Melbourne’s EXEK create beautiful, atmospheric post-punk-dub-krautrock magic. Their third LP released last year Some Beautiful Species Left (out on Anti Fade Records) takes you on an epic musical journey, from dystopian soundscapes through to poppy hooks. We interviewed EXEK creator Albert Wolski.
Why is music important to you?
ALBERT WOLSKI: It provides content. Filling up the gap between the ears. But it’s crazy how you can feel music too, and not just the low-end rumble in yr guts. But also across your skin. What a wild sensation! The French have a word for that – Frisson.
What inspired you to start making music yourself?
AW: Probably for the reason stated above. If music can be so powerful, then why not try your hand at creating some. What you create doesn’t have to be everyone’s bag, but some might like it.
Your background is in film and sound design; could you please share with us one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?
AW: Sam Dixon’s short film Dancing Goat was a lot of fun. He had someone else doing the sound and they just played it way too straight for him. Sam realised he needed something a bit more surreal and fantastical. So we did some experimenting, like creating the voices for satanic goats and some other wildlife that lived off-screen. I remember that Selma’s pet Iguana Jub Jub was our inspiration. As a side note, Sam is currently working on our next clip. Since he’s jobless due to Covid-19 the clip will probably be done pretty soon!
How does your film work influence what you create with EXEK? Your songs are incredibly atmospheric.
AW: Thanks! I studied a lot of film scores at uni. I ended up writing my honours thesis on Mica Levi’s Under The Skin and Howard Score’s Videodrome. With both those films, it’s often hard to discern what is the score and what sounds are part of the film. I loved that ambiguity of treading the border of what is classified as ‘music’. I try to apply that concept to EXEK, by using field recordings and odd instruments. But more so, it’s all about depth and creating ambience. Utilising the spacial field, by having some sounds deep in the distance under what’s up close and dominant.
What was the inspiration behind the title of your latest album, Some Beautiful Species Left? It seems to really be in the spirit and themes of the albums tracks.
AW: It’s a lovely sentence isn’t it? The message can be viewed as being pessimistic or optimistic. That was the major draw card. I like to leave it up to the audience. And obviously the title gels well with the concepts discussed in the songs. I suppose it’s kinda a grim record. It’s about not being in control, with elements in your life coming and going. Like waves. Or species. Coming and going. Becoming extinct. And then the fires hit! It felt odd having our album launch in Melbourne, with the album called Some Beautiful Species Left, when there were all these add campaigns everywhere about the massive amount of species that just got annihilated.
You wrote the songs for the record and produced it; what was your initial creative vision for it?
AW: This record began by messing around with a bunch of drum beats whilst making another record. They were initially on the ‘cutting-room’ floor but I liked them so I quickly fleshed out some bass lines, and that’s how the record came about. The record that we were recording is yet to be released. It’s taking a while but I’m happy with the progress.
How did the albums opening track “Hobbyist” develop?
AW: Yeah pretty much just mucking around with a beat. The beat is quite imperfect – as in it folds over and starts again at odd times and doesn’t align with the bass. But it works in an unsettling way. I think it’s my favourite song off the album. It’s got a solid groove that sets the pace for the following tracks. Actually, most of the drums for the record were developed in a similar way. I would beat box the rhythm I had in my head to the drummer, and we’d figure out how to scribe it on a kit.
Why did you go with “How the Curve Helps” for the albums close?
AW: Funny how I mentioned that the album’s title was so strangely relevant during the bushfire catastrophe. And now, the title of this track seems to be so pertinent in regards to the current crisis of Covid-19. Spooky. Anyway. I can’t remember why it’s the closer. There must have been a reason for it. I usually don’t just chuck songs on a record in any old sequence. I find the sequence is very important. An album is like a canvas; all the tracks and instruments need to work together for the common goal. But yeah, can’t remember why, sorry, ha.
Is there a track on the record that was a real challenge to make?
AW: Yeah, “Curve” was a bit of a bitch actually. It took me a while to structure the ending. It needed a bit of a journey. The song’s about how life on earth if affected by what happens out in space, like tidal shifts for example. So it took me a while to shape how the song retreats and slowly eases back in. Several instruments build up and finally develop a bit of a melody. And the piano has a melody that reflects the main synth theme from the first half of the track. And then it ends with the sound of something so innately boring, which is a TNT courier backing up the driveway at my work.
How developed are your ideas before they are committed to a written form?
AW: Half baked. I like to allow things to happen organically. For example, I’d have a part of a track lined up that I know is going to be a guitar line or a synth line. I’d plug everything in and press record without knowing what I’m going play. 90% of the time, it’s the first take that ends up being what you hear on our records. Same goes for when Jai [K Morris Smith] records guitar, or [Andrew] Brocchi does synth. Sometimes they’ve barely heard the track and I’ll get ‘em in, press record, and capture their first impressions. It’s different with lyrics though. I stew on them for years. I can’t fathom how a freestyle rapper’s mind operates. Or hearing how Noel [Gallagher] wrote the last verse for “Shakermaker” in the cab on the way to the studio to record it. Sure, they are garbage lyrics, but suit their music so well.
What sparks your lyrical imagination?
AW: Science. Hard science and the social sciences. There’s a lot of material out there in those fields with interesting words and concepts that haven’t really been rinsed by lyricists yet. So it gives us a point of difference. Ah, this is kinda interesting. So we’re currently working on the next album. I wrote all these lyrics for it ages ago, most of them were written whilst I was on holiday in Europe in 2017. For some reason they’re all about pathogens, and dodgy markets in odd places around the world, and currency fluctuation. I might have to change all that now! I don’t want the next record to appear to be a ‘Covid-19 Sessions’ or some dribble. It’ll have to take a few generations for credible songs about Covid-19 to pop up. No one wants to hear that shit right now. In 50 years’ time it might be interesting, to channel what it was like to live in an era where some guy got sick cos he ate an animal he shouldn’t have eaten, and then the whole world literally got turned upside down.
Do you need solitude or have a preferred time of day to write?
AW: I enjoying walking. Doing something whilst writing is great to get the blood flowing, and walking is perfect. The shower is good too, but near impossible to retain ideas.
Does the instrument you use affect the writing of the melody in your songs?
AW: Na, it’s the opposite. The melody affects what instrument will be used. By their very definition, the instruments are the tools. And you need the right tool for the job! ; )
I understand that all of your music gets fed through a Roland Space Echo; how did you first come to using it? What do you love most about it?
AW: Ha, not all of it, but a fair chunk. I don’t run much compression, so the space echo is good to just colour instruments with a bit of tape warmth, even if I’m not using the echo or delay on it. Something like a synth needs to be fed thru some tape. The Space Echo is a great tool at creating atmosphere. Every delay reflection rolls off some higher frequencies and gets duller and duller. Can’t remember my first use. I bought a busted one for real cheap and sent it to Echo Fix on the Central Coast in NSW. They made it fit and working again. Great service, highly recommended.
Do you ever go back and listen to your records?
AW: Nah. But sometimes I enter a shop or something, and I think to myself, “oh this ain’t bad, I know this”, and one more second later I realise its EXEK.
What do you do to nurture your creativity?
AW: Watch a lot of films, and listening to a wide variety of music. Read too. And podcasts ain’t bad. Primarily it’s finding new music. Been on a heavy funk and soul trip for the past couple of years. Even though I guess we are technically a ‘post-punk’ band, I rarely listen to post-punk.
What are you working on now?
AW: LP4! It’s written, and mostly recorded. Some songs are done! And they sound killer. I hope you like it.