Hood ‘Cold House’ (interview with Richard and Chris Adams)

Released on Domino Records in November 2001, ‘Cold House,’ the fifth official studio album by Hood, a Yorkshire-based band centering around brothers Richard and Chris Adams, marks a fascinating junction between skittery electronica and arcadian indie-rock. A marked advancement on the preceding album, ‘The Cycle Of Days & Seasons,’ partially thanks to the creative, widescreen production of Black Star Liner’s Choque Hosein, ‘Cold House’ offers not only a slightly frosted window into British “indietronica” at the time but stands up as an inspired, evocative and beautiful work.

Glen Johnson talked to Richard and Chris about the album’s origination, recording and reception.

Glen : Can you give us an idea of where Hood were at when you went into the conception of ‘Cold House?’  To me, it sounds like a great leap forward from your previous album. Was that a conscious effort or did you approach it pretty much business as usual?  

Richard : We were possibly in a mindset of thinking that we had to be more direct. The reception of the ‘Cycle of Days and Seasons’ was completely frustrating to us. It’s one of those times that you feel that you made an album that at least tries to be forward thinking and to create new sound, rather than those referenced from the past and there’s literally no reaction at all from anybody. That coupled with the fact that we had to move away from analogue recording, following a series of headaches with the production of ‘Days & Seasons’ led to us trying to let a little light into what we are doing. We felt we had points to prove all over the place.

Do you remember your label, Domino, having A&R input at the time or did they just let you get on with it?  How did the idea of working with producer Choque Hosein (Black Star Liner) come about? 

Richard : They generally let us get on with it but as a matter of fact it was their idea to get Choque involved. We’d done some early mixes with Richard Formby, who’d engineered most of the record and they just weren’t turning out like we’d hoped. Choque was a godsend actually in realising the sounds we were hearing in our heads, so any label meddling was most welcome in this case.

Do you remember what kind of records you were listening to during that time?  To my ears, it feels like you moved away from the more Talk Talk/Bark Psychosis-esque “post-rock” sound of your previous album and towards a more electronic framework?  

Richard : We’d always been interested in electronic music but here was where we learnt to blend electronics and the kind of ‘post rock’ song structures we’d been previously been working with. We were going out to a lot more club nights in and around Leeds – Vector, Iration Steppas, so electronic music was seeping in from outside sources other than the more home listening type thing we were doing.

How did you go about composing these songs?  Were they written as “songs” or were the songs born out of electronics/programming?  

Richard : They started in all sorts of shapes. Some started life as part of an electronic side project we were considering starting, some were from Chris’s Downpour project, others happened more organically. The sounds on the embryonic electronic pieces were then ‘Hoodified’ by adding in guitars and bass and drum kit, so it was a mixture of both programmed electronics and real instruments.

Could you give us an idea of the gear you remember using at the time?  Do you remember there being central instruments to what you were doing? 

Chris : We’d just added a steam-powered PC to our arsenal. Alex from Team Doyobi came round and set it up for me. I specifically remember his edict to “stay away from granular synthesis, everybody is bloody doing it,” so, of course that was the first thing I looked for when digging through the cracked software. The problem we’d been struggling with was syncing up the recordings (we had a 16 track Roland vs1680) and the MIDI stuff like samplers and what-not. It’s pretty embarrassing that we were running out of tracks when so much of our stuff had been done on a four track. For better or for worse, the computer got everything consolidated in one place and we’d usually been able to record a fair bit of the sequenced stuff before a disc got corrupted or something. Two samplers were, for me, the most important things at this time – the Akai S950 and the Yamaha A5000. The Akai still sounds great and had that function where you could get samples to loop back on themselves. I was endlessly fascinated by that effect, being from a more ‘linear’ tape background. I then campaigned for the purchase of the A5000 because Matt Elliott had one. I remember him showing me whole finished tracks, all just playing off that thing with effects and everything on it, which was light years ahead of the Akai –  but what I loved the most is that it would split samples over the keys for you automatically. That’s like the most common thing now but then I was so excited about it at the time – saved hours of clicking that little dial round. Overall I think the main thing was being able to consolidate things together and this allowed us to get a bit cleverer with the programming.

Can you tell me a bit about the geography of where you recorded the album?  What can you tell us about “Hall Place and Cold House Studios?” Did your immediate environment and perhaps the season have an effect on the music?  The titles suggest that the album was recorded in Winter? 

Richard : Hall Place was Richard Formby’s studio in East End Park  – a notoriously grim suburb of Leeds. It was pretty bleak out there but once you were in the studio, it was like a treasure trove. Richard had all sorts of gear lying around we could use and he was open to any idea however preposterous. ‘Cold House’ was basically the set up in Chris’s house. It did what it said on the tin really, it was freezing cold but allowed us to work on the music without watching the clock ticking.

Richard Adams, Stephen Royle, Gareth Brown, Chris Adams

Can you give us an idea of everyone’s role in Hood at that time?  How did you and Chris write songs? This is of particular interest to me as I can’t imagine doing – and have never done – anything creative with my brother! 

Richard : Ha! It’s not really easy to quantify how it happened.   Most songs started with an idea by Chris, which I’d add guitars and bass to or attempt to change around, much to his annoyance! The last two tracks on the album were the other way round – ie Chris adding stuff to my initial ideas. It was just a very creative time in which we finally had access to digital home recording, which would allow Chris to work alone on the production without me sitting there watching over him. The other members had a big impact on the album too  – Steve’s drums were always really inventive and he added cello and other things, Gareth (Brown) wheezed on Richard Formby’s many pump organs and was involved in a lot of the textures on the album.

I hear these recurrent themes of the more melancholic seasons and pastoral detachment running through your work.  Likewise, a lot of your videos and imagery incorporate a Super 8mm nostalgia.  Are you harking back to lonely, rural childhoods? Are you looking for your “brittle youth” on ‘Cold House?’  

Richard : Looking back our records always seem like postcards of where we were at the time. ‘Cold House’ could be our loss of innocence record in that it was a collective realisation that everything is going to be shit. We had pretty golden childhoods and our early records reflected a kind of rural melancholy and yearning for the countryside we grew up in, where everything was safe. By ‘Cold House,’ we were firmly ensconced in the city and so it has a much more fraught and nervous feel to it that reflected our surroundings. When I think of ‘Cold House’ I just think of one thing and that is rain. Relentless freezing cold rain.

The song titles could be poem titles.  How did you approach the lyrics at the time?  Did you start with lyrical ideas or were the lyrics left until the end?  I’m always interested in the various approaches. 

Richard : It was a collective effort, where I’d give to Chris scraps of thoughts and ideas, which he’d then incorporate into the ideas he already had. It’s interesting listening back because a line of mine might pop up in a song which is predominantly from Chris’s point of view. It was a pretty successful way of working – I’d suggest the odd change etc to help things scan but otherwise Chris came up with the melodic ideas and phrasing for vocals. Titles were also a collaborative process. Things were suggested by everyone – there’s all sorts of hidden stories behind them!

Chris, I really like the fragile, unflashy, introspective style of singing on your records.  Again, I think it’s very British not to draw too much attention to yourself. What’s your relationship with your voice like? 

Chris : I’m not on speaking terms with my voice.  I’m really glad you like what you hear but every time one of our records gets re-issued, I secretly dream that the remaster will somehow have sparkling new vocals. I’m pretty sure they can’t do that with mastering but I can hope. As far as I recall, part of the thinking with the vocals was somewhere between what you mentioned in your question, aggravated by my inability to sing traditionally whilst aiming for the slightly detached effects-free delivery of the Peter Jefferies/Alastair Galbraiths of this world. An intimate in the room feel I guess. I’m glad there aren’t the flashy histrionic vocals on any of our records, although I’m sure some people would’ve loved that. Emotion can be conveyed in all sorts of ways I think and I guess, in general, our music is pretty understated, you know – no solos and all that rubbish. I’m certainly happier hiding away and doing the writing and production side of music, so the vocals might have also been a bit of a reflection of that over the years too.

I can definitely hear the influence of Disco Inferno on, particularly, ‘The Winter Hit Hard.’  There’s even a hint of Ian Crause in the vocal. You’ve often cited DI as an influence on Hood.  Why were they so inspiring do you think? 

Richard : For me it was the mixture of the melodic and the experimental. They just pushed music forward at a time we were all pretty impressionable. I went to see them play in Leeds in around 1994 and it just blew my mind – everything was rigged up to samplers so, when Ian played his guitar, the sound of a waterfall was coming out. The drum kit was just a set of wires and the only thing in any way near conventional was the bass. I just fell in love with their approach, the music challenged me but was emotional at the same time, which I guess is what we were always trying to do.  We wanted to make new music rather than rehashing the past. They were a constant inspiration in that way.

I also hear a very definite Aphex Twin influence on ‘This Is What We Do To Sell Out(s).’  I’m interested in the electronica/rock fusion of the time – ostensibly guitar bands getting into Warp, etc –  it often made for some great records, like this one. Was there ever a temptation or inclination to make a purely electronic Hood record?

Richard : We had a whole set of rules when we started and one was that guitars would always be in our sound.  In fact, the exact same guitar which stayed with us from the beginning and even made fleeting appearances on our last record. We’d push the music towards various avenues but try to keep that initial idea and aesthetic. Over the years there’s been certain tracks where guitars haven’t featured at all but personally, I felt that without the organic, more traditional instrumentation, the music would lose its soul somewhat. I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years ditch guitars and go purely electronic and I always think something is lost in the process.

What are your thoughts on dub?

Richard : We’ve said this before, so I apologise for repetition but it’s the idea that the sound you put down onto tape is not necessarily the sound that will be on the finished record. Listening to dub music informed a lot of the post production on this record and influenced us in making decisions to change the sound and scope of what we initially laid down.

I remember my friend John Cheves taking photos of you for NME in the mid-90’s and saying that none of you would face the camera.  Were you shy? Or did you just want to maintain some semblance of mystery to the band? Any thoughts on playing the promo game? 

Richard : We were shy definitely but we also liked the mystery we had felt when we liked bands but didn’t know what they looked like. I remember seeing a cowled, blurred picture of early Pavement and in those pre-internet days it was all I had to go on. It made it more exciting I guess and just like when you can’t figure out the lyrics of a record, you put your own interpretations and ideas onto something and that might be better than the reality. We’ve always been utterly useless at promoting ourselves and I’m grateful we managed to exist before bands had to put their every activity on social media. So, it was a bit of a mixture of the two things. I liked the records to be surprises, for the listener to have the record in their hand without any pre-conceived idea of what it is. This rarely happens now and I think it would be difficult for us to retain that idea without dropping off the radar completely.

What do you think of that term “post-rock?”  Is it something you felt befitted your music?  If not, how would you describe Hood to a taxi driver? 

Richard : Well I liked the initial “post-rock” of Insides, Moonshake, Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis etc but I didn’t particularly like what post-rock later became with bands like Godspeed and Explosions in the Sky. It seemed to turn into a kind of overblown, mostly instrumental thing with quiet/loud dynamics. I mean, there were some decent bands in that scene but it was the initial pop experimentalism that was the inspiration for us. We always tried to avoid the obvious. It was kind of frustrating  – we knew if we played a bad set, we’d just have to play a slowly building track at the end, finishing with lots of feedback and noise and we couple plaster over the cracks, as it seemed to really impress people. It was the chaotic blending of sounds and ideas that we were more into.

I just find it impossible to describe what it is. I’ve found to say “sorta like Radiohead” as the nearest ball park thing people have heard of. I don’t particularly like Radiohead but I guess it gets over that sense of something a bit off-kilter.

How did the hook-ups with (cult US rappers) Doseone and WHY? come about?  How did they connect with this very English Yorkshire indie rock band?  On paper, it’s an odd combination but the reality is really quite fascinating I think. 

Richard : They just sent us their series of 10” records. They were fans, believe it or not. We listened through them and were amazed by what they were doing. We’d always loved hip-hop and had thought before about how to integrate it into our sound on earlier records but the disparity between what we were doing and what the people we listened to were doing, always seemed too great. But with cLOUDDEAD this gap was closer  – you could easily see how the lines could be blurred. So we asked them to do something and they did it!

What was the role of playing live around this time?  Was it something you enjoyed or did you feel it was something you had to do in order to promote the record?  How would you rate yourselves as a live band? 

Richard : We pretty much hated playing live. I think we might have enjoyed it at the beginning when we were lo-fi and noisy, as it felt somewhat like infiltrating a system that bands like us weren’t allowed into and there was no real pressure to be a live act rather than an experiment that got out of hand. We loved confounding the idea of what the band might be, changing the sound, personnel etc. But around the time of ‘Cold House,’ expectations were put on us somewhat. We couldn’t just go out and play a set of new songs or an experimental set. In addition, the set up was really difficult playing to click tracks and samples. We brought it all on ourselves I suppose but we wanted to push the boundaries. Also we’re quite retiring people  – we always liked to go home after a gig.

As for how I’d rate us, I’d say we could be pretty good on one night but a car crash at other times. We seemed affected a lot by things so, if there was a sparse crowd or a bad sound we’d be terrible but at a good gig we could really make it work. But again, I like that idea that you are not exactly sure what you will get from live performance.

Like my own band at the time, would I be right in thinking that your music enabled you to visit places you’d perhaps not otherwise had gone?  What are your thoughts on playing in Britain versus playing on the Continent? Did you feel particularly more appreciated/understood anywhere? 

Richard : Well, this is one of the things if I was talking to a young person considering doing music I’d say was worth all the effort for – the travel, the chance to see places you’d never normally visit. It just gives you a better idea of the world and makes you more open minded about things.

When we got to the Continent, things changed. First of all, we were just treated better – accommodation, beer, food etc. But people were just more into it, particularly in France. I remember turning up to a gig in Paris and thinking there must be someone really big playing, as there were huge queues around the block. We couldn’t believe it was for us, as it always seemed we were playing to people under duress back home, as if they’d been forced to come to the gig at gunpoint.

The entry for ‘Cold House’ on Wikipedia : “At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 87, based on 14 reviews, indicating “universal acclaim”.  How do you remember the album being received at the time? 

Richard : It was received very well. I don’t really understand it  – just timing I guess. It seemed to have that thing where journalists sit around with a record ahead of release musing, “Do we like this?” and when someone influential says they do, then all the others decide they had better like it and follow suit. We had Simon Reynolds in Spin say it was good, so at that point it was a case of people wanting to get on board with it. It never happened to us before (or since) in the same way.

Do you remember what your record label thought of it at the time?

Richard : I think they liked it but it’s hard to tell. They were never gushing over us. I think they really did put effort into promoting it and so we felt we had their backing on it. I’m sure they had been previously frustrated with us, as we were hard to market. The albums weren’t initially engaging to people but perhaps with ‘Cold House’ there was a way in.

How do you perceive the album, looking back? 

Richard : Good but it’s not my favourite. I think it’s really consistent and that is maybe the key to why people like it. It retains a mood throughout and is pretty much a unique thing in terms of its sound.  I think our other albums had higher highs but looking back I don’t think we made an album as well rounded as ‘Cold House.’

Why did it take you 4 years to release another record? 

Richard : Panic. It was the first time we were under pressure to follow a record up. The pattern before was that we’d finish a record, it would come out and a week later it was all seemingly forgotten. The frustrated mind set we were in at that point always led us to push harder and try to prove people wrong every time. It wasn’t long after ‘Cold House’ was out that we started to feel the pressure about what would come next. I think it was expected that the next one was the big one – where we truly crossed over. We had a bigger budget, more time and there was actual interest in the band. So we sat about for two years not having a clue what to do. When we came to record we were coming up with wildly different ideas of how to move forward but I think what we came up with ‘Outside Closer’ was sort of what we were trying to do. A more colourful LP I suppose, which upped the production ante but wasn’t overly slick and had moments of reflection, as well as some upbeat stuff. I have a million regrets about this period but I’m still happy we didn’t make ‘Cold House’ again and go down an electronica rabbit hole.

If I were some mad musical surgeon, I feel that if I took half of ‘Cold House’ and half of ‘Outside Closer’ and sewed them together, I’d have a perfect album.  To my ears, you were getting better and better, which begs the question : why did you stop after ‘Outside Closer?’ 

Richard : That’s interesting. My take is kind of similar in that, if ‘Outside Closer’ contained a couple of the tracks off the ‘Lost You EP’ that preceded it, we’d have nailed it but we were pulling in all kinds of directions by this point and so the tracklist was a bit of a compromise. It took us two years to make, then we did a bit of touring but we could see in the audiences’ eyes that they weren’t massively into it. The moment had passed I guess and we’d lost the surprise factor we had at the beginning. We took a break as Chris, in particular, was burnt out by it all and to date no-one has picked up the phone to start it all again. With our solo projects, you can try different things musically without adhering to what people think a band should be and as time went on it just seemed the right thing to leave it all as it was. We never say never on it but there’s no real impetus to do it. You see bands come back and the whole thing often just never seems worth it, other than the odd band like Ride that seems bigger than ever. We’re not addicted to playing live or having a profile and we are currently all quite artistically fulfilled.

What do you think Hood’s legacy is?  What are your thoughts on musical legacies?  I’m particularly thinking of the fact that long after you’re dead, potentially, your music will live on, digitally.  Is our music our headstone? 

Richard : I think part of our legacy is that our career made more sense as a whole when seen from the future than it did to people at the time. We were always one or two steps ahead of the expectations of our audience in terms of where we were headed and the changes we made and so it was hard to keep people on board. Those that saw it through I think are still pretty obsessed with the band but there’s not that many of them out there.  We’ll get forgotten eventually unless some upcoming rock star mentions us as an influence or a rich label comes along to re-issue everything. Still, the whole thing came out of literally nothing – no musical ability at all, so I’m very proud of what we did.

Footnote : Richard Adams can currently be found leading The Declining Winter.  Check out their Bandcamp page here : https://thedecliningwinter.bandcamp.com/

Chris Adams makes wonderful, hip hop-influenced electronica under the name Bracken.  Listen to/buy his excellent ‘High Passes’ album here : https://homeassemblymusic.bandcamp.com/album/high-passes

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