1 inch/1/2 Mile might just be one of the most interesting releases of the year. An album that is at once somehow familiar and yet undeniably new. This Ninja Tune duo (Andrew Phillips and Marcus O' Dair) are a world apart from modern British dance music, their electronic industrial rhythms and ambient broadcasts evoke the pits of South Wales, the hills of middle England and the immense landscapes of Scotland.Grasscut, like say Boards Of Canada or Aphex Twin, understand the need for humanity and nature in a world of machines. Using field recordings and recycled 78's they evoke a certain historical dimension, yet this is no retro trip with some of the most cutting edge sounds of the year in tracks such as Old Machines or Muppet (see below). I was fortunate to catch up with Andrew Phillips in advance of live dates across Europe.
When did you first really get into your music?
I was in choirs and orchestras as a kid, got into songs and making ambient tapes as a teenager, worked as a film and TV composer after university.
How did Grasscut come about?
Marcus and I were on tour with another band, and I started making field recordings and tunes on my laptop, responding to things we were seeing around Britain. We got offered a couple of gigs off the back of those early tunes and it snowballed from there.
What's the vision behind Grasscut?
It's important that the music feels unfamiliar, experimental, not generic, and also emotional. I wanted to use a variety of voices from the past and present, to keep the sound changing.
You clearly have a sense of Englishness in your work. Is that a conscious decision?
Well all the songs are about Britain really - Sheffield shopping centres, Welsh mountains, Sussex Downs particularly. It's not conscious, as such, it's just where I spend most of my time. Not the shopping centres, actually.
You achieve a fine balance between nostalgia and innovation - which is most important in what you do?
I don't think using sounds and voices from the past is necessarily nostalgic - I always think of nostalgia as a bit self-indulgent, as though you're trying to revisit or recreate the past in some way. In Britain our past is everywhere - it's an old country, but at the same time, we're living with an unprecedented speed of change. For me, putting those old sounds and voices in a contemporary electronic musical context just feels right. It feels like now.
How do you work in the studio? What kit do you use?
Lots of live instruments and mics - harmoniums, pianos, gongs, drums, synths. I use an old version of Logic, Ableton, lots of little bits of software, max msp. And I use my phone a lot for vocals, or street recording.
The cover art is lovely - is that important to you?
Thank you. Yes, incredibly important. We were fortunate to work with Pedr Browne, a designer and all round renaissance man, who did the artwork, and helped design the walk map within. It really sets the right scene for the music.
How do you perceive reaction to your work?
We had almost universally lovely reviews of the album in the press and were delighted. I think sometimes it takes people a few listens to get it, and we don't expect everybody to like it, but if most people who hear it get it in some way as you intended it, that's great.
I see you're doing live dates - how's that working out?
Gigs are really fun - quite hard to take something so layered out live initially, but we've come a long way already, and had some great gigs - we have a full video show that accompanies the music too. we're playing lots in Europe and really enjoying it.
What next for Grasscut?
We've got some British shows coming up, and are going to Holland and Prague in the next few weeks. I'm working on the next album already, and we're touring in France next January February and March.