By Franc Sayol
Axel Willner, alias The Field, stole our hearts with his first singles on Kompakt over five years ago. With his debut album, the Swede managed to cross the borders of electronica and became the fetish producer of the indie kids with techno tendencies, while with his second he confirmed himself as one of the most unique producers of the day. Now he returns with “Looping State Of Mind” (Kompakt, 2011), his third album, on which he once again explores the ambient side of techno by combining layers of infinite loops and organic instrumentation played in real time. Recorded in Cologne and mixed by Jörg Burger (The Modernist), the record is a step towards maturity of a sound that already is absolutely personal. While we’re counting the days until the 10th of October (the release date of the physical album; the digital version has been out since the 5th of September), we briefly talked with Willner about his early days, the keys to his musical recipe and his obsession with sound loops.
As a teenager you played in several punk bands. How did you start getting into electronic music? What were the first electronic acts that really caught your attention?
I remember Moby´s “Go” and that I liked it. Then I heard The Orb´s “Little Fluffy Clouds” and loved it. Might have been my first electronic record I bought. But it was really with Daft Punk´s “Homework”; when that came out that I wanted to make electronic music myself.
What was your first contact with electronic music production? Did you have friends that were also into it or it was more of a self-taught thing? Do you have an academic background as a musician?
Me and a friend shared the fascination for Daft Punk so we started to make electronic music with an old Yamaha (model I can’t remember), Roland TR-505 and a Yamaha CS-5 recorded on a 4-track. So we learned it all by ourselves. Then the computer entered our lives and we got hooked on Buzz.
What kinds of forces drive you to sit down and make a track? Other songs? Certain types of feelings? A specific hour / period of the day?
It used to be a nocturnal biz, but now it can be any time during the day and its all based on emotions that sometimes can be triggered from hearing other songs.
What equipment are you using right know to create your music? Do you still use Buzz?
It’s not so much Buzz anymore. It’s been replaced by mainly a Octatrack, Machinedrum, Roland SH-101, Bass, Guitar and a Yamaha CS-01. But also other synths and instruments.
To record “Yesterday & Today” you spent a week in an old abandoned school. How was the recording process for “Looping State Of Mind”?
I made sketches in my studio in Berlin and then me, Dan Enqvist and Jesper Skarin got together in Köln to record all the live instrumentation. So it was a mix of both natural jams and ideas being slotted together. This time around it was a more equipped studio so that’s why, for example, there’s double bass and piano on it.
When starting to prepare the album, what idea of the album did you have in mind? Compared to your other works, was the initial idea or concept very different - or did you just want to take the same process one step further?
I think it was one step further but also one step back. A mix between the two previous albums.
Since “From Here We Go Sublime” your music has kept gaining this kind of organic feel. Although it's obvious the loop-layering is still there your new album can sound like a band playing techno. Do you agree with this? Can you imagine your music without samples?
Ha, I think that would sound a bit flat. It’s true, it is like a band playing techno but still it’s all about the loops.
To my ears “Looping State Of Mind” has some kind of rock feeling attached to it, not traditional rock but more like post-rock or kraut-rock. Would you say this is The Field's “rock album”? Also it seems to be constructed with a “band idea” more than a “bedroom producer” one. Do you agree with this?
As we did the recording in the studio as a band I guess that’s how it came out. In a way I feel that “Yesterday...” was a bit more “rock”.
Tracks like “Then It's White” seem constructed using a slightly different procedure. For instance, is that piano played live? Or it's just sampling longer bits?
It was originally played lived but cut to a loop as it was a late night... but this time I´ve made some of the samples longer.
Vocals have been always present in your tracks but, excluding some exceptions (“Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime”, for example), they're always used more as an atmospheric element than a leading one. What kind of relationship do you have with vocals?
It’s a love/hate one. For example, I love Kate Bush but I don’t really like Björk. Also, sometimes I find it nice to not hear people’s thoughts in music but to create my own; yet sometimes it’s nice to get it served.
I'm curious about the title. “Looping State Of Mind” is kind of the perfect definition of your music. Why did you choose that title? What makes loops so appealing to you? Are you always in search of the hypnotic state of mind? Is this kind of emotion your main goal when making music?
For me the title is more of when you can’t get out of thoughts - both good and bad - and your mind is on repeat. I’m pretty good at that, I get stuck in thoughts. But I do also get stuck in samples and make heavily repetitive music, so it was a good match. And the fact that I do love loops, perfection is a loop that can go forever with minimal change and still feel gorgeous.
In this album the genre-span seems wider than ever. What kind of music have you been listening to while preparing the album?
Same old but less techno. Early electronics from Europe and so on.
Some years ago I read in an interview that you like to mix everything live, do you still keep doing it this way? What kind of added value do you think it gives to your music? Is it to keep things as “human” as possible?
I do, maybe it is to keep it like that. But also I like to do everything in the moment to keep it as it was intended to be. Except for dubs of course and also this time it was a bit different with the studio, the technician and also that Jörg “The Modernist” mixed it.
You keep using the same type of sparse artwork on all of your releases. Is there a specific idea or concept behind this decision, or do you simply like the way it looks?
It’s a mix I guess. It started like that many years ago with my old cd-r label and it followed into The Field.
Are you planning to tour with this album? Will there be significant changes to your live setup in comparison with your last tour?
We will tour yes. It’s a new live set this time around of course; otherwise it’s still pretty alike.
What are your immediate future plans? Music and non-music wise.
Touring with The Field and releasing an album as Loops Of Your Heart in January. Then it's family life. A few days before the release of the glorious “Looping State Of Mind” we spoke to The Field about his early days, the keys to his musical formula and his obsession with sound loops.
Review: " Looping State Of Mind"
Review: " Yesterday and Today"
List: " Gastronomic top ten"