Interview: 65daysofstatic return with Wild Light
Five albums, a relentless touring schedule, a film score and a confusing name have not dulled the fire in 65daysofstatic's belly. Paul Wolinski gives voice to an instrumental band
Why are 65daysofstatic called 65daysofstatic? It’s a curious name: all lowercase, no spaces, at face value a nonsense assemblage of letters and numbers. And for a singer-less, instrumental band – gleefully noisy but musically speechless – it engenders a certain air of mystique. Peruse the internet and you will glean all manner of theories on its origins, plenty conspiratorial. There’s a claim that it comes from a long-forgotten John Carpenter film which never saw a release. Another hypothesis points towards experiments conducted by the US Army in the 1960s, where it was supposedly found that 65 days of white noise is enough time to render a person insane. One internet forum user was convinced, beyond all reasonable doubt, that “65 days of static” were the final words of one Adolf Hitler.
“Oh God...” says 65days guitarist/keyboardist/knob twiddler Paul Wolinski, when The Skinny poses the question. He sighs, perhaps weary of being asked, perhaps reticent to give the full account, perhaps concerned that – as a bandmate has said in the past – it’s “perceived as having an unfortunate air of pretension about it.”
“There’s so many stories...”, Wolinski finally says. “The one that’s closest to the truth is the story about the CIA.” In 1954, as part of America’s ongoing ideological crusade against the Reds, the CIA staged a coup d’état in Guatemala, overthrowing the then supposed communist government. They dropped leaflets from planes, hid speakers on rooftops, and jammed radio frequencies. They convinced a populace that a regime change was essential, and installed a puppet leader friendly to American business interests. The whole undertaking took just over two months. The crude observation among agents at the time was that it took just 65 days of static radio noise to depose a leader and destabilise a society. “That’s not entirely where the name came from,” Wolinski semi-confirms, “but it’s pretty close.”
"Every on-screen explosion had its own explosion of music. It kind of drove us crazy” – Paul Wolinski
Elaborate backstories like this chime well for a band admired for their healthy anti-establishment undercurrent. With no lyrics to analyse, fans (known sometimes as ‘65kids’) have picked apart song and album titles with the forensic scrutiny of a crime scene investigator; their analysis obliquely suggests politics, righteous anger, even the apocalypse. The first track from new album Wild Light, for example, alludes to the heat death of the universe; the album’s press notes describe it as “sad dance music to be danced to at the end of the world – a possibility that seems increasingly likely.” Is there a deliberate tack to make music with a political edge?
“I’d like it to be open to interpretation,” says Wolinski. “‘Political’ is a bit of a tricky word. We certainly all pay attention to what’s going in the world, and there’s plenty to be angry about. But we do have a problem with politics and music because it's so easy to come across as preachy and a bit too earnest. Writing records probably isn’t the best form to articulate the problems – you should become a campaigner or activist if you really want to try and push those messages, and that's not what we’re good at. What we’re good at is making a lot of noise.”
65daysofstatic have certainly made a fair old din since forming in Sheffield at the turn of the millennium. They trade primarily in guitars and electronics: urgent symphonies of syncopated riffs and raging billows of grunge, offset against ferociously swift rhythms and complex, glitchy electronica. They’re meticulous, experimental, and unique. They’ve been variously labelled math rock, post rock, electronica, indie-electro, IDM-hardcore, neo-prog, rocktronica – each fabricated subgenre more contrived than the last. Their esoteric sound, to use an overused phrase, defies definition.
But their music has never been just about making as much noise as possible. “For us, music is another act of communication. We want to communicate our reaction to the kind of things that are happening in the world – but we just don’t want to do that in a cheesy way or a pretentious way. We should be doing that in an honest way.”
If the aim was to communicate a sense of unease with the current state of the world, Wild Light delivers. It opens with a disquieting sample of a woman repeating the words: “No one knows what is happening...” before audaciously assailing into the apocalyptic dance music we were pledged. The effect is challenging and original. A conscious effort has been made to “lift the overall production” on album number five; Wolinski talks animatedly of how a drum section on the track Sleepwalk City was sent on a bewildering sonic pilgrimage – looped, sampled, sent back through amplifiers and sampled again, and beyond.
But despite this intense, probing approach to recording, 65daysofstatic are, first and foremost, a live act. “We do make that distinction,” Wolinski acknowledges. “We definitely see ourselves at our most effective as a live band. Obviously, we try very hard to make great records as well. The hardest thing has been to find the balance.” For a band so intrinsically intertwined with technology, the journey from the studio to the stage can often be murky. Previous albums, teeming with sophisticated electronica, proved tricky to translate to a live sphere.
The initial outlook with Wild Light was to write songs that could be performed live, as recorded – but the studio sessions changed that plan. “It sounds weird explaining it,” Wolinski says, “but it feels like the record isn’t necessarily the definitive version of any of those songs. They’ve been through so many different variations and we soon realised that what we needed to do was catch the right snapshot that worked best on record.”
Each gig, then, is singular and unique, an unrepeatable impression. Theirs is an intense stage presence, hitting bombastic decibels with mathematical precision. They are frequent collaborators with audio-visual artists Medlo, the fruits of which included a recent live installation at Sheffield’s Millenium Gallery. And in 2011, they wrote a new score for obscure 1970s sci-fi movie Silent Running, commissioned by (and performed live at) Glasgow Film Festival.
“It was wonderful,” Wolinski says of the experience. A dystopian, post-apocalyptic yarn, Silent Running proved a comfortable fit; the band’s love for dramatic crescendos and boisterous musical flare-ups lent itself well to the incidental essence of soundtracking. The technical challenge of tightly matching music to the edit, however, was “...absolutely insane. Every on-screen explosion had its own explosion of music. It kind of drove us crazy.”
They’ve expressed a hope to write more soundtracks in the future; for now, the focus is on a punishing world tour. After our conversation, Wolinski heads back into the rehearsal room ahead of multiple dates in Europe and beyond (“there’s so much more that’s not even been announced yet – it’s going to be insane”). They’re Sheffield-based, and “probably always will be,” but don’t feel anchored to the north: “the rise of the internet has allowed weird alternative underground bands to have global audiences – even if it’s just pockets of fans around the world.”
Fundamentally, 65daysofstatic are dedicated to their live shows, making them as visceral as possible, taking their show as far afield as they physically can, articulating ideas through noise. “I guess it’s just because the type of music we make works best when it’s loud and there's no escape from it – and when there's a communication, a tangible communication, between us and the audience.” A pause. “That’s when it all seems to make sense.”