Interview by Mark Bayross
Five years on from his well-received debut, Glasgow’s Rico is back with his second album, the excellent VIOLENT SILENCES. Along the way, he has released a handful of singles and EPs and worked with the likes of Tricky and Gary Numan, the latter with whom he found himself in the Top 20 and on TOP OF THE POPS [TV show] thanks to last year’s brilliant CRAZIER single. He also went independent, leaving EMI and setting up his own recording studio and label, Manufractured.
I talked to Rico about the new album, going it alone, and the disturbed subconscious of a certain synth-rock legend.
While you have been busy for the last five years, it did seem that you slipped under the radar a bit until CRAZIER. SANCTUARY MEDICINES got great reviews, but do you think maybe you didn’t really get a chance to capitalise on that momentum?
Yes, I didn’t really. I went to Chrysalis, or EMI as it now is, with a two-album plan. The first album was made in my garage and the plan was just to get it out there, establish myself and then work on the second album. Unfortunately, the label got greedy and decided they wanted to just sell more copies of the first album. Time started dragging on, then the personnel changed – we went through three A&R people, a couple of MDs – and by that point the plans for the second album were all fucked. I went and set the studio up and took a while to get my head together…it was quite a hard time.
Do you think if you had been able to write the second album back then, it would have turned out as a different album from VIOLENT SILENCES?
I don’t think so. Everything you do is over time and I started writing bits of this record two years ago. You get different vibes from different times – I think a record should be a document of where you’ve been at, picking up the vibe from different moments during its evolution.
How different was the experience of making VIOLENT SILENCES from SANCTUARY MEDICINES?
There were loads of things different this time. When I made the first album I was working in a rented garage. There were no expectations, no pressures… Now that I’ve already had something out, those expectations are there. Plus, I built the studio, which meant I’ve had to deal with debts and bills – the music now has dependents. It was much tougher – I was going to a place where my heart was not in it for a period of time as I was just worried about the financial commitment. Something like that can start sucking the life out of you. I also changed my gear – I went on to using Pro-Tools. It took a while to adapt to working from a screen – it’s not the most creative way of doing things; it feels like you’re using the wrong side of your brain. It took some time to bring in different types of gear – it was a huge learning curve.
In terms of writing the tracks, some of them came out of the vocals, some from a drumbeat, some from a guitar line. It took a lot of mucking about with the sound. Six months ago, the tracks sounded much cleaner, but when you take the human element out of it, you miss it. So I backtracked and brought some musicians in to dirty up the sound, destroy some of the perfection. The problem is, you can go on working on it forever and after while, you risk destroying everything that was good, so you need to be able to step back at some point and tell yourself it’s finished.
Some tracks like FREEFALL and SHE’S MY PUNK ROCK have a kind of uplifting quality to them. Was making VIOLENT SILENCES as cathartic for you as it sounds on record?
Over the last few years, I’ve been through far more peaks and troughs than ever before. But, yeah, the optimism is starting up again – it was certainly good to get away from EMI! I learned how to set up on my own and to start again, although that also produced some darker moments, like trying to deal with the financial issues.
Some of the songs have real commercial potential. Is that deliberate? Would you like to make it big or would you prefer to be seen as more of an underground artist?
Honestly, the stuff’s just come out the way it has. SHE’S MY PUNK ROCK is a pop song, I’m aware of that, but it’s also been dirtied up a bit and is now in a place where I’m happy with it. I think these songs do have more commercial potential though: if any of them get released as singles, I might do some remixes. I want to do what I’m doing for a long time and for that to happen, I need some kind of success – I have to earn! Artful, the record label through which the album has been released, are having a big push around Europe and getting a good response. I am happy to have made the record and what will be will be. I think 50% of it is making the record, the other 50% is all the things you need to do to move it on.
The thing with majors is that they are such a terrible waste of money. They’re not prepared to stick with acts, but they will piss money away straight off. They’ll spend tons promoting your record and then drop you if it doesn’t produce a return fast enough. There’s no longevity because the people there also don’t have security in their jobs. If there’s a change of management, no one wants to inherit a bunch of bands somebody else signed, so the bands go too. It’s depressing that the suits in the record companies think they understand creativity – at least with IBM you know what you’re getting from the start!
Why did you choose to cover PSYCHO KILLER?
I was messing about with some big electronic synth riffs during a stint DJing at a Numan gig and I came up with this great sound. Then I heard PSYCHO KILLER and I thought it sounded familiar. When I replayed the riff, I couldn’t stop humming PSYCHO KILLER over the top. It worked really well and I just went with it. Actually the only other track I have ever thought of covering was “Flowers Of Romance” by PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED because, like with this song, I thought I could do a version that was different enough but still worked.
What can we expect from the PSYCHO KILLER video?
We’re working with a guy I know in Scotland who has built a cardboard city like Gotham City and we are going to merge it with a blue screen and have us in front of it, but it won’t just be us performing…it’s going to be well fucked up! We’ll been filming constantly for a month on rooftops in Glasgow and so far it’s looking mental!
How did you come to work with Gary Numan? What was he like?
The label he goes through asked if I’d be interested in doing a couple of support gigs, to which I of course said yes. When I met him he was a really nice guy and we got on well, and then the label asked if I would like to do a track with him. I knocked up CRAZIER over two days, gave him a copy and asked what he would like to do with it. He took it away and did some vocals and then we got Andy Gray in to add some guitars. We were really pleased that it turned out the way it did. The label then said they wanted to release it as a single, and of course I was delighted! I went to Berlin, hung out with the band…it was so weird being up there with Gary Numan as he’s such a legend.
He’s a down-to-earth, easy-going chap though, isn’t he?
Yeah, he is. When we started working together, we did an email interview with each other for a laugh; just five questions each. I asked him what his worst nightmare was and he said he couldn’t really remember any anymore, in fact that he didn’t really dream any more at all. Then he said that he did remember one dream – he was being lifted up in the air by some monster with its hand up his ass, and he was looking down at the rest of his band screaming for help but they were all just standing there. Then he woke up screaming with a pain in his arse! [Laughs]
Do you think working on the HYBRID album helped you grow as a musician?
It definitely has helped my confidence a wee bit. It kicked my arse into moving on and it helped that I knew I was creating stuff that was being appreciated. It was a really important thing for me to have done and I really value that time. It turned things around for me, really.
You mix it up with a variety of styles – what would you say are the bands you listen to most?
During the last few months, I have been really tuned into Four Tet and also the old CURE album “Wish”. I have that on all the time at the moment. Another record I have been listening to a lot is THE THE’s “Naked Self”. The problem I have is that my stuff doesn’t fit into any particular category – the people who are selling it need to be able to put it into metal, rock or whatever.
…which is a shame as that’s what makes for interesting music, crossing those boundaries. And The Prodigy managed to do it and sell lots of records so it can be done…
True, but they only really got big after FIRESTARTER got onto the TV. In this country, you need to have TV and radio exposure if you are going to get anywhere.
What advice would you give other artists wanting to set up on their own?
I’m doing it back to front, I suppose – I started on a major and have gone to an independent. I would say the best way is to do it the other way around – there’s so much to learn about making a record and putting it out there. If you do sign with a major, they will be looking for sales, whereas an independent will grow you. You go through a range of emotions recording, touring, reading about yourself in magazines. If you get slagged off, which everyone does at some point, it can fuck with you, so you need to be ready for it. If you can get a major deal, get as much money as possible – any budget you get for making a record, make sure you get 20% on top, just to keep you alive. You don’t want to be left on your arse if things go wrong. And get some equipment out of them too – if not you could end up walking away with nothing!