INTERVIEW: Bob Drake, a musical alchemist

Bob Drake's shifting pop-rock has solidified his identity as a musical alchemist.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 25th February 2017, 10:34 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th February 2017, 12:29 pm
Bob Drake. (s)
Bob Drake. (s)

But it's only one among a host of epithets: cult hero; recording engineer; multi-instrumentalist musician; and founder of Thinking Plague, to name a few.

Before he takes to a Preston stage tonight with the mysterious Bonanza Tungsten Ladies, punk band ALL HAIL HYENA! and experimental rockers Condor Moments, the LEP caught up with him to talk about song-writing, genre labels and recording tracks for Engelbert Humperdinck...

In what ways do you feel your music complements that of Condor Moments and ALL HAIL HYENA!?

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They both have animals in their names, and I do lots of songs with animals in them. And I reckon we are all a bit on the song-ey and vocal-ey oriented side of poppy rock. But those are “similarities” aren’t they? If we are talking about something “complementary”, like complementary colours, which look good together because they are different from one another, maybe we can be complementary in that I’ll just be a guy with a guitar, and they are both groups of multiple individuals with drums and bass and so on. There’s only one way to find out...

Your solo work smashes genre boundaries. How would you describe it?

It depends on which albums you’ve heard. I don’t think Arx Pilosa, for example, is “folky” at all, while I can see how one could say that about The Skull Mailbox and Other Horrors. When asked that question, I’ve always said it’s a kind of rock-pop music. It’s safe to say that because “rock” and “pop” are each incredibly vast universes, no restrictions on “what kind” of rock or pop. When I see many adjectives, “adjective-adjective-adjective-adjective-rock”, that appears very constricting.

What are your aims with your music?

Personally I love every aspect of the craft of making music, the endless learning and new knowledge and experience from playing and singing every day. I’m crazy about musical instruments as objects as well as music-making tools, love singing and learning about singing, the mystery of “the feel” in music, all of it.

I love recording gear and microphones - recording is endlessly magic. Making that space between two speakers in the mix, never get tired of that. I’m happy as a raccoon in a garbage can spending all day in a little room with some minimal recording gear and a few instruments. Song-writing and coming up with lyrics: endlessly thrilling and positive.

On the external side, I would hope the albums can be entertaining for a listener. As far as public performance, the aim is all about entertainment and connecting with the people who have come to see the show, amuse and mystify, give them something they might not see everyday. I also learn so much so quickly about playing and singing and the songs themselves when doing these shows, things which my next batch of new songs can benefit from, so that’s a good thing too.

What does it mean to you to play alongside Condor Moments after recording their music?

That’s going to be a real treat because that album of theirs is still one of my favourite things I’ve had the pleasure to work on. They’ve got great song-writing, great playing, superb vocals, funny lyrics, and of course the album sounds pretty good too! I haven’t seen a live Condor Moments show yet so I’m very excited about that.

Richy and I have sporadically been in touch over the years with the idea of trying to do a gig together somewhere. That became a lot easier when I decided to do solo shows instead of trying to put a touring band together, and when I did my first UK solo tour last year and met Greg [Brayson, AKA DJ Bik] and other helpful, enthusiastic people who have been responsible for setting up more shows, for which I am eternally grateful!

What was it like to engineer tracks for Ice Cube, Tina Turner and Engelbert Humperdinck?

This was between 1990 to 1993. The first session I did with Cube was when he was doing the “clean” version of Amerikka’s Most Wanted, and I worked on the next two or three albums and the Boyz ‘n the Hood film soundtrack, and many related projects like Yo Yo’s Make Way For the Motherlode, which was very noisy and dense, many layers of sounds, some projects with George Clinton... I didn’t answer your question yet - most of the time the sessions were at least “interesting”, sometimes lots of fun, sometimes just work. Like any on-going session. It was most productive and professional though when it was just Cube, the producer Sir Jinx, a DJ and myself in the studio.

The Ike and Tina Turner sessions were mixing sessions. A couple of guys from a record label came in with a stack of multitrack tapes and wanted them mixed. It turned out to be Ike and Tina stuff, many, many songs, including some of the classic ones. On the multi-track tapes for each song were several different guitar or bass tracks, different vocal takes, different takes of the horns and so on, each giving the track a completely different feel.

I said: "You know, I’m not sure which of these takes or even which songs they intended to use.”

And the guys said: "Oh just pick whatever ones you want and mix them however sounds good to you”.

So I did. I have no idea if that collection was ever released or what it might have been called!

Englebert - that was only one session: he did vocals on a version of Lambada... just a couple of hours work, never saw him again. I mentioned it to someone and it seems to have entered into every bio anyone’s written about me. I think it’s because they like to see Engelbert Humperdinck and Ice Cube mentioned in the same sentence!

Catch Bob at The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, tonight from 8pm to 2am. Book for £5 from See Tickets and receive a complimentary glass of bubbly and a rose on arrival. Ticket-holders will become members of the All Hail Hyena Fan Club.