Mark Clifford of Seefeel and Disjecta

"Naming the Nameless" By Aaron Johnston

Mark Clifford, the enigmatic leader of British hydroponic ambient experimentalists, Seefeel, is perhaps the biggest unsung hero of the electronica movement. With releases on England’s Too Pure, Rephlex and Warp labels, in addition to the American Astralwerks imprint, Seefeel has plotted an evolution that is so diverse, even a hardened Aphex Twin addict could become lost within it. Their earliest works exhibited more resemblance to the effectoid melancholia of guitar-toting English shoegazers like Slowdive. In turn, their more recent works could easily cohabitate with the dank, minimalist anti-aesthestics of artists like Scorn, Final and Muslimgauze.

Although the elegance of their early works gained Seefeel more recognition from the less-than-accepting-of-experimental-ideas-that-make-us-think newbie crowds, their aforementioned slip into darker territories has earned high praise from the often iconoclastic elitists that line the farthest reaches of electronica’s underworld. This interview with Mark--performed in mid-May of 1997--focuses on the latter portion of the group’s history in addition to his solo work as Disjecta.

(Note: Succour is the last full-length release by Seefeel that appeared in 1995. Clean Pit and Lid is the full-length debut by Disjecta.

What happened with Seefeel right after Succour? Was Disjecta something you had been working on for a while before that album was released?

Clifford: After we finished Succour, we were all pretty jaded and tired. We had basically been around each other constantly for about three years and felt a desire to try other things, both musically and on a personal level. That is, we all wanted to get a life beyond just Seefeel. The others wanted to try their hand at making songs themselves and I had other ideas to work with. All of the tracks I've released so far [as Disjecta] were recorded around 1994/95, in between Seefeel sessions and gigs; basically, whenever I had a spare couple of hours.

There is virtually no guitar in Disjecta. Did you become bored with it? What's your guitar setup like?

Clifford: There are fragments of guitar on Clean Pit and Lid, but not recognizably so (on "Kracht," for example). I still love the guitar, but I think I was playing it so much that it became stifling--and I'm not so precious about "sources" of sound. I can't really play the guitar in the sense that I don't sit at home with an acoustic strumming away; I can't play any Led Zeppelin riffs or whatever. It remains just a means of creating noise. As for my set-up; it's not so huge. Basically a GP8 effects processor, filters, rev, and various odd pedals, such as Electro-Harmonix stuff.

I've always heard a strong dub influence in Seefeel.

Clifford: I've been through phases of listening to dub, though never obsessively. I am drawn to aspects of dub such as deep bass and dub effects. I like the sense of space you get in dub music.

Rumor has it that Seefeel is back together. If so, will Disjecta be pushed back because of it. Do you have any completed Disjecta albums waiting in the wings?

Clifford: I've been working on loads of new material, though I'm not happy with all of it. I bought pretty much a completely new studio set-up last year and it's taken me a while to get comfortable with it. I have enough music that I'm happy with for about three albums. I just have to sit down and compile something. I’ve also been working on another project called Sneakster with Sophie; she has the most beautiful voice--the type that makes you want to sleep. Hopefully something will emerge from that soon. As for Seefeel, we tentatively spent a couple of days in the studio about two months ago. It went OK, but we’re currently looking for a new drummer. I want the next album to be a lot more live in feel; more song-like and less electronic.

Succour and Clean Pit and Lid reveal a certain minimalism. Is this something you consciously worked towards?

Clifford: It's nothing conscious, no. When I write, I try not to think too much and just let whatever may happen, happen. I think I do find it more challenging to push one idea to its limit rather than throwing everything into the pot. I know this can alienate what I do from a lot of people, though.

Were you necessarily the "leader" of Seefeel?

Clifford: Most of the control was mine. I think any band needs a focal point and the others always looked at me. Since I wrote most of the songs as well, I was able to steer things where I wanted. That’s not to say the other members weren't important. Sarah's voice, for example, is an essential part of the sound and I couldn't imagine the band with any other vocalist.

What goes on in your head when you create these long, rhythm-based tracks?

Clifford: I don’t really know. Making music is a constant source of fascination to me for precisely the reason that it’s so expansive; the track I end up with is so often not the track I would have expected. I just tinker away until it sounds good to me. I guess what’s usually in my head is what’s making me happy or getting me down that particular day. It's great therapy.

Do you have any interest in making drum and bass?

Clifford: I think the whole drum'n'bass scene has influenced me over the last couple of years, though I couldn't say that I've made a track that you would call d'n'b. It's such an exciting form of music and I love the cut-up mentality of it. I had an EP out last year on Warp under the name Woodenspoon which reflects this mentality. It was limited to 1000 copies, but I have other tracks I'd like to release sometime that are in a similar vein.

It seems strange to me that you haven't been involved in more collaborations.

Clifford: I've been asked to do various things, but I get nervous about them for whatever reasons. I like remixing because I'm under no real pressure.

In my opinion, Seefeel really came alive when you started recording for Warp. At the time, did you consider this a lateral move away from Too Pure, or was signing to Warp a "big thing"?

Clifford: It was quite exciting at the time because Warp was so into being an electronic label. For them to sign a guitar band seemed to be almost subversive. We felt a little restricted on Too Pure because we wanted someone to invest in us, if you like. We've never aspired to be obscure and Warp seemed better equipped to help us in that respect. Of course, we then proceeded to give them an album that was nearly impossible to promote, so it didn't materialize on any grand scale.

What is your activity as a DJ? Didn’t you spin for the Cocteau Twins?

Clifford: I DJ’d on their last tour. I love dj-ing, but I don't like a lot of the culture that surrounds it and the pressure that it places on you, so I just try to DJ at things I want to do and which mean something to me.

Do you feel that losing your US distribution through Caroline/Astralwerk damaged Seefeel in any way? Any plans to license Disjecta?

Clifford: We didn't "lose" it as such. We were only ever licensed for one album. When we signed to Warp, we had meetings with East-West in America, and contracts were nearing completion when they got cold feet, which was a shame. If we complete a new Seefeel album we are determined to have everything arranged properly in terms of deals and tours, etc. I would also be happy to license Disjecta, but it would have to be with a label well-equipped and brave enough to do it properly, otherwise its more efficient to export.

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