"I suppose being a DJ you become a bit of a magpie, I have a slightly short attention span..." hmv.com talks to Mr. Scruff
What have you been up to for the last five years?
"I think it’s been six actually, but I’ve had about three singles out in that time, plus I had a daughter three years ago, which put a massive, lovely spanner in the works! I’ve been busy though, touring and stuff. I think because I’m quite hands-on with everything I’m involved with, it’s quite easy to get distracted with day-to-day stuff. I’m never in a massive rush to put music out anyway really, I also really enjoy the DJing side of it and in hindsight that’s always what slows down the release schedule, all the late nights and stuff.
"I think it’s different for guys like me, I’m not in a band, I don’t go into a studio for six months then go touring for weeks on end and repeat the cycle, it’s all a bit more intermingled, which I think is really nice because it gives you time away from your current projects, especially when you’re working on your own a lot of the time, you need to be able to put things down for a few days."
When did you start working on the album?
"Pretty much straight after the last one actually, getting ideas together. What I quite like to do with a lot of the albums is rather than having a concept at the start of recording sessions - which I suppose a lot of people like to do in order to stop themselves just meandering indefinitely - but I like to hammer away getting ideas down, usually for quite a long period of time, without really listening back to them. I then have a big listening session where I’ll listen to everything I’ve created over the past year or whatever, then it’s almost like a sense of focus and direction kind of evolves from that.
"That way you kind of go ‘oh, ok, I notice these things are happening’, themes will sort of emerge across a collection of different tracks and start to give the album a direction and I’ll start pulling things together from that. So it starts in quite a nebulous way and slowly crystalises."
Let’s talk about that title – why did you decide on that?
"Well, although this album is maybe not quite as chirpy as some of the previous ones I’ve not lost my sense of humour. I like the way words rub up against each other and a word like bacteria obviously has negative associations, but thanks to adverts for pro-biotic yoghurts over the last 20 years people obviously understand there are good kinds and bad kinds. Still, the word bacteria is quite creepy on its own so I like the juxtaposition.
"There’s always been a bit of a playful element to what I do and I suppose being a DJ you become a bit of a magpie, I have a slightly short attention span and an interest in loads of different stuff, so I like putting disparate things together and seeing how they get on. It creates a sort of friction and from that you often get a creative spark.
"Also, a lot of that language that gets used I find really odd and quite comedic as well. You know, made up Latin names for organisms and things. Or combining two words together, which kind of annoys me and amuses me in equal measure. I saw in a supermarket they’d used the word ‘Tomatard’… and people are copyrighting all these words! ‘Glamping’. ‘Jeggings’. That’s the kind of thing that gets me really annoyed, these phrases enter every day parlance very quickly, then you’ve people using a word like ‘jeggings’ and thinking it’s normal. No. It’s not normal. It’s horrible, stop it."
There’s quite a different sound to songs like 'Render Me' compared with your earlier stuff like 'Spandex Man' and 'Get A Move On' – did you approach this album differently?
"Not really. The thing is, all those tunes that, I suppose, I’m most well-known for, they all just sort of happened. There’s no agenda, you know? Like with ‘Get a Move On’ I didn’t sit down and think ‘right, I’m going to make some sort of jazz-house monster’, it just sort of happened on the day. Same with ‘Spandex Man’ or anything else really."
It sounds much darker, a bit more grown-up…
"One thing I quite like doing on albums is exploring a few little strains and themes that kind of run concurrently and then develop on the next album. The early stuff was quite bass heavy, there’s a few organs on various tracks on the second album, ten with this one there are a few that are quite dark and malevolent, they have a lot of texture and sort of throb… like a massive jellyfish. But even if you go back to Trouser Jazz, songs like ‘Beyond’ are really quite mysterious and dark. So a lot of people are saying this is a real change but to me it’s just normal, just moving forward albeit in a slightly different way."
Can you talk us through the guests on the album? There are quite a few tracks with Denis Jones...
"Well, I suppose one thing that gives the album this kind of overcast feel is the collaborations with Denis, which make up nearly half the album. I find his music really beautiful and quite intriguing, and very different to mine. But that’s half the fun of collaborations for me. I know I’m renowned for this kind of jazzy, chirpy style, which is cool, I love that people view my music through that kind of lens because it gives people a real sense of joy, especially when I’m DJing, it means I can pretty much get away with anything because there’s this acceptance of ‘look, we’re going to have some fun, even if he’s playing rare or some African records that I’ve never heard of’.
"Most of my previous collaborations have usually been one track per album, but with Denis we worked so quickly and easily together that immediately the results were so fresh and different to me. I always go into any collaborative situation with an open mind but with Denis even though I knew it was going to be different I was really surprised at how naturally things just fell into place."
How did that come about, where did you meet?
"I met him at an Amp Fiddler gig in Liverpool, I’d gone over there to see it because I’m a really big fan of his music. There was this weird guy with a guitar and a loop pedal called Denis warming up for him and I was just intrigued straight away by the way he was building up the tracks and layering the sounds. Normally when you see a guy on stage with a loop pedal, a lot of the time I find it quite texturally and dynamically flat, you kind of know what’s going to happen.
"But with Denis it was different, he just has a really different way of approaching it, the way he arranges things. I love repetitive, hypnotic music and I find his voice really soulful, but with quite a hard edge to it. Just the way he was doing stuff with the desk, making feedback loops and very slowly building up melodies, kind of in the way Matthew Herbert works, you know, this mad scientist approach. Some really charming music comes out of it and I find that really entertaining, doing stuff with electronics that’s sort of mechanical and repetitive but creating it in a very ad-hoc, very physical and visual way. So anyway, I got chatting to him in the bar and it turns out he lives half a mile down the road from me and we had loads of mates in common, all that Manchester one-man-band-with-broken-keyboard crew!"
There are a couple of other collaborations on the album too, aren’t there?
"Yeah, Vanessa Freeman is one of them, I’ve known her a long time, I met her during the genesis of that whole broken beat scene and she’s lovely, we’re good mates. Like a lot of collaborations, when you see people quite often you’re always going ‘let’s do something together’ but you never get around to working with them because there’s not that pressure there. I had a few people I’d wanted to work with over the last few years and she was one of them. So she’s on a couple of tunes, she’s on the title track where I’ve cut up her vocals and made her sound a bit like a slightly erotic robot, then on ‘Cme Find Me’ which is a bit more of a proper vocal performance.
"Then Robert Owens is on one of the tracks, he’s a legend obviously but I kept hearing his voice on this tune so I sent it to him and he got back a few hours later going ‘yeah, I’m well up for this’. It’s a bit less banging than a lot of the stuff he gets asked to do, so he was really into the change of pace."
What are your plans for touring the record?
"It’s more like just groups of little weekend gigs. Sometimes with DJing you can be in a venue for 13 or 14 hours including set-up and an all-night set, so just for the sake of my sanity and keeping it fresh I prefer to do things that way. I think the joy for me with DJing is just going to the venue and tweaking things, do whatever feels right on the night. Because you get to see the first person coming through the door and see how people are interacting and slowly moving onto the dance floor, it’s really nice. It’s like extended people watching but you’re reacting to them and creating something special that’s just for one night."