So Bibio, or Stephen Wilkinson, is often thought of as one of those niche music-lover musicians. We met up with him just after he’d been at Lauren Laverne’s 6Music show and found him to be a curly-haired mix of enigmatic, quiet, forthright and reticently chatty. We sat down at Warp’s HQ in London to have a chat about the new album, Silver Wilkinson, out now on Warp Records, recording wind and fishing.
What do you think of the Daft Punk album?
Bibio: Put me on the spot there! I'm a big fan of their first two albums. I consider myself a Daft Punk fan, but the new one; it's not up my street. It's well produced and impressive in that way but musically it doesn't do it for me. Also, I didn't like the marketing behind it. I thought it was quite arrogant, like just telling people that they're here to save music and nobody's doing that. Bands have been recording music ever since their last album - this idea that they're doing something new by recording instruments I thought was a bit insulting and dismissive of the people who have been using instruments. Obviously marketing is marketing, it's not necessarily actually them doing all of that work, but I think it was a bit over the top.
I thought you might be more neutral than that. You get asked a lot about recording in nature. Do you actually go and record the grass in the wind, a bit like Tom Middleton?
My favourite things to record are natural things, so instead of actually interacting with stuff and hitting them - I used to do a lot of that when I was studying Sonic Arts, I used to do a lot of playing objects - but now I tend to be more into location recordings, so go into a forest and record the sound of wind in the trees. It's quite a difficult thing to record, wind, as it interferes with the microphone. I've actually got some recordings of wind howling through the grass. It's the doing process which is so nice - I could easily go to a library for these sound effects, but actually going out there and having those memories attached. If I end up putting some location recording in a track like I have with this album, on ‘Wolf’ and ‘Mirroring All’, and those sea recordings are from Portugal when I went on holiday last year. It's a reminder of that experience. 'Mirroring All' is all about the experience of being out in the open under the stars.
Is it also the aspect of recording and documenting that is happening anyway, whether you're there or not?
Yeah, you're witnessing it. I still am into the interaction thing as well, but I've got a deep connection with the sound of the elements - the rain and wind and stuff like that. I've got tons of recordings of that and I'm always trying to get the perfect one. I'm not sure if it even exists. As soon as I hear thunder I stop what I'm doing and get my mics out. But by the time I've set everything up, it's stopped. My dream is to have a house in the countryside with mics permanently set up outside so if there's a thunderstorm I just need to hit record. It would have to be in the middle of nowhere - like set in a cliff or something.
With the song "Dye The Water Green" you say that it sounds green. Do you have an element of synesthesia at all? Do you hear colours?
No, not at all. It's just imagination really. Just daydreaming. With synesthesia, it's more of a physical reaction, I suppose it's a little bit a like an hallucination, really. With me it's more like just imagination. I might associate the murkiness of it - and it's quite a filtered and murky song, with murky water or a murky glass, like a green bottle. The reactions that I get from the music that I make usually influence the lyrics, if there are lyrics.
Making your records is quite a solitary process; do you find it hard to adjust to go from the aloneness to suddenly coming to talk about it to the press?
I consider myself an introvert and quite shy - less so than I used to be - but it is a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly have to be on live radio and stuff like that. Especially as I do spend so much time on my own and in my own head, but this is the third record on Warp and my sixth in total - seven if you include "The Apple And The Tooth", which some people do, so I've got a bit used to it over the years. I kind of like it in a way, you kind of get sick of being asked the same questions - and these aren't the same questions by the way! But you spend so much time on your own thinking and going through love/hate relationships with your music and then suddenly socialise with people about the record is a good reflection process and being asked questions about how I made it is quite nice to have it recorded.
At first do you find it hard to share the stories and processes behind them or are you glad to tell everyone how they came about?
I'm more open about it than I used to be. There are certain things that I might keep secret and there are certain things I'm happy to discuss. When I've read reviews or comments, a lot of assumptions are made, as people don't know the facts behind something so they just guess. Sometimes when certain journalists guess things and then other journalist’s just copy and paste that before you know it then it sort of becomes their truth! If you're open about how you do stuff then it's good to set the record straight. I think some people are confused about how I make my music - whether it's sampled or live or whatever. A lot of people describe me as an electronic artist, but this album, although there are moments of electronic on it, is recorded in the same way that a band would, a guitar part, a bass part, a vocal, part, percussion. I use analogue synths and a Wurlitzer so it's all a physical process. To me electronic music is more like sequencing and things like that. There is some of that on the album "Look at Orion!" does and even"You", the hip-hop Dilla-esque one, is samples but it's manually played on an MPC so I feel like I'm more a musician than an electronic musician if that makes sense?
You've said that this is your most emotional record yet.
I think so, yeah. Well, maybe the most melancholy perhaps as a whole. Some of the lyrics are quite depressing actually, if I'm totally honest - particularly the last track is quite tragic. I actually at one point thought I might not release it, as I felt almost guilty about writing such a depressing song. It's not even a true story. I take my lyrical influences from different sources, so one line might be from a film and another line might be influenced by something someone once said to me. Some tracks have emerged between personal experience and fantasy.
You say you don't like to start an album with any preconceived ideas - do you just sit down and gush?
I think preconceived ideas are good when they're more like a feeling. I don't even know how you can have strict pre-conceived ideas. Sometimes it's good to set yourself limitations where you only use certain instruments and technology to write a song for one day to write a track, but to have an idea like 'for my next album, I'm going to make a folk or hip-hop album' would be restrictive because if an album takes two years to make, your tastes might meander and you get sick of doing the one thing and feel like doing something else, you should allow whatever to come out.
You say "Sycamore Silhouetting" has an element of a fishing documentary in it - is fishing never far from your thoughts?
I'm not a big fisherman really, to be honest. I adopted the Bibio name because my dad uses Bibio fly when he fishes. I used to go fishing a lot with him when I was a kid, and I loved it, I love the countryside and being out there. You get hypnotised by moving water - when you're staring at it for hours it can get quite trippy. So I've got really fond memories of that and would like to do it more.
Silver Wilkinson sounds a bit like a fishing implement.
It is! You're right actually! It's actually a fly - that's the first time I've disclosed that. I did say that I wasn't going to spill the beans about it. Sometimes when you get a really fancy fly you often find them framed with a little plaque with a name. My girlfriend was in a charity shop and saw one and sent me a photo of it, because my surname's Wilkinson. Straight away I thought it was a song title. Shortly after that, another girl who lives on the Isle of Isla in Scotland sent me another picture of a Silver Wilkinson. And then it ended up being the name of the album.
This is your seventh album - are you constantly making music?
I guess so. I don't really think that's a huge amount of music really. I've only been doing music full-time since I signed to Warp, prior to that I had part-time jobs and was a student. The first album took the longest, like most first albums do, and spanned from 1999 to 2003/4. I don't do a huge amount of touring- last year I didn't do any gigs at all. I just focused on the music. I feel like I work quite slowly, but then some people take seven years to make one album, so I dunno what they've been doing. Raising children I guess.
Some of the reviews for this album have said that you are a man in his prime. Do you feel like a 29-year-old Premiership footballer?
I hope not as I like to think that I'm not going to go downhill after this. People's opinions are always polarised - some people say Ambivalence Avenue was my best album, some people say Mind Bokeh was my best album, some people prefer the old stuff. Everyone's got their own idea of where you peak and it's a personal taste thing at the end of the day. I'm going to carry on regardless and I think my skills are more honed now. Sometimes you hear bands or artists that don't mature gracefully and try to cling on to their youth and it's quite undignified, and I think that some bands and musicians get better with releases - like Cocteau Twins, I like their 1990 period and I love the new Grizzly Bear album too - I think that's the best thing they've done. Some artist's release such an incredible debut and it's so hard to live up to it. Like Daft Punk, you do a debut like that and you're like, well, where do you go from there?