Things I'd Rather Be Doing,
11 November, 2007
Monday Interview: Soulsavers
By: John Kenyon

If there's a better single than "Revival" by Soulsavers that's been released this year, I've yet to hear it. I'm a sucker for anything Mark Lanegan touches, so perhaps I'm biased. But the former Screaming Trees frontman, who surely is the most collaborative man in alt-rock (if not all of popular music outside the guest star-friendly world of hip hop), has certainly found some kindred spirits in the form of Soulsavers.

Perhaps the best thing about the song is that, while among the best issued this year, it sounds like it could have been released any time in the past 75. Soulsaver honcho Rich Machin has crafted a backing track that sounds like an aural antique, and Lanegan's cigarette-scarred vocals fit perfectly, the whole thing given a true spiritual feel by the rich gospel harmonies that underpin his lines.

Machin and his partner, Ian Glover, have issued just one previous album, and have helmed other production and remix jobs. But this is the first time I've knowingly heard their work. It makes me want to search out everything else, and more to the point, eagerly anticipate what comes next. For they've created an album that is cohesive, dark, dense, slightly claustrophobic and, above all else, compelling. Lanegan sings on 8 of the 11 tracks, with the others being complementary instumentals. The originals, like "Revival," are uniformly solid, and the covers -- inspired choices like Neil Young's "Through My Sails," Spain's "Spiritual" and the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations." Will (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) Oldham joins in on the Young cover, while the Doves' Jimi Godwin chimes in on the original "Kingdoms of Rain."

But this is Lanegan's show. In a year that already saw him participating in albums by Isobel Campbell and Greg Dulli's Twilight Singers (with a long-promised Gutter Twins disc from Dulli and Lanegan expected in '08), it's another testament to his skill and good taste.

Machin took time to answer a few questions about the pairing and what comes next for his group.

TIRBD: How did you hook up with Mark Lanegan and what affect did his participation have on the music as it was being created? Did he fit with things you already were doing or did his presence redirect your efforts?
RM: We had a mutual friend, he hooked us up. He fitted with some of the basic ideas I had put together. Then after that, as a producer obviously you have to consider all the people you have in the mix. I made a conscious decision to give his vocals some room.
But I had a direction that I wanted to push for and that's why I asked him to join us. He was the best man for the gig.
Four years passed between your first disc and this one. Was there music made but not released, or were you waiting for a catalyst like Lanegan to come along to push you in the right direction?
Nah, I just spent a long time recording the motherfucker. I actually started recording with Mark around Xmas ’04'/New Year’s ’05. I was bankrolling the sessions myself; we weren't sitting in a studio with a label picking up the tab. But when the money ran out, I'd have to stop work (sometimes for a couple of months at a time) until I raised enough money to start up again. I had a load of other shit going on during this time too. Basically, it was not the normal way that people usually make a record. But, I'm glad I did it the way we did. I take a lot of pride in getting that record out into the world.
How familiar were you with mutual work prior to meeting him and deciding to collaborate? Did you see potential in his collaborations with others (Isobel Campbell, Twilight Singers, QOTSA, etc.), and better yet, did you see ways you could use him that others hadn't yet tapped?
Very familiar with his solo records. I'd seen the (Screaming) Trees play in ’92, but it was his own records that really resonated with me. The Isobel thing was done after we'd already started, they just turned it around faster. So I actually never got to hear it until we'd finished. But I took it that he was open to new projects, and when we actually sat down and talked about music I saw that we shared very similar (diverse) tastes, and that I'd found the person I was looking for to make the diverse record I had in my mind.
The name Soulsavers is on the cover, but with all due respect, this sounds to me like a great Lanegan record. Is there a worry about being subsumed by a strong guest frontman, or about people misconstruing what it is you (can) do because of that association?
Not really. You know, it kinda suits me to have someone to deflect the attention a little. I like to keep a pretty low-profile. I'm sure it might bother a few people who we work with, about it things getting misconstrued. But I just look at the basics. Did I do the best I could? Is the record as good as it could be? That's all I really give a fuck about, the Music. Some producers/musicians want it all to be about them. But their records usually suck. Ego over substance.
How were the cover songs chosen for this project? They mesh very well with the originals here; did they provide inspiration that helped you to shape the other songs, or did the other songs help drive the arrangements of the covers or something in between?
It was kinda something in between. They were songs that I had been listening to during those periods, so I'm sure sub-consciously they had some kind of influence over the other material. But then they came to mind because they then also fitted with the material. It just all made sense really.
What impact does the success of this disc, both artistically and critically, have on what you'll do in the future?
Well, I think artistically, it gives me a blank canvas to start on. I can really go in any direction, mix it up a little further. I think it doesn't leave you knowing where were going next, and that's pretty important to me. I have no interest in repeating a formula, making changes is what creatively gets me excited. I can’t think of anything more dull than sitting down and trying to remake your last record. Who knows what the future holds.