Published May 10, 2013Out There established London-based the Heliocentrics, in 2007, as a formidable psychedelic jazz ensemble, offering instrumental, head-bobbing funk and hip-hop grooves soaked in Sun-Ra inspired cosmic Afro-futurism. Collaborations with like-minded sonic adventurers DJ Shadow, Quantic, Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke on 2009's Inspiration Information 3 and "Oriental jazz" trailblazer Dr. Lloyd Miller on 2010's Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics raised their profile to greater heights. Sophomore release 13 Degrees of Reality is more musically ambitious and satisfying than its predecessor, adding jazz, rock, a variety of world music and a cool dash of post-punk isolation with the turbulent state of world affairs as inspiration.
It's been six years since your debut album. Why has it taken so long for a follow-up?
Drummer Malcolm Catto: Well, several tracks that appeared on the Mulatu Astatke and Lloyd Miller collaborations were originally destined for our second LP. Then, following the collaboration with Mulatu, we have toured extensively with the maestro and have amassed a large quantity of other recorded material. I have also been busy recording, mixing and producing projects like Anthony Joseph and the Spasm band and Family Atlantica. Additionally, due to spiralling rent in East London, we have found it necessary to move studio a few times, resulting in periods without a functioning studio, but fortunately we are just finishing a new studio with a permanent location!
In the six year interim between Out There and 13 Degrees of Reality you've worked with DJ Shadow, Madlib and Mulatu Astatke on Inspiration Information 3. Have those collaborations affected the music that was created on the new album?
We have of course learned much from the iconic figures above, each of whom have their own unique take on music and individual working methods. But I think the last collaboration with Dr Lloyd Miller had the greatest influence on the sound of our current release. Lloyd's approach was definitely the most removed from our own and he had many stipulations regarding the music. These included no use of electric instruments or any electronic effect, and in general he applied a far more purist attitude and approach toward the music. We met on the common ground that we had left between us, which was a love of ethnic music and modal jazz. It is true to say that through Lloyd we found a glimpse of musical enlightenment and a subtlety that would have no doubt eluded us without his guidance, but escaping that inflexible mindset and having the freedom to do what we wanted contributed largely to the harsher sound of 13 Degrees. We may yet return to the path of musical "enlightenment" but meanwhile there are many more eccentric musical avenues we want to explore.
How would you describe the group's sound and do you think it's evolved in the last six years?
I suppose the current trajectory of the band has taken us into territory that could be loosely termed as "experimental" though I hasten to add, it is not without a sense of perspective nor hopefully to the detriment of the listener, as we all like to think ourselves equal parts musician and music listener. There is certainly a lot of freedom musically within the band, and we all bring our own ideas and influences to the table. I think we are always evolving if simply because we get bored pretty easily and in order to keep ourselves interested, we need to change up the styles and bring in new influences and production techniques. One thing that has certainly changed, if not evolved, is that 13 Degrees is wholly live with minimal overdubs, which for us is quite an achievement as Out There was far more of a studio album involving layers of overdubs and samples of obscure sounds and noises that we did not have the means to recreate at the time.
What's the group's process when it comes to making music?
Although there are written ideas that are formed and adhered to, for recording we generally get together after a spell of not playing as a band for a while, and create something together that is unplanned and instantaneous, channelling what comes out of the ether. After doing this for a while the band starts to develop a group telepathy that allows musical and rhythmic changes to bubble up from different individuals at varying times. I think it is healthy that we are all involved in other projects and that we are not playing together all the time. We do not generally play and rehearse set songs as we have all done this with other bands, and like the feeling of a blank canvas holding potential options and excitement compared to a preordained piece of music
The album opens with snippets of speeches from George Bush Sr. and Malcolm X. What was the idea behind the use of those sound bites?
These are some vocal snippets that we felt reflected the turbulent present we are part of. Global "super powers" are able to dictate world policy while ignoring world opinion. Governments from wealthy countries like Israel are able to subject the people inside its enforced borders to the same restrictions and persecution as the Jews themselves faced 75 years ago in Nazi Germany and again the world does nothing. This is because a "real U.N." is not in the interests of certain governments' foreign policy and is kept in dissent. Self-interest of some power-hungry individuals has lead us to the current precipice that society and humanity are now facing. We feel it is our responsibility as musicians/artists to somehow comment and reflect either musically or vocally on the social, economical, political and global upheaval we are currently witnessing.
Could you tell me about recording the album?
As I mentioned before, the album was recorded live with minimal overdubs and although some tracks are constructed in a traditional way and written, rehearsed and then recorded, much of the LP is entirely improvised and wherever possible was mixed the same day, often with me and Jake on the desk and pedals going direct to quarter-inch tape. We chose this tactic, moving away from labouring over tracks for days or weeks as on much of our first release. We have interlaced the tracks with what we consider interesting vocal and musical interludes, which help create a sense of continuation throughout. Everything we use is old vintage analogue equipment, except the computer, which we sometimes use as a tape machine, everything else in the chain including pedals, EQs, compression and reverb are all analogue. I think what is also different this time around is the fact we are no longer under any sort of illusion of commerciality. This, if you like, is our White Light, White Heat.
What are the "13 Degrees of Reality"?
Reality and its many degrees of perception have always been of interest to me. Reality is a subjective and individual experience dependent on many contributing factors. I myself have experienced things that have caused me to re-access and question my own interpretation of reality. Likewise the number 13 is interesting for a multitude of reasons, being many things to many people and seeped in mystical, religious and ancient meaning. Thirteen is often referred to as a connecting number and the number of completion. There are 13 actual tracks (beside interludes) on the LP, which can represent the varying degrees of perception contrasting from light to dark, ordered to chaotic...
What are you up to next and will you be touring Canada anytime soon?
We are currently getting ready for a tour to promote this record. We also have a science fiction electronic-based LP with a narrative from Melvin Van Peebles out later this year. We are soon to open our new studio in London and I am looking forward to working on future projects as an engineer and producer. We will be recording in September with African legend Orlando Julius, and yes, if the invite was there we would be more than happy to tour Canada.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Only to thank you for your interest in the Heliocentrics and this record.