Talks with Sounds from the Ground 


Sounds from the Ground
aka Nick Woolfson
and Elliot Jones

Visit Sounds from the Ground's website





Natural Selection




Terra Firma


Ambient Visions Talks with...
Sounds from the Ground

 ©2005 AmbientVisions

AV:  Looking back when was it that you discovered that music was something that you would like to use as a means of artistic expression for your own talents?

EJ:  Probably around the age of 13 or14 years when I first started playing and songwriting with my first band and it grew from then. Expression through music came easy and it was a bit more rewarding than my other hobby/talent art.

NW:  I was 14 years old and wanted to be a guitarist in a band. Unfortunately, I was a terrible guitarist but I was well and truly bitten by the music bug.

AV:  What are the instruments you are more apt to turn to when you are seeking to express yourself musically?

EJ:  The spoons!

NW:  I am a keyboard player but these days I sit at my Mac and work on Logic Pro and various ancient synths as well as loads of computer plug-ins.  I use the keyboard to manipulate and record all the instruments, drums, bass etc and love to play with sound and build up tracks. I still get a great kick out of creating something solid from an empty page.

 Did you ever have an formal training in music and are there any advantages to having this musical training in your background when it comes to creating the music that you do?

EJ:  I didnt have any formal training, I got to learn the basic chords on the keyboard and then went on to explore sounds within sounds, spending countless hours with a dx7, a drumbox and a couple of effects pedals.

NW:  I started playing piano at the age of 6. I'm sure it has definitely helped me to create music although I don't think you need to have a formal musical training to write music. Sometimes, having no training or knowledge lets you to do things which are unconventional and interesting.

AV:  Who were some of the bands or individuals that you listened to and who influenced you in regards to the music that you would eventually create as Sounds from the Ground?

EJ:  That's quite a hard one, there are many styles of music that can and have inspired me but I suppose I was heavily into the 2 tone movement in the early eighties along with some of the electro artists. Also around then, early recordings by Depeche Mode and John Foxx. but reggae is my main stay, the easy pace and relaxing vibe it gives out suits me and inspires me.

NW:  I grew up on blues and Pink Floyd were a huge influence. I loved early synth music like Kraftwerk and Can. I was also loved The Doors. Other faves that spring to mind are The Stranglers, Ultravox, early OMD and Roxy Music and The Clash ....all sorts really. I have wide and varied tastes and I suppose they have all combined over the years to contribute to the music I make with SFTG.

AV:  How long have the two of you known each other and when was it that you decided to do something musically together? Where did the name Sounds from the Ground come from?

EJ:  I first met Nick around 1994 through a mutual friend. I was then recording under the name "Path" and ran the "Sound Information" label. We found we had something in common and that it was easy to get along, ten years later!! The name  Sounds from the Ground came from a track title I had but never used. It seemed to sum up what we were about.

NW:  We met in 1994 through a mutual DJ friend. Elliot had an idea for a track and I was writing and producing house music at the time and was looking for interesting musical projects to work on. That idea was to become Triangle which was fun to do and became the start of SFTG. We needed a name for the project and Elliot came up with Sounds From The Ground because it had an earthy deep dubby feel to it.

AV:  How long were the two of you working together before you decided to try and release your music on CD?

EJ:  We were lucky that it happened pretty quickly. The first tunes Nick and I recorded were "Triangle" and "Sweetdust". I played them to Zion Train who suggested we do an album for them on their Universal Egg label. They put out a couple of 12" s and soon after "KIN" was released in Europe.

NW:  We met up with Zion Train fairly soon after we did Triangle and they were interested in releasing it on their Universal Egg label. That inspired us to go back in to my studio and record more tracks which led to our first album Kin.  Triangle was released in the U.K. in 1994 with the next single Gather following in early 1995. Kin, our first album was released in March 1995.  It all happened very quickly.

AV:  Tell me about your first official CD release and how the release deal came about with Waveform records in the U.S. and Upstream records in the U.K.?

EJ:  KIN went to Waveform in the U.S. via Mike Barnett who ran the Beyond label and had set up with Forest at Waveform and was impressed with our debut album. Upstream records is our own label and KIN reverted back to us after our deal with Universal Egg ran out.

NW:  'Kin' was released on Ziontrain's Universal Egg label in the U.K. At that time Ziontrain were in the process of signing to China Records and through that deal, we were introduced to Mike Barnett from Beyond Records, who was releasing the Ambient Dub compilations in conjunction with Forest at Waveform in the U.S. Forest released the comps as 1,2, 3 AD etc and he became interested in our music and wanted to sign us to Waveform for a U.S. release. We released our 2nd album Mosaic on our own label Upstream in the U.K. and renamed it Terra Firma for the U.S. release on Waveform again.

AV:  Is it common to have to negotiate two separate deals with record companies to release your material in other countries?

EJ:  We've found if a territory has a strength it is better to concentrate a deal there, so rather than have a world deal we can explore the best potions. The U.S. is a big place and we've found it's better to have someone working it for us who is a native of that country

NW:  It depends on who you are dealing with. Ziontrain had a small independent label and had no market in the U.S. and Waveform had no reach in the U.K. or Europe so they were only geared up to sell music in their own territories. Some labels want to sign you for the world and try and licence to other territories but we are happy to do it this way as we have more chance to find labels in each territory who are able to work their own territory. These days though, it all seems to be merging together with the net where you can buy anything at the click of a button and have it shipped to you or you can download anywhere......changing times.

AV:  Were the two of you happy with the way Kin played out in both the U.S. and the UK? Was your music more accepted by the U.S. audience or your native UK audience?

EJ:  We were both blown away by the positive feedback we got from KIN both here and in the U.S., having d.j'd in both places we can honestly say the reaction has been both uplifting and we were well received on both sides of the pond.

NW:  Kin went down really well in the U.K. and the U.S. but Universal Egg was a small label and they were not in a position to capitalize on our success although they gave us a great opportunity to get on our feet. Waveform was in a stronger position and were able to pick up lots of radio support due to Forest's great understanding of radio. This was a big help in establishing us in the U.S. These days, our market is all over the world but it is best in the U.S.

AV:  After Kin was received so positively in both theU.S. and theU.K. did you immediately set out to create Terra Firma or did you just enjoy the success of Kin awhile before jumping back into work?

NW:   We went out toSan Francisco soon after Kin was released in theU.S. and did some radio interviews and
dj’ing. We had a fantastic time and even had time to do a bit of exploring up the Pacific coast so when we came back we were very fired up with ideas and vibes which translated into tracks like Bodega Bay and The Cut which made it on to Mosaic / Terra Firma but we did get sidetracked for a year or two by other projects and Elliot’s wanderlust.  Terra Firma gathered dust on my studio shelf until an associate asked to put it out on his label in the U.K. which galvanized us back into action. We felt it would be good to release it as Mosaic here in the U.K. on our own label Upstream Records and we went back to Forest to see if he was interested in putting it out on Waveform in the U.S. which he was happy to do as long as we changed the name to Terra Firma.

EJCasting my mind back I believe we started recoding tracks in theWaterloo studio, where Kin was recorded. Soon after Kin was released some tracks fell by the wayside and others were just right and we visited the states on a promotional trip and then dj'd at various festivals in theU.K. and across Europe. So Terra Firma, Mosaic in the U.K., had a much more relaxed feel, we had to strip down the sound and explore a slightly darker side, there's nopoint in rushing anything......

AV:  Is there a noticeable difference in what sells well in theU.K. music market and what sells well in theU.S. market? From my perspective it just seems that a lot of the great downtempo and chill artists tend to come from outside theU.S. is that true and why do you think that is?

NW:   I think theU.K. is very different from theU.S. TheU.K. is driven by cool and hype with radio and press which covers the whole country whereas theU.S. is so large and fragmented that it seems hard to reach from coast to coast. I think that the Internet is changing that now with satellite radio and web forums etc but I think that America is generally more receptive to our kind of electronica / downtempo music than theU.K. I don’t really know why this style of music comes more from outside the U.S. Maybe it is because we have embraced club culture and dance music so fully and downtempo electronica is more suited to album format and is designed for listening  as opposed to dancing but is still very connected to the club scene.

EJIt's quite hard to answer that because I don't really follow too closelywhat is selling all the time, it doesn't have an effect on how we write. Of course there have been some great tunes over the years and some decent labels but we tend to stay outside of the clique or what is in vogue, to us doing what we do well is the most important thing.

AV:  I’ve always been fascinated by how voices and sound clips from movies, TV and other sound sources end up in some of the electronica music that I listen to and especially on music from Waveform. How is it that you decide to use vocals and sound snips at all and how is it that you come up with such interesting little sound bites to scatter throughout your music?

NW:   Years of practice!! I love using samples and I find they add atmosphere to a track. I think you can take any source ie an old record or video and find something which will work on our tracks. Also, we love to give our tracks lots of space and depth which gives us a great basis to add voices or interesting sounds. I think that half the fun is experimenting and playing with sound and I love taking a sample and completely transforming it into something completely different and using it as its originator never intended. Nothing is sacred!

EJWith vocalists it can work several ways, either they come in with avocal idea themselves or we create a loose track for them to sing on or we're sent a vocal track to work on.  The use of samples usually arises if the track in question needs a different dimension.

AV:  Looking back from where you are now how would you say your music has evolved since the release of Kin back in 1996? Was this a conscious effort on yours and Elliot’s part or was it more a product of how the music scene was changing around you that pushed you in the directions that you went? 

NW:   I think that our music has definitely changed over the last 10 years although I do feel that we have stayed true to our ideals. Our equipment and knowledge have evolved which has influenced our work and we  ourselves have changed and gained lots of experience over the years. I am not the same person now as I was in 94 when we stared working together. We did venture into more vocal led territory with Natural Selection, (our ‘difficult’ 3rd album!!) to see where it would lead but we feel most comfortable writing more ‘underground’ music led tracks. I think it is important to try new ways of working and recording and to be experimental and I am a firm believer in following your own path and not trying to be part of a trend.

EJI feel that our music has matured a lot over the last 10 years, both in the writing of the tracks and in the production qualities although we continue to work in the same way - starting with a blank page and building up from there. The actual tools we use have changed a bit.  As I mentioned before, we do what we do, so scene changes don't really affect us.  We try to create music that is close to us and I believe we succeed in that. Each one of our albums are different but each has the s.f.t.g. stamp on it.

AV:   Luminal is your latest release and again it is on Waveform here in the U.S. Tell me about some of the support players/vocalists that you had on this CD and what their role was in helping you to realize the music you wrote for this release? 

NW:   We decided early on when writing Luminal that we did not want to have too many vocalists on the album so we brought in Elliot’s friend Taz Alexander to sing on ‘Move On’. We had the backing track already written and she came in and came up with the lyrics pretty quickly. She loved the atmosphere of the track and it came together with the greatest of ease. Always a good sign. Working with Tanya Tagaq Gillis was an interesting experience to say the least. She is an Inuit from the north of Canada and has toured with Bjork amongst others. She has this amazing talent for throat singing which is an Inuit winter pastime apparently. She put down about 1 hours worth of vocals for us and we wrote a track around that. We used the rhythm of it and somehow, we heard the lyric ‘As The Day Goes By’ in there and that gave us the title of the song. She had lots of stories to tell of the frozen north which sounded alien during the hot summer when we recorded with her. It is one of my faves on the album. ‘10 Tons’ started as a remix but ended up as a collaboration with Austrian act ‘Dubble Standart’ so we managed to acquire the talents of Dillinger by default. The legendary steel guitarist BJ Cole, who lives nearby, came to my studio for a bit of a sesh and we ended up with Tumbledown. Again a kind of spontaneous experience.

EJThe artists featured on Luminal all helped to create what I believe isour definitive album.  I was introduced to BJ Cole at a mutual friend'sparty.  We chatted for a while and decided to do a collaboration - Tumbledown. Taz has popped into the studio over the last couple of years -she nearly appeared on our Natural Selection album so we were keen to useher vocal talents on Luminal.  Using a backing track we'd already  createdwe worked together on the lyrics and stripped the sound back and Move On wasborn. Nick came across Rachel Calladine and Tanya Taqaq Gillis and theDillinger vocal was sent to us originally for a remix for an Austriandub-act Dubblestandart.

AV:  Is the music on Luminal pretty much moving in the same direction that you had started with Kin and Terra Firma? Is there new ground that you are breaking on this release that you would like your fans to take notice of?

NW:   I would love to say that there is some deep hidden meaning in our work but the reality is that we go in the studio every now and again and write with ease. Yes I do think it is a progression. A kind of continuation of a journey. As I said earlier, all sorts of influences cause our music to evolve and mutate but Luminal has many of the core elements that existed in Kin. I find working with Elliot so familiar that we just slot into our SFTG mode and the ideas seem to flow. We have not found it difficult so far to write SFTG tracks and we have a number of songs which have not made it onto any of our albums. Maybe the key is not to be working with each other all the time so that when we do, it is always fresh and enjoyable. As for breaking new ground, I don’t really get involved in the latest trends, I just want to create what I would enjoy listening too myself and what comes naturally and hopefully our fans out there will enjoy it too……….. I try not to analyze too much………

EJYes, its a natural progression - Kin, Terra Firma and Luminal all add to the journey being formed.  As to new ground, I think Luminal is a cleverpiece of work.  There are hints of all our previous releases in there.  It is spacious and deep.  I hope that the people who listen to our stuff wouldrecognize that whilst we move forward we still maintain our roots and integrity whilst continuing to explore and create.

AV:  When you go out to do a live performance of the songs on Luminal and your other works what is it that you want to communicate to the audience through your music and how do you know that the show was a success? Do you learn anything from your live shows that eventually finds its way back into your music in future releases?

NW:   We don’t do much live performance at the moment so I don’t think it really contributes to our creativity. General life experiences seem to be more of an influence on my writing. Elliot does dj out now and again and it is always a buzz to turn people on to our music. I love the feedback and interest we get from all around the world as a result of sitting in the studio having fun. What a life……...

EJWe haven't performed live for some time now.  I tend to dj our sound andhave recently added a visual side to the experience.  It adds to the musicand helps people understand where our music comes from.  I've been filming   acrossLondon and use these images to blend in with our vj creating a colourful slide show.  Our recent shows have been well received.  It always helps when you get positive feedback.  It's inspiring. Certain tracks have been created after a long night out!

AV:  So how has Luminal been doing for you so far since it was released? Have you been getting some good feedback from your listeners and from the reviewers?

NW   I think we have had a brilliant response to Luminal. We were in the CMJ RPM top 20 in the U.S. for weeks. We have picked up some great feedback and lots of download sales as well. A new format bringing change to the system and allowing us to reach a new audience!!  You never know how an album will work until it appears out in the world and it is always exciting seeing it unfold. As we went back to Waveform, it was a fairly quick process to go from studio to release so we didn’t have to wait too long to find out. We released Luminal in theU.S. beforeEurope which was a first.

EJPretty well , thank you.  A few people have remarked that it's good to see us back on track after our Natural Selection album.  Others have saidthat it is our best since Kin and I believe we've hit a wider audience.  Luminal has also been well received on the review front.

AV:  When you release a CD like Luminal how is it that you get the word out to your fans and to those who might help promote it? Do you get a lot of radio play, club play or Internet radio play when you release a new CD and how important is it that you get these plays and the reviews that go with them?

NW:   This time round we got loads of radio support in theU.S. which is a great way to get our music to a new audience.  There were a lot of Internet and college stations playing Luminal.  As we brought Luminal out on Waveform, we were also able to tap into our core fan base through Forest’s Waveform website and forum as well as his Starstreams radio shows. It seems to me that web forums are playing an ever increasing part in spreading the message.  We don’t do much promotion in theU.K. and our music is not really suited to the majority of clubs here. Radio generally doesn’t support our kind music here either as we don’t have the college stations like in the U.S. We have a network of fans from around the world who support us when it is time for a new release and we have supportive stations and press all round Europe, Russia and Australasia. Promotion is always important but it is a crowded market and difficult to be heard sometimes so every little helps!

EJWe don't have to make a song and dance about our new releases.  Word seems to get around. We'll mention it on our website and play a couple of shows around the release date and let the product create its own buzz.  It is impossible to track every station that plays our music but we are always glad to see our tunes on playlists and forums.

AV:  What is the inspiration for the both of you when you sit down and want to write a new song? Was this how Luminal was written?

NW:   Inspiration comes from everything and anything. I don’t really think too much about it but get my head down and write. I love being creative and love sound and texture so when we sit at the computer, and start writing, it never takes long to come up with some inspiring sounds and rhythms. If occasionally, we are not happy with something, we ditch it or put it to one side for another day as it is important not to lose momentum. I have the luxury of having windows to my garden from the studio so I even get inspired by the weather!. I write all sorts of club based music as well as our SFTG project, so am regularly in the studio writing. I think I am very lucky to be doing this.

EJI hope that we inspire each other - personally I love traveling, new sights and sounds and meeting people all helps me draw from the well ofexperience and I trust that comes across in our music.

AV:  So what is ahead for Sounds from the Ground as far as styles that you haven’t tried yet but might want to give a shot to in your next release? Is there a new CD on the drawing boards yet? Any sneak peeks?

NW:   We’ve had a bit of a sabbatical since we finished Luminal but are planning to start a new album in January. I have been working on other projects and developing different styles of music. I find that it works well for me to write different styles of music as I never get bored that way and everything stays fresh. I am looking forward to working on the next SFTG album and have no idea what it is going to turn out like. We usually don’t plan anything and keep an open mind but I am hoping we will have something good ready by the end of the summer.

EJLuminal still has legs and time to get into the consciousness.  We aretalking about recording in the first half of 2006.  As far as styles go,we'll discover that when we get together,we will not repeat ourselves, it is wide open.......

AV:  Where do you see the music scene in theU.K. heading over the next few years?

NW:   I suspect that music downloads will really start to kick in over the next few years……well I hope so, as cd sales seem to have dropped recently. A lot of my record label and artist friends have suffered in the last couple of years due to dance music’s adjusting to this new climate and the general downturn in sales, so downloading will hopefully help turn the industry around. Life is full of boom and bust! I think electronica and club culture is here to stay but it will always be moving, experimenting and evolving.

EJ: If  I knew that then surely I'd be doing the lottery.  Over 10 years we've seen two waves of chilled/electronica become trendy and picked up bythe mainstream - we just keep going

AV:  Any last words from either of you about your music and the release of Luminal?

NW:   I love writing SFTG music with Elliot. I love the space, depth and musicality of it and the way we just seem to slot in. That is why I have been doing it for the last 10 years or so. I think that is also reflected in the music we do and Luminal is a great example of that.

EJI'd like to think that s.f.t.g. music material stands alone and represents the two of us working together.  It has emotion and depth and is simple without being boring, clever enough without being confused.  I am very happy with Luminal and feel that we have produced a quality album.  I find it very easy to work with Nick although I do draw the line at using bagpipes!  The albums we've produced are out there forever and that's a goodfeeling and makes me feel proud, here's to the next one.

AV:  Thanks Nick and Elliot for taking the time to share your feelings about your latest release Luminal and the years leading up to that release. Good luck in whatever projects the two of you decide to tackle in the years to come.