Ex-Talk Talk enigma Rustin Man transmits new codes for drifting
“You build your environment and then you play into it…” RUSTIN MAN
SEVENTEEN YEARS ago, back in MOJO 108, Jim Irvin wrote of Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man’s Out Of Season LP that it was, “among the best albums ever made”. Now ex-Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb, AKA Rustin Man, is to follow up that blessed debut in 2019, with Drift Code. But what’s he been doing all this time? “I had a young family,” says Webb from his converted barn near Stansted, where he both lives and records. “Plus, I downed tools when I was asked to do production. I’m quite obsessive about music, so to keep the standard up I had to kind of, slow down…” Slowing down into a different way of regarding time and expectations is a useful way of approaching the small hours dream-states, haunting still-lifes and junkyard blues of Drift Code, which for the first time finds Webb singing lead vocals. “I started thinking about it as soon as I came off tour with Beth – in what was it, 2004?,” he says. “I started getting melodies and chords together, onto a dictaphone. Going into different rooms with an acoustic guitar, learn that line, go on to two lines… they were the seeds of the ideas.” With Webb playing most instruments himself, these ideas grew in a curiously domestic setting: as family members grew from childhood to late adolescence, horn parts were recorded in the lounge, Hammond organs found themselves with drying laundry draped over them and mike leads criss-crossed the landing. One early recording session, he says, involved a month in 2005 spent laying down drum parts with old Talk Talk partner Lee Harris in a triangular chamber at the top of the house, after other rooms were found wanting. Another recording zone was in the barn proper, an artefact-packed space which Webb compares to the set of Steptoe & Son, or Laurence Olivier’s house in the 1972 movie Sleuth. ”People have said it’s like walking into a dream,” says Webb (the room can be seen on the video for the album’s lead single Vanishing Heart). “There are… objects. It’s like you build your environment and then you play into it, you do the soundtrack to that place. So much stuff has been generated from here.” The results have a time-shifting quality, befitting the sleeve (an Amsterdam barrel organ in 1940) and Webb’s other guiding notions – his parents’ Cab Calloway and Mills Brothers records, for example, or an imaginative exercise whereby he went back 70 years to play a session with an electric guitar and an arsenal of effects pedals. He has, he says, “a visual approach to the music. It’s me playing these instruments, but I’m visualising the barrel organ playing it. The lyrics are the same, it’s a collection of stories, built up of different characters and emotions. It’s almost theatre for me, like how Scott Walker or Tom Waits would look at it.” Vocally, he also strays into Robert Wyatt’s bruised, truth-telling melancholy. “I love his stuff and the pathos of it,” says Webb, “but that’s just the nature of my voice, it wasn’t conscious. I was finding a voice to work with each lyric.” (Regarding Gibbons’ absence, he says, “We talked about it, but I guess I got into an uncompromising thing, with all the ideas being generated by me, all the time.”) After Drift Code’s release, Webb plans to take the material out live. “It’s escapism that I’m looking for,” he says. “If you go back to [Talk Talk’s 1988 masterpiece] Spirit Of Eden, you do get lost, for a while. I don’t think you ever arrive, do you? There’s no answer, because the answer’s always changing.”
Title: Drift Code Date: February Production: Rustin Man Songs: Vanishing Heart / Martian Garden / Our Tomorrows / The World’s In Town / Light The Light The Buzz : “Though I’ve done it layer by layer, I’ve tried to make it sound like it was all recorded live in one room, with a timing that was fluctuating. A code is something that’s very locked, but underneath there’s something that’s out of control, moving back and forth, all the time.” FACT SHEET Speaking in tongues: Paul Webb emerges from domestic exile and channels his inner Rustin Man.