By Sheikh Ahmed
Mark Bell, LFO. Used to be two of them, now just him. From Leeds; as kids, into Electro, nineteen, made 'Frequencies'. Warp, spent five years in the pub. Delivered 'Advance'. Produced Björk; 'Homogenic', 'Selmasongs'. Produced Depeche Mode: 'Exciter'. Now; new single: 'Freak', new album: 'Sheath'.
Mark: When I was 16 all I wanted to do was art and I did work experience for a year, working on crappy advertisements.
Sheikh: What did you study?
Mark: At that age I had the choice of either going to college or university and studying graphic design or going on this other course for 2 years where you study the basics; photography, graphics and design. So I thought "Well I can't wait" so I thought I'd do the 2 year course.
Sheikh: Has any of your design stuff been followed through like your music?
Mark: Yeah, well all the new album artwork is all me. I learned lots doing that and it was fun.
Sheikh: New album is due. Been seven years since the last one. I recall an NME interview you did at the time of the 'Advance' release. The excuse you gave as to why it took so long for that to come out was that you'd been down the pub. What's the excuse this time?
Mark: (Laughs) I've done loads since, been doing the Björk thing and Depeche Mode stuff and I've been doing remixes. But the thing with LFO is that its really personal so I dont want to release loads of stuff under that name. But with this album, I could have worked on it forever. I mean I have 5 unfinished tracks that I could work on and think it could work or whatever. I just need to stop.
Sheikh: Do you worry about expectations that people'll have about this new work?
Mark: You can't worry about that. either people'll like it or hate it. I'm not worried cos I've got so much material. Even though I've been working for other people, I've been doing stuff for myself the whole time. The thing with this album is that I've tried to select eleven or so tracks to make it sound like a mixtape. Cos I feel there's no scene that I belong to. Like Techno or Breaks or...
Sheikh: You mention that you feel out of place, we perceive you as this well known producer of Björk and Depeche Mode and that we tend to forget that you also did music on your own as LFO.
Mark: Well if you got a mixtape off your mate and it all these different styles by different artists and you liked it all then that was the idea behind this album. Albeit not as extreme. But it's just basically stuff I like; pumping in your face stuff to Techno to Classical. All sorts really.
Sheikh: How do you approach your own work as opposed to production work?
Mark: For example, I'm doing some stuff now for Björk for her new album and I'm still working on my own stuff. So there is a distinct seperation. But the difference is that there is a greater expectation with production work. Like with Depeche Mode, they've sold something like 70 million albums.
Sheikh: I was going to say, how do you cope with that?
Mark: I dunno, I was into them since I was 13 from a pop angle and then to meet them. I mean it was indimitating for the first ten minutes. But they're really nice. The funny thing is that the budget is ridiculous. So if you want something like a bit of hardware or a Mini-Moog or something, then half a dozen people's mobiles go off and it's there in half a day.
It's a bit uncomfortable when its like that. With production on 'Exciter' I basically took my home setup which is like a little cheap Mackie desk and I set a few of them up in the live room of the studio so it relfected my bedroom setup.
I mean there was all that over-the-top SSL desk and millions of pounds worth of equipment that I found distracting. I mean you can polish something that isn't very good and make it sound good. I'd rather have something that sounds shit and you try to make it sound good on the limited kit that you have. Crap speakers or whatever and if it sounds good on other systems then that's all you need.
Sheikh: Why do you feel the need to produce other people?
Mark: There's not many albums that I can listen to all the way through. I have a very short attention span and nowadays I can't listen to albums where it's one sound or style held for 45 minutes or something. I mean you've got CD's that are 74 minutes long.
Sheikh: I'm getting DVD's that are 3 days long!
Mark: Y'see, I haven't got an ego big enough to ask someone to listen to me for more than a few CD's worth in total to be honest. I'd rather just knock a few tracks out and say "Here, listen to that."
Sheikh: Do you get bored of producing?
Mark: It is more a work thing. For example, with Depeche Mode; Martin Gore. if they're gonna do an album, he'll write fourteen songs in that order and that's it. That's what he does. He won't do any extra, so there's not like 50 tracks that you can pick and choose from. With Björk it's a lot more organic, that might lead to that and it may end up being something else. I mean, she'll write a lot more and you have choice of material to play with.
Sheikh: How did you hook up with Björk?
Mark: I met her ages ago, when she left the Sugarcubes. she rang Graham Massey when she was going to do 'Debut'. And I met her in Manchester when 808 State were there and all I remember was that I was totally drunk in a club and I was trying to hold her hand. I don't know who she was at the time....embarassing (laughs).
She liked my music, she told me that she and her friends got drunk in Rekyajik and listened to cassettes and one of them was 'Frequencies'. Anyway we kept in touch and I was supposed to be doing something on 'Debut' but it never really happened. We were doing different things anyway. Then I did a few remixes that appeared on 'Telegram' and we said we'll do something again. But it never happened. Eventually, we managed to hook up and did 'Homogenic'.
Sheikh: Last time I saw you live was with Gez (Varley) in Sheffield with System 7 at the Leadmill. Any planned LFO live dates? I mean that's the expected route nowadays. Or would you rather just release it and not do any of that support stuff. Judging by the look on your face, I think I can guess which.....
Mark: Yeah, I mean that would be ideal if I could do that. But also, I mean the communication between people and the music exists when you play live is great. Either people'll will appreciate it or there'll be silence. The reaction makes you work more. I mean I could sit at my computer and work every day and not know how people react to it. I don't know whether the music's getting any better or worse. To answer your question, there are no plans but I'm sure there'll be something.
Sheikh: How is your relationship with Warp?
Mark: The main difference now is that Rob (Mitchell) isn't around. I mean that's the worst bit. He was the one that I dealt with the most.
Sheikh: So what next?
Mark: Erm, there's a cheesy new york act called W.I.T. - Whatever It Takes. Electroclash. They sent me a demo so I might do some stuff with them for a laugh. See what happens!