Written by: Dave Cantrell
When Stereo Embers had the pleasure of meeting up via Skype with Colin Newman (and Graham Lewis) from Wire for a couple of interviews earlier this year, Colin happened to mention that a new Wire album should be expected in 2015 but before that, before the end of the year even, we’d be gifted with a new Githead album. A man of his word, Waiting For A Sign did in fact swim into view on all the standard platforms this past Tuesday (Dec. 9th), their first in five years and as fine a work as they’ve ever done. In fact, defying (again) the notion that age diminishes the creative mojo of a band or the artists involved, it is conceivably the best work of their now twelve year run, a fact broadly hinted at in our review. To mark the occasion and fill in some backstory behind that review, we thought it wise to return to the interview table – via email this time – with both Colin and his wife and Githead co-conspirator Malka Spigel.
STEREO EMBERS: Hi Colin, hi, Malka. Love the new album, looking forward to working up the review this week, as that means I’ll get to listen to it repeatedly and if nothing else Waiting For A Sign is exceedingly listenable, rather exquisite in that way, which leads me to wonder: According to the band’s Wikipedia page, the appearance of the band and initial EP Headgit in 2004 “surprised many,” due to this particular line-up, well, existing in the first place, and the fact it was pop (or rock)-leaning in sound rather than experimental as per Robin’s Scanner work and, I suppose, Colin’s more daring work both in the Wire context and solo. Were you as individuals inside the band surprised by the outcome as well, and do you feel a template’s been set or might future Githead projects explore less song-based landscapes?
COLIN: There’s a whole back story to this which is probably on Wikipedia but in short we (Malka and Colin) wanted to put a band together to play a swim~ label anniversary and Robin said he was interested in being in it. We tried a little rehearsal in our studio and it seemed to work well then we decided to continue beyond the one gig that was planned. I guess the simple truth was that Malka and I, before Githead’s formation, had never actually done a project in which she played bass and I played guitar so we were kind of hungry for it. During the 90’s we’d made music which was more electronic and instrumental in nature (which is how we knew Robin) but the point of the band that became Githead was that it was about guitars, bass, drums & singing (or at least talking in a vaguely musical fashion 🙂 ) We could see that there was an element of ‘transgression’ in the idea of these ‘serious’ artists making what was essentially pop and rock but to be honest we were always more interested in what might develop from the collaboration than how people classified it. What has developed over 1 EP and 4 albums is something we feel very comfortable with.
SE: On a related note: the Githead process would appear to be grounded in a collective spontaneity captured then developed in the ~swim studio. Is that essentially the case, for one, and for two has it changed in the decade since the band’s emergence?
COLIN: The very first pieces (the ones on Headgit) were done very quickly – “Reset” was both the first piece of Githead music and the start of the band. Originally it would be a case of us playing along with a drum loop or something, Malka is especially fast at coming up with ideas which invite others to play along. The whole of Headgit was done very fast and in many ways it’s defining quality is a certain kind of naivety. It remained a touchstone for the band for many years as the real ‘essence of Git’. However over the years we have found what are in some respects increasingly ‘pure’ ways to capture the band in full spontaneous creativity but in tandem have also developed the results of those captured sessions in ever more sophisticated ways. In that respect Waiting For A Sign definitely marks a high water point for Githead.
SE: Where does Githead fit in both of your creative spectra that isn’t fulfilled by your other musical outlets?
COLIN: It may seem an obvious and stupidly dumb point but it really is true that different combinations of people will produce different results. Beyond the obvious ‘official’ things we are involved in we also have other less formal things where we play with different people and it is endlessly fascinating what different combinations can produce. Certainly Githead does have some qualities not found in other places, the driving “motorik” rhythm combination between Malka & Max is is something very Githead (although never found in their older band Minimal Compact). There are also lots of little musical devices which, although not entirely exclusive to Githead, have become definite ways in which Githead material can be distinguished from other things we work on. Then beyond that you have one really big difference between Githead & Wire in that Githead tends start with a collaboration to get the basic ideas which are then developed by Malka and me into finished pieces whereas Wire works from a finished composition and develops an arrangement around that core. There are plusses & minuses for both methods but the former does seem more suited to Githead’s prevailing mood.
SE: Malka, for a number of years now you’ve dedicated much of your energy into video, photography, etc and have become an accomplished visual artist. Has that discipline noticeably bled into your writing over on the audio side of things, in terms of lyrics or sonics or both?
MALKA: For me it all comes from a similar mood, although the methods are quite different I tend to find a lot of similarities. I prefer to work very quickly in whatever medium I’m working in, I always want to have the first result before I had the chance to think about it. Then I choose & develop the ideas . I would say the only real difference between the visual work and music work is that I tend to do the visual stuff on my own whereas music is always a collaboration.
SE: Bit of a pedestrian question, I suppose, but how did the name Githead come about?
COLIN: I guess the name was the way of dealing with the problem of being expected to be some kind of worthy ‘experimental project’. It came out of a joke in an early rehearsal and we kept it because it was so stupid. Githead can be serious but is also very light & funny. You have to go back to “Headgit” to see the roots of all that, there is a very playful quality there.
[photo by Frank Lievaart]