Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020

Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)

The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky

Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.

I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.

The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.

Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.

Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.

The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.

Bryan: It strikes me as like a progression and a departure from your last two albums, which were more overtly political, whereas this is almost you taking a step back and analyzing the culture that’s surrounding everything that you talked about in the last couple of albums.

Andy: Yeah, I think you’re probably right there. You know there’s a certain amount you can be annoyed – a certain amount of protest you can make after which you have to start philosophizing about it before you start to bore everybody – boring us to tears with your constant moaning. So I kind of had to philosophize a bit more on this album. I think this album is more of a philosophical album than the previous two. And as I say it looks more at our personal inner feelings rather than our – it looks at politics through those inner feelings rather than just the politics and playing the blame game of any sort. I don’t think there was any target on this album. I wasn’t singing my anger to somebody. It was more of an album of “I’m prepared to work with this situation. Are you?” kind of thing, I guess. Yeah, you’re right. It’s much more looking at the situation and philosophizing about it. Yeah.

Bryan: I really appreciated that about the album. Throughout there’s this theme of connecting to humanity and where are we going and you get that on “Tower of Babel” for sure with this great reflection on being human and what does that look like in the twenty-first century both with the politics of everything going on and with the technology that has interrupted our lives.

Andy: Yeah, well “Tower of Babel” is… I think that many of the countries in the world that like to think of themselves as democracies – I’m sorry I’ve said this in a couple of other interviews so it’s not unique I’m afraid – but we think of ourselves like democracies. The US thinks of itself as a democracy, and we think of ourselves as a democracy over here. I think that slowly but surely we’re having the wool pulled, the carpet pulled out from under our feet because we’re gradually becoming something more like technocracies where, as I said, human beings are kind of becoming like avatars – avatars for their own paper trail. If I try to explain that, it’s like we’ve reached a point where our bank accounts and our personal data is probably worth more than us, and in many cases people actually aren’t interested in us. We are just the physical manifestation of a bank overdraft that is being paid or isn’t being paid, a loan that’s being paid or not being paid, whether we’re in good credit, bad credit, whether we’ve done a certain thing – whether we’ve licensed our car, wether we’ve paid our insurance bills, and how much money we’ve got, how much we’ve got available – those are us now. Our own feelings are almost optional. It’s like somehow or other we’re just becoming the avatar or profile pic of our own accounts, and I feel that that’s what “Tower of Babel” was trying to communicate really – the fact that we are gradually dehumanizing ourselves and we’re allowing it to happen. The really strange thing about it is we like it. That fascinates me.

Bryan: Yeah that’s kind of the disturbing thing about it is how addictive it is for so many people. The title of that track – obviously that’s coming straight from the Bible and the story of God confusing the languages and everyone – spreading people throughout the earth. Why did you choose that as the title?

Andy: Because I feel that we are – the language is changing, and we are realizing Andy Tillisonthat this technological language – this ones and zeroes business – it’s instant. We are learning that one language and building that tower to Heaven, if you like. We are becoming, we’re making our own god of technology. You must understand I’m a real big fan of technology. A real big fan of it. I absolutely love the stuff. I wouldn’t be able to make my music without it, but what I want to be is I want to be the master of technology. I do not want it to be my master. And I think that essentially there is something about this that does strike me as the world is becoming all powerful with this. I see that were the internet to suddenly disappear, to be brought down, an electronic pulse, either weapon or big solar pulse that took the earth’s computer systems off time for a protracted period of time would be like casting the nations all over the earth and removing all their languages. How on earth would we cope at the moment if that were to happen? I know that we’ve had a couple of Internet outages in our house in the past two weeks. It was actually the point where I couldn’t work out how to switch the bedroom light off – that’s how complicated its become, over. Sorry I say over because I’m a radio operator. I do amateur radio. I’m talking in front of a microphone, and it’s just like being in front of my amateur radio kit – my CB – and I say over at the end. [Laughs] It’s just a habit I’m afraid.

Bryan: [Laughs] That’s funny. I didn’t know you did that as a hobby – that’s pretty cool.

Andy: That’s something I’ve been into since I was a kid. The song even says, “When I was a boy I took radios to pieces just to see them.” It’s true, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m a big radio enthusiast.

Bryan: In my living room I’ve got an RCA radio built in 1934 that’s been restored. It doesn’t do – I can’t transmit with it, but it does AM, shortwave, and all that stuff, so I like listening to radio.

Andy: Yeah it’s a lovely thing to do. It’s a great medium. I’ve always liked radio.

Bryan: The song “Jinxed in Jersey” – it drew me back to your 2015 album, “A Spark in the Aether.” I loved it – you’re going on this journey in search of the Statue of Liberty and kind of discovering urban America along the way. I’ve just gotta ask – was this based on an actual event that happened to you?

Andy: Yes it is. [Laughs]

Bryan: That’s what I figured. It’s so detailed and precise that I’m like, “he’s just telling us a story.”

Andy: An Anglophile is somebody that’s interested in England, and I guess I’m the same for the USA. I don’t know what the word is – an Americanaphile or whatever. So you’re right – “The Celluloid Road” – that’s an imaginary trip through America through the vehicle of films, whereas this is my own trip. I was there on tour. It was in October 2017. We had just done the Progstock festival in New Jersey, and we had a couple of days to kill in the New York region before we headed off to Chicago to do a date there. We checked into a cheaper hotel so we could spend a couple of days bumming about. The rest of the guys in the band wanted a day off, and I thought “right well I want to go for a walk.” I’m the kind of guy I don’t like using GPS and things like that. I just set off and go. I follow the sun basically. It worked out, right where’s the statue of Liberty – it’s going to be over there because that’s south and we’re north of it. So I just kind of headed off. Probably headed down the wrong side of the Hudson Bay and ended up walking through Jersey City instead of New York City. So I had a completely different experience, and I’m really glad that I did because it was a really amazing eye opening and wonderful experience. Besides which the next day we all piled into New York anyway, so I got the best of both worlds. Without that mistake I’d have missed this chance to see a much more gritty, realistic side of, like you say, urban America. It was a very valuable experience for me.

Bryan: At points it reminded me almost of King Crimson and the early 80s and some of the stuff they did. I don’t know why it struck me that way. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition with “Lie Back and Think of England” because you’ve got these two, you know, rather dissimilar countries but similar in a lot of ways as well, and kind of looking at the two. Urban life in the UK is quite a bit different than it is in America.

Andy: Yeah it is. We have our beautiful cities. We have our gritty cities too, make no mistake. I never see America as being similar to England. In fact I find it to be a very very different place. I know we’re united by a language, of course, but the I find Germany and France are a lot more like England than America is. This is not to say anything bad about America because I love the place, but it’s an altogether different experience. The speed of life, the way people act, the enormous amount of emphasis that’s placed on religion in America, which is way way way bigger than we have in France or Germany or England or most European countries, to be honest. The religious influence in America is more like you’d experience in India. It’s quite a big thing. You could see it, feel it. And of course the style of the buildings, the hugeness of the place. It feels like a very very different world. It’s a world I much enjoy visiting and being part of – I really get off on it actually. I’ve visited Colorado and the New York area, Philadelphia, San Francisco, I’ve seen some of the beautiful sights of California – parks like Yosemite [Laughs] – “Yo-semite” as Trump calls it. I’ve been to Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, places like that. I’ve had an amazing time there, and as I commented in the celluloid road I already know America because you’ve been selling me it since I was a little kid with the TV programs. We see it every day, and I’ve been watching Americans having adventures since the days of Cannon, Starsky and Hutch, and Kojack. Big part of my life.

Bryan: Back in 2015 I spent a month over in England doing some archival research in the Midlands, and I was struck, flipping channels on TV in my bed and breakfast in the evenings – almost all the channels – well not all, but there were so many of them that was all just American television shows from the 80s, 90s, early 2000s. It was interesting how ubiquitous that was, like you said, but the actual country itself and the day-to-day is so drastically different.

Andy: Oh completely different. I still find that… I don’t watch much TV anymore, to be honest but we – my partner Sally and I – we do kind of watch a program every day. One TV program. I would say that 80 percent of the time we choose a production from your side of the water being that Canada or the USA. We tend to find that the production values are higher. It generally looks, feels better. It just feels like the whole point of putting the TV on is to just escape a little bit. In Britain it’s very very popular to watch people who are in the same situation as you – to just put on TV and see somebody else’s kitchen and somebody else’s living room. I don’t just want to see somebody else’s living room. I want to see a different world. That’s why I watch the TV, in much the same way as I listen to music. I want to just leave this place for a little while. I like watching a lot of Scandinavian stuff. I’ve never been a big fan of British telly. It’s very slow, laborious. Usually far too involved in pedestrian things. You can’t have a cop series in England without the cop’s family involved and problems with the kids and things like that. Who’s going to pick the kids up from school if you’re going to be investigating a murder? All that kind of stuff. I just find it a turnoff. I’d rather get on with it and have a bit of excitement. I like everything from your 24s to your Designated Survivors, which are just exaggerated nonsense that I like through to some really good serious stuff I’ve seen. Canada has really come into it in the TV side of things. They’re making some great TV in that part of the world too. I’m a big fan.

Bryan: It seems like British television – so much of it is satirical. I don’t know if – it’s somewhat that way in British progressive rock. With your music I’ve always felt like it was more of a critique. When I listen to your music, I think of you – like you said, very philosophical – but as a critic of what’s going on and a critic of culture rather than a satire of it.

Andy: Yeah, I do do satire from time to time, but most of the time – sometimes I’m tongue in cheek and sometimes I’m sarcastic in the lyrics, but I’m totally behind the music and the kind of music we play. I’ve never sort of done what we call “piss taking” out of progressive rock music. I’d be cutting my nose to spite my face then. I adore this music. I’ve been brought up on it. It’s one area where of course I think Britain was an amazing force in the world in this particular genre of music and in many others. But we’ve all had our shares of the – the American made some of the best jazz fusion music I’ve ever heard. Of course you’ve got great prog rock bands too – people like Salem Hill, Discipline, Kansas of course, Spock’s Beard. Amazing groups that I’ve always enjoyed. Great loss to your own Kevin Gilbert. The Italians too – they made amazing music. And of course the Swedes. It’s gone around the world this progressive rock music. The most interesting stuff I’ve been listening to recently is out of Argentina, a band called Alas that I discovered recently. They were a 70s band, but my goodness me how I ever missed that. They would’ve been my favorite band back in the day, I really think they would. I can’t stop listening to them actually. They only made three albums, which is a shame. Fantastic group.

Bryan: You mentioned the jazz fusion. I hear that influence all throughout this album, and there’s people doing that in progressive rock, but it’s not super common. It’s one of the things I love about The Tangent is that influence. It always strikes me as being very fresh, and it has the sort of improvisational aspect to it.

Andy: I think that that really was it for me because by the time I became involved in straight out 100 percent full blooded progressive rock music – again, by the time The Tangent was started, that’s in 2002 – by then I had seen the whole of the first wave of progressive rock music, then the 80s bunch, and then I’d seen the 90s people. So I’d been listening to the third wave for about a decade, and I was thinking, “well if I’m actually going to do progressive rock music, what is it that I want to do?” It occurred to me that the one reason why I’d never bought into the second wave of progressive rock music, you know I just ignored it. When I heard it I kind of laughed at it, I have to say – the Marillions, the IQs, the Pallases and all those people. The reason why I just kind of thought it was sort of like – and I’m not offending these bands – they’ve done some really good stuff since. When I first heard it I kind of thought is what I’m hearing is like a retread of what happened in the 1970s except its a heck of a lot simpler. The jazz was gone, and the rock n’ roll had gone as well. This stuff wasn’t rocking. It was all about the big and grandiose bits. It was about the “Comfortably Numbs” and “Afterglow” and all the big ponderous majestic pieces and the big keyboard parts and everything. What about the counterpoint flying around with the jazz stuff?

When I first heard Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings I was delighted that they’d got a lot of that counterpoint back in it. I just thought to myself, I want to form a progressive rock band, and what do I want it to be. Number one, I want it to sound English, and number two I wanted, because at the time the best progressive rock music was coming from America and from Sweden. I thought “we can’t have this.” [Laughs] We’re being beaten at our own game, so I decided to put the jazz stuff back in. There are lots of things that I’ve done which have actually commercially hurt The Tangent because, the fact is, jazz is not, the jazz stuff puts people off. And the politics puts people off. I kind of thought, what am I doing here? Am I trying to make money or am I trying to make music? I thought, “if you want to make money, Andy, do something else. If you want to make music, do this.” And that’s what I did. I decided to do what I wanted to do, what my dream was and see if anybody liked it. As it happened they did. I got a career out of it. I’ve now been running The Tangent for eighteen years. The record company is still putting out my records, and I’m very happy about that. It doesn’t make me into a rich man, but it means I can do it and I can spend my time doing it. That’s what I do for a living – I make these records. It ain’t comfortable, but it’s fun. If I get comfortable I get bored. I think that’s – it’s all worked out for the best in that respect.

Bryan: It’s interesting that you said you wanted it to be distinctively English, but then throughout the history of the band you’ve had people – the band members are not just from England. Jonas [Reingold] is from Sweden, and at the beginning, Roine [Stolt] was from Sweden as well. There’s someone else in the band that’s from Europe – in your current lineup, correct? Mainland Europe.

Andy: Yes, basically it’s all the UK plus Jonas who’s currently Swedish but living in Austria.

Bryan: Oh, ok.

Andy: All the rest of us live in the UK. Steve lives in Wales which is part of the UK. We’re all on this same island except for Jonas. The thing is – it was actually quite difficult to – when I formed The Tangent and came up with the idea for it I realized that the UK had not been producing musicians of the kind of caliber and type you needed to be able to play the music I wanted to do. I would’ve found it very hard in 2002 to put a band together and play the music I wanted to do. That doesn’t mean there weren’t good musicians. There were good musicians, but they didn’t have the sort of knowledge of what I wanted to do.

The Flower Kings came as a ready made organized set of people who understood what I was about. They knew all the Yes references, they knew about Chick Corea and all that kind of stuff and they were very into their jazz. That was a very very nice way for me to get started, using essentially the rhythm section and guitarist of the Flower Kings right for the first two records. Once Roine left the band I realized I either stop or continue and make the records without him. Of course that’s what we had to do. I got the support of the record company, and they were behind me all the way. I think that when Roine left I kind of thought I’ve got to lose that crutch of the Flower Kings. Now that Roine’s gone there’s no point in me making records that sound like them. I have to make records that sound like me. It took a little while to develop that and get our own strain, but I think now that the Flower Kings and The Tangent make records that sound completely different to each other, I think that’s what I wanted, and I think that’s what Roine would’ve wanted for me to do. It all worked out for the best in the end.

Bryan: This current lineup – it’s the same from the last album correct? I don’t know about the album before that?

Andy: Really to be honest it goes back – when you actually look at it the band has been famous for having a really really tortured lineup. But when you actually look at it, Jonas and I have been together since the first album. Theo’s been with the band since the second album. Luke joined us in 2010. That’s ten years ago. Those four people have been on the last four albums together. That goes back to “A Spark in the Aether” in 2014. We added a drummer in 2017. It’s been a pretty constant – we’ve had many people playing small parts for a small time, but we’ve had these people who have been fairly constant throughout the band’s career. Luke’s been involved for half the band’s time together. We don’t think of him as being new anymore. He’s part of the nuts and bolts of how this band is glued together. It started to feel like a band along time ago to me.

Bryan: So what does the writing process look like? You’ve had a cohesive band for a while. Did that change over the years? And specifically on this album, what did that look like both musically and lyrically?

Andy: I have a pretty bizarre way of writing. The thing is is that this does not come easily to me in terms of – I don’t know how it works for Neal Morse either, but Neal Morse seems to be able to write a song a minute and they’re all really good – whereas I have to mess about for ages. I have a process where the main thing is I need to know what I’m going to sing about first. I need to get an idea, and when I’ve got something in my head that’s bugging me and I want to get something about it, I just sit there and think and think and think about this idea, and I start playing the piano whilst I’m thinking about it. Just see where the improvisation takes me. And I’ll usually end up recording that just as a rough recording – what did I play, that works, yeah I can see how that fits. And then I’ll just take little bits of maybe an hour of improvisation and fine one little bit in it. That’s where this song belongs here, and then I’ll develop that a little bit and eventually, of course, turn it into a piece of music, gradually move it around, then start bringing in the formulas and tricks of songwriting – this needs to go here, need a recurrence of that theme, then the bass needs to do this – and gradually build it all up. By the time I’ve built it up, I don’t have to write the lyrics down. I don’t have to write them. I already know what they are.

It’s strange, you know, because I’ve been thinking about the topic since I started, since the whole thing began I’ve been thinking of the topic. It doesn’t matter whether that’s Brexit or whether it’s school or whether it’s a love song. By the time I actually come to putting the vocals on, somehow I already know what the lyrics are. The first time they ever get written down these days is when I’m writing them down for the record sleeve. It’s all a fairly natural process, but it is time consuming. Back in the day bands used to release album every year, sometimes two a year. People think The Tangent are fast now. It’s about once every two years, sometimes once every three, so it’s not as quick as some people think it is.

Bryan: That’s fascinating. So you don’t write down the vocals [lyrics] before you record them – you already have them in your mind and then when you actually do the recording they just come from the work that you’ve been doing over however long you’ve been working on the project?

Andy: Yeah. It’s a case of I just set the microphone up. I kind of know within side me. I don’t have the lyrics written in my head. I just know what I want to say, and it just comes out. That’s it. That’s what you hear. The story of me meeting the cop in “Jinxed in Jersey” – well that’s a spoken section anyway – that’s completely free form. That was all just done in one take. The whole of that story, including his accent and everything. You can actually hear me making a couple of mistakes with the panning control. I push it to the left when it’s the cop speaking and push it to the right when it’s me speaking. You’ll occasionally hear I miss it. It starts off in the middle and then it suddenly jerks to the left. That’s because I was doing it live in the studio just talking and telling the story. That particular song, [singing] “and I asked the concierge if she’d help me” – and then, you know, I just knew [singing] “the best way to walk to the statue of liberty,” and it just fits in.

Of course, just like any singer who makes a mistake, sometimes I make a mistake, which is the words didn’t rhyme, didn’t sound very good. Then I go back and just do it again until it does, just like any other singer except I’m writing the words at the same time. And I think this gives it, I think what it really does, more than anything, is that to me the way – you can get singers that are a heck of a lot better than me because I’m not a great singer, but what I am is a good speaker, and I think the way I speak my songs, even when I’m singing, because when you’re singing you’re still speaking – and I think that when you’re reading from a piece of paper you always sound different from how you are when you’re just speaking. Hey, we haven’t written down any of this [interview], but if I suddenly started reading you an answer you’d tell straight away “he’s reading that.”

Bryan: Yeah.

Andy: Believe it or not, I can tell you from experience if you’re singing reading the sheet it sounds different from how you do it if you’re just singing what you feel. I don’t know how many other people discovered this technique, but I found that I sound a lot better, a lot more convincing if the lyrics aren’t written down and I’m just singing what I want to sing at that moment.

Bryan: I think it lends a sort of freshness to it as well as passion, like on “Lie Back and Think of England,” your voice reaches a pretty powerful source of passion, because I can tell you love your country and you care about it, and you’re frustrated as the whole world is with how things are going. I don’t think you’d be able to get that if you had written it down. It wouldn’t be the same. You might have had the passion when you wrote it, but that’s not the same as when you go to record it. If you’re doing both at the same time, it’s a lot more genuine I feel.

Andy TillisonAndy: You’re absolutely right. That particular song never would’ve happened if I had to write it down. When I go back to my old pieces from before the album Conn, for example. The first one I properly did this technique was called Le Sacre du Travail. All the albums before that, when I hear them I can hear I’m reading, I’m reading, you can just tell. It sounds so much freer since I stopped, and of course I’m getting better at doing it. Plus the fact that I gave up smoking five years ago and it’s beginning to help me sing better, so I think that’s obviously helping. I just do it my own way, my friend, that’s it. I just had to develop my own technique.

I had music lessons when I was very very young, but I don’t read music. I don’t understand a lot of the theory and anything about how to write it down. I know how to record it and I know how to play it, but my friends in the band are always talking in this sort of language that I don’t even understand about scales and Lydian modes and different chord shapes and inversions. I know what they’re talking about, but I don’t understand it. I have to nod my head politely and say “Ok!” and then go think “what the hell does that mean?” [Laughs] Everything I do is kind of self taught, really. I had to take some piano exams when I was a kid, and I had to play – when you do those exams you have to play a piece to an examiner and you have the music in front of you and you play it. You’ve had a chance to practice it, of course. I just couldn’t work out how to do it, so I got a record of it and learned it from the record by ear. I just thought, “ok so this is how you do it.” So I got there to my exam and put the music on the stand in front of me as if I was reading the music, but of course I played it because I’d learned it from the record because honestly I don’t know what it’s all about really. To me it’s just music. I seem to be able to do it without having to learn it. I would probably be a lot better if I could be bothered to sit down and study it, because my friends have all studied it. But it just didn’t work for me that way, ok.

Bryan: Well whatever you’re doing is clearly working for you. Is the music recorded when you go and do your vocals, or is it kind of in the middle of the process that you do that and then shape the music around the vocal lines that you’ve recorded?

Andy: Yes, what you have to do is take one step forward two steps back. One step is you start off with your idea. You think about it. You get a little bit that’s nice and you think, “ok how could that work.” Then you develop it, then you put some vocals on and see what the vocals add to it. Then you alter what you’d written to start with to go with the vocals, and then you maybe adjust the vocals a bit to go with what you’d just done. Then you keep going backwards and forwards until you finally got what you wanted to be there in the first place. Technology really helps me be able to do that. It’s just got better over time. I used to do it on tape recorders back in the 80s, and I do it on computers now. Computers are way better. [Laughs] Much better way of recording.

Bryan: We’ve come full circle talking about technology, and that’s an example of using technology as a tool rather than the technology using you as a tool.

Andy: Absolutely, correct. Totally agree.

Bryan: Well thanks so much for your time. Is there anything else that you want to tell the world about Auto Reconnaissance?

Andy: Not really. I’m very very pleased with it, I have to say. I think that one of the good things about it was that I was able to, because of coronavirus actually, Luke Machin had a bit of work canceled that he would’ve been doing for other people, and I was able to get him involved in the production more. Although on this album we did produce it together, I think that the final sound, the final quality of sound, a lot of it has to be put down to him because he actually performed the final mix.

I have to say it’s a stunning stunning piece of work that he did. It really has made our record – I think the overall sound of the record has taken a jump up on this one. I’m very pleased with that. It’s been a lovely process, and actually despite all the odds and all the chaos in the world that’s happened, I think this has been the most enjoyable album we’ve ever made together. I was so happy to make it with exactly the same people as we made the last one. And still be able to develop, because it doesn’t just sound like Proxy part 2. It’s a different animal, but with the same people. I think that demonstrates the versatility and the flexibility of the people I’m working with. I really value that.

Bryan: Yeah, the album sounds absolutely gorgeous. It’s great. I think it is a step up for you guys. I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve listened to it probably ten times before it’s even been released. It sounds fantastic, and there’s so much more with repeated listens – you catch up on things both lyrically and musically that you missed before.

Andy: Ok, well that’s great. Well the other thing I need to do is to thank you very much for taking the time to do this. As I tell everybody, you guys who do the interviews and do the articles and the reviews and stuff like that – you are just as important as we are because you tell the world about us, and if you didn’t nobody would know we were here. So thank you very much for your part in doing it. Particularly as you’ve written a nice review in the DPRP. I look forward to reading it my friend.

Bryan: Oh thanks very much. That’s very kind of you. Without you guys we wouldn’t have anything to write about.

Andy: Yeah that’s it. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We both need each other to go along, so I reckon that more of us should say thank you to you guys, so there you go.

Bryan: I really appreciate it. That means a lot. Well thanks so much for your time. I’ll let you carry on with your evening.

Andy: Thank you very much sir. Take care and I look forward to reading the interview and the review. Yeah, alright.

Bryan: Alright thanks a lot. Bye.

Andy: See you later, Bryan. Thanks for your time. Very best wishes to you and your family. Bye.

Bryan: To you as well.  

Big thanks to Roie Avin at Inside Out for setting up the interview, and a huge thanks to Andy Tillison for his time and his kind words. This was a really fun interview to conduct. If you made it to the end you can tell just what a thoughtful person Mr. Tillison is. That obviously shines in his music, but it shines equally in conversation with him.

Buy the album at Burning Shed.

3 thoughts on “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

  1. Pingback: Bryan’s Best of 2020 – Progarchy


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