Greg Haines: For some reason it’s not “cool” to talk about reggae, but everyone wants to talk about dub
Throughout his solo career, Greg Haines has proven to be more of a team player than a lone composer. Besides a generous amount of collaborations he has always had a large number of other musicians working together in the background. Greg uses a wide range of classical instruments, sometimes focusing more on ambient drones, other times on the piano. His last album, ‘Where We Were’ was different in every way: not only he had done most of the composing and recording alone, but he had also shifted from neo-classical ambient towards beat-driven experimental dub music – which is something that unfolded even more in his latest collaboration project with Peter Broderick: Greg Gives Peter Space. This is what we wanted to hear more details about.
This seems to be quite a notable change, how did you get interested in dub music, what inspired you to try it out yourself?
I found my way to dub music through Rhythm & Sound around seven years ago or so. I had been getting into Basic Channel (which is another project from the same duo), and was eager to hear more, although nothing could prepare me for the depth and intensity of the Rhythm & Sound productions. One of the 12”s that they released contained their version of a Chosen Brothers track from the seventies, with the original track on the other side. The original just blew my mind – it still does, it’s still one of my favourites. So from there I obviously wanted to know more, and started buying a few more records on the Basic Replay label and slowly branched out from there. The real obsession didn’t start until two or three years ago, when I started really digging deeper, trying to find out more about it and explore all the different sub-genres. These days I suppose I am listening to as much Roots Reggae as dub, but for some reason it’s not “cool” to talk about reggae, but everyone wants to talk about dub!
After all those years of collaborating and working together with other musicians, how did it feel that all of a sudden every small detail is up to no one else but you?
Well, I’ve always worked on my solo releases simultaneously to collaborating, so it’s actually quite nice to jump from one style of working to another. After working alone for a while, I can’t wait to work with other people, and once I’ve been working with other people for a while I am really eager to try out some ideas alone. I get bored quite easily, so the variation is key to keeping everything fresh, and also ideas collected while working with others always feed into my solo work a great deal.
With your latest collaboration project Greg Gives Peter Space the listener could witness yet another metamorphose. According to the Erased Tape Records’ website you and Peter Broderick have been planning to collaborate for a long time, but somehow it never happened. What was the turning point that made it possible after all?
As strange as it sounds, I think it was actually Peter moving away from Berlin that finally brought the project to fruition. While he was living here, we would occasionally get together to work on some music, and then later down the line get together again to try to mix or edit whatever we had recorded. Somehow, we were never able to finish anything. When Peter moved back to the States, and was visiting my place on a trip back to the city, we suddenly had the desire to work on something together, and knowing we only had a short time together, we were extremely driven to get some finished – to have something to show for all the work we were putting in.
Is there anyone else that you’ve been planning to collaborate with but never happened? Is there someone with whom you would secretly love to work together with?
I would love to work with a lot of musicians – I would love to be doing more production work for other people, to play a similar role to what I did on ‘Greg Gives Peter Space’, but with people from even more diverse musical backgrounds. I would love to work with a lot of African musicians. Not necessary the most famous, or famous at all, but then having said that, recording with Tony Allen would be something of a dream. Dubbing out his drums would be amazing! I’ve got some other exciting collaborations in the works, but I can’t really speak of them at the moment!
Besides the fresh, electronic synth sounding there is another element which could be considered peculiar in the Haines discography, that is Peter Broderick’s almost constant vocals throughout the record. Was the abundance of spoken elements something that you’ve planned deliberately way ahead or it just happened during the recording session?
It just came out. Peter is a great singer, and a singer who seems to love to sing, so it was natural the record ended up in that way. Some of the songs on there were already tracks that Peter had written for voice and guitar or banjo, which we used as starting points.
You’ve obviously given space to Peter, but how much space the two of you gave to spontaneity? Do you usually plan every small detail meticulously or you always make sure that there is enough space for improvisation as well?
Planning everything meticulously was definitely not what we were going for. Even the final mixes were made live and very spontaneous. I think all of the versions on the record are from the first or second take. Large elements were often added or muted during the very final stages. Nothing was for certain until the very end. It’s much more fun that way!
‘February Space Duet’ seems to be an odd-one-out on the album with a more organic sounding, no vocals, reminding me of Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze. I would say that this track has got more of your personality. What is the story behind this space duet?
That was something we recorded for synth and violin one afternoon, back when Peter was still living in Berlin. Totally improvised. We later revisited and did what I think is the strangest mix on the record – I was blasting it out of the speakers, listening back and trying to get some ideas of how to mix it, and then I realised that a mic in the room was also active and the sound was bouncing through some delays, then being picked up through the mic, which was again being sent to the delays. A very nice, organic feedback effect. I think the desk must have just been set up like that to work on something else, but as I realised I immediately told Peter to stand in front of the mic and start to sing something. That’s basically the track! I didn’t even give him a second chance!
You’ve been touring around Europe with Greg Gives Peter Space visiting the UK, France, The Netherlands and Germany. Usually you play for a seated audience, how did you feel about this new dancefloor feeling setup? Were people actually dancing?
It was great! We had some dancers, especially in Berlin. The more dancers, the better the audience! If you come to one of our shows, please dance! It’s dance music…mostly!
What are your impressions and experiences after the mini-tour? How were the reactions of the public? Did you get any surprising feedback?
It was a really nice tour, I enjoyed almost all of the shows. The public reaction was on the whole fantastic, apart from one show where I think people were expecting more of a Peter solo show. I think we had an audience mutiny. I must be a terrible stage partner in that sense, as if I can feel people don’t like the bass, I will add more bass. If it’s a bit too distorted for them, I will distort everything to breaking point. So that night I played very, very hard. I think everyone else in the band was totally pissed off at me, but I had a pretty good show!
Do you think you would be able to drift even further in the darker corners of electronic music, can you imagine yourself releasing a techno album in the future?
Maybe! Who knows.
Since you are working with so many types of music, could you tell us what are you listening to nowadays when you are not creating your own melodies? Any favourites from this year? Something from the past?
I’m always buying a lot of records and listening to a lot of music when not working. As far as new records go, I really love the Ibibio Sound Machine record. Peter actually gave that to me as a gift To be honest, I don’t know much about new records or what is coming out now, so it’s nice to have something current. As for older stuff, ‘Rockers Arena‘ by Climax Asher is getting a lot of plays at the moment too!