Marc Heal talks about his debut solo album, "The Hum."
By Bob Gourley | Published on December 11, 2016
After having taken an extended break from music, Cubanate frontman Marc Heal resurfaced in 2015 with “Compound Eye Sessions,“ a collaboration with Raymond Watts of PIG. The experience re-ignited his interest in making music, sending him into a burst of songwriting that has resulted in his first solo album, ‘The Hum.’ While Cubanate’s music was often driven by the aggressive electronics and pounding beats, Heal’s solo material brings the human element to the forefront. The songs are more melodic, and the lyrics play a more dominant role. Now based in Singapore, Heal talked over Skype about making the album, the current status of Cubanate, and his recently released book, ‘The Sussex Devils.‘
Could you give an update as to what you’ve been up to in the time between Cubanate and your new solo album?
“I gave up music for a while. Back in the early 2000s, I did a bit of production, and I set up a bunch of studios in London. I tried to make another Cubanate album, which I never released in the end. I kind of abandoned it halfway through. But after that, I didn’t make music for a long time. I was doing other things. I was really more involved with business, and I wrote a book as well, called The Sussex Devils. That was published last year.
“A few years ago, I was hanging out at a bar; Raymond Watts came in and was saying that he was thinking about making another album. On the spur of the moment, I said that I’d help him out, so we went into the studio and had a few sessions. I really enjoyed that and ended up singing on a couple of tracks. We released that as the ‘Compound Eye’ EP last year. And then I found that my interest was restored. At the beginning of this year , I suddenly did a burst of songwriting and found myself with some 15 or 16 songs. So, I thought, well, I’m going to record them. I strapped on my boots again and started to record.”
Are there any particular ways being a musician is different now?
“There were 2 main differences for me this time. When we were making music with Cubanate in the 90s, you could program everything up on your Akai samplers, but when you recorded in the studio and were doing a mix, you had to get the mix down that day. You couldn’t recall it, because if you came back to the studio having taken the mix down, it never sounded the same. You had to print it when you finished a track. So sometimes you came out with a good mix, sometimes with a bad one. Whereas now, you can save everything and come back to it later. Now, this sounds like an advantage, but in some ways, it is a disadvantage because it means you can delay making decisions because you can always come back to things. You need to be disciplined; you need to say, ‘No, this is finished; leave it alone’—to ‘print it,’ as we said in the olden days. That was a discipline I had to learn. I kept things loose deliberately on this album; I didn’t quantize everything. I played a lot of the things live and I left it that way. So, there are mistakes, and that’s fine.
“And then the second thing is just being my myself, really. I’ve always collaborated, but for most of this album, I was alone in the studio. I did the whole thing myself apart from guitar. It was interesting relying on myself and my own judgement rather than working with other people. It was a good exercise to be self-reliant for once.”
At what point did you realize that you wanted to actually make a solo album?
“I realized, in a way, what I had been doing wrong for a long time. That way of thinking, ‘Ok, let’s make an album,’ and then sitting down and trying to write songs. Whereas this time around, I wrote the songs and the lyrics really quite quickly and sketched them out very roughly on a laptop. And then I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got a lot of songs here and want to record them.’ I was working off song ideas from the very start this time, rather than sitting down and trying to write songs. It just seemed to happen very quickly. And then I wasn’t sure where to record them.
“Singapore is not very creative, really. There are a lot of studios, but they are very corporate studios. But I found this bashed up old studio called Lion Studios. It’s this incredible old place which was built a long time ago and it’s all falling to pieces now. But it had a lot of old technology in there. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I really want to record here; I just have to record here.’ It had the complete atmosphere of decay, but was this magnificent old place. Because nothing worked, it was really cheap. So, when I found Lion, I thought, ‘I’m going to make an album; I have to make an album now.’”
Do you feel that being in Singapore had an effect on your songwriting?
“I moved out here with my wife, but we didn’t know anyone here. I think that feeling of being somewhere strange and quite alien culturally definitely makes you re-look at what’s going on around you. You get used to things in your own city, your own culture, and you tend to stop noticing them. Whereas you re-look and notice things afresh when you are in a new culture. I found that inspirational. Sometimes you tend to turn to people and places that you know to work with, and I wasn’t able to do that this time. I had to do it by myself and find a new studio and new situations, and that’s good.”
What made you move to Singapore?
“I’ve been working on TV more and more over the last few years, and there was a job advertised in TV. I was kind of sick of the UK and wanted a change, so I just took a chance and joined a small company out here. I’d never really been to the Far East before, and I had never toured out here with Cubanate. I’ve always liked the idea of just moving somewhere and seeing what happens.”
Now that you’re back into music, do you think you’ll ever revisit that unreleased Cubanate material?
“I don’t think so, because what happened was the band had split up and I tried to write another Cubanate album, and I was frustrated. It just didn’t sound right, and I didn’t find it comfortable. I’d put all the rough demos together onto a CD and gave them out to a few people, and they leaked out onto the internet. So, some of the songs are on YouTube and places like that now. They are only rough versions, but I don’t think I’d want to go back to them.”
Have you done any live performances lately?
“Well, we played with Cubanate in Chicago in September, at the Cold Waves Festival. That was my first time on a stage in 17 years. That was weird. I hadn’t been on stage since the last Cubanate show in December, 1999.”
What was that experience like?
“About a day or two before, when we were in Chicago and Phil and I were rehearsing, I had a sudden weird feeling that I can’t do this, this is just too weird. But when you’re at the gig, and you’re seeing all these other great bands playing, something just flips inside you, and it felt completely natural. We had a really good time and I really enjoyed it. I really loved playing with Phil again, and the crowd was super enthusiastic. We thought that we’d like to do it again. But it was strange.”
Do you plan on getting out to perform this solo material live?
“I wanted to wait and see what the reaction to the album was first, because I knew it was a bit different from Cubanate. When I made it, it was before the Chicago date, so I didn’t make any plans. But now that it’s out, I think that I’d like to take it live. I think that the reaction has been good. It would be different from Cubanate, with different people. I’m just starting to make plans as to how that might work and how and where I might do it.”
Could you talk about your book, The Sussex Devils?
“At the end of those sessions with Raymond, I was thinking about whether I should do a Cubanate retrospective and put out some of the old stuff. We’re still thinking about that, by the way. I was cleaning out a box of old DAT tapes, and I came across an old newspaper clipping that was related to a court case in the UK in 1986 about a guy called Derry Knight who had been convicted for defrauding a Sussex priest of hundreds of thousands of pounds because he claimed to be in a secret satanic organization that had penetrated to the top of British society. The priest had given him a lot of money, 2 million pounds in today’s money, to try to undermine the organization from within. When I read the newspaper article, I realized that I knew the priest and his family, and I realized that I knew a lot about the case. I had put this newspaper clipping there a long time ago, and so the book is about my journey to discover what had happened, the truth of what had happened and what had happened to Derry, the family, and to me all those years ago.”
What’s in the future for you?
“I’m doing vocals for some friends who I’m sure you’ve heard of, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet. I think the next thing is that we’re going to try to get out a Cubanate retrospective. I think we’re going to do some more Cubanate dates. I might do some other collaborations, and I’m definitely going to do another album. I think it’s been a good experience, and I’ve got the taste back for it now.”See all interviews →