Monster Bobby Interview (Part 1 of 2)

Monster Bobby just released his debut album, Gaps, via Hypnote Recording Concern and has been touring with the Pipettes -- as a solo artist and part of their band -- on their second U.S. tour. He's got a few more dates in the States before he crosses the ocean again, but if you can't check him out, at least listen to a few tracks, read the interview I had with him, and buy the album! (Oh, and there's more after the jump!)

Q: One of the most noted things about you as a solo artist is how you're composer to the Pipettes. How did you hook up with those three? More importantly, how did you get involved in music yourself?

A: Well, first of all I should say that I am not the sole composer of the Pipettes' music. Although I put the band together in the beginning and it was my idea, and perhaps when we first started most of the initial batch of songs were mine, nowadays there are seven equal songwriters in the band and it would be false to pinpoint any one of us as the "principal" songwriter. As to how I hooked up with them, pretty well everyone in the band were old friends of mine from Brighton. I'd been playing in bands for some time before coming up with the idea for the Pipettes and so I knew most of the musicians in town. The one exception being Gwenno, who joined the group a little later. We met Gwenno the first time we played in her hometown -- Cardiff in Wales. She loved what we were doing and so, when Julia (who was an old friend of mine from school and one of the three singers in the band) left, Gwenno was one of the first people we thought to get in contact with.

I didn't come from a musical family at all but my best friend in primary school (which I guess is roughly the English equivalent of elementary school) was very musical -- his father was a professor of Ethnomusicology -- and there were always instruments around at his house when I would go round. We used to create fantasy bands when we were little. We'd invent stage names and all sorts of elaborate ideas about what the band would do and what it'd be like without ever actually playing a note. In a way, the Pipettes, years and years later, was kind of like a fantasy band that finally came true.

Q: Your solo material is more contemplative, lo-fi, and less bubblegum than your work with the Pipettes. When and how was the album written and why the inverse approach? It almost sounds, at times, like a bedroom recording ... ?

A: It sounds like a bedroom recording because it basically was. The whole album was recorded in the winter of 2006/2007 on my friend Kit's laptop in his bedroom (apart from the horns and live drums for which we rented a little rehearsal studio in Brighton). I'm working on a much smaller budget for my solo stuff and a great deal of the music that it is influenced by was recorded on a small budget (like the stuff on 555 Recordings or Sarah Records for instance). the concept of the Pipettes is that of a pop group. It had to sound pop and that takes a proper studio and high production values. No one in the band would ever describe it as an indie band or alternative in any way. But that's not really what I'm trying to achieve with my solo stuff where the reference is much more to post-punk, indiepop, electronic music, and folk music.

Q: The album's called Gaps. Why that title?

A: when i was trying to think of names for my album I came up with lots of kind of facetious, long winded titles but in the middle of all that i had this idea of calling it Gaps and that was the only title i came up with that didn't just sound like a bad joke after a moment's reflection. I'd been reading quite a lot by the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the truth of the unconscious speaks through gaps in normal reality -- dreams, symptoms, slips of the tongue and so forth. It therefore seemed appropriate for an album that draws on the dreaminess of shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and the kind of technical "errors" of glitch techno. You could think of the glitch (things like CD skipping noises and the "clips" of digital distortion -- both of which feature quite heavily on this record) as the unconscious truth of digitally recorded music in a certain sense.

Q: And on a related note, where does the moniker Monster Bobby come from?

A: I first started doing solo gigs and making music on my own when I was in halls of residence at university. At around the same time the group Add N to (X) released an album called Add Insult to Injury which had a track called Monster Bobby. My flat mate Lydia (who went on to design the sleeve for Gaps) was listening to that album a lot and she suggested I call myself Monster Bobby because she thought it would be quite a funny name. And I eventually agreed with her. Sometime later a friend of mine actually met Barry7 from Add N to (X) who was apparently quite flattered that someone had named themselves after their song.

Q: Tell me a little about Hypnote Records ... you affiliation and how you got together with them.

In 2006, a friend of mine, Nick Levine, started a 7" label called Remake/Remodel Records and its first release was my single Heaven Hides Nothing. David Rothblatt who runs Hypnote heard this over the Internet and was immediately intrigued to hear more stuff. David's quite an incredible guy actually -- he was the first ever employee of Def Jam Records in the 80's and he worked at Rough Trade and then went on to be label manager at Shimmy Disc. Now, Hypnote is becoming a kind of mother label for various other concerns, including a UK hip hop/grime imprint called Raggotech, a dance 12" label called Hyptone, and, in the near future, my own label, Little Other -- but any details about Little Other are something of a secret at the moment.

Monster Bobby - Beyond the Reach of Arms
Q: How's the U.S. tour been treating you? Any notable differences between N. America and the U.K.?

We've been having a great time on this tour, but there are huge differences between the culture in North America and Europe and I'd be lying if i didn't admit to occasionally missing European cities for their sense of history, their food, and the curious irrationality of European town planning. I find cities based on the grid system strangely alienating.

Q: Your MySpace page lists about three hundred "influences." What music did you grow up on, though, and what are you most avidly listening to today?

The first album I remember owning as a child was Bad by Michael Jackson but shortly after that i got into heavy metal in a big way and spent most of my early teens listening to Slayer and Napalm Death and so forth. Recently I've been listening to a lot of Brazilian music from the 60s and 70s -- Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Joao Gilberto and so forth -- and also quite a lot of Bach and Monterverdi. If I go to a concert these days -- excluding those that I'm playing or a friend's band are playing -- it'll generally be classical music: Bach cantatas in a church or music by modern composers like Gyorgy Ligeti or Luigi Nono. The best "new" music I've heard recently is V/Vm's new stuff under the name, the Caretaker.