For newcomers, tell us a bit about the development of Litmus?
In Record Collector this year I’d mentioned Planetfall as being, I hesitate to say ‘industrial’, but I’d described it as being ‘juggernaut space-rock’...
It’s certainly got a harder sound to it; You Are Here had a very warm sound but Planetfall sounded more contemporary perhaps. It’s funny that you use the word ‘industrial’ because in terms of industrial music per se, that’s something that Marek, our drummer, is very interested in, more so than the rest of us. I think Planetfall was probably where Marek found his feet, having come in halfway through the process of You Are Here, when much of the music was already written and he was finding his place in the band. Whereas Planetfall has Marek very much in the driving seat, so it’s interesting... I wouldn’t hear anything in there that I would think of as ‘industrial’ but maybe there is something in that, because getting Marek settled in to the band was one of the major turning points for us and brought everything together, somehow.
I think that’s a pretty good description, actually. I think its warmer sounding than Planetfall but in its own way, just as lively without having the same hard-edge to the sound.
But I thought it had more depth, partly because of the keyboard/synthesiser stuff that’s going on that enriches the whole experience?
Well, our keyboard player, Andy Thompson, left about two years ago and we didn’t really manage to replace him for a long time. We were gigging as a four-piece: guitar/bass/drums and Anton on synthesisers and space-sounds but we didn’t have anyone playing the melodies and harmonies aspect. That was okay, as far as it went, for live gigs, but those keyboard sounds had always been a large part of the Litmus vibe so that when we came to work on what became Aurora, since there was no keyboard player on the horizon, we decided we’d better just do it ourselves. In that sense, it was almost like going back to the way we’d done our original demo tapes. With neither Simon nor I really being keyboard players, the upshot was that it was going to take us a long time to do it! We did the guitar, bass and drums down at Foel Studios and then decamped to my house to do the keyboard parts. So having got the guitars and drums down in a matter of a couple of days, it was a matter of months to do the keyboard parts! But the effect of that is that the keyboards are quite well considered, perhaps because we didn’t have the virtuosity to just play the first thing that came to mind. We weren’t just jamming the keyboards over the top of the guitars, we had to take our time, by necessity, to do them. What that means is that the arrangements are quite well thought-out, in the end. We made a real effort to make them fit the songs, so that when we came to mix the album, we found that they could be quite prominent.
How does that translate to the current Litmus live sound?
We did finally find ourselves a keyboard player, Oli, and he’s more than capable of reproducing my fumbling keyboard playing... and very much more besides! But he joined just as we were finishing the album, so he’s not on Aurora at all, but it does mean we’re able to play that material as intended because the keyboards are quite integral to the album and it would have been a great shame if we couldn’t have reproduced it live. I mean, it’s always going to be a bit different live, we don’t feel like slaves to the arrangements on the record but the important things, like melody, need to come through.
I see that more as a bookend though, ‘Beyond the Sun’ at the start being the other one, and I think they balance each other quite well, a lot of open-ended jamming and I think those tracks capture that aspect of what Litmus is all about pretty well. I mean, we record by getting the drums and the bass and guitar amps turned up really loud as a three-piece, and the other bits go on later, but I think those two tracks capture that really well.
I don’t think we’d see it that way, though. I think a lot of the people who’ve come to see us more recently aren’t necessarily from that scene, though we’ve had such great support from within that scene and we’re certainly very appreciative of those people who’ve been behind us for a few years now. I’m mean, you’re right, our profile is slowly increasing but I think perhaps that’s people coming to us from different scenes; we’ve played a lot of gigs with different people. You mentioned Julian Cope, but there have been other gigs and festivals, and certainly in Europe we’ve had some excellent opportunities to play on festival bills. We played a couple of times at Roadburn, which I’d rate as the best festival anywhere, it’s my favourite; I’d be there every year whether we were playing or not. We just played one called Stoned From The Underground, about fourteen-hundred people, and we went on at 10pm, so we’re getting some great slots in Europe now. Hopefully that suggests that Europe is going to be a good audience for us!
In terms of other bands who are, rightly or wrongly, perceived within the ‘space-rock’ community, and I absolutely take your point about bringing in audiences from outside the genre, who is particularly impressing you currently?
Litmus Myspace Page
Litmus Official Website
Rise Above Records