Named after a road sign in Guildford, England – Traffic Experience broke into the progressive world choosing probably best possible ways. Recording in a studio where Fairport Convention used to write their music, with Andy Jackson as a mastering engineer (who produced Pink Floyd’s „The Final Cut“ album), the band led by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Chalmers released an album that presents a sonic journey with emphasized visual character.
What made you name your band after a road sign in Guildford? Were you in lack of names back then? I have to say that Traffic Experiment sounds really good.
I saw it written on a temporary road sign and it stuck in my head as a potential future band name. I was putting the band together years later and it had come back to me when writing one of the lines in Once More (with feeling) and I still liked it. It’s now also taken on a bit of a secondary meaning for us as we are continually trying different ways of passing our own music around, getting people to discover it.
Tell us something more about your beginnings with the band.
I’d demoed the first album at home in 2005 and was looking to put a band together to record it. After a couple of false starts I met Tom (Vincent, drums) and Simon (James White, bass), both of whom were phenomenal studio and live musicians and they were really up for doing the album. We really hit it off musically and on a personal level and Traffic Experiment was effectively born.
Your first album ”Blue Suburbia“ was recorded in (formerly) the private studio of Fairport Convention. Did you have any particular feelings knowing that this renowned band used to record their songs there?
It’s always inspiring working in a studio that you know extremely well-respected musicians have recorded in (and owned at one point). Woodworm was one of those fantastically atmospheric studios with a great history (I think Radiohead even recorded some very, very early stuff there) but it actually ended up feeling like a home from home (on and off) for a few years. Sadly, it had to close its doors a couple of years back.
“Blue Suburbia“ was recorded in 2006, but it took you four years to release it. Were you looking for a label to release it? According from what can be heard on the album, it’s pretty strong collection of tracks.
It actually took us those 4 years to finish it! The time taken was mainly down to financing it (and a lack of deadlines). We didn’t even bother trying to approach any labels and always intended to finance and release it ourselves. I’d never produced an album before so there was a lot of learning along the way. It was a fairly complex, layered record so we had to be quite efficient in the way we funded it. We recorded all the vocals, guitars, synths and effects at home (in a pretty basic studio in the back of my parents’ garage) to reduce how much we spent out on studio time. We recorded all the drums, bass, grand piano, acoustic guitars, Hammond and Rhodes in the live room at Woodworm, overdubbed the various other parts at home and then headed back to Woodworm to mix it – as and when we could afford it. We sometimes went months with nothing happening. Once mastered, we had no money left for a designer so I then spent a further nine months doing all the album artwork in my spare time before we finally released it.
What is the story of ”Blue Suburbia“? There is definitely a lot to be heard within those 11 tracks. It’s interesting that the album creates a strong visual vibe. How did you manage to do it?
Blue Suburbia is really just about that undercurrent of suburban life that looks all fine on the outside but can be totally falling apart under the surface. It was all based on my hopes, fears and frustration of being a 20-something trying to make my way in the world for the first time as a “grown-up”.
Although it didn’t really start out as a concept album, I started to tie some of the themes (conceptually and musically) together and there did end up being a chronology to the tracks, in that they ended up being in the order that the events that inspired them took place.
I think I’m actually a bit of a frustrated film-maker and always approach making music as if producing a film, writing music and lyrics as a soundtrack to the visuals in my head. As a kid I used to listen to whole albums from beginning to end on my parents’ CD player, lying on the floor with massive headphones on and eyes shut, being totally absorbed by the music. I think when I’m writing and producing I’m always trying to recreate that.
Andy Jackson, who worked with Pink Floyd, mastered the album. How did you get in touch with him? Anything special that you heard about his involvement with Floyds?
I was looking around for a mastering engineer and noticed that Andy was now doing that commercially and, given the type of album we’d just done, he seemed the perfect choice. He had recorded Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’, still one of my favourites and (unusually) the first album that got me into the Floyd. I asked him a bit about it while I was there (knowing just about every millisecond of it) and he told me he hasn’t actually listened to it since!
Who came with the idea of covering and recording the Doctor Who theme? You named it Vashta Nerada, after a flesh-eating shadow from the TV series. Are you fans of the show? Speaking of it, how do you comment on Peter Capaldi’s getting the role of Doctor Who?
I’ve always adored the Doctor Who theme and hearing it takes me straight back to being 6 years old and watching it (I was terrified of Cybermen!). I was on the lookout for a track that we could completely rework into our own style and was watching the show and thinking how little I liked the latest incarnations of the theme. I found a clip of Peter Howell showing how he created his version for the BBC radiophonic workshop in the 80s and it set a spark off. I could suddenly hear all these Floydy type guitars, synths and vocals.
In terms of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi is a superb actor and an inspired choice. I think he’ll be absolutely brilliant in the role.
On December 21st 2012, when everybody was in a fear of the world’s end, you guys entered the studio to record and film session of tracks from the “Blue Suburbia“ album. What was going on in your minds during the recording/filming process?
Mainly playing the songs well! It was entirely coincidental that it took place on the 21st. We picked it as the shortest day so that we could do an earlier shoot (the studio looks really atmospheric when lit up at night) – but it tied in quite nicely and provided the End of the World theme for the film.
It was quite an intense session and unlike anything we’d done before. We’d already funded the making of it through a PledgeMusic campaign and suddenly you realise people have already paid for the recording you are about to make and you really can’t afford to screw it up! It was a great experience being able to record it in Steve Winwood’s studio though.
Are you working on any new songs? When can we expect a brand new release from Traffic Experiment?
Yes. We’re busy writing the next Traffic Experiment album at the moment and hope to release that sometime in 2014. With this new album I’ve started with the whole theme first, then sketched out the song titles/chapters and have started fleshing it out from there. I think it will end up sounding much more of a single work than than the first one and am also considering that we may make a full film to go along with it.
“Once More (With Feeling)“ taken from “Blue Suburbia“ is on Progstravaganza 13. What can you say about the song? What’s the meaning behind its title?
Once More (with feeling) was a song I wrote in my first job working for a large corporation. I felt I’d been on an upward trajectory right through school and University and, now that I was in the ‘real’ world, my life had ground to a standstill. Every day had become completely unfulfilling and exactly like the day before – and all to pay the bills and just exist. I felt I had to put on an act because it was expected of me, trying harder every day to look like I enjoyed it and meant it – hence the title of the song (a reference to the old musical expression of saying: do it again but this time try and look like you mean it).
How do you see progressive rock in 2013?
There’s lots of fantastic new and interesting stuff out there at the moment and it’s great to see websites such as yours really helping promote it. Even though very little touches the mainstream radar there seems to be a massive community across all the various social media that really embrace progressive music and that can only be a good thing because it’s a genre where I think some of the most interesting and lasting music can still be made.
Traffic Experiment on the web: