ADD N TO (X) is a UK trio comprised of Ann Shenton, Stephen Clayton, and Barry Smith. They produce a disconcerting fusion of electronica and lo-fi rock often dubbed as being avant hard (a term grabbed from the title of one of their records). Smith's background includes work as a DJ on pirate station Radio Stalin in Prague. He met Shenton in 1993, adopting the Add N To (X) moniker (taken from a mathematical formula) in 1994 when they added Theremin expert Clayton to the line-up.
The trio released a low-key debut, Vero Electronics, in 1996, and played live shows with Stereolab drummer Andy Ramsay and High Llamas' bass player Rob Hallam. They released the acclaimed On The Wires Of Our Nerves on the Satellite label in 1998. The album's cover illustrated the trio's fascination with an interplay between man and machine, while the contents demonstrated their mastery of a diverse range of pioneering electronic music forms ranging from Varese, Robert A. Moog and Wendy Carlos, through experimental German rock (Can) and English art rock ( Roxy Music ).
Their use of vocoders and vintage analogue synths also earned comparisons to American pioneers Suicide. Tracks such as 'Sound Of Accelerating Concrete' and 'The Orgy Of Bubastis' were as willfully difficult as the latter's work, but the album also included the highly accessible single 'King Wasp'. The trio signed to Mute Records shortly afterwards, neatly balancing their experimental tendencies a more pop-orientated approach on Avant Hard and Add Insult To Injury. They played in Williamsburg recently on their first headlining tour in America. They were one of the first bands to play at the new club North 6th. I talked to members Stephen Clayton and Ann Shenton. They have a drummer named Joe who has played with Stereolab in the past. I spoke to them in the L Café on Bedford Avenue.
AL: How did you all meet?
STEPHEN: We were living in South London, in a place called Camberwell. Barry was still a DJ in clubs. There were several incarnations of the band. We had several different names. Then we got signed to Mute Records. We got known through our live shows in London.
AL: Did you collect a lot of music gear early on?
ANN: We did it all by accident really. We would just find things. In those days it was a lot cheaper. We would find stuff in flea markets and second hand shops. Now, I saw a MS-10 in Notting Hill, right before we came on tour, and it was really battered, and it was 800 pounds. It was a knackered thing. We could get them cheaper a few years ago.
STEPHEN: Did you see the LA show
with Atari Teenage Riot? We had an MS-10 and we smashed it to bits that
STEPHEN: We are the total opposite. We are interested in experimenting in sound. We have no interest in sampling. We hardly use samples. If we do it's only a minor part of the production.
JOE: The last album we did, Add Insult to Injury, was recorded live and there wasn't so much fucking about afterwards. Obviously we produced it ourselves in studio. To me, it was important to actually play some of the stuff live and not have to worry about banks of backing samples. Not to play them exactly like the record because that would be futile. A live show is more about where you are and how little sleep you have had, and what accidents you have had on the road. All those things culminate in your live show every day. Trying to replicate an album when you are traveling across America and sleeping on a piece of carpet .
AL: The last record, Add Insult To Injury, seemed a little schizophrenic. Was that because you recorded it in different places?
STEPHEN: We worked in Sheffield and France. Some of us worked more in France than in Sheffield. I don't think it's any more schizophrenic than the other records. Each track has it's own set of criteria. It has a way of working which is appropriate to that individual. It's a piece of music. It suggests the way you interact with it.
ANN: I don't take the fact that you said schizophrenic as a criticism. It's encouraging. We don't want it to be torture when we go into a studio. If someone wants to go off to France, or Sheffield, and use other people, then that's fine. That's healthy for the whole group. We are not a bunch of swingers. But we do whatever needs to be done to finish a record.
AL: What is attraction to Sheffield?
ANN: I am never going back again. It's always pissing rain. The guy from Pulp owns a bar there. It's a dirty old men's bar. It stinks of piss. I am doing some recording in Idaho. Then we will come back to London. We are going to play with Hawkwind at the Royal Festival Hall in October.
AL: I saw Hawkwind once with Genesis P-Orridge.
ANN: Barry lives in Genesis' old flat.
AL: In Hackney?
ANN: On Beck Road. There was an unexploded grenade under the stairs. It was there for ages probably. There is a great book about Throbbing Gristle that came out recently called Wreckers of Civilization. I think that we are going to do some articles about this tour. It will be like a brief synopsis of life on the road and the terrible things that happen. I might do some articles for The Observer. You will have to buy the book. I can't really go into great detail with the tape running.
JOE: It will be better than the Motley Crue diaries.
ANN: If I look at all my diaries and I sat down and read about the last three or four years of touring, there's a lot of dirt. And here's Joe, who is a professional photographer and drummer and every day he has his camera out. He's on the road with us and it's like "Oh shit!" You have to send me a double copy of everything. When you are on the road, you don't have a chance to party as much, because once the gig is over you are on the bus, falling asleep during a twelve-hour drive. Some terrible things have happened.
AL: Were the tours with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Atari Teenage Riot any different from tours in the past?
ANN: We were flying everywhere and it was a bit more glamorous. It was good.
JOE: See, I've never done a tour like that.
JOE: He's so hardcore. He's good.
AL: Are you the indie element of the band now, Joe?
JOE: I get stuck with the indie element. Any tour I do is the hardest one.
ANN: You are stuck in an indie time warp You are.
AL: Mute is Daniel Miller, right? Since Moby had such a big record, why doesn't he fly you everywhere?
ANN: Exactly. I am going to call up Daniel Miller and tell him we need money for food. We had a bad show in Portland. It was at the children's day care center. It was an all ages show. There wasn't a bar. We weren't allowed to smoke in the dressing room. It was the worst audience. The toilet flooded over. The people were telling us to behave. I was just sitting in the dressing room, sorry. I am putting on nail varnish. Tell me what am I doing wrong? It was terrible. The audience was a bunch of stiffs. I am never playing at Miao Miao again. I was disappointed. I thought it was going to be sexy and evil. It was just a kid's home. I was standing in diapers and powder. There was Playdo everywhere. It hardens you up a little. So when you play next and it's halfway decent, it's like totally brilliant. It seems far better than you ever expected. You can never have preconceptions.
AL: People are interested in new music in America, but now a bunch of English bands don't even bother to come over anymore.
ANN: What do you mean? Because they are scared or because they can't waste the money?
AL: Blur played three shows here in America two years ago; one in New York, one in LA, and one in Toronto, I think .
JOE: What? They just got despondent and went back to England where they are worshipped?
AL: Suede hasn't played here in America for five years.
ANN: Well, they are all cocksuckers. They play where it is safe.
STEPHEN: They grow too big over there in Europe they don't want to come here and play the little places. Sometimes the operation is really huge and you have all these people working for you. It must be difficult for a band that big to start doing things in a smaller budget.
ANN: If you want to do music and you want to get around and meet people and see the fucking world, you can't allow your stupid ego to get in the way. You come out and play. It's an ego bashing exercise. People should be forced to do it.
AL: It's like Dido call fill a huge hall here, while people like Robbie Williams play and maybe a hundred people have heard of him. (laughter)
ANN: Isn't Dido Eminem's bitch?
JOE: The thing is it takes so long in America. If a band like Blur spent two years trying to get recognition in America, they will be all forgotten about in England by then. It's a gamble. They stay where they are getting money.
STEPHEN: We were going to do a stadium tour with Stone Temple Pilots.
JOE: Why didn't we do that? We should have done that.
STEPHEN: Our best support spot was with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It felt really right to be on tour with them. They are a touring unit. They are a master class. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands every night.
JOE: He said "Jon Spencer Blues Explosion" thirty-one times in one song. We counted. He is a nice bloke.
AL: What do you think of Mercury Rev?
ANN: Mercury Rev, ohhhhh! I was sitting next to Jarvis Cocker at the NME awards. The were showing the video. Jarvis said: "It's an odd phenomena or something. It's exotic. They are all ex-junkies. Is it because his voice is all Oh, Oh?" (does imitation of Mercury Rev).
STEPHEN: Jarvis said that?
ANN: He said that there's something sickly about him. You just want to hit him. Or make him a cup of tea. There's something lascivious and horrible and begging. I agreed with Jarvis.
STEPHEN: There are a lot of bands
that are appreciated and respected in England from over here like Royal
Trux. Another difference is there's no college radio in England. People
are more likely to hear a record and buy it in America, whereas in England
the press mediates everything. You would never hear it unless you buy
STEPHEN: It's difficult because of our set-up. You are not allowed a big soundcheck. You just go out there and play.
ANN: It's good because the stages are so big.
STEPHEN: It's better for us to have a more intimate and rock punky vibe. People have to be properly plugged in. They have to be ready for it. They have to be drunk. As up for it as we are. We are not playing to people who just want to set back and listen and chat with their friends.
ANN: The all ages thing is a concept. But ultimately you are playing to a bunch of people who have gone home to school, had dinner with their parents, and they come out and they just stand there. They can't drink or anything. I like the whole punk esthetic of going to see a live band and going mental, which is what I used to do. We all used to do that. In England, even if you are fourteen, you can manage to get a fucking pint of beer. It's not that strict where we come from.
AL: The bars close early there.
JOE: You can get pissed before you come out. It's weird for us to go somewhere where everyone is sober. They are so self-conscious.
STEPHEN: The other night the guy jumped on stage and try to pull my gear offstage with him. I had to fight him. They always grab my stuff because it's the tallest. We always get those trainspotters and thieves. All of it is valuable.
AL: Any advice for young people out there?
STEPHEN: Send us some money in an envelope, and we'll send you a pack.
AL: So, Ann, any advice for people
who want to follow in your footsteps?
STEPHEN: Get stuff and do things, and turn it up.