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Original Pressings – Death In Vegas (2003)

February 10, 2010

Released at the tale end of last year, “Scorpio Rising” saw Death In Vegas mix electroclash-cum-squelch with such elements as Indian music and Liam Gallagher. Their upcoming appearance at Splendour In The Grass marks their first trip to Australia. TUNE FMs’ Garry McKenzie chats with Tim Holmes about the making of the album.

“I’d been to India on an extended vacation/exploring thing”, remembers Tim Holmes. “In a place called Kerala, which is a southern state of India, I heard some music by Dr. Subramaniam, a classical piece of music called “Beyond”, which I felling love with. I made pains to find out more about him and his music. Richard (Fearless) has been to India a lot as well and on the back of that, through emails and the Internet, we found out more about him, and gradually got in touch with him, and asked him if he would consider collaborating with us on this album. He said he would. If there was any real starting point for this album, it was deciding we wanted to include Indian strings on this album.”

It’s 10.30 in the morning in London Town, and Tim Holmes is in a good mood. Only this morning he heard confirmation of the band’s first tour to Australia, the next step in a journey that had its beginnings in the subcontinent. It’s even further away from his work as a jobbing producer a decade ago. Tired of being tied to a commercial studio, Holmes broke free and was soon asked to produce many key 90s electronica albums, including the likes of Red Snapper and the Sabres of Paradise. This work fell into the hands of DJ Richard Fearless, who subsequently asked Holmes to produce Dead Elvis, the debut album from Feerless’s new band, Death In Vegas. When Steve Hellier left the group after that album Holmes was asked to join the group for the follow-up, The Contino Sessions. And yet despite his enthusiasm for their earlier work, you get the feeling that meeting Dr. Subramaniam was something special.

“He was our guiding light on this album, because we were in touch with him more than anyone else, out of all the collaborations. We give him work in progress, and he’d be working on string ideas, and then send them back to us. We went out to Bangalore to have a meeting with him in his house, and talk about the music. And Christmas 2001, we went out there for a week to record the strings. We went to Madras, or Chennai, as it’s now called.

“We used a body of 22 violins. On ‘Help Yourself’, we over dubbed them so many times, there are nearly 300 violins playing on there. We used an Indian String Orchestra, and Indian method of recording, and an Indian sound engineer to record the strings. Then we bought everything back here to London and mixed it. And the same with the sleeve work on the album. If you go to India, you can see that a lot of the street art is hand-painted, a lot of the advertising hoardings are hand painted.”

Painting is a good analogy to a producer-led group such as Death In Vegas. Instead of paints, Fearless and Holmes get to craft together the specially chosen sounds, both their own and those of collaborators, carefully building up in layers to make the finished product. The Contino Sessions featured Iggy Pop, Bobby Gillespie. Such a freedom must surely be one of the best parts of being in such a group.

“Normally we approach it in the same way a fan would. You don’t stop being fans of music, and we certainly we don’t go the record company way. We’d never think of asking our record company getting in contact with the artists record company, cos you can guarantee they would make a cock-up of it.”

Scorpio Rising sees a solid foundation built up by variously layers of guitars, robotic bass, synth and the strings of Dr. Subramaniam. Over these foundations are heard the likes of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Adult’s Nicola Kuperus on the well played single, “Hands Around My Throat”, Oasis brother Liam Gallagher on the title track while ex-Jam vocalist Paul Weller sings a cover of Gene Clarke’s “So You Lost Your Baby”.

“With Liam, we’d done this track which was like a heavy rock thing, and it was so obvious who we wanted to get him because he’s a genius,” Tim enthuses, “the man’s an absolute genius! He’s just got the voice. He’s the loudest person I’ve ever recorded in my life. I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of him, cos he’s has got a pair of tonsils on him, without a doubt. We were lucky enough that he said yes.”

“With Paul, we both found ourselves at Abbey Road studios, doing some work there. We got chatting to Paul who said he’d like to work on our next album if there was anything we’d like him to do. That was different, in that he came to us rather than us going to him.”

The flipside of such studio freedom is the inability of touring with the full complement of guests, not least of which because they hail from several continents and have their own bands to look after. So how will Death In Vegas sound at Splendour?

“A lot of it is, dare I say it, electronic wizardry. If anyone came to see us and expected Liam to walk onstage, then I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed, cos it ain’t gonna happen. But for that song (Scorpio Rising), we’ve tried to change the song around, and wig the song out. It’s much more instrumental. It’s very heavy, it’s very dubby. Samples of the vocals are used, more like instruments themselves. For “Help Yourself”, we perform that song in it’s entirety, but obviously, we haven’t got all the violinists with us, that comes from me. The vocals are kind of dubbed up and morphed out, and kind of weirded out. It’s a bit more trippy.”

This is my favourite interview. Tim Holmes was weary from undertakening several interviews that day, so I took a punt and asked straight up about India. Something inside him lit up and spent the rest of the interview speaking passionately about his travels and his music. I was wrong if I thought he couldn’t get any more excited, but when I mentioned my admiration for the Red Snapper album he produced, and he was thrilled.

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