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Exclusive interview: Poltergeist

Through the thick and thin... Bunnymen Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson reveal their new project to James Scanlon

Written by . Published on March 5th 2013.

Exclusive interview: Poltergeist

IT’S  almost 15 years since Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson last worked together, but some things are well worth the wait.

Exploring new possibilities in sound manipulation, with a progressive 60s/70s undercurrent, Poltergeist  is a new project devised by the original Echo And The Bunnymen guitarist and bass player.

'One of the things we used to do was use a ouija board quite a lot. And we often got in touch with spirits' - Will Sergeant

The line-up is completed by drummer, Nick Kilroe, who has been touring worldwide with the Bunnymen (an on-off incarnation comprising guitarist Sergeant and original frontman Ian McCulloch) over the last couple of years.

Absorbing some of the pioneering greats of Kraut rock, bands such as Can and Tangerine Dream, Poltergeist's sound is punctuated by self generated samples and harsh, swirling psychedelic guitar riffs.  There’s also a nod to Dadaism, Old Man Ray films and cult 60s television in there as well.

Poltergeist - Cathedral

Yet still there are  traces of that inimitable Bunnymen sound, particularly the Heaven Up Here era.  No bad thing.

“The important thing is that there are no boundaries,” stresses Sergeant over a nice cup of tea, straight from the pot.  

“With it being a kind of instrumental thing, we don’t have to have a song format structure in there.  We don’t have to have verses and choruses and stuff like that.”

“We can do anything, and that’s the idea,” insists Pattinson, who has kept himself busy over the last few years mostly renovating boats and helping out his and Sergeant’s old Maghull schoolmate, Paul Simpson, in The Wild Swans

“For me, it’s all very instinctive.  I haven’t played properly or written stuff for 15 years and now things are starting back to the way I like.  Things just happen through a feeling, rather than ‘I want it to sound like this’ or ‘I want it to sound like that.’  It’s the music we like to listen to ourselves and make for ourselves.”

Since giving birth to the Poltergeist project last September, Pattinson and Sergeant have been busy laying down an important marker with their debut album, Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder).  It’s now available through pledgemusic, a scheme where, in the absence of a record deal, fans pledge cash to actually cover the costs of producing and realising recordings from their favourite acts.

Sergeant says the process involved in making the album has, as ever, been a two way affair; a simple case of bouncing ideas off each other. For example, a work-in-progress piece might be handed over to Pattinson to add some magic, and vice-versa.

Poltergeist“As soon as I put a guitar on, I come up with stuff and I know it’ll be alright,” Sergeant says.  

‘You’ve always been able to do that,’ replies Pattinson.

“Yeah, too many ideas half the time,” Sergeant laughs.

Says Pattinson: “There would be like a 10 second section where he’s like, ‘Oh, wow that’s it!’  And, I’d go, ‘Will, what are you doing?’  And he’d go off on one.  ‘What about this bit and that bit?'  And it’s all good.”

There’s nothing contrived about the new album; if anything there’s mystic forces at play.  Recorded, in the main, at Sergeant’s mini home studio, the Pod, up in West Lancs, the chaps agree that their latest piece of work is like a constantly evolving abstract painting. I then mention Tangerine Dream. 

“I used to listen to Phaedra” (1974 Tangerine Dream album) ”all the time when I was a kid with my headphones on,” says Sergeant> “So yes, I suppose there is a bit of that going on in there.  There always has been.  Everything comes in.  You can’t help it all coming in what you like, and it sort of gets filtered around in your head and then comes out another way.”

Will Sergeant PoltergeistIt’s well known that Sergeant has always been favourably disposed to weird experimentation.  Early solo efforts like, Weird As Fish and Themes For Grind, recorded in an extra-curricular capacity from Bunnymen duties, were raw, yet years ahead of their time and influential on a whole generation of musicians.  

Technology took a while to catch up. 

“The good thing about it is that you can record on a computer and it’s very easy to do that now,” he says. ”Whereas years ago it would have cost a fortune to do anything like that.  

"I didn’t know what I was doing back then.  I kind of feel my way all the time.  I don’t really go into technology with such depth.  I’ve never done any courses on it, or anything.  It was raw, but that’s all I had.

"When I listen to Themes For Grind now, I think how the hell did I do that on a four-track?”  

Back then, Sergeant made the most of his limited resources by repeatedly bouncing down tracks on the tiny machine to create a multi-layered sound.

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"I had a flat, at the time, which I shared with Ian Broudie on Princess Avenue," he recalls.  "He had a few bits of equipment floating around, such as organs and things like that.”

The Poltergeist moniker wasn’t nicked from the cult horror film, but some paranormal mischief Sergeant and his childhood mate Richard Brunskill used to get up to.  

"He was just a local lad who I used to hang around with,” recalls Sergeant.

"His brother had some records – it was like when I was really young. He had The Magical Mystery Tour double single, Holst’s The Planets and a few other things like that, and we used to play these records on his radiogram.  It was just when you were starting to become aware of bands.  

"We used to pretend that we were a band.  His dad made him this Telecaster guitar thing.  He couldn’t play it or tune it up or anything.  But we had this kind of naive, childish dream of being in a band.  

"One of the things we used to do was use a ouija board quite a lot. And we often got in touch with spirits.  So we were aware of this thing called the poltergeist..... I just like the word.   I like the fact that it’s a German word, and there are a lot of German influences in there.  

"Anyway, I’ve had it since 1970, so I’m keeping it!”

*Poltergeist play the Kazimier on March 16. Tickets £10 advance from this sort of outlet


Discover Will Sergeant's Top Five DIY Accidents here

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousMarch 5th 2013.

Very intereesting!

Stevo Music ManMarch 5th 2013.

great piece of writing - very interesting to say the least

Sentimental SapMarch 5th 2013.

ouija board says

L WagMarch 7th 2013.

very good interview

Neil RamosMarch 8th 2013.

sounds like vintage Bunnymen! NOw we know how much we miss Les Pattinson. Sigh. If only Ian could sing the way he used to -- Poltergeist would be the new Bunnymen. :)

AnonymousMarch 8th 2013.

Brilliant bass. Agree

K Ling-MoonMarch 8th 2013.

They all look like they are in an operating theatre

AnonymousMarch 12th 2013.

Very good article and very good track.

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