By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2002
Utahs Saints rose to fame very quickly about a decade ago with “Something Good,” a track driven by Kate Bush vocal samples. But while the duo of Tim Garbutt and Jez Willis continued to write, remix, and DJ, they went through the latter half of the 90’s without releasing any new Utah Saints albums. They’ve finally re-surfaced with “Two,” a disc that features contributions from Iggy Popp, Chrissie Hynde and Michael Stipe. A couple of months ago, we sent Utahs Saints some new interview questions, and recently got the responses (emailed from Dusseldorf airport!)
Last time I interviewed you (during the Shamen tour) you said ‘instead of developing for a couple of years and then getting the corporate push, we’re developing in public.’ Looking back, how did that affect the development of your career? For example, were there negative aspects to having a big major-label single so early? What do you think you might not have been able to accomplish if things hadn’t happened so quickly?
That’s a good point. Because we started (by accident more than by design) with a big hit record in the UK, with no corporate push at all, everyone on the business side assumed we knew what we were doing. We knew that we didn’t. We were similar to most people- we thought what we were doing was good, but we were never sure if people would like it. When as a band we suddenly had a lot of attention, we were insecure enough to ask people’s opinions, and naive enough to listen and take them on board!. This had a dramatic effect when we started the later abandoned second album in 1994. Basically, we made a lot of the “cliched because they’re true” mistakes that bands make, and booked into an expensive big studio, and listened to everyones opinions.
Above a certain sonic quality, music is all about opinions, all of which are equally valid, but if you are trying to make things and take on board too many inputs, you end up with a compromised product. This applies not just to music, but pretty much most things -if a baker listens to everyone when he is making a cake, he’s either going to end up with a very bland cake, or a complete mess.
This album was made by the two of us, in a spare bedroom in Leeds, with very little external input into the ideas for tracks, which we’ve dicovered suits us best.
Are there any major ways that advances in musical technology over the past decade or so have affected your approach to music?
Samplers have bigger memories, so the pallet of sounds for each track is bigger.
Have you had a chance to try out programs like REACTOR and REASON, and if so, how do you feel about them?
We just got Reason, and we are starting to get into it – it definitely brings new possibilities for manipulating samples, which looks like it’s going to be very useful.
Is it a challenge keeping up with the latest gear, figuring out what will be usefull to you without spending too much time reading instruction manuals?
As a rule, we try not to read manuals, apart from for basic things like setting midi channels or tuning, preferring the approach of keep pushing buttons and see what happens, and then try and remember how we did it if it sounds good!
Fans seem to really want to hear “Wired World.” I know London Records owns it and therefore you couldn’t put it out if you wanted to. But is it true that you’re not happy with it? If so, is it because of the label’s trying to influence the direction, the simple fact that you’re evolved since making it, or what?
“Wired World”, as the title suggests (this was 94/95, before the internet really took of) was of a time.
If the record had come out quickly we would have stood by it, however, there were lot’s of meetings, and when we were recording the album we were told that there were eight potential singles, After it was delivered no one at the label could decide on the first single, at which point we went straight back in and did the track “Star”. After this had been out on promo for six months, we felt that the album was all wrong to then come out, so we negotiated out of our record deal.
All through the recording we were trying to get a thick sonic on tracks, a kind of wall of sound. The label were keen to get us away from that, and we ended up somewhere in the middle-maybe a “fence of sound” or something (!)
Basically, all the reasons in your question were contributing factors, and to be frank, we lost sight for a while of what Utah Saints sound is.
As usually happens in Utah Saints universe, completely out of the blue.We weren’t even aware that Michael Stipe knew who we were.
Around the beginning of 1999, a friend called up and told us to check the latest edition of The Face, as Michael Stipe had mentioned us in an interview, saying how much he liked our first album.He though it was the best for driving to,and that he and Courtney Love used to dance to the track “Soulution”.
We thought that it was really nice of him, and an honour ,as he has heard a lot of music.
A similar thing then happened in a few more interviews, and then at the end of 1999 Mojo magazine did a year end poll of people like Van Morrison and Thom Yorke, and Michael Stipe’s favourite albumof 1999 was our album from 1993.
This was again a surprise for us, and gave us a real lift.
Whenever you make something, be it some writing, a sculpture, or a record, you inevitably go through periods when you are wondering if it is any good. This is a part of the process to make sure that you are doing the best possible job you can. Michael Stipe’s comments did our confidence some good, at a time when we needed it, so we wrote him a letter to say thanks, and we also took a chance to ask if he might consider giving us some vocals to work with.
He said yes.
We were all (including Michael Stipe ) aware that an “electronic REM” type of track might shift peoples focus away from the rest of the album, so we suggested that it might be interesting to do it over the telephone.
We spoke for about an hour about anything at all, recorded the whole thing, and then chopped it up into small pieces to use on four short interludes on the album.
Do you ever get tired of people asking where the name “Utah Saints” came from, or do you feel it’s good that people are thinking/wondering about it?
It’s always a good thing when people think of Utah Saints!
How long have you had your own website? How has it worked out for you?
The website has been up for a couple of years now, and it works well for us. We can upload to various parts of it, although we don’t fully control it, and we didn’t program it, although we did have input on how it looked.
One of us was supposed to learn HTML a few years ago, although neither of us has yet, and it’s probably not so important now that there are such good design packages about.
There’s quite a gap in time between even the unreleased “Wired World” and “Two” – what was the timeframe of making the new CD? Was the material written during the course of all those years, or did you make the CD from start to finish in a shorter (more recent) time span?
All the tracks were finished just before UK release, in fact the album was mastered at 2pm in London, and the last mix was finished in Leeds at 10am the same day.
The bulk of the tracks were done in the eighteen month period March 1999 to september 2000. Two of the tracks -“Massive” and “Three Simple Words” were continuations of ideas first worked on “Wired World”.
We kept coming back to all the tracks, right up to release, just tweaking them as we learnt new things about sounds and manipulating them.
During the making of this album, we really learnt a lot, and each track has been built up using many layers of sound. Buried deep in each track is the basis for another two or three tracks, by taking the later layers off in a different direction. I hope that this doesn’t sound pretentious (!) -it’s just the way we make tracks.See all interviews →