Jessica Thornsby interviewed James Barrett, the bassist for Senser
You have quite a complicated backstory, with members coming and going and then returning, and plenty of side projects; could you give us a brief run through of the Senser story so far?
It's a long Spinal Tap-esque story, but a brief summary is Senser formed in the early 90s playing squat parties and free festivals.
In 1992 we met Andy [DJ AWE] Clinton, who at that time was working with Spiral Tribe. This completed the original seven piece line up of Senser: James [bass], Nick [guitar], Andy [decks], Haggis [programming/production], John [drums], Heitham [vocals], and Kerstin [vocals].
After a string of festival appearances at Glastonbury, Reading and Phoenix, and UK and European tours, we went on to sign our first deal with Ultimate Records / A&M in 1993.
We released our debut album, 'Stacked Up' in 1994.
Your debut album sold well didn't it? I know a couple of the Leeds Music Scene team bought copies of 'Stacked Up' when it was released.
The album got to No 4 in the charts and sold a fair few copies. The success of the album gave us lots of great opportunities, such as more festivals and tours but similarly put a lot of demands on us.
We were on the road fairly intensively for a couple of years which involved fifteen band and crew living in each other's faces, steadily becoming more volatile.
Was that when a few of the original line up went their separate ways?
Yes. After spending a few years living on a tour bus in what felt like a never ending episode of Big Brother, three members of Senser [Haggis, John and Heitham] left to form their prog/punk/metal project Lodestar in 1995. They released their self-titled debut album in 1996.
And for those remaining?
We were joined by a new drummer Paul Sodun, and bunkered down into the rehearsal rooms and studios of London to write and record our second album 'Asylum,' now fronted entirely by Kerstin.
Around the same time we set up an electronic/drum and bass side project called De-senser.
So when did you all join back together?
In 1999, a few years after the release of the second Senser album, we decided we would split once we'd played some previously booked festival slots.
Kerstin suggested the entire original line-up should reform to play the festivals as a final send off.
The festivals went down a storm - so in trying to end the band we ended up reforming it with the original line-up and with a little nudge and persuasion the original line-up of Senser went on to write more music together, culminating in an album called 'SCHEMAtic,' released in 2004.
To finish our brief history of Senser, where are the band at right now?
In 2008, seeing a great opportunity to take advantage of digital/internet age and being dissatisfied by the commitment and deals on offer to bands from record companies, Senser set up its own label 'Imprint Music.'
This year will see us release our first album on our new label... it's an interesting time to be in the music industry.
Thanks for the band history. You said that you're just about to release your fourth studio album ['How To Do Battle']. It's been five years since you released 'SCHEMAtic' so how do you feel about releasing new material after a five year break?
We haven't really had much of a break in the last five years! Along with the gigs and festivals, we've been writing and recording our latest album plus setting up our new label, so it's a relief to finally get to the point that we've been building up to for the last few years and get our music out in the public domain.
You released the first single off 'How To Do Battle' as a free download. What made you decide to release it in this format? And do you think free, download-only singles are the way forward in today's increasingly digital music industry?
Downloads are perfect for singles, and that includes the free downloads. The more people get to hear your single, the more chance there is people might check your album out. We actively encouraged people to rip, copy and pass on the free download single as much as they wanted.
You've had quite a few line-up changes over the years, but are now back to the original line-up. So how's the mood in camp Senser at the moment? Do you feel like this current line-up is the strongest?
We like to feel like we're all a little older and wiser now and step back a bit if things get a bit hairy. There's more solidarity and we're all better at what we do musically.
Do you think the time spent apart had a positive effect on the band, in the long run?
We definitely needed to stop being around each other when we did. Having been so intensely in each other's space, the best thing for us was to be away from each other for a while.
Senser members have had a few musical side projects - techno and drum and bass outfit De-Senser, and prog band Lodestar to speak of two. Do these side projects feed into Senser's new material in any way? Do you feel as though band members have grown, as a result of being involved in other bands?
All the side projects feed into Senser as each person experiments and grows musically. Similarly the side projects stop people in Senser going nuts if they want to try something out but the ideas aren't quite right for the band.
The 'influences' section on your MySpace is a pretty mixed bag. Can you talk us through some of Senser's biggest inspirations?
The influences for Senser are fairly personal to each member and vary far and wide. When we started the band the early influences would've been Hip-Hop bands like Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, heavy bands like Slayer and Celtic Frost, through to rock acts such as Led Zep, Jimmy Hendrix and Black Sabbath. Throw some Parliament funk and Miles Davis in there and we're almost skimming the surface of our influences.
You're releasing 'How To Do Battle' on your own label, Imprint Music. What made you decide to self-release? And do you think self-releasing your own material allows you more creative freedom than being signed up to an external record label?
There are always limitations, however you try to make records and release them. Setting up our own label gives us the freedom to do what we want in the way we feel is best within those limitations. This way it's totally down to us. For better - hopefully! - or for worse.
We've watched the music industry change drastically over the years: the styles, formats and technology. In many ways it's on its knees and in need of a totally different approach. The independent record companies have been swallowed up by the big record companies, the big record companies are losing massive amounts of money and don't know how to handle the digital/internet revolution. The future for the music industry as we know it looks grim. It's a very exciting time to be truly independent, making and releasing music.
'Resistance Now' is only being released as a limited edition vinyl and download. Why only these two formats? Do you think the traditional CD is on its way out?
I still buy CDs, but I'll probably take a CD out of its case once to rip it to my MP3 player and from then on I'll just be looking at the artwork. The market and industry is obviously changing. I doubt CDs will disappear altogether for a while though... people still like tangible objects they can look at and hold.
The Prodigy recently sampled Senser on 'Run With The Wolves' from their 'Invaders Must Die' album. How does it feel to be featured on an album by one of the biggest alt-electronica bands on the band? And are you fans of The Prodigy?
It's great to feature on a record that lots of people are into. There was some dialogue going on between us and The Prodigy about doing some stuff with them back on their 'Music for the Jilted Generation' album, which we couldn't do in the end. So we're really pleased to have that done and out there finally. I have most, if not all, of The Prodigy's albums in my collection. They've been a strong musical presence in the last ten/fifteen years.
A while back, Senser were doing their own remixes, after growing tired of paying other artists to remix their tracks and not being happy with the results. Is this still the case? And is it difficult, when the tracks you're remixing are your own?
Some members of Senser are well into the remixes thing and others aren't so bothered by them. We haven't tried remixing any tracks from this album ourselves yet but there's been a few corkers made by other people, one of which is on the B-Side of the next single 'Resistance Now.'
Your last album, 'SCHEMAtic' was the first album you recorded long-distance, using the internet to lay down songs in layers. Was this the case with 'How To Do Battle,' or did you get together and jam the old-fashioned way? And which is your preferred recording method?
'SCHEMAtic' had an element of experimentation to see how far we could push the new technologies available at the time. We learnt a lot about what we should be doing, and definitely what we shouldn't. We used the internet and our own computers for sketching ideas for 'How To Do Battle.' Some of the sketches ended up being better than the studio takes so they ended up on the album, but we also did as much jamming together as we could. We think it's better for it.
You supported Rage Against The Machine in 1993 at Brixton Academy. How was that? And does that show stand out in your mind? It must be pretty mind-blowing to think back, now that Rage have pretty much gained legendary status.
That was a great gig and RATM have always been an awesome powerhouse of a band. We've been very lucky to play some great gigs and festivals, all of which have good memories for us.
When your debut album 'Stacked Up' was released in 1994, it was against a background of political turmoil, and Senser felt particularly relevant. Do you think politically-charged music is even more important in current society?
It's a personal taste, but with things that have taken place in the world, now as much as ever, I think it's important that the arts and music are a medium for political views. Even if all you're doing is preaching to the converted, at least you're re-affirming a collective stance and giving it a public platform. Music has always expressed all parts of life from escapism to portrayals of real life situations. Can't see that changing any time soon.
And, finally, what can we expect from Senser in the next twelve months?
We'll be promoting this album with a few tours around the UK and Europe, releasing a few singles, making a few videos, playing some festivals and with any luck not spending another 5 years making our next record.
Senser release new single 'Resistance Now' on September 14th through 'Imprint Music.'