There’s an enigma to Bibio that always seems to make his music even more intriguing. The English producer works from home and records often, but very rarely performs live, making his studio outputs the most accessible – and often the only – way to experience his music.
His versatility makes him hard to peg to any one specific genre, and there’s the general sense he wouldn’t care anyway if you did. He makes music for himself and those close to him, and he’s not out for critical acclaim. Although his latest record, A Mineral Love, seems to be one of his easiest to digest. The tracks are bright and intricate, but still pack some of the best sound quality he’s ever had, thanks in part to it being recorded in a new studio he built near his house in the West Midlands.
In advance of A Mineral Love, out April 1, Uproxx Music had an email interview with Bibio, and he discussed his recording process, the advantages to listening to music alone, how he prefers people to interact with his music, the streaming music debate, and more.
Martin Rickman: I’ve read before that you’re big on anecdotes – do you have a particular one you love telling?
Bibio: Not really… to be honest, I’m getting dryer and dryer on anecdotes as I spend so much time on my own now, most of my anecdotes were from being at school and hanging around streets as a kid, and as an adult, getting the bus regularly and working in a warehouse or pub. My anecdotes were usually overheard things, but now they’re more likely to be about what my cat has done today, which is very little indeed.
How is your studio organized? How important is the room’s flow to you? How long did it take until you felt like you finally had it right?
My studio is organised in a way that wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but me. I have no industry standard training or experience, I’ve guessed my way through music production. It can get super messy at times, but I understand how things work and where things are, most of the time. I used to work in small bedrooms, for years. It was at the end of February 2015 when my new studio was finished being soundproofed. I got a drum kit as soon as the studio was ready, so it’s pretty crammed in there, not really comfortable for any more than two people. It also has no windows, no internet and no phone signal, so it’s a place to get away from distractions. One reason why I rarely work on a laptop to make music is because it’s a machine of a million tasks, and that can be distracting. My studio computer isn’t connected to the world, so I just use it to record and listen to music. But I love my new studio, I can make a lot more noise in there than I used to, and neighbors can’t disturb me like they did at my previous address. Trying to record vocals or a guitar with someone blasting dubstep through the wall is a challenge.
The journey from bed to work is minimal. But I see that as a curse, too. My studio now is separate from my house, so it keeps the majority of my gear in a separate, secure place and I can close the door at the end of a day recording and go into my house, where I eat and relax and listen to records. It may seem contradictory considering what I just said, but I still don’t put a divide between work and leisure, because I love what I do and if I had a boring day job, making music would be my leisure time. But having a separate place that is dedicated only to making music is good for productivity, I think.
But I still write songs in the house and occasionally record in the house. Having a bedroom studio for many years was circumstantial rather than a definite choice, but I was grateful to have somewhere to do it at all. I consider myself very fortunate to do this for a living. Everything I use now to make music on was funded by making music, so it’s a good feeling.
When I haven’t written in awhile, even if I needed the break, something always brings me back.
Do you feel as though you have to make music? Is there something that keeps you coming back?
I don’t really have breaks from it. There are periods where I’m more prolific than others, but I’m always making music somehow, even if it’s just playing guitar and not recording. I also consider listening as an important part of making music, having time to just sit and listen to tracks I’m working on, or even while I’m cooking or going for a walk. It’s during these periods of just observation that I come up with extra ideas to develop a track further, being out of my studio and in different environments. I enjoy the simple pleasure of walking to the shop to get some beer with my headphones on, listening to works in progress.
Being outside for that brief moment made me hear the tracks in a different setting and I’d try and imagine someone hearing them for the first time, perhaps they’re on the way to work or just walking to the shop like myself. And also, the time of year, hearing a track of my own when the cherry blossom is coming out or on a bleak, overcast winter’s day is interesting. It’s also why I value making music outside of the studio, too, in the house or in the garden or even in a field somewhere. My friend Rich and I used to do that a lot, take a couple of guitars and a tape recorder somewhere picturesque and come up with riffs and ideas. So, music-making is always with me at some point, I guess I need to do it otherwise I’ll get bored. I don’t suffer from boredom because I feel like I can always be creative or play an instrument or even take photos. I think of boredom as when you want to do something other than what you’re doing in the present moment. I’m fortunate because I’m doing what I choose to do on a regular basis.
Was there anything you had in the back of your mind when you recorded A Mineral Love that you couldn’t shake?
Probably. Probably several things, but I can’t remember them. Probably the usual self-doubting crap. But actually self-doubt can be a form of quality control. I don’t believe in 100% confidence. I can feel confident about a track until I play it to someone, then for those moments I feel like I’m being examined in a way. But as my music goes out into the public domain and around the world, I have to develop a thick skin to opinions and reactions, because there are too many people with polarizing opinions and it becomes noise, you have to shut off and listen to yourself or people you trust, people who you consider to have good taste.
A reviewer giving me a shitty review means nothing to me because I don’t know them or have any reason to value their opinion, they’re no different to some kid on YouTube trolling, just an individual with an opinion. Yes it’s nice to read or hear positive things being said, but when someone says something really harsh, I have to shrug it off. There are only a few people, close friends, whose opinion I really care about when it comes to my music and art, I’m stubborn and independent when it comes to music.
What’s the most rewarding thing about listening to music alone rather than in public, or at a show?
The lack of distraction, the ability to go into the music like it was a place or a film. It’s why I’m not into concerts much, especially electronic music. I’d rather hear music like that at a comfortable volume on a good hifi, not in a hot sweaty dark room with loads of people, I used to like that, but I grew out of it years ago. But in some circumstances I love live music, like live jazz. If I had a local jazz club near me that played good jazz, I’d be there every week. But as for socializing, I prefer hanging out in a pub with my girlfriend and friends and just drink and chat, I don’t think of music as much of a ‘going out’ thing, I prefer to have friends round for dinner and drinks and chat and listen to records, or do the same at their house, or a restaurant. Going to a place that plays bad music just makes me want to leave, especially if it’s too loud to enjoy a conversation.
There are a couple really noteworthy and powerful collaborations on this album. What’s your process like when you bring another artist into the fray?
I don’t really have a specific one because this is fairly new to me. With these collaborations, they were both existing instrumentals in need of vocals. ‘The Way You Talk’ already existed as a song, written by myself, and then I sent it to Gotye to ask him to record my lines. Months after that, I started recording a completely new instrumental of the same track and used the acapellas Gotye sent me and effectively made a remix of the song, because when I remix music with vocals, I pretty much always just start with the acapella from the original and completely redo the instrumental.
With ‘Why So Serious?’, I sent a bunch of instrumentals to Olivier, some with lyrics and some without, and he wrote the lyrics and vocal lines to that. I was blown away when he sent that, I nearly called my album finished at the time and then he turned that in out of the blue. Then I decided to carry on writing new stuff for the album.
Is there a preferred way you want a listener to interact with your music?
Not really, just listen on decent headphones or speakers at some point. Like a lot of music, lots of effort goes into crafting sounds and adding details, so I’d like people to notice that. But I also think a good song is a good song on a crappy radio or laptop speakers.
Inspiration comes from everything – and I’ve seen you say that even light or shadows can inspire you – where did you draw the most inspiration from on this album?
Listening to records and my own imagination. I can’t really describe how I come up with ideas for tracks and how I extract ideas from listening to other people’s records, it’s inside my head and is not a thought process of words, so trying to think of it in a sentence is tricky.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Loads of jazz, some soul and funk. But mostly jazz. Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, João Gilberto, Wayne Shorter, Joe Pass, Art Blakey, Lester Young, Art Pepper, Elvin Jones, Jim Hall… I’m also enjoying Don Blackman a lot right now. Also B.B.&Q. Band, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly & The Family Stone, Marcos Valle, Dean Blunt, Susumu Yokota, Soichi Terada.
When I handed my album into Warp, I got a few comments back saying some of the album reminded them of Shuggie Otis. I hadn’t actually heard of Shuggie Otis before, which might seem like a surprise to a lot of people who heard ‘Feeling’ for the first time. The inspiration behind that sound comes from Sly & The Family Stone, mostly that old drum machine sound. I first explored it on ‘Jealous of Roses’ and later on ‘Light Seep’. I think this new album delves further into the soul/funk sound. Anyway, I bought Shuggie Otis’ ‘Inspiration Information’ and was instantly in love with it. It is totally my thing right now, and I can understand the comparison, it’s just ironic that I hadn’t heard it before.
Where do you fall on the streaming music debate? Do we lose something by digesting tracks individually rather than whole albums? Do we as a music (and listening) culture have an attention span problem?
Modern civilization has definitely got an attention span problem. We surround ourselves with so many options and so many things to get our attention that we end up skipping through things to get to the greener grass, which is usually a thing we’ve already skipped. Streaming has its place as a technology, personally I’m afraid of how it’s going to affect the music industry. My choice for home listening is vinyl, I put on a record and don’t feel inclined to skip it every 10 seconds, where I might when playing music from a laptop. I don’t use subscription services myself, I don’t like them. But I do use YouTube a lot to find rare music.
I don’t really want to cling onto CDs at all, but I personally buy my digital copies as download rather than streaming them. The fact I can do it straight to my phone is good, as I use my phone a lot to listen to music, as I have loads of my own unreleased music on there, too, plus I can listen to music when I’m out, which you can’t do with vinyl! Subscription services are better than illegal downloading, but for small artists, streaming doesn’t bring much income.
I feel as an industry, we’re still venturing into the unknown. You have to be wary when millions of people want things for free and big corporations can provide that for them, perhaps at the expense of the people making the music. But things change, and I don’t expect the current situation to stay the same in the next five or 10 years. Who knows what’ll be next? But I despise the attitude that artists should have to make their living in the live industry because they can’t make money from sales. Live music is a totally separate industry to me and it’s not something a lot of artists want to do or even can do.
Not all producers are performers, just like not all actors are stage actors. People whose occupation is making things in a studio, should be paid for the work in that studio, not be forced to shoehorn their creations into a completely different presentation of music. Loads of people are making electronic music now and it doesn’t work the same as a live thing, not for me anyway. I obviously love electronic music, but if I’m going to see music performed, I’d rather see people hitting things with sticks or blowing things or plucking things. But that’s just my personal feeling, it’s a lucrative thing right now and the DJ is the star again.
If music was ever taken away from you, or you couldn’t be an artist anymore, what would be your passion?
I’d try and be a perfumer. Seriously. I’ve got quite into fragrance in the last year or so. Perfumes to wear, but also fragrance for the home, like oils and frankincense resin etc. Smell is an incredible sense and as humans we are blessed with getting pleasure and emotion from it. I think smell is just as deep, vast and complex as any other art form, and I totally consider it an art form. There’s a French perfumer, I can’t remember his name, he lives in a house in a forest in France and only creates a new perfume when he feels inspired. What a life. I could do that, and just spend the rest of the time admiring smells.