Fred Laird is an artist within the U.K. experimental landscape who continuously provokes thought. One undoubtedly for the crate diggers and Bandcamp bloodhounds alike, Laird has consistently been releasing music under the Earthling Society and Taras Bulba monikers.
The last 18 months has seen Laird working alongside Mike Vest (Bong, Blown Out, 11 Paranoias) in the abrasive drone/noise collaboration, Artifacts & Uranium, as well as birthing his latest solo project, Empty House.
Following his Blue Bamboo and Mushin releases via Cruel Nature Records, in September Laird unleashed the latest set of recordings under the Empty House guise in The Rituals of Romance.
While the Empty House patchwork so far consists of soundscapes tailor-made for meditation through a series of warped piano and a range of flutes, bells, synths and field recordings, The Rituals of Romance is Empty House’s most wholesome set of recordings to date.
Starting with the krautrock-inspired funfair psychedelia of Soda Stream Pop, where Laird creates the kind of maze-like world to get lost in. Whilst still operating within the meditative parameters, with The Rituals of Romance Laird accomplishes it in different ways. The piano heavy title track and The Blood of the Rose are dotted between the Six Organs of Admittance-inspired raga freak out of Every Little Step and Agape-Agape. Finishing with the 10 minute Cold Chow Mein, Laird melds together psychedelia with the origins of dub.
All told, The Rituals of Romance is one of the shining beacons of the U.K. experimental underground in 2022, bringing to life ideas and sound worlds that few have dared to explore.
Having just played a show with psych veterans, Acid Mothers Temple, Laird answered some questions about his process, influences, and The Rituals of Romance.
Sun 13: You’ve started the Empty House project last year. Was it a while in the making?
Fred Laird: “No, not really. It came about as a quick idea, a one album thing. I had gotten pretty fed up with the whole song structure ethic and wanted to do something really free. So, one day I went into the little studio room I have and just recorded anything I could get my hands on at the time, even the waste paper bin. That’s how Mushin was born, and I liked it. I liked the freedom of doing whatever.”
S13: I’ve always been intrigued with artists such as yourself. What were your early influences and what drew you to this art form?
FL: “My teenage years was during the post-punk early indie years when you still had an indie charts and magazine’s like Zig Zagwhich were essential to a kid in the ’80s. So, my early influences where – The Fall, Julian Cope, The Cramps, Jesus and Mary Chain etc. Those bands become a springboard when someone like Mark E. Smith cites Can or Big Youth in their interviews and it expands your musical horizons even further. Inevitably, I find myself in the krautrock domain and a whole new world opens up.
“I discovered Popol Vuh and a spiritual thing happens. This most amazing, ground-breaking band touches you like no other band. Then of course, from there you become curious on spiritual / world/ tribal music. When I was younger, I used to tune this old radio late at night and listen to the sounds in the dark with just the little yellow glow from the display. I used to listen to what sounded like a Muezzin singing call to prayer behind static noise. It was the best sound I had ever heard. That sound was the greatest influence on my music, it was so mysterious.”
S13: I’d say The Rituals of Romance is the best thing you’ve done so far. It mixes all the elements of your previous releases together. Was that the thinking behind of?
FL: “Thanks. I’m not sure really. I’m a plug in and play kind of guy. I just see what materialises. My sub-conscious directs me. I think if there was any thought, then it was rhythm. The other releases were formless so for once I wanted a beat. I’m also very self-conscious of trying to emulate other cultures. I try to stay away from that, you know, making it sound authentic. It’s not real and I don’t want to be bloody Sting or Paul Simon! Mine’s more like mutant world music or Chad Valley ambient. Can had it right when they dabbled with world music on albums like Saw Delight or Eno and Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. It’s the idea, the vibe, but don’t replicate.”
S13: There is a real Asian influence that is a vital thread not only through this record, but through all of your work. What drew you to this?
FL: “I have just loved the sounds of Asia. So mysterious and formless like whisps of blue smoke. It’s beautiful and spacious and sounds deceptively effortless. I have also been a keen fan of the more psychedelic Japanese bands like Far East Family Band, Taj Mahal Travellers, Flower Travellin’ Band and Acid Mothers Temple. I visited China twice in 2019 which had a profound effect on me, and I am a keen Martial Artist. Oh Yeah, and I love old Kung Fu films, Bruce Lee, Billy Chong, Lo Lieh…”
S13: As you’re working on a lot of material, is it a case of finishing one project before beginning the next?
FL: “With Empty House I just go and record. Start banging round gongs and shit until I’m happy. If I’m collaborating with, say, Mike Vest for Artifacts & Uranium, then I become more focused because you have another person or persons involved. It’s like paying attention in a school lesson rather than drawing dicks in your classmate’s exercise book.”
S13: And what about your creative process. Are you working on something every day or do you create periodically over blocks of time?
FL: “I put a couple of days aside a week to reach out into the ether for something to create musically. I might be listening to Eno or Harold Budd and it has me jumping on the piano playing slow cascading notes. It’s great working solely on your own as you don’t have time restraints or rely on someone else to get their parts down. It’s just a matter of finishing work and a free hour or two to create. It’s a bit like meditation. It puts you into your own space.”
S13: Do you feel like your sense of identity influences your creativity as an artist?
FL: “I don’t feel I have an identity as such. Maybe that lack of identity helps me create unidentifiable sounds or music slightly different to the genre anyway. I’m always trying to create something different with Empty House. I don’t like pastiche music. That’s why I turned away from the psych scene. Candy striped keks and Vox guitars. Not for me. Each to their own I suppose.”
S13: Tell us about Blackpool. What’s the music scene like there and do you use it as an inspiration for your music in any way?
FL: “It’s a funny old place is Blackpool. I live in the more desolate town of Fleetwood which is just North of the bigger resort. Music wise it’s been squished by the cover band mafia with their ACDC tributes and such, choking the life out of a original music scene over the years. I think it’s slowly dragging itself out of that. There are some very talented local people out there not given the voice they need. The town as an inspiration in itself? No. However, there is change happening and that’s always a good thing. Blackpool Grime did alright though. Had its own TV show. Even if you hate it, it’s culturally more valid than some geezers banging out Born in the USA because they weren’t.”
S13: I feel like The Rituals of Romance would go down really well live. Is that a possibility and something you’ve been thinking about?
FL: “It’s just getting the muso’s I need to play it. I have taken the next step in playing live again, but more of a low-key acoustic dream folk thing…I think. God knows…”
Rituals of Romance is out now via Yoshiwara. Purchase from Bandcamp.