Marc Heal has already cemented his name in the history of industrial thanks for his founding of Cubanate, but for the past fifteen years the legendary producer has remained more than quiet. Minus the Compound Eye EP he curated with Raymond Watts AKA PIG, Heal hasn't touched the studio. However, with his move to Singapore the industrial master got back in touch with music and his inner desire to make music was freshened up once more. And thus The Hum was born, as was this interview. Read on below to discover everything you need to know about The Hum through the words of Marc Heal.
While it would be quite odd for anyone in the industrial scene to not know who you are, there are always newcomers and youngsters about who may not know your name. So, give us a quick little introduction. Who are you, what do you do, and what's your favorite hobby?
Marc: Well, I was bought up in Libya and the Persian Gulf. I started out making electronic music when I was a teenager in the UK in the 80s. I toured with Gary Numan with my first band, Westwon. Then I got into harder sounds and I started a band called Cubanate. We toured with The Sisters, FLA, lots of people. I had a side project called C-Tec with Jean Luc Demeyer from Front 242, we made two albums. I made games music for Sony Playstation for Gran Turismo and EA for Wing Commander.
Then in about 2000 I quit music and dried out. I started running studios and did some production. I had kids and moved to the wilds of northern England. I worked in film and TV, mostly on the business side, but sometimes writing. I wrote a book called The Sussex Devils, about evangelical religion and the satanic moral panic of the 1980s. I moved to Singapore in 2012 and I’m still here now.
I don’t have a “hobby”, unless it’s music. I try my hand at making things. I wouldn’t call music my hobby. More a compulsion.
You've had your own band Westwon, are of Cubanate fame, had tracks featured in arguably the best video game racing franchise in all the world, and have toured with scene legends such as Front 242 and FLA, and it's now that you're releasing your solo debut album. What made you finally want to put out your own material? Did anything inspire or encourage you? Did you get that itch to make music again?
Marc: A couple of years back I went into the studio for the first time in a very long time, really just to help out Raymond (Watts), who hadn’t also made an album in over a decade. But I ended up singing on couple of tracks on our joint Compound Eye EP. Compound Eye was experimental, a demo really. It’s the sound of two old gunslingers taking their pistols out from under the bed to scrape off the rust and see if they can still shoot straight. But it had a good reaction and I got some confidence back. Raymond too, it seems.
Several times over the past fifteen years I thought, “I would like to record an album. Better try to write some songs.” This time it was, “I’ve written some songs. Better try to record an album.” I did it solo because I don’t know any other electronic musicians in Singapore. Eventually I found my guitarist Benny Ong. The only man with tattoos on the island. For this album I preferred working alone. I’ve learned about myself sober that I’m really quite shy. But Benny doesn’t say much anyway.
With all the previous experience mentioned above as well as much, much more, how has all that helped prepare you for your debut album? Would you say your time in Cubanate helped shape The Hum more so than other experiences?
Marc: Not directly. Of course you learn from the past but I’d never made an album as a solo artist before. You do feel way more exposed and embarrassed putting your own name on it. But in any decent art, you have to reach down to the parts you DON’T want to talk about. To pain and awkwardness and what you really feel, not striking a pose. Trying to be cool and playing to the gallery is seductive but it doesn’t work. Not when you’re over the age of 20, anyway. So this time I tried a different feel. Much more immediate, looser, basic.
Your time in the mega-cities in the east inspired The Hum, and the title of the album comes from a mysterious noise that no one can quite explain. Could you dive a bit deeper into that and tell us how these themes fit into the album?
Marc: Singapore is contradictory. Very JG Ballard. On one level it’s a high-rise, atomized, globalized, desensitized environment, full of expatriate bankers and money from all over the east. On another level – literally on the ground – it’s a humming beehive. William Gibson once said Singapore was “Disneyland with the death penalty.” Well I guess you might think that if you stayed in the Pan Pacific for the weekend, but the reality is hidden behind the doors of government built blocks, of warehouses and temples. It’s oily, sweaty. Very real. Very Chinese. Of all the things Singapore resembles, it isn’t Disneyland.
I travel a lot to Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur. Huge cities. Their massive growth explains the decline of the west in a way that you have to see to appreciate. And of course, there is oppression and poverty on a vast scale. I found that layer of bland wealth overlaying the superstition and nascent violence offered me fertile inspiration. Show Homes, Model Citizen, Oilman were all taken from that experience. Adult Fiction too. The wives of expat bankers, writing novels. The Hum… well, it just spoke to me. A strange grinding sound that I only I could hear. Yeah, I thought. That’s how it feels.
I'm completely lost when it comes to what gear musicians use when recording albums, however there are quite a few people always interested in the tech side of productions. What gear did you use to record The Hum? Did you learn anything new whilst recording this album?
Marc: Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with technicalities. I wrote the songs with a simple laptop set-up. Then I found this incredible old studio in Singapore, called Lion. It’s huge, built in 1980. The equipment dates back to the early 80’s as well, though a lot of it was broken. I could never have afforded to record in such a vast space but it’s fallen into disrepair, so it was cheap.
I like using instruments that you find, that’s why there’s a lot of old Moogs and tape echoes on the album. They crackle and hum and some of them blew up halfway through. I recorded digitally but I tried not to get bamboozled by all the choices that computer production offers you. I found a few sounds that I liked and used them. Anyway, Lion is a very atmospheric place. Nice ghosts but they’re very lively.
I wrote Faithful Machinery in the Lion control room. I looked around at all these magnificent old tape machines and the mixing desk that were built to such a high quality nearly fifty years ago. And I realised that they were dying. No one wants that stuff any more. I would be the last person to use them. I was saying goodbye and thanks.
I worked alone mostly. It definitely contributed to the feel of the album. When I had even a rough mix and I thought I might be losing my mind, I passed it over to Jules Seifert who mastered the album in the UK for a fresh opinion. I liked working that way.
I understand that for this album you channeled a darker side of music when creating it. How did this differ to your previous works under Cubanate and all other projects? Did you feel odd creating this music, or did it just feel right?
Marc: I had a writer’s block for a long time. I felt uncomfortable making Cubanate type music because when I wrote that stuff I was in my twenties. I was a different person then. Every time I went down that route it felt false. And I think that industrial music has become very clichéd in it’s imagery. Hellraiser, Terminator samples, same old blah, blah. Stock response. Boring. I gave up.
After I wrote my book, The Sussex Devils, I became more interested in observing other people. I looked around me and found a much richer vein. In your twenties you think your problems are so important, but really they tend to be trivial and fixable. The darker strands in life – power, corruption, money, divorce, suicide: they tend to happen later. I draw my inspirations there. I think The Hum is powerful because it’s honest. I wanted to use industrial sound, not let it use me. I’m not pretending to be anything or anyone else.
And what were you trying to accomplish with the lyrics? Are you telling a story with them or do they each have their own calling?
Marc: I guess each one is a snapshot through my eyes. Or a mini-film. What’s the point of an artist unless you can step into their shoes for a few moments? To be shown a different life? Of course I edited out scenes and spliced characters together. But it’s true. This is it how it was for me.
How has the reception for The Hum been? I've only ever seen positive notes so far. Have you seen anything you've disagreed with?
Marc: Generally excellent, to my relief. There were a few people who were surprised that it was slower, not so club-oriented as Cubanate. I’ve had the Numan reference thrown at me a few times. Hard to deny, since I was using Polymoogs and Minimoogs and Eventides, like he used to. Even Bowie, very flatteringly. But my voice is a totally different thing. Rough as a bear’s arse. I look in the mirror and see an old geezer these days. A few people started to use the term “Adult Oriented Industrial” to describe the album. I grudgingly came to accept the accuracy of that. Not that it’s bland. But it is written by an adult, for adults.
And what's next for you? Do you have any EPs, songs, or collaborations in the making? Do you plan on playing live anywhere?
Marc: Cubanate played live in Chicago at the Cold Waves festival. We surprised ourselves I think. We enjoyed it, we’re looking at European dates in 2017. We’re going to try to do a Cubanate retrospective. I’m writing sleeve notes for that at the moment. I’ve done some collaborations that might be released next year. I’m always open to working with other people. And I’m just starting to the about a follow up to The Hum.
Lastly, I'd like to thank you for your time and wish you the best of luck. Cheers!
Marc: You’re welcome. I’ll take the good luck. We’re all going to need some. Stay safe.
Marc Heal's The Hum is available for purchase HERE via Armalyte Industries.
...on tour you live excessively, faster than real life, you suck it all in and ride the bomb, so to speak, and after the touring is done, you spit it all back out in the studio, however, it has undergone a process of digestion in the meantime, and that is the motivational momentum for me.
KMFDM, Apr 25 2011
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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