasis on perfection as opposed to performance. Some music requires that approach, but I always prefer to hear a person expressing themselves in the moment, to me it’s just far more exciting.
Too much processing, quantizing and so on can kill a track in my opinion, and leave it feeling a bit soulless. It has to be exciting and convey some sort of emotive human element to resonate. I’m looking forward to playing some of these tracks live, it would be great to play them with other musicians.
Can you take us through one or two of the tunes? I like ‘Frequency’, I must say, it’s nice.
Thank you, yes I really like that track and am pleased with the way it came out. I wanted it to start pretty chaotic and then explode into a real heavy dub step type of groove. Picking the right sound for a melody line is always very tricky but I used a processed Rhodes sound and it sat well on the track. For the bass line I played a repetitive pattern that doesn’t really change.
The initial idea for the track came from the spoken word sample which talks about a pulse, frequencies. I wanted the track to just keep building and building. You end with the loop against the live drums which is a formula I love.
The other track I’m very proud of, from the first EP, is ‘Ten Thousand Suns’. Sometimes tracks just seem to come together very easily and that was one of them. That track came totally from the drums, I wanted to get away from the usual 2 and 4 and again, was inspired by the spoken sample.
I love the way the track develops, it’s a very special track for me as it was one of the very rare times I was actually happy with what I’d created!
I actually recorded these tracks quite a while ago and hadn’t heard them until recently, it’s really interesting hearing them again.
What are some current main influences to your music and sound?
I’m influenced by everything around me really. It doesn’t have to be from music that I hear, it can come from something I see happening in the world, my own life experiences.
I find it hard just to write a track without a clear visual picture or emotion as the inspiration. I have to be totally absorbed in the subject matter for it to work.
As far as references to music, it can be anything really. At the moment I’m revisiting a lot of very old jazz recordings, the drum sounds on those early cuts are amazing and very inspiring.
You’re a drummer: I love drums a lot, I love Phil Collins, John Bonham, Budgie, Dave Lombardo, Ronnie Tutt, the list goes on. What about your take on drums?
Good man, as the saying goes, your band is only as good as your drummer and that is true in a lot of cases.
For me it all started with jazz drummers. Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Jo Morrello, Jack Dejohnette. Too many to list really. I love Jaki Liebeziet from Can, sort of approaches the drum kit as a loop machine which is just wonderful.
I love a lot of the new players around who are more focused on the rhythmical exploration of the kit, as opposed to just the chops. It’s an exciting time.
You’ve played with some great names including Gang of Four. I bought Entertainment when it was first released and it really changed my life. How was it to play with this band? Any favourite tracks to play?
I have been lucky to work with some great people. Entertainment is a really great piece of art.
Gang of Four was a great band to be part of in those early days and I feel very proud to of been part of it. It was a great release playing those tracks live it was almost like getting into character before going on stage as they need a certain mindset for them to be performed authentically and with the correct approach.
Highlights for me were always ‘He’d Send In the Army’, ‘Do As I Say’, ‘Why Theory’ and ‘What We All Want’. It was always chaotic and on the edge, which it should have been, and we had a lot of laughs.
When I look back over my seven odd years with the band, it was bitter sweet really. I was faced with negativity throughout my entire time, people seeking nostalgia always want to see and hear the original members of the band, which I totally understand.
So that was something I hadn’t anticipated I would be faced with, it wouldn’t matter who had been playing drums in that situation, that’s just the way it was.
When you work, how do you work with the drums?
When I start a tune it usually always comes from the drums. I may have a sample from something or an idea but the first thing to go down will be my drums. That will usually inspire other elements and I begin to build from there.
Also the sound of the drums will play an important part in shaping the track. I like to try and get away from that standard over compressed studio sound and go for a more raw sonic.
I have a huge library of recorded drums from sessions over the years, but I always prefer when I start something new to record fresh. I don’t like going back to the past, I can get bored very quickly that way.
I record, engineer, mix and master everything myself. I don’t over do it where mics on the kit are concerned, sometimes I just use one room mic! As long as I’m capturing the energy and spirit that’s it, same for everything else. I remember when I was very young, I had a reel to reel tape machine that was given to me by a friend’s Dad.
I set the mic in front of my drums which were covered in blankets so as not to annoy the neighbours, I was so excited about recording my drums and adding things, but to try and get the counters to line up was impossible so it never synced. I spent ages trying to get it to work, I guess that was the start of my love for recording.
It’s quite incredible how things have developed since those early days.
What is next for you?
I’m currently working on another two solo albums, due for release next year. I have so much music I really need to get it out there, it’s great to finish things and put them to rest, it’s a bit like therapy.
Also busy writing music for Film/TV projects, which is something I find extremely enjoyable. I’m always keen to keep moving forward, it’s a constant learning process which never ends and I approach my work with a lot more clarity now.
Lastly I have a new jazz quartet called Extemporize. We’ll be playing a lot of live dates and releasing our debut album early 2016.
Tell us more?
The band is all about the live experience, they really are serious players and I can’t wait to see how it develops. It’s great to be back playing music that I love, and to have the freedom to truly express myself is something I’ve missed for a long time.