Checking the #itchysilk inbox pre lockdown, I came across the email regarding the fresh release from The Heliocentrics, Infinity Of Now. For reasons forgotten, the email was opened but the album (released on Madlib’s label Invazion) was not listened to. Why the need to retell this story? When the album was finally opened it was in the midst of the lockdown. This brought about (I am sure) a different listening experience.
The album was absorbed on a lone hour long train journey cocooned by the dim lights of the carriage. Here, I was transported to the world of The Heliocentrics with the opening track Revolution and the hypnotic vocals of Barbara Patkova. Forty-five minutes of aural energy slip-streaming through elements of psychedelia, to rock, jazz and more ensued as the inner city was slowly replaced by the pitch black of forests. And while the surreal times we are living in were accentuated by that lone journey (bar the driver of the train) I felt strangely uplifted by this superb eight-track project. It was the perfect time and antidote. A journey of complete escapism.
Long intro done. I spent time talking with (co-founder) Malcolm Catto about; labels, the evolution of the band and resisting categorization.
Change is inevitable: How have Heliocentrics changed as a band since the debut album Out There (2007)?
It has been quite a journey since the release of Out There and The Heliocentrics have evolved into a different creative entity. Making the transition from a rhythm section with a producer’s perspective to becoming a live, self-contained, versatile, and writing band. We are now a completely live band and consequently rely far less on overdubs.
Talk more about that ‘live’ element.
Production is still a large and essential part of our sound. We prefer a pre-80’s more transparent sound. We think that compliments live music far more than the current digital sound that seems obsessed with trying to recreate an older sound anyway. The drawback of our previous more building block approach to constructing tracks was the sterility. It created a loss of character and interaction. This is intrinsically fundamental in making a live take far more engaging and compelling than a sample.
The plus side was that we always found interesting combinations using records, that you would never get through using musicians. Now we have entered a completely live, more modern approach which sounds more current.
Talk about psychedelia as an important part of Heliocentrics’ way of musical expression. There is a real feel of the 60’s and 70’s.
It seems a shame to deconstruct music into individual component influences and the correlating genres. We would rather our music be accepted or judged in its entirety for what it is and whatever it conveys to the listener. Psychedelia is just a single molecule in the make-up of our group dna. It is an idiom littered with examples of bands being labelled something that they did not consider themselves to be and on closer inspection are not. It is generally those bands who do not fit into their designated boxes (whatever the genre) that interest me the most. We have never considered what we do as retro. Our music combines influences that include 1930s’ Blues to modern electronic music. It is a sincere group expression, unique to us and to now.
Bands like –The Velvet Underground, Silver Apples, Fifty Foot Hose, The Deviants, Second Hand, Spleen, The Godz and The Red Krayola, fall into that category.
Heliocentrics are known for excellent quintessential jam vibes.
To be honest, we are now veering away from the well-trodden jam based path. We are starting to try and write more interesting material that still includes improvisation, but within a structure incorporating proper key and rhythmic variations/changes.
Improvisation always delivers some interesting elements in our playing and ideas, but it invariably leads to lengthy, linear, and predictable modal jams that usually remain in one key and one time signature for their duration.
The possibilities created by writing seem infinite by comparison. We want to combine our group imagination into a real cerebral process that involves putting pen to paper rather than picking up an instrument and playing what immediately comes to mind. Already we are less predictable for it.
Can you briefly discuss how your own influences (please name some) who have helped shape the sound of the band?
The band’s collective taste covers an impressively wide range of the musical spectrum. The common ground between us though is mainly: library music, psych, funk 45’s, afro-beat, kraut rock, Latin, Brazilian, modal jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music old and new. Personally, I am always searching for something I have not heard before either in terms of music, a production sound or song writing- I seem to be encroaching ever increasingly into more left field and experimental territory.
I try and have tried to bring some of these more ‘out’ influences into our music, such as-(check the playlist)
What about this mission to find an “individual voice?”
We strive to stand up against, yet simultaneously be apart from, all those amazing late 60’s to late 80’s bands/artists to present day names. We try to avoid being a pastiche of them. Having a completely unique musical voice that transcends the incredible diversity of amazing music made in the above two decades is difficult. Not only due to the amount of musical ground covered but also because of our preference for a more traditional sound and set up.
There will inevitably be some musical aspects in our music that are comparable to other bands from that extremely fertile and creative period between 1966 – 1986. But, even within that vast galaxy of music I think we do stand out as having a recognizable and unique voice. Ultimately, we like what we do, which remains our only real criteria and impetus.
You have released music under a few brilliant labels. You dropped Infinity Of Now on Madlib Invazion-why Madlib’s label for this release?
When we sent the album to our label before Invazion, they were initially concerned by the apparent lack of potential radio singles. They wanted to hear the finished version of the demo. We took this to mean it was perhaps time to move on. It can never be a great sign when a record label attempts to have an influence over a band’s musical output and direction: either they believe in it or they do not.
Last autumn, Madlib and Egon were in London. They randomly stopped by our studio to say hello. While here, they asked if they could hear what we had been up to. I played them the current album and relayed the above story. After hearing snippets of the songs Madlib expressed an interest in releasing it on his label.
Talk about Infinity Of Now as an emotional body of work where did you want to take listeners?
Like with any of our releases we want to heighten people’s awareness. We want to open people’s minds to something freer, less rigid, and more organic by offering them something honest with human emotions. That is a contrast to a back-drop of predominantly quantised and sanitised music. In these times of self-imposed isolation, we want to take people on an expansive and comprehensive escapist trip that hopefully, inspires some of them to do something creative.
Of course, the title needs to be discussed and that name the Infinity Of Now.
Everyone in the band threw their title suggestions into the figurative hat. Jake came up with Infinity of Now which was a clear winner. We liked its meaning and I would be lying if I did not say that it helped that it seemed to have not been used before. Trouble is, it turns out it has been used before. There is a concurrent album release of the exact same title by a DJ Yogamuffin. This makes it seem like an out take from a Nathan Barley episode.
Many comments on your Bandcamp talk about this album being a perfect follow up to A World Of Masks (2017) -is there some credence to this?
Our current album is a good follow up to A World of Masks. It clearly demonstrates another incremental step in our evolution: from releasing heavily over-dubbed good but directionless jams, to releasing more focused and interesting written songs. A large portion of the tracks started their lives as bass riffs that Jake came up with at home. We then spent an indeterminate amount of time, changing, fleshing out and honing them into something that we were all relatively happy with and which we could perform live. Most of these and the rest of our set are still ‘tweaked’. To this day we have songs that we still feel can be tweaked and altered.
Finally is it too early to talk about follow-up albums?
No. We have a follow up album to The Infinity Of Now called Telemetric Sounds which should be out in September. I know what I said about writing songs being ‘the way forward’ but again nothing is static or written in stone. Telemetric consists primarily of a single morphing improvisation that we did during the recording of Infinity Of Now when Babs and Jack went out to get something to eat. The rest of us bored of trying to nail some of the written tracks, played continually for the 40 minutes they were away, unaware we were still recording. We feel it represents some of the best music we have done to date and shows some of the real potential of the new line up in a different light from ‘Infinity’.