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Ian Pickering on Sneaker Pimps, Front Line Assembly, and new duo The Noise Who Runs

29 August 2023

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did The Noise Who Runs come about?

It might be a perfect example of me being overly-self-effacing. Or wanting some feeble barrier between the project and me personally, a sliver of a degree of separation. I did an album as Ian Pickering in 2014 (Left Handed Tendencies, released in 2014), and I don’t like being Ian Pickering in that way. So I was always hoping to stumble across a name, particularly because, as a conscious decision, I’m always left hollow with names.

Song titles are easy – they write themselves or come along during the process. But a name to sum up everything you’re trying to do? That’s mostly gonna end up in dissatisfaction and settling on something and getting stuck with it. When something just lands on you and feels like it could never have been any different, those moments have a profound effect, and the name was like that – I knew it immediately. The Noise Who Runs was the very literal translation of a restaurant here in LilleO Bruit Qui Cour – which means ‘gossip,’ tittle-tattle talk of the town stuff. It was a lightbulb moment when I asked what it meant and was told that it wouldn’t make sense in English. For me, it gives everything the project wants to say and wants to be in four simple words: The Noise Who Runs. Something’s beginning, and it’s not gonna be stopped. And we’re off.

Although Hartlepool is your hometown, The Noise Who Runs is largely the product of your time in France. What made you relocate, and how different has it been making music there rather than back home?

The shortest, most honest version is that I fell in love with a French girl and moved here to Lille to be with her. I wanted it and welcomed it purely for that reason alone – love’s the only reason you need, surely? But the level of disregard and contempt to which I believe people are subjected in the U.K. by our default conservative government, coupled with six years of austerity, then Brexit, made it a no-brainer. Obviously, it depended on me finding a job, but I moved at the end of July 2016, and I’ve never been out of work here since that September.

As regards making music, it’s no different, really. That’s kind of the Northern Star constant in my life – everything else can burn and fall to pieces, but songs get written and recorded, produced, and performed. It was nice, prior to the pandemic, to rehearse again; I’d become quite solitary and isolated musically in England since about 2006, to be honest.

That enjoyment of playing feeds back into the motivation to keep working on new stuff and making plans, reworking things, so I guess the main difference is that the process of making music and the reasons for making it has been refreshed and reinvigorated and, on the personal level, I feel happy and at home here.

And how did you meet your TNWR partner, Felipe Goes?

Felipe was just there at work one day, a new English teacher, and we got talking, and I learned that firstly, he was Brazilian and secondly, that he played the guitar – so win-win, really. And it began there, meeting up, playing songs, getting guitar parts recorded. We rehearsed live with a bass player throughout 2019, using loops and samples, before we decided on a real drummer. We did one rehearsal before Christmas; then, the pandemic shut all that down.

Preteretrospective is kind of a relaunch point where the project has been crystallized into its desired form by the restrictions of 2020 and 2021, all in very good ways. So it’s just me and Felipe, and the live thing will come together with the right people at the right time or just the two of us. I would expect us to do both those things – get a drummer and a bass player and do gigs where it’s just the two of us.

It is safe to say that your music has some very poignant messages, especially the singles “2poor2die” and “Takes a Long Cold Look and Then The Kitchen Sink.” In the case of the latter, how does it make you feel that a song you wrote 25 years ago is more relevant than ever?

Should it make me feel vindicated? That I’ve been right for a long time? On a small level, it probably does. But mostly, it feels like a tragedy that a song I wrote in 1996, the last year of a Tory government that’d been in power since I was eight, now precisely fits an even more disastrous and incompetent Tory government 27 years later.

As a song, it’s changed a lot – different chords and melody, brand new chorus, so it’s just the verse lyrics that remain intact. But even that points to two fundamental truths: the problems for the majority of people haven’t changed in the whole of human history, and the governments don’t and won’t ever help. I wonder why any working person in the U.K. would ever vote Tory again.

I’m not simply tory-bashing in that song, though. It’s all populist, culture warriors wankers who are putting us on the firing line, all politicians full-stop who are failing to meet any of the challenges of the 21st Century, resisting changes to the established status quo that would enable them to meet those challenges and happily making our lives increasingly harder and more miserable as they discuss our continued exploitation with every shady, scruffy motive sleazeball with a free lunch and an envelope of cash for them.

How did you begin working with Sneaker Pimps, and how did you come to be involved in Front Line Assembly?

Every single one of them forced me, against my will, due to some unpleasant skeleton in some random closet. I really didn’t want to, but I’m too polite to say no. You have to understand that Liam once locked me out of his dining room and refused to let me in unless I admitted that Father Christmas wasn’t real. I was about six years old. So Liam can get you to do anything. That last part is true. I’ve known Liam since the day I was born, and we started doing music stuff just before we were teenagers.

He made two albums when we were at school that I did some lyrics for, and when he, Chris, and Kelli were given the chance to make Becoming X, he sat me down and asked if I wanted to give the lyrics a go. And that was as simple as. With Front Line Assembly, Bill Leeb and I have a mutual friend who had suggested it a few times to both him and me and eventually hooked us up for a chat. He sent over two songs, and, like Sneakers, FLA music just breaks open the floodgates to the imagination. I did three more a year or so later, too. Hopefully, Bill might send something else my way soon. I just love writing lyrics, I love the process, and I love words.

I hear that you are also working on new Sneaker Pimps music and soon will be writing again for Front Line Assembly. Is it easy to decide what ideas end up in which project?

Well, with projects outside TNWR, I’m just the lyricist, so both Sneakers and FLA are sending me music. FLA, the tunes are usually just waiting for lyrics. Sneakers, it depends; sometimes, it’s a very raw outline of a song, and more frequently, it’s quite an advanced demo, but whatever stage it’s at, it’s always mesmerizing.

But where is everyone hearing this rumor? I’ve not heard the Front Line Assembly one (although I would love to do more stuff on their stuff; I loved working on the tracks I did), but the Sneakers one keeps cropping up. Working with Sneakers is like having B.O. – you’re always the last to know! But when asked, I’ll always be ready. And Front Line Assembly, too, Bill just has to ask.

What I know for sure is that there was a lot more material worked on during the making of Squaring The Circle than appeared on the actual album, and the writing process was spread over two years before it was released and kept going for a year afterward, getting more songs done. But what’s happening with them, and when? I have no idea at all.

Do you think music is still an important platform from which to engage and empower the masses, or has the potency of music as a force had its day?

Well, I guess we’ll see. I have no other reason to do it other than to empower the masses; I don’t really choose to do this other than I feel I have to, and even when I try and ignore it, it wins, hands-down, very quickly. Certainly, the potency of music hasn’t changed; arguably, the environment in which music is now consumed has made it harder for it to be as forceful as it was to have a growing impact, but that’s how it is, and we have to work with that.

On some level, there’s a degree of cynicism on both sides, artist, and audience – the audience, for the most part, wants to be cheered up from its misery, to escape, to lose itself, rather than identify on the bigger picture and find solidarity, inspiration, a soundtrack to fight to. To a certain extent, it doesn’t want to be lectured to by self-righteous entertainers who can only really make an impact and generate some reasonable money by agreeing to a sync for an advert or T.V. show, which can then be thrown back at them as ‘selling-out.’

To a greater extent, how many artists are actually writing about something that could empower the masses? And how many of them are gonna stand up and be counted rather than sit at home counting? Art has an overall purpose for me – to portray and challenge everything that’s wrong in the world and celebrate every victory to inspire the next one. I don’t like art for art’s sake.

Do you see The Noise Who Runs as a studio project, or are live shows a likelihood in the future?

I think both Felipe and I really want to get back onstage and start playing live with all the stuff we’ve done up to now and everything we’re about to do in the next few years. I would say, most realistically, in 2024. We’re gonna start proper rehearsals very soon, see what we can do with just the two of us, then we’re gonna call in the troops, well, a bass player and a drummer.

For me personally, I tend to see TNWR as my last will and testament, my final resting place – it represents my life’s work, and the aim is to have no song left unrecorded on the day I die. There’s a huge backlog of tracks because since I moved to France, I’ve written more prolifically than ever in my life. It’s kind of plateaued out now to maybe two ‘serious contender’ songs a month, but the list keeps growing, so in terms of what’s coming out of the studio in the future, we’re all set for a string of releases.

And where next for you personally and the band musically?

Well, my teaching at the university here is about to finish in September, so I just have to work from the afternoon until 8 pm for now. This is my peak time to step up the intensity on the recording side – vocals I always try and leave until I have longer to do them. For instruments, it’s easier – you just need to get it done, and you can snatch those moments regularly in the busiest schedule. But singing takes more of a mood and an atmosphere – I need to be alone and unhurried.

So I’ll be focusing on that, and for the band, post-PRETERETROSPECTIVE and a last single (with three new songs on), we have three releases earmarked – an E.P. for the summer, which is more electronic than anything so far, a mini-album in what we’re gonna call the ROGUE NOISE series, and finally a full album probably around Spring 2024. It might not be the same album I’m thinking of right now, which makes it all even more interesting that we’re at a stage where we could just choose to do something completely different and still keep on track with releasing new stuff as often as we can. We’re gonna win everyone over by slowly wearing them down through the sheer weight of material and force of lyrics.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, and best of luck with everything in the future.

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