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Sanguine Hum: The Progressive Progress of Collaboration

20 May 2013

Pity that geography often hides wonderful musical gems. When I received The Weight of the World, the second studio album by England’s Sanguine Hum, I was operating under the assumption that they were a relatively new band. They are, of course; this being only their second studio record. Further research turned up something quite interesting; though the band Sanguine Hum may be relatively new, the collaborative spirit behind the band most certainly was not. Multi-instrumentalists Joff Winks and Matt Baber have worked together for well over a decade and a half, making new friends and picking up collaborative partners along the way. The names of the bands may have changed, but the creative spirit is a continuum, inexorably linking past and present to a solitary muse and a creative drive that has yet to satiate.

Sanguine Hum’s sound is described as “Post-Prog,” an interesting if somewhat foreign term for American music fans. While their music is certainly big and grandiose, one shouldn’t think of Yes and other big, bloated bands. Instead, one finds that their sound is very akin to more modern-day groups such as Radiohead, Sigur Ros, or Explosions In The Sky. Okay, maybe fans of Yes, Utopia, Rush and more mainstream “prog” will find much to love on The Weight of the World as well.

BIG TAKEOVER: I’ll be honest and say that your new album is the first I’ve heard of your work. I enjoyed the album, and did a little research, and discovered your rich discography from the past decade. I was even more surprised to hear how dissimilar each record and project was to the ones that came before it or alongside it. Are you a restless creative soul, or is there a particular sound you are trying to perfect?

JOFF WINKS: For me, the answer is somewhere in between restlessness and perfection. I think as a band we want to keep moving forward or at least sideward. It’s never very gratifying to write music that sounds the same as the music you’ve just finished but that said, each composition is informed by the previous one to some extent. Matt and I are always looking for ways to tie our work together and to date we’ve managed to conceptually link all our releases, quoting ourselves all over the place, be that melodically, harmonically or lyrically. So in this sense perhaps we are seeking a sort of perfection but one of our own making.

MATT BABER: I think our listening changed quite a bit over the last 10 years too. The Antique Seeking Nuns EPs really reflected the peak of our interest in Frank Zappa, as well as the Canterbury scene. We’ve had long periods of listening to just ECM Records or maybe Steve Reich, John Adams, and Philip Glass. Then there are the electronic influences such as Boards of Canada. All of these listening experiences affect the flavour of the work.

BT: Do you feel there is a continuum throughout all of your various projects? For instance, do you feel like you could have gotten to Sanguine Hum had you not made Nunbient, Antique Seeking Nuns, or your other projects?

JOFF WINKS: That’s a good question! As I’ve mentioned, above our work is conceptually tied together so there’s certainly a continuum throughout. Personally, I don’t think we could have gotten to Sanguine Hum without the other projects. They’ve all shaped our music writing in their own way. I think that Nunbient’s One | Just Another Dark Age might have been the most important record that we’ve released. It was written at a very hard time for the band. We’d just come to the end of the road as Joff Winks Band, lost our publishing deal, lost our management and support! We had a great record (Songs for Days) that wasn’t even afforded the dignity of a release and we were running out of energy and hope for the future. So in a typical Baber/Winks move we sought refuge in our music and started work on the Nunbient project. This opened a door. We released the record on burning shed and consequently got to know Pete Morgan, Tim Bowness, and Carl Glover, who provided the iconic cover for the album. Eventually this would lead to Andrew Booker (drums) joining the band and our working with Esoteric Antenna. So we arrive here at the present day, a new record released and a way forward unfolding!

MATT BABER: – And the nice thing about this new album is I feel we have somehow managed to balance all of those editions of our “band”, and somehow make some sense of the whole thing. What’s exciting now is that when people go back and start to discover our older work, I think The Weight of the World will give them a kind of musical map for working out where we’ve come from.

BT: When I listened to The Weight of the World, I listened to it twice—once on a stereo as I was working, and then on a portable stereo with headphones. One thing I noticed was that listening on an open stereo, your music was powerful and heavy and simply asked to be played as loud as possible, giving the feeling of Sanguine Hum as a strong, sensory-overpowering band. When I listened to it on headphones, though, I found something different. The lyrics that seemed buried when listening to it as loud as possible, they felt quite delicate when listening to it with a lower volume. It was much more intimate and the record really came alive. This is not an easy feat to pull off! Did you spend a lot of time in the studio making The Weight of the World?

JOFF WINKS: No—in fact we turned the album around very quickly! We spent five days tracking at Evolution Studios, Oxford and then finished the overdubs at my home studio (Yellow Benteens) aver the next few weeks. Mixing was also done very quickly, although in very intense and long sessions, sometimes 13 plus hours a day! Matt and I listen to a lot of music, so between us we have thousands of hours listening experience to bring to the table. I think this really helps when mixing. It makes the critical decisions easier to get right.

MATT BABER: Although the demo and rehearsal process for this album was quite lengthy, which might account for why things worked so well when we did actually hit the studio. Over the few years before we started recording, lots of demos where passed around, and the feedback from those really determined the shape of the album. Our bass player Brad Waissman in particular has been the key listener in the band, and will help us determine what music is worth pursuing. Between the three of us there is quite a unique filtering process at work for months before the album “proper” begins.

BT: In that duality I mentioned above, the loud Sanguine Hum seems to use lyrics as an additional instrument, whereas the quiet-listening experience brought out the more lyrical nature of the group. Coming from a background that included bands and projects that were much more lyrical in scope, is the lyrical aspect an important element of Sanguine Hum, or is it merely one of the many tricks up your

JOFF WINKS: The lyrics are always important in a Sanguine Hum record. Let me start by saying I loath generic lyrics! I also find it very hard to appreciate lyrics dealing in the common currency of “love”. A great love song is a very hard thing to write so I wish people would just stop turning out poor quality pap! Although, one may as well wish that rain wasn’t wet! The Weight of the World lyrics form both an overarching narrative but at the same time can be understood as separate songs. The listener is always co-producer on any record so hopefully people will add to the experience of listening to our music in a positive way.

MATT BABER: There is a duality as well in these lyrics especially. There’s a literal meaning to them, which we as songwriters are privy to but which would be almost impossible for the listener to determine. So then, you get all kinds of interesting and equally plausible meanings that arrive from free association. Even for us, we can think that we know what we’ve written the song about, but very often other meanings can creep in.

BT: As I’ve examined your back catalogue, I’ve definitely noticed a trend of projects starting up, picking up new members, and then morphing into something else. Do you always have a few kettles on the boil? Are you working on something new at the moment, any new projects in the horizon that we can look forward to?

JOFF WINKS: Well, we’ve already written the next two Sanguine Hum albums, Now We Have Light and Now We Have Power, and these two albums flesh out a story that we’ve been setting up on The Weight of The World. However, before we get stuck into Now We Have Light later this year, we’re hoping to release the Live in America album/DVD that was shot last year in the US. Although we have released a download version of this record we’re really looking forward to getting the film edited together so that we can make the DVD available. I would also like to finish the second Nunbient album Two | Like Glass, which has been on the back burner for quite a while now.

MATT BABER: And that’s not to mention the vast collection of classical music that we have both written over the years…most of which remains unrecorded. I would say only around 20% of the music we have written is currently available. So there’s lots more to come!!!