Nothing's quite right without the wrongness
He’s on tour with his other band BEAK>, but Geoff Barrow hasn’t forgotten about the next Portishead album, he tells JIM CARROLL
YOU CAN BE sure that Geoff Barrow gets the most out of every hour of the day. The roll-call of projects that the Portishead musician, producer and collaborator is involved in seems to grow with every year.
In 2012 so far, there have been albums from Quakers, Barrow’s sprawling hip-hop project; BEAK>, his lo-fi Krautrock trio who play Dublin this month; and Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega-City One, a soundtrack-of-sorts for a mooted Judge Dredd film with composer Ben Salisbury.
You could argue that all of these side projects are a distraction from the work on a new Portishead album, but Barrow would beg to differ. These albums and collaborations are clearly just as important to him as releasing a fourth album with a big P on the cover.
Take Quakers, for example. Helmed by long-time hip-hop fanatic Barrow, studio engineer Stuart Matthews and producer Katalyst, Quakers stars 35 different MCs working with impressive, back-in-the-day beats and breaks.
“We were working on it for four years on and off between other projects and waiting for MCs to get back to us and people dropping off and picking up new people,” explains Barrow. “We approached people via MySpace initially and said this is a hip-hop band called Quakers. We were quite confident that if you get a MC with the right mindset, he’ll hear a couple of those beats and he will want to get involved. If you’re into it for the love of hip-hop, you’ll get it.
Barrow says there was a “no bullshit” policy in effect for the album. “As the artist gets bigger, the bullshit gets bigger. We could have said this is a record by Geoff Barrow from Portishead°, but it’s not a Geoff Barrow from Portishead record. The policy was to bring in anybody and not to just focus on the ones who had something to say. The vibe with Quakers was that everyone was welcome as long as they were cool and had a good voice.”
This year also saw Barrow resume BEAK> activities with Matt Willams and Billy Fuller. Like their first album, the plan with album number two, BEAK>>, was to record it very quickly in a room with no overdubs or retakes. “The first time, we just got in a room and played. The tracks that were good, we kept and the ones that weren’t as good, we kept for the bonus disc.”
That, though, didn’t happen on this occasion. “When we started playing in the room together at the start of the new record, it was fucking awful,” admits Barrow. “I don’t think any of us liked what we were doing. We then went away and did our other things before something clicked and we went from there.
“It was a different experience to the first record. But it’s all done on the basis of the opposite to the grand computer-produced music we hear so readily. It’s not saying that we’re any better for that, but it’s different.”