Indifferent Engine Q&A
The penultimate gig I attended before lockdown was an event at 'The Smokehouse' here in Ipswich put on by the engaging, enthusiastic Adam Paul, lead singer with Cambridge band Indifferent Engine. An excellent bill also featuring Cambridge's metalcore band Far From Refuge, the stoner rock stylings of Hitchin's Bad Medicine, Ipswich's NWOBHM influenced Kursk and Cambridge's death metal duo Dreadbeggar, Indifferent Engine impressed with their visceral performance including vintage computer and TV screens, noisy, impressive post-hardcore tuneage and Adam's hyper-active dynamic performance. He spoke at the gig of a number of similar gigs he was trying to organise countrywide, which of course were 'kiboshed' by the whole COVID thing. However, Indifferent Engine have used the time to produce their third excellent EP 'Canis' and Adam has very kindly answered some questions about the EP and Indifferent Engine below.
1) Hi Adam, Guys, thank you for taking some time out to answer a few questions. First off, for those readers who might not be familiar with Indifferent Engine, could you give a short history of the band?
So, Indifferent Engine started as my solo project. I’d been trying to get an originals band together for a while, got fed up waiting and decided to just write and release my own material from the bedroom. Everything from my first album ‘Point Cloud’ all the way up to ‘5-12-K’ was done that way. All the while I’d been trying to get the project off the ground as a band for about 3 years but hadn’t managed to find the right people. Then, just after 5-12-K came out I met Ellis (guitar), and then all the pieces just kind of fell into place very quickly - Alex (bass) and Ali (drums) came on-board very soon after. Within a few months we had a full line-up and were out playing shows.
2) Who would you say were the main influences on Indifferent Engine?
At The Drive-In are a big influence for us, These Arms Are Snakes, Thursday, Touche Amore, Devin Townsend, Cardiacs - I know Ellis is really into Tool. Also a good helping of being pretentious helps us out, I think.
3) 'Canis' the new EP was recorded over the last year or so. How was recording it in these strange times? Did Covid present any particular challenges to putting it together?
Yea, so we originally had a studio session booked in May to record with the producer Tom Hill (of Modern Rituals and Absentees). Our friend James Stelzer (of Funeral Parlour fame) put us onto Tom from when they recorded their EP, which sounded really good. I’m really anxious about going into other peoples studios, but talking with Tom made me feel calm about the whole thing. Things didn’t work out, however. That session got cancelled due to the pandemic and we had no idea how long it’d be until we could get into the studio. So, we decided to make our own plan to get the thing done. It was a shame because whilst I hate being in the studio, I thought we’d found a more chilled place where I could be comfortable tracking. I was also really looking forward to learning a lot from working with Tom, but maybe that’s for a future project. We also had this whole scheme to track almost everything “live” as a band - we’re a much better live band than we are a studio band, so we wanted to capture that. We couldn’t really do that with how things shook out, so again I think that’s a plan for another day.
4) 'Canis' is your third EP - following 'Pyramids' and 'Proxima' - do you feel it's a 'step on' from those EPs? Did you approach anything differently in writing and recording this EP?
It’s hard to nail down the nature of it, but I think Canis is very much a step-on. Pyramids and Proxima were both written and recorded as my solo project, before the band existed in its current form. Everything on those earlier releases was done out of necessity - I sang because there was nobody else to do it, I programmed drums because there was no drummer. I’m still pretty green at songwriting and singing, so there were a lot of things that didn’t come out as I hoped with those releases. Canis is the first release as a real, battle-tested band so that naturally takes things in a different direction. Overall I think the sound is a little more focused. We now own the energy that we’re putting out because we know we can go out live and produce that energy in the real world. I think that adds some authenticity that was previously lacking.
5) Am I right in thinking that the title of the new EP is taken from the genus name for the family of animals that contains wolves, dogs, coyotes and jackals? Was there any reason why you decided to call the EP 'Canis'?
Kind of. For me the songs are always written in an abstract way, we generally only connect meaning with the songs or releases as a whole after the fact. There’s no one meaning, it’s for people to project themselves onto it. With that said, what I think about when I listen to the tracks is that the EP feels like it’s about education, childhood development and the development of the individual. The title ‘Canis’ came from a Latin phrase ‘Canis est in horto’, which is pretty much the first phrase you’re taught if you study Latin as a child. So, it just makes me think of being frustrated in a dusty old classroom. A lot of the lyrics for me are about how the path your life will take is made in deals cut by politicians and other powerful groups that has nothing to do with your own individual strengths or interests - unless you happen to have some strength that aligns with the prescribed curriculum, testing and school environment, then your pretty much done for. For me the stand out track in that imaginary canon is ‘Tachikoma’. The title of that track comes from the Ghost in the Shell series - the Tachikoma are heavily armoured AI military robots, but they have these kind of hyper-active, child-like personalities that to me seem incongruous with their intended purpose. For some reason that makes me think about school - about how what we’re taught in the classroom doesn’t really relate to the realities of life beyond education or our own individual purpose or talents. It’s just this cultural norm that exists so that parents can go out to work, pay their taxes and keep the whole charade of civilised society spinning on its axis.
6) Where did you record the EP? Was it somewhere where you had recorded before?
The EP was recorded in a derelict farm house on the Fens. The building was all stripped out and was scheduled to be demolished the following week - we spent the Friday converting a couple of rooms into a make-shift DIY studio and recorded the tracks over the weekend. We had the live room for the drums in the master bedroom with some duvets and curtains duct-taped up in a vain attempt to improve the acoustics. The control room we set up below in the kitchen. We pulled up some floorboards and hammered a hole in the ceiling of the kitchen to run the multicore between the two rooms and that’s how the thing was done. I believe the power company was coming out to cut off the electricity on Monday so it was a do or die thing. Now that it’s done, I like that we got it done in that way. I’d talked a fair bit with Alex about what sound we were going for, and I think somehow through those discussions I settled on a DIY ‘coming-off-of-a-broken-cassette-tape-deck-turned-all-the-way-up’ vibe. We made extensive use of a real tape-echo unit and at mix-time I used an old portable cassette player with one of those car tape converters to run tracks from the DAW through the cassette players preamp to burn in the colour of the cassette player into the tracks. I combined that with the waves tape deck sim on pretty much every channel. Most of the feedback we got was that people liked the songs but hated the production - I don’t think they really got it. Or, maybe I might have overdone that aspect of it! But meh, we’re happy with it. So, whatever. Also I like that, with where we recorded, the whole EP is forever coloured with the sound of a place that no longer exists.
7) You've also put a video together for one of the tracks on the EP - 'Tachikoma'. Are making videos something you enjoy?
Yes, though that was Alex’s baby. I reckon it came out really well - the video is the best part of the whole EP!
8) Is there one particular track on the EP that may be a favourite?
Tachikoma. It has a high energy messed up anxiety that goes some way to showing what we do live and it conjures a lot of images from my childhood that allows me to emote when I sing it.
9) Your communications and posts are always preceded by a phrase contained in brackets with each word separated by a double colon in a distinctive fashion. Are all these phrases lyrics within your songs - I did recognise one or two - or are some of these phrases taken from elsewhere?
Sometimes they’re lyrics, sometimes they’re quotes, sometimes they’re just random lines of non-sense we’ve dreamt up. We’re not big fans of social media. A lot of social media content from bands follows a sort of cookie-cutter approach where every other post is “happy birthday to our guitarist” or a meme or something. We would rather people came out to shows and stick around to chat afterward - get connected with us that way. But the reality is that we have to promote on social media whether we like it or not - no social media usually means a promoter won’t book you for shows. Though, that doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way to follow the band-socials-formula and be bland with it. So we always put some attempt at evoking some interesting thought right at the start of every post. The style makes it stand out more, separates it from the post content and - once you’ve seen a few - you instantly recognize it as a post from us.
10) The current situation has prompted bands to try alternative ways of reaching their audience - livestreams etc. Do you think bands will continue to carry on with these methods if we return to some sort of semblance of normality? Do you think the way bands reach out to their audience has changed forever now?
For me it’s difficult to talk about those sorts of issues with any integrity because our audience is so very small. I don’t want to sell this impression that we usually play to packed rooms or have lots of hits on our videos and therefore have a finger on the pulse of the music industry. That just isn’t the truth in any way - before the pandemic we regularly played shows to mostly-empty rooms and we can go for weeks without a single play on our Spotify. So, I’m not sure I have the frame of reference to give a meaningful answer or make any predictions about the future of music or how bands will reach their audience. We just hope that the live scene comes back up in quick fashion once things are safe and that our new release lands us some cool shows. If a few more people turn up to see us then that’s pretty much the dream right now.
11) What do you think of the local band scene at the moment? Are there any bands local to you in Cambridge and bands from further afield in the post-hardcore scene that you'd recommend?
It’s funny because we are from Cambridge (myself and Ellis both live just outside of Cambridge) but we’ve never played a single show in Cambridgeshire. There just doesn’t appear to be a scene for this kind of music around these parts. We don’t consider ourselves a local band at all but, if we had to choose one place to consider our local scene, it’d be down around Hertfordshire way. There’s a much better scene down there than here - Hitchin, Baldock, Stevenage are a hotspot. There’s a lot of really cool bands that help each other out and look out for one-another. And some supportive venues - there’s no scene without them. When it comes to how we fit into the scene - I think we’re a little unusual in our style - we’re on the punk end of post-hardcore, where-as most bands seem to be on the more metal end of that spectrum. Closer to what we do, I’d recommend Sharkteeth Grinder if you haven’t seen them - but they have to be seen live. Don’t watch or listen first, just go to their show completely blind.
12) And finally, do you have any future plans at present for Indifferent Engine?
We have some tentative ideas for a new EP - Ellis has a lot of really good ideas that we’re keen to develop. I’m also keen to take a step or two back from writing and try a more organic approach for our next release. Outside of that we just want to get out and play shows again, I think that’s what every musician wants right now.