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Interview with The Guardian Music Blog

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Having been voted through a selection of five bands by people leaving supportive comments on The Guardian Music Blog we were granted an interview which appears now as part of the Breaking Bands feature on The Guardian website. The interview was edited for content so we’re publishing the full version below.

Who are you and how did you end up becoming Fold?
One American and three Yorkshiremen. [Seth] I’m a veteran of the trip-hop & downtempo scene in late 90s New York when I was in a duo with my brother called Mujaji. We put a few records out, toured a bit & then it all fell apart. I moved to London and came up with the idea for Fold in late 2008 after my son was born. His existence made me feel a greater sense of responsibility than I’d ever felt previously, both to him and to the world that he’s growing up in. I wanted to create music that could somehow contribute to a dialogue about positive changes in society. I looked for voices more wise and eloquent than my own to combine with music written around specific themes. I took a year or so to develop an initial batch of material while researching recorded speech and edited many hours down to usable seconds.
I tried a few live shows on my own and with backing musicians but it was rough. Then I moved up to Leeds and within six months I’d found the other three members of Fold. Leeds Music Scene led me to Kane, our drummer, who brought Josh (guitar) & Ben (bass) with him. These guys can do anything musically – they’ve been playing together in some form or other for 10+ years. I consider myself very lucky to have found them. It has been a challenge for them as the music is a bit more funky than their rock background is used to (apart from Ben) yet they’ve completely risen to it.
Describe your music making process?
This is ever evolving. As it started out with just one person the challenge is to introduce enough creative freedom for everyone without losing the identifying characteristics of the sound. We’ve not yet written a full batch of material together so the process at the moment is we all work on ideas in our own time and throw them into the mix as and when. If one takes, we develop it further as a group. This is also how we brought the pre-existing tracks out into a live setting. The crucial thing for us is maintaining honesty within the group. Everyone has veto power if something just isn’t working.
There’s a whirl of samples in your music, how do you find them? Are they starting point of the songs, or decoration?
Sampling is so integral to the way we make music that it has become both a songwriting aide and a means of orchestration. Sometimes a sample becomes the inspiration for an entire track and at other times a beat or a riff could be the basis. There’s always a phase of orchestration whether its with samples, synths or live instruments – that’s the fun bit. The samples come from a wide range of sources. We’ve amassed a library over many years of trawling through vinyl, cassettes, the web and recording our own sounds for later use. I often sample stuff I recorded years ago – its highly economical. Sometimes people even send us their own music to sample, which is a lovely thing to do. The hunt for samples becomes a bit obsessive over time – I’ve got a number of family members involved.
Do you consider yourself an ‘electronic’ band? Is there a genre that fits what you do?
This is a tricky one. The drums, bass,  guitar, synths and sample triggering are all performed live on stage. We may use a few more electronic and computer based instruments in a live set than your average band but we don’t use a click track. We prefer to keep some spontaneity in the performance. In brief we’re probably more electronic in the studio and less electronic on stage.
As for a genre classification it has been difficult to pin this down both for us and people who listen to us. We’re not entirely comfortable with trip-hop or downtempo but those labels seem to be the closest fit for the moment. If you have any ideas let us know.
Your website says that you “reflect important truths and convey positive messages”, that’s pretty weighty stuff – what ‘truths’ are reflected in your songs?
Some of our songs do reference facts and others are intended to be more inspirational. On our first EP (and a firm favourite in our live set) Oil-Powered Machine highlights humanity’s escalating addiction to fossil fuels that are dwindling fast. The speech used in the track highlights the absurd amounts of fossil fuels used in the processes of industrial agriculture.
Our previous single Mr President, We’re In Trouble reflects on the emptiness of relentless consumerism in western society. Using snippets from a 1979 ‘state of the union address’ from then president Jimmy Carter the narrative suggests that we’ve collectively allowed the qualities that matter most to us as human beings (family, community, love, etc) to become subordinate to the desire for profit. This is arguably even more true today than it was when the speech aired.
Blinding Light is more about conveying a positive message and sharing personal experience. It was written & recorded just weeks after my mother died last year and is dedicated to her. This narrative is about standing up for what you believe in, overcoming your own internal obstacles and finding strength in solidarity with others. We usually close our live set with this one as it is arguably the most positive.
Is it important for artists to have a ‘message’?
We can only speak for ourselves, not for other artists. For us it is important to reflect how we see the world and the issues that are pertinent at this time in human history because that is what we see when we look at the world. Music is many things to many people; entertainment, protest, observation, a weapon, a joke, a comment, confession, etc. What we have come to realise is that music can be a powerful tool for opening hearts & minds.
What Fold do is a continuing experiment. Music has been de-politicised in recent years. The received wisdom is that politics turns people off. So we’re trying to see if we can make music that is overtly political – without aligning ourselves to specific parties, policies or campaigns – that has a very clear message and is designed to make people think but does not make people feel lectured to or preached at. Its a constant balancing act and something we are acutely aware of. We know we don’t always succeed and developing language that gets through to people is a long term commitment. In the early days the music was much more dense with speech samples but we realised it was too much to absorb. It may be good to challenge your audience but if you alienate or overwhelm them with your message then that kind of defeats the purpose.
Most of all we feel it is important to ask questions and open up a dialogue about the state of the world. JFK (care of legendary speechwriter Ted Sorensen) puts it better than I ever could: “men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable – especially when that questioning is disinterested – for they determine whether we use power, or power uses us.” Through our music we are questioning the powers that be and encouraging others to do the same.
You say that “the core of [our] music is a fundamental belief that equal societies are better for everyone”, how does belief in equality manifest itself in your music? How is it represented?
Although the subject of equality is not addressed directly in all of our tracks it informs and influences us at every stage. When Jimmy Carter points to the prevalence of worshipping ‘self-indulgence and consumption’ on Mr President, We’re In Trouble the belief that equal societies are better for everyone is implicit. In A Revolution of Values Dr Martin Luther King Jr reflects that “all across the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.” We feel it is important to project a positive future wherever possible. People need to see that there are alternatives to the way society is structured and some of those alternatives might be preferable to what we have now.
On We Must Speak again we borrow Dr King’s words to highlight the importance of speaking out against injustice. The context of the original speech was urging people to join him in speaking out against the war in Vietnam, emphasising an understanding that despite a declaration of war the Vietnamese are people, not enemies. Putting it more eloquently he says “no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
On our latest EP the poet Mr Gee addresses a number of issues around racial and cultural inequality encouraging an effort to improve our understanding of each other. Passing Strangers is specifically about immigrants living in the UK and how a misunderstanding of cultural differences can lead to prejudice and hatred. Again the emphasis is on breaking down barriers so that everyone can be treated as equals in society.
What are your gigs like?
Although the music is downtempo we put a lot of energy into it and we play loud. What always seems to strike people is that they’re seeing a reasonably familiar rock line up on the stage (drums, bass, guitar & keyboards) and then hearing something totally unexpected coming out of the speakers. The most unconventional aspect of our set up is the absence of a front man. All of the vocals are speech sample based so there is no natural focus on the stage. In order to mitigate this and to create a more immersive experience we’ve added a layer of video projections that illustrate each of the tracks. We’ve started getting a little more theatrical too recently adding in a bubble machine (taking inspiration from The Flaming Lips) to keep things interesting. We tend to keep banter to a minimum as it feels more appropriate for the set somehow.
What’s next for the band?
We released an EP on Monday (Oct 28) in collaboration with the poet Mr Gee. It consists of four tracks written around recordings of his poems. We’re currently busy promoting and gigging around that release – Blueberry Hill Studios in Leeds this Saturday is the next live date. Over the next few months we’ll be working on a new batch of material with an eye towards an album. We’re looking to inject a little more humour into it overall and we may even end up using a Douglas Adams lecture (his very last one in fact) as the basis for a large portion of the tracks.
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