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Singer-songwriter and musician Xan Tyler speaks to Adrian Janes about her new album 'Clarion Call' upon which she has collaborated with dub pioneer Mad Professor.
Xan Tyler has worked as a singer since the 1990s, as a member of several bands (most notably Technique, who had a couple of minor chart hits). But she also collaborates with well-known producers such as Timo Maas and Kramer, releasing the album 'Songs We Sang in Our Dreams' with the latter last year. It reflects her genre-agnostic approach to music making, with recordings that range from synth-pop to EDM to folk to reggae.
A circle of sorts has now been completed in her latest collaboration with renowned dub producer Mad Professor. The pair first came together as part of Mission Control (along with fellow Technique member Kate Holmes). In 2000 they released ‘Dub Showcase’ on In Dub, a subsidiary of Alan McGee’s Poptones label.
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Xan about their renewed partnership on the new album ‘Clarion Call’ and its lyrical themes and her very varied musical tastes and future projects.
Pennyblackmusic: You have worked in genres as diverse as electro, folk and reggae. Is this because of a low boredom threshold or more a case of taking opportunities that came your way?
Xan Tyler: I am never bored. I am lucky that I've had so many great opportunities come my way, but I don't say yes to everything. When I was younger, I said yes to a few things I didn't really believe in, but it's not something I would do now. It's got to feel right, and I've got to love it. It’s also got to work for my songwriting and voice – I always want to be writing lyrics that mean something to me. I listen to all sorts of music, and I like to make music that reflects that.
PB: This diversity suggests that your influences must also be quite eclectic. Is that true?
XT: Yes, definitely. I just like music that’s good, irrespective of genre. In terms of influences, I go to different people for different things: Dusty Springfield for her voice, Frazey Ford for soulful, folky bluesiness, Anais Mitchell for her storytelling, Ane Brun for her amazing covers (a brilliant writer too), Townes Van Zandt & Leonard Cohen for their lyrics (lately). For throwing my arms in the air: Donna Summer, Dawn Penn, Candi Staton, Roy Ayers, The Beat. Then there’s The Staple Singers, Eagles, Be Good Tanyas, Wailin’ Jennies for harmonies….I could go on, but we'd be here a LONG time.
PB: Your collaboration with Mad Professor on ‘Clarion Call’ is a reunion after ‘Dub Showcase’ in 2000. Was that album viewed as a one-off, or did you expect to work together more at that time?
XT: At the time, we had no massive expectations with Mission Control; we just wanted to make an album. Mad Professor and I have always kept in touch, so he asked me to write something for him. Silver & Gold was the resulting song. He doesn't swear much, but his response to the demo involved an expletive in his description of how good he thought it was…..always a good sign.
PB: What has led to the new album so many years later?
XT: Well, that first demo was so well received we thought we better keep going and eventually, we had an album. Covid has got in the way a bit, but we’re really happy to be finally getting it out there.
PB: How would you describe the main themes of its songs? Did the two of you discuss them much?
XT: The main themes reflect what was on my mind when we started the project (and hasn’t changed much): social injustices, a need for unity and hope, exasperation at populism, etc. We weren’t setting out to make a protest album, and I wouldn't call it that, but reggae has a long tradition of songs that call for passionate resistance and change. We felt these lyrics sat well with each other. It just came together.
PB: Working with such a distinctive producer, was it a matter of recording your part and then simply trusting him to do his?
XT: I love recording at Ariwa – it’s a timeless place. The vibe hasn’t changed in the 20 years I've been going, and I feel quite at home there. Working with an analogue producer is really different to digital. What you end up with is a much more ‘live’ feeling recording, ‘cos you’re aiming for whole vocal takes. Prof mixes quite a lot while you’re laying stuff down and between takes. So the rough mixes you end up with at the end of the session are pretty close to the end result. He is a legend, and I trust him completely to come up with an amazing mix – he always does.
PB: Now that there is the prospect of gigs returning, are there any plans to tour ‘Clarion Call’?
XT: There’s nothing in the diary, but we will be up for it if there's a demand.
PB: What prompted your move from London to Fife? In terms of a career, does it matter much nowadays where a musician is located?
XT: I moved to Scotland 15 years ago because I fell in love with a Scotsman. We’ve lived in a few places but got to Fife 3 years ago – I love it here. No, it doesn’t really matter where you live nowadays. I can record at home or get to a train station or airport with very little effort. There’s an amazing music scene in Scotland anyway.
PB: If you had an entirely free choice, which other artists or producers would you want to work with?
XT: Hmmm, free choice? I’ll have a duet with Thom Yorke, Aldous Harding, Mark Lanegan or Agnes Obel. I’ll start a three-part harmony group with Rachel Sermanni and Jolie Holland. I’ll have some production off SAULT, Ethan Johns, David Roback and Dan Carey. Thank you very much.
PB: What recording projects do you have in mind for the immediate future?
XT: I've just received a grant from wonderful Creative Scotland and have begun work on a new album. I’m working on it with Boo Hewerdine and Mark Freegard. It's already taking shape – VERY excited about that. I also have a second Glasshouse EP to finish (started during lockdown), and I'm working on some songs with Jonathan Brown (aka Dusty Stray), which might turn into an album (if not an EP). A few other projects are bubbling away – not enough hours in the day, though.
PB: Thank you.
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