Like a debilitating onslaught of necrotizing fasciitis, One Unique Signal have been carving away complicated lesions on the traumatised skin of the psychedelic music scene for around fourteen years now. Their distinctive take on guitar-driven repetitive noise music has been gaining serious traction among the psych faithful and certainly serves as a welcome antithesis to the slavish kaleidoscopic posing being struck by less imaginative acts. OUS have also worked as Stephen Lawrie‘s backing band, touring globally under the guise of The Telescopes, to much critical acclaim. In its time, OUS has seen various members come and go, but the band have now distilled its line up to three core participants: Byron Jackson, Nick Keech and Dan Davis.
This month sees Fuzz Club Records release the band’s fourth long-player, Hoopsnake. Revolving around a single riff, the record took around half a decade to complete and involved contributions from over twenty other musicians, not least of which is this present writer. It’s a lavish listen and well worth the monetary investment. Backseat Mafia caught up with OUS recently, via the medium of internet witchcraft, and probed them on their passions, history and the why, where and the how come of this titanoboa of a project.
Backseat Mafia: One Unique Signal formed in 2002, following the demise of “tremolo drone experiment”, Windomn Chikkarah. How has the band, and the landscape in which it operates, grown and changed since then?
Dan Davis: I joined in 2006. Ongoing experiment.
Nick Keech: Back then, there was a large appetite for math rock and post rock; alongside a few grunge era ghosts lurking in the halls. It felt like we were the arty farty troublemakers in the local scene, playing messed up, detuned guitars. We were tolerated mainly because of our circle of friends and [our] previous projects, but I’m not convinced most folk understood or really cared about our dirge. The focus, for us, was always about cajoling our minds – and the listeners’, if they were lucky – to that place where you feel immersed. We’ve utilised various methods to achieve this: high volume; repetition; drones; all-out noise, but the mythos has remained intact. We’re currently working with a more restrained canvas, focussing on the value of space in the music rather than filling everything up. It’s a new angle and pretty liberating. As for the landscape, it’s perhaps trite, but the internet is great for obliterating any sense you may have that yours is a lone-trodden path.
In our early days, there was a greater feeling of individuality. I think, perhaps, some of the sheen has been removed from the ‘live event’. A quick glance at my Facebook feed and I’m on 33 event invites this week… and that’s pretty dry in comparison to other times. Today, it feels like everyone is at it. Being in a functioning band is utterly normalised. Back when we first started, our local venue was The Rifleman in Hounslow, where the air of disdain from the locals and regular pub goers was always the backdrop to any show. On the plus side, communication is much simpler and Hoopsnake would have been tenfold more labour intensive without it, and perhaps, not even possible.
Byron Jackson: One day we will work out how to play a third chord and then we will all be in big fucking trouble. Our space rock opera will blow people’s minds.
With a name like One Unique Signal, it’s not surprising that you would be purveyors of amplifier worship and repetition, but to what extent does synergy command the development of your music?
BJ: When you try and play the same thing over and over for a long period of time you realise that not changing things requires more concentration than you thought. It’s very easy to alter the rhythm or shift the groove making it repetitive in a relaxed and organic way rather than an identical, synthetic way. Then your fingers start to hurt, after about eight minutes, so you start to play the chords differently, which shifts things very slightly again. If you’re playing live rather than recording you also have space to react to the way other people in the band are shifting and evolving.
DD: The practice room and the lonesome. Always a mix.
The basis for the new album is a single riff. How did it happen that the riff expanded to fill an entire LP?
DD: We fell into the zone.
BJ: I can’t remember exactly how the idea developed, but the two main components were: 1) Let’s invite everyone to play on it; 2) Let’s see how long we could (appear to) play one riff for.
NK: Intent. And a very pleasing, generous response from the people we invited to get involved.
What was the most interesting response you got and why?
BJ: I received some organ drones from Bach, but I assumed they were fake and left them out.
NK: The whole project was an exercise in collaboration, with each subsequent submission furthering the size and scope of the final piece. We only requested belief in the project and respect for the ‘vibe’ when asking folk and so singling out any one submission would be unfair and largely irrelevant.
Did you have any issues entrusting other musicians, who are outside of your immediate collective, with providing worthwhile responses? Did it take long to harvest all the material?
DD: No. The vibe seemed to extend on.
BJ: I thought it was very exciting to invite so many people to take part and would like to thank them all for the faith they entrusted in us, especially after it has taken so long for the finished article to come together. All the material was collected very quickly. I started mixing in June and, if I remember correctly, the guide tracks weren’t completed until mid to late April, which means everything used on the record – apart from the drums and opening bass guitar part (the guide guitar was cut out of the mix) – was recorded and sent back in five or six weeks, from the end of April to the beginning of June 2013. It has been interesting to see how a record made like this can challenge how people perceive a band, as many of the people playing on the record have never met in real life, yet the material they recorded sits so well together.
Listening to the record, it becomes apparent that certain sonic departures have been taken, which lead the listener far away from the base riff. Was the editing process a ruthless one?
BJ: The variety of things sent back was massive. Some people included notes on what was recorded with what track, some people sent in multiple versions, some people just sent back one file. Some things were named, some things weren’t. When it came to mixing, most things were done very quickly. Either layering long tracks over each other, then trimming back or creating a loop and finding a home for it. I also worked on all of the tracks at the same time, while keeping the intended sequence in mind.
Presumably, the title of this record refers to the ouroboros (the ancient Greek symbol of a snake devouring its own tail). Does this image symbolize a specific philosophy that the band abides to? If so, to what extent has this philosophy guided your direction?
BJ: I can’t remember why I looked it up originally, but, according to the internet, the hoopsnake is a kind of fictional cartwheeling snake that rolls around the desert in North America. I would have named the riff / demo around 2010 and, at the time, I must have been enamoured with the look and pace of westerns: constantly evolving but never changing.
I think the fact that the elements which make up this record were recorded in so many different places, by so many different people, is very important. This kind of collaborative experiment would have presented huge challenges 10 years ago. File sharing on the internet has improved. [You are] able to share long, high quality audio files very easily. Sound cards run on affordable computers, which allows people to record high quality audio with equipment they mostly already own. To have invited all of our friends to a traditional recording studio would have taken months.
Is there anything else out there, in terms of extraneous materials that influenced the contextual trajectory of Hoopsnake?
BJ: There is a scene in Vanishing Point (1971) where Kowalski meets a snake catcher and drives him to a church in the desert, where Delaney & Bonnie & Friends are playing. The snake catcher seems to be hoping to sell the snakes to the church, but in the end, the hippie preacher sets them free, stating: “we don’t need the snakes anymore, we’ve got the music”. I’m still not exactly sure what this is symbolic of, but it made for a nice bit of synchronicity when I happened to re-watch the film during mixing the record.
Captain Beefheart’s live performance of “I’m Gonna Booglarise You Baby” on German TV in 1972 was very influential in piecing the puzzle together. JG Ballard is a reliable source of ideas, especially how some of his books are not required to be read in a linear fashion. Morton Feldman and his understanding of time have a lot to answer for. The natural light of a summer evening was actually a major factor in the feel of the record.
The new album is coming out via Fuzz Club. Was it difficult to get them on board for this project?
NK: Not really. Fuzz Club know their shit! That said, we almost cocked it up with our pitch.
Since the first idea of this record was kicked around between the band, I had them in mind. It fitted in with their ethos. They clearly have a history of releasing relevant markers for the experimental ‘scene’ and, privately, I refused to accept the idea they wouldn’t be into it. I kind of fluffed it at first, because I sent the files to Casper [Dee], unnamed and just left it hanging. Byron met with him a few months later and managed to establish that he enjoyed the tracks, but had literally no idea what or who he was listening to! It’s great to have them at our side and I’m grateful for their belief and enthusiasm.
BJ: Fuzz Club were high up our list as they always do a great job with pressing and we knew Casper through various OUS & Telescopes episodes. They seemed interested although we just sent them two wav files called HS1 and HS2 so it took a bit of explaining for the whole concept to come across. I’m not exactly sure if the cryptic method worked for or against us.
Is there space for nuance within noise or do walls of sound envelop only to oppress?
DD: You have to listen carefully. Every noise has its constituent parts.
BJ: There are some very pleasant keyboard melodies hidden within the Hoopsnake LP that are mixed so low that you would think you are imagining them. I even set some of my effect pedals below everything on maximum these days.
Having been based in London for so long, do you feel like the floor giving way for the city as a creative centre for the dark arts (by which I mean alternative music, of course)?
BJ: I gave up and moved out of London in March, but there are quite a few factors involved in that. Increasing rent is one of those but it’s also one I’ve been putting up with for almost a decade. As a band, we used to meet up weekly, which is gonna be one of the things I miss most about living in London. I know Nick and Dan are also planning moves this year. We are planning to continue playing but still working out how that will function on a day-to-day basis.
DD: Creative destruction. Profit motive is winning.
NK: I think it will always find its way to function. Creativity isn’t reliant on these things. You work within your boundaries and make the best with what you have available. We once played a show in Caen and the venue was in a ruined school, powered by a petrol generator. Nobody there cared at all that there wasn’t a bar with a dry house white; and while the improvised toilet facilities required a heightened level of inner peace, the show went off like a cracker. The town came out for it just like any other show. London is bursting at the seams with population. Little pockets explode under the strain and up pops ‘luxury housing’ where once stood a local music venue. Ultimately, the creative stream just re-routes and continues as before. It can be heart-breaking to lose places that hold such memories and sentiment, but London has for a long time now been this way. It’s the greatest city in Europe and its creatives have to jostle for position in the same way everyone else does. It could also be argued that the quality of art is increased when the struggle to make and present it is heightened.
Lastly, what’s next on the psychedelic horizon?
BJ: We’ve recently had a bit of a line up shift and, for now, the intention is to just focus on new stuff. We have a few new tracks nailed and will be recording these songs in the summer. Another collaborative record has been discussed, but we need to make sure we start with the right riff. Until then I’ll be settling in to Birmingham.
NK: As Byron says, we’re finding our feet with the refreshed line up. The music seems to be writing itself though and there’s a lot of positive energy floating around the shed at present. Hoopsnake will hopefully not be the last of its kind and so we will be swimming around in those ideas again pretty soon.
Hoopsnake is available for pre-order now on the Fuzz Club Records website on Deluxe LP/LP/CD/MC and Download. One Unique Signal play the Fuzz Club Records event Under The Arches on May 7th with The Oscillation. Event link here. Image courtesy of the band.