What is your name and role within Psychological Strategy Board?
Paul Snowdon, Hardware: synths & contact mics.
Jonny Mugwump, Digital: textures & loops
How did you first start playing music?
Paul: I’ve been playing live and making music for around 30 years now. In the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s, I was in heavy guitar-based bands, It was just something I was driven to do. I started making electronic based music after studying Fine Art in the late 90’s.
JM: I’m still reluctant to describe what I do as making music really but that kind of self-critique is important to myself and to the PSB project. We utilise a lot of non-musical sound (the beat in Sophia for example is a non-musical sound lifted from a documentary and re-edited to be rhythmic) and use more obvious musical tones, sounds and instruments in non-musical ways. This is hardly radical in itself – those kind of ideas – that’s the whole history of experimental music – but when thrown into the mix with our two different personalities, motivations and skill-sets it does contribute to what we believe to be a unique sound. Which doesn’t answer your question really does it? I started using Ableton when I started my radio show for Resonance FM in the UK many centuries ago. Getting quickly bored of playing new music on a station that had no sonic restrictions of any kind I started playing loops in between things instead of talking, then over music then inviting guests to play live and very quickly pre-recorded music only accounted for about 10% of the show. Not much has changed in my approach now except I’m slightly more technically proficient.
How did Psychological Strategy Board form?
Live improvised radio broadcasts on Jonnys Exotic Pylon radio show on Resonance FM.
Paul: Shortly after moving to London I met Jonny, who’d just started broadcasting his radio show, before long I was playing live on the radio almost every week, improvising and simply learning from other like-minded musicians. Us making music together stems directly from that radio show.
JM: As Paul says above. Then I was approached by the Front & Follow label (with whom we have had a long close relationship with) to participate in a remix project. Now I could have just done this myself and cobbled something together but I just… well I am entirely disinterested in having control – I have no ego I wish to enforce and the more that is chipped away the better. So I asked Paul to do it in collaboration especially as we had built up such an intuitive working methodology over the years on air which was wholly organic and unplanned.
What’s been happening recently?
Paul: In the first quarter of 2019 I had a few live shows as Time Attendant, my solo project. We then knuckled down to writing a new Psychological Strategy Board set as we’d been booked to play a few gigs around London and to perform at the Supernormal festival here in the UK.
We went on a mini tour of the UK in 2018 to promote our previous release, a soundtrack for the documentary ‘Penny Slinger; Out of the Shadows’ on Front & Follow records.
JM: I just absolutely love playing live. This has come as a complete shock to me so we’ve had a good year this year playing several really great gigs in completely different environments in the space of a few weeks. And this with a new set that we feel is very much ourselves. Our first live set was good but maybe not wholly indicative of what we hear in our heads. Not that I actually have any idea of what’s in my head.
You’ve recently released your new album, what influenced the sound and songwriting?
Paul: After the live shows in 2018, we knew what we didn’t want to sound like. We wanted to reign-in and define our sound more by limiting the tonal range of our music. Anything non-musical and Music Concrete in general is really my biggest influence when it comes to PSB.
JM: I find it hard to answer that question as I don’t really listen very much to the kinds of genres you might associate with us anymore. I have absorbed so much experimental music over the years but what I listen to these days is largely R&B, Hip Hop, Classical, Jazz blah blah and I try and keep up with whatever crazy underground dance stuff is going on around the globe. The kind of thing we do – I’ve always found it interesting that I have zero interest in making the music I actually listen to.
How did you go about writing the music?
Paul: We’d come up with sounds and ideas independently of each other, then when we get together to practice, we just try them out, the other response musically, verbally, philosophically and we decide what to keep. We practice and nail the first 10 minutes, then move on to the next 10 minutes. The music develops in blocks of sound and time, becoming more stripped back as the pieces lengthen.
JM: The new set and eventually single took shape after Paul sent me 10 mins of sexy toothbrush action and I have never had such an instinctive reaction to anything in my life. I knew exactly what I wanted to add and as everything I do is sample-based I had to go find, edit and then play those sounds. I think Paul was kind of shocked! I think this is why we feel we’re finally us – the sound is just happening without any ‘effort’ at all now – we sound like this and that is really exciting. In answer to your question, and the reason I love collaboration is that for whatever reason, I have zero interest in making the kind of music that I listen to.
Where and when did you record and who with?
Paul: Dog Tunnel Records
JM: Early August in Elephant and Castle (London) on a very balmy early August night. Quite drunk.
How did you approach the recording process?
Paul: We approached the recording process in the way a band using traditional instruments would, by writing music we knew we could repeat and play live. We had an idea that we might record some overdubs to add interest to certain parts of the set, Dog Tunnels philosophy was to not encourage overdubs, keeping the recordings live, so we just rolled with it. We recorded several takes of each song and left it to Dan and Pete of Dog Tunnel Records to choose what to mix down.
JM: I mentioned earlier about control. I was so excited to be approached by DTR as I knew they would have some involvement with the sound – the mixing, their studio, their selection. We were desperate to hear it as we had no ideas what to expect. And it’s crazy and out of control and we love it! I am so interested in the role of the artist especially as I have never considered myself to be one. I am within this process and this sound but it’s warped by so many other factors. This is why I struggle to envision myself recording solo work. It would just be…me.
What programs/instruments did you use to record?
Paul: Dave Smith Mono Synth, Koma Field Kit, Moogerfoogers, TC Electronics, Danelectro & Electro-Harmonix effects. MXR EQ’s, homemade sheet-metal noise box with Toothbrush and contact mics.
JM: Ableton live, laptop
Please describe the experience of working in an analogue studio with a real plate reverb unit:
Paul: Yea it was a good experience, we were introduced to the smell of freshly unboxed ¼” tape and to see the Lathe-cutting machine sat hunched and heavy awaiting our noise.
JM: Reel to reel tape – the dream!
How do you make your sounds? How did you come to use a electronic toothbrush?
Paul: I’ve been mic’ing up objects for a while now, ever since I bought the Koma Field Kit a couple of years ago. I’d grown tired of hearing regular synth sounds and wanted to explore processing sounds in real time through various effects pedals. I’ve always used field recordings in the music I make, so this was just a natural progression. Eventually I’d acquired enough interesting bits and pieces of junk to build a small noise plate for percussive sounds and I was just looking around my flat for objects I could use to make sounds, the electric toothbrush was just a no-brainer, totally perfect. I now have a selection of brushes, half dead ones that vibrate slowly and gently, creating low hums, others that stop and start randomly and brand new ones, that are loud and harsh and seem to literally, want to jump down your throat!
JM: I think in loops. They don’t have to be smooth or rhythmic. They need to be unexpected. We have several decades of sampling in music now and are going through a new golden-age of hip hop. Sometimes I want to emphasise the loop, sometimes I don’t. In the moment I just know what I need. I don’t know how or why and I don’t want to. I don’t even think that it’s me making those decisions anyway.
How did you approach using both digital and analogue?
JM: Maybe the way to think about this is actually less to do with the tonalities of sound and more about structure. Other than a minute of synth, the digital side of things – my bit – is loops of samples. I do not create any sound from scratch – everything is taken from something pre-recorded and then is looped. This places a huge amount of restrictions on what I can do but I have limited technical abilities so it forces me to dig very deeply into what I am able to do. I had a wholly new sensibility borne from the rave and jungle scenes in the UK a long long time ago and so I have a personal philosophy for operating in this way but I don’t need to say anymore than that. So Paul is a lot more structurally free and can move his sound more fluidly (although his equipment also places interesting restrictions on what he can do as well). Everything I’ve just said though was not an approach at all. We were just entirely cluelessly playing on live radio with zero planning and no prior discussion – I had what I had, Paul had what he had. It was only after a long period of time, in fact when we first worked as PSB on the Front and Follow remix that we even realised we had an approach. We then built a concept out of that but there was absolutely no intention initially.
How do you approach playing live and how does playing live in London influence how and what you play?
JM: Paul covered most of this earlier when asked about the recording process. There is now no difference. We are essentially a live project full stop. We did play a series of gigs in very different environments earlier this year culminating in a massive pagan-like shed at Supernormal – just a beautiful amazing festival. When sound-checking (something I have very little interest in anyway) we were distorting way more than we usually would and I was freaking out for a minute realising that this wasn’t going to be solvable. Then it suddenly occurred – what’s the problem – we’re literally playing the building. So then we emphasised that distortion and just played really fucking loud. It was just great. There is no pure playing environment so you roll with what you have and I think cos we’re quite raw at the moment it was just kind of perfect. As regards London, well Paul and I used to be very heavily involved in lots of things through my record label and the radio show and events I used to put on. I am entirely disconnected from everything now and never go to see live music and speaking for myself, London has never been an influence in and of itself (although there are many places in London that I love). Paul and I are both from the north of England originally and I am not one for scenes of any sort anyway
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Paul: Conrad Schnitzler, Moon Wiring Club, Pole, Witch Skull, Schneider TM
JM: The Hyperdub label is better than it’s ever been, the Cherushii & Maria Minerva is by far my favourite release of this year just a beautiful inventive fun and madly melodic thing born out of awful circumstances. Hausu Mountain is the best label around right now – just crazy vaporwave shot through a thousand different angles. Miles Davis, Scott Walker, Coil, Debussy always and forever. Onoe Caponoe, Billy Woods and Kenny Segal, Angel Olsen, Caterini Barbieri – they’ve all dropped amazing things this year. Oh yes my joint-fave – Johanna Knutsson’s Tollarp Transmissions – like all the electrical devices in your house have turned sentient and are singing to each other. I’ll stop now.
What do you like to do away from music?
Paul: Art, Painting, Sculpture
JM: Reading a lot of weird shit (post CCRU speculative stuff). Erik Davis new High Weirdness is wonderful. I have broadcast a few radio shows from home called The Neon Hospice but this is on hiatus now until January when it will become a regular weekly show. I am slowly building what will become a convoluted website around it that I would very much like to be psychedelic and I have no idea what that even means or how I will do it.
What’s planned for the remainder of 2019 going into 2020?
JM: Upping our recording rate, possible self-released cassettes and hoping for as many gigs as possible. If you’re out there listening we’re very easy to deal with 😊
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Paul: A Ploughmans, The Fellowship & Star in Bellingham London.
JM: Like some deranged 70’s freak show I love and live for Fondue. I live in Margate and I suppose the hangout I love the most (although not great in winter) is cycling along the Viking Trail towards Reculver and stopping at various pubs. It’s really weird – bits of it are like a Brutalist sea trail.