IRC chat 1
Dave Mc Donnald
None found as yet!
Interview with Adrian, Geoff and Dave
An interview with Geoff Barrow
With one smoky, dour debut Portishead unwittingly revamped popular
music. All of the sudden, 'twas hip to be sad. Music critics and
retail managers were befuddledwhere do you file this melancholy
magic? Slowcore? Hip hop? Trip hop?
"The whole trip-hop thing was just nonsense," insists Geoff Barrow,
the other Portishead. "It was developed by people in London, and
the people in Bristol (home to Portishead, as well as the like-minded
Tricky, Massive Attack, and Earthling) just had to put up with
it. The whole labeling thing doesn't matter to us. We'll just
keep on making the music we make."
Barrow, once a studio apprentice for Massive Attack, learned
how to create instant atmosphere through aged samples, slithering
beats, and sinister guitars. Adrian Utley's broad instrumental
palette rounded out all but one important elementthe voice.
Gibbons' heartbroken crooning carried more presence and charisma
than even The Great Glum One himself, Morrissey. And the rest
is unfinished history.
"It's been so long/That I can't be sure," sings Beth Gibbons
on "Humming." Amen, sister.
It's two years later. Album two is self-titled (as if name recognition
were still an issue). The formula is the same, just the components
have been changed to protect the public's weary ears. Barrow,
fearing he might retread old ground, samples only The Pharcyde
("She Said"), Ken Thorne ("Inspector Clouseau"), and The Sean
Atkins Experience ("Hookers & Gin"). All other records used
were Portishead originals, string and horn arrangements composed
and pressed specifically for this session. Barrow then roughed
up the dub plates a bit to give them a more "authentic" feel.
This time-consuming (fourteen months to be exact) process ended
up creating a whole new record collection. More people could do
if they had the patience, says Barrow.
"It got stupid with samples. To the point where you could buy
a magazine and it would have [a CD called] 5000 Funky Breaks.
People thought they could just sample something like that, put
a weird noise over it and, presto, you got a hit single. We were
listening to these beats, thinking, 'We could do this ourselves.'
So they did, creating a fuller, more orchestral sound. Couple
that with a sometimes brassier Gibbons and, well."
"We started off on this record not wanting to do spy music,"
insists Barrow. "We finished the 'All Mine' session, with the
horns and that. And, of all the people you'd think would notice,
it would be us. But when we played it, someone said, 'Ah, James
Bond.' We were like, 'Shit' At least we didn't sample some Shirley
Bassey track and make a song out of it though."
Otherwise, Portishead is more of the same, a fact for which they
make no apologies.
"It's a really interesting time," Barrow muses. "No band is allowed
to sound like themselves on their second record. I mean, of course
we sound like our last record—we're the same band."
It seems like a simple enough argument. But with everyone from
David Bowie to Rickie Lee Jones turning to dancefloor trends to
reboot their careers, it's one that Barrow's had to make again
and again. "We love all the jungle and drum 'n' bass stuff," he
says. "But it would be disrespectful of us to attempt that when
Roni [Size] and Photek do it so well. Or hip hop. I love hip hop,
but I'm a white kid from Bristol. I can only do what I know, talk
about what I know."
As a product of an industrial English port city, Barrow "knows"
a lot of the same hardships that spawned hip hop in America. He
found himself drawn to Black American art form as early as the
mid-'80s. This passion sent Barrow back to the musical roots of
hip hop—soul, funk, jazz. Yet it was his poverty that inadvertently
shoved him into the business part of the music business. Portishead
(which Barrow pronounces "Poh-is-ed" in his lilting working class
accent) once existed only as means to escape dole cutbacks. By
establishing a "company," Barrow and his associates faced less
hassle from Britain's welfare department. "Musicians are notoriously
suspect in the dole system," he explains. "So we became a business."
Now quite a successful enterprise, the government's off Portishead's
back but the press is down their throat. Gibbons' approach is
to deny interviews to the press. However, Barrow doesn't seem
to mind. "Even as a kid I've never had problems talking to people,"
Barrow says. "But the whole idea of perceiving someone as being
special because they're in a band is ridiculous to me. It's like
the more records you sell, the less you pay for. How does that
Yet Barrow's not complaining. The beyond-gold status of 1995's
Dummy afforded the band more time and resources for the follow-up,
which they debuted with a splash in late August. "We performed
our new material with a full orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom
in New York," Barrow says from his room at the elegant Parker
Meridien hotel. "With samplers, you can either turn them up or
down. With a live ensemble you can react better with the audience.
But performing without all that is fine, too, so long as you don't
just rely on a loopespecially one we all know. We just figured,
'If you can do it, do it.'"
So why the long face?
"People only see that side [of us] because when you turn on the
radio all you hear are happy tunes," Barrow says. "If, for the
past ten years, all you heard was downbeat music and a happy band
came along they'd be asking the same questions but in reverse.
Just because there's another side of music doesn't mean it's depressing.
It's just another side to music."
Still, if the shoe fits—and helps to keep the press at bay—Portishead
will wear it. "There are bands who play that game with the press
here," Barrow says. "I once read an interview with a well-known
band and the headline was, 'Why We Haven't Done Press For Three
Months.' Some bands need to be in the press all the time to keep
their profile up. But if we don't have a record to promote, you
won't see us. We'll be locked away in Bristol. There, even if
people know who you are, they ain't going to talk to you. They're
not snooty or anything, they just don't treat you any differently.
"Besides, we're pretty boring," Barrow adds. "There's nothing
to write about with us."