The often neglected other half of New Order bounce back into the limelight with a joint album of particular charm. Nigel Humberstone tracks down Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris to talk about their working methods, their home studio, and their contribution to the growing EC gear mountain...
Following the unsavoury debacle that finally put to rest Factory Records earlier this year, and amidst countless conjectural theories of their future plans, it is difficult to predict the direction of one of the past decade's most respected, influential and independently successful pop groups — New Order. Whilst the album Republic threatens to be their final joint work, the individual 'spin‑off' projects now taking up their time can be construed as the way forward. Bernard Sumner's Electronic (a collaboration with Johnny Marr and Neil Tennant) and Peter Hook's group Revenge seem to be areas in which we're likely to witness creative output. But whilst all this is going on, we can also look forward to the varied work of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, the often neglected other half of New Order, collectively known as The Other Two.
Stephen has been with the group since their early days, after responding to an ad for a drummer way back in 1977. Gillian joined in 1980 following the untimely death of singer Ian Curtis. It's obvious when speaking to Stephen that he's been responsible for much of the technical progression behind New Order, and along with his wide‑ranging musical competency (he is not just a drummer), it comes as no surprise to discover that a large number of New Order songs have derived from pieces put together by both Stephen and Gillian (including the hugely successful 'World in Motion', which was adapted from their track originally written for the BBC's Reportage). The release of their debut album, The Other Two and You is an attempt to gain some part of the recognition that they feel is rightly theirs.
The pair have been resident at their farmhouse home for four years since moving the short distance from Stephen's native Macclesfield. The 200 year‑old dwelling commands impressive views of the local countryside and their home studio has been set up in the large converted loft area of the farmhouse's adjacent barn.
"We've been really lucky with this place," recounts Stephen, "'cos it was like this when we got it, and acoustically it's not that bad. This room is nearly all stone and there are not too many flat surfaces.
"When we had a studio at our home in Hurlsfield it started off in the cellar, moved to the bedroom and finally ended up in the attic, and it was quite creative — I think that sometimes the mood of a place is more important than having top‑notch gear."
Their studio at that time, just following Technique, was based around a little Seck desk and a Fostex E16.
"We were in the middle of doing the music for Making Out when we moved, so the studio was the first thing set up when we got in — in fact we were in here before we moved into the house."
Before you enter the spacious studio, you walk through what is now a live room and rehearsal area with Stephen's full Yamaha drum kit permanently set up at one end. Had this large live area been one of the reasons for moving, I enquired?
Stephen: "No, not really — it just happened. That area was originally gutted and didn't seem to have much use so we had to do it out and fit a new floor, but the drums sound really good in there now."
And talking of drums, when you're putting together a drum track, will you program a drum machine, use samples or play it live?
"It depends on how warm it is in the live room really! One of the things that's very useful is playing along to old records or to a drum machine pattern and recording yourself. You can then cut it up into loops and you can come up with weird riffs that way."
And have you got a specific way of recording the drum parts into a sequencer?
"Dead easy. Dump it onto the multitrack and then use the Alesis D4 to convert the sounds to MIDI via its trigger inputs. I used to use the Sycologic PSP, but compared to that the D4 is years ahead. I use the D4 live as well because it's such a simple little box — it's a shame that it's only got four outputs. I like the Procussion too.
"The thing that gets me about synths is that everything gets buried beneath so many layers that it's, like, 15 button pushes to get to the edit page you want. I'm surprised that Roland haven't stuck with the concept behind the JD800, because it seems to be out on it's own now. Everything since has gone back to one knob and four buttons, which may be simpler to manufacture but is a pain in the arse to use."
Stephen is a self‑confessed equipment hoarder; the lower floor rooms of the studio are reported to contain a vast stockpile of gear.
"I'm one of those people that when I see something new, I buy it and find out it doesn't work as it's supposed to — then I spend ages getting it to work properly only to find they bring out a new one at half the price that does the job. It's like this K2000 keyboard — it's great, but it's like a hobby having a Kurzweil because of the problem of getting hold of all the new bits for it like SIMM's, the sampling option and internal fan."
"But it's a nice hobby though," interjects Gillian, reminding Stephen that it's her keyboard anyway.
Stephen has been utilising a Macintosh since its very early forays into music, with programs like Intelligent Music's Upbeat software. Now he's just as heavily into them, with two separate systems, one for sequencing and digital editing, the other running Video Vision software.
"I'm currently using Sample Cell (1 & 2) and Cubase Audio, which seems to be prone to crashes, but apparently there's a new version coming out! Another thing I've just started using again is Pro Tools (version 2), which is really good, but the problem is when we first started writing for Republic we had this idea that we'd 'cut and paste' jam sessions instead of listening to a load of tapes in order to find good bits. It worked really well but unfortunately the version I had had an annoying feature that when you saved it, it wiped it off the disk — pretty annoying really! They claim to have fixed it in the latest software but now we always put everything on tape as well."
Stephen's sequencing system incorporates a Macintosh IIfx computer fitted with an 80Mb internal hard drive, 600Mb external hard drive and CD‑ROM drive. More impressive, and almost imposing with its Big E120 Monitor, is his Macintosh Quadra 950 fitted with 68Mb internal memory, a 3.5 Gigabyte hard drive and a 128Mb MO drive.
"This is the now discontinued Quadra 950 — at one time the biggest and fastest Mac you could buy, but sadly now defunct. It seems to be the kiss of death with me — every Mac I buy gets discontinued the following week!"
Apart from being the band's technical wizard, Stephen is also the Bill Wyman of New Order, having amassed a large collection of archive material depicting the Joy Division and New Order story.
"Running Video Vision on this (the Mac Quadra) is my other hobby. Over the years I've collected a lot of archive video footage of New Order and the idea was to bang it all into this and do a rough edit to make a nice little documentary. But apart from that it's also a nice way to demo our videos."
Having recorded their album before Republic, but not being able to release it until now, Stephen and Gillian are in the strange position of promoting material that is up to two years old, when they would rather be writing new stuff. Will the new work involve soundtrack projects?
Gillian: "There might be some. We've been sent three scripts to read but we don't really want to get into the 'soundtrack' mode again at the moment. We want to concentrate on doing the Other Two for a while 'cos otherwise we never have much time."
"Yeah — we got circumnavigated by Republic," comments Stephen tactfully. "One series sounds interesting though — it's another black comedy about the privatisation of the dustbin industry and is based in Manchester. The great thing about Making Out, as a series, was that you didn't know what was going to happen next week, so you could get involved with it like watching a soap. But when you've got a film with a begining and an end you know what's happening and it can be very boring.
So now as you're working towards new The Other Two material, what type of work methods do you employ?
"We've only just got the studio back together again," explains Stephen. "But I tend to come over and do drumloops and stuff like that, then Gillian comes in and does some music."
You make it seem rather easy — do you both have specific roles?
"I don't do drums," laughs Gillian. "I have tried but it's just beyond me — I stay away from the computer as much as possible."
Stephen: "You're very linear, aren't you? You're not into any repetition."
Gillian: "We've got another little room off this one and we've got a piano in there, so I just take the tapes over and play along to them into a 4‑track. I've also got my Sony Scoopman now, which is great."
At this point Gillian leaves the room to fetch the petite Sony digital cassette recorder with cassettes not much larger than a postage stamp (Stephen describes them as Cindy cassettes!)
Stephen: "It's got a 22k sample rate with 45 minutes on each side and the great thing is you can mix the line and mic inputs. So Gillian plays the 4‑track and sings over the top of it. You can do loads of different takes and it logs the date and time as well, which is a great feature."
Gillian: "We also use these little Korg Chord Processors which are really handy for working out interesting chords. Of course they're so good that they've been discontinued."
Stephen: "We don't do songs in any particular way. The basic ideas were written for TV so when you've got a picture in front of you, you know what you're writing about and it's easy to get on with enhancing the emotion that's in the film. But now we're stuck staring at a blank screen, aren't we? We don't know what we're going to do — usually it's just bass and drums, bang some chords on it, or vocals. But if you evolve a writing method, you write a lot of stuff but it all ends up sounding the same. We do try things like playing a song we've done backwards and playing over the top of it, getting odd harmonies and stuff like that." Stephen turns to Gillian and wryly comments "We're very experimental, aren't we?"
Situated at one end of the studio is a TAC Magnum desk. Quite an unusual choice, I suggested?
Stephen: "We looked at a lot of different desks and it was down to either a Soundcraft or this TAC Magnum. With the Soundcraft, even though it's got nice EQ, you kind of need tweezers to get at the knobs."
The TAC Magnum was one of the first ever made with MIDI mute automation and Stephen remembers how they helped with the initial software.
"We bought the desk with MIDI muting included in the price, but when it turned up the company explained that it hadn't been invented yet! Basically the first lot of software used note ons and note offs to mute the desk, but, when you're recording into a sequencer, there's a finite note length after which it's ignored and cut off. I suggested that they use MIDI controllers.
"I've always liked the Neve digital idea where you have one assignable channel — I'm into that sort of concept! The DMP7 is a bit like that; we got it because the Sample Cell card in the Mac has got eight outputs and it's just a handy way of mixing them. It's also used with the K2000; when you use the individual outputs it turns all the effects off, so we use the effects in the DMP7. It's also handy for a bit of automation and gives some things a digital, cutting sound — which is sometimes what you want."
So in what instances would you route a sound digitally as opposed to analogue?
"Drums I like on analogue and also anything I want to distort — like heavy bass sounds — but pad sounds and things that have got high mids can benefit from going through something digital."
The album was produced in conjunction with Stephen Hague, but I also wondered if Stephen and Gillian had employed an engineer to assist them in the recording process at home.
"Dead right!" exclaims Stephen. "When we first started turning the soundtrack stuff into songs for the album, I was engineering, programming, writing and just having a mini nervous breakdown really. Plus the fact that I never write names on anything — so I was making life harder for myself.
"We didn't mix the album here because it's not the ideal place, especially working with people who are used to working with SSLs and who would cringe at the thought of having to move all the faders themselves! We don't even record the vocals here, except for guides."
As I was getting ready to leave, Stephen turned to his Macintosh and begin loading into Cubase Audio a remix by Moby of their album track 'Movin On'. "I'm basically reconstructing a remix," he explained. "Moby's done a Country and Western thing with it but it's not quite right. Some bits of the song are in a different key so I'm going to pitch it around and lay a different beat behind it."
For some reason, watching Stephen at the computer reminded me to ask about the vocal samples featured on the album's last track, 'Loved It/Last Track'.
"That all came about when we did this documentary around 1985 which was basically about Factory. We forgot about it until we had a video clearout and found the tapes. It was funny 'cos all the things they were saying then were the complete opposite to what they've said since and we thought it would be really good to sample some of it. Then, just by magic, Tony Wilson rung up and asked if we wanted to do some ambient music to celebrate Factory moving into new offices. So we thought 'Right Tony, we've got just the right thing!' The idea was to give CDs out as an invitation, except only the cases got sent out instructing people to collect the CD at the reception. But would you believe it — all the CD's got mysteriously stolen." And now of course it's on the album.
Has anyone made any comments?
Stephen: "Not yet!"
- Making Out (BBC): first two series music
- America's Most Wanted: theme
- Shooting Stars: BBC play
- Reportage: theme
- 'Tasty Fish': single (London Records)
- 'Selfish': single (London Records)
- The Other Two and You: album (London Records)
- AKAI S3200: "I've still got it on evaluation at the moment. I'm not entirely sold on it to be quite honest. Every new model they bring out, some things get better whilst others get worse — the S900s still sound better on really bassy sounds, but not bassy percussive ones. The percussive sounds are alright on an S1000 and the S3200 is really clean, as you'd expect, but there's something missing. It's not got a lot of 'whoomph' — I don't know what frequency 'whoomph' is, but it seems to be lacking in it.
"The MO drive is a nice feature — I've only had it a couple of weeks but it seems to promise remarkable things, like being able to play back MIDI and record to hard disk at the same time. It even says it'll record to the MO — which I find a little hard to believe because, from my experience with using Soundtools and ProTools, you can record on a hard disk and transfer to MO for playback, but you can't record direct 'cos the write time is too slow."
- KURZWEIL K2000: "The great thing about it is that there's a proper synthesizer in there. With the JD800 it's still, like, samples of waveforms and sinewaves, but the K2000 actually has oscillators in it, which are great. The filters are also amazing. When we first got it, I found this feature where you could boost or cut odd or even harmonics, but I've not been able to find it since."
- EVENTIDE HD3000 ULTRA HARMONISER: "I tend not to turn it on now 'cos it sounds like a kettle boiling! It's really good but every so often it goes mad, you ring up Eventide, and they say "Yes, they do that!" — which is not what you expect from a sophisticated piece of kit like that."
- EMU PROTEUS SOUND MODULES: "They're great for having a good variety of sounds to write with, but unfortunately the power supplies have a life expectancy of around six months."
- MACINTOSNEWTON: "My latest indulgence is a Newton — the trouble is, as usual, there are problems getting the modems and software for it. So all it does at the moment is recognise your handwriting — great! But I suppose it's quite an achievement really — even I can't do that half the time!"
- PETER HOOK (Bass): 'Hooky', as he's affectionately called by the rest of the band, co‑runs Suite 16, a commercial 24‑track studio in Rochdale. Based around an Otari MTR90 (MkIII) 2‑inch and Amek Angela desk, along with a Lexicon 480L digital effects system, the studio has been frequented by the likes of the Inspiral Carpets and Swing Out Sister. However, Hooky has also set up another studio in the cellar of his Manchester home for work on his own material (Revenge). Equipment includes a Fostex E16 and Soundcraft 2600 desk, along with an Akai S1100, Macintosh sequencing/sampling and assorted outboard gear.
- BERNARD SUMNER (guitar/vocals): The choice of all the band members' home studio equipment is in many ways similar and influenced by gear that they jointly used as New Order, live or in the studio. Bernard also had a Soundcraft desk in his small basement, which has now been replaced by a TAC Magnum, along with the Fostex E16 previously owned by The Other Two. He again uses a Macintosh running Vision software.
Stephen: "Barney's got the Magnum in his cellar and not a lot of room for much else! The acoustics were also ridiculous — it sounded like the Albert Hall, and he had to get an Acoustic Engineer in to sort it out."
- TAC Magnum mixing console
- Otari MTR90 (MkIII) multitrack
- ATC 50 and Yamaha NS10M monitors
- Alesis D4 drum module
- Emu Vintage Keys sound module
- Emu Proteus 1XR sound module
- Emu Proteus 2XR sound module
- Emu Procussion drum module
- Korg M1R synth module
- Akai S3200 sampler (with Magneto‑Optical drive)
- Akai S900 sampler
- Oberheim Matrix 1000 synth module
- Oberheim SEM synth expanders (x2)
- Studio Electronics MIDImoog
- Roland Vocoder
- Roland R8M drum module
- Roland D110 synth module
- Roland TB303 Bassline (MIDI'd)
- Eventide H3000SE Ultra Harmoniser
- Lexicon 300
- Lexicon LXP1
- Lexicon LXP5
- Yamaha SPX90 II
- Drawmer M500
- Drawmer Dual Gates (x3)
- Yamaha FX900
- Zoom 9010
- BBE Sonic Maximizer
- Macintosh IIfx (with 80Mb internal and 600Mb external hard drives) CD ROM
- 4‑track Digidesign Pro‑Tools
- SMPTE Slave Driver
- Digidesign Samplecell I & II
- Macintosh Quadra 950 (with 3.5Gigabyte memory & 128Mb MO drive)
- Video Vision Studio software
- Big E120 Monitor
- Roland Juno 106
- Roland JD800
- Kurzweil K2000 (with sampling option)
- Roland D10
- Emu Emulator 3
- Oberheim Matrix 12
- Sequential Prophet 5
- Yamaha DMP7 mixer
- Panasonic SV‑3700 DAT
- Sycologic PSP
- SRC synchroniser
- JL Cooper CS10 Control Station
- TC Electronics 1128 programmable EQ
- Sony VC9600P U‑matic
- Sony Scoopman
- Yamaha MT120 4‑track
- Korg Chord processor (x2)
- Wal bass guitar
An interesting past project that Stephen and Gillian almost undertook was a collaboration with the film director Michael Powell.
"Well, that was one of the real tragedies. It was 1989, just after doing Technique — Barney was doing Electronic and we were just pottering about doing soundtrack stuff and there was only going to be time for New Order to do one thing that particular year. There were two things on the table — one was this project with Michael Powell [revered co‑director of classic films such as A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes (spot the Kate Bush connection here), A Canterbury Tale and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp], which I really wanted to do, and basically consisted of doing a video in reverse. He was going to make a short film with Tilda Swinton (Orlando) in it and we were going to do the music and hopefully get a really good song out of it. The other thing, strangely enough, was the song for the England World Cup Squad. At the end of the day, unfortunately, it came down to money; the Michael Powell project was going to cost too much so we put it off till the next year, but the really sad thing was that on the first day that we went into the studio to do 'World In Motion', the phone rang and Michael Powell had died."