London-based three-piece Factory Floor have been long-standing DiS favourites since first single 'Bipolar' grabbed us by the lapels in the spring of 2008. Since then, their experimental collision of electronica and noise has progressed significantly with each subsequent release culminating in last year's long-awaited self-titled debut long player.
The trio - Nik Colk, Dom Butler and Gabe Gurnsey - are scheduled to play numerous festivals this summer, and Drowned In Sound caught up with drummer/programmer Gurnsey prior to their recent early morning slot at Barcelona's Primavera Sound.
DiS: Factory Floor previously played Primavera in 2011. Is it one of those festivals you'll always play if offered?
Gabe Gurnsey: Definitely 100%. The crowd when we first played here were incredible. Chris Carter was standing in for Dom (Butler) at that point and it was quite nerve wracking as we only had two rehearsals with him. We had the soundcheck at 8am then had the entire day until 3am the next morning to shit myself basically! I was really nervous as it was one of the first big festivals we'd played up to that point. As far as Primavera's concerned we'd love to play all of them. It's such a good set-up and vibe here. It's a great experience AND it's on concrete too!
DiS: Did you ever come here as a punter before you were in the band?
Gabe Gurnsey: To be honest, I never really went to any festivals until Factory Floor started playing them. A lot of my time was spent in London trying to get a band together. Get the right band together, so I never really ventured out until that happened. I've never been to Glastonbury but always wanted to go there and play as opposed to going there and getting drenched in a tent for five days. We get to spend time at festivals so we meet a load of great people in the backstage areas. It's a really good kind of social experience for the band. A lot of collaborations can come out of things like that. So yeah, it's only been since Factory Floor started playing that I've gone to festivals.
DiS: You're confirmed to play several this summer including Bestival. Are there any you're particularly looking forward to and do you prefer playing to audiences in the UK or overseas?
Gabe Gurnsey: A lot of the European festivals - we've done a few in Belgium - the crowds really just go for it. There's a real sense of welcome when you come on stage. People seem to let themselves go really quickly. Even in the UK when we play smaller gigs, we've crossed that barrier now as people have started to recognise the records a bit more. But there was a point where it felt a little bit cold in the UK. America is pretty lively too. Coachella earlier this year was stunning. Just people wanting to have a good time. That's the reason we're doing it really.
DiS: Whenever I've seen Factory Floor live it's often a really intense experience. How do you build yourselves up for that kind of show? It must be difficult - impossible even - to rehearse?
Gabe Gurnsey: I don't know. It's a difficult one. We try to have a bit of calm before we go on so we tend to spend an hour or so on our own backstage. If there's no one around it helps us get in that zone a little bit. In the beginning it came out of being nervous about playing, and I think that's where our sound was forged in a way. The adrenalin and nerves just exploding together which leads to a kind of aggression coming out in the music. We've learned to hold back a little bit now and be calmer which helps us reach those good points in the set rather than just going on and blasting it out straight away. We've learned to just build it up. It's taken a good few years but we eventually got there.
DiS: Do the songs start off as improvised live pieces with the recording process taking place afterwards or do you try and replicate your live sound in the studio?
Gabe Gurnsey: A lot of the tracks on the album were tracked live when we were all together. But then something like 'Fall Back' was tracked as an electronic piece using a live drum machine and pads. The drums were overdubbed after. 'Fall Back' was actually written on stage during shows in Glasgow and London. I remember Dom was fiddling about with this synth line at the ICA last year and Nik (Colk) had these samples and this vocal came out so that developed purely out of playing live and I guess not really knowing what we were doing in a lot of ways. But I think it's nice to leave it open like that. You get the energy of the audience feeding into your music and that adrenalin mixed with nerves can create interesting paths within the songs. We made a conscious decision not to try and capture our live sound on the record. It's quite a clean sounding album. The fact we spent so much time going over individual elements on the record kind of drew the live element out of it. It's not a regret. It was our decision to do that and make it a different discipline from playing live. At the end of the day, people wouldn't be listening to it through a big PA, they'd be listening to it at home through a pair of headphones. There was stuff written in the studio that was then taken back live which changed again so in a way the album became a foundation platform to take those songs further. Some of them change every time we play live.
DiS: How does the writing process come together? From your description it seems quite far removed from the traditional three-piece band template.
Gabe Gurnsey: A lot of our songs are written live on stage. We love that improvised element about it because it gives us the freedom to explore things more rather than stick to any one specific structure. More often than not it will sound shit but then that makes us open ourselves up to more possibilities. It is difficult sometimes. We have spent days in the studio going round and round over one track and nothing's come out. But then other times we'll go and play a show where this brand new bit of 'Two Different Ways' emerges which sounds great so we'll then take it back to the studio. It's very much a happy accident.
DiS: There was a lot of anticipation around the debut album as far back as 2011, which the record expected early the following year. What caused the delay in the album only being released in September 2013?
Gabe Gurnsey: We were playing a lot of live shows at the time. We have been doing since Nik joined and it became the proper Factory Floor. We were playing all the time so the last two to three years has been constant gigs. We had a lot of free three-day periods in between gigs where we could go into the studio and do it like that so it was very much a time thing for us. We could have just said, "Fuck it! We're not doing any shows this year!" but those shows were feeding back into the album. I guess it was a stupid thing to do in hindsight! We're not going to do the same thing with the next record that's for sure. I think we were also too precious over it because of all the anticipation. We didn't know what it was going to end up like until about a month before we put it all together and picked the tracks we wanted to use.
DiS: Did the tracklist change at any point while you were making the album?
Gabe Gurnsey: Yeah, about a thousand times! There's a load of demos we did that got scrapped. We did a different version of 'Fall Back' which took us two days and then decided after to go back to the original version. Sometimes I guess it's good to be restricted, be a normal band and just write songs.
DiS: Will you ever go back to any of the demos that got rejected?
Gabe Gurnsey: Possibly. There's a lot of archived stuff from the ICA shows with Peter Gordon. The first show we did there was fully electronic so there's no acoustic drums at all. That was all recorded so there's bits in there we may pull out and use in future. All that process for the album was us learning how to write, learning how to sound on a record at that particular time. We're saving a lot of the archived live material for some releases in the future. We're going to sift through the tapes and pick bits out. The demos for the album were scrapped for a reason. I've probably even deleted them off my computer by now. But there are a lot of sessions on there that have got some nice elements to them. There is a sense within the band that it's time to move on. Pull back a bit in the studio and maybe make a different sound because we don't want to churn out the same kind of thing for the next album.
DiS: Are there any songs or ideas in place for the next album? Are there any new pieces within the live set?
Gabe Gurnsey: The live set is mostly made up from new versions of songs off the album. Hopefully it will sound different to what you heard last time you saw us. That's just the way it goes with us. We're not putting anything new into the set until we've taken the time to step back and write it. Me and Nik are working on a couple of new tracks at the minute. We've got a lot of new gear as well. We're all gear addicts so we're always buying new little bits of equipment. Nik really wants to change the way she's put across soundwise. Not massively but just make things a lot cleaner to a degree. We have bought about 15,000 drum machines over the last two years which mainly all sound the same but there's a few that are really inspiring me at the moment. It's just little things like that which are going to affect the sound. It's more a gear thing. That and our experiences over the last two years, especially in America.
DiS: Are there any expectations from your label, DFA, in terms of timescales or commercial viability where the next album's concerned?
Gabe Gurnsey: Not from DFA. Because they're based in the States there is that distance so they leave us alone to get on with it. They trust us to come up with something good. At one point while we were making the album Jonathan from the label came over and he was quite straight talking about what he heard. If he liked it he'd tell us but then if he hated something he'd also be honest about that too. It was what we needed because by that time our ears had become immune to the whole album. So there's definitely no pressure from them. Only from ourselves really in that me and Nik especially want to become more prolific. Even from 'Bipolar' right through to 'Untitled' and the 'R E A L L O V E' single things were shifting in all different directions. That's what was exciting about it. Whereas the last two years it feels like we've become... not stagnant but definitely a little frustrated. The fact we haven't been as prolific as before, so we are gonna be.
DiS: Around the time of A Wooden Box in 2010 you were being heralded as the future of dance music in some quarters. Do you feel that other artists have caught up since then?
Gabe Gurnsey: Definitely. We could have explored some of the ideas on that EP a lot more. I think we are going to in the future. Not regress or repeat ourselves but definitely from a darker, spontaneous way of recording. That was recorded completely live in just one take. We just thrashed it out but it had that feel about it. We took song long making the album that we took our eye off the ball a little while others around us were taking that step further in terms of technology.
DiS: Are there any other artists around at the minute whose music you really admire?
Gabe Gurnsey: I'm a massive fan of Daniel Avery's record. I can see the similarities in its simplicity with ours. Synth line, kick drum, snare and really simple vocals. His album is stunning. Perc as well. I love his stuff. We're due to do some collaborations with him in the next few months. He's quite primal in the same way as Nik in how he constructs and shifts electronic pieces. It feels like being part of a community in that people are approaching things in similar ways because then you feed off each other. That's how music should be.
DiS: Are there any other collaborations in the pipeline?
Gabe Gurnsey: I just met Connan Mockasin on the bus over here. I'm a big fan of his so maybe that could be an interesting collaboration? I've not put it to him yet mind... Chris (Carter) and Cosey (Fanny Tutti), Nik's hopefully going to be doing more CTV stuff with them. We might also be working on a track with Andrew Weatherall. That'll be sweet if it happens. Stephen Morris is up for working with us again too. I can't wait to get back in his studio and mess about with his stack of synthesizers. There's gonna be a lot. The doors have opened a lot more with our new set. Now we've got the album done we're open to do pretty much what we like. Everyone's really excited.
DiS: A very busy year ahead then?
Gabe Gurnsey: A very busy year. We want to get a single out before the end of the year. We want to get back to being prolific like before. Throw in a few curveballs like maybe releasing something ourselves. DFA are great and we want to continue working with them but at the same time there's all sorts of possibilities to be explored. That's the great thing about music. There are so many open resources.
More information on Factory Floor including release and tour dates here.