INTERVIEW: Mary Byker & Noko

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Mary – We’ve been very busy between us!

Noko – it’s hard to believe it’s May already! Seems like it was Christmas 5 minutes ago.

Can you talk to us more about your latest album “Am I Dead Yet?”?

Mary – We are very excited to finally have the album released, we started work on it over two years ago. We have a history between us that we both wanted to continue. Noko produced my post Gaye Bykers on Acid band Hyperhead and we also had a band together called Maximum Roach. Noko then invited me to join with Apollo440  where we had some degree of success. This album is the result a long collaborative partnership and we’re both very happy of the way it’s turned out!

Noko – the idea goes right back to when we were working on the Hyperhead album in 1992 – there were a few songs that we’re going down a darker more film-noir boulevard and we were liking it. We vowed then we’d do a whole album like that one day. It took us til 2017 to get round to it!

Did any event in particular inspire you to write it?

Mary – Not any event as such but the events in general, It seems technology is not being used to cure our ills, rather to the contrary it’s being used to manipulate events in a negative way and some people are becoming alienated by social media and the need to live up to an idealised image/lifestyle. Also when we started writing I was living in Brazil and feeling a little alienated myself.

Any plans to release a video for any more of the tracks?

Mary – Yes we are going to do a video for the track “Solid Gone” and probably more if we get the time! It seems in this day and age we have to produce video’s ourselves along with writing the music, it’s been very illuminating, we are turning into a cottage industry!

Noko – I really love the whole self-sufficiency thing – it’s very satisfying and empowering to have the means of production in the hands of the proletariat. Very Spiral Scratch….very Joe Meek.

I’ve particularly enjoyed making the videos – we’ve both taught ourselves how to edit video and we know some talented people who are willing to get their hands dirty for very little money (Thanks!) The whole crowd-fund thing was been a lot of fun – even standing in a queue in the post office as the people behind get really irate when they realise you’re posting 200 packages to 20 different countries at a time and they all need to be weighed and priced separately! Rock’n’roll!

How was the recording and writing process?

Mary – I was living in Brazil at the time and regularly coming over to play with Pop Will Eat Itself. I really wanted to do some writing with Noko again and somehow we managed  to find the time to write the song Loneliness from the album, which really set the tone for the musical aesthetic we eventually followed. It was a very enjoyable organic process, we continued to write via the internet for around 6 months and then due to the political situation and instability in Brazil I decided to move back to the UK which meant the writing process became much easier.

How do you go on balancing all your different influences together?

Mary – As I said it’s been a very organic process we both bring different things to the party, we have a mutual understanding of what works and what doesn’t. If we don’t agree on something we just work around it until we do, on every aspect of the writing, the lyrics, chord progression or the sounds.

Noko – strangely, it’s pretty painless really – it comes from a mutual respect for each other’s field of expertise. Musical collaborations are not usually like this, in my experience!

Would you say you are stepping into new musical boundaries with this project?

Mary- I’d say yes for me, and what people expect from me, it’s a stylistic departure, like I’m actually singing! Although we have worked together in the past on things that have flirted with this kind of sound, most notably on a couple of tracks on my post Gaye Bykers project Hyperhead which Noko produced, one track called Method One springs to mind. I also made some tracks around the same time with the Hoodlum Priest which were in this vein.

Noko – probably less so for me – a lot of my previous work has been touched by a love for the cinematic and I’ve scored a few movies. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a record player at home until I pestered my parents to get one so I could listen to T-Rex and Alice Cooper. Effectively, the first time I ever heard loud music was when I went to the cinema and the very first film I saw was “You Only Live Twice”, so that first piece of John Barry’s score,“Space March” at the beginning of that film has haunted me ever since. Kinda defined my musical aesthetic very early on. There’s an awful lot of John Barry’s influence on my contribution to Am I Dead Yet?, along with Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Lalo Shifrin, Jerry Goldsmith and all the other boys in the band.

Was it easy to blend your creative minds into one to create a unique project?

Mary – Yes! it’s been very natural.

Noko – as I said earlier, quite effortless.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than working on your own?

Mary – Each thing you do with someone else you have to try to embrace the musical language of the other person, For example writing with Pop Will Eat Itself is a different animal entirely!

Noko – the only thing that’s the same about the process, is that it’s always different.

Can we expect any new material ?

Mary – Yes, We are hoping to get started on the next record as soon as possible, we have a few ideas already in the can that need elaborating

Noko – Yeah, we’re going to turn the second album around much more quickly, later this year.

Any plans to hit the road?

Mary – Yes we are playing a couple of shows in May to coincide with the Album the first gig is on 10th May at The Islington in London and on the 18th May at The Donkey in Leicester. We are hoping to do a longer tour in the Autumn. We are augmenting our live line up with a bass player and drummer namely Derek “Hoodlum Priest” Thompson and Cliff Hewitt from Apollo440, which is pretty exciting.

Noko – these guys are part of our dysfunctional musical family – we go back a long way together, so it promises to be a giggle. Mary and I have only played as a duo for the Am I Dead Yet? gigs we’ve done so far, so we’re looking fwd to escalating our sound with the addition of these guys.

For me, the process of remixing 5 of the album tracks for the instrumental remix EP “Never Mind The Bolex : Am I Dead Yet? reimagined on 35mm” that we gave away to those who bought the album during the crowd-fund period, has really informed where I see our live sound expanding – I’m looking forward to the sound becoming more flexible, dubbed up and de-constructed before your very eyes. Exciting times.

What else is happening next in Mary Byker & Noko’s world?

Mary – Writing the new album, making more videos and  touring with Apollo440 and for me some dates in the US with PWEI.

Noko – today I will be mostly learning old punk rock songs!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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