published: 16 /
The predominantly instrumental side project of Paul Fleming, the keyboard player with Echo and the Bunnymen, Baltic Fleet has just released its eponymous debut album. Anthony Strutt talks to him about it and how the bulk of tracks were written on the road when the Bunnymen were touring America
Baltic Fleet is the predominantly instrumental trance and post rock-influenced side project of Paul Fleming, the keyboard player with Echo and the Bunnymen.
On Baltic Fleet's just released eponymous debut album Paul is assisted by Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant and one-time Bunnymen and now Shack bassist Peter Wilkinson as well as various friends he has met while touring of the world.
The album was written on tour, hile travelling and sitting around, waiting to play.
Paul spoke to Pennyblackmusic about its recording and making.
PB : How did this new project come about ?
PF : I'd started a world tour with the Bunnymen, I was listening to alot of music and hanging out with Will Sergeant most of the time. I felt pretty inspired and I had a laptop with me so I started putting down some tracks.
There wasn't a plan at the start. I was just doing what I enjoyed. I was playing stuff to the rest of the lads and they were into it. When I'd recorded three tracks I put them on MySpace. From there alot of people started getting into it. I carried on recording and putting them up online. Before I knew it I had an album's worth of music and a lot of people asking where they could buy it. It was a nice natural progression.
PB : Who is in the band and how did you come up with the name ? What does that name mean ?
PF : The band is a bit of a collective. I'm playing keyboards, guitars and some bass. Then Will Sergeant played some guitar and Simon Finley plays drums. Pete Wilkinson re-recorded some of my bass lines back in London. An artist/photographer Adam Banister does all my visuals and a DJ, Lee Mills, plays and scratches samples/soundscapes on a CDJ when we play live. Baltic Fleet is a kind of creative open house if you like.
Baltic Fleet is actually a pub on the Liverpool Dock Road. It's been there a long time. There's tunnels underneath it where they used to hide sailors from being press ganged into serving in the navy. For some reason they wanted to stay and get pissed rather than sail round the world I guess. I've heard that Baltic Fleet is also the name of a pretty dangerous knife gang in Glasgow, but I'm named after the pub. I thought the name reflected the sea faring nature of what I was doing, and I was also picking up a lot of military jackets on my travels so it all seemed to make sense.
PB : How long did it take to write these tunes?
PF : The seeds of most of the tunes came out very quickly. I had short time windows to put some of them down, like in between sound checks and doors opening, or after recording a radio session.
'Black Lounge', the single, came about when we were driving on the tour bus from Barcelona to Madrid. I'd had the techs leave Will's guitar and effects on the bus the night before. I woke up at around 8 a.m. with everyone else asleep and started recording. By the time we got to Madrid it was pretty much down.
Some took longer. I put down 'To Chicago' on the bus too. Long drives across the States were good opportunities to record. When you're doing 24 or 48 hour drives on the bus, it was either sleep, watch the same DVD over and over, or record, so it was simple. I recorded a couple of newer songs at home when I got back off tour. I took all the music I recorded into the studio in London and Nick Terry put it through his 70's desk and valve outboard which brought a lot more to the mix.
PB : Why do you choose not to have any vocals other then samples?
PF : The album was just evolving. I thought of adding vocals when I finished the tour. People were asking to guest on tracks, but I was so used to them being instrumental it just felt right to keep it that way. The music I was listening to I suppose was guiding me, a lot of Eno, 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Bowie's 'Low', Neu!, 'The Virgin Suicides' and Eric Satie, so the instrumental theme was always there.
Double Door was a taxi driver taking us round Charlotte in America. He was talking politics and society and I started recording him. Things like that felt better than proper vocals. I'll bring in more lyrics and vocals as I go on. I think the music will always come first for me though. Bands like Air and Daft Punk had a big effect on me growing up and I've never felt a song has to have a vocal. I suppose I like the cinematic aspect.
PB : The album is quite trancey and has a post rock in feel. Is the end result what you had in your head to start off with?
PF : I can't remember what was in my head at the start. I just let things happen. The music was coming out in phases. When we were in Germany it was the middle of winter and I was writing a lot of dark Satie-esque pieces. The European leg of the tour felt quite cold and dark at times, through Copenhagen, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, I wasn't thinking what I was recording or writing. I don't remember seeing daylight during that time. Only a couple of tracks I recorded then made the final album. It could have been a very depressing listen otherwise. Things picked up pace with 'Black Lounge', and in America the music went in different directions. I think if I ever had an idea it was to produce an album that I would like if I heard it. I feel I've achieved that.
PB : The project is quite rock in places and quite psychedelic in others. Did being in Echo and the Bunnymen influence the project ?
PF : Yes undoubtedly . I've learned a lot from Ian and Will. They opened me up to a world of music, from the Velvets to White Noise. Spending so much time playing their back catalogue has influenced the way I write and produce I think too, as has all the time I've spent in the studio with them. For most of the guitar parts I put down I used Will's Fender Jaguar, and I tended to play Will type of lines. It wasn't contrived in that way. It was the only way i knew how to play. Having Will play on the album too, that sent some songs in a certain direction. I love what the Bunnymen are about. It just runs deeper than a lot of other music.
PB : Why did you sign to and release the album on Blow Up ?
PF : I was doing everything myself and hadn't thought about labels. Paul from Blow Up approached me after he heard the stuff on MySpace. He was so into what I was doing and really seemed to understand where it was coming from. We got on straight away. I think the first conversation we had lasted two hours, mainly talking about 'Low'. It seemed natural to go with them.
PB : Do you have any plans to tour it?
PF : I'm not sure about touring right now. We played a show in London and that was cool. Baltic Fleet is a recording project primarily, but we'll see. If people want to see it live and if it sounds good we'll do it. Right now I'm busy writing new material and planning a special one off live set in Liverpool.
PB : Final question ! You're doing a gig at the Royal Albert Hall in September in which you will be playing all of 'Ocean Rain'. Do you have any plans for the Bunnymen at the moment ?
PF : Yeah, there are usually lots of festivals around Europe to do. We've done a couple of shows this year already. I recorded an acoustic session for Sky with Ian last week which comes out soon. Other than that it's counting down to Ocean Rain which should be very special. At the moment I'm MD for that gig so that will be a great experience.
PB : Thank you.