Godfathers of Pop: Paul Webb AKA Rustin Man
The founding bassist of Talk Talk, Paul Webb formed experimental duo .O.rang with Talk Talk’s drummer Lee Harris after the band broke up in 1991, later making cult classic Out Of Season as Beth Gibbons And Rustin Man with Portishead’s singer.
Since that album in 2002, Paul has stayed silent. He’s finally back with debut solo album Drift Code, again as Rustin Man. We spoke to Paul shortly before the death was announced of his Talk Talk bandmate, Mark Hollis…
Does it feel like 17 years since
Out Of Season?
It’s funny, it doesn’t. I’ve been bringing up a family and working five days a week on music in a very regimented way. I got so into how to approach getting my voice onto these songs, the time just flew by.
When did you decide to sing these songs yourself?
After Out Of Season, I became very interested in building a recording studio. I got really into old microphones and how you captured those sounds. I was interested in how my voice sounds in that spirit. I got into music from the 40s and 50s. Cab Calloway and The Mills Brothers sing in such an innocent way about life. I love that, it’s quite surreal.
What had you learned working with great singers like Beth Gibbons and Mark Hollis?
Mark was a very confident singer. He knew what he was doing and he was closed about it: he came, did it and left. Beth wears her heart on her sleeve and singing doesn’t come easy for her. The key has to be right, so does the backing track, all those flavours. I took the mental attitude it takes to make it right for Beth when singing these songs. How Beth does it was very empowering for me.
The songs on Drift Code are like short stories, sung by characters.
I tried singing in a more personal way, but it felt claustrophobic. I thought, “Why am I laying my trip on people?” Putting a mask on, it became more playful. Once I put myself in other people’s shoes, it clicked. After Out Of Season, I knew the Rustin Man mask would come in handy again.
What’s the barn in Essex like where you live and made the album?
Me and my wife Sam fell in love with it, because it’s got such a lovely atmosphere. We’ve got two kids, and it’d be a nightmare bringing up a family in a recording studio. I’ve used all the barn’s rooms to make this album, but we’ve disguised the recording gear with all kinds of bric-a-brac: stuffed flamingos, a big genie, stuffed blackbirds, pinball machines broken down and repainted…
Why record everything yourself rather than get musicians to help?
The barn is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s impossible to get musician friends here for a few hours. I also liked the idea of illusions, of sounding like lots of people were playing in the room. I recorded each instrument with six different mics around the room and built up libraries of takes; some sparser, some busier. I’d build the illusion up from those.
I’ve never got past Lee for drummers, as I love his unique style. He’s a childhood friend and we’ve been a rhythm section for decades. Everything I try is rooted down in Lee assisting me.
Since Spirit Of Eden, none of Talk Talk have exactly been prolific.
Spirit Of Eden was a gamechanger. It was totally nothing to do with current music, so much of itself. That was great, but it set a standard. I’ve always felt since that everything I do has to take someone to a place they’ve never been before. You’re competing with yourself to do that, and it gets harder and harder as time goes by.
What would you say if Mark emailed and said, “Fancy making a record”?
We’re not in touch, and I just can’t see it happening. It was a good time, but it’s done. I’m glad Mark has never asked us to tour again, as that could only be disappointing. I love that Talk Talk has kept its mystery. Everything else is so obtainable, but Talk Talk has stayed pure. A lot of bands regurgitate songs from 50 years ago, which to me is ridiculous.
Will it be another 17 years before your next album?
I promise it won’t be. I’ve got another 10 songs ready for my next album. Drift Code is part one of the story. It’s a good introduction to my voice, and these next songs take the idea of my voice further.
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