Credited with creating the distinctive gauzy, ethereal sound of the 4AD label, John Fryer is the true godfather of dark wave music.
As a producer and engineer he’s worked with artists as diverse as The Cocteau Twins, Nine Inch Nails and Cradle of Filth.
He also founded, with label boss Ivo Watts-Russell, the 4AD collective This Mortal Coil – a constantly changing roster of musicians, who crafted a slew of classic originals and cover versions, such as Kangaroo, Tarantula and Song To The Siren.
But Fryer is more than just a big name producer, he’s a songwriter and musician in his own right, releasing a steady stream of dark, industrial soundscapes under a variety of different monikers.
Now he’s back with his second full length album in the guise of Black Needle Noise.
Lost In Reflections features a stellar array of collaborations from the world of dark ambient, techno, post-punk and noise, including Bill Leeb of Front Line Assembly, Leeb’s Delerium bandmate Mimi Page, Ana Breton of Dead Leaf Echo, Andrea Kerr from Colt and Hole bassist Jennie Vee.
There are also contributions from Omniflux, Kendra Frost of Kite Base, ZiaLand, Sivert Hoyem and, on the final track, one Dr. Strangefryer – no prizes for guessing who that might be.
Matt Catchpole caught up with the LA-based British composer and found him revelling in the freedom of being a solo artist, as he looks back on a career spanning nearly 40 years.
So John, what’s in a name? Explain why you chose to record as Black Needle Noise.
There are two thoughts to the name. Firstly, the old school; “Black” equals vinyl, “Needle” equals, you put the needle on the record and “Noise” equals the sound that comes out of the speakers. Secondly, I was watching the show Black Mirror and got to thinking about the future. What if you could take the vinyl and melt it down into liquid form and inject it into your body and you can control when you can turn the music on and off, so the sound could flow through your body whenever you wanted it too.
Quite a shot in the arm! So tell us about the album – is there a central theme?
There is no central theme to the album apart from each song has a life of its own, its own little movie. You should be able to listen to the songs collectively or separately and it should all make sense – except for my answer.
You describe your sound as music from movies you haven’t dreamt of yet– do you have visual images in mind when you’re writing?
Yes, I have visuals for the soundscapes, from noir movies to smokey, bluesy jazz clubs and everything in between. I like a lot of music and have worked with music from many genres and Black Needle Noise is kind of a melting pot of all of them. I’ve taken inspiration from a lot of styles of music and put them together in my own Glamour and Decay Noise Pop style for the listener to conjure up their own images.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from life and living, from people I have met and would like to meet, the places I’ve been and places I would like to go.
Which of the guest vocal collaborations were you most excited about?
I have been excited by all of them! Every vocalist brings something different to the table, they take the music in many directions vocally and lyrically too. It has been a great honour to work with all of them.
If you could work with any singer, living or dead, who would you choose?
I think maybe Bowie would be the one. He has been with me since I was a young teenager, changed the way I looked at life, always trying something new, not letting anything get in his way. That is how I’m looking at Black Needle Noise, it is whatever I want it to be, or whatever it wants to be. There’s no boundaries or rules for it.
Does working as Black Needle Noise give you greater freedom than previous projects?
Yes, of course it does. I haven’t set any rules for it. I can do whatever I want with it, work with whomever I want with it. So far it’s just been music and videos, but who knows what will come next, fashion maybe. Well you can already get a T-Shirt.
Have advances in technology made it easier to collaborate with people?
Oh yes of course. The (enter-the-web) inter web has made life so much easier. I find it very exciting working this way. I write the music and send it off to the singer wherever they are in the world, then they can work on the song in their own time and space, so they can work their magic. It’s always a wonderful spine-tingling feeling listening to their vocals for the first time and seeing where they have taken the song – to what place it has taken them to in their own mind.
Do you think technology has made it an easier for new artists to break through?
It’s never easy for new artists apart from one or two where things have just taken off, otherwise, it is a lot of hard work to break through the noise out there.
What is it about the industrial rock sound that attracts you?
I like to have noise in my songs and I also like the aggression in the sound it can achieve, it can be unnerving but calming at the same time.
When you’re producing how do you approach working with a particular artist, do you try and find some common ground between you. Do you talk about what records they like, or what sound they are hoping to achieve?
The way I approach producing bands is, I always try to make the best record of their music, as you know I make my own music and records, so I try to do the best for them, bring out the best in them and try and make their dreams come true with music.
You worked with the Cocteau Twins – were you saddened when they split?
It’s a shame they are not making music together anymore as they made a great sound and songs, but life is what it is. Things and people grow apart, or are forced apart by circumstance, and we should enjoy what they did make together. When I worked with them they were easy to get on with – there was never any problems.
This Mortal Coil’s version of Song to the Siren is a personal favourite of mine – whose idea was it to cover that song?
That was Ivo’s idea, it’s funny as it was recorded just as a B-Side for Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust and ended up being an all time classic.
How did you first get involved with 4AD and what’s your relationship with Ivo like now?
I was working at Blackwing Studios and Daniel Miller started using the studio for his bands on Mute. He recommended the studio to Ivo who, in turn, started using the studio for his bands on 4AD. I haven’t seen Ivo for many moons now.
You worked with Depeche Mode on their breakout album Speak and Spell – why do you think they’ve managed to stay at the top for so long?
They’ve stayed at the top as they have consistently made good records and played live over the years and put in a lot of hard work.
What album that you’ve worked on are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all the albums I’ve worked on over the years, but especially proud of the albums I have made myself with DarkDriveClinic, Muricidae, Silver Ghost Shimmer and Black Needle Noise.
Do have any plans to perform live with Black Needle Noise?
The question everyone is asking! Yes, I would love to play live with Black Needle Noise, I just have to figure out how to do it.
- Lost In Reflections is available from Bandcamp on this link
- For more information about John Fryer visit his Facebook page @John.Fryer.Official