Improvised synth tracks never came so easily
Evangeline Ling and David Wrench sip cautiously from their beakers and stare. “You know, I have never had anything this fizzy,” Evangeline says to David, as she takes another speculative gulp of orange wine, “it tastes like a bacteria drink, like Berocca or something!” Now they’ve got the giggles and there’s no turning back. The rest of our meeting moves from hushed contemplation to frenzied gesticulation as the orange wine flows.
We’re hunkered underground in Welsh sound engineer David’s East London studio, Evangeline slouched on a particularly low slung sofa as David fidgets on drinks duty. This is a pattern they’ve got used to in the short shelf-life of audiobooks – having met and hit it off at a mutual friend’s party, this small but beautifully constructed space has become home. “I was still wiring the place when Evangeline invited herself round,” says David. “I had sort of set up the speakers and built the modular synth so Evangeline started playing on that whilst I was patching. We were having a good time and she seemed keen to fiddle with it so I thought, yeah I’ll let her experiment, why not!” Prone to making each other laugh, David’s story is already tickling Fine Art student Evangeline but he continues in his hushed Welsh tone. “I came back and she had this amazing look of concentration on her face. Total focus. I see that face all the time now. Especially when you are learning a new skill. You can be like that for hours.” Evangeline’s now nodding furiously. “I am one of those people who once switched on, can’t switch off. I can’t do something half involved, it’s the same with eating or running for a bus, I have to put my whole life into it otherwise I am just gooning out.”
It turns out David was impressed with the synth work he saw. “Pretty much straight away and when we started rehearsing something clicked,” he says. “We found we can write something, press record and 3 minutes later we’ve written a song.” And what astonishing songs. audiobooks twisted synth-pop combines a little Bjork and a lot of Mark E Smith to become both otherworldly and edgy. It’s a disarming experience to hear them in full flow. A remarkable creative spark drives the band but it’s not always apparent. “We have a weird workflow that suits us, sometimes I need to carry on working so I just get on with mixing,” says David.
“And I pretty much stare at the ceiling, I have got to be honest with you,” smiles Evangeline. “We sometimes just listen to records and I will talk about music a lot. There are thousands of records around you everywhere down here. So we listen to weird records and there will be a point where we are like, OK let’s do something. A moment comes along where we are in the mood for creating. It’ll just happen really quickly; we will get going and zone out, then say, OK let’s listen back, and most of the time it’s good.”
This is how Audiobooks made ‘Hot Salt’, the breathtaking first single from an album due later this year. “We wrote it on the Summer Solstice in 2017,” David tells me. “There are bits of that on the album that are like magic and definitely a few pop songs. It happened by accident, we just said, oh we’ve written a pop song. Again, it was stupidly quick, it came together like that.” He clicks his fingers and takes another chug of orange wine. “We just wanted something we could dance to on summer solstice!”
Evangeline isn’t quite so blasé about the process.
“I secretly wanted to write a pop song for all of them.” She suddenly sings: “that much is true…” It’s both a bridge in Hot Salt and clearly a nod to The Human League (whom audiobook have a habit of resembling), which has them in stitches. “For me, that part makes it a pop song,” she says. “It’s always those weird bits – ‘and this could be real lifeeee…’” she sings again, moving onto ‘Hot Salt’’s very own chorus.
“The album is about being creative and exploring it,” David tells me, after a hysterical meltdown from them both about scheduled Instagram Stories (nothing about audiobooks is scheduled).
“I believe it to be completely free in its spirit,” continues Evangeline, genuinely thrilled with the record, “it doesn’t go to any uniform sound, genre or trope. We are proud of it.”
Having improvised much of the album, there is a strange musical chemistry between David and Evangeline, but does that translate to other forms of art?
“Well, we sort of agree on aesthetics, don’t we?” says David. “We are quite unified in that respect – we both like the same bits and dislike the same bits.”
“This is a weird question, actually – you can’t see sound, can you?” says Evangeline.
“I do,” says David. “I have Synesthesia full on. Half of my mixing is done by seeing it and sorting it out into a nice pattern.”
“I can definitely believe that,” Evangeline says to me. “He is most certainly doing something weird at his mixing desk.”
“It is massively useful,” says David. “If Glass Animals send me a track and it’s got 150 parts to it, and it’s a cluttered mess, then in the mix I clear it all up until it feels nice on a visual level. I can see it – those are competing there, those are muddy there – and I can move it. Like a 3D colour thing, it’s lots of beautiful blobs across each other. I had this as a child; I think everyone has it in some form. When you think of a time or a year you probably have a picture in your head, everyone has some kind of way of mapping stuff out to a more relatable fashion, it’s just how we operate.”
I get a sense they’re blowing each other’s minds here, as David and Evangeline creep towards the edge of the sofa.
“Sometimes when I think of Thursday I think of it in blue; weird things like that,” says Evangeline to David. “Perhaps that was from school, my brain thinking that from someone that I remember.”
“The way I remember creating ‘Pebbles’, an improvised track on our recent EP, was through this colour chart that I worked my way through,” says David. Evangeline’s jaw drops open. “You should totally make paintings, David!”
Art is Evangeline’s field and the Goldsmiths student explores her world in the room next door and applies it to their work at hand. “It helps with my creativity,” she says. “I have been drawing forever; I just draw in that room and then come and sit in here and look at the ceiling or whatever before asking if David has stopped mixing. Stuff goes on in my head and it comes out with a crayon and a pencil.” David is very supportive of his friend and the hub of activity they harbour in his studio. “You curated an exhibition, didn’t you,” he prompts.
“Yeah, my friends from Goldsmiths and Slade helped me do a show about the Pink Panther. I asked everyone I chose to be in the show to produce artwork around the Pink Panther. There is something about the Pink Panther being really cool. When I was in my studio I started doing stories of the Pink Panther as a birthday card for David for around the time I met him, as I thought David was the Pink Panther.”
It’s a perfectly reasonable comparison to me, as David clambers over the table to find more orange alcohol. “She thought I moved like the Pink Panther!” David shouts. “He does… you will see it more and more as you spend time around him – he doesn’t even try and do it, he cant help it.”
“You didn’t realise that when I was a kid my Dad called me the Pink Panther,” David confides, pretty matter of fact.
“You told me I was only the second person after your Dad to call you that. That is actually quite a big connection when you stop to think about it.”
It’s that connection – some unexplainable alchemy – that fires audiobooks’ unpredictability. “We have these weird cues, we sort of know,” says David. “We just keep going until one of us does something, or we just feel it…or shout at each other. Sometimes we will make a piece of music by doing a couple of warm ups and then bang we do a take. So for ‘Hot Salt’, we sort of made a backing track and we cut the bit out we wanted and after that we sang over it and that was it, it was pretty much there. You never know how it’s going to come out. We never struggle, it’s been remarkable.” David turns to Evangeline. “Everything is a first take in all of the lyrics… everything. We have been winging it, actually winging it.”