Electronic music has evolved into a myriad of different categories and styles. There is techno, ambient, dub, break-beat, house, acid-house, industrial, ambient, chill-out, etc. The list is endless. England’s trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack, were at the forefront of a movement and have influenced thousands of people. Like Massive Attack’s later work, Teargas & Plateglass have that deep, dark sound and eerie atmosphere to their soundscapes along with thick rhythms and both sinister and angelic melodies.
On the critically acclaimed ‘Being Black’ compilation, they provided the music for poetess Ursula Rucker (who has been on almost all of the LPs by The Roots). In 2004, Waxploitation Records released their eponymous debut, which took 3 years to record. While many other electronic groups make music strictly for dance floors, Teargas & Plateglass make weird, wild, and extremely dark rhythm and melodies. During the hot Spring of 2004, Pixelsurgeon spoke to the enigmatic and reclusive group. Enter a world of thick rhythm and dark melodies. Embrace the darkness and let the music take you away…
PIXELSURGEON: Hi. How are things right now?
TEARGAS & PLATEGLASS: Just getting in. Really need some coffee but recently switched to this green/white tea stuff. Less jittery on it, but there’s no kick to it. Oh well.
Your debut self-titled album is coming out shortly. Please tell us a little bit about it.
Hmmmmm. Are we allowed to say no comment? It’s just kind of what it is. It’s just a ghost to us. Very, very intangible. We didn’t really set out with a specific goal. We just let it happen and this is what happened. It’s like being connected to a machine via an umbilical cord. It was a very subconscious experience.
How long did it take you to record it?
3 years at least. We work really slow and require long breaks.
What is your favorite song on the album?
There’s a bonus track on the album that was an early sketch of something we wanted to do and could never really do it right, but we put it on anyway and since it’s a song that we listened to the least, it still sounds fresh.
Can you explain the songwriting process?
It’s alchemy. We primarily find certain notes and sounds that feel right and then use them as the core message. Then start to layer the songs with a wash of other sounds until it feels right. The way we work, there’s more randomness to the process than not. That’s one of the reasons it takes a lot of time to craft. Some, if not most if the initial work, is not able to be repeated. There’s a convergence of sounds, and so much happening on different tracks with a certain density of effects, that once we are recording live, a lot happens that we can’t control.
Besides the obvious reason, how is making an instrumental track different from track with vocals? Do you approach it differently? What makes you add vocals to it?
It’s odd. A lot of our instrumentals started out with vocals. There’s something great about using vocals to help make a song have a certain construction to it. It keeps the momentum going from start to finish since you want to change things up. For example, intro, verse, pre chorus, chorus, bridge. Having vocals helps you keep a mark on the feel of things, but a lot of times, we have vocals and then delete them at the end. It’s maybe counterintuitive to conventional songwriting, but it works well for us.
How did you get involved with Natacha Atlas (the lead singer of Transglobal Underground) on the remix for ‘Adam’s Lullaby’? What was she like to work with?
We heard her original version of Adam’s Lullaby and were totally blown away by the dynamic of it. The vocal performance and melody was inexplicably soft and sweet, but also bittersweet. Very few artists can do that. It really moved us. But the original music of the song was very rich and uplifting’and we felt that it cried out to be taken in a different direction, so we asked her label if we could re-create the song with more of a sense of desperation. The result of it is on our album. Shout out to The Beggars Group for letting it happen.
How did you guys meet and eventually form the group?
We’re a collective that adds and loses members from time to time. So it’s not really a ‘group’ in that sense. The only thing we all have in common is, we love dark music and we love beats and we all are damaged goods.
What is the meaning behind the name Teargas & Plateglass?
When we were originally writing the album, it was during a period of time when people were uprising against the IMF, amongst other things and it seemed like there was a surge in local peoples trying to take a stand against globalization’so we kept seeing similar images on television, but all in different regions of the world. It was very poignant while we were making the album. One day, we were listening to albums and there was a line in a song by a great artist named A Silver Mt. Zion, that went ‘Let our crowds be fed on teargas and plateglass, because a people united is a wonderful thing’ and it just stuck as a phrase that was compelling and felt right to us.
What equipment do you use?
A mix of analog and digital gear. Vinyl, tape delay, plate reverb, samplers. We record and mix in Logic. We’re not really gearheads. We just have things that people send to us and use most of it in ways that are probably not the intent of the manufacturer.
How were you making a living before or outside music?
Soul sapping sh*t jobs like telemarketing, delivering food to fraternities, the usual.
Who are your biggest influences?
Akira Kurosawa, Wu Tang Clan, Noam Chomsky, Low, Philip Glass, El-P. Stanley Kubrick, Lee Scratch Perry, Morihei Ueshiba, King Tubby, Elliott Smith, Hans Simmer, Will Oldham, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Bob Marley, Dmitri, Shostakovich, Yellowman, William Gibson.
In an interview, you said, ‘everything on the album was like being visited by a hungry ghost’. Can you explain that more?
A ‘hungry ghost’ is a Tibetan reference to a person who is always searching without rest. Probably something related to Buddhism. It’s a phrase that seemed to best describe the feeling we have when writing and recording. It always feels like there’s a poltergeist at work, and that our hands and fingers are simply a vehicle for these visiting ghosts to communicate something so they can move on.
The cover was done by Sebastiao Salgado. Can you explain the cover? What do you like about the cover? How did you get involved with Sebastiao Salgado?
Sebastio Salgado is one of the most important photo journalists/photo essayists of any generation. He goes to the most tortured places in the world and allows or forces the rest of us to bear witness. He is a very important artist to us. We felt the cover photo was not just obviously sadly stunning and thought provoking, but also a good metaphor for the state of the world right now. People staring right into each other’s eyes, being totally conscious of everything happening, but there’s that decaying train in the background, moving away. It feels, to us, that the events of the world are happening without a way to stop them or have an impact on them. Clearly, the child has been deserted. Pretty overwhelming.
How do you approach remixes? Do you strip the songs down? Do you just add to it? What goes on?
We usually just write a song that is inspired by the vocals of the original song and then put the original a capella over it. They are less ‘remixes’ and more ‘interpretations’. So it’s a lot of new composition and production.
What remix are you most proud of?
Our ‘Zero 7’ remix that will never see the light of day for whatever reason.
You worked with Ursula Rucker on the new album. How did you hook up with her and what was that collaboration like?
She recorded these passages from a book by Angel Kyodo Williams and gave us the spoken word to one called ‘When We Are Ignorant’ and we put it down on top of a track we were working on for our own album. It just seemed to fit nicely. It’s a really short, simple interlude. The track ended up on the Being Black CD. She’s an amazing artist and amazing woman. Powerful.
What are your favorite movies?
Anything by Akira Kurosawa or Stanley Kubrick. Shout out to Netflix.
What is in the future for Teargas & Plateglass? Remixes? Collaborations? Tours?
We are remixing a tweaker song featuring Jennifer Charles from Elysian Fields. We are desperately trying to get VP Records to send us the parts for Buju Banton’s ‘Paid Not Played’ so we can remix it. Also working on an EP that we want to put out pretty soon. We thought we’d take a year off, but we were moved by some things that we feel compelled to unleash. So hopefully, we will release it early next year.
Any final words for the people who will be reading this?
Want to thank our family and friends and extended music community for all the love and support. Thanks Todd. Your questions were unusually thought provoking.