M quizzes electronica artist Bibio on his rise from Bontempi organ to making groundbreaking records for Warp…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 16 May 2013
  • min read
This sort of hazy, musical nostalgia may have been perfected by his label mates Boards of Canada (who return themselves this year with a much hyped new album) but his latest record - Silver Wilkinson – almost out does them with its mixture of folk, electronic and hip hop informed textures and sounds.

Single À tout à l'heure' is indicative of a new album which is so warm and lovely, you almost need to don a pair of shades to listen to it. If these naïve sounding experiments can’t usher summer on, then it may well be time for us all to give up and move abroad.

The album arrives two years after its predecessor, Mind Bokeh and showcases a step forward in the musical explorations of this Wolverhampton artist. He's moving away from his more lo-fidelity beginnings into something more airy and organic. Possibly because a lot of this latest record is believed to have been written outside.

M recently spoke to Bibio about his new record, composing songs for adverts and how he learnt to make music via a Bontempi organ in the back of his parent’s car.

What’s your first musical memory?

Playing Silent Night on my brother's Bontempi organ.

How did you make the move into music making from listening to music?

It was a natural progression. I listened to music in my dad's car when I was little. I'd memorise these songs and try and work out the melodies on my keyboard. My Bontempi organ had numbers above the keys so sometimes I'd be in the car listening and try and imagine the melodies as a number sequence. Then I'd try them out when I got home.

I got pretty close. But it took a lot of trial and error as I'm no savant! I taught myself music by learning other people's music by ear. It's like a language to me, you start off with mimicry then you build up enough of a vocabulary to express your own ideas. I thought this was normal at the time, I didn't think it was a talent. I think that talent is really a deep interest in something. Maybe some people are wired up to be more tuneful and other people are wired up to be good at sport, but the interest has to be there.

Silver Wilkinson is your latest album - how has your approach to writing music evolved?

I take my time more with writing music now so it's a slower process. I tend to write demos then expand on them, sometimes completely re-recording them.

Previously, I liked to get things finished more quickly, otherwise I ended up with loads of unfinished bits and didn't know what to do with them. I still have loads of unfinished bits but I make playlists with them and anything that gets a lot of listens tends to get revamped or fleshed out.

I wouldn't say it's easier because I make it harder for myself now. I have more equipment so doing something simple like recording a guitar is more complex because I have more options. I'm more meticulous now I think, I've honed my skills more and my music is more layered, so I have to pay attention to more sounds.

It sounds as if electronica/folk/hip hop samples inspire you to make the music - how did these genres come into your life?

Funnily enough I listen to hardly any hip hop. I only like a few artists. As for folk, I like The Incredible String Band and Nick Drake but that's about it. I don't really listen to much electronica either! I'm into all sorts of music. Some producers have tons of records but I don't. I prefer to have records that I love and listen to them lots, to get to know them. I like listening deeply and noticing subtle details.

Has there been a deliberate attempt to make your music sound more polished since those early recordings?

Definitely. I still love the lo-fi thing but it felt like more of a challenge to try and make something sound 'big'. The track Ambivalence Avenue was the start of that. I surprised myself. I recorded it in a tiny bedroom with a £150 mixer, a couple of cheap mikes, an MPC, computer, some hand percussion, a guitar and a bass. I still wanted it to sound warm and analogue but just more weighty. It was inspired by 70s Brazilian pop, Marcos Valle in particular. His records of that era have a perfect balance of analogue saturation and bigness which I love.

How did the link up with Warp Records take place?

I'm friends with a couple of people who work for them, one being Chris Clark. I was sending them a lot of new tracks back in 2006 - 2008 and they were sending stuff to co-founder Steve Beckett. It was when I did the track Ambivalence Avenue when Steve asked to hear more. Steve pushed me to write more songs and I think that was my most prolific period. Shortly after, he signed me, and now I am working on my fourth album (fifth if you include The Apple and Tooth).

Which release/record from your back catalogue work are you most pleased with?

All of them for different reasons. I honestly don't have a favourite. I might have favourite tracks off each album but they're all chapters of my life and have different memories attached to them. Even though I'm technically a better producer now, I listen to Fi and it has a truly experimental nature to it. It might sound naive in one sense but it was actually a very carefully selected bunch of tracks and sounds.

Lovers Carvings was on an advert for the Kindle - how did this happen? Did it open doors for you?

I can't remember how it happened but you know, Warp are good publishers! I guess the song had been used in a film called The Switch and that may have spread it about a bit. It's been used a lot since on TV and ads. It's helped me because it's spread my music about and allowed people to discover it who might never have.

Sync for ads and films seems like a natural thing for musicians - how have you chosen where to use your music? Have you turned down sync offers?

I've turned down stuff yes, on the grounds that I didn't want to be associated with the company, someone big … but I won't name any names.

I don't specifically choose them, I just say yes or no when they come up. I just see it as another way to promote my music particularly as record sales aren't what they used to be since the internet came along. I also don't like touring so it partly enables me to carry on doing what I'm doing.

Have you any advice for aspiring musicians?

Take inspiration from others but don't try to be like them. Don't form a fixed identity for yourself and corner yourself. If you have side projects, question why you have them and question why you don't merge them. If you come up with a justification or an excuse, analyse it and question yourself again. Compartmentalising can be a detrimental thing.

People have too many hang ups about genres and the compatibility of certain styles. Usually those conflicts are actually lifestyle and fashion led and have little to do with musical aesthetics. I'm not a fan of genre following. I prefer artists who can transform influences into their own thing.

Silver Wilkinson is out now on Warp Records.