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Progressive Rock Interviews

Memories of Machines

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Tim Bowness of Memories of Machines from 2011


If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

I've no idea what I'd actually be doing, but what would interest me outside of music, would be to teach literature or the history of cinema, or work as an arts programmer, perhaps.

Prior to making my living from music, I mainly worked in the care profession. By turns, that was inspirational and bleak work.


How did the name of the group originate?

It was one of many band names that I suggested to Giancarlo. Every single one was rejected apart from this one!

There's a novel by William Burroughs called “The Soft Machine,” which is his metaphor for a human being. I quite liked the idea that a machine on one level evokes industry and mechanization, and on another level can evoke human beings. There's something evocative in the three words, I think.


Who would you see as your musical influences?

They're very many and very varied! From film soundtracks to progressive rock, singer-songwriters to post rock, classical minimalism to modern jazz, my taste is quite eclectic. I wrote a blog about the roots of my tastes, which can be found at

My favourite artists include David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Miles Davis, Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Nick Drake and Kate Bush. More recent artists I like include Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Efterklang, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsome and Elbow.

I've listened to a lot of varied music and it's surprising what impacts on your style and what doesn't. I love the gritty and soulful vocal styles of Peter Gabriel, Paul Buchanan, Mark Hollis, Billie Holiday and Guy Garvey, and the lyrical busy-ness of Joni Mitchell and Bjork, for instance, but they have no influence on my singing whatsoever as far as I can hear. However, breathy singers such as Nick Drake, Chet Baker and Paddy McAloon, or the croon of David Bowie, I can understand people seeing in what I do.

The same goes for lyrics. I'm a big fan of writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, but it's the minimalist writing of Raymond Carver and Harold Pinter, or the “pop poetry” of Brian Patten and Roger McGough (writers I also greatly admire) that has undoubtedly influenced my writing more.


What's ahead for you?

Immediately, a No-Man gig in October and an album with a new project called “Slow Electric.” Slow Electric features Peter Chilvers, two Estonian Jazz musicians, and also has a contribution or two from Tony Levin. Musically, it's somewhere between singer-songwriter, ambient and ECM Jazz styles.

I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

That depends on what project I'm in, and even then, it's approximate.

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

I'm lucky enough to have worked with some of my favourite musicians (Robert Fripp, Peter Hammill and the late Mick Karn, for example), but there are many jazz musicians (Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade, Eberhard Weber, Terje Rypdal and Ralph Towner), Soundtrack composers (Cliff Martinez, Jon Brion, Angelo Badalamenti and Carter Burwell), and Rock/Folk musicians (Phil Manzanera, Robin Guthrie, Richard Thompson, John Cale and Brian Eno) that it would be a delight to collaborate with.

As we're playing “fantasy football” here, I'd also love to work on a project with composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Arvo Part.


Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

Both.  It can generate interest in an artist, but it can also, potentially, take away a living from them. Breeding a culture or a generation that believes music is free isn't positive, but having instant access to an eclectic world of musical possibilities is.

The internet has allowed a certain democracy in that small and large artists can have as effective a web presence. Raising awareness of that presence is another story altogether, of course.


In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I'm less concerned by this, to be honest. In cases where it's been taken to an extreme (The Grateful Dead, for instance), it's actually created greater awareness of the band and hasn't detracted from interest in the band's official catalogue or live reissues.

If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

The Hipster! In the UK, there's a tradition of people and journalists being drawn to artists for the fashion kudos it accords them, as opposed to them actually liking the music. Personally, I don't give a damn about how credible an artist is. I'm mostly concerned by whether the music interests or moves me.

If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

I'd go for an amalgam of the living and the dead who could do atmosphere and noise as well as groove, and operate in the grey areas between rock, classical, ambient and jazz:

Drums: Phil Collins - Ironically, due to his massive success, I think Collins is very underrated. He's a versatile musician and singer who can work in many settings and he also uses technology well.

Bass: Eberhard Weber - He has a beautiful and original tone and, like Collins, can work well in both ballad and more aggressive settings.

Guitar: John Martyn - In the 1970s, Martyn would put his acoustic guitar through distortion pedals and Echoplex looping systems and created a sound that could be both chaotic and exquisitely atmospheric.

Keyboards/Manipulations: Brian Eno - Not a gifted player in a conventional sense, he still has a great emotional and technological range.

Marimba - Steve Reich - With this line-up, it would be nice to be able to build up some complex, Minimalist grooves and Steve's definitely the man for that!

Trumpet: Miles Davis - The main solo voice. Once more, I'm opting for a performer with a distinctive tone who could effortlessly alternate between the furious and the delicate.

Martyn, Eno and Collins can share lead vocal duties and occasionally offer an English answer to the lovely CSN, Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel harmony styles!


If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

Miles Davis circa In A Silent Way, Sandy Denny, Terry Riley, Nick Drake, Steve Reich, Simon & Garfunkel, mid-1970s Pink Floyd, Discipline-era King Crimson, The Cocteau Twins, John Coltrane, Berlin-period David Bowie, American Music Club, early 1980s Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, The Blue Nile, The Flaming Lips, late-1970s John Martyn, Ralph Towner's Soltsice, Genesis playing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, late 1960s Beach Boys, and Lou Reed and John Cale playing Songs For Drella.

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

Although I listen to things mainly on iPod, I still regularly buy CDs as I'm a sucker for a good package and like to engage with the artwork almost as much as the music.

In terms of new albums, I bought and liked the latest releases from Elbow and Radiohead.

In terms of back catalogue, my latest purchases include Mercury Rev's deluxe edition of Deserter's Songs, a 3 CD Eberhard Weber box set and Tracks And Traces, a very fine Eno and Harmonium release. The 40th anniversary King Crimson reissues have been great too.

In terms of what I listen to, favourite albums I still play include Joni Mitchell's Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Arvo Part's Alina, Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, David Bowie's Low and lots more.


Have you read any good books lately?

The last two authors I read books by were E.L. Doctorow and Donald Barthelme.

Barthelme's work is inventive and peculiar, but also extremely funny, while Doctorow is just a great writer with a strong sense of place and time. His latest novel Homer And Langley is both a brilliant evocation of New York's 20th Century changes and a compelling tale of personal obsession.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I recently saw Peter Gabriel transforming songs from his back catalogue with the New Blood orchestra.  Overall, it was a very moving experience and some pieces greatly suited the re-inventions. His voice is still a wonderful thing. Bizarrely, Steve Hackett was seated a couple of places from me. It was interesting watching his reactions to his former bandmate.

Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

I suspect I have 3,000 of them!
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Stage-wise, as I've always opted for understatement rather than dressing up as a replica of the Eiffel Tower, there's little to tell. Backstage is a slightly different story as I've been accosted a couple of times in cases of mistaken or confused identity. "Vini man, I loved your show," etc. "Are you the famous American poet, Tim Bones," also sticks in the mind!
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Joni Mitchell, Kurt Vonnegut and Terry Gilliam, Woody Allen, Steve Reich and Philip K Dick, or Harold Pinter, Ken Loach and Robert Fripp. Basically, articulate people who have experienced some of the seismic cultural and political shifts of the 20th Century.

What would be on the menu?

A vegetarian Indian buffet (heavy on the sag dal and vegetable dansak), with some sliced mango and Cadbury's chocolate on the side. Enough to make us sick for a month, preferably!

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

I think I've already said more than enough and I haven't even mentioned the new Memories Of Machines album, Warm Winter that I was supposed be discussing!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 4 at
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