Blesok no. 37, July-August, 2004
Laika – Communicating Human Emotions
Laika is one of the most innovative bands that have appeared during the 90's. Before Laika you worked as a producer with bands such as the Breeders and My Bloody Valentine. What are the experiences which you brought into Laika from your previous work. What were some of your early goals as to what Laika should be and should not be?
I suppose I have soaked up a little of all the music I have ever loved and I try to live up to it. I'm lucky to have worked with some of the people who have made that music and it demystified it and emboldened me to make music myself. I try to reflect the spirit and not the actuality of music that has influenced me.
Laika has never had any goals as such. We are not conceptual. In fact I would say we are anti-conceptual. Concepts are a tool to help those with an artistic block and generally get in the way of communicating emotions. Our only intent is to make music that is both individual and emotionally charged.
When a person listens to your records one can notice a variety of influences and sounds within the Laika sound. How would you describe the music you create?
When I am at a truck stop in Idaho I generally answer that question by saying we are a mixture of rock music and dance music – because it saves time! The truth is that there is a little bit of my whole record collection (which is quite big!) plus a lot of things I have originated in there too.
At the moment you are working on your new album. Can you describe the direction of the new Laika album you are working on?
It's the same but different… This album is quite empty and has been made by only 3 people – our drummer Lou and the two of us. This is a bit of a contrast to the last record which was very much rehearsed and performed as a band and included quite a few different musicians. I think it's a darker, funkier more intense thing.
Can you describe your approach to composing? Do you improvise while composing? How do you structure and arrange your works?
A Laika song almost always starts with a rhythmic idea. I've always been turned on by percussion as it often has everything all at once – rhythm, melody and a sense of place. It's the most evocative base to start from. Then there is a fair bit of improvising but with an extremely harsh editing light shone onto it. In my mind there's no more important musical skill than the ability to edit oneself. There's already too much bad media out there to release diluted and half-formed ideas. This is something I know quite a few great bands were heavily into – Miles Davis/Teo Macero or Can, to name two, would edit down hours of playing into concise pieces that had structure and impact. There would be unnatural changes that just sounded good and which the band would then learn and use in their subsequent live performances which then fed back into the recording process. This is how the recording process became such an creative thing. The whole thing can be very recursive with ideas being filtered through the composer's mind many times over, being refined and above all made more individual with more human influence and less left to chance. Spontaneity is a great thing but too often people think that the first thing they come up with is always good and I think this is often laziness.
It's easy to see that your work is not only aesthetically pleasing, but that it does convey a sense of exploration. What are the lines of thought that you follow in your work?
As I said, we just try to combine individuality and emotional content. There's no point in being experimental for its own sake – experiments are only worth conveying to people when they are successful ones – ie they are not only interesting but also communicate human feelings.
What feedback do you have from the listeners and the “professional” structures (labels, magazines, artists)? What sort of response or feeling do you hope is evoked in your listeners?
When people are exposed to our music they like it surprisingly consistently. They don't often try to pick it apart they just respond on a simple level to it. I would like to think that people would find empathy in our music. For me that's what it's all about – non-verbal communication. Another response I hope for is that it would inspire people to be creative in their own way and I'm glad to say that has happened, even with artists I respect.
Laika is also known as a great live act and you toured heavily throughout the world promoting your previous 3 albums. How do you conceive your live performances? Do you improvise while performing live or do you follow a previously set routine?
We love to play live. As I said it is an important part of the creative process that we take our ideas from the studio and play them in front of people with some improvisation and mistakes that are sometimes good enough to become permanent fixtures in the song. That way the music evolves over a tour which makes the gigs special and individual for the audience and the band. We make a point of not using backing tapes of computers live to avoid being a 'slave to the machine' as so many electronic bands become. That stops any possibility of real creativity or risk taking. We play all our samples live. We will certainly be playing all over for the new album which should be out soon although we will be playing all kinds of festivals in the meantime.