Having turned down past offers to reunite, British synth-pop group Blancmange have finally decided that the time is right for their return. In March, they released “blanc burn,” their first new album since 1985. Neither retro-sounding nor a reinvention, “blanc burn” has Blancmange sounding just as relevant now as they did in their original 80’s heyday. Below is an email interview with co-founder / vocalist Neil Arthur.
Had there been any previous attempts at reuniting Blancmange? If so, what got in the way of it actually happening?
Neil: “We had been approached over the years for various reasons but never wanted to take up the offers. The difference this time was that the question came from within Blancmange, and was simply do we want to work together again? And the answer this time was yes. It was initially an experiment in creating some music. That developed into a body of work from which we assembled the album.”
How did the creative process of making “blanc burn” compare to the previous releases?
Neil: The old albums were first demoed then probably demoed again. Then taken to the studio and recreated. This time the demo or rough could be easily a ref , or kept as part of the final mix if we wanted. All this was done in my home studio then mixed at friends studios.
In terms of the musical technology and how it has changed over the years, are there any particular things that you wish you could have done back in the early 80’s?
Neil: See above.
Along the same lines, do you think that any LIMITATIONS back then had any specific impact on the shaping of your sound?
Neil: Well we didn’t actually own our own synth when we made our first album. So when you borrowed them, you had to work pretty fast. And remember to write down the settings because as you know, many synths didn’t have memory that could be saved. So the next time you borrow it, or in fact the next time you turned it on, you started from scratch. If you didn’t have those notes you were buggered. It made you adaptable.
How did it feel to be out performing the older material again? What factors went into your song selection for the recent shows? As you started working with them again, are there any tracks that you feel have aged particularly well or badly?
Neil: You never know what it’s going to be like in rehearsal. Going through the set, sorting out both old and new. It’s a matter of making them work. Cutting out the wheat from the chaff and moving on. Live the songs take on a different character.
As for aging, I wasn’t in the crowd but they seem to have gone down well old and new.
What are your general thoughts on how synth pop and electronic music have evolved since when you started Blancmange?
Neil: I’m all for evolving as opposed to revolving.
Do you see yourselves have a mainly targeting the long-time fans, or newer music fans (who might be less familiar with you, but followers of synth pop)? Were you making a conscious effort to appeal to one or both of these groups when making “blanc burn”?
Neil: I think if i tried to write with a market or a group in mind it would be a mistake from the outset. I do like a Saturday Market. I write and there is no formula.
I was surprised to find that you’re back catalog isn’t available as digital downloads in the US (I try to just buy downloads whenever possible, but had to buy CDs to replace my old Blancmange cassettes!) Is this just due to contractual reasons? Or do you prefer physical releases to downloads? Are you concerned that lack of easy accessibility might lead to pirating?
Neil: Bloody I thought a question only had one “?” mark after it! The reason we don’t have old material on USA iTunes etc is down to our old record company. The reason the new stuff isn’t up is because we don’t have a licensing deal as yet. I do like vinyl. I’ll say one thing more. We mix and produce a master WAC file, which is again mastered for the cut. Great. Then most people end up listening to mp3s which are at least 1/10th the quality of the original. And then we listen on a speaker that’s on a mobile phone. I feel a song coming on…
On that note, do you have a US release planned for “blanc burn”?
Neil: See above! It is being worked on.
What do you see as the future of Blancmange? Ideally, do you want to continue on a regular basis? Or perhaps do an album/tour occasionally between other projects?
Neil: I still do film/tv etc music.
But we’ll release more songs and remixes. And there’ll be more live dates too.