INTERVIEW: Warm Digits | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When I last talked to Warm Digits for NARC. four years ago, they had recently released their superb second album Interchange – a concept album about the Tyne & Wear Metro that looks back with fondness yet remains dedicatedly futuristic, much like the band themselves – and they were already at work on their third album.

It may have taken longer than planned, but at last the wait is over: Wireless World is released on Friday 4th August through new label Memphis Industries, and it’s everything a Warm Digits fan cold have hoped for. More focused and direct than previous releases but without ever feeling diluted or compromised, this is a dazzling and energetic collection that even finds the band working with guest vocalists for the first time to great effect. As such, I was glad to catch up with Steve Jefferis and Andrew Hodson, the duo behind Warm Digits, to talk all things Wireless World.

Discussing their latest work however, we first go back to where they started. “We started over ten years ago as a laptop duo making experimental techno, influenced by the likes of Basic Channel and Modeselektor. Warm Digits as we are now happened by accident really – we were asked to do a live soundtrack to an animated film, and hit upon the idea of adding live drums and guitar.  As soon as we did this with the performance, our interaction came alive and in some ways Warm Digits was born. We basically have loads of songs and ideas that we store and work on when we feel the time is right, so the oldest song on the record is probably ten years old and the newest is six months old.”

Indeed, it’s from their earliest laptop days that Wireless World’s fantastic lead single, the Field Music-featuring End Times, was born. “The song End Times evolved from a bassline that was in that laptop duo set ten years ago. A few years ago, we went back to look and listen to the sets we recorded around this time and that bassline really stood out so we decided to develop it further. It’s been an instrumental in our live set for years and we trusted Peter Brewis to do something fabulous with it.  He took it as a cue to release his inner falsetto disco diva, singing about the apocalypse, which we are very happy about.”

As one of four vocal tracks on the album, End Times also marks a break from the purely instrumental work of previous Warm Digits albums. The band discuss how they came to use vocalists this time around, noting, “we’ve talked about approaching guest vocalists for years but as this album was nearing completion we decided it was the right time to go for it.  The vocal songs all existed as complete instrumentals, before the vocalists got involved.  We talked about who we’d like to approach, then handed the songs over (with working titles) and gave them more or less free rein.  What amazed us is that all four vocalists wrote songs around our pieces that then sounded complete rather than bolted-on – and now sound as if they’ve always been there.”

Notable amongst the guest vocalists is Sarah Cracknall of Saint Etienne, who makes a fine appearance on album centrepiece Growth of Raindrops. Talking about how the collaboration came to be, they explain: “Bob [Stanley, of Saint Etienne] found us when he was researching north east musicians to work on Asunder, and has been a great supporter of the band, inviting us to open for Saint Etienne at the Sage. We met Sarah when we played that support slot, and so later when we were considering guest vocalists we thought we would push our luck by asking her, and were delighted and amazed that she was up for it.  She has been great and totally grounded and helpful through the whole process of shaping up the song, and also a soon-to-be-released video.”

we hope the mix of chaos, energy, mourning and joy on this album will resonate with people in some way

While Wireless World may not feature a rigid theme in the same way as Interchange, environmental concerns abound through the record. As Jefferis notes, “the album had a working title of Global Warming, from the days when we used to love a corny “warm” pun in our song titles.  From that emerged the theme of song titles loosely themed around the environment, power and technology, which has carried through to the finished album although the album title itself has changed.  Andrew grew up in Lancashire and has an ambivalent relationship with the local nuclear power station, and Fracking Blackpool has obvious local resonance.  It’s not a campaigning album, but we hope the mix of chaos, energy, mourning and joy on this album will resonate with people in some way regarding the dilemmas we face in the world at the moment.”

As we talked, the band were busy preparing for a series of live shows to promote the new album, including dates at Green Man Festival and Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, as well as a headline show at The Cluny on Friday 1st September. “Some of the songs have been in our live set for ages, but it’s exciting to be working up the other tracks for live performance.  We’ve had fun thinking creatively about how to do the vocal tracks live – sometimes we’ll have guest vocalists, but we’ve also used our live video projections to bring the vocals to life on those songs at other shows, in ways which will become evident when people come to see us!”

Wireless World is released on Memphis Industries on Friday 4th August. Warm Digits play The Cluny with TVAM and Blep on Friday 1st September.

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