INTERVIEW: “To me, the music doesn’t live and breathe until it has an audience” – A chat with Faithless’ SISTER BLISS

Sister Bliss
Photographer: Blue Laybourne

Rollo & Sister Bliss from iconic dance band and production outfit Faithless have just released their superb comeback studio album All Blessed after being away for 10 years. XS Noize got a chance to catch up with the legendary multi-instrumentalist Sister Bliss for a chat about their music and how it sits in the world we live in today.

Do you think music has to change to work through Covid 19?

S.Bliss: Music has a context, the context for Faithless is within DJ sets, it’s on the dancefloor, at festivals, its live and it also exists on headphones BUT….we are in a brand new world of streaming. We are reliant on that without the other strings to our bow, which we know keeps a record alive and that connection to the audience, we’ve never been able to rely on radio play. We wanted to do what we wanted to do, our albums have always existed as an album that you can listen to over again. We’ve always tweaked our music, so it became almost remixed in the arena because it’s such a different experience. We’re always working with different mindsets as to how to present the music most effectively. Which is something we learnt early on when we started trying to recreate the albums live. We even used a 10 piece band that couldn’t even fit on the stage sometimes (Laughs).

So then it became to making albums thinking ‘Oh that track would sound amazing live’, but also making sure the record would sound brilliant in a club, but that it would even sit in an album and not be a bit of a turn off because it was too banging. So there are all these different versions and iterations of the way we personally think about music. And that is personal to us because we’ve had a live band since ’96 or I’ve been djing. Our music exists in all of those different contexts in all of those other platforms.

I teach on a masters course and people play me music that they make. I’m like ‘where does this live? ‘where is this for you? ‘Does it sit on a tropical House playlist on Spotify?’, ‘Is it gonna get played by DJs? ‘Is it something that is going to be part of a live concept? To me, the music doesn’t live and breathe until it has an audience. We are always thinking of the changing scenarios in which music is heard when we are making records. But then we always have done.

The scenario of the pandemic has changed listening habits. Dance music can’t live on a dance floor at the minute, but it can live on a playlist. These last few months have been absolutely F@@king disastrous for dance music – It’s like having your legs cut off at the knee. Hopefully, the new album is something you can be transported by, it’s tragic that I can’t play it out really loud, but we are where we are.

When I heard the first track off the new album ‘Synthesizer’ it reminded me of a classic Faithless track with big synths, big drops, big sounds and a hot groove. It was everything I wanted it to be and more to open a new album from Faithless in 2020. Was that the plan?

S.Bliss: It took a while to get that one right. Luckily I got to play it to the public, I was road testing it before lockdown. It gave me those feelings….then suddenly the ground disappears from beneath your feet. All of the thousands of gigs where DJs would’ve been playing the track weren’t there anymore. It wasn’t designed to be a radio track – you need that context of the dance floor. At least some people got to hear it (Bliss pauses & sighs) before the disco went silent. It was slightly bonkers putting out a track like that, but the wheels were in motion, who would’ve thought that this would’ve been going this long?

I think the new album ‘All Blessed’ sits perfectly and iconically as Leftfield’s ‘Leftism’ album.

S.Bliss: I bow down to Leftfield and always have, I’ve said it in quite a few interviews, without Leftfield there wouldn’t be Faithless. They showed how ‘out and out’ dancefloor tracks could sit alongside your chilled and more dubby influences—what a slice of genius that record was. I think with All Blessed lyrically its more political, that’s a bit of our ‘delineation differentiation’ with them as a band.

Was the album designed to be that? Political, multi-cultural, multi-racial, global statement?

S.Bliss: It just emerged, we did lots and lots of different collaborations. As the collaborations went on, we could feel this theme emerging. Some of the collaborations didn’t work, and we took them off. It was like putting together a really giant jigsaw. There was a lot of thought that went into the order of the tracks. It started quite differently initially, and I had a big argument with Rollo saying ‘that’s all wrong’.

I really designed it like I do a DJ set, cause I like to mix in key, so some tracks just worked and flowed into each other. I love the way it starts so intimately, the idea is to set the agenda and then bring you into ‘Faithless world’. Again I have no idea that people would have the time or the patience to listen to a whole album, even I barely listen to albums anymore. This generation just clicks and clicks, I mean if you don’t go past two minutes and seventeen seconds it doesn’t count as a play on a particular streaming service.

Our music at its best expresses itself over a good nine minutes – a juicy long hypnotic piece, we don’t live in a world where people seem to have that time anymore. Rollo really wanted certain tracks to roll, and I was like ‘it’s too long, people are going to get bored’ actually he was right. The whole album is about taking your time and taking our ‘rushing goggles off’. The last track is called ‘Take Your Time’ – F$£k convention, we are gonna do what we wanna do.

Did it worry you that Faithless in 2020 wouldn’t sit right because you are from different time and generation?

S.Bliss: (Laughs) ‘The Rolling Stones of dance music?’ Look you can’t anticipate how things are going to be received and you can’t work like that if we worked like that we would never get out of bed. Sitting there, waiting for approval is not how you make art. I’m proud of it and if nobody likes it, well at least we did what we wanted to do.

I think one wants to have that integrity, and we have done from the very first record we ever made, we never had an A&R Man say ‘you’ve gotta put a bigger chorus in’. When we made ‘Insomnia’ we were told it had no chorus, and it had no hook, yet it endured 25 years. Nobody wanted to play it in the beginning, nothing from Faithless has come easy, not this album either, its been like pushing a boulder up a hill.

We can’t do a Faithless interview without talking about the heyday and original sound of Faithless. Rollo, Sister Bliss & Maxi Jazz. There was your synth and instruments, Rollo’s production and Maxi’s voice and Lyrics. Explain how the new album sits between the past and the present.

S.Bliss: Well, it’s a new thing, I think every album was trying to be a progression, and as we progressed with the album, we found that Suli-Breaks & Nathan Ball’s voices became the spine of the album. We looked to collaborate with people from the spoken word, scene rather than ‘out and out’ rappers. It feels like Faithless does occupy that space of poetry, mixed with electronic music with melody running through it, with every album, whether it’s Dido or LSK, these are people with amazing unique voices.

For me personally, it’s challenging because I hear Maxi’s voice in my head. I know him so well, I know what would excite him musically, so I always think, ‘he’d love this bassline’. Not knowing how a new artist that we were getting to know would sit in that space was a new adventure. It’s like making a big meal and making the ingredients complement each other. I think in some ways, these people are the heirs to Maxi Jazz. Maxi is unique you know in the mellifluous tone of his voice, lyrical agenda and spiritual outlook and how that informed his lyrics. That was a moment in time, and we have to deal with what we have now. Which is a different situation, he wasn’t on the record and didn’t want to be on the record, he’s given us the most wonderful life & friend-ship.

The records we do now won’t be the same as we made then, we are in a different time now, but it doesn’t mean they are less valid. I just hope people listen to the record with an open heart. To me, this is a continuation of Maxi’s manifesto.

You brought in the ‘Elder Statesman’ iconic sound of London Soul II Soul in late 80s early 90s, Jazzie B. How did that go?

S.Bliss: We just reached out and said ‘we’d love you to come and collaborate with us’ (laughs) When he walked into the studio, he just said ‘What took you so long? We talked for at least two hours and actually recorded everything, so that feels like there is a whole other album to come out of it – He is a massive hero. Soul II Soul Club Classics was a game-changing record, internationally for London & for Great Britain, it was one of Rollo’s favourite albums ever, from our manor, proper North London. He created ‘Jazzie’s Groove’ previously, and we asked could he reprise that, like an answer to that track. Jazzie is the man to tell us all the cultures are connecting. There wouldn’t be a Faithless without a Jazzie B or a Leftfield.

Coming out of 80s ‘Sound System Culture’, Maxi came out of ‘Sound System Culture’, I used to play on ‘Sound Systems’ as well as clubs. Jazzie’s history is fascinating. It was a glorious afternoon hanging out with Jazzie, we are super blessed.

Just describe ‘All Blessed’ in a sentence or two.

S.Bliss: Its an album of our times, it’s about the world we are living in. It’s about being conscious, knowing ourselves. It moves from the micro to the macro. Those tiny moments between us as individuals and how we create empathy and tolerance and the camera zooms back to look at the bigger picture. These are the lives we are living right now, and they are challenging. But for me, there is always a thread of hope that runs through the album. It touches on some dark corners but its that journey to consciousness. Waking up to what would make our lives better. Communication, caring and taking our time.

What is the near future for Faithless?

S.Bliss: We have some great new remixes of ‘Synthesizer’ to come out this side of Christmas – including from Patrice Bäumel, the revered De Trouvw resident and German producer, and also Butch. Then, in 2021, we will be releasing the next single ‘I Need Someone’ – with some incredible new remixes coming too. I guess we are all hoping that this news of a vaccine will herald a return to live performance later in 2021, so watch this space!

 

Faithless ‘All Blessed’ is out now on BMG. Buy / Stream at Faithless.lnk.to/AllBlessedPR

Sister Bliss
Photographer: Blue Laybourne

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