Interview - Winterlight
By: Brett Spaceman
When I first started writing about music I very quickly became acquainted with Tim Ingham, aka Winterlight. Every artist Myspace page I visited, Tim seemed to be there too. Of course shared musical tastes are no guarantee or prerequisite of friendship. And yet it can be fun and we quickly formed a bond that remains some five or six years on. I recall fondly how Tim was a strong supporter of my early writing and how he used to speak with such modesty about his own music. To be honest, when I finally got to hear Winterlight, I was a bit shocked just how competent (and lovely) it was. I get the feeling Tim might be a touch too modest about his work but that’s what makes him him. I suspect he will never change.
Since then, Tim has worked closely with many of my favourite artists and signed to the outstanding n5MD label which specializes in the emotive side of electronica and IDM, – the perfect home, in other words, for a project such as Winterlight. I took time to speak to Tim on the release of his album Hope Dies Last.
Brett Spaceman: Let’s start with that obvious interview cliché, influences – Slowdive, Cocteaus, Ulrich Schnauss, – would I be along the right lines?
Tim Ingham: Well those are artists are certainly people I have listened to and I would certainly recognise the importance of the Cocteau’s and Slowdive to my sound, especially the guitars. That is the music I loved as a young man and I think that always stays with you. Ulrich’s music I love but I genuinely never listened to until I started to make “electronic” music so maybe that is more of a coincidence. There are other contemporary acts that I take more from but perhaps not necessarily musical; I would cite port-royal as a huge influence but perhaps more in terms of friendship and support.
Spaceman: Is it flattering or annoying to be compared to those acts? Are people missing something essential about Winterlight when they frame you in those terms?
Tim: I think it is only natural to make comparisons so it certainly doesn’t annoy me though it might if people started to think it was me making the comparisons somewhat presumptively! At the same time I don’t think I sound that much like those bands and I am influenced by many more things musical, visual and philosophical which contribute to the final sound. So I hope that when people do hear my music they hear the sound of Winterlight and not a poor copy of those bands.
Spaceman: Why the name Winterlight, by the way? Your music doesn’t feel cold or dark to me?
Tim: I love the films of Ingmar Bergmann so I took the name from one of his films though it is one which is in fact quite cold and depressing. I agree it might not at first seem quite right but I liked the way it sounds when you say it and as a name it makes me think of something warm and welcoming in a cold place. For me the music is a way out of an, at times, debilitating depression so Winterlight is a warm light in the darkness and the cold.
Spaceman: Is your music optimistic?
Tim: I suppose whether you think it is depends on each person. For me, it sounds simultaneously happy and sad; I find the happiest moments sometimes strangely sad at times and extreme sadness can be oddly euphoric and cathartic. I think the optimism is in the fact that when I am thinking about it and making it then I am often trying to break out of sadness so there is a defiance and a refusal to give in, a belief that somehow things will be better. Hope dies last, of course.
Spaceman: What message or meaning are you trying to convey?
Tim: Well I don’t think I am necessarily trying to convey a message that sounds perhaps a little too narrative but I think an instrumental track is more an attempt to convey a feeling or a mood. Each song is influenced by different things, some very personal, some less so. For example, Your wings make you fly was written about my daughter who was born with a large birthmark on her back and i used to tell her it was where the angels cut her wings off before they gave her to us. Plattenbauten: Palast is about the contradiction between the promise of modernist architecture in the DDR and the reality. Nevertheless, as I said, these aren’t really ideas I am trying to convey just things I am thinking about when I write the songs. I’m not sure whether I think of the feeling and the song comes from that or whether a phrase I play evokes a feeling in me and I elaborate on that. Most of these meanings a listener would only get if they heard the ‘story” or maybe saw some of the live visuals, I would imagine that each person will have their own feelings that the song will evoke. I like music that carries me to a different place or that I can lose myself in, music that doesn’t tell me exactly how I should feel about it, I hope people feel that about my music and can get whatever meanings they want from it.
Spaceman: Is the lack of vocals or lyrics liberating or confining?
Tim: Given my last comment it shouldn’t surprise that I find the lack of lyrics something that is liberating. It means I can make the soundscape without worrying about leaving space for vocals or worrying if the lyrics fit the mood and given that lyrics tend to define how people interpret the music it means I can maintain that ambiguity I think is part of my music. A friend recently listened to the album and described it as happy melancholic, I like that.
Spaceman: Would you work with a vocalist?
Tim: That said I have some vocals from a friend, Becca Riedtmann, on the album and I like the way it turned out, part of the mix as if they are another instrument. It is something we both enjoyed so we intend to do some more songs together. I like vocals that either don’t dominate or don’t direct you too much to a particular meaning like the Cocteaus and Slowdive I suppose…
Spaceman: You must need help with a live set-up? How does that go?
Tim: Like most solo acts live performance is a bit of a compromise, though i think it is worth doing because it is different to experience this music loud in a club rather than in headphones or in your room. A lot of the sound comes from a laptop though I use Ableton live to live mix some of the samples and along with me playing the guitar or keyboard I have good friend Jamie who also plays guitar. Aside from that I have visuals which relate to each track; I think when there only two of you up there with a laptop it is important to have some other visual focus and it gives me an opportunity to hint at some of the meanings I see in the tracks.
Spaceman: You mix a lot. You’ve re-mixed a lot of the artists I like. Is that something you’ll always do? Which is the first love, writing or mixing?
Tim: For me I don’t see them as that far apart. The way I work on a remix is to pick one or two repeating phrases and write a lot of my own material over the top of them. Tim: The original track then is just a starting point in the way that thinking about modernist architecture can be a starting point. It can be quite time consuming so I may do a little less in the future in order to concentrate on my own material though I am very lucky to have been asked to remix some artists I love and if I continue to be asked to work on such great material then I will find it hard to resist.
Spaceman: Who would you love to remix if you had the chance?
Tim: Well as I have said I have remixed a lot of my favourites but there are lots more I would like to do; I would love to have a go at Epic 45 and if Lawrence ever reforms Felt then I would do a remix in a flash. Failing that, a really loud or heavy artist or one with lots of vocals would be an interesting challenge.
Spaceman: How do you write a track? Do you begin with melody or rhythm? Do you layer up each part? Do you sometimes get the whole piece in your head and go try to lay it down in the studio?
Tim: When I write a track I usually sit down with a guitar or keyboard and just see what comes out from playing, what happens or what direction I choose to go in depends I suppose on what mood I am in or what I am thinking about. I may just have three chords but I will put them down on a track and then start layering things over the top. Sometimes there will be twenty tracks playing at a time, I like to build quite complex things from the interplay between many simple lines but most start from a fairly simple guitar or keyboard motif which I repeat and build the song around, you can hear this in songs like swept or your wings make you fly which both have simple keyboard riffs running all the way through them in the background. I like building intensity through repetition though it is always musical repetition, for me percussion tracks are always the last thing to get sorted.
Occasionally I will imagine the whole song in my head, hush now from my mirror ep was like that but more often if i am writing things in my head it is the melodies and layers that go over the original idea, that almost invariably comes from sitting with an instrument. I should add on the idea of a studio, perhaps to show solidarity with all the other “little guys” out there, my music is necessarily made on a shoestring budget on a laptop with a midi keyboard and a guitar in the corner of a room. There is no studio and no expensive equipment used in its production, this does create limitations but i like to think it also helps shape my sound too and shows what you can do on a restricted budget.
Spaceman: Tell us about the album you have just released on the n5MD label.
Tim: It’s called Hope Dies Last, so named because a number of tracks were influenced by my nostalgia for my youth when I spent a lot of time listening to weird and wonderful shortwave transmissions from Radio Moscow and all the other former eastern bloc nations. They promised a fantastic future but, of course, one that was never real. Despite this I still look back on this idea with nostalgia and still hope that maybe it could be made real. On the cover is a beautiful photograph of an old radio of the kind we had and its warm orange glow seems to sum up this feeling perfectly.
It’s an album which was a long time gestating but I never found a label I felt was right to release it with until now. Mike Cadoo has a great label at n5md and I am really happy to be part of the set up.
There are 12 songs that vary from uptempo, “between joy” which I have been playing in my live set for a while as “happy song”, to more stretched out and almost ambient like “I still hope”, which was on of the last tracks to be finished. I had the opportunity to rework an old track “a sky full of clouds” with Mike adding bass and some of the drums and Becca Riedtmann writing some lyrics especially to fit the song and for me it is one of the highlights of the album. I’m really pleased with the way the whole album turned out, I hope others will be too.
[sic] Magazine thanks Tim Ingham for his insights. Hope Dies Last is out now on the n5MD label.