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Interview: Fakeba and John Fryer

by François Zappa

Header photo: Ana Yturralde

The music of John Fryer and Fakeba mixes the tradition of the black continent, the most up-to-day electronic and the sound of guitars that made a full generation dream. All these elements create something new and wonderful called Jotna, which will be published on the 14th of February. For this special interview we also had a collaboration, in our case, with the prestigious online magazine ElektroSpank that was in charge of the questions for the African diva. They are going to play a stratospheric concert in Madrid and Barcelona this 12th and 13th of February.

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—El Garaje: It’s not every day that we have the chance of talking with a person who has worked in some of our favorite albums. At your beginnings, you worked in some of Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis’s projects, like Dome. The music that they were doing was quite unique and avant-garde for the period. Do you think that working on these albums helped or defined your posterior work?

John Fryer: Yes, it was a very good education, because that was kind of the start of my career in music, so it was very inspiring and very educational in the way to work, because working with them, it was like the only rules in music was that rules had to be broken. Because it was the eighties, it was a very experimental time, with a lot of experimental music, it was changing from guitar music to electronic music, rebelling against the major companies, it was a very inspirational time.

—El Garaje: Later you have been working in a lot of the projects of both members of Wire. Did you have a special relation with them? We are fans of Duet Emmo, is there any anecdote that you remember of the recording of this album?

—John Fryer: We did a lot of projects together, whether it was just Graham Lewis or just Bruce Gilbert, or together, a lot of different names… Duet Emmo was with Daniel Miller, there was also Russell Mills, the artist, he was experimenting with sound and Matt Johnson was part of some of it. There were a lot of people, Brian Eno came and played in He Said songs, so it was a lot of the arty kind of people and they were collaborating with each other.

—El Garaje: You were also producing the albums in which Cocteau Twins got their peculiar sound. How did you come up with such a special sound? You said that the AMS RMX16 Digital Reverb was your trade mark on the 4AD Records?

—John Fryer: It was a trade mark on everything. We were just at the NAMM show in LA and they just remade the machine because they stop making it and they became very collectible and very expensive because they were not making them anymore but they had a very unique sound, which was my sound. It’s nice that they are remaking them again. It was part of the sound, the AMS reverb y el AMS delay, those two together and the boss distortion pedals, that’s how we came up with the guitar sounds. 

—El Garaje: We want to continue with the 4AD saga with one of the most loved projects “This Mortal Coil.” With this supergroup you even wrote songs. What can you please tell us about the records you made with them? A few years later, a similar project was born, The Hope Blister, do you think that the formula also worked this time?

—John Fryer: This Mortal Coil started because Modern English, the band, because Ivo wanted them to do there are two songs that they did Sixteen Days and Gatering Dust and they played, as far as I remember, they played them together, he wanted them to record the songs together like this, but they said no, so Ivo said: OK, I will do it myself and we did that first, and then we did Song to the Siren as B-side. And that’s how This Mortal Coil was born. And then Song to The Siren became a classic. So everything just rolled on from there. There were only two consistent members, Ivo and myself, everyone else were just guests, artists that came and went and played the songs. It was the first time that I wrote songs, half of the project was cover versions and the other half was original music. So the original music was done by Ivo and myself and then Martin McCarrick who did all the string arrangements was a big help with the project. I guess he was involved a lot too. The three of us were the main members, I would say.

—El Garaje: A few years later, you worked on a similar project: The Hope Blister, what can you please tell us about it?

—John Fryer: The Hope Blister was more of Ivo, he recorded all the music and I think he just used Louise Rutkowsi, one singer and he asked me to mix it to sound like This Mortal Coil.

—El Garaje: You have worked with Michael Gira in his project Skin, right? How was working with him and Jarboe? She appeared in one album of Black Needle Noise too. Do you like Swans new albums?

—John Fryer: It was another unique experience. I haven’t listened so much of the new stuff, I am more into the old stuff. I really like Jarboe’s vocals, she sang with Neurosis and other people. She still does guest vocals with people.  I have the song, asked her if she wanted to do and she said yes, luckily enough.

—El Garaje: When you were working on “Pretty Hate Machine,” did you use any band/album as a reference of how you wanted to sound?

—John Fryer: No, it was just trying to push the technology of the day to do things as hard and powerful as possible. There weren’t any references.

—El Garaje: You said that your philosophy was always trying to make the bands’ record. What do you think of producers like Todd Rundgren or Phil Spector that were more interested in making their own albums?

—John Fryer: I can make my own albums, but to produce other people to me it’s to make their album, to bring their sound forward to make their dreams come true because I can do whatever I wanna do, but they have, you know, they have something, every band, every person that writes music has something special in themselves, in their music so it’s just to try to bring that forward to make the best of what they have.

—El Garaje: Black Needle Noise was born from the ashes of two projects, DarkDriveClinic and Silver Ghost Shimmer. What happened?

—John Fryer: DarkDriveClinic was the first band. It took me twenty-five years to finish the album, so I started writing DarkDriveClinic back in the 80s when we were making this This Mortal Coil records and then it took me a long time to find the singer and then I found Rebecca. We finished the album, did all the social media, everything we did a small world tour in California. After finishing that, she was already in a band with her husband, she had two children, she had a new job and then she became ill… so she said that she couldn’t make it anymore. So I didn’t want to continue that project with another singer. Also there was also Muricidae along the way too, another music project.

With Silver Ghost Shimmer is kind of the same situation, where I have written the music, found Pinky, she sang the album, we did a world tour of California and after we finished that for her own personal reasons she did not want to continue, so after spending all the time, making records and building up projects to be left with nothing, and I had written all this other music that didn’t… when you have a band you can make it fit with their inner sound, so I had all these music sitting aside just too good to leave it aside. So I started Black Needle Noise and with Black Needle Noise I can do whatever I want, whatever music release, whatever singer I want to work with… The only rule I have with that it’s that the singers only do two songs, so it doesn’t complicate their life, it doesn’t take over their life, one song or two songs and then…

—El Garaje: But to tour with that should be difficult?

—John Fryer: Last year, I worked with the singer Betty X in Austin, Texas. Phil Owen from Skatenings was asked by South by Southwest if she wanted to do a showcase show, so she asked Betty if she would like to do Black Needle Noise live, so it started she said let’s just do only one song, but I said that it was a long way to go to do just one song, so we worked on five songs. It was Betty X, Anjela Piccard, Sean Haezebrouck and myself who make up the band. We did the showcase and everyone has such a great time that we did the world tour of Hollywood, for the release of the second album Lost in Reflections. We are going to go down to Chile to play, after we come back from Africa, we go down to Chile to play Black Needle Noise, and hopefully we will do more South American and we maybe come back to Europe, I am talking with Manuel to bring us back to Europe. It’s good fun. We made a documentary or rockumentary of the South by Southwest showcase. Our friend Katherine Sweetman shot the footage and edited it to make the documentary.

—El Garaje: What happened with your label, Something To Listen To? Your new label is called Black Needle Noise records, right? Were you tired of depending on big labels?

—John Fryer: I have friends who make music and because it’s getting harder and harder to get signed and I thought their music was too good not to be released, so I decided to start a label just for them. And then I had to record the music, produce the music, engineer the music…  it became too much, it was 28 hours a day, nine days a week; also you are dealing with time differences around the world, and producing all the bands, try to market them and do the label work, it was too much.

—El Garaje: With Black Needle Noise you have released officially two albums. Are we going to have a new one soon?

—John Fryer: I have to finish the third one, but I am running out of time, working with other people, I have to be here for a month, then going back to another album. I have to finish one more song and I can release a third album, hopefully we can get some vinyl for that later, and I have to finish the artwork, because I do all the artwork too. I have to finish the artwork to make the CDs and the cassettes. When I started Black Needle Noise I was never ever gonna make albums, I was going to release one song after the other, because of the way of the world now, the younger generations most don’t care about albums, they just stream songs, download songs… We have colored vinyl, red and blue, the next one will be green, you can have black too. We are releasing  300, 150 black and 150 with color. You can go to and you can buy t-shirts, coffee mugs, vinyl 

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—El Garaje: One of the songs of Black Needle Noise was your first collaboration with Fakeba. How did you two meet?

—John Fryer: If I remember correctly, Fakeba emailed me about making an album for her. But I thought it was the best idea to introduce her to the rest of the world, it would be to make a song for Black Needle Noise first, so we made the song, released that, because the people that I work with and the media and the magazines it’s a different world that she hasn’t been introduced to yet, so I thought it was better to start doing mine first to get to keep her name out and we would make the album later so people would already recognize her name. It was a smart move.

—ElektroSpank: Hi Fakeba. Thank you for this interview in collaboration with the magazine El Garaje de Frank. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? How did you get into electronic music?

Fakeba: My name is Fakeba, I am from Senegal and I started making music when I was 17 years old. I used to play acoustic music and in 2014, I got interested in electronic music.

—ElektroSpank: How did you get into electronic music?

Fakeba: I already played the bass. I have always loved rock, everything which is powerful. I love dancing, I love the energy. I started getting interested in electronic music because my husband already loved it. He is the one who brought me into this world.

—ElektroSpank: By the way, what electronic artists do you listen to?

Fakeba: Well, at the very beginning, I did not know electronic music. In Africa we don’t listen to it. My husband used to listen to a lot to Black Needle Noise, Flash Zero, and other artists. I started listening with him to those artists, and I enjoyed it.

—ElektroSpank: Can you please tell us about your collaboration with Canabasse?

Fakeba: Canabasse is a very famous rapper from Senegal. I love rap. We met, thanks to my husband again. And then, we have done his “Kharouma Goor” that has been really successful in Senegal.

—ElektroSpank: There are two singles released prior to the album Made In Africa. How were those releases received? Your first work with Big Toxic was “Fabe” in 2016. How did this collaboration came up?

Fakeba: Big Toxic is a friend of my husband and that’s how I met him. I started singing on his music and that’s the way everything started.

—ElektroSpank: Are these singles specimens of the variety of your music influences and inspirations?

Fakeba: Yes, as I said before, the music that my husband listened to, has influenced me. “Fabe” means “Come.” With that, I want to say: come to discover another world, another music. This is for the young people. A lot of youngsters think that you only need to listen to music that it’s 100% Black Africa. I am more open-minded. For me, music has no frontiers, the world belongs to everybody and you can do whatever you want.

—ElektroSpank: How were these singles received?

Fakeba: It was the first time that the people from Senegal listened to electronic music sang in Wolof. For me, honestly, it’s already time that we, Africans, start to appreciate our idiom. With this, I mean Wolof or any other language. I can sing in French or English but I prefer to sing in Wolof because I can make people know the language, to show that music has no frontiers, that music has not only one language, that music doesn’t belong to a country or language. There’s music everywhere. People like it. So when the Senegalese listened to it, they were shocked, it’s true, but at the end they said: Wow! Now, musicians have started to make electronic music in Senegal.  

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—ElektroSpank: You have started a movement!

Fakeba: Yes, I was the first one to do that in Senegal.

—El Garaje: Just out of curiosity, how many languages are in Africa? 

Fakeba: A lot!! In Senegal, there are five, six, seven different languages, but Wolof is the main one.

—ElektroSpank: I would like to ask you about the full-length album, Made In Africa, released in April 2018. Can you tell us something about this album? What is the concept idea behind “Made In Africa?” What can you please tell us about the “Made In Africa” tour?

Fakeba: For Made in Africa, we have made a tour in Senegal. Later we have also done an African tour. I love that album because I talk about Africa. I talk to the African people. I am not representing Senegal anymore, now I am representing Africa. In some songs, I say that music has no frontiers, I also talk about the youngsters in Africa, about the old people, about all these people that are doing nothing. I say to them: stand up. Stop looking back. There are no slaves anymore, but slavery nowadays is imposed on people by themselves when they try to escape from their identity, when they try to look like others, to live like others. I talk about that also. I also talk about the language, ie. in the airports of Senegal you can’t speak Wolof, only English or French. There are people know that can’t speak Wolof. 

—ElektroSpank: Someone can distinguish several elements from electronic music genres. While it seems your music is focused on electropop lines, which are the main influence music-wise? Are there any elements adopted from your home country, Senegal? 

—Fakeba: Yes, in the voice. The voice is 100% African and I sing only in African languages, either Wolof or another.

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—ElektroSpank: What artists from Senegal and Africa do you like?

Fakeba: When I was younger, I used to listen to a lot of Mandinka music because I am half Fulani, half Mandinka. I used to listen to Mamadou Diabaté, and a lot of African artists, not only from Senegal. In general, I have listened to musicians from everywhere.

—ElektroSpank: So, according to your words, there is not electro scene in Dakar.

Fakeba: There is no scene. But young people start to get interested in other musics, like electronic. Maybe people wanted to make it, but they did not dare. I did dare.

—ElektroSpank: What happened with your project with Covenant and Kirlian Camera or the album produced by the Dirty Playerz?

Fakeba: As I said, I met them thanks to my husband. I organize an annual electronic festival in Senegal. I have invited them and brought them for the first time. It was also the first time that they were in Black Africa. People loved them. And they were shocked because it was the first time that they saw a public of thousands of black people. And everybody danced. After that, we stayed in contact. We also want to do some songs together.

—El Garaje: What can you say about the festival?

—Fakeba: I organize it in Dakar with my husband. Everything worked out fine. People really enjoyed it.

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—ElektroSpank: Finally, let’s talk about Jotna. Would you like to tell us some things about this new album? Which are your future plans, regarding the promotion of Jotna?

Fakeba: Jotna is the moment. We are going to tour African in April. Later, we would like to plan Europe.

—John Fryer: The first single “DaKaR” already came out, and it got really good reviews, people received it very well. The next single will be released on February 14th I think, everything is being prepared for the next single before the album comes out, and we are talking with Manuel about making it a triple vinyl release. A beautiful artwork, let’s see about the color of the vinyls, maybe three different colors.

—El Garaje: Are you listening to some African music?

—John Fryer: Yes, I listen to all kinds of music. I don’t try to limit myself. That was another reason for getting Fakeba to sing in Black Needle Noise song, to try to educate people that there are other languages other than English out there. One journalist, when he reviewed the song, he said: “if you had told me two years ago, that I would be sitting here listening to a kind of industrial song with African vocals, I would have laughed at you, but here I am, listening to it and it sound amazing. So, it’s working.

Photo: Ana Yturralde

—ElektroSpank: Don’t you think that it’s quite brave to release an album sang in Wolof?

—John Fryer: But a good melody is a good melody. You can see along with the melody, I don’t know the words  I can make noises like Wolof. A good melody is a good melody in whatever language is singing. A good song is a good song. Dance music is all about the feeling, if it makes you feel happy and you can dance to it, what does it happen in which language is it? What you listen to it for a while you will try to sing it along. Everybody who came to the rehearsal room started dancing.

Fakeba: People would tell me that I had to sing in French or English, so that my songs could be understandable. I said no, that others sing in their language, and I, in mine. If you like it, you like it, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.

—ElektroSpank: The album has been recorded between Madrid, Dakar and Los Angeles. Has it been difficult to work living in places so far and different?

—Fakeba: No, because I also recorded in Dakar. I also came to Madrid to record some stuff and after that, I sent everything.

—John Fryer: It’s like Black Needle Noise music was all made remote, I make the music, I send it to the singer, the singer does what he does, beautiful vocals, and he sends back to me and then I mix it. With the internet it’s been great to work but it’s bad for business. I found it easier this way. If I make the music then I can send it to the singer and they can work as long as they want. Most singers have a home studio now so they can practice, they don’t have to be embarrassed about singing out of tune or they can redo the melody, so it’s much easier for them. It’s nice because you send the music without knowing what will come back, it’s always a nice surprise and it elevates the music to another level.

—El Garaje: What is the subject of your lyrics?

Fakeba: “Jotna” speaks about the fact that the moment to change everything has come, that there are no more frontiers, no more racism. I also sing about the sorcerers and voodoo. In “DaKaR,’ I speak about contamination.

—John Fryer: When we came to Dakar we were driving around, and we saw all the rest of the cars…

Fakeba: They send the old European cars to Africa. There is a lot of contamination. I also sing about the sea, which is the mirror of the world. I also sing about children, because I have an association called Le Monde de Fakeba, which helps orphan African children. Music is not my only thing.

—John Fryer: I have been working on another music projects about global warming, pollution in the world, when we came back from there.Where we are we shouldn’t be like there. The world should not be in the state it is so when I came back I made the music and the music just spoke to me to put the words, “Dakar, kill the smoke, you have to kill the smog before it kills everybody else.’ So then I put that vocal on and send it to Fakeba and she said yes, I have lyrics about pollution.

—El Garaje: Fakeba, you are the ambassador of Roland in Africa, right?

Fakeba: Yes, when I play music, I always use their instruments.

—El Garaje: For once, a woman is an ambassador of something…

Fakeba: Yes, because women are still oppressed. But we have to fight. We respect our husband, but we have the same rights.

—John Fryer:I am also sponsored/supported by Roland, I put them in touch, and we use a lot of Roland for live. It’s good to spread the brand around the world, they support a lot of artists.

—ElektroSpank: What can you tell us about your show in Madrid and Barcelona? We missed you at DarkMad.

—John Fryer: It would have been good, but the way it was I could not leave America at the time so we have to cancel. Now I can leave and it’s going to be amazing, here and in Barcelona. A lot of bookers and promoters are coming to the show

—El Garaje: Anything else you want to add?

Fakeba: Thanks a lot for welcoming us here. I hope you’ll be coming to the show. I’m very happy to work with John, he’s a great person. I think we’re the same, on stage he has a craziness that I love. I don’t like annoying music, I like everything that’s energetic. That’s what I see in him, and I love that.

Interview also available on ElektroSpank music magazine!

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