It’s been 35 years since The Scientists have released an album, but just one listen of their new studio album Negativity proves that the long wait was well worth it.
The 11-track release stays true to the band’s style of deranged swamp-rock with a modern twist thrown in. The Scientists’ new album dropped today and you can stream it here.
To celebrate the release of the new tunes from both artists, they’ve teamed up for an artist on artist chat where they discuss frustrations in the music industry, their musical blocks and who their artistic inspirations are.
Check out the chat between The Scientists’ singer-guitarist Kim Salmon and JP Shilo below:
KS: Now you sing on your recordings or at least on the album I know best, ‘Invisible You’. But you are also an incredible instrumentalist. I tend to feel frustrated at being labelled a guitarist when I see myself as an artist and singer who happens to play guitar. Do you have such frustrations? How do you see yourself?
JP: Thanks Kim. Yeah, I totally get that. Funnily enough, ‘Invisible You’ is my debut as a “singer” – the other 50 or so records I have worked on before, my contributions have mainly been in instrumentalist/arranger/producer mode.
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I guess I see myself as an Experimentalist – an “Explorer”. I’ve always enjoyed making instruments not sound like they’re supposed to and getting sounds out of things that one wouldn’t normally think of. It would be self-disparaging to say that I was a “jack of all trades, master of none” – though it would still be true; I’m not formally trained in any instruments.
(On Pop Crimes, as well as the traditional bass, violin & guitar, Rowland also credited me with “general strangeness” on account of some of these techniques of creating moods and textures out of whatever I could lay my hands on at the time.)
Stepping into frontman/vocalist mode has really helped me explore my voice. I’ve always thought of the voice as the most portable instrument, (it’s the only one you don’t need to take out of its case!) and I’ve been enjoying taking it for a ride and seeing where it wants to go, or where it’s going to take me. I’m probably better recognised for offerings on guitar, but finding myself seated before the keys now also has been a great way of writing, and kind of a gateway of sorts to lots of other possibilities. I feel like I’ve helped create a lot of “memorable” records over the years but haven’t even started on what I actually want to do…(yet)- God grant me a grant!
KS: Do you have a conscious process for creating your music and lyrics? Do you have formulas that help you come up with songs and structures? Or if the process is unconscious for you are you able to talk about that at all?
JP: I only started focusing on writing lyrics a few years ago – as a dare. When I started out in Hungry Ghosts, I’d get as far as a sentence, and then I’d stop – and that would be the title. Or I would give a directive to the other Ghosts of how/what the piece was about (ie. Nothing Has To Happen) and that would stick. I guess it could be a form of lyric writing, but the words are very minimal, or even invisible.
I liked the quote of Gabriel Garcia Marquez – “Good writers aren’t always judged by what they say, but what they don’t say…” – (Maybe I took this too literally?) The title kind of felt like enough, or maybe I was just lazy. I guess when I’m playing I don’t really think in words. I mean a riff may suggest a sentence to me when I’m playing it over and over, or when I hum it, but I probably think in colours/flavours/or even temperatures. For a long time lyrics always seemed too literal, and felt like they forced a song to mean something that the music didn’t necessarily suggest to me. If I could articulate something succinctly, then maybe I wouldn’t need to make noises, I’d be satisfied with the lyrics. I also find it difficult to place a frame around a select series of words and commit to them each time – The process of writing ‘Invisible You’ has helped change that though – to name things, to list them, and turn them over and imagine them from a different context or perspective, to sprinkle meanings.
I greatly admire accomplished wordsmiths but have never really felt that skilful at using them myself. I think maybe it’s the blank canvas that also scares me off somewhat.
I enjoy wordplay and puzzles, and if a subject strikes me, I can run with it, but it’s never felt particularly natural or I haven’t had the fluency or conviction to express immediately just using words. Maybe If I stopped trying to say something the right words would come?
When I’m mixing a record, I like to doze off, and stay in that space just before getting to sleep, where I stop consciously judging or understanding sounds, and the clumsy mistakes or wrong bits seem to present themselves clearer.
I also seem to write more lucidly, really early in the morning, like if I wake up early – the words seem to pour out easier. They seem to develop lumps by the end of the day.
JP: I’ve always been fascinated by Dreams and Dreaming as a means of accessing the “deeply personal” aspects of myself – behind the “filters” of the Conscious, and use it as a source of Inspiration. Rowland (S. Howard) once remarked to me when we were discussing songwriting, that no matter what one tries to espouse in art, we are only ever the collection of our own insecurities… Do you have any tricks or triggers, or rituals or “preferred potions” to get you into the zone when creating art? (Sometimes if I’m feeling “blocked” – I take a nap.)
KS: I Try to avoid having any one particular way of creating. I don’t even wait to be inspired. ‘I just go in there’ and hope for the best and work until something does happen. I even look to be out of my comfort zone. Sometimes the result is every phrase is conscious and it’s like having a conversation with another, totally conscious version of myself. Sometimes it’s the opposite and I find myself having a conversation with my unconscious, and sometimes I end up just having a monologue come from my unconscious. Many times I’ve just sung the first thing that comes into my head when I’ve thought of a melody and then not been able to take it anywhere else… BUT it’s been a good place to take it and it has led to a very strange story.
This particular process has almost become refined on the new Scientists album Negativity. The actual process was I’d jam a drum beat and send it over to London for guitarist Tony Thewlis to make a riff .He’d send the riff to me and I swear every every lyric on that album is from the first thing that popped into my head when I started to sing a melody over the riff.
Stream The Scientists’ LP Negativity:
JP: Yeah I hear ya, I’ve got plenty of tunes that I do that for, that people probably won’t ever hear, or they just become the title… syllables & frequencies.
KS: It’s almost become a formula (if you’ll pardon the pun) which means it’s time to stop doing it that way. However this process does relate to what you’re talking about with the unconscious. On first listening to your album ‘Jubjoté’, which is amazing by the way, I get very strongly the idea of actual memories of a dream being superimposed over a highly evocative improvisation. I say this while typing my answers to your questions so I could well be superimposing my meaning on it. But that was an enjoyable process.
JP: I’m glad you enjoyed ‘Jubjoté’ – every word is true! As it occurred. That piece just wrote itself, it felt like a gift.
KS: You and I have been ‘in the biz’ for a long time(ha, me a bit longer than you). I find sometimes that I’m a bit like a mechanic with a shitty old car in that as much as I’m passionate about music, I sometimes find that I don’t have enough passion left to look outside of myself beyond surviving and thinking of new ways of staying in the game.
On top of that I teach music at a college and have to assess and be a mentor to many young musos. Outside of these things I find that unless something is put right under my nose or I have become involved in something eg. Brian Hooper’s posthumous album launch, I have little left. People can send me demos and I probably won’t listen to them. I can be told about some awesome new band and I will probably spend the night in.
Is it like this for you at all? You certainly don’t give that impression. How do you maintain your enthusiasm and inspiration for ‘the world of music’?
JP: As an introvert, I’m not really an avid concert-goer, and tend to only leave the house if I’m playing a show or working on a project. I also probably don’t have the same pressures (from being signed to a label, etc.) to have to repeatedly deliver the goods, which I can imagine is a heavy burden for any artist.
When I am actually in the midst of playing music though, and performing live, it’s a real buzz and I do just somehow feel energised by the experience, and fly.I’ve managed to travel the world and meet/work with some amazing people – all thanks to music.
I do like to inspire people, and I enjoy learning new things. I was doing a little bit of teaching in recent years at a Community school, and although there were some kids who didn’t really want to be there, I felt a connection with a few – like they trusted me to guide them. I found this quite rewarding. One particular student was very keen to learn piano, and although my skills are quite rudimentary, I managed to tune in, and taught him some simple Erik Satie pieces which are so evocative and open up the immediacy of expression.
I feel like I have so much more to learn, and exploring really keeps me inspired.
As musicians we have basically 12 notes at our disposal, and we are obliged to know and understand their relationship and combinations.
I’m making a concerted effort with my next record (after ’Jubjoté’) to acknowledge/explore this. (I don’t want to jinx it by explaining it too much beyond this – or for fear of failing miserably)… but I would really like to understand this more. That’s probably what keeps me going.
JP: When I was starting out, I always felt nervous improvising “in public” – like that was something one should do privately, or with a select few. I guess as I’ve gotten more confident in my technical abilities, I’ve learned to really enjoy “winging it”.
I can’t remember if it was Lee or Thurston who was discussing once the nature of improvisation, but what I drew from their comments was that “the Song” in that moment, is in its purest form – that by repeating/revisiting /refining it – it becomes a copy of itself, diluted/compromised or even logical somehow.
What’s your view on “improvisation”? Does this also apply to your paintings? (Some of your recent works appear to be “improvised” like “taking the line for a walk”… Do you have a preference for figurative or abstract? (That applies to both your music & visual art)
KS: I view every performance as a salvage job and I view that salvage as the act of creation. It’s what you find in the wreckage and make with it. I think the trick is to follow where this process takes you rather than trying to make a copy of some original which you’ll never successfully do. So my view is very different from what you’ve taken from Thurston or Lee’s discussion.
I kind’ve view ‘the song’ as a map or a template or just a starting point (the wreckage even). Even when a performer is trying to play exactly to the template, they’re still making it up.
JP: I guess I’ve played with both kinds of artists, some who run their entire shows off backing tracks trying to achieve some kind of consistency of vibe, regardless of what day it is, or what show you’re attending. Unfortunately it can end up sterile or trite, like imposing a vibe on a place without adapting or considering the general mood. Then I’ve played with those who completely remain open to chance, and read the room and react to it. I’m not sure which is better/more effective. I know what I enjoy more though.
I like the idea of the road map, it often feels like that for me. Like here’s where we are, there’s our intended destination, let’s hope we don’t blow out a tyre, or run out of petrol, or bust a string!… There’s always that feeling when you launch into a song that something might just give out, and you just have to hang on!
Music is such a unique Art form in that way – it only exists in the present moment, and the end of the song is not actually the destination, it’s just where it stops. Why are all the best songs so short?
KS: When it comes to art and executing it I don’t have a preference for figurative or abstract or in between, which my work is increasingly dwelling in. I find increasingly that I’m just going where the paint takes me.
KS: What kind of qualities do you look for in the people you collaborate musically with? Are they musical skills, certain philosophical alignments, appearances, stylish clothes, skills outside of music? Do you think about these things?
JP: I guess Openness is the key factor. If I’m employed as a Producer, I’ll question why someone specifically wants to work with me. If it’s just to make something sound like something I’ve done, that doesn’t really interest me… I like the working relationship to be one of mutual discovery – that’s true collaboration. I like a playful attitude, as though we were both approaching something with a sense of exploring where it can take us, beyond either of our expectations.
Music is such an odd Art form in that often we are collaborating with another Artist, distinct from the solitary pursuit of writing or painting for example, and if it’s too lop-sided, as in one of the participants is just imparting their style, and you’re just playing along with their ideas, that doesn’t seem to work as well as the ones where you feel free to throw each other curve balls and react to them. A good/ideal collaboration should have that conversational quality, rather than just waiting for your solo, or interrupting each other’s monologues. Obviously, skills outside of music feed this relationship. I like people who have their own thing going on, but who are also very open to listening… All that said, I’m a sucker for a fancy shirt.
JP: My Uncle David (who sadly passed away a few years ago) was a painter (in fact it is one of his paintings that I chose to be the cover of my very first record – ‘HUNGRY GHOSTS’).
David was one of my greatest inspirations and influences from a young age, and probably the catalyst for me realising I had no other option in this lifetime, than to be an artist. Did you have any particular person/s who triggered or inspired your path in Art? (… and what was your very first record that you released?)
KS: Ah yes I know this painting and love it! It’s very iconic now. I think it must have always had that quality however. A very good choice for your first album cover!
JP: Thanks, he really was a fine painter, and there are so many more of his works the world hasn’t seen yet. Funny you say “iconic” – that particular canvas (I found out later) was based on a mosaic from Pompeii – he was enjoying the iconic nature of those images almost floating in space, giving the subject an almost hyper-symbolic quality, like an emblem…
I often get inspired by paintings and images and try to create their soundtrack.
KS: The world of paint and lines began for me perhaps before I could talk.
My mum presented me with a tin of watercolour paints when I was about three. I didn’t even have a concept that it was a gift for me. She showed me how to use the water to free the paint and how to put the paint on the paper. I remember it vividly! It was suddenly thinking something like “wow! You can say stuff with this” in other words I realised it was a language. I then realised the paintbox was mine. My mum says I didn’t talk till I was three but had always made my intentions understood. She says when I did start to talk I was talking properly. That’s her story anyway…but I like it!
JP: Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.
KS: Anyway the world of art has fascinated me ever since and there have been many many artists who’ve inspired me but I couldn’t point to one in particular.
KS: I’ve arrived at the idea that lyrics are never more than a list, be it a list of examples of a concept or a list of events to form a narrative, a list of proofs… I could go on….
What do you think of this idea? Can you come up with an example to disprove this idea?
JP: Yep, you may very well be right.
Or just a bunch of one-liners strung together with a common thread, (though isn’t that comedy?) Beefheart is great at these, but he’s also good at painting with words. Not telling you something, but showing you something. I do prefer these types of lyricists.
I’m still learning/marvelling at how lyric writers make it work. The really skilled ones seem to lead you somewhere without telling you directly. I guess that’s when your choice of things you list can become poignant.
I’m into animal noises, bird songs and even foreign languages, for their musicality, outside of a literal meaning. Syllables and frequencies. It’s such a weird combo, the voice can be so expressive and impart such a range of feelings without even saying words, just through screeches and moans… or words can be said or sung, but depending on how, they can alter the meaning. Lou Reed was good at expressing something really personal in a dispassionate way, and conversely – something seemingly meaningless or shallow – full of passion. But then that probably says more about his perverse nature.
JP: I’ve always kept a visual diary and love drawing but never really shared the contents publicly (except for the cover of the second Hungry Ghosts LP – ‘Alone, Alone’ – where I felt it summed up a concept succinctly in pictorial form.)
You mentioned earlier that you see yourself as an artist and singer who happens to play the guitar. What comes first? (Or is it interchangeable? Do they feed each other?) Do you use any of them therapeutically or are they merely forms of expression/entertainment/communication?
KS: Ha Ha! All of the above. I practically live out of my journals! I’ve been calling them The Book of Swamp for the past few years. But I’ve always had them. I draw in them, I write lyric sketches in them and I have untold setlists in them. I never follow the setlists chronologically, rather I just use each repertoire as a trigger to ‘call’ the songs to whichever band I’m singing with. I do scripts for my Instagram and facebook ads, I do poster ideas and once again just draw. Most of the lyrics don’t get used – ha!Ha! I tend to write those off the bat on scraps of paper or not write them down at all. But do I work and live out of these journals and all this might appear to have a practical function, BUT, going about my work in this way which is spontaneous and semi unconscious IS my therapy I believe.
The Scientists album Negativity dropped today via In The Red Records. JP Shilo’s Jubjoté is due out June 25 via Heavy Machinery Records.