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Interview: Face + Heel

This week sees the release of Chipped Tooth, the second EP from Welsh electronic duo Face + Heel. It’s an exquisite listen; one rife with perfectly measured, downtempo beats, rustled ambient soundscapes and haunting, lost-in-time vocals. On the eve of the EP’s release, the pair – comprised of Sinead McMillan and Luke Taylor – sat down with Alim Kheraj for a look into the record’s resilient core, their favourite film music and the art of a good cover version.

PlanetNotion: 2012 was a very busy year for you both, how has 2013 been?
Sinead McMillan: Yeah 2012 was super busy for us, it was pretty crazy. 2013 has more been about us working on and developing our sound. So we’ve done a lot of writing and we now have a pretty big backlog of material to release, which is nice. There are so many amazing artists in the electronic music world and so I think the need to expand your sound palette and improve on your productions all the time is so necessary. I guess we are getting pickier about what we put out now.

PN: You met in a very interesting way, didn’t you?
SM: Ha. Yes, we met on Soundcloud, which is pretty nerd central isn’t it? Luke contacted me to remix a house track I had up on my page, then we realized we had mutual friends etc, Luke was already in a band so it was probably about a year before we actually formed Face + Heel. I was studying classical piano at music school at the time and making electronic music gave me great pleasure along side the rigorous training I was doing with my piano.

PN: What was it that drew you together?
SM: Originally, I wanted to do a solo project but as me and Luke talked more and more about music we sort of tried a couple of tracks out together, one was ‘No Stars’ where I did the music and Luke came up with the vocal line, and we just had such fun making music together and were both totally committed to it. Luke had been getting slightly fed up with his old band so we decided to make more tracks and yeah, Face + Heel was formed.

PN: How did you find festival season this year?
SM: It was great. We played L.E.V Festival in Gijon, Spain; Garden Festival in Croatia; Lovebox; Wilderness Festival, and we have still got Simple Things Festival to come. Garden Festival was interesting as it was so sunny and bright we couldn’t see the LED lights on our launch pads, so it was like playing blind folded. I particularly love the crazy golf buggy rides at festivals. I’m always shouting ‘Faster FASTER!’

PN: How do your differing musical backgrounds, Sinead’s in classical composition and Luke’s in sound design, impact the way you write together?
Luke Taylor: I’d say our backgrounds as music listeners are more impactful than our backgrounds as musicians. We listen to very different music, but respond to the same things in it. So that makes for a collaborative sound, but it has a unified sense of emotion and tone.

PN: Your new EP, Chipped Tooth, is out this week. Tell me more about the concept behind the EP?
LT: The tracks on the second EP are both about loss and the necessity to cope with it in order for life to continue. ‘Chipped Tooth’ and ‘Fog and Night’ could be about the same event with very differing perspectives on how to regain a sense of self. That’s about as far as I can say regarding the songs lyrically; as it’s nice to leave them open to interpretation for those people who enjoy listening to the words.
SM: As far as sound goes. I think we consciously tried to add more organic elements to the songs. There’s more piano and a lot of found real life sounds on the tracks and even a little guitar and Theremin.

PN: The song ‘Fog and Night’ has had a very positive reaction online. What was it that inspired the song?
SM: ‘Fog and Night’ is probably our favorite on the EP, it gets pretty wild and crazy towards the end. We love doing this one live. I think its unpredictability is what people like and certainly it’s what I like about it. We use organic sounds and feedbacking guitars with soulful vocals. I think the combination makes it interesting. The original idea for ‘Fog and Night’ was to do a modern version of one of those classic Sinatra sad songs from one of his concepts records. Like something from ‘Only the Lonely’ or ‘No One Cares’, but very much through our own fuzzy filter.
LT: After the first EP we took a bit of time out to find our sound a little and to talk about our band philosophy, this song is a good example of what we set out to achieve. It has the ‘Sturm und Drang’ that has become so important to our sound. From a production point of view. We wanted it sound both old and new at the same time.

PN: There are obviously some references to different genres on your new EP, how would you describe it?
LT: The EP is a marriage of all the music that we love: ‘Chipped Tooth’ is kind of quirky R&B pop song, ‘Fog and Night’ is more raw and gives a nod to prog almost, then ‘Amp Drop’, I guess is more house-inspired. We love all these things and they all inspire us to write.

PN: Country isn’t something that is utilised very much in electronic music, and yet with ‘Amp Drop (Martha’s Song)’ you use the lyrics from ‘Marcy’s Song’. Tell me more about that?
LT: We take some influence from films, both in terms of soundtrack and the tone of some films, and recently saw a great film called Martha Marcy May Marlene. The song is performed by John Hawkes in it. He plays a sort of cult leader and is singing this song to his followers. It was really powerful and dark; manipulative and seductive. Also, lyrically, it has the exact mixture of abstraction through simple language that we really love, so we felt a connection to it that way too. It’s originally by Jackson C. Frank, whose version is great. But it’s really John Hawkes version in the film that we’re covering I think.
SM: As far as it being country; at it’s core it’s lots of minor chords and a seductive vocal line. Which is something we like a lot regardless of the instruments and inflections used. Covers are a strange thing; but it’s nice when a band chooses a song outside their own style and do something totally different with it. I don’t understand it when you have a new band, and say they are a bit gothy, and sound like The Cure, and then they’ll cover a Cure song. It’s a bit like having your picture taken with a super model in the exact same clothes. The comparison is rarely flattering.

PN: Has performing live changed that way you think about writing, and creating music together?
LT: there’s more in the way of real instruments on our newer stuff and I think that comes from us wanting to play more instruments live. We started performing live kind of simultaneously to recording music so they’ve always been kind of hand-in-hand though.

PN: What are your plans for the rest of 2013/next year?
SM: We’re going to make a video for ‘Fog and Night’ with Hans Lo and Chloe Bonfeld who did our ‘No Stars’ one, in deepest darkest West Wales, which is going to be fun. Lots more recording, and performing until the end of the year, and we’re hoping to release something January next year too.

- Interview by Alim Kheraj

The Chipped Tooth EP is available now.

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