[26 June 2013]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
When talking about Bibio, let’s just all do ourselves a favor and drop the word “folktronica” from any conversation, shall we?
In truth, Bibio (real name Stephen Wilkinson) has been pushing the outer limits of what can be done with conventional guitar recording. At times, he’ll furnish his recordings with electronic elements, clipped vocals, and sample manipulations. At other times (especially in his earlier years), he recorded gorgeous, standalone acoustic songs that featured frentic, considered picking style. The emotional undercurrent of his work has resonated with listeners and even advertisers, culimainting in a Google Glass ad where the protagonist learns how to play Bibio’s “Lovers’ Carvings” on the ukelele.
Thus, with the many different phases that his discogarphy has gone through, fans both old and new can find a lot to appreciate on his latest disc, Silver Wilkinson, which meshes all of his previous work together into a cohesive, fascinating whole. From the electronic workout of “You” to the blissful, ‘70s-tinted pop work of “À tout à l’heure”, Silver may very well be his most accomplished album yet. Sitting down with PopMatters, Wilkinson tells us about the greatest Cocteau Twins album of all time, recreating Withnail & I in his daily life, and how everyone, everywhere, should be listening to Alan Watts ...
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I probably fought back the tears as I was in a cinema but A Single Man was pretty heart-wrenching. A tragic yet beautiful film.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Marwood from the film Withnail and I. Not because I’m really like him but because I have a mate who is like the character Withnail, so I feel like Marwood when I’m in his company. It’s also my favorite film ever. My daily dialogue involves quotes from that film, no lie, especially with my girlfriend and of course my mate “Withnail”.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Well it would be boring and predictable if I kept on saying Music Has the Right to Children so I’ll say Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins this time. It’s simply too good.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Neither really… although when I was a kid I had a crush on Deanna Troi so I used to watch Next Generation. I was always gutted if she wasn’t in it. Never really got into Star Wars, which I imagine is like blaspheming to some people. I’d quite like a lightsaber though, but a really small one for cutting bread with, I guess you could make instant toast with one.
5. Your ideal brain food?
I had a little snooze on the grass in a serene churchyard today; things like that inspire me, they feel significant.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m proud of the fact that I taught myself how to write, play and produce music.
7. You want to be remembered for… ?
Anecdotes. Some of my close mates have pointed out that I have a particular style of anecdotes, I’m not really aware of it but occasionally I’ll tell one and my mate will say, “That’s a very you story.” It’s quite interesting being told you have a style for something that you were unaware of.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Tough one, so many people, so many facets of humanity… where to start… I guess people who have inspired me are numerous but some of my art tutors at college when I was 19 influenced how I think about things. One of those tutors (who is a painter) did me a mix tape of Steve Reich et al after I told him I wanted to do a project on things going in and out of phase. That tape changed my life, specifically “Electric Counterpoint”.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The Hay Wain by John Constable.
10. Your hidden talents… ?
Cooking and making a mess.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
There’s a funny saying (particular to the Black Country where I live), usually said by old men. When one old man greets another with “How am ya?” or “Yow alright?” the response is, “Keep tekkin’ no notice.” It’s a good saying. I took no notice of school teachers who had no faith in me and made me think that I was a dreamer by thinking I could get anywhere with music. I was/am a dreamer, but so were lots of people throughout history who did good things. It was a wise move for me to take no notice of these people, even though you have it drilled into you that they are an authority and have your best interests at heart. They don’t always. Life’s too short to just do what other people want you to do.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Too many to choose from but I’ll list some recent ones:
Bought: a Gibson Les Paul Studio baritone guitar. Features quite a bit on Silver Wilkinson. Very Twin Peaks vibe.
Stole: some ideas from certain poems I won’t mention.
Borrowed: probably a DVD that I haven’t watched yet.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or… ?
Levis 510. I have five pairs.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Alan Watts. He was an English philosopher, although lived a good part of his life in California. He also died there too. I just noticed that his Wikipedia page states his nationality as American—you can take the boy out of England but you can’t take the England out of the boy. Anyway, he was a human man and a very interesting and witty human man who changed the way I think about existence and the universe and all that jazz. His words and ideas entertained me through some good and bad times. I highly recommend listening to his lectures. I heard he was a bit of a rogue, although apparently never said a bad word about anyone. He seems more real to me for being a lover of booze, cigarettes, and sex. I reckon he was a total legend. He has a great speaking voice too.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
I reckon some time in ancient Greece would have been a lush time and place to be alive. It would have been amazing to see the Mediterranean without all of the sunburnt British tourists.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
Walking is good. Walking with headphones on, in the rain, with an umbrella listening to the crackles over the top of my music.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or… ?
I demand to have some booze!
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Countryside. There are lots of places I want to visit: Italy, British Columbia, New Zealand, the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, but I feel very much at home and in my element in the Welsh valleys or in the hills of Somerset. I like being by small rivers/streams. I think it’s a fond childhood memory thing. They just hypnotize me when I stare at the water. It’s a feeling that seems to go back to my distant past which I can’t put my finger on. Totally indescribable and pretty profound.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Listen to Alan Watts.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Digesting two hefty burgers, one steak, one venison. BBQ weather innit?