Written by: Paul Gleason
Featured image provided by Tell.All.Your.Friends Publicity & Management
The year was 1987, and Robert Hampson and his band Loop released Heaven’s End, a record that started a maelstrom of Hampson guitar innovation that continued through 1988’s Fade Out and 1990’s A Gilded Eternity. If you were there at the time and had the good fortune to press play on Heaven’s End, you heard the glorious, driving noise of “Soundhead” and your life was changed. By the time the song was over, you were singing along with Hampson, “I hear the sound,” as he and his bandmates had engulfed you in their trippy, psychedelic, and ominous sonic life.
Loop was about sound – as mood, as beauty, as a way of life. They were a band that – on all three of their classic releases and in their live performances – were in the mix with and at the forefront of My Bloody Valentine, The Telescopes, Ride, Spacemen 3, Galaxie 500, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Swans, and Slowdive, just to name a few.
And now Hampson’s back, with a new band – and he’s making Loop music that continues his visionary mission into the heart of guitar. It’s as if 25 years haven’t passed.
But don’t call it a comeback. Array 1 – Loop’s new EP – is just as challenging, just as passionate, and just as rewarding as anything Hampson’s ever done (SEM will have a review on Monday).
Please enjoy this interview with Hampson, who’s just as generous as his music is compelling. And pick up a copy of Array 1 at your earliest convenience.
SEM: Thanks for talking us today, Robert. Last November, you formed a new Loop line-up, which plays on the Array 1 EP. Would please introduce us to the band and tell us why you chose them?
RH: Wayne Maskell plays drums, Hugo Morgan plays bass, Dan Boyd plays guitar, and I play guitar and sing.
Wayne had already joined us before Loop came to the U.S. last summer. He was the perfect candidate to become a member and my number one choice.
It seemed logical to also ask Hugo later because of their work in The Heads. They have been playing together for a very long time, and their abilities as a rhythm section were already so ingrained, it was entirely obvious to me to ask Hugo, because their chemistry was so well established. And they have been the absolute perfect choice.
I later got talking to Dan through social media, and his knowledge of Loop and his ability to already play the long-established material made him my number one choice when he offered his services.
I was already sure of everyone, and through my own instinct [I knew] that they would all fit perfectly. Really, it was formalities for everyone. It’s become a fantastic unit of people so quickly, and it continues to amaze me how well it is all working.
SEM: Did you recruit them with the express purpose of recording new material?
RH: Not initially, no. I obviously had decided to continue with the band, and finding them fitting in so well did make me start to seriously think of new possibilities. Even if I hadn’t really had those feelings of taking it further initially and making serious progressions in new material, my actual personal enjoyment of finding kindred spirits would have eventually lead us to at least trying something new behind the scenes. It was a very low key idea for me because I didn’t want to raise the expectations amongst the people who love Loop too high and then for it to fail on something I would consider to be inferior.
SEM: How long were the songs on Array 1 in gestation?
RH: I began making demos before I had even told anybody involved. I had to engage myself in that world again of seriously writing that kind of material after years and years of working on the very abstract material that was my solo work.
It’s a case of having to prove to yourself first that you could enter that world again and feel comfortable. It was with some trepidation, purely on my own behalf, I have to say. Thankfully, I seemed to tap into a new vein quite easily; it was surprising. But, I had to let it gestate initially before I went on with it. So I would say it was probably three or maybe four months of chipping away at ideas before they became more fleshed-out.
SEM: I’m curious about “Precession.” How did you come up with the idea to combine the heavy riff with the noisy drone? The combination sounds very vital and fresh…
RH: Well, if truth is to be told, it’s not a million miles away from a formula that Loop had used before or in fact the early Main work. The difference is that the drone and the riff are less subtlety blended and they have a more pronounced sonic range. They work against each other in that particular song, rather than blend seamlessly from ideas I had tried before. They agitate each other rather than follow a mutual path.
SEM: Loop made three records – Heaven’s End (1987), Fade Out (1988), and A Gilded Eternity (1990) – that are stone-cold classics. Do you feel any pressure in following them up with “Precession” and the rest of Array 1?
RH: Of course. As I mentioned before, there was bound to be quite high expectations. But I can assure you, the greatest pressure was applied by myself. In all honesty, if I hadn’t had faith in the demo versions and the initial writing process, then you wouldn’t be listening to it. I tend to have a high water mark of my own doing that can make life difficult at times. But that’s not to say that’s unique to me in any way. I’m just a hard task master on myself. It had to have something that lent itself to still having a signature but also feel it was a new direction. There was no point at any time where resting on laurels would be acceptable.
It had to have a new voice.
SEM: Let’s talk about “Coma” – a stunning drone piece. How many takes did it take to get the version that appears on Array 1?
RH: “Coma” is basically a piece I conceived for Organ. I recorded most of it at my home studio, then accentuated it with some very old instruments that I knew were at the studio from a previous session.
The only instrument on there that is not an Organ of some kind is a viola, played by a wonderful lady called Catherine, who lived locally to the studio in Scotland. She had never really played on something so dense before, but she really enjoyed the experience.
SEM: One of the many things I love about your band is your ability to make noise beautiful and meditative. How much of “Coma” and the opening of “Radial” did you compose before you recorded?
RH: I’ve already explained most of “Coma,” and the same applies to the instrumental intro and outro for “Radial.”
There are no guitars present at all on either of those sections. It’s drones from stringed instruments and bowed cymbals that I had pre-recorded. I knew I wanted to make “Radial” this way a long time before I had made the demo. So I specifically recorded these sections with the intro and outro idea in mind.
I knew I wanted the track to slowly evolve from these sounds but then suddenly take over with a jolt.
The demo is actually pretty much the same as what you hear. The only difference is that live drums replaced a drum machine, and there are actually other textures present in the background. But the guitar takes I made for the demo are the same as the finished version, as well as the intro and outro sections being virtually identical, with the exception being that the mix is slightly different.
SEM: What role does improvisation play?
RH: It varies. Obviously, in a live context, it can play an important part on various older pieces that lend themselves to being able to be stretched. On the more tight, cyclical material that has greater angular sounds, it wouldn’t really work at all.
There’s plenty of it in the studio environment, either in my own studio or when the band is working together.
SEM: Sonic Youth also could make noise beautiful. Did you ever feel that Loop were in “conversation” with them, especially on their LPs Sister (1987) and Daydream Nation (1988)?
RH: Well, we obviously shared an affinity because of the nature of what the source material was. Also, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca played some part, too.
But I wouldn’t really say that it went much further than that. We came from different backgrounds and different environments, and apart from the odd vague similarity that was more accidental, I don’t think it ever went further than that.
But I was a very big fan, especially their very early work and right up to Sister.
I never really got into Daydream Nation; I’m not entirely sure why, but I wasn’t so drawn to the record at the time.
SEM: In my opinion, the 17-minute “Radial” is one of the best things you’ve ever done – if not the best. Please describe the arrangement and what inspired it?
RH: I was deliberately aiming for a long track. I knew I wanted to create a track that had definite sections that intertwined.
But the middle section had to jar against the first and last. It had to feel like it swept in from some sort of tonal chaos and instantly announce itself as being very regimented. Of course, there are similarities to a certain motorik-based style, but I like to think it swirls more in detail. It’s like a self-contained maelstrom of textures that swathe in and around this regimented structure. So, in a way, it begins to slightly mirror the intro section, but with other instrumentation.
SEM: I know that you’re an admirer of bands like Neu!, Can, and Faust. The rhythms on “Radial” have a Krautrock feel. Did you instruct Hugo and Wayne to play in that style?
RH: Well, it all came from the demo. It was the most fully realized of all the songs that I had made demos for at my home studio. It had to be very defined in such a way for it hopefully to be successful, so that was the most fleshed-out at the early stages.
SEM: I know this is a subjective question, but please bear with me. I’ve always wanted to ask you about Loop’s impact on “shoegaze” music. What do you hear in bands like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive that indicate that they learned something from you?
RH: Ah, I don’t really ever know how to answer that. It’s not for me to say. I don’t get involved in that kind of debate. What one person hears, another won’t.
It’s nice to get name-checked by some of these bands.
But I must once again strenuously say that I have a strong dislike for “labels,” and I see no actual worth in making movements or scenes.
I always thought that came from lazy journalism back in the day.
I’m sorry, but it’s well documented that it does absolutely nothing for me. Let a band be a band on their own right.
I never wanted to part of a scene, and I certainly don’t now.
SEM: You played at last year’s Austin Psych Fest and now are releasing new music. What about Loop music connects with today’s audience and what do you hope to offer listeners who are new to the band?
RH: I can only hope that there’s been a nice opportunity for many people that never had the chance to experience Loop live: some people that weren’t quite old enough at the time. For some, it’s pure nostalgia, and it would be churlish not to appreciate that it certainly has an element of that. Initially, I didn’t entertain the idea of Loop going much further than a series of shows that purely focused on a the old material to give those people the chance to see it for the first time or simply experience it again.
It’s as visceral as it was from back in the day. From my own point of view, I think it’s actually better, and that’s purely because the sound is better due to the fact technology is better and more sophisticated sound systems can handle it now.
I hope to think it’s as tightly wound as it was, but also as fluid as it was.
The new material will now take it elsewhere, but it still retains the Loop signature. I’m still interested in keeping the live and studio sides separate and that there will be new material that is deliberately designed solely to be played as an audio piece, with no live representation ever.
The hope is to take it to new realms and to have new ideas fully realized. The climate is very very different now than to when this was originally conceived, and it’s got to be important to capitalize on that on many levels.
SEM: Thank you, Robert. It was a true pleasure to speak with you.
RH: Thank you for having me; it was my pleasure.