A decade since their groundbreaking album, The Fall of Math, 65daysofstatic return to the road. In brief moments of serenity, snatched from the schedule of their ongoing European tour, Joe Shrewsbury reflects on what the band has learned since then.

“We’ve learnt how to write a soundtrack for a computer game; learnt valuable and expensive lessons about how 20th century intellectual property law is not applicable to the creative ownership problems of the 21st century; learnt ways to continue the musical conversation we’re having with each other, regardless of all that.

“And we learnt that looking backwards isn’t always bad. There are valuable lessons back inside the heads of the weird, naïve band we were ten years ago. It’s teaching them to the cynical, anxious us-of-today that’s the problem…”

Cynical and anxious they may claim to be, but 65daysofstatic have often taken musical paths less travelled, the most recent being that computer game soundtrack. Pitched as Elite for the 21st Century, No Man’s Sky is a generative, plot-minimal exploration game set in an infinite (and rather lonely) universe, which sounds more like a Brian Eno sideline than a gig for a touring electronic math-rock band.

“On the one hand, it was just like our normal process. We wrote linearly composed tracks, which we collected into a vaguely coherent 50 minutes, pressed onto vinyl, and so on. But the timeframe was much shorter, so we had to trust that our first ideas were our best, where normally we tend to throw a lot of material away. The tracks that made it were ones that gave the album a sense of narrative.

“On the other hand, we produced a lot of material that had less rigid boundaries – that was more repetitive, or hallucinatory, or improvised – and judged its merit on the mood or emotion it provoked, disregarding whether it was catchy or concise. We released most of this with the album extras, and they feel to us like the same body of work, but there is that distinction between the two, nevertheless.

“The in-game music was produced after that, and was a totally different process, but it used the music we’d written as the basis for the library of music we needed to build. So we used the album sessions and sort of atomised them, picked melodies or loops or sounds as source material, which we expanded upon, wrote variations of, and so on.”

These non-traditional strategies were no obstacle to the restless 65dos, however.

“No writing process of ours is the same album to album. We wanted to complement the game’s aesthetic, which is very strong, very recognisable. But we didn’t want to succumb to it. We wanted instead to bring something of our own to it, to subvert it, alter it in some way. That’s why we’re so proud of the record – it works in the game, but also as a standalone thing.”

The album’s stand-aloneness may be something of a mercy, given the backlash against the game. After a tsunami of expectation, the first weeks of release saw disgruntled gamers complaining about the seeming aimlessness of the open-ended game play, and the absence of features they believed the developers had promised them. What do the band make of it all?

“The game has been subject to the sort of intense scrutiny and criticism the internet does so well. This isn’t the only narrative that could be told about the game – for instance, one could talk about its ambition, the design aesthetic, pushing the boundaries of procedural coding, and so on – but it’s certainly the most readily available.

“There’s a lot of ludicrous entitlement flying about these days. Thing is, imagine if all that energy, groups of people collectively angry, focussed on a common goal, could be harnessed – if it was directed at politicians, energy companies, banks, instead of into this backward, offensive stuff, like GamerGate or whatever.”

I am reminded, uncomfortably, of harbouring similar attitudes toward the musical heroes of my youth. The flipside of the anti-establishment 90s was a willingness to label as a sell-out anyone who made an album you didn’t enjoy as much as you felt you should have. But there’s little sign of that sense of entitlement, at least in the 65dos universe.

“I think people maybe understand they are into bands who might make something they don’t like, and surely that’s preferable to making the same thing over and over again. When you tour, you meet people who are into music and can talk critically about stuff, and doing that face to face just seems so much more conducive to a normal, moderate conversation.”

Perhaps spending a year writing music to accompany a self-guided tour of a lonely and infinite imaginary universe was a great preparation for the uncertain times ahead?

“The collapse of the music industry is only a signal for the collapse of everything else. Bands and labels have to work harder to make people happy, but for a band of our size, that was always the case. Streaming and torrenting, music as free stuff – it has its downsides, but it’s not the end of the world, just the end of major labels. We connect with more people, more of the time these days, via social media and at shows, and that’s great.”

So what has changed about that “weird, naïve band” they were ten years ago?

“Hopefully we’ve improved. It certainly feels that way to us. We’ve moved away from that whole barely-contained-chaos thing, got better at listening to each other, communicating musically. We relied on the angry, nervous energy of being young, and that can’t be sustained as you get older. Even if you could sustain it physically, you’d look dumb jumping about like teenagers. Hopefully it’s replaced with music that has a bit more depth, a bit more gravity.

“And we’ve become a bit less enamoured with our own myth. When we started out, being in a band was a way of carving out a little space for ourselves in the maelstrom of the world, and to sustain that we needed to believe in what we were doing in a way that was pretty all-encompassing. 65daysofstatic undeniably exists now. It doesn’t need us to sustain it through sheer force of will, so maybe our gang mentality has faded as we’ve got older.”

What would Joe go back in time and tell them, if he could?

“I’m not sure the gift of foresight would have helped us. The journey we’ve been on has been integral to the band we are now, so there’s nothing I would have wanted us to swerve. Maybe I’d tell us not to be quite so mortified and guilt-ridden about travelling and its impact on the environment, or not to have so many hang-ups about our music being used in advertising. Not that I don’t think those things are difficult to reconcile yourself with, but capitalism is a filthy machine, and until we (as in humans) change that, we’re all in the same boat.”

All in the same boat, sailing an infinite, uncaring universe, the future can look pretty bleak. But there’s still beauty to be found in that future, if only we remember our past.

65daysofstatic.com

Paul Graham Raven