The Joy Of Living and Stanley Donwood - Interview
The Joy of Living record is being released in a limited edition run of 333 vinyl copies. Who are you ? Give us some idea of how it all started?
Geoff – For me The Joy of Living began as a Bridge,
then became a Raft. In the very beginning, David
and I were musical companions only.
Then we became companions who happened to play music and, through both chance and design, had the joint realisation that we both inhabited very similar islands of outsiderness, especially when it came to music. So this journey began as a duo, one gig, but the strangest the Jubilee Hall had ever seen, followed by a litany of bands.
Bands that had endless exposure in all the wrong places, toured extensively at home and abroad, and appeared on loads of independent vinyl releases.
The bridge? For me, The Joy of Living began as a conduit - a direct route away from the coalface of atonal Industrial Noise and Beefheartian mayhem...to arrive at the opposite sonic pole.
And the raft? Rather than the expected period of Easy relief, The Joy of Living grew legs of it's own, and has now become a journey involving intricacy and conceptual vision.
And it shows...
David – Well Geoff's right it was always the case that individually we got into music making because we identified with music culture and wanted to be an integral part of it and live it rather than just witness it ….and then when we actually managed to succeed and actually be in a band and playing some gigs I think we recognised that the two of us were still outsiders on more than one level – that was the connection. This connection or understanding has stayed with us and still holds. Geoff was always out there and doing other music on top of what we were doing but there was always despite that an ongoing joint musical project of some description that we were involved in together. We ended up getting sidetracked into electronic dance music. Then there was a trend out there that other musicians were also picking up on which we got right into. We were taking elements from soundtracks, sunshine pop and combining that with what had gone before to make a massive fusion of different things in the end. Then we got involved with '6 inch records' which Stanley can tell you about as he is or was '6 inch records'....
Stanley Donwood - My name is allegedly Stanley
Donwood. Some years ago I mistakenly decided that I needed a
hobby, because I didn’t have one. I had spent some time on
the fringes of the music industry, and one night I drunkenly
decided that as a hobby I would become a record company
boss, as I thought it sounded, you know, kind of fun. So I
emailed a few musicians that I knew and asked them if they’d
like to become the artistes of my record label. I woke up
with a hangover and also with a number of replies to my
emails, and with a certain amount of horror I realised that
I now had a hobby. One of my new artistes was a band called
The Joy of Living - a band that, years ago, in a previous
incarnation, had been called Bum Gravy. I seemed to remember
them as a gang of raucous punks, but they had, over the
years, become something entirely different; a band that now
made music composed of sweeping harmonies and mellifluous
Geoff – Yes well 'Bum Living' or 'The Joy Of Gravy' didn't carry the right vibe somehow..
Stanley Donwood - My record label - called Six
Inch Records - released a limited number of compact discs
according to a debased form of numerological principles
devised by myself. I had three artistes, and released 333
discs by each of them, each priced at £6.66, each encased in
a 6 inch square of card further encased in a similarly sized
sleeve, with all of the artwork created using letterpress on
a 1966 Heidelberg platen press. Each sleeve was constructed
by hand, a tiresome process that quickly saw my hobby become
something of a chore.
I had foolishly imagined that being a record company boss would be all limousines and cocaine, but this turned out to be very much not the case.
Half a decade later I was approached by The Joy of Living once again. I emphatically stated that I was no longer a record company boss, that Six Inch Records was defunct, and there was no way I needed a hobby. But over several pints of lager I was persuaded to join the band on a dangerous stretch of mudflats on the coast of Essex, an area that was used by the Ministry of Defence for testing missiles, which they would launch into the mudflats. The area was, therefore, littered with unexploded ordinance. In addition, it was subject to dangerous, fast-flowing tides, was distinguished by unknowable stretches of quicksand, and had claimed many lives. There was a putative right-of-way across the mudflats known as the Broomway; it was also known as ‘the most dangerous footpath in Britain’. It was here that The Joy of Living had decided to make a pop video. We dressed as a gull, a crow, a fox, and a hare.
Against considerable odds none of us drowned or were blown up by unexploded bombs - and were not even arrested by the Ministry of Defence. The video was made, and somehow, very possibly in a state of mild terror, I had agreed to create a record sleeve for the remastered, remixed, and re-created Joy of Living album.
The artwork is an essential component of the release. Can you give us some backround about Stanley Donwood's role in the project?
David – We met years back in Colchester and he was
always around. I have some hazy memories of travelling to
some mad night out where he lived in Devon. He obviously got
into creating art, literature early on and has just stuck
with it. I remember him posting me little interesting things
that he had done. However that has always been a forte with
him. That his writing was presented in a little brown
package or something interesting and unique as a physical
product. Not just as a non-descript download or email.
Anyway he liked our music and got us released on '6 inch
records'. That sort of triggered an expansion of what we
were doing so we could play live and then belatedly we
recorded it and then changed it again. Then it sat around
for a while. We thought it was too good to not get it out.
Artwork and vinyl are linked at the navel and so they should be so Stanley kindly got involved and as we're all from Essex that all got mixed into it as well and Stanley can explain more...
Stanley Donwood - The Maplin Sands, the Broomway, Wakering Stairs - these are the names by which the area described above are known. It’s a region of extreme flatness, with an endless horizon whose distance defies the imagination. It is misty, hazy, mysterious. It is, in every way, a ‘waterland’, a place that is, to coin a cliché, neither fish nor fowl; it’s not solid, nor liquid, neither land nor sea. It is both; dependent, and entirely transformed by the tidal waters of the North Sea. For reasons which now utterly escape me I decided to draw the mudflats, and the gull, crow, fox and hare, using extremely thin-nibbed pens and by cross-hatching. Something about the hardness and intractability of the ink lines, used to draw something as amorphous and intangible as the mudflats appealed to me. Well, really it must have, because it took ages to draw. The band wanted a gatefold sleeve, so I made four drawings in all, one of which depicted the beginning of the Broomway seen from Wakering Stairs - this one had no figures in it, just the Broomway disappearing into nothingness. This drawing became the cover of the record.
Geoff - I feel the strange and open
nature of The Broomway has been gently captured, with
economy and geographical respect, in all it's chaotic
It's a wonderful end-result, and the fact that it's limited to 333 copies makes it all the more delightful.
It fits the ephemeral nature of our music, as if each song has become tidal in it's own right.
The idea of a definite beginning and end to the music/art seems to be significant?
David – In the modern age with unlimited music available through Spotify and similar outfits it's essential that that concept is rejected and that there is an endpoint, something finite. Unlimited supply devalues music as it does any artform. It's like any art, as soon as it's getting run by business men it's over for me... it just starts smelling bad. That was the thing with 6 inch records although I'm not sure if it was set out to be quite as extreme as it turned out to be, that the launch night was also simultaneously the death night all at the same time. Anyway there will only be 333 copies of this record and artwork out there and the artwork is great and we obviously are into the music and that's it. No more.
Geoff - The musical world of today appears to be eroding the notion of surprise and discovery, with all the journey-time slowly removed and creating vacuums of aural gluttony. The Joy Of Living have a genuine desire to promote tiny landscapes of opportunity, a brief cradle of sound that we promise won't harm you in any way..
David - Some people will just buy it for the artwork and some for the music and some because they know us but anyway there's a future in combining art, literature, music in a physical product that is inherently attractive and that's what this is.
I know there are some stories behind some of the song titles. Do you want to fill us in?
Geoff - We cannot deny the solid influence Brian
Wilson had on us. I especially achieved medical
levels of adulation over a five year period, and I
would like to make the audacious claim that this release
has similar geographical desires as
Smile-outtake/Friends-era Beach Boys.
Correct me if I'm wrong - wasn't Mount Wilson the 1st or 2nd track we wrote for The Joy of Living?
David – It was certainly one of the early one's.
Geoff - I have a love/hate relationship with the
story behind this: Eugene Landy, Brians' despotic but
effective psychologist in the 70's and 80's, erected a
wooden Mount Wilson sign upon the peak of a small hill
in Hawaii, to celebrate the fact that after many
desperate hours, 30 stone Brian had managed
to reach the top, at the time - getting him out of bed was
major. Try telling him - 'it's the journey, not
the destination', and see how far you get..
Then French band Air used some clever Beach Boys samples that chimed for us both as I recall?
I would also like to give a special shout to late 1960's weird folk siblings The Free Design, for their mildly unhinged use of harmony and melody, some of which has clearly rubbed off on David.
David – Absolutely The Free Design are clever and melodic but they're difficult to pigeonhole and there's definitely a connection.
Have you any thoughts about song titles David?
David – Well the title for 'Sunset in Bolinas' came from this remnant of counter culture in California. Bolinas is a little community on the coast just north of San Francisco. The people who live there always used to rip the sign down for the correct turning to make it harder to find. I'd heard about it and a few years back did a roadtrip across from the East Coast in a hanging off Cadillac that I bought with some friends. That's where we saw the Pacific for the first time after 6 weeks of driving, listening to music, drinking and other psychological intense shit that goes on..... any way I recall now.. watching the scene of the sun going down over the sea ..there you go... listen to the track and you'll understand.
Question for Stanley in particular here. Stanley when you look back at 6inch records, now that it's over, how do you feel about it? Did the premise succeed?
Stanley Donwood - Six Inch Records… well, as a
hobby I suppose it functioned adequately - I mean, it kept
me busy, kept me off the streets and all that. I guess the
problem was that I was terribly busy to start with - I
didn’t actually have time to have a hobby. Perhaps I’d have
been better off building scale-models of cathedrals with
matchsticks, or growing marrows.
It was at the launch party for Six Inch Records that I decided to sack all my artistes and take voluntary redundancy myself. Because of various temporal issues, by the time of the launch party I had sold all of the records, so the actual purpose of the event had actually vanished. I believe that the record company did actually pay the artistes some money, and Six Inch Records remains, to my knowledge at least, the only record company to publish full and unexpurgated accounts online, detailing even the ‘expenses’ accrued by myself by staying in a very fancy hotel. And, on a more wholesome note, one of my artistes, Patrick Bell, is still making music and has published a novel; another, Mara Carlyle, is still making music and presenting Late Junction on BBC radio, and The Joy of Living are - well, as you can see…
Geoff - I like the fact that Stanley always makes
beautiful things. Whatever the project actually
entails, there's always a very considered, almost elemental
approach to his work.
The Six Inch Records project was no different, wherein Stanley succeeded in making C.D's actually look and feel amazing...a feat no-one thought possible.
Have you got future plans?
Stanley Donwood - I think so but I’ve mislaid my diary so I’m not sure what they are. I’m definitely working on the artwork for a new Radiohead record, probably working on a new project with Robert Macfarlane, and possibly doing a few exhibitions in cities on the fringes of the Baltic Sea.
David – We're considering building the 'Pollution
Accelerator' which rather oddly is the opposite of what it
seems which Geoff and I came up with. It would be great to
make it – that would wake people up.
Yes there is always more music. Life would seem empty without it.
Geoff wants to add - The recording of the birds and
bees for the intro to 'Summersong' took place underneath a
Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom. The bees loved it, and
this small piece has now become a quiet tribute to a
Dear Friend of ours who passed away in 2012. The tree was in
his back garden..
And as a final, personal footnote:
The Broomway location mirrors almost perfectly with the setting for Roman Polanski's deeply unhinged, mid 60's Gangster-romp Cul-De-Sac, which not only includes a bespoke Krzysztof Komeda soundtrack, another highly-influential source of inspiration for us, but also the unnerving sight of Donald Pleasence skulking about in a woman's nighty. Darkly wonderful, and a fantastic advert for the Lindisfarne tourist board.