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This interview took place via email over the course of 6 months. Thanks go out to my friend Daniel Land for putting me in touch with Mark.
The Engineers followed the original dream pop/shoegaze movement of the 1990’s with a hazy, shimmering sound they made their own. Formed in 2003 in London by Mark Peters , Simon Phipps, Andrew Sweeney, and Dan MacBean, they initially signed with a Chrysalis label offshoot called Echo. Their debut EP, Folly, was released in September 2004, followed by their first proper full-length release in March of 2005. Its dreamy atmospherics begged comparisons with Ride, Spiritualized, Cocteau Twins, and early Verve, but it’s more likely that Tim Hardin (“If I Were a Carpenter”), Brian Wilson, and Tim Buckley (“Song to the Siren”) figure in Peters’ list of favorite artists.
Some time passed before the band’s excellent second album, Three Fact Fader, made it out to fans. After its release, the band amicably parted ways with Sweeney and MacBean, and recruited electronic music master Ulrich Schnauss, Daniel Land (Modern Painters, riverrun) and Matthew Linley (Gilbert). Moving forward, the band migrated to Kscope Records and released their third album, In Praise of More, in September 2010. This past year brought us “To An Evergreen”, an EP which includes remixes of material from In Praise of More and a Pink Floyd cover. As obscure as they may be to US fans, their music has been used as theme music for the HBO TV show, Big Love, and was recently heard on CW show, The Secret Circle. Bands need to get their music out any way they can, and I hope Mark and his band continue to push the musical envelope and bring us amazing music.
I look at my favorite bands list for the last decade, and Engineers always rise to the top. There is something so compelling and singular about your sound that cuts through all the faceless chaff produced by so many others. What do you think sets you guys apart?
MARK PETERS: Thanks Elizabeth. On the face of it, I would say the reason there’s something special is that the songs are well written with interesting harmonic structures, and the recordings are well produced, but essentially I would hope that the real connection people would make with our music is a spiritual one. By this I do not mean a connection that requires Krishna beads and candles to assist listening, but one that lifts you to a higher mental state, and away from everyday consciousness. There are obviously deeper and darker pieces of music that would spring to mind that these states would be more quickly achieved by listening to, but I think the fact that we are one of the few acts where maybe even a quite conventional and sometimes very accessible melodic vocal line belies an often very otherworldly atmosphere.
On your first release, I was reminded of The Verve and The Beta Band. Out of your musical influences, what has had the strongest impact on your work with Engineers?
MARK PETERS: I’m personally a massive Beach Boys fan as they achieved (unfortunately with mainly unreleased music) what I’m describing above. I like pop with an almost classical element to it. The early Verve records were also an influence, but often I wished the tracks where instrumental as the vocal often came over too egotistically and took away from the higher feeling that the music had, which is exactly why that particular Beach Boys stuff is so great. No one is on a ‘me – trip’ on it, and it becomes sort of universal and the singer’s personality is irrelevant. That feeling has always been paramount in Engineers, and over emoting just doesn’t fit the music.
How did you hook up with Ulrich Schnauss? Will he act as your producer on future releases?
MARK PETERS: We met at a Sonic Cathedral Records show that we both DJed at. The guy who runs that knew we were both fans of each other’s music, so he invited us both to play some records at that show. We became friends, and a couple of years later, I invited him to play with us in the live band. He already has co-produced tracks on In Praise Of More, and will continue to do so.
Has the sound changed with the new band members?
MARK PETERS: Yes. Obviously, Ulrich’s is his own, so that influenced the sound somewhat. Although to me, not that drastically as we were influenced to a degree by his music before he got involved, and I think Matthew’s drumming has added a more jazzy free-form aspect that I find very interesting. We now also have another falsetto vocalist in the band in the form of Daniel Land, so maybe we could explore choral aspects of our music further with his assistance.
Could you tell us a bit about the songwriting process on those two songs the whole band penned on In Praise of More? Is it at all democratic?
MARK PETERS: “Twenty Paces” was built up from a chord sequence that Ulrich composed, then he, myself, and Simon wrote the vocal lines together, and I wrote pretty much all of the title track with assistance from Simon on the lyrics. I do think though that the synths have a very strong influence on this track, so Ulrich’s contribution is quite apparent on this also. It is a democratic system though, yes — everyone has to agree that something is working or not.
How do you manage being so geographically dispersed from the other band members?
MARK PETERS: This is difficult, but Ulrich and I have just completed an album under our own names that will be released on Feb 3rd called Underrated Silence which given that I live in York and he in London, demonstrates that geography is more or less irrelevant.
Tell us a bit about the “To An Evergreen” EP.
MARK PETERS: The E.P just came about as I had a collection of remixes of tracks from the album that I wanted to find an outlet for. I like the remixes, so it was nice to put something out that presents the album in a different way. It was also a way to have the Pink Floyd cover we did for Mojo magazine included on one of our releases.
I came across a band called North Atlantic Oscillation. They have an Engineers remix of “77 Hours”. Did you produce them? They sound just like Engineers.
MARK PETERS: No, I didn’t. I heard them very early though before they were signed and offered some opinions about mastering to the A+R guy at Kscope. They supported us on a UK tour last year, so given that you think they are very similar, that was probably a good pairing?!
Out of all your releases, which one is your favorite?
MARK PETERS: My favourite Engineers album is still the first. For no other reason that I think there’s a clarity in the writing that is quite transcendent at times that we did achieve later on, but not with as much regularity.
Is there any chance you might tour part of the US if it becomes economically feasible? I know quite a few folks who love your music.
MARK PETERS: I would love to tour the U.S, but at present that is not an apparent option. Myself and Ulrich may play some shows if the right ones are offered, so maybe that way we will play in the U.S.
Any thoughts on what the future direction of your music might be?
MARK PETERS: I am very keen to move our music away from any definite shoegaze connotations that we have had in the past. Not to say I don’t like that style anymore, but I really do feel that we have explored it as fully as we could have without repeating ourselves.I am currently working on new material and figuring out what the direction will be, so maybe take Underrated Silence as a hint as to how it will go…
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