I didn't want to be in an electronic band. I didn't want to be in a rock'n'roll band. I wanted the freedom to explore, and make every record be different", says Rich Machin, removing his shades and lighting his fifteenth Lucky Strike this afternoon. "I want to be able to bring in musicians and people who inspire me, then I can go wherever my head's at at that moment. That's the nature of what we've set up here."
The reclusive Rich, who along with Ian Glover, is the nucleus of SOULSAVERS, the shifting collective whose second album It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land (V2) has already proven one of 2007's most beguiling and well-received. Rick Rubin reckons it's good enough to save America's souls. It's a moving, maverick, monumental record. If there‘s a strong element of enigma to Soulsavers, that's just fine with them. One, because it was an album recorded entirely at night and honed over a series of sessions in locations ranging from London to Los Angeles. And two, because as Rich says, "I'm from the North of England, but where you grew up doesn't matter regarding your music. How many lumps of sugar I like in my tea doesn't make the record any better or worse. It should stand up on its own merits."
It does, it does. Wildly eclectic, combining influences drawn from almost every known genre (hip-hop, soul, country, rock, film scores, gospel) and yet dazzlingly original, it's adorned by the subterranean vocals of Mark Lanegan. The man's work with Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stone Age and Isabel Campbell, plus his extraordinary solo releases, told us he had one of the great modern/timeless voices. Here he delivers possibly his finest, most resonant rumbles to date. The combination of Soulsavers' no-rules invention and Lanegan's intensity is one that starts fires in heaven, hell, and most points between. How did it come to pass?
"He could sing the telephone directory and it'd sound good", explains Rich. After Soulsavers' debut Tough Guys Don't Dance, "a cycle was finished." There, the outfit had experimented with electronica, and worked with Spain vocalist Josh Haden. Rich had some fresh ideas for "a real, deep thing". Optimistically, he passed some demos to a mutual friend, who within a fortnight called back to say Lanegan loved the stuff. When the singer returned to the UK to tour his Bubblegum opus, the pair hung out, realising their tastes in music, across the spectrum, were close to identical. They spoke of The Gun Club, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Nick Drake, as well as left-field electronica and hip-hop. "I didn't expect Mark's knowledge to be so vast - he soaks music up. As I wanted to do an eclectic album, I thought: this could just work!"
Sessions began in LA, their duration ranging from ten days to three months, with Rich crashing on friends' sofas and driving across the States. Budget was an issue - i.e. there wasn't one. Soulsavers had to front the cost of recordings with their own cash - Rich paid for the sessions by maxing his credit cards. "Taking a big gamble. It began to snowball. If it fell apart, I was completely fxxxed. But I was in up to my neck anyway, so I thought: let‘s just get it right." Sometimes, they'd blag free studio time. At one luxury LA studio - a long way from Rich's basement where Soulsavers began - they were granted night-time hours as long as they guaranteed they'd be out before dawn. One night, they bumped into Stevie Wonder, as you do. He was recording in the next studio, "pulling an all-nighter too. He probably thought we were a bit shady".
The project developed over three years, with guest contributions from The London Community Gospel Choir, Will Oldham, Doves' Jimi Goodwin and P W Long. Equally important were the creative influences of writers like Charles Bukowski (quoted on the album's cover, discussing solitude and darkness), Harry Crews, William Faulkner and John Fante. "They're the writers I grew up reading. Bukowski's all about life being a constant struggle from one day to the next. The pressure I was under risking making this album, I knew all about that! We definitely drew a lot of that feel, and some Southern Gothic, into it. With a touch of New Orleans voodoo. And Mark likes to play with biblical imagery. And while what we've done here is dark and late-night, sure, we also had a lot of fun doing it."
Now comes the next phase, with Soulsavers following the intrigue caused by tracks like "Revival" and new single "Kingdoms Of Rain" by embarking on a European tour, ranging from opening for Iggy & The Stooges to their own headline shows. "When we were making this record", says Rich, "we never even knew if it'd see the light of day, let alone that there'd be this level of interest. Arranging it live is daunting, but we're enjoying it now and going out with an 8-piece, with Mark and two gospel singers, to try to do it justice."
So the future of this dark-hearted masterpiece is bright. "I'm bound to work with Mark again at some point because the chemistry's too good not to", predicts Rich. "But I know when I start work again I'll naturally want to do something new. We all bounce ideas off each other - we're a forum, a collective. These people put fire in my belly. Someone new walks in and inspires you; you never feel trapped. Soulsavers is not about egos, it's about doing what's best for the music. We throw ourselves in a new direction every day, and learn something, and look forward to the next one."