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Interview with Talvihorros

img  Tobias Fischer

To many of the project's followers, the sound worlds of Talvihorros have always been a place of refuge, a parallel galaxy made up of densely layered guitarscapes, carefully placed sounds and intricately intertwined rhythmical structures. And yet, within this already deeply personal discography, Eaten Alive stands out as possibly the most intimate album so far. After spending an entire day with Fluid Radio's Dan Crossley in London on the traces of the latter's troubled past, Talvihorros mastermind Ben Chatwin forged an album based on these experiences and Crossley's memories, combining them with his own history in the city. Composed and produced in his new home and studio in Scotland, the result is a phantasmagorical mindtrip, leading the listener into a world, where even the tiniest background noise is loaded up with meaning and emotion.

In this interview, Ben speaks about the process behind the work - and how using a concrete narrative rather than more abstract production challenges as a point of departure affected his writing process.

What was East London like in the 80s?
Well to be clear, I never experienced a 1980's East London. Daniel Crossley did and shared some of these experiences with me in 2010, taking me to the locations where certain events took place. Although, I was aware of these parts quite well as I lived in East London from mid 2000 to 2012. After meeting with Dan the area became almost two places for me: the one I knew well and experienced on a daily basis and the one that I saw through Dan's eyes.

What is it like coming back to this place today?
It’s mixed to be honest – I loved living in London for a while when I first moved there. London is a great city to get absorbed in – going out, meeting new people, taking in the culture etc. It was unlike any city I had lived in before and I got a lot out of it. I played in a few bands and became active in the music scene. I spent most of the time going to see gigs or playing gigs – which resulted in perhaps drinking too much and sleeping too little. This wasn’t an issue for a while, but after a number of years it started to really get to me. I also got to see the inner workings of the London music industry which made me somewhat disillusioned with playing/making music for a while. Without realising, I slowly became depressed and anxious and felt trapped in a cycle that I couldn’t get out of.

It was around this time when I started the Talvihorros project (about 2008). This was largely born out of these feelings of disillusionment and isolation; for the first time I made music that looked inwards rather than outwards. It was a process of escaping, but also trying to understand who I am and where I fit in.

When Dan talked to me about his experiences of loss, isolation, loneliness and addiction I could relate to him. Although I don’t think my experiences were anywhere near as severe as Dan's, it seems to me that most people have experiences like this at some point in their life. It was more the universal I tried to tap into on Eaten Alive rather than trying to tell a very personal story about Daniel Crossley.

Can you tell me a bit about your day in London?
Dan got in touch saying having he wanted to spend a day showing me some areas that he grew up in. I had never met him before and knew nothing more than this, but agreed as I was a fan of what Dan had built with Fluid Radio and with the label Fluid Audio.

We drove around and I think, at first, it was a little bit uncomfortable. But Dan slowly started to open up about events in his past. He said it was the first time he was coming back to these places since he left London many years earlier and I could see it was emotional for him. It was a heartbreaking yet inspirational day; although Dan had been through a lot he had come out the other side and was now helping other people in similar places to where he once was.

He asked me if I’d like to use the day and his story as a starting point for an album. After some thought I agreed, but realised that I couldn’t make an album specifically about Dan. I don’t think I could compose like that, it would be like composing in the third person or composing for a film without images. It had to come from me, my experiences and emotions etc.

In how much do you feel as though moving away from London gave you the possibility to get a new angle from which to reflect on it?
It took me quite a while after the day I met with Dan to start composing as I needed time to process and reflect on many things. I decided I wanted to try and capture the sound of London from a single person's perspective. Tapping into the noisy, over populated, chaos and yet balancing that with a small, vulnerable individual, moving through this landscape. London is a place which I think can eat you up – trap you there, a prisoner against your will. It’s an easy place to gravitate to but a harder place to leave.

I aimed to have the album completely finished before I left London but I ran out of time and, much to my then disappointment, took all the tracks I recorded with me to Scotland to finish them off. In hindsight, I’m glad this happened as it gave me a bit of perspective both on my music and the album as a whole but also on London and my experiences there. I think it helped make the project more complete and make more sense, at least to me anyway.

Up until Eaten Alive, many of your albums dealt with current, hands-on production- and composition concepts. With the new album, the past is manifesting itself as a fertile source of inspiration for the first time. Why do you feel most of your music has so far been less related to concrete "issues"?
I think it’s fair to say that this was the first album where I looked introspectively and more at the realities of life and, as such, it’s a personal album focusing on certain events and parts of life that perhaps it’s not that healthy to focus on for too long. Musically, although I used more or less the same instrumentation as I always have - primarily guitars and synths – I consciously brought the synths to the fore and used guitars in a different way, less as the focus and more as a way to add a different dimension to the music. For the first time I also approached the electronics with a particular acknowledgement of their place in music history referencing synthesized sounds of the past. This is as opposed to using them more subtly to add texture, which is how I have normally approached electronics.

You've said that the album was particularly hard to finish compared to earlier efforts. Are you generally finding that conceptual questions are harder to overcome than the compositional and technical ones for you?
Yeah it was more in acknowledgement to Dan and what he chose to share with me – I felt like I really needed to get this right as it wasn’t only me, but Dan would have to live with what I had created, too. So I felt an added weight. In some ways it was more like a commission – I was aware that ultimately it belonged to someone else just as much (if not more) than it belonged to me. As it turned out Dan liked what I did and was very encouraging of everything I played him throughout the process.

I'm curious as to why you chose to share the background of the music this time around in the end. In which way do you feel it matters for the listening experience – and possibly enhances it?
I wondered this myself – given the conception and Dan's involvement I thought it was fair to let him decide what information was divulged, so I was happy to let him deal with the press release. From my position, I felt my job was to make music inspired by my time spent with Dan; I didn’t see it as my job to recreate the events that Dan experienced. So, in that respect, maybe people who want to know more about that should ask Dan directly.

I’m not sure if it enhances the music or not and I do wonder whether making this information known does somehow detract from the music or guide the listeners reaction more than it should. It’s hard to know either way. However, a piece that springs to mind where knowledge of external information enhances the music is 'Different Trains' by Steve Reich. Hearing snippets of interviews with concentration camp survivors certainly add an emotional heaviness to the piece.

The last track on Eaten Alive is called "Today I am Reborn". Does that mean you've managed to exorcise your personal demons in a way by recording the album?
I’m not sure about the process of recording the album – but I’m in a better place now since leaving London and I think it’s fair to say Dan is, too. It’s important to say that the main thing I got from Dan was a feeling of hope or overcoming. Things happened to him that no one should have to deal with but he did and he came through. In some ways my time with Dan was an amazingly positive experience and he inspired me to push my music into new areas. Hopefully the outcome results in my strongest album to date.

Talvihorros interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Talvihorros
Homepage: Fluid Radio
Homepage: Denovali Records