I meet up with Mike and Billy from Plone in the Old Moseley Arms, midweek it's a quiet back street pub. Having done my interview with Novak in one of the city's noisier drinking establishments I felt that this more sedate pair would benefit from calmer surroundings.
They apologize for Mark's absence, he's gone home somewhere up north for a few days. They've promised not to say anything nasty about him. "It's been the NME taking the piss, mainly about the way Mark looks," says Mike. "Not taking the piss out of the music," adds Billy, "just looking for an angle. The NME looks at bands like a group of characters. That's what they seem to want to base their articles on, more to do with whether they are crazy individuals, the way they dress. That's what they seem to have picked up on with us."The first thing that appeared," says Mike, "was a Melody Maker review which was really good. I was hoping just that it was not going to be too bad but it was really complimentary, inspiring !
"We've been going since 1993," says Mike, "we've been known as Plone for the last year. We used to be called Rehab, same members but a different outlook. There was another band called Rehab so we had to change our name. It seemed like a good idea, we were changing how we were approaching music at the same time. We used to use guitars, the transition started using a sampler and a four track. The guitars were like a live thing but with the sampler you're capturing something that starts becoming like a recording. Keyboards seemed natural as an expansion of that. We just wanted to make a lot of noise originally and to craft that noise into some sort of music. Plone is the combination of a lot of research and exploration, we just wanted to make the most beautiful songs possible. Me and Mark used to listen to Spacemen 3 a lot of the time. Other influences are Kraftwerk, Ennio Morricone, the Beach Boys, Silver Apples and Suicide. The Throbbing Gristle reference in the NME was quoted out of context, we were just taking the piss !"
The stage setup tidied itself up during 1997. Early shows would find the band sitting on the floor, stepping over keyboards and wires. "We finally bought keyboard stands!" says Mike, "there was so much equipment on stage that it just had to be organised in some way so we would know what was going on rather than the machines taking over. People said they'd not seen so many keyboards on stage since Tangerine Dream."
"We were asked to do the single by Keith at Wurlitzer Jukebox. He was at a Pram gig where we were supporting and asked us for a tape. It's gone really well, it's been part of the process getting us where we are now. Without that it could not really have happened. Max from Pram offered us the use of their studio. Colossal Studios is very small, it was pretty messy really."
"We could not fit everything in," adds Billy, "we had to stand in the hallway to record a few bits, just to make room."
"The deal with Warp came about really," says Mike. "I think James from Broadcast mentioned us to them. It was quite a surprise how quickly it happened. Gobsmacked me a bit ! We are just starting to record the album now, it's an interesting question as to where the sound is going. It's going to have to be crafted. We're interested in soundtrack type stuff but what sort of music is that ? It's not particularly songs and it's not classical."
"It's trying to think where you can go with instrumental music with the equipment you are using," Billy adds. "There are so many routes that you can go along trying to do something that has not been explored by some other group."
"I feel an empathy with our contemporaries rather than saying we are influenced by them," explains Mike. "I feel we have similar influences."
"We listen to electronic music," adds Billy, "and get some sort of idea what they are doing with the technology, what can be done. We've always picked things up from those working in a similar sort of sphere, more looking towards from the 60s and 70s."
I ask Mike about the other local bands and what's going on in Birmingham at the moment.
"I'm not sure, I was wondering whether it was not unique, if it was going on all over the place and lost in the past as well. I suppose it's just organization, a will to organize good shows with band who like each other rather than just billed together for the sake of having bands on. For ages techno clubs took the audience away from live bands. That seems to be turning around again. I think it's a good thing, it's a different type of social event to a club, not everybody wants to take an E."
"We've played with dance bands though," Billy explains. "There were a lot of people who saw us when we played with PCM who probably would not go and see a band."
So will there be a Plone dance track ? Mike replies: "Perhaps re-workings rather than one made for the dance floor, I don't know whether we would stop people dancing ! The keyboard stands are not really solid enough for jumping up and down but I do a lot of headbanging." (I've never seen it but I can assure you that he said it !)
"We've been playing London recently, the reception was not bad. Before we became Plone we played Cheltenham, Stafford, places like that. We used to get a really good reception, a really wide cross section of people. It's not just Birmingham and London, there's loads of other venues, we just have not played there yet. We will tour at some stage but we are not really thinking about it until after the album is done. We'd love to tour with Broadcast, we're both on Warp and they're nice people as well. Last year was brilliant, one good turn after another, no serious setbacks at all. We have to learn to drive though, Max from Pram has been really good to us, driver and soundman !"
This interview was recorded in November, or was it December 1997.