no-man’s new album Love You To Bits is out on 22nd November 2019 and you can pre-order the desired version at Burning Shed. Front cover and band photos by Carl Glover @Aleph Studio.
This is the first part of a two-part interview with Tim Bowness about the history of Love You To Bits.
“Love You To Bits” is the first no-man album since „Schoolyard Ghosts”. In the meantime there were attempts to record new material but with no success. In 2013, the live band minus Steven Wilson recorded some songs written by you with no-man in mind but Steven couldn’t commit to it because of his solo career taking off. There were highs and lows, frustrations and finally – happy ending.
How does it feel to release a new no-man record after 11 years? How much the band has changed since the last album?
In 2013, I wrote and co-wrote a whole album of material with no-man in mind. We’d had a really enjoyable mini-tour in 2012 and Steven was fully behind the idea. Schoolyard Ghosts had been created in a similar manner (me bringing in a set of songs), so there was a precedent.
I recorded four of my songs with the no-man live band – Beaten By Love, I Fought Against The South, The Warm-Up Man Forever and The Sweetest Bitter Pill – with the idea of extending the band identity that had emerged on Love And Endings and the 2012 tour. For me, we’d hit on something different for no-man – a sort of fusion of Art Rock/Post-Rock and Classical Minimalism – and I thought it would be interesting to develop that further.
Along with around eight other songs (four of which – after some re-recording and re-writing – ended up on Lost In The Ghost Light), I presented the band recordings to Steven in the Summer of 2013. While he was supportive and encouraging (and occasionally bluntly critical in a way that we can both be with one another!), he said that he no longer had time to work on no-man as he was fully immersed in his solo work (specifically, what became The Raven). However, he did say he thought the album would make the basis of a decent solo album for me and that he’d be happy to mix the results. I was a little disappointed as I was very keen to carry on where Schoolyard Ghosts and Love And Endings left off, but it was a kind offer and there’s no doubt that it was important in kickstarting my solo career.
Outside of this, around the same time, we met up to discuss Love You To Bits (which we hadn’t worked on for a few years). Progress on the piece was slow, so I suggested a starting point for Love You To Pieces. We spent a couple of days in the studio and recorded a seven minute version. I was excited by it and did some more recording at home, but due to Steven’s The Raven and my Abandoned Dancehall Dreams coming out, the song was put on the backburner. It wasn’t mentioned again until Steven found it while going through his computer files in 2017.
For me, the completed Love You To Bits / Love You To Pieces is unlike any other no-man album, while sounding 100% no-man. It’s a world away from Schoolyard Ghosts and Love And Endings and, in some ways, it’s the sort of album we may well have made in 1995 or 1996 had we not pursued the Wild Opera approach. It’s a more logical successor to Flowermouth than Wild Opera was.
It’s possibly the most diverse and dynamic album we’ve released and I’d urge people to listen to it as a whole. It goes to several unexpected places and contains some of the best music of the band’s career.
This may sound arrogant, but I’d say it possesses a combination of eclectic influences that feels uniquely no-man.
A simple answer to your question is that I’m delighted there’s a new no-man album.
The new album bloomed out from the song Love You To Bits – a legendary disco epic which was mentioned many times since it was first demoed back in 1994.
It’s probably the most mythical no-man song ever with fans knowing the title for years but never hearing the actual song. I, personally, am excited about it finally being released. The band is 32 years old with Love You To Bits 25 years in the making. The years passed and here we are! What is the full story of Love You To Bits? How was it born, why it took so long to finish it, and why now is the moment to release it?
We originally wrote the core song Love You To Bits in 1994, around the time Flowermouth was released. Although it was one of our more straightforward electronic Pop pieces (something that could have fitted on either Loveblows & Lovecries or Flowermouth), from the start we had the idea that we wanted to do something grand and different with it. The two thoughts were, make a side long Love To Love You Baby style piece or develop an album of related pieces a la Grace Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm.
The optimism surrounding Flowermouth – an album we were both proud of and I still like a lot – evaporated as it became clear that One Little Indian and other people around the band weren’t happy with the direction we were pursuing. As a result, we embarked upon the much more experimental Wild Opera sessions. In the context of what we were writing throughout most of 1994 and 1995, Love You To Bits seemed very wrong.
Over the years, we occasionally came back to the piece and it was variously 7 to 20 minutes long, featuring solos from Theo Travis, electronic additions from Pete Morgan and newly composed sections (along with fresh variations on existing themes). People like Jarrod Gosling and Stephen Bennett also tried out ideas for the piece that weren’t used.
It didn’t remotely fit the more melancholy and organic approach we adopted for Returning Jesus, Together We’re Stranger and Schoolyard Ghosts, and at one point we thought of putting a relatively hard-hitting 10 minute version of the song on the Lost Songs CD-R.
Between 1994 and 2013, I’d continued to write and re-write lyrics for the song and I’d hit on the idea of it covering the different perspectives of a break-up fairly early on. The words for I Fought Against The South from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams were taken from my Love You To Bits / Love You To Pieces lyric file.
In 2017, Steven had rediscovered Love You To Pieces while cleaning his computer and was positively surprised by it.
I think that with To The Bone, Plenty’s It Could Be Home and Flowers At The Scene, we’d both rediscovered an interest in more electronic and dynamic approaches to music, so we’d ended up in a similar place coincidentally.
In 2018 we decided that we were going to finally complete what we’d always wanted to do with Love You To Bits and we met up for a few days at the end of October.
What resulted was one of the most productive and enjoyable sessions we’d ever had. It was very like the earliest days of the band in that we were just making music for the sake of making music and excitedly throwing ideas around. The best thing for me was that the ideas frequemtly evolved into something wholly unexpected.
From January to May of this year, I re-recorded 90% of the vocals in my home studio and slightly re-wrote some of the lyrics. We also got Ash Soan, Adam Holzman, David Kollar and the Dave Desmond Brass Quintet to add parts during this time. The sound became far more expansive as the recording went on.
Basically, we gave the piece the attention and commitment it needed.
Love You To Bits was written between 1994 and 2019 with a lot of the core material coming from the 1990s, while Love You To Pieces was mainly written in 2018 and contained ideas from 2013 and 2019.
Since the inception of the band, no-man’s music was almost exclusively produced by the band and mixed by Steven Wilson with a few songs mixed by outside people on early One Little Indian releases. The new album was mixed by Bruno Ellingham making it the very first no-man album not being mixed by Steven. When and why was the decision made to entrust the mixing duties to Bruno? Were there any other people considered for this or was Bruno your first and only choice? What his involvement brought to the sound of no-man?
Bruno was in my list of potential mixers as he’s someone who lives very locally to me and I’ve liked him when I’ve met him in a studio we both work in. I felt his experience of working with Massive Attack, UNKLE, Ben Watt and Goldfrapp seemed ideal for what we wanted and Steven agreed. Bruno made his name with Dance and Indie music, but he comes from a Classical background and also has a love of the likes of Talk Talk, Blue Nile, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, Grace Jones and Tangerine Dream, so he felt like a good fit.
We finished the album in June and Steven did a few mixes. He felt that Love You To Pieces was 98% complete, but that Love You To Bits was notably short of where it should be. Mainly because some of the rhythm elements betrayed too much of their mid-1990s roots.
Bruno pulled together the programmed rhythms and real drums more effectively and gave some of the album a greater sense of groove, space and power. It was subtle and he didn’t overwhelm what we’d given him, but his involvement in addition to the mastering from Matt Colton (Peter Gabriel, Thom Yorke etc) has meant that this is perhaps the best sounding no-man album ever.
Steven Wilson described the new album as no-man returning to its synth-pop roots. How far the new/old sound lies from lush and pulsating electronica of Only Baby, keyboard and breakbeat-heavy Days in the Trees and aggressive, drum-machine driven material of Swagger?
I don’t think it has anything in common with Swagger.
In terms of the band’s history, it does bring back elements of the lushness and accessibility of Loveblows & Lovecries and, in particular, Flowermouth, and fuses that with the organic qualities of Together We’re Stranger and Schoolyard Ghosts. The ever-present no-man melancholy is intact!
For me, the new album has brought back something of the groove meets instrumental grandeur exhibited on the likes of Heaven Taste, Simple and Painting Paradise.
It’s a homecoming of sorts, but it’s also very reflective of what Steven and I are doing in the here and now. While it sounds definitively no-man, there are things on the album that are unlike anything we’ve ever done before. The core Pop song at the heart of Love You To Bits may be simple, but compositionally the piece as a whole is quite complex. It also features two of the most astonishing solos in the band’s catalogue.
It isn’t Prog, but it may be the most progressive no-man album of all.
The band once again collaborated with Carl Glover. Carl is in no-man family since the famous Dry Cleaning Ray cover. How working with Carl evolved during the years? How much do you discuss the ideas? To what extent is the band involved in creating the artwork?
Carl’s worked with us since Flowermouth in 1994.
It varies in that sometimes I have an idea that I get Carl to realise – e.g. Flowermouth, Dry Cleaning Ray and Returning Jesus – and sometimes it’s purely Carl’s imagination (my favourite being his various covers for Together We’re Stranger).
With my solo albums I’ve known exactly what I wanted and I’ve communicated this to Jarrod Gosling, who’s then added talent, scope and flair to my suggestions. I did give Carl a few ideas for Love You To Bits and what resulted was the longest search for a cover we’ve ever had! Some potential covers were based on a few ideas I had and some were totally Carl’s concepts. The winner was based on variations on a simple suggestion that we’d all put forward.
All in all, Carl created about 100 images based on eight very distinct cover concepts. The one we eventually went with had actually been in the second batch of images Carl presented to us. After I’d seen 100 images, I was getting overwhelmed so I went back over everything Carl had sent. I subsequently suggested what I thought could work for the inner and outer covers based on some of his earlier images. Suddenly, everything made sense and we were all in agreement regarding the direction of the cover. As he did for Together We’re Stranger, I think Carl’s come up with something that tangentially captures the mood of the album. I applaud his perseverance this time round!
Music from the new album started its life in 1994. It somehow survived all the changes in the band’s sound and now it’s finally going to be released. Does it make you think of no-man’s history and legacy? Is the new album a nostalgia trip or is it a glimpse into what the future holds for no-man? Or maybe both?
Hopefully both. As it was when the Love And Endings band played Days In The Trees or My Revenge On Seattle, it doesn’t feel like nostalgia at all.
With Flowers At The Scene, I felt I was taking my music forward while recovering elements of what I did that had been long abandoned (certain textures, certain ways of singing, a greater sense of dynamics etc) and this feels similar.
It’s possibly the most no-man-esque no-man album of all, while not being anything like we’ve released before. We’ve reclaimed some of the textures, grooves and dynamics of old, but we’ve put them together in a way that represents our current tastes and approaches. Time feels elastic to some degree. While 98% of my singing on the album is from 2019, some of the original vocals from 1994 to 1998 remain. Ditto with Steven. Some of his original guitar and keyboard parts remain, though the vast majority of what’s made it to the completed album dates from the last year.
The most important thing is that it feels fresh and that it’s finally become what we envisaged for the piece. Like Angel Gets Caught In The Beauty Trap, Lighthouse and Days In The Trees, it took a long time to get right, but it’s now become what it wanted to be all along.
The second part of the interview will be published around the release date of Love You To Bits and it will focus even more on the music from the new album.