Tim Bowness’ sterling new album Butterfly Mind — to be released after last-minute supply delays on August 5th — isn’t just his latest for InsideOut Music/Sony, it’s also his 40th anniversary release! Since 1982, Tim has made his mark in the music industry as a contributor to bands such as Plenty (2 albums of recently re-recorded material from their 1980s heyday) and No-Man (7 albums, including 2019’s comeback Love You to Bits), as the co-founder of the record label and online music shop Burning Shed, and as co-host of the podcast The Album Years with No-Man collaborator and long-time friend Steven Wilson. Oh, and he’s also released five of his six previous solo albums on InsideOut since 2014, all chock-full of thoughtful, provocative art-rock brought to life by the cream of today’s progressive musicians. Butterfly Mind continues Bowness’ hot streak while striking out in fresh, arresting directions.
This is also at least Tim’s fifth interview with us at Progarchy. This time around, as well as revealing how “shed envy”, George Orwell, and flavored milk drinks played into the creation of Butterfly Mind, Tim unpacks his philosophy of lyric writing, reacts to Steven Wilson’s memoir and brings us up to date on the latest challenges of running Burning Shed. A complete transcription follows the video below!
So, when last we spoke, and I think that was in 2020, you joked about doing nothing and emptying out your Hard Drive of Doom over the next couple years. But here we are, in the run-up to yet another new album. So, what was the impetus behind the songs that have become your new album, Butterfly Mind?
Well, I did actually have nine months of not writing anything; the same before Late Night Laments as well. Basically, I didn’t write for about eight and nine months, and then I suddenly felt compelled to write. Because before Late Night Laments, I’d been working on No-Man’s Love You to Bits, and that had taken us about a year. That was a case of rewriting an existing piece and adding to it. And Late Night Laments came out very much as an album in opposition to Love You to Bits, cause Love You to Bits had been this quite electronic, pummeling, beat-oriented work. And I desperately wanted to do something quieter, more reflective.
And when I’d finished Late Night Laments, I really did have no ideas! All I did for about nine months was record cover versions of songs for fun. As you say, I got my Hard Drive of Doom out, I re-recorded some very old Plenty songs, and about nine months after that, I wrote a piece called “Lost Player”. And the floodgates opened once again!
So, within about four months, I’d written four or five pieces, several of which didn’t end up on the album. Two were with Richard Barbieri, who is in Porcupine Tree, as I’m sure many of you might know. And another was a track with [Plenty member] Brian [Hulse], which is ending up on the Japanese version of the album. But it really kickstarted again, sort of October 2020, and I just suddenly felt the desire to write. And if there was any motivation, it was again to do something different from what I’d done.
So, whereas Late Night Laments as an atmospheric album and it was quite consistently quiet, with this album I wanted to surprise myself and surprise the listener.
And I think you did! Because it’s true; when I heard Butterfly Mind, it immediately seemed harder-edged – there’s experimental sonics; you’ve got some songs with multiple sections; there’s almost a sort of muted hysteria in terms of the subject matter. But we can get to that in a bit.
On this album, instead of using that variety of players that you used on Flowers at The Scene and Late Night Laments, you’re building out from this core band – Brian Hulse on guitars and keys, Nick Beggs on bass and Stick, and Richard Jupp on drums. How did that unit come together?
It came together in a variety of ways, really. With Richard Jupp, I’d long been a fan of Elbow, and with him it was a case of shed envy! I’d seen an article on him and his home studio, and he had this magnificent shed and home studio. So, I contacted him, and obviously mentioned how much I liked his drumming as well. I particularly liked it on the first couple of Elbow albums, where he’s a very versatile player who can do dynamic, and he can do quiet. And luckily his teenage son, it turned out, was a fan of No-Man, Porcupine Tree and The Album Years, so he knew my work.
So that’s how Richard got involved; I said, “would you be interested in playing with me?” The session with Richard was great, because it was the first session after all the lockdowns in the UK. And so we were in the studio together, working in real time on the music. So, it’s very exciting! And he definitely went above and beyond what I’d expected. Because originally, he was planned to be on maybe half the album. But he heard certain tracks like “Always the Stranger” and said, “I’ve got to play on this; let me play on this!” So, it was really good!
Nick Beggs came about because as much as I love the players I’d been using on my previous albums — Colin Edwin, John Jowett, they’re both incredibly gifted. And I’ll continue to work with them; in fact, I’ve worked with Colin since I completed this album. I wanted something different; I wanted a different kind of energy. I mentioned this to Steven Wilson and he said, “Nick Beggs would be my choice.” So, then I approached Nick Beggs, and luckily he agreed.
So, yeah, it comes from a core group working on the song, then finding the right solo instrumentalists. People like Ian Anderson and Dave Formula, who are on the album.
Yes, and I noticed that here are plenty of cameos – you mentioned Ian Anderson; Peter Hammill comes in on guitar and vocals for a couple of tracks again; Greg Spawton plays bass pedals that don’t sound like bass pedals, so that’s kind of fun.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s true!
But the biggest news that I saw in terms of guest shots was Ben Coleman playing some violin. What led the two of you to team up again? As I understand it, it’s the first time you’ve been in the studio together since No-Man’s initial heyday.
Yeah, it’s the first time since 1993, so 29 years! I think in the case with a lot of the players, such as Ian Anderson, it’s because I felt like it required that flute solo voice. And Ian plays on three tracks; one of them isn’t on the album, it’s on the outtakes CD, which is the second disc of the CD version.
And so really, it was finding the players I thought were appropriate for the piece. And Dave Formula is somebody whose music I’ve loved for many years. He was in a band called Magazine, who were very big when I was at school, and then he was also in a band Visage, who were also very big as well. But he’s a tremendous Hammond organ and synth player, who has been around actually since the mid-60s. He’s the same age as Ian Anderson, even though his heyday was in the early 1980s, with people like Visage and Magazine!
So generally speaking, I found people whose music I felt resonated with mine, and I felt they’d be able to bring something out of the material. And the same goes for younger artists. Like Martha Goddard, who sings backing vocals on three tracks, and Mark Tranmer, who is a wonderful guitarist who’s in a band called The Montgolfier Brothers.
And with Ben Coleman, it was because I could hear violin on two of the track; I could suddenly hear that classic No-Man sound! I just got in touch with him, and luckily, he was interested. He contributed to three or four of the tracks on the album in the end. And it was glorious – as soon as he started playing, it was that sound!
Yes, yes it is! It’s absolutely unmistakable! So let’s dig into subject matter a little bit more. The first time I heard “We Feel” and “Only A Fool” they were genuinely scary to me! And I also know that you never want to connect all the dots for us; you want us to take away our own meaning. Or our own perception of what you’re trying to say in these songs. But what clues are you leaving for us to decipher?Continue reading “Tim Bowness: The 2022 Progarchy Interview”