Hybrid’s breakthrough album ‘Wide Angle‘ is one of my all-time favourites. Like many people, this was the album that introduced me to their unique sound and made me fall in love with their rich orchestral soundscapes.
PulseRadio recently spoke to Chris Healings, one half of the original Welsh dynamic duo, to find out more about the group’s origins and the making of their classic debut album. It’s essential reading for all Hybrid fans, so here is the interview in full. Enjoy!
Pulse: You met Mike Truman and started producing music together around 10 years before you made Wide Angle. Were you both established DJs in Wales at that time?
Chris Healings: I was an established backroom DJ for one of the first clubs in my town called Strictly Groovy. Well it was the first club to play any electronic music there really. Before then it was just raves. Then Mike came in one day with a DAT and a DAT player with a bootleg he’d done of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. We’d never met him before and he asked us, “Would you mind playing this? I’ve never heard it in a club before.” So we had a listen in the headphones, whacked it on the speakers and were like, “Wow, this is pretty good!” So he came back to mine where I had all the turntables and records, and Mike had the first inklings of a studio, and that was it really – he moved the studio in and never really moved out after that! That was early 1990s.
What kind of music were you guys making back then?
I mean for the first six or seven years of Hybrid we were just doing stuff to play on Saturday nights. If there was a Funky Green Dogs or a Slip ‘n’ Slide or Green Velvet record or whatever that didn’t quite do what we wanted, we’d spend the week re-editing or remixing it. Or sometimes we’d get an Alanis Morrisette or Madonna acapella…anything really that we could lay our hands on and remix and then play at the end of the night on Saturdays. And that was our education, you know? That’s how we learnt our trade.
And then was there a conscious decision at some point to make something together to release officially?
Well we started going to London a lot because we knew a few people up there and so we’d just hang out in nightclubs, record shops and at label offices. We were after work basically, any kind of remix work, and some of the first stuff we did for Distinctive was anything we could get and we’d do it for free. They had a £2 million SSL G Series studio with every toy you could imagine and we wanted to get in there! So we were doing remixes for free and they were giving us nightime downtime in that room in return. We were remixing people like Adiva, Uno Clio, Belgium, Mega Tonky, Mystic Motion, Hyper Go Go…basically early, “podium-bunny house” if you like! So being in that SSL room is where the first inklings of ‘Wide Angle’ came from. A lot of experimentation and recording live stuff with all the toys they had in that amazing room.
The press for ‘Wide Angle’ reads that the album was born out of your “frustration with the narrow horizons of British dance music and its structural predictability.” Were you and Mike uninspired by dance music in that period of time?
We weren’t uninspired by dance music, but we both came from rave and were becoming a bit disheartened with, as I said, this “podium-bunny house” that we were playing and remixing. There was a lot of it around and we did love a lot of it, but we were beginning to come to the other side of it. We wanted to do something that was a bit darker, melodic and more musical…something that had a bit more depth. That’s what we were aiming for.
Was there much breakbeat around?
Yeah there was. We were hanging out in this club night in ‘98 called Friction at Bar Rumba with Rennie Pilgrem, Adam Freeland, Tayo and those nu-skool breaks guys and that was the penultimate turning point. Chris and I were either in this SSL room in Soho or we were down the road in Picadilly at Friction on Fridays and Saturday nights. And that was the first breaks we ever heard being played out, which was a massive influence on us. We’d go back to the SSL room and party with people and try to further what we’d heard in the club. But also try and get some strings and live instruments into the mix and try and push it further into musical album territory, rather than just club stuff.
So you always knew that you were going to incorporate strings into the album?
Yeah, well we already had lots of string libraries and samples. The early demos already had a lot of melodic content on them. When we were first talking about strings we were expecting maybe a 12-piece or an 18-piece…we didn’t really know what we were going to do. And then it was just by luck that the orchestrator for this Royal Russian Federal Orchestra called the label and asked them if they knew any artists who would want to use a 100-piece orchestra. And stupidly A&R asked us, and we said, “Yeah, we want to!”
We’d never recorded an orchestra before so we had Sacha Putnam help us, who was David Putnam’s son – the guy who did ‘Chariots Of Fire’. Sacha was a very talented man himself too. He was actually training the Prime Minister’s children in piano at the time. So he’d be giving Tony Blair’s kids piano lessons and then coming over to the studio every night to help us score and write the strings and have them ready for the orchestra. He came to Moscow with us too, we really couldn’t have done it without him. He spoke Russian and helped us with the notation when it sometimes wasn’t quite right.
Did he have much of an understanding of electronic music?
Not really, no. It was kind of a new project for him as well. It was all very exciting. He went off to become a partner-in-crime with Chris Coco and they’re both still writing electronic chill out actually. So anyway we went off on a plane to Moscow and we had a practice day where we had to shed of a couple of people like the brass and flute sections, some of the woodwinds and brass, and we were still left with about 90 people. We recorded onto an awful, uncalibrated, 2-inch tape machine which when we took it back to London it sounded like shit. So we had to uncalibrate which took us about four or five days just to get it to sound any good. But it all came out well in the end!
What was the orchestras’ reaction like when they heard your music that they had to play along to?
They were these big old guys that had never heard anything like it before really. They were 50 or 60 year old Russian guys for a start and we’ve got storming breakbeat going down the headphones to them. But you know they were really only using it as tempo. There was one guy who was the lead violinist and he was was quite into it. Actually there was a couple of young guys in the control room who got it, but the guy who was mixing it for us, he didn’t really get it. As I said it needed to be mixed again when we got back to London.
A lot of the breaks and drum programming on the album sounds quite organic. Was that a conscious decision?
Well Mike was a big hip-hop fan, so that big organic breaks sound – the live kick and snare that wasn’t too processed – that’s Mike’s hip-hop side coming through. Those were the loops that we were after. Even now on recent projects we’ve done we like to get the best sound for things, for instance we just did some live drums with the drummer from Kasabian for Fast & The Furious 6.
How did you come to work with Julee Cruise on the album?
We had five or six demos on cassette going around and we had a few vocals come back but nothing was really sticking. Then Julee heard the demo and sent back some very rough vocals that she had done at home on a multi-track. Even though it was really rough quality, as soon as we heard it at the Distinctive office we knew she was the one. So Mike went over to New York to record her. She was brilliant to work with; she was a little bit quirky, a little bit Kate Bush. She wasn’t like a normal vocalist, she was very hard to pigeonhole and that’s what we were looking for – someone that was a little bit…odd [laughs].
I think you can definitely hear that quirkiness in ‘If I Survive’. I know you guys like to really be across everything when it comes to your music, did you give Julee a tone or vibe you were after with the lyrics?
The song was already entitled ‘If I Survive’ and then she drew from her own experiences. The lyrics are all about her going out on a boat with some big music executives from Warner Bros or Sony or something and she thought they were going to do her in by throwing her overboard. She had some crazy contract with them at the time that they wanted to extend but she thought they wanted to get rid of her. She was a little bit paranoid like that. There’s a big story for Julee behind every track.
We also did a few live gigs with Julee when the album came out. Not too many, which is a real shame. She was crazy on stage. We did a show at Creamfields, in 2002 I think it was, and we were a lot different sounding to all the other artists there as it was, and then Julee came on in this crazy peacock style outfit, crawling around on stage and sneering at the crowd. She was mad, the crowd didn’t know what to make of her at all. I remember Mike and I looking at each other and just thinking, “Oh, shit.” [laughs]
Especially with the crowd no doubt all off their heads!
Yeah she was crawling across the stage like a lizard. It was mad, I loved it. I look back on it now and think that was just perfect for what we were doing.
I’ve been listening back on the album this past week and was struck by how cinematic it is at times. That saxophone in ‘Beachcoma’ instantly reminds me of Blade Runner. Were film scores a big inspiration for you?
Yeah especially sci-fi, Blade Runner and anything like that. Films and film scores have always been a huge influence on us. We used to go out clubbing, you know go out on Friday and come back on Sunday, and we’d get back to the house and put on something like Blade Runner, something to chill out to. We’d listen to a film score instead of more dance music. Some of my favourite music has been film scores, stuff done by John Barry and the likes. We were always looking to get that element into the music as well.
When ‘Wide Angle’ came out it went pretty nuts and also reached a lot of people who weren’t necessarily into dance music as such. Did you ever envisage that it would become a home listening album as much as one for clubs?
Well I’m not sure we really made it for clubs really. We were still young and partying like mad of course, but we wanted to do something with a bit more musicality that would sit on your record shelf and stand the test of time longer than the promos that would arrive on our desks and be forgotten about two weeks later. We didn’t want to be overlooked or just be a flash in the pan. So going back to the organic loops, the orchestra and Julee Cruise, it was all part and parcel.
How long has it been since you listened to the album and if you could go back in time and do it all again, what would you do differently with all the knowledge you have now?
The last time I listened to it was a couple of years ago in my campervan with the kids, I think it was when we played Glade Festival. I’ve got three kids, one is 13, one 10 and a little one, and we were talking to a bunch of fans after the show and they were talking to the kids, because they were on stage with me during the show. And the fans were going on about ‘Wide Angle’ and how it changed their lives and all this, so we listened to it when we got back in the van because the kids had never heard it. So that was nice.
What do the kids think of it?
Yeah they like it, they’ve got it on their ipods now. I don’t know if that’s just because I’m their Dad though!
But going back to the second part of your question, at first I thought maybe I would have got a better orchestra, though the sound of that orchestra was very lo-fi and Russian, and it worked. When we recorded the Seattle orchestra for ‘I Choose Noise’ the recording was almost too good. We didn’t have to EQ anything, it just dropped straight onto the tracks. When I listen back on it now it sounds too clean, whereas I like the sound of the ‘Wide Angle’ strings because it’s got a nice broad sound rather than being too clinical.
I’ll tell you what I would change though: I would have released the second album ‘Morning Sc-Fi’ a lot quicker than we did. Just to keep riding the wave of success we had might have allowed us to do some big tours with an orchestra, rather than one off shows. And that’s something that we still really want to do. Maybe with this new album we’re working on we can perhaps do that.
Interview – Henry Johnstone
Artwork – Gemma Van D.
Source – http://pulseradio.net/articles/2013/08/classics-hybrid-wide-angle/