Glenn Gregory interviewed about Afterhere, his new collaboration with Berenice Scott
By Bob Gourley | Published on September 27, 2018
Heaven 17 frontman Glenn Gregory and classically trained multi-instrumentalist Berenice Scott have worked together on many projects, but Afterhere is the duo’s first original pop music creation. Having met at an airport in Denmark, Gregory initially brought Scott into Heaven 17 when that group was looking for an additional keyboardist. The two also perform together with Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy, a band that plays the music of David Bowie. The musical relationship evolved into composing together, initially for such soundtracks as the British TV series “Liar.” Now they have released “Addict,” their debut album as Afterhere. The music is sophisticated, slightly dark pop, with Scott handling the majority of the vocals. Afterhere played their first live show at 229 in London on October 4, 2018.
How did you and Berenice initially start working together, and how did Afterhere come about?
Glenn Gregory: “Initially, the reason Berenice and I started working together was that I’d been working with another partner on some of the soundtrack and film music. It didn’t work out. Sometimes, when relationships are at an edge, you can get some good work done, but this one was breaking down. I ended up doing some big projects: a film and a 5-part series and a bio pic about Kenny Everett, all on my own over a period of about four or five months. I was in the studio constantly. My studio is at the bottom of my garden, so I would often go down in the morning in my pajamas to do a few things and then at 6 o’clock, I’d suddenly realize I’d been in there all day and hadn’t spoken to a single soul. I vowed to myself that for the next project, I’d find someone to work with. Finding someone to work with is hit and miss, but Berenice and I had been working together with Heaven 17. She’d been playing keys, and we got on really well. I asked her if she’d be interested in doing some scoring, and really, she’s probably better at it than I am. She’s classically trained and she was writing classical pieces even before she started playing in bands, even before she started doing sessions. She jumped at the chance and came on board. I think the first thing we did was for an advert. When we started working together, we quickly realized it was very easy to work together. Bernice would do something and push away, and then I’d step in and do a bit and push away. There was always somebody with an idea and it was really interesting. We did a big series for ITV in the UK called ‘Liar.’ It was six, one-hour episodes, which is a lot of work, and it was very specific in what they wanted. The whole story behind the whole thing, is you didn’t really know who was lying and who was telling the truth. That filtered down all the way into the music. We were writing music as we were going, and the producers and the writers were saying, ‘Yeah, we love it, but we can’t do that because you’re making him the baddie.’ So ok, we have to go back and re-work it. It was a delicate balancing act.
“And it was during that period that Berenice and I started to think about writing some songs together. We chose the name really … we were in a rehearsal studio called The Joint in King’s Cross in London and we were rehearsing with Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansy for the David Bowie tour we were doing. I said, ‘Look, how about the name Afterhere?’ I like the name Ether but there were too many bands hanging around that name, so I wanted another name that felt something like that, that makes you feel there is something else out there. Once we had the name, we starting writing songs. It was really beautiful. Again, sometimes Berenice would come in and start something on the piano very quickly and then I’d take over for a bit and twist it around. The electronics would come in, and then a bit of production would come in, and then Berenice would come back. Berenice is really good at programming drums as well, way better than me. She loves bass as well; she’s learning to play the bass at the moment and is really good at programming bass. Even at that point, we weren’t sure who would be singing the songs. There’s one song where we duet a little bit, and I’m doing backing vocals on quite a few, but basically, it is Berenice’s voice. I remember when we did the first vocal in the studio, it was for a song called ‘Worship,’ and it was so delicate and so beautiful. We realized we definitely had something if we could do a couple of songs like this. And it just went from there. We slowly built it up over a period of 18 months to 2 years. We kept trying to make it quicker, but then we’d get another scoring job and we’d do that. That can take six months out of your workload, really. So, it took longer than we would have liked it to, but I think the next one will be quicker. It was very organic. It was very different from Heaven 17, for instance, where we’d have all the backing tracks finished and the go to start writing lyrics and melody. We did melody and song and lyrics first, and then production. So it was kind of a different way of working for me, but very good.”
Is there any crossover between your projects? For example, might something that was started but not used in a score end up as part of an Afterhere song?
Glenn Gregory: “Maybe not an entire song, but maybe a sound or a riff or just a chord sequence where you think, ‘That’s really beautiful; let’s remember that and go back and work on that at some point.’ There were quite a few of those, including the track ‘Liar,’ which is not on the album. There was a song called ‘Liar’ we did for the series. We were trying to find a way in to what instrumentation we would use and what feel we would use. Berenice started playing the chords and got an idea for a verse and I said, ‘Ok, let’s do it this way then and write the song. And then take the song apart,’ and that came to be our template and palette for the series. Songwriting and scores are very closely linked for us both, I think.”
How did you get into scoring in the first place?
Glenn Gregory: “It was quite a while ago, maybe 15 years or something. There was a guy across the road, a neighbor. I didn’t really know him, but he recognized me as being in Heaven 17 and liked the band. We started chatting and getting to know each other. A friend he went to university with was making his first short film. He asked if I would be interested in writing the music for it, and I thought, ‘yeah, I’d love to.’ So I did that. After that, his first job was doing one episode of a series called ‘Real Crime’ in the UK. It was a drama about real life crime that was unsolved. It was a one-hour show, and I did it; his was the first one that they made. I got called into a meeting at Granada TV and the head of Granada said, ‘Look, I really love what you’ve done with this. I’d like you to do the whole series.’ There were 15 one-hour episodes on the series! Suddenly, I was thrown in the deep end, as I’d never really done it before. I was learning the hard way, and it went on from there, really. It’s all by chance, really. Not to say that I hadn’t been interested in it, because I always had been interested in it.”
Is this a one-off for the album release, or are you planning on performing regularly?
Glenn Gregory: “Performing live is very important to both of us. We knew when we started doing this that we wanted to play it live. So, we had that in mind even when we were writing things. We had different ideas at one point. We were thinking of stripping them back and just doing piano and cello and maybe a few kind of ambient synths and guitar. But it’s grown back from that now. We’re a 3 piece; we’ve got me, and there’s a guy name Al Anderson who is doing electronic drums and triggering. Berenice has got a piano and a synth, and I’ve got two synths and a bass and guitar to use occasionally. It’s just the three of use, but it’s sounding more like the record, the album. We figured that’s what we wanted to do. And we do want to do more shows. This is the first little foray into it. We weren’t going to think it about it yet, really; we were going to think about it later in the year, but a promoter contacted our manager. I think we’re going to use a Roland piano; we’re going to borrow a piano from Roland, a really nice one. Berenice uses the Roland FAO7 and I’ve got the Roland Gaia.”
Heaven 17 did play live initially; personally, did you want to be performing back then?
Glenn Gregory: “I think probably I did want to do it very much. Martyn [Ware] and Ian [Craig Marsh] had toured extensively with The Human League, doing loads of tours all over the place. It hadn’t been of much use, really. They felt they had spent a lot of money and a lot of time doing it, and it kind of felt a little old-fashioned. MTV had just started, and it was a very new thing. Videos were a big thing and a much easier way to spend your money than being on a tour for 6 months. The music we were making we thought was futuristic and for the future. So, it was a decision that we made. I’ve always enjoyed performing live. I’d been in bands before Heaven 17, some with Martyn and Ian, actually. It’s always fun. I’m very glad we came around to doing it eventually. I guess that’s down to Vince Clarke. Martyn had produced one of Erasure’s albums, ‘I Say I Say I Say,’ and Vince said they were going to do an arena tour and asked if Heaven 17 like to support them. Martyn said, ‘We don’t really play live, but I’ll ask.’ He called me and I said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s do it.’”
With Afterhere, do you feel you are consciously trying to do something that sounds different from Heaven 17?
Glenn Gregory: “I think we were looking for a unique identity. I’m not sure it related to Heaven 17. I think we were just trying to find a recognizable sound, which I think we have done. I think all the songs on the album do feel like they have a kinship. But I don’t think I went out of my way to try not to sound like Heaven 17. It would just never sound like Heaven 17. For instance, lyrically, Heaven 17 is much more about political statements and the state of the world, whereas Afterhere is much more personal. I was never worried they would sound similar and they don’t.”
When you’re composing and writing music, to what degree do you feel you’re pushing to come up with unique sounds, versus simply using what you like?
Glenn Gregory: “I think what it comes down to is having the sounds as unique as you can possibly make them, really. I listen to a lot of things. Once a month I go on Spotify and I listen to new music. I take a day to listen to things. One of my biggest disappointments is everything sounds so similar. A lot of the times I’ll know exactly what machine they’re using and probably even know what the sounds is called. It’s not just me; I think a lot of people can do that. Everything has been made easier these days, with Logic and even Garageband. We are still a bit old school in that way of wanting it to be a little bit more personal, even the sounds. We use Logic, and there are probably now 50 or 60 sounds in there that all start with ‘Afterhere.’ We’ve got sounds that are peculiar to our music now, I think. Even down to the piano sound, which is quite compressed and quite hard and harsh. It’s called ‘Afterhere Anvil’ and it’s used on quite a lot of things; it’s beautiful. Making the sounds more individual is what it is, and that amount of work, I guess you’d consider it production. It’s an ongoing process. We don’t write and then go away and mix; it’s all kind of organic. It takes its time and quite often, Berenice will go away and leave me with the bones: a piano and a voice and maybe some drums and a bass. I’ll spend maybe a couple of days just fucking about with it really, twisting it around and moving things about. And then, hopefully, Berenice comes and says, ‘Oh my god, I love it!’ Then, of course, it goes back to her, and she twists it around a bit more and puts more of what she wants on it. It’s a really organic, very simpatico relationship and it’s quite amazing, really.”
Of the various types of work you’ve done, do you think you find any more challenging creatively than others?
Glenn Gregory: “They’re all challenging, because even something like an ad, that can be one of the most challenging things. We’ve done work that is maybe 35 seconds long, and they want fucking Beethoven’s 5th, but it’s 35 seconds long! And it’s got to have a girl vocal! And it’s got to sound like the sounds the sea makes when it’s freezing! It’s insane. So that’s very difficult. But you always find a way around it. I think songwriting is probably the most critical of them all, because that’s where all those skills come together with the production and your mind lyrically, what you’re writing about. It’s about how you put it together, what sounds you use, how long it is, how many times you repeat something. The structure of the song is the most critical. I don’t think it’s difficult, but it’s what takes a lot of work. You’ve got to be right. Even if it happens in 30 minutes, it’s still got to be right. If it’s wrong, it’s just going to be something poking you in the eye every 5 minutes and you going, ‘No, it’s not right, it’s not right, I’ve got to sort it out.’ When you’re doing scores, you’ve got that but you’re the scaffolding, and there is so much more going on, so you’re helping it along. You’ve got quite a lot of help, but when you’re writing a song, you’ve got to really believe in what you’re saying, really.”
How did you get involved with Holy Holy, and what has the experience been like?
Glenn Gregory: “It’s been great. It’s hard work, actually. It’s a hard show live. Sometimes it’s up to 2 hours, and all those Bowie songs are quite full-on to sing. So physically, it’s quite difficult, but I’ve been enjoying it. How I got into it, had to do with being in the right place at the right time. I’d been working on a project with a Dutch composer named Stephen Emmer called ‘International Blue.’ Tony Visconti produced it. I remember being in the studio at Abby Road and Tony saying, ‘You know Glenn, sometimes your voice really reminds me of David’s.’ David was still alive at this time, and I said, ‘Oh that’s amazing, that’s such a compliment coming from you. Thank you, Tony.’ He and Woody [Woodmansey, former David Bowie drummer] had been talking about doing ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ live together, because that album had never been performed in it’s entirety. David had never done it at the time. And Woody said to Tony, ‘Ok, it’s great that we’re going to do it, but can you think of any singers who could do it?’ And I think purely because Tony had just been working with me, they called me. It was my birthday, actually, and I was walking home with my son from school. He said, ‘I just hung up with Woody about this project we’re doing, “The Man Who Sold the World” live. Would you like to be involved?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’
“At the time, I thought he just wanted me to sing that track. I thought it would be some kind of big experience, and there would be lots of singers doing different tracks. So I said, ‘Is there anything else you’d like me to sing?’ And he said, ‘No, I want you to sing everything, the whole album and probably even more songs as well.’ I was a bit blown away. I was like, ‘Wow, really? Are you sure?’ That triggered a good 3 months of serious rehearsals for me, personally, getting those songs in my head. The only way I can do anything live is to totally know it inside and out, because then I can start to make it a little bit mine and not just sing it as David sang it. I struggled for a bit at first and then Woody called me out of the blue to see how I was getting on. Woody said to me, ‘Look, don’t try to sing it like David, just be you, sing it like you. I don’t want it to be a kind of tribute act and a sound-alike act. I just what to do that album, and that’s why Tony and I wanted you, because we like you and we want it to be like that.’ And that really helped me, and from that point, I really just tried to do it how I wanted to do it. Luckily, my upbringing from about the age of 14 was a lot of Bowie anyway. I loved David Bowie, and Roxy Music. I loved glam, Bolan, T-Rex, so I guess there’s David Bowie influence in me to make it sound just enough like it to work. I was nervous as hell the first time we did it. I figured if I got anything wrong, they’d start throwing bottles at me. But thankfully, it’s been a very delightful experience. Its’ an amazing show to do; it’s so full of energy. Fantastic guitarists and keyboards, it’s just brilliant.”
What’s in the immediate future for you?
Glenn Gregory: “We just finished another film called ‘Under the Wire.’ It’s a story about Marie Colvin, a Sunday Times journalist who died in Homs when it was bombed. It’s a feature documentary. We’re just coming out the other side of that, which is as you can imagine quite heavy. We’re focusing on playing live with Afterhere a bit. We’ve got a Heaven 17 tour in December, a Holy Holy tour in February. Then we’ve got a second series, 6 one-hour parts of ‘Liar.’ But between that, we’re going to be writing more songs and definitely come over and play at least in New York and LA, if not more places, as Afterhere.”
For more info on Afterhere, visit their official website at: afterhere.co.ukSee all interviews →