Electronic pioneers Blancmange return with new record Unfurnished Rooms - their fourth album in the last three years. After an extended hiatus of a quarter century, frontman Neil Arthur has made up for lost time by consistently delivering new material to the high standard that the group set for themselves since forming in the late 1970s.
In the intervening period, many artists have cited Blancmange as a major influence, including John Grant who guests on Unfurnished Rooms, playing piano on ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, and Moby, who declared them "the most under-rated electronic act of all time".
Glasgow Music spoke to Arthur ahead of the bands latest release, and forthcoming UK tour in October, which calls in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Glasgow Music: After an extended hiatus of over a quarter century, you have been extremely prolific since returning in 2011. Has this been a conscious effort to make up for lost time?
Neil Arthur (Blancmange): Not a conscious effort, but an effort of some description. I do feel an urge to get ideas and thoughts down, and where possible find a vehicle for them, for example Blancmange, Fader and Near Future. In the twenty five years between Blancmange mark one, and mark two, I have worked in music production, film and TV. I also continued to write songs under my own name, pseudo-names and collaborations. I say that by way of explanation for what went on in the intervening twenty five or so years. I never stopped composing - I simply didnt compose with Blancmange in mind. Im more than happy to be doing so again.
GM: You recently released your first instrumental album, Nil By Mouth in 2015. With many of your previous records focussed largely on electronic instrumentation, what made you decide to finally release a fully instrumental record?
NA: It was time to give the voice a rest! I mentioned that Id spent a few decades composing for film, and this collection of music was really an extension of that process.
GM: Since your return, a whole range of modern artists, such as John Grant and Moby, have publically declared their love for Blancmange. How does it feel knowing that you have inspired a generation of contemporary electronic artists?
Its very kind of them to say so. It is reassuring when someone reacts positively to your music, whether theyre famous or not.
GM: A number of your peers have been reforming in recent years and have ended up becoming novelty acts. Blancmange appear to have consciously avoided this by instead pushing to remain constantly creative since your return. Do you feel any sort of pressure to stay relevant when recording new music?
NA: I do what I do, trying to be as honest as I can be with myself. Beyond that I dont know.
GM: You released your first collaborative album with Benge under the guise of new band Fader earlier this year. You have teamed up with him again for Unfurnished Rooms. Was there a clear plan from the start that the material would be written solely with a new band in mind, or did it become apparent during writing/recording that this should be used for something outwith Blancmange?
NA: Fader was also a new project. Benge sent over some musical ideas hed worked on while living in LA. I really locked into them and started adding my lyric and vocal ideas, then sending them back via WeTransfer, as wed initially worked on the project in seperate studios. Eventually we got together to mix the album. It was always going to be a Fader project.
GM: The first taster from Unfurnished Rooms is the excellent Whats The Time?. It is slightly different from the majority of the material fans will largely be familiar with. Is this indicative of what fans can expect from the record?
NA: Im interested in what comes next, the future (terrifying as it may be), rather than try and repeat the past ad nauseam. There isnt a formula that I know of, but even if there were, I wouldnt follow it. I simply write what I think, and if some people like that, great. The more that like it, the better!
GM: What were your inspirations and influences on Unfurnished Rooms, and what was the recording process like?
NA: Stuff from the news. Conversations overheard, misheard, or half remembered. Jokes, nightmares, daymares, new music, bird song, books of history, not mowing the lawn, football, relations, relationships, panic, lies. Empathy, and the lack of. General chaos, sinks and taps, etc.
GM: You head out on a UK tour in October. Would you prefer to stay locked up in the studio constantly recording new material, or do you prefer being out on the live circuit performing?
NA: Its good to get out, gives a perspective. Although the travel, hotel, travel, hotel is not my thing. I do really enjoy the gig and meeting people after to chat, but if I were given a choice, one or the other, Id go for the studio.
GM: Do you find it difficult to try and ensure a setlist is still creatively satisfying by performing new material, while still including the older hits that audiences will largely be at shows expecting to hear?
NA: No - we mix it up, old and new. Considering theres more new than old, we can dip in and out okay I think. Obviously, Im promoting the new album, so theres going to be quite a bit of that, but from what Ive gleaned from rehearsals, it sits with the old and the new old okay.
GM: The tour makes two Scottish stops in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Have you got any particularly fond memories from any of your previous visits to Scotland?
NA: We love playing Scotland. I get to see my relatives too. The Glasgow audience has always been very generous to us over the years. We havent played Edinburgh for several decades, although Ive been up there to visit. A beautiful city. I used to visit regularly when I was a lad with my family, to spend holidays with my aunty, uncle and cousins. Great memories. As long as I dont have to walk across the Forth Road Bridge, Ill be happy.
GM: Finally, we have to ask you the question that your Scottish fans will be dying to know - have you seen the (Glaswegian comic) Limmy sketch which features Living On The Ceiling, and if so, what do you think of it?
NA: Its an improvement on the original! I love it.
Unfurnished Rooms is released on September 29th. The single Whats The Time? can be listened to at: http://soundcloud.com/blancmange/whats-the-time
Blancmange go on tour in October, calling at the following Scottish dates:
October 27th - La Belle Angele, Edinburgh
October 28th - Audio, Glasgow