Tim Bowness is releasing his latest album, Flowers at the Scene, on March 1st. We caught up with him for a few questions about the album and what else is going on in his music world, including a new no-man album with Steven Wilson.
You can read our review of Flowers at the Scene here.
What was the inspiration for making this new album?
Lost In The Ghost Light was completed in October 2016, and 2017 was taken up re-recording Plenty material with Brian Hulse and David K Jones. As enjoyable as that was I was getting itchy to write something new. In very early 2018, I wrote some songs with Brian. I then wrote Rainmark and it felt to me as if something fresh was emerging.
As with all the albums I make, there was a sense of excitement surrounding the creation of it. For me, there’s no point in releasing the same old thing again and again and I have to have a sense that what I’m doing deserves to be released. There’s too much out there to just release things for the sake of it.
Is there a common theme among the songs?
None whatsoever. For the first time since no-man’s 2001 album Returning Jesus, there’s no overriding theme or concept. It’s a collection of 11 quite different songs with 11 separate lyrics (I see them as being cinematic short stories).
That said, Flowers At The Scene was very much conceived and sequenced as an album.
The first single, I Go Deeper, what is the story behind that song?
This was one of the last tracks written for Flowers At The Scene. I co-wrote it in the Summer of 2018 with Italian musician Stefano Panunzi for use in a film.
The film version was developed in the more romantic tradition of mid-1990s no-man, Fjieri and Porcupine Tree at its most lush, but I heard something very different in the piece and set about accentuating the differences between the sections and changing the instrumentation.
The song immediately struck me as a potentially strong album opener, and I wanted the introduction to sound as big as it possibly could. Elsewhere, I wanted the jittery grit of the verse to be contrasted with a contemporary Classical legato approach to the chorus.
The lyric is a depiction of a person with a fragmented / medicated mind slipping through moments in their life while wandering through a hospital at night. Fun!
Borderline has a number of notable guests including David Longdon and Colin Edwin. how did that come together?
Whereas the vast majority of the album was written in 2018, Borderline was a long time in the making and started life in 2003 or 2004.
Roger Eno had given me some of his albums and while listening to a piece called Crossing The Border I immediately heard a vocal melody. Alongside Peter Chilvers, I subsequently developed a fully fledged song out of what I’d come up with. There was an additional session at Roger’s house (including recording some RE accordion parts).
Many years and many re-recordings later, the song was sounding good but was still on the back burner.
Feeling it was too strong to remain unreleased, I sent the song to Brian Hulse who liked it. He re-recorded / re-imagined the entirety of the backing track and I re-wrote half of the lyrics (again). I then asked Dylan Howe, Ian Dixon, Colin Edwin and David Longdon to add parts as I suddenly had a clear vision for the piece.
I’d loved Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans album (a glorious Coltrane-esque spiritual Jazz homage to David Bowie’s Berlin era music), so knew he’d be an ideal choice for the drums. Ian and David’s trumpet and flute contributions further enhanced the song and the final addition was David’s rich Michael McDonald meets Guy Garvey (a la Longdon, of course) backing vocal.
The last album you did was a brilliant concept album, do you prefer a conceptual approach to albums over just a collection of song?
Ultimately, I like both approaches and I’ve always gone with ‘whatever works’ rather than utilizing a strict method of making an album.
Generally speaking, since Together We’re Stranger (a no-man album from 2003), I’ve worked thematically or conceptually as it can provide artistic and emotional focus.
In much the same way I loved making Returning Jesus, I really enjoyed creating Flowers At The Scene and I ended up writing about subjects that I wasn’t expecting to. One example is the title track. It’s a two line newspaper article about a fatal stabbing on a park bandstand expanded to expose the painful family reality behind such a mundane and all too familiar story.
At what point did Steven Wilson get involved with the project?
He got involved in August 2018 when the recording and writing had been completed. He was originally brought in to mix, but pretty quickly he was offering more to the pieces than just balance and sonic clarity. Ultimately, a few of the songs were sonically directed by me, several were logical extensions of the demos Brian and I were coming up with, and others were notably altered by SW. Rather than opt for the lawyer style Bowness, Hulse and Wilson credit, along with SW I decided to resurrect an idea we had in the 1990s of the no-man production team (we’d always liked the concept of albums being produced by no-man and carrying something of the band’s DNA into other artist’s releases).
You have said there might be a possible No-Man album in the future, any news on that?
While making and discussing Flowers At The Scene, we also did some recording for a forthcoming No-Man album. It felt really good in that it was the most immersive and enjoyable session since the early days of the band. We just traded ideas and got on with trying to realize them and as it was the two of us in the studio together (rather than in our separate home studios).
What we’ve come up with is 100% No-Man, while also being quite unlike anything we’ve released before.
I’m still in the process of recording vocals and honing the lyrics. Once Steven returns from touring in the Spring, we’re hoping to finish it. We’re still hoping for a 2019 release and I think it’ll surprise a few people.
Has your songwriting changed or evolved over the years and how?
I honestly don’t know. I think what I do is perhaps more detailed than it was and more consistent, but as different as it is, I still like the early no-man and Plenty music and still feel emotionally attached to it. I would like to think that my lyrics are more sophisticated than they were when I started.
What do you make of the current prog landscape? Do you pay much attention to what other artists are doing and what is making waves?
I still listen to and buy music regularly and am kept abreast of the Prog landscape.
I’m a huge fan of the 1960s/1970s wave of Progressives, but have never really connected as much with Neo-Prog or later groups in the genre. My tastes are eclectic and I love Jazz, Classical, Ambient, Singer-songwriter, Folk etc etc. Of late I’ve loved albums by Eric Chenaux, Devon Welsh and Joshua Trinidad. My favourite recent Art/Prog Rock release was by Thumpermonkey (who have something of an updated Indie-fied Gentle Giant about them). I also really liked Steven’s The Raven That Refused To Sing, which I thought breathed fresh life into a variety of 1970s Prog influences.