Partisans: Blowing a Storm in Cyberspace
The group's fourth album, By Proxy (Babel, 2009) doesn't just have outstanding artwork: reviews for the recording have been uniformly excellent and something for the band to be proud of: "Dead chuffed" in Siegel's words. The previous album, Max (Babel, 2005), featured guest musicians, but the fourth release sees the quartet back on its own. Siegel expands on the band's approach: "It was a real treat to play with those amazing musicians...but the core thing is the quartet. The essence of it is the dialogue we have, the way it goes in certain directions. The more people you have the more arranged it seems to need to be." Robson concurs with Siegel's perspective: "I agree. And also, and I don't mean this in any disparaging way, it tends to smooth things out. This band is always such an edgy band that it just seemed natural to go back to the quartet...We did do a year of gigs with various different guests, which was fantastic, but when we made the record we thought about what we really are and it seemed natural to make that move back."
"We're always up for collaborations" Siegel points out "and there's always things being talked about. We did a couple of gigs with Wayne Krantz for example, which was really brilliant. He's said that he really enjoyed the feeling of being in the unknown. I did it myself recently, with a French band called Thot. I sat in with them at the Pizza Express in Londonand I know how Wayne felt."
The band's approach to recording By Proxy was different from preceding albums, as Robson explains: "Normally we play all the tunes a lot before we record them, but this time we could hardly play the tunes when we went into the studioreal edge of the seat stuff. We had to put a massive amount of energy into getting through a whole take of this brand new music. It makes it really exciting for me and I think this is my favorite album. When I came to mix the record I didn't remember any of it...it's been the closest thing to the feel of the band live. If we do another album I'd be keen to do it in the same way."
Siegel also seems in favor of edge of the seat recording: "Normally you learn a tune, go through rehearsal, then when you play it at a gig you finally think 'That's the one, we've got it.' I think we got those first takes in the studio, which is a really exciting thing." Getting that excitement down is a vital part of the Partisans philosophy, according to Robson. "We tend to go for the performance element of the first take. The only reason we might do another one is if we thought that the tempo wasn't quite right, perhaps. We just go for it and leave some of the rough bits in therethat's the nature of the group. We don't try to fix solos or anything like that: it's warts and all."
Another reason for the success of By Proxy, as Siegel is keen to emphasize, was their choice of studio, Eastcote in London, and engineer Philip Bagenal. "We've done some other work there, and now we've done two Partisans albums there. We just know that he gets the sound we want." Robson also loves Bagenal's work: "He co-produces with us. I really trust him...he's got incredible ears. I wouldn't trust many people to do what he does, but if he says something, then we'll listen. He's almost the fifth band member." Siegel adds to the praise: "He's in Lindsay Anderson's film If...: he plays a kid with glasses, a swot. He moved to New York in 1971 and ended up being the front-of-house engineer at the Gaslight-A-Go-Go Club, where Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra started...His experience is crucialif you want to get it on one or two takes you need someone who can achieve that."
Most Partisans tunes are credited to Siegel or Robson as individuals, but this is not to suggest that the other band members have no say in the writing process. According to Robson "We don't sit down and write together as such, but we do collaborate in the sense of talking about what we're writing. We might say, for example, that we need a ballad: someone will almost be allotted that role. For example, on By Proxy I wrote the only really pure ballad...But then, of course, when everybody starts to play on it the tune becomes a real four-way thing."
Siegel takes over, pointing out that not all of the tunes are written specifically for an album. "Some of the tunes on By Proxy have been around for quite a long time. We just got to the point where we felt we could record them. "Mirrors," for example..." "But we never played it" interjects Robson. "No, we never actually played it on a gig" Siegel responds, "it took time to work out arrangements to the point where it's recordable. There are other tunes that we've got on the go that might appear in 5 years." "But 80% of the album was brand new," says Robson. "Yeah," comments Siegel, "some things fall out of the sky, other things you've got stored up and they find their home at the right time."