Talks with Robert Fox
Into the Light
A Gathering of Spirits
Blue Mountain Suite
The Fire and the Rose
Touching the Serpent's Tail:
AV: You spent quite a few years as a teacher of drama/art and as the head of that selfsame department before setting out on another path completely. What was it about electronic music and your acquisition of the Roland D50 that acted as a catalyst moving you away from being a teacher?
RF: Actually I never moved away from being a teacher (!!)…..I still am one.....that’s still what I do (Head of Drama and Theatre Studies at a school in North Wales). But, in the early days of all that I was very much into all sorts of music, both personally and in my work.....and particularly electronic stuff.
So.....when the technology became relatively affordable, and having had a certain amount of piano training there was a totally accidental experimentation with making music myself. That D50 (which I still have) was the early “icing on the cake”......a sonic heaven that simply had to be had…..and the rest is history!
AV: Tell me about that "certain amount of piano training" that you mentioned previously having.
RF: I was sent for piano lessons between the ages of 7 and 14, - and HATED it! I simply wasn’t self disciplined enough to go through practising all those scales and stuff....I just wanted to mess around and play! But, I guess I was blessed with a better pair of ears than hands, and it is the ears that seem to be the musical means rather than anything else.
AV: What was some of the music that you listened to prior to enhancing your career as a teacher and adding electronic musician to your resume?
RF: I actually had no deliberate intention to become an “electronic musician”.....or any sort of “musician” for that matter, and to this day it STILL feels strange that I seem to have acquired that reputation! I would have to say that the early listening would be heavily influenced by Oldfield, Floyd......and, of course, Vangelis. But.....the “leap” was more a tumble than anything. Was he pushed or did he jump??? Er......no......rather....er....yes, a stumbling tumble!!!
AV: Tell me about your involvement in creating the soundtrack for the Midsummer Night's Dream production by the Cheshire Youth theatre. Is it more difficult to coordinate your music to action on a stage or screen than just writing music in general?
RF: Ah....right, now we get to the REAL beginning, and with trusty D50 and a 4 track tape recorder!! Yes....I did the soundtrack for that, and the Times Educational Supplement in reviewing the show described that soundtrack as “stunning” (thanks guys!!).....and that really WAS the start of it all. Sound tracks (theatre rather than film) still form the core of a great deal of what I do, since the music that evolves seems to have a dramatic purpose (which, of course it would have!!). Whether dramatic action or images, it doesn’t really matter as a start point....I seem to think in both, but where the music comes from is actually a mystery.....a total mystery!!! Coordinating music to action is for me a damn sight easier than working with a blank canvas and I find it enormously satisfying!
AV: Your first release was Asfafa back in 1991. How did this release come about and how did you hook up with the label that was to end up releasing it? Were you expecting the critical acclaim that followed?
RF: Asfafa was actually the first release, but not the first album.....there were two that preceded it, and have since been released as “The missing” albums.....”Voices from the Inner Ear” and “Far distant Shore”. The reason?? I really wasn’t sure that they were good enough.....that I wasn’t good enough, I suppose (ah.....the restrictions of self doubt!!) It was my youngest sister who latched on to all this, and particularly Asfafa. She took a copy without my knowledge into Blood Lloyd records as then was and presented it to one Andy Garibaldi. He in turn passed it on to Dave Shoesmith at C&D Compact Services (as then was!) in Dundee, and he in turn rang me to say that he loved it!! So.....I paid the manufacture costs, and he took on the distribution!! And a definite “NO”........I was really NOT expecting anything,- let alone the critical acclaim it did receive, - that self doubt again!! One thing is for sure.....I owe my little sister big time, for having that belief and faith that I somehow didn’t! Well.....I’m not really a musician, am I??! I’m actually a Drama teacher!!
AV: Your second release Fire and the Rose followed in the same year but it was also a time of great loss for you. (Robert's wife died from cancer that year) Looking back from this point in time 16 years later what changes were wrought by this event in your life and in subsequent music? What role did your wife play in your music up to this point as far as encouragement and inspiration?
RF: My only regret that she wasn’t around to share that early success. “The Fire and the Rose” of course was for her, and in memory of her but as for her “role” in all of this let’s just say that she was a central part of my life and as such had to play some part in the development of the music. That she was there at that time was a very significant part of the process, but very difficult to quantify. The music I suppose has always been emotionally charged and dramatic and maybe she became a catalyst in that process.
AV: When was it that your path first intersected with AD Music and at the time did it seem like a significant event in regards to what the future would hold?
RF: Oddly it was very soon after Gill died that I first had a call from David (Wright) He, it would turn out, was in similar circumstances both musically and personally and the link in this particular contact was Dave Shoesmith. It seemed, at the time, no more significant than two people doing similar things musically and in similar circumstances making contact, but that we seemed to have survived some 16 years as close friends and musical collaborators is of ever increasing value.
AV: Tell me about some of your early collaborations with David Wright and the music that was born out of these collaborations. What was it that each of you brought to the table in regards to your individual approaches to music that made these collaborations so productive?
RF: I think it was actually a very instinctive thing in that whenever we sat and played something happened that was neither him nor me but uniquely different. We brought to it very different musical styles, that’s for sure!! But we never tried to change what either of us did, but rather use it collaboratively. In its simplest form Dave is extremely good at textures and soundscapes, whereas I seem to have a penchant for strings or piano or both! Some really strong melodies have come out of that same process.....we didn’t seem to fight each other but rather simply....er....play with each other!!!!
AV: And then came Code Indigo. What was it that you wanted to achieve with the formation of Code Indigo that you could not do on your own? Was everyone in the band pretty much on the same page as to where Code Indigo was going right from the beginning?
RF: Code Indigo was a natural extension of our collaborative “extension” and the addition and input of Nik Smith brought with it not only an additional expertise in the studio but, more importantly, a guitarist.....and a damn good one. And, yes.....everyone was very much on the same page from the beginning, - at least for a while!
AV: Was it difficult to step into the role as a band member of Code Indigo after having done solo work for the most part? How is it that the lot of you decide what to write, who writes it and how it gets produced?
RF: Well....it wasn’t all plain sailing. I don’t think it is difficult to step into the role of a band member after the solo work, (since I’m not that precious about the solo work, - after all I’m not really a musician, - I’m a Drama teacher!!) but the writing is entirely another matter. There is a huge difference between input and takeover, and it was the “Uforia” album that damaged things...very nearly permanently. But, without going into the gory detail, we survived....or at least Code Indigo did, but without Nik Smith. The important thing to me, though, was that the musical integrity that was Code Indigo survived, too, - not only survived but developed further......much, much further! Lessons were learned, though, and further tears have been avoided. We now have a band that is a true delight to work with!!
AV: Tell me about your first ADML release Into the Light. How did you feel about your music at this point in time and how would you describe the music that was included on this CD?
RF: I suppose if I were to be honest I was feeling far better about the music at this point (don’t forget that I’m really a....yeah, ok!!) and there was a very conscious decision to try to do something different here, and do something with voices, - but I knew not what. I just happened to be working with two very talented girls (yep.....Drama teacher again!!) and I simply gave them the idea I was playing around with in my head (before a note had been struck!!) and asked them to write something, - anything!! And they did, - and I loved what they came up with. So......I used their words and their voices, - and effectively built the album around that. That album for me had a real FEEL to it, - with their words giving it a dimension that musically alone it couldn’t achieve. How would I describe it?? Different!! Certainly so far for me!
AV: How do you feel about performing your music live both as a solo artist and as a member of Code Indigo? What is it that you take away from these experiences and what is it that you hope the audience takes with them for having been at one of your shows?
RF: Answer....it scares me to death!! All I hope is that the audience enjoyed what they heard and that I didn’t let anybody down. It is a very humbling experience knowing that people have shelled out good money on my music (either live or on CD) Don’t forget.....I’m not really a musician, -
AV: Lets jump ahead a bit to your latest effort called Touching the Serpent's Tail. When did you first start work on Touching the Serpent's Tail and did you have some idea in mind as to what kind of framework that you wanted this project to exist within?
RF: “Serpents Tail” was actually very fast in its creation and was based very loosely on a book of poetry with the same title. All I wanted to do was use some of the ideas in a musical way.....yep.....as vague as that!!
AV: The title is rather interesting. Could you expound on the meaning that you had in mind when you chose this title to represent the music that was going to end up on this CD?
RF: Which, of course, follows on from the above! It seemed to me that somewhere within this as a title (whether poetry, painting or, indeed, music) was the idea of facing a fear, and that in so doing it turns out that the serpent (whatever it may be) is not as frightening as it might at first appear. How that is interpreted musically is totally beyond me (!!), but that IS actually the line that I pursued! I suppose that a great deal of this comes down to one very simple thing, and that is finding something to hang it all on. It’s the same with a piece of Drama (I’m actually a Drama teacher, y’see!!).....what is the piece trying to say?? Find that very elusive answer and you have the line of development of the piece, but overcomplicate it and you end up with a very confused audience!! Good drama asks questions, - poor drama gives answers!! Could it be the same for a piece of music, I wonder??
AV: As I was listening to the CD I of course noticed the chants that were scattered throughout. What made you choose to use these as part of the music?
RF: There is, I think, a bone of contention here in that I have been pilloried from some quarters for using stuff like this.....”its all been done before” they say. Its very “Enigma”. Actually, no it isn’t....its me!! For me, though, I actually don’t really care about that, - its what works musically, - or how its used. IF, and only IF it does what you want it to do then you use it, and in many ways it is all about adding texture. I’ve actually asked the question do I avoid this because its “chanting monks” again.....or do I try to use it as I would want to use it. The eastern stuff is another thing all together, - but the principal is the same.
AV: Do you see Touching the Serpent's Tail as a continuation of your music along the same path it has followed up to this point or does it represent some new ground you are breaking? Or both perhaps?
RF: I think it as actually a natural progression, but one which takes me to the point HAVING to do something either different or unexpected next, but still recognisable as being me. Or me and David, - or me within Code Indigo. But there is another project that has already been completed that does promise to break new ground (at least for a release of mine!). You will have to wait and see though....it remains under wraps for the moment!
AV: When you are working on a project such as this do you hear bits and pieces of music that you have written before in the music that you are currently working on? At these junctures do you incorporate them and move on or do you stop and try a new combination? I'm just curious as artists spend more and more time writing music as to how they avoid recreating something that came before.
RF: I actually don’t think you can avoid it, - I think it is part and parcel of progression and development, both musically and technically. Every artist has a signature (again, poet, painter or musician) and if that signature is wholly unrecognisable in a new work then an identity is lost. There is so much stuff out there that has no individual identity in the first place (except for a name on a CD sleeve) that effectively it is rendered meaningless. That, in my view, has to be true of an album too in that the album itself is actually the sum of its parts. So....you CAN recreate something that has gone before, but you have to use it differently, - within a different context or next to a different rhythm. I use the same chord patterns a lot, but I would hope that the music doesn’t actually sound “samey” because of that!
AV: Was Touching the Serpent's Tail your project from beginning to end or were there others involved who helped you along the way?
RF: No.....all mine (but not strictly true)!! The shortest answer yet!!
AV: When you had finished with this project were you happy with what you were able to achieve with the music in its final form? When you look at your music when you've done the final mixes how is it that you personally know that it is done and that you should quit tweaking it?
RF: Actually Dave (Wright) did have a very important input in getting the album balance right and as a result track 2 was added and the original track 2 became 3.I took out a further track (which has now been donated to a Spanish compilation album!!) simply to try to get what I was talking about before, - i.e.. a musical coherence. BUT...there was no musical interference here at all, merely comment on how the final end product actually hung together. Quite often what is useful is a totally objective opinion from a respected opinion giver (!!) If you wanted an analogy though the question is how much fine sanding do you do before you apply the final coat of paint??
AV: How as Touching the Serpent's Tail been received by your fans so far?
RF: Hmm....interesting one!! In terms of comment it has been received somewhat quietly, but in terms of sales one of the best so far! In terms of reviews, generally quite positive, - some good, one or two very good.....and one not so good (back to those monks again.....but, hey, don’t forget I’m really a Drama teacher!!) However, the idea that I (or to be more precise my music!) really has fans never ceases to amaze me!!
AV: Will fans be able to hear this music live in the near future? Any venues lined up as of yet?
RF: Already had an airing (or outing??!) at the Fisher Theatre in Bungay in November 2006. And yes, we’re working on a couple of venues for this year, too, one of which might well be my school where I teach (did I mention that.....yeah, sorry!!)
AV: Any final thoughts you'd like to share with our readers in regards to your latest release or about your music in general?
RF: I’ve just written a book in the above!! All I will say that I am very grateful to all of the fans out there for their loyalty over the years and I hope I am able to turn stuff out that they will continue to enjoy for a few years to come!
AV: Thanks Robert for taking the time to answer all of these questions with a sharp wit and a sense of humour. And for those readers that might have missed it I want to stress one last time that Robert is actually a Drama Teacher and is still quite surprised when folks call him an "electronic musician". Robert wove that point very subtly throughout the interview and it might have been missed by those not reading very closely. :) Good luck with Touching the Serpents Tail and keep cranking out those future Shakespearean actors.