Formed in 1986 by Robert Hampson and his then girlfriend Becky Stewart on drums Loop were genuine pioneers. They took the psychedelic purple haze of the more out there tracks from the Stooges and created tripped out drones that preceded the current love of the form by decades. With the line up fleshed out by Bex was later replaced by John Wills, Glen Ray and scene legend James Endeacott on guitar they became drainpipe and winkle picker underground staples with a worldwide reputation before Hampson went onto form the experimental electronic Main.
Reuniting in 2013 to curate a night for the legendary All Tomorrow’s Parties festival followed by a series of choice gigs the band had lost none of their sure touch that saw them return to the studio and return with their first new music since 1990’s lost classic ‘A Gilded Eternity’.
The series of three new releases began with ‘Array 1’ in June with more to come and the band have somehow managed to make themselves sound as fresh as they ever were whilst still working within their framework exploring the possibility of stripped down guitar drones and neo Stooges sex violence.
Me and Robert go back a long way. The Membranes were once signed to Glass Records in the mid eighties and Robert was working at the label in its tiny office with his winkle pickers splayed across the desk and his face hide behind a long fringe he was indie cool but also quality friendly and passionate dude.
LTW : I see you are now living in France Robert.
Loop : ‘I have been here for some time now. I was living in Paris until a couple of years ago over but I have moved north east towards Belgium to about 40 minutes outside Paris. I now live in the countryside. It’s cheap and I can commit into Paris easily. About half an hour from where I live is the Champaign district so it’s not a bad place to live (laughs). There is so much room here in France where I live is like up north in Yorkshire, where there are smaller towns and cities and definitely a lot less people.’
LTW : Does living in France change the way you create music?
Loop : ’To be brutally honest I don’t do anything definite here any different than in England. I have my own studio and I work pretty much every day in my studio which is no different o from the way I would work in England. In France itself there is a different music scene than in England but for general Loop type activities my work procedure is exactly the same.’
LTW : Why did you get Loop back together after all this time and also after exploring very different musics in Main etc. where it seemed like you were retreating from that sound and guitars Did you feel curious about the possibilities of the guitar again?
Loop : Lots of reasons, a little bit of everything really. So many people over years like Barry Hogan at ATP had been nagging at me for years to reform. It was a very weird situation and up until 2 years ago if anyone had said anything to me about reforming I would have said not that I was not interested. What it was, was that something clicked though and I thought I could do it again but it was not at the front of my mind at the time the possibilities of recording new material that was not part of my way of thinking but it seemed like a lot of people wanted to see it and were interested and it felt like the decent thing to do for me.
It was interesting because I had been so long not going near guitars, that was for 22 years and I suddenly found myself wandering around the guitar shop district of Paris looking at guitars again after not having the equipment like that for all that time I bought myself a Fender and then sat there reacquainting myself with the guitar again. There was a few people talking seriously about doing Loop again and obviously the ATP people were really interested in us reforming and it moved on from there and I thought if I ever really truly do it then this was the time to do it and see what happens.’
LTW : Had you really not played guitar all that amount of time!
Loop : ‘Up until about a year even before ATP had announced the reform iI had honestly not picked a guitar up for at least 20 years, if not longer. I’m not the most adequate guitar player so it was not that hard for me to go back to it. For me it was literally it was like literally going back to the start again and buying some new pedals and sitting around at home and finding out what sounded good. I had actually started doing some new Main music that had guitar in as well so that was running in parallel and when people asked me about it and said we should do again I thought about it seriously and then put out the idea to the other members to see what they thought and they agreed.And it didn’t take long for us to find our way back into it. Once ATP found out they asked us to do the last ATP which we agreed to go ahead and do it and booked shows around it and the next thing you know we are in rehearsal- ten days rehearsal in Wales and that’s it! back on the road again!”
LTW : After all that time had it changed the way that you played.
Loop : ‘In the back of my mind I was thinking about trying to do something different, initially we were only playing old material which we had to reacquaint ourselves with which was not that hard and I don’t think really that my style has really changed that much. It was more so that I wanted to make a conscious change and maybe tap into what I was a doing post Loop with Main . I really wanted to make sure that if we made new material that I wanted it to be a progression. I always want to make a progression from what I was doing in the past. When I decided to carry on and seriously make new material, that was, for me, like making a hybrid from the old drone style of Loop and taking the more angular nature with what I was siding with Main afterwards and perhaps making a hybrid of the two.’
LTW : Everyone has their style which they vary and stretch…
Loop : ‘Most artists have what I call a signature style – I suppose in a way I can’t help having my own signature to what I do. It would be churlish to abandon that. You would alienate what a lot of people would want to hear from me. I was trying to take the essence of what Loop was about and trying to do that with the last record recorded in the eighties when we stopped and almost go back to that point and then push it further. There were changes like adopting to working in studio based way and having access to a lot more equipment at home than you could have had in the past and having new recording techniques and embracing that as well. Things which we didn’t have at that time. It was like taking a step back and then making sure it had not gone too far backwards and then moving forwards…’
LTW : Was the new music more insular because of working at home and the new home based recording techniques?
Loop : ‘Obviously when I’m working on solo stuff it means that I can do whatever I want with the recording. With this more recent material there was the logistic problem that I was in France and the other guys live in Bristol and that element to the songwriting had changed to back in the day when we were all together but with modern technology and the internet we are writing material by sending stuff via the internet. I can now send ideas and demos to the band in Bristol and we got a little laptop studio set up down there so they can work out their parts and then we swop files. It’s not ideal but we are not turning up at the proper recording in the studio not knowing what any one of us are going to do. I don’t have a problem to adopting to modernity really…’
LTW : Music adopts to its surroundings doesnt it?
Loop : ‘You just couldn’t do that 26 years ago. You couldn’t do anything like that, maybe send a cassette by the royal mail. Now I can send almost fully fledged demos to someone in minutes and I love that idea. Everyone should embrace that. For me even if I wrote a bulk of the material it was still very important to get together in the 24 track and work on them from there. There is no way I could record a drum kit here where I am. I don’t have the room and the facilities. Obviously having your own set up at home means you can take your time and the time is much more finite from back in the day sat with a 4 track recorder I never had the chance for the ideas to be fleshed out. Now you can fine tune things better simply by not having to look at the clock and worry about the money you were spending.’
LTW : How does this work with pushing things forwards musically?
Loop : ‘That’s a good question. For me obviously there was a way forward from a certain formula that people expect us to use. For me to go to Main after Loop was a big step and a lot of people didn’t twig to what was going on with that and then accepted it.
People are aware of what is going on now so people are expecting a more experimental edge to it. I’m not going to completely throw myself in at the deep end straight away with this series of EP’s that we are releasing. People get the idea that there is going to be a lot more experimentation going on with new Loop than back in the day.
Where it goes now? I don’t know. It’s exciting for me that I can expand on those original ideas for Loop and open up different avenues with technology and more access to pushing the envelope and fully acknowledge that and I like the idea that I’m hoping it will be a radical enough change that people will embrace that its Loop. Like I said we have got a sort of signature to what we do and there would be no point in calling it Loop to not carry on with the original ideas and go in a different direction. I hope that people will see that the more angular thing now, the more shifting angles to the way the drums or the guitars are working now is as fluid as they used to be. That’s a definite change and the new material has still got compression and the drone it’s just that it’s a lot more angular and lot more shape.
We have only recorded 4 songs so far and we are writing demos of next EP and we go into the studio to record that in July into August and at the moment we are fleshing out the ideas and putting them into practise.’
LTW : After all this time does the music scene seem very different or is it the same people as ever!
Loop : ‘You have got two sides to that really. We are not the only reformed band in the past few years so we see a lot of familiar faces. It’s not the biggest surprise in the world to sometimes play alongside the same bands that we did when we disappeared. When you come back again you can go into that retro element and I can’t hold my hand on my heart and say that’s a good or bad thing. People seem interested in what that entails. At the end of the day it’s guitars, bass and drums and there are only certain things that you can get from those instruments whether they are doing rock or pop or more experimental stuff which all revolves around a similar aesthetic.
Not a great deal has changed since we were first going, maybe bands like Mogwai but they have been going for a long time now – they stretch out the guitar in a very grandiose way and I mean that in a nice way. They have that majesty about what they do and they took their influence from the same places that influenced us back in the day, things like Rhys Chatham and stuff like that. You can hear new things recorded yesterday that so self consciously sound like they were recorded 30 years ago and you can’t tell the difference. Some people on the scene now say you must use vintage gear and you can’t use anything new and that it’s got to have an authentic stamp on it and that’s fine if that’s what you want to do but I’m not that bothered about that.
All the equipment we use now is all brand new, top range gear that you can take on the road and it won’t break in 5 minutes! I don’t miss old vintage Vox maps and having to replace the valves all the time. They were not used to being lugged around all the time. That’s not to say modern equipment doesn’t cause problems as well.
I don’t consciously go out and seek out authentic old pedals any more. Instead I have a guy who builds pedals for me now to my spec. I want the upside of having all this at my disposal now and I don’t have to seek out vintage 1967 pedals any more. I get one made to my spec that has a certain edge to it. I’m not bothered about authentic or vintage by any stretch of the imagination. That’s not slagging off people who seek that style of thing. That’s fine for them but it’s not in my peripheral vision any more like it used to be.’
LTW : So Loop are constantly moving forward defiantly and grappling with the past at the same time?
Loop : ‘I don’t hold onto that idea of the past any more. The reason that we used vintage equipment at the time was that it was cheap at the time. The coloursound tone bender was selling for ten quid and that kind of thrift store nature of everything lent itself to what we were doing then. Now its different climate with eBay is everything insanely over priced and I don’t see the point in buying it when I know I can get a better sound from a brand new pedal than something thirty years old.
I don’t think that even back in the day we were influenced directly by psychedelia. I don’t think we ever wore that on our sleeves. We were also influenced by Wire and Rhys Chatham and it all gelled – a combination of different ideas and styles and there was also the kraut rock thing as well. That element is still relevant now. I actually tried and modernise the sound a bit more with what we are doing now and make it not quite as vintage sounding as it used to be before. That’s why I’m happy to embrace the technology we have now and I don’t differentiate between the two now – if it works then use it…’
LTW : Finally, I always wanted to asked you about this but when I interviewed Johnny Marr he told method at the first Smiths gig at the Rock Garden in London you turned up with your girlfriend totally dressed the apart and the Smiths thought they had made it because the cool kids of London had come to see them.
Loop : ‘Yeah, (laughs), U don’t talk about that stuff any more because it’s a long time ago. I must have been 16 at the time I suppose, wow, that was so long ago. I used to go to gigs every night of the week. That was a great time for music. It was so eclectic, one night it was the Violent Femmes , the next minute Nick Cave, then Sonic Youth or something. I don’t know if music has that much eclecticism any more…’