TRACK BY TRACK
Source: ROLLING STONE, NOVEMBER 27, 1997
Three years ago, britain's Portishead released Dummy, a groundbreaking
mix of slo-mo hip-hop, sci-fi cinema soundtracks and Beth Gibbons'
haunting vocals. Along with fellow Bristol-folk Massive Attack
and Tricky, the quartet begat what came to be called trip-hop
and inspired a horde of bum-rushing imitators. Daunted by the
task of repeating this success, Portishead retreated to a country-house
studio to record their second album. This time, rather than sampling
other artists, producer/DJ Geoff Barrow and multi-instrumentalist
Adrian Utley opted to record their own performances, commit them
to vinyl, then cut and scratch them back into the mix. Similarly,
an orchestra was employed to perform some of the new album's brooding
arrangements, which were recorded live on a standard cassette
tape and fed back into the songs. Barrow and Utley shed some light
on the band's dark new opus, Portishead:
Half Day Closing Utley: "It took us two years to make this
album because we got into a really bad hole after our first album
and tour. We were miserable and blocked about what we were doing.
I feel that 'Half Day Closing' got us out of that. We thought,
'Let's just do this; let's just finish something.'
"It was a departure for us, really, because there are no
samples on it -it's Geoff and me playing live. It was inspired
by an album by the United States of America, from 1967 or '69.
It's a psychedelic band that people tell us is quite obscure.
We tracked up loads of weird Moog stuff over the top - weird noises
and odd melodies. And we put Beth's vocals through a rotating
organ cabinet called a Leslie. We just sort of tripped out, really."
Humming Barrow: "We worked on this beat for ages. Adrian
and [conductor] Nick [Ingman] put the strings together, and then
we put them on cassette and worked it like a normal sample. It's
a weird thing - it ended up sounding like a sample from a record,
but we know what we went through to get it right. It's satisfying
that it was actually our music and not somebody else's."
Only You Utley: "Usually we give Beth the backing tracks
to lay vocals over, but she came to us with an almost-finished
track for this one -she's got a digital 8-track, a drum kit, a
bass, a guitar, a sampler and a small keyboard in her house. It
was a cool, very French-soundtrack-style song with acoustic piano
in a kind of waltz time signature. We changed it around to make
it fit more with the other songs on the album. Geoff does these
completely inspirational scratches on this track - just ferociously
Over Barrow: "This was a song we wrote on the last tour.
The guitar riff came from a riff we did, like, a month before;
the drums came from a session three months before that - that's
how almost all of our songs are written."
All Mine Utley: "We had the hardest time finding a bridge
for this. We worked on it with Beth, which is rare for us. We
tried to find notes that worked against the chords but weren't
completely crap - there's always a delicate balance. Obviously
it's got to be in tune, but we try to keep the vibe and make it
fit. That's what's so cool about a lot of hip-hop music: You turn
the dial until it feels right."