New album ‘Twenties’
The mysterious Xqui first appeared in 2018 with his Britannia EP which was swiftly followed by the Dragon album. His new album ‘Twenties’ follows on from remixes and collaborations with the likes of Transmission 13, Radio Europa and Geiger von Muller.
Appearing in several Albums of the Year lists over the last three years, he also works with boycalledcrow under the moniker of Wonderful Beasts. For ‘Twenties’, his seventh album, he has delved into history to create something unique.
What inspired the album
I had the idea to use old voice recordings in the middle of 2020. I wanted to experiment with those amazing singing voices from the past and put them against some new recordings of my own. I never intended it to be an album to be honest, it was originally just a very long version of Ambulate, around ten minutes, that was supposed to be a standalone release but, it grabbed a hold of me once I’d finished it and I decided to go further. I found an archive website, with loads of unlicensed clips and started trawling through.
What kind of sound were you aiming for
I wasn’t aiming for any sound in particular but, when I thought that there was more than one track in the idea I thought I could interweave the old voices into one project. Some of the tracks are made up purely of new material but, they seemed to blend perfectly with the sound and feel of the album. The only real sound I went for was ‘eerie’, nothing conventional, just seeing how far I could stretch my imagination.
What’s your creative process when you make an album, and do you always have a theme
I try to have a theme. Lleisiau, which is Welsh for ‘voices’, used a voice on every tracks and was something I’d not done to any great effect before. I often mull things over in my head for a while as to what I want to achieve and then dive straight in often making the album itself in a relatively short period of time. I keep a large collection of field recordings and found sound and dip into those to see what I can manipulate. I can usually tell whether a sound is going to work straight away.
Tell us about the archive recordings you used on Twenties
They were all digitised recordings from an archive material site, I just searched for 1920s recordings and saw what came up. Much of it wasn’t what I was looking for but I found several voice clips and an old American radio show that I managed to use clips from. There’s no local connection although it’s funny you should say that as I presently have another idea spinning around my head! Two or three of them were dancehall recordings with some stunning live voices and one was from a Pathe film clip which talked about the twenties having actress and comedian, the late Joyce Grenfell reciting a wonderfully posh British accent.
Did the archive recordings present any challenges in creating the music, or inspire new ways of working
Not as such, I generally followed my usual way of working which is to lock myself away and play with sounds until I find something usable. It was just a case of selecting which parts I wanted, some used voices and others instrumentation which was manipulated, sometimes several times, before I used them. As time has gone on I’ve been eager to find new ways of making and adapting sounds whether it be multiple echoes or flipping things backwards or just stretching sounds before adding more effects. On Twenties it was more a case of finding things that fitted and worked within the context of the track.
What is your go to gear and/or software for creating your recordings
I’m pretty simple when it comes to recordings. When I started with Xqui I recorded everything on a Samsung Galaxy S5, I think I was pretty naive but I never really intended it to be a big thing when I released my first material on the Britannia EP in fact, I was flabbergasted when people started downloading it. My first album was Dragon which was recorded entirely on the S5 and then played with through Audacity on my pc but, I was still very simplistic in what I did and had no idea what amazing things it could do.
I haven’t gone massively overboard on gadgets since to be honest. I still recorded a lot through my phone which is now an S10e and use some apps to make different effects with them, I often delete an app once I’ve made a track or album so that I don’t start to sound repetitive. I bought a Dictaphone a while back which gives me a slightly different sound to the phone and continue to use Audacity to work on sounds. There are some great apps which can become amazing with a bit of imagination.
I also bought myself a very basic circuit board which I haven’t used to any great extent yet and my wife bought me a kalimba which I have ideas for too.
Aside from that, it’s really down to found sounds for source material. I can often tell if something is usable straight away, and I maybe discard half of what I record.
When it comes to the field recordings where did you record your sounds and what did you record. Do you have some favourite places or did you find new environments
For Twenties, there were several locations. Locations can vary as it always goes back to what sounds good for instance, on Twenties there’s the sound of a factory warehouse, my son snoring and even a phone ringtone. I’ve previously used recordings from our favourite Indian takeaway, playgrounds and a washing machine so, there’s no set rule. I’m not restricted to just one place, I record indoors and out and, we’re lucky to live very close to some gorgeous woodland and countryside which gives me some very natural, organic sounds that I mess with and digitise. Again, I don’t have a favourite place as that would start to become repetitive and I want to remain fresh and open-minded.
What’s your favourite gear for recording in the field, and do you have any tips to share about how to get good results
It’s my trusty mobile phone. In terms of tips, I try to avoid human voices and also steer clear of anywhere where there is a strong wind as that can really mess up sounds. Turn the recording volume up to high to pick up all you hear and don’t be afraid to try and use any sound at all. There are no boundaries with experimentation, you create your own rules. It’s always wise never to be scared to try anything.
What is your process for then creating the tracks with your archive and field recordings
I can often tell what will work. The number of sounds I have deleted or not used must be incredible. Initially, it’s about matching sounds together. Sounds that will work together and have some sort of cohesion, sometime it can take ages for this to happen and sometimes quite by accident. The track Epiphany from my Capitulate album was a little like that, a lot of it just seemed to fall into place. Very few of my field recordings stay as they were recorded, instead being manipulated or treated with effects and add-ons. It’s a case of sitting at my laptop and piecing together a massive sound jigsaw.
It’s your first release on Subexotic Records, and on vinyl, how did that come about and what has that meant for you
I’ve released almost all my stuff on Wormhole World. It’s a great label and I’m forever grateful for the doors it’s opened and opportunities that have arisen because of their support. Microchasm came out on Submarine Broadcasting Company and I did that to try and reach out to a larger audience, it also takes a lot of burden off me in terms of promotion. It was much the same with Subexotic. They got my attention due the quality recordings they release and the packaging they are in. To be honest, I didn’t approach them with a view to getting a vinyl release, it never really occurred to me but, Dan at Subexotic seemed to ‘get’ what I was doing with Twenties and he believed in it from day one. He offered a nice deluxe vinyl package and I wasn’t going to refuse. It looks amazing. For me, it’s been a dream since childhood, I still can’t stop getting the album out and just looking at it!
Do you have plans to perform the work live
The thought has crossed my mind several times. It’s not as clear cut as one might imagine because Xqui is a completely manufactured sound, it’s not as though I could go on stage and play instruments or sounds as everything is built up layer upon layer. I did do a live performance n Twitter last year which went down really well and I’ve been asked when I’m doing another. Let’s just wait and see.