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Photo by Alex Pavlou
Engineers is a band that have been labelled as shoegaze and dream pop. Call the band’s swooning mix of keyboards, guitars, and Mark Peters’s pleasant voice what you will, but it still registers with this listener as dream pop. Mark and writing partner Ulrich Schnauss can throw as many electronic and ambient sounds into the mix as they want, and it will always be beautiful music. Mark Peters took a little time to answer some questions about his latest release, Always Returning.
You’ve moved away from the rock based songs from previous outings towards more ambient and electronic music. Why abandon what worked so well for you on the first few albums, and was it a conscious decision to change styles or did it happen naturally?
MARK: Yes, this was a natural development. Anyone who has heard Underrated Silence and especially Tomorrow Is Another Day might not find this transition particularly surprising. I think ambient and electronic music has always been at the heart of Engineers music – I suppose the live side of the group and the fact that most of us were guitarists meant that it ended up possibly sounding more rock based, but believe me, guitar music came quite far down the list of things we listened to on tour.
Can you tell us about the recording process for this record, how long it took, and how you approach song writing with Ulrich?
MARK: These are songs I worked on since the last Engineers album In Praise of More and during the making of the two albums with Ulrich. Every song has a different genesis…some I tinkered with off and on for 3 years, like the title track and “Drive Your Car”, and some I wrote recorded and mixed in 5 days (“Bless the Painter” and “Searched For Answers”). About two weeks before the delivery date, I went to stay at Ulrich’s flat and we spent a week working on his synth parts for the album. This ranged from adding some small details on some tracks to completely overhauling the track “Smoke And Mirrors”, where we removed my demo sounds and Ulrich created new sounds that the track is anchored around. People will probably think that he created the ambient parts, but Matthew Linley played the washy synth pad on “Fight Or Flight” and I did most of the programming on “Drive Your Car”. Ulrich’s synths this time were generally more of a rhythmic or melodic nature.
The album is incredibly pretty, how is it doing in the music press and sales wise? Does having Ulrich in the group help with that at all?
MARK: There’s been some excellent reviews, there’s been some OK reviews, and the odd terrible one thrown in. It’s too early to say how it’s sold but early signs suggest that it’s doing OK. I don’t know how to answer the part of the question about Ulrich as there’s no way of gauging that. All I can say is that Three Fact Fader has sold about twice as much as In Praise Of More (the first to feature him). For the record, I work with him because he is an extremely gifted and creative person who I get on well with and constructively encourages my creativity and has never sought to stifle it.
What songs are your favorites and for what reasons? I am partial to “Fight or Flight” with its cinematic beauty, and “It Rings So True” because I am reminded of your older work.
MARK: I really like “Bless The Painter” as it has bite in the general sound as well as thematically. I really want to explore this in future releases because as much as I love introspective themes, I feel I’m at a point where I can verbalize things that bother me and am not afraid of confrontation. The other song is “It Rings So True” for similar reasons. One review described its “uneasy melancholy” and this is why I like it. We don’t try to escape from our problems immediately into a blissful mellow state, and I want the music and words to reflect that. I also think that the end section is the best piece of writing on the record.
Any chance you will work again with Daniel Land and some of the other guys you’ve worked with through the years?
MARK: I think sometimes in life we have to face the fact that people we get on with best and have the most in common with aren’t always as compatible with us in working situations. I think the current constellation of Engineers actually says more about me than any previous members – the other guys in the band both have their own projects but are happy to help realize my ideas and both bring aspects to my songs that I couldn’t achieve. I’m very happy with this line-up to be honest, and going back to a guitar based outfit isn’t what appeals to me at this point.
Will you and Ulrich be touring behind this album, even limited engagements in select locations?
MARK: I doubt it to be honest. Ulrich is tied up with rehearsing and playing some live shows with Tangerine Dream this year, and for personal reasons I didn’t want to tour this album from the offset. That said, if something special arose I have no doubt we’d seriously consider it as we played together at his flat recently and recorded it, which was quite enjoyable.
Did you consider ending the band name at any time vs. recording under your own name? Does the existing band name give you a sort of “brand recognition” to fans?
MARK: I think so, yes. And also it has always felt like the story was left a bit untold in a way. I really wanted to attempt to make the definitive Engineers album, and while it’s not for me to make that judgment, I do think that this is the album where our influences take a back seat to our individuality and while some might say (including me) that some of our best songs are on other albums, I’m pretty sure this is the one that is the most consistent and flows the best.
What happens next for Engineers?
Engineers is a pretty informal set up, and while part of me thinks we could capitalize on the attention Always Returning has gotten us, I would never put something out for the sake of it. I have been writing this year though, and have been pleasantly surprised with the results, so who knows what might happen next year?