The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part Two

In Part One of this interview, we dug deep with Tim Bowness about his latest album, Late Night Laments, released by Inside Out on August 28.  Our concluding segment has more about the new album, but also catches up on Tim’s other recent projects, as well as an update on Progarchy’s favorite online music shop, Burning Shed.  As with Part One, a transcription follows the jump.

And as you said, this new album [Late Night Laments] happened in context of some other things happening.  I remember you were hinting at Love You to Bits last yearBut you were also very curious about how people would react to it.  Because when it came out, we realized – yes, it’s almost like you’ve gone all the way back to Loveblows and Lovecries.  It’s a dance album in many ways!!  So I guess my big question was, what was the overall reaction as far as you can tell?  Did you have to bolt your doors and raise the drawbridge?

[Laughs] I think because ultimately it was – I’ve said this before about Love You To Bits, that I think that it’s the most direct and the most complex thing that we’ve ever done. And musically, although it does have that kind of pummeling return to the electropop of early No-Man, I think it also had the conceptual sophistication and musical coloration of the later No-Man.  And as the ending of the album suggests, it hasn’t lost the melancholy elements, either.

And I was very pleased with the album, and the response was mostly very positive.  So it managed in some ways to appease a lot of fans.  It also managed to excite people who hadn’t been excited about No-Man in the past.  And of course, you know there were a minority who felt that we had done something sacrilegious, that we in a sense had trampled on the more delicate music that we’d been doing recently.

But I think the thing is that music you make because you feel a need to make it – and you know, I’d wanted to make Love You To Bits for years, as had Steven – and it was very exciting making that album.  And I kind of realized that this [Late Night Laments] came out of the eclecticism and dynamism of Love You To Bits, and to an extent the eclecticism on Flowers At The Scene.  That suddenly, having exorcised that from my system, this was what I wanted to do.  And almost like returning to some of the melancholy emotions of albums like Schoolyard Ghosts or Together We’re Stranger.

But I was returning to it with a very different soundscape – something you said earlier, that for whatever reason the synths on this and the use of tuned percussion — vibraphone, marimba and so on – gave this album a very different flavor, naturally.  And it was quite instinctive, and I wonder if in some ways it was an instinctive reaction to the fact that I’d got Love You To Bits out of my system.


That makes sense. And I will say that I really enjoyed Love You to Bits. There were those incredibly dynamic moments, but there were also – well, the Big Big Train brass section kind of always makes me cry, but when they popped up in at the end of the first “side,” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s new and different and cool.”

I’d done some recording with Big Big Train in Real World Studios and enjoyed it a great deal.  And it was one of the tracks with the brass section.  And I’ve met the brass section before, and I’ve always loved what Big Big Train have done with brass.  And so when we were doing Love You To Bits, I suggested to Steven that the ending of side one, this was it.  I just heard it in my head and Steven immediately agreeing said, “Right.  Make it happen!”  And so I did!

And this was the thing about Love You To Bits, that the genesis of the album was 26 years ago.  But the reality of a lot of it was that I was rewriting lyrics, getting new players involved such as the Big Big Train brass section, in real time, in the moment, last year.  So there was an awful lot of early No-Man in it, but equally there was an awful lot of new No-Man.  That was the brand new bit, if you like.

And “Love You To Pieces,” the second side, most of that was written last year, or in 2018.  And so a lot of it was quite fresh, as much as some of it did originate from sessions that we’d had from probably from about 1994 to 1997.  And having heard the demos, I think we did it an awful lot better – in getting people like that brass section in, getting people like Ash Soan, the drummer in.  These were inspired choices of collaborators who made the music breathe and groove more.  I have to say yeah, that sad coda to “Love You to Bits” is one of my favorite sections of the album as well.


Also, you “curated and annotated” a retrospective of Moonshot, the band you immortalized on that Lost in the Ghost Light album. I felt like Worlds of Yesterday really does capture an era and its aftermath – it’s almost as if Moonshot didn’t exist, so you had to make them up!

[Laughs] Yeah, you’d think this!  You know that was my original idea for Lost In The Ghost Light, was that actually I was gonna get a band and another singer.  And I was thinking of people as diverse as Fish or Toyah, or singers like [Gentle Giant’s] Kerry Minnear.  People who had experienced that era.  And so I wanted – Lost In The Ghost Light was a fictional work, but the stories I felt a real emotional connection to.  And I was telling the story of that music in that period, as well as the person.

So yes, the Moonshot album was very much a kind of belated realization of how I’d originally wanted to do the Lost In The Ghost Light album.  What was interesting about that was that Inside Out didn’t want me to do this, because they felt that it was my voice and my character that made Lost In The Ghost Light a distinctive album.  Whereas I quite liked the idea of getting somebody who was more used to singing in that particular style.  So I was pleased with how it came out.  And as you said, I think the band did a fantastic job of evoking those different eras.


And, you also released your second album with Peter Chilvers, Modern RuinsI know that you’ve worked with Peter for a long time, both in Burning Shed and as a duo, and I think in a previous band.  And also that this album took many, many years to come to fruition.  I think it is a beautiful album.  It’s got that melancholy but there’s also real warmth and a real – it’s easy to make an emotional connection to.

Thank you!!   That was an album that we – Peter and I had done an album together in 2002.  It was a small, self-produced album that was beautiful to make in the sense that it was just the two of us.  Writing, recording, doing it DIY.  And we’d always wanted to follow this up, and it just took us years to amass the material because we were working with other projects and other musicians; Peter spent a lot of his time working with Brian Eno.

And finally, I guess in 2015 we were writing enough material that we had the album.  The last few pieces I think were personal favorites on the album, I think “Sleeping Faith,” “Ghost in the City.”  And once we’d finished those, we knew we had the album.

And I got Peter Hammill to mix it because I thought his sensitivity would be just right for the material.  And it was.  We finished the album in 2017, so it’s interesting that where it actually sits of my released works is somewhere between Lost In The Ghost Light, which was released in 2017, and the Plenty album [It Could Be Home] or Flowers At The Scene.  So it almost falls in between these.

But it’s an album that – yes, I still have a strong connection with it.  Because I think there’s a kind of – something that I hope that Late Night Laments has.  I think that there’s a genuine emotion or quality, and quite timeless arrangements.  They’re not necessarily tethered to an era or a genre, I hope.


I think that’s a fair impression, and I think the word you used, “sensitive,” that’s a really good description of it.  It’s a record that touches sensibilities in a very – it’s not a manipulative way, it’s not an obvious way, but that connection really comes through.

Thank you.   This is the thing as well that I think when I tell the stories.  One of the things I don’t want to do is particularly load the piece with sentimentality or too strong a perspective.  So when I’m writing, let’s say, “I’m Better Now,” which is basically the internal workings of the perpetrator of a hate crime.  But what I’m not trying to do there is say, “How diabolical!  How evil!!”  It’s almost the natural process of the person speaking aloud.

So in fact, it’s maybe a reasonable and sensitive way of talking about something that’s extreme and deeply insensitive.  Because within the mind of perpetrators, within the minds of people who have extreme political views, often there is a calm reasoning that they have come to.  And so the one thing that I’ve never particularly wanted to do with my music is load it so much that you know exactly what to feel, or what to think.  There’s more ambiguity in the depiction.

You want us to come to our own conclusions.

Of course!  Absolutely!  I mean, obviously, what’s been done in “I’m Better Now” is diabolical and evil.  But it’s expressed in a way that attempts to explain how people – because I think I’m going back to our earlier conversation.  I think at the moment, extremes are coming through, because more and more people are slipping between the cracks of society.  More and more people are feeling – on all sides of the political spectrum – that their voice isn’t being heard.  Or that when they speak they’re being misinterpreted.  Badly.

And I think that’s where some of this comes from.  With “We Caught the Light” actually, part of this is about an older generation that is being defined as wasteful, pointless, responsible for the evils of contemporary society, talking about their own revolutionary past.  Talking about their own ideals.  You know, these things sometimes are never as simple as they appear.


Yeah.  It sounds to me like you’re referring to the whole – what we call in the US, the “OK Boomer” stereotype.  That dismissive commentary.  And it’s a challenge, I think, because Boomers did that to the previous generation!

Well, this is one of the interesting things, isn’t it?  That Boomers are now the demonized generation.  And yet, because of course Moonshot and Lost In The Ghost Light, that is the perfect depiction of a Boomer artist, and a Boomer era of artistic flourishing.  And I think you’re right that that Boomer era actually was one of the most radical politically, in terms of black rights, environmental rights.  In terms of the sheer creativity of the music and art and literature that generation produced.  It still resonates.

And so it’s quite interesting to have become the sort of butt of the “stale, pale and male” or whatever it may be, or the Boomer jokes.  When in fact it was itself quite a revolutionary generation!  So it’s almost one revolutionary generation hitting on another.

And so it [“We Caught the Light”] was a gentle rebuke to that.  And I sort of had the idea of Boomers sort of gently talking of their own period of revolution.  And I think the last line in that again comes back to some of our conversation, which is “there is no tenderness at all.”  And I think that’s one of the things I do kind of feel, that in public debate and social media debate, two things lacking are tenderness and sensitivity.


One other thing I wanted to touch base with you about is the state of affairs at Burning Shed.  As you say, you’ve been in a situation where, as you say, the pandemic has not necessarily touched you that directly.  But I imagine that the business challenges soldiering on are beyond what anyone could have anticipated.

They are!  But we’ve been very, very lucky.  The first couple of months we did as we normally do.  And since then, arguably we’ve been doing slightly better than we normally do.  So luckily Burning Shed has not yet been impacted.

But the way in which it may become [impacted] is that because, of course, what you’re getting with certain countries is a certain kind of isolationism or protectionism we’re finding.  One good example is that postage prices to America have more than doubled for us.  You know, America is a big part of our market, 33 percent of our market.  And prices have doubled massively.

There’s also been an additional COVID tax, because of course it becomes more difficult for the British Royal Mail to send packages abroad.  So it’s effected us in that way.  And we could soon be, in January, effected by Brexit, in terms of how that will effect posting to Europe.  Because again, Europe is another massive market for us.

So at the moment, we’ve ridden the challenges and we’ve ridden the challenges well.  But despite having quite a healthy business, there are real challenges.  And those are coming partly, as I said, through potential massive postage hikes – America, Europe – but also of course, because this is going to effect people over the next year or two years in terms of their livelihood.    We don’t know what kind of a world we are gonna wake up into.

And one of my biggest fears has been that corporations will in fact strengthen their hold on society.  What we see here already in Britain is high street shop closures, independent businesses that were really healthy having to close down.  And this isn’t positive, of course!

But what we’ve also seen during this time is companies like Amazon perhaps strengthen their hold commercially.  And so yes, I do kind of worry what we’re gonna see in terms of the high streets and what we’re gonna see in terms of mass unemployment in Britain, America and the rest of the world.  I think maybe some of the biggest challenges are yet to come.


I know that one of my refocuses – because I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working where I am, working from home, and what I bring in has not been effected.  But I will say that I’ve definitely moved away from using bigger box retailers and Amazon toward something more local.  There’s a local record shop in Detroit that I try to buy domestic items through.  I’ve definitely been using my local bookstore much more frequently.  And again, I think I as I mentioned to you last time, I think you are one of the best online retailers I’ve come across.  So if anything, I’ve tried to order more from Burning Shed rather than less.

Thank you.


In fact, I did order Late Night Laments this past weekend, so that’s possibly a good way to wrap up.  But before we do that, is there anything else you’d like to say to the Progarchy audience?  Is there anything coming up beyond Late Night Laments that you think we might be interested in?

It’s a weird period in the sense that once I finished Late Night Laments, it was like when I’d finished Together We’re Stranger.  It felt strangely complete.  I felt quite exhausted emotionally after it.  And I’ve not felt a compulsion to do anything since.  So the only thing I’ve done since is I’ve recorded a few cover versions for fun, and I’ve done The Album Years podcast with Steven Wilson.  Where in a sense Steven and I are giving back to music what music’s given to us.  You know, we’re talking about our enthusiasms for music over the years.

So there’ll be more Album Years podcasts with Steven Wilson and hopefully, something will strike me sooner rather than later.  Because I live in a circumstance where I’ve got a nine-year-old child, where we’ve been having home schooling and so on.  Although I do have my recording space, it’s not been as easy to find time.


Well, you can’t let the Hard Drive of Doom empty out, after all.

[Bursts out laughing]  Yeah!!  This is what I’m gonna do over the next two years!  I’m just gonna go through the Hard Drive of Doom, release everything that’s on it, and do nothing!


There we go!!  Cool!

That’s it!  I’m gonna sleep for two years and gradually release the contents of the Hard Drive of Doom.


OK, we’ll look forward to that – I think.  But we definitely look forward to Late Night Laments, and I will have to check out The Album Years podcast, ‘cause that sounds right up my alley.  Tim, thank you so much for this time.  It’s been a pleasure talking to you once again. 

Thank you.  And you.  Bye!


— Rick Krueger


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