Track by track with Steve Cobby
“I’d just come back from Portugal, and was taken with the place. ‘Obrigado’ is Portuguese for ‘thank you’. We had a wall in the studio where we’d put prospective song titles, and that went straight up when I got back home.
“I’m on either the Korg DW-8000 or the Cheetah MS6, here. Mr McSherry played that acoustic guitar. The drums are the late Gary Burroughs, rest in peace.
“We did a live drum session with him at the studio he was engineering at called Animal Tracks, which was a little 16-track studio in town. Like we do when we work with most drummers, we just got him to play, maybe to just a click track, and let him express himself. Then we went back to the studio and chopped up the bits we wanted to use. He’s on a few tracks on this album.”
“Snake Rangers are a thing. It’s one of them dream jobs [laughs]. It’s got nothing to do with the track. The titles rarely have a connection to the track. We were willfully obtuse.
“There’s a nice drum break in there. As far as vinyl digging, we’d go to secondhand shops and pull out anything we liked. We’d usually get a few pearlers. We might have stayed away from the cool, famous breaks, and ended up pulling out [pre-rock ’n’ roll honky-tonk pianist] Russ Conway. Really early on we got fed up with the snobbery that got attached to sampling.
“It was as if you were only allowed to sample this classic cannon in the seventies, and anything outside of that and you weren’t playing the game. And, of course, the rules for us were meant to be broken.
“We’d use James Last, or any of them Reader’s Digest compilation albums. It’s just a sonic palette. And when you take it out and reframe it, it’s a montage. It becomes a different thing. We’d tax any kind of noise, not just breaks.
“There’s some live sax on here too from Bernard Moss, bless him. He was working with A Certain Ratio back in the ’90s, and ended up on loads of our stuff. And he’s even on the brand new Cobby & Porky album – Cities Below Future Seas, which shows you how long we’ve stayed in touch. He’s great – A real one-take, no dubs, character. “
“This features a Charlie Brown cartoon record sample. Charity shop digging again. We sampled his sister, Lucy, talking about the stars. It was probably the last thing to go on the track.
“The drums sound like it’s us. Probably recorded in the room upstairs, fattened up with a coupla separate kicks and snares. Not 808 kicks, really. I found they could cloud up your bottom end.
“If you’ve got a nice empty, sparse track, 808 booms are fantastic. But for us, there were a lot of layers and textures. So, if I wanted to reinforce a kick then a 909 is probably were I’d go. They were tighter and more
“We were always interested in straddling two different camps, musically, in the nineties. There were musicians and players, and they were always very sniffy about programming and sampling. Then your DJ culture was very sniffy about playing. We always felt that we were painting with a bigger palette because we had both the digital and the analogue to draw from.”
punchy. You wouldn’t know they were there, really. I’ve always gone for fattening out breaks with hits.
“The room upstairs had a definite sound. We always just used one mic on our drum setups. I really liked the lo-fi sonic that we used to get pretty quickly out of that room.”
“This title was written up on the studio wall for the longest time. We couldn’t wait to use it [laughs]. We were just waiting for something a bit sillier and dubbier to get made.
“There’s some fuzz guitar on here, too. That’d be McSherry – he was the chief proponent of the axe. The first album, I don’t think there was a guitar on it. We were really in that clubland sonic, for one, and also we didn’t have the facilities to record. We didn’t have a multitrack back then. With this album we were starting to stretch out a bit more and feel a bit more confident with playing more on the tracks. The guitar came to the fore much more on this album.
“There’s a little cod drum ’n’ bass on there, too, when it goes double time. We did like a tempo shift about halfway through. It’s about seven-odd minutes long, so we had to do something to keep it interesting.”
Butter My Mask
“[Laughs] What a title! Imagine trying to get that through an A&R department now. You’d be laughed off the face of the Earth!
“We always felt we could retain massive amounts of integrity, just by naming things in an off-the-cuff manner. It was so far-removed from a record label that was desperately trying to be cooler than cool. We loved the idea that we could be as contrary as we liked.
“We sampled guitar chords here and played them across the keys, then sampled some shortwave radio. It was a lovely little vintage valve radio off my granddad.
“When it comes time to sprinkle the last bits on top of a track, random ‘found sounds’ work superbly well. It
also excites you, too, as you haven’t authored the thing, and you’re just letting it happen in front of you. It starts to sound like somebody else’s song. That’s why we loved putting random radio sounds and spoken word stuff in.”
Wigs, Bifocals And Nurishment
“There’s a genuine story behind this title, but I can’t tell you [laughs]. Anyway, this track has a bit of disco in it. I remember when we would be out DJing it was a good one to drop. It was always in our sets.
“It’s all samples. When the change comes in, it’s on that soundtrack tip. Very much some Lalo Schifrin. I was heavily into his back catalogue. We took bits from everywhere. It was like making a cake.
“In terms of sampling, hip-hop was a big teacher. But we found that they’d take big chorus riffs and repurpose them. We never wanted to do that. We didn’t want people to think they were already half familiar with the tune, because they’d heard a bit before. If you’re gonna perceive something as a fresh montage, you don’t want to be familiar with small sections. We were wary of using anything that was well known.”
“I think Xique-Xique is an area in Brazil. To me it always looked like a really good lay in Scrabble. You’d clean up!
“This is a bit of a Latin track. I was really into Juanito Pascual and people like Airto Moreira. I had a friend give me a mixtape of all that stuff and it just opened a door to a whole new world. I was channeling that on that track.
“It’s a nod to all that South American stuff. I liked some bands that blended classic South American percussion with synths and analogue washes, too.
“The album was mastered at Jah Tubby Studios. We were just getting our heads around mastering at the time, so it was great to get them involved. We always left it to Keith there. His bread and butter was reggae, so he was the don for cutting bass to vinyl. It was like you sent them some fucking ‘wishy-washy’ Polaroids over, and they sent back these beautiful 35mm plates.”
“When I first met McSherry we were both 17. We went to different schools, but had lots in common. For some reason we both took to saying one of the key phrases from the Tarzan cartoon – Remember that? It was shit.
“Tarzan used to say, ‘Onc Mongaani’, to bring all the animals to heel. So when we first met one of us came out with it. It was like, ‘Not you as well!’
“The track itself has lots of arpeggiated ‘wibbles’ on there from the Korg DW-8000 – you can tell it’s that machine, because it’s a bit thin and tinny.
“Then Mark Young plays some tabla. He was in a group called Third Face. We’d done a session with him. He was in and out. He would have played live to the track.
“Drummers don’t play to anything, as they’re the foundation stone. But flautist, singers, and percussion… we always try and give them as much as possible to play with so they can get the feel for it.”
“July 23rd was the exact day that we recorded the thunder that you hear on this track. That’s what it said on the DAT. There was a massive thunderstorm at the back of the house so we just put two stereo mics out the window and left them recording for about an hour.
“We ended up with this epic thunderstorm. It made for the perfect ‘icing on the cake’ to put on this track when it was finished.
“We always liked to finish our albums with a quiet tune, or something a little more ambient. That was something I nicked from Cabaret Voltaire. It was a homage to The Cabs, that. It was good to round the album off.”
To me it always looked like a really good lay in Scrabble. You’d clean up!
Fila split up in 2004 and Cobby hammered away at the little independent label model to “diminishing returns” and has now developed into owner/operator of his own imprint, Déclassé. From 2013 he dispensed with pseudonyms (The Solid Doctor, Horsemilk,...