Bowlegs was quite bowled over by Ro-Me-Ro, the debut record by Paco Sala aka Antony Harrison and vocalist Leyli. Already lauded as one of the electronic debuts of the year, the tracks combine experimental electronics with floaty dreampop like structures. Bowlegs tracked down Antony and Leyli in search of some clues as to what makes this synth duo tick….
Bowlegs: The latest Paco Sala record has some very experimental aspects in the sounds that underpin the project but also has some more commercial aspects in the decision to go with vocals and song structures. How do you reconcile these aspects when writing songs and getting tracks together for an album?
AH: The record took about 7 months to construct and the tracks grow up along-side each other so I never actually considered any of Ro-Me-Ro to be either commercial or experimental. Some tracks were written specifically for vocals and I guess those are the most accessible. I love pop music and my last project was all about instrumental long-form drone and noise – I have no problem joining the dots in my head.
Bowlegs: Was the decision to work with a vocalist – Leyli – a conscious one or was it something that just arose out of circumstances?
AH: I didn’t want Paco to be just a bloke stood behind a laptop and a synth and really wanted vocals in there. I can’t sing, so stuck an ad out one lunch time with very low expectations. Initially the plan was to find someone to just join me for live shows. Leyli replied, I sent over an instrumental track that I thought was missing something (Spiral). I was totally blown away by what she did & realized at that point that it was about to become an entirely different record. There’s a very different pre-Leyli version of the record.
Bowlegs: Some have picked up on the slowly evolving structures of the Ro-me-ro album and related this as a kind of return to the ‘trip hop’ of the late 90’s – Bowlegs references late 90’s duo Lamb in the review – does this figure within your own feeling towards the project or are we all wide of the mark?
AH: Maxinquaye and Dummy were both records that I loved in the mid 90’s – but that’s where trip hop ended for me. I was probably into Slint and Labradford at that point. I do hear a lot of trip hop influences about at the moment; I can see how people draw those conclusions.
Bowlegs: Could you describe some of the key production influences on your work and also the day to day of a Paco Sala writing session?
AH: I usually have amazing ideas when I’m walking home from my day job…I purposely shun public transport because I know it’ll cost me an idea or two. I’ll get home with a seed of a track, a central theme – and I’ll take it from there. Sometimes the original idea will get lost, sometimes I’ll nail it. After that I tend to write in a really unstructured way – a lot of improvised sessions around the central theme. Then I’ll sift through whats been recorded and try and puzzle it all together. Leyli and I work independently of each other – I’ll send some near finished tracks over, some we’ll dump, some we keep and Leyli works her magic from there. Production wise, my studio is set up for hardware. I like warmth and fuzz in things.
L: Delight! Merriness! Trance! A new track from Antony Harrison has just landed in my inbox. The first listen draws a strong moodscape and a sudden urge to hum. My part of the game is a very satisfying and relatively easy birth. It seems to consistently start with multiple layers of improvised takes and end with a presumably illegal amount of editing. For a few songs on Ro-Me-Ro (Earn Your Stripes, Gift Of The Bloom, Tre’s Future First) I meticulously worked on the lyrics (that nobody can actually distinguish) as poems or poetic interpretations of astonishingly revolting international events.
Bowlegs: What kind of set up do you use and can you describe the processes involved in coming up with a new Paco Sala song?
AH: For me its all about hardware. I can’t emotionally connect to software plugins – I need something physical and tactile and slightly random – a lot of the best things happen by accident with hardware. At the moment the typical line up is a Roland R8, a Juno 60, a Korg MS10, some shitty toy synths and drum machines + a bunch of effects units. + a bunch of guitars.
L: For mic geeks only: for my vocals I only use a Russian Oktava MK-319 microphone that’s been modified by a strange American man called Michael Joly. It has a unique dark soft sound.
Bowlegs: There is a very ‘tropical’ feel to the Paco Sala sound that is suggestive of ‘island musics’ – especially Caribbean – can you outline some of the sonic influences underlying the current Paco Sala sound and are there any ‘geographical’ influences that we should know about?
AH: The tropical thing wasn’t intentional but a few people have picked it out and I totally agree. The first Paco tape was composed around a time in Miami and has samples from Odaiba beach in Tokyo so maybe that’s where it comes from? Most people assume we are an American band and most of the music I listen to is from the US so if there is a geographic influence its nothing more exotic than that.
L: This is interesting. I hope not to destroy anyone’s illusions but the only tropical element about Paco Sala is his name. As far as I know Paco has never set foot below the Tropic of Cancer and certainly couldn’t handle the heat.
Bowlegs: So where next for the Paco Sala project? Any live plans, tours, forthcoming releases?
AH: Releases – a tape toward the end of the summer (with Digitalis) followed by the next album proper sometime after (again hopefully with Digitalis). We are at quite an advanced stage with that. There’ll be more Leyli this time around, we are a proper ‘band’ this time rather than collaborators. As for playing live – we are ready and able and and looking for shows. Any takers?