After previous vocalist Danielle Carter moved on to pastures new in 2013, Positronik released an apparently posthumous album called Better Late Than Never on Salford’s German Shepherd Records and went in to hiatus. Fast forwarding to the now and via a number of other music projects, the band are back playing live and recording music with new vocalist Nathalie Haley. We decided to catch up with the band to find out more about them, their music and new lineup.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. What’s the story behind Positronik and how would you describe your sound?
One band we all have in common is Pearl Divers – a new line-up of which is about to start gigging. Positronik came about when the original version of that band fell apart in 2011, leaving Jeff Black, John ‘Monty’ Montague and our first singer, Danielle Carter in a rehearsal room in Salford wondering what to do.
It was decided that we’d carry on with some songs that Jeff had already written. And so Positronik (named after the robot brain circuitry in Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi novels) was born. After a year or so, Danielle decided to leave to pursue her own project. The band posthumously released an album on Salford’s German Shepherd Records called Better Late Than Never in 2013 and that appeared to be that. Jeff and Monty carried on releasing solo material on GSR under the names Captain Black and The Junta respectively.
About a year ago, Jeff roped in another former Pearl Diver, Nathalie Haley to sing on his well-received Captain Black album, The Madman in the Attic. The chemistry worked well and so it seemed natural to re-form Positronik with Nathalie taking over the lead vocals. A couple of gigs later and that’s where we are now.
We’ve a reputation as an electronic band, though we’re really about classic pop with a soul tinge and a bit of attitude. We missed the meeting where they outlawed melody and decided that every vocal should be Autotuned to within an inch of its life. So the goal is to try to emulate the three minute masterpieces of old with a fresh twist. We recently did a tongue-in-cheek homage to 70s Christmas records with no identifiable synth sounds and we’re quite capable of rocking out. It’s just that everybody does that, so we choose not to – we’re contrary like that.
What motivates you and inspires your music, aesthetic and vibe?
There’s an argument that the era that celebrated (and paid for) recorded music was just a temporary blip that’s now over. All the same, there are over 60 years of great music to draw upon for inspiration. What would The Beatles or Brian Wilson have done if they’d had computers capable of making any sound you like? It’s that tradition of pop experimentation – combining the familiar with the slightly leftfield that we’re trying to tap into.
There’s also a fascination with the discipline and economy of a classic song. Jeff is a little bit obsessed with the famous song writing teams like Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, etc., who clocked in for the day and turned out songs that have lasted for decades. Add to that a desire to play with rhythm and texture, rather than just filling out the mix with loud guitar, and you have the foundations of the Positronik sound. Lately, we’ve taken to wearing lab coats on stage because producing potentially great pop is a science and you have to work at it.
Your sound to me comes across as more ‘London’ that ‘Manchester’ in its overall feel– do you think that’s a fair assessment? There’s more St. Etienne charm than Oasis swagger in your songs for one, though there’s still some typically Northern lyrical bite!
We’ve never really thought of it as a London sound – possibly a Stockport sound in the tradition of Strawberry Studios. We’re huge fans of St. Etienne but haven’t set out to copy them. Any similarity is probably down to us mining the same sources for inspiration – dusty old soul and pop records, plus movie soundtracks. In Bob Stanley’s lengthy treatise on pop, Yeah Yeah Yeah, he wonders what might have happened if the craftsmen hadn’t lost out to amplified power at the end of the 60s. Maybe the likes of ABBA might have got more respect than they did at the time. It’s a thought we can relate to as we don’t get this idea that rock virtuosity is superior somehow.
Of course, we’re not really the types to swagger about in beanie hats saying; “nice one, top one, sorted”. We probably fit in better with the girls and gays, rather than the lads. The one Manchester band we definitely agree upon is New Order. There may be a little of Morrisey’s archness in some of the lyrics. But finding something interesting to say and then trying to make the words fit a defined melody without lapsing into cliché is hard work. Up till now, Jeff has written the lyrics and his sardonic humour often creeps in, but Nathalie has talent too and we aim to work on more of her material.
You’ve reached the Liverpool final of Soundwaves – I bet you’re all looking forward to that. How did it come about?
We entered the Soundwaves competition simply because somebody asked us to online. We’re a little bit dubious about those Battle of the Bands-style affairs but went along with it anyway. The next thing we knew we were in the North West final. Now we have to perform on the big stage at the Liverpool O2 Academy on March 3rd.
As we’ve only played Rebellion and The Peer Hat in Manchester so far, it’s a bit of a step up. We’re just going to enjoy the chance to play a prestigious venue. There aren’t any shortcuts and we’re probably happier doing it the hard way anyway. The goal is to be able to fill the O2 on our own one day.
What’s your song writing and production process? Is there a specific work flow between you, or do you swap and change roles more organically?
Up till now, the song writing process has begun with Jeff attempting to play a song that has caught his attention with his rudimentary keyboard skills (though he’s not bad on guitar), getting it hopelessly wrong and somehow ending up with something new – a kind of immaculate stumble. A demo of this idea is uploaded to Nathalie and Monty and we might rehearse it in our top-secret Swinton hideout. We record the vocal in Nathalie’s front room in Bolton and Monty contributes a bassline or synth part. Then Jeff takes it back to the Positronik supercomputer in Marple to piece it all together, mix it, master it and generally make it sound like it was done at Abbey Road. As already mentioned, Nathalie may be writing more in future – taking some of the strain off Jeff.
What’s up next for Positronik? Any upcoming gigs, new releases on the horizon, other projects?
The current aim is to release a steady stream of new material on German Shepherd Records, coupled with the odd re-working of songs by Positronik v1.0. Somewhat perversely, our first effort was A Positronik Christmas, but we’ll be getting back to electronic soul pop roots with the next one currently in production. It’s called Everybody’s Got It In For Me and it will probably be out on GSR early March. We already have over an hour’s worth of quality material we could play live (at the upcoming gig at Fab Cafe on 18th March. Other than that, Monty still has his electronica project, The Junta and you can catch his Tuesday night radio show on Salford City Radio at 9pm.
Thanks for that guys, best of luck with the Soundwaves gig and we look forward to hearing the new material!