For her third album, Campbell sought a new creative ecosystem and found a suitable gloomy residence at a decaying basement studio at London’s Somerset House. In drum machine heaven, the producer created Former Things, her most accessible album to date. Bristling with heavily programmed electro-pop loops and synth bass, Campbell’s cleverly assimilated vocals eulogise on memories of lost youth with a renewed sense of vigour.
You took up residency at Somerset House, thus relocating from Manchester to London. What precipitated that move?
“Marie McPartlin, the director of Somerset House studios, was looking for a wide range of artists to join their new studios with a remit of bringing people back to London’s city centre. I leapt at the opportunity because I was dying to get out of Manchester and do something different having totally immersed myself and written a personal travelogue about where I came from on my second album Hinterland. I was frankly bored of Manchester so it came at a great time for me – a new city gave me totally new stimulus, which was a great starting point from which to write new material.”
We guess Somerset House still contains something of the concrete brutalism in its outwards appearance?
“I always end up in yet another concrete room. All the studios I was shown didn’t work for me because I would have had to share them with people, but we walked though this dilapidated basement room and I thought, hang on, what about this space? It was just perfect. The dimensions of the room meant that it wasn’t an obvious studio space because it was very echoey, but I have a history of operating in spaces like that and it was just a way to get me into the building and London.”
Did coming to London affect your mood and therefore the sound of your music?
“I come from an art school background so to be in the heart of London surrounded by loads of galleries was inspiring. I’d not been in a studio since my art degree, so it was the perfect setup. It gave me the autonomy and isolation I needed but I only had to step out the door and there were 50 other artists from loads of different disciplines thrumming away and doing their thing, so I had all that to bounce off. I just had a lot of energy while I was in London and that’s fed into the record.”
Did you find yourself sourcing ideas from the other residents there?
“When my door was closed it was just me and the gear in my creative inner world, but once I opened it I was bouncing down the corridor dying to chat to people. It had a more general impact on my creative well-being, but no one had any input into the album in any other way. I’m back in Manchester now and talking to you from a much-reduced studio space squashed into the corner of my flat. I’ve spent a lot of time in this restricted space and that sort of thing can have a terrible effect on a person’s well-being. Sonically, it didn’t matter that I was in London because I wasn’t using the room as a live space, so I could have made the record here, but it wouldn’t have been the same album because I wouldn’t have been the same upbeat, confident person.”
We read that you used projections, notably a selection of Bergman movies and Cabaret Voltaire videos. Was that just for fun or as an act of creative impetus?
“I am fully pretentious and love to make the space I’m in really creative. The room had really big paint-flaking walls and I love projectors so I had three of them going off in there. I projected Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf and Through a Glass Darkly, which is my idea of fun. It could be a bright sunny day outside, but I’d get all that going in the morning [laughs] because it stimulated me and put a bit of movement and company into the space.”
Former Things seems to have more of an electro-funk sound, almost as if you’ve retroactively shifted from the ’70s to the ’80s?
“I never set out to be retro and think there are other artists that are way more retro to the point of being pastiche, which I have no interest in artistically, but I do gravitate to certain sounds and electro reminds me of my childhood. I was a little kid in the ’80s and wasn’t aware of cool stuff like Cybotron, but I was aware of films like Beverley Hills Cop that had some of those electro-funk textures. Sonically, the album’s going back to my childhood because I’ve always loved those sounds.”
Do you get the impression that ‘retro’ is perceived as a bit of a dirty word?
“It’s very interesting that the dreaded word ‘retro’ gets applied to electronic music and not guitar-oriented music because the electric guitar’s been around since the ’40s yet a four-piece band is always perceived to be really ‘happening’ and current. No one ever describes the guitar as retro, so I do think there’s something weird going on there. Also, there are multiple different types of ’80s music, there’s Cybotron, The Human League or mainstream Stock Aitken Waterman – so what are we talking about when we’re talking about the ’80s?”
We understand Neneh Cherry was an inspiration – the Raw Like Sushi album?
“It’s funny because I had that cassette as a kid but hadn’t listened to it for years. After writing the track (There Is) No Logic I thought, God, this reminds me of Neneh Cherry and when I listened back to Raw Like Sushi I was really blown away by the incredible programming on that. Her vocals and delivery were so lively, crunchy and fresh – I think it’s a classic. The new jack swing of Janet Jackson is another – that hard Jam & Lewis sound was incredible. Sometimes there’s a snobbish dismissal of artists like these as ‘pop’, but the sounds and programming were fucking amazing.”
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