Thought Bubble | Interview | “We can still surprise each other with a new slice of sonic insanity”
Thought Bubble is a fantastic project by keyboardist Chris Cordwell and percussionist Nick Raybould, that recently released ‘Beguiled’.
Their origins are from the space rock festival scene as the members of Glowpeople. What they do with Thought Bubble is best described as alternative electronica. ‘Beguiled’ is a multilayered album that offers endless dives into the other side.
“We can still surprise each other with a new slice of sonic insanity”
You have a strong catalogue of music out there leading up to this release. Where did music begin for you and where has it taken you? What is the journey towards Thought Bubble as a creative unit?
Nick Raybould: Chris and I go back many years. We probably first met through mutual local friends, not long after my family settled in the Shropshire hills. A local “Dads” band formed around 2006 and that sort of evolved – and despite showing a bit of promise, ultimately fizzled out. Then in 2011 I was putting a few musicians together for something more serious and gave Chris a call. That band became Glowpeople, who soon found themselves on the psychedelic festival circuit, sharing the bill with the likes of Nik Turner, Daevid Allen and various Ozrics and Hawkwind spin-offs. By the time Glowpeople folded Chris and I had gotten a taste for it and carried on doing our own thing, as a duo. Things really started taking off in around 2017 – and Thought Bubble was the name we gave it. We set up a Bandcamp page in around 2019 with an EP release. Just digital downloads, nothing physical.
However, it wasn’t long before Dirty Filthy Records offered to do a vinyl album release with us! By this stage we’d really hit a pretty prolific seam. We were bouncing ideas back and forth. Sometimes we had three or four pieces in various stages of completion at a time! Then, while we were awaiting delivery of the vinyl of ‘Around,’ our first album, the cassette label Dub Cthonic offered to release a cassette album too. Less restricted by the length of the sides of that format and their preferred ambient electro dub genre, we found a home for longer tracks like ‘The Hellstone’. Things were really rolling now. And still we were creating more and more adventurous music.
While all this was piling up US psych label Echodelick were really liking what they were hearing and, once we’d got a new collection of tracks together, I let them hear some rough mixes which clearly whetted their appetite, too! So we were then working on album number three! ‘Nowhere’ came out on purple vinyl, Autumn 2022. Once again, we found we’d already amassed at least another album’s worth of good, strong tracks ready to go by the time the ‘Nowhere’ test pressings had arrived. And, thankfully another cassette specialist was keen to release that collection. ‘Weaving’ came out on the highly respected Woodford Halse label in June 2023. So, here we are in November 2023, on the cusp of releasing our fifth full album ‘Beguiled,’ with you Moolakii Audio Interface!
Chris Cordwell: Not a lot I can add to that as far as the history of Thought Bubble goes. However what I can say is that, although we never met, we both grew up in Redditch and I don’t know if that gives us any cultural affinity but it can throw up some amusing memories as to where and when our paths may have crossed. Frankenstein’s Tent comes to mind, but that’s another story or maybe another track!
This album is a feast of tracks, all perfectly crafted across the album with a number of inspirations flickering through – prog/psych, psybient, trip-hop, elements of house too. Where did it begin? How did it evolve? What inspirations do you take?
Nick: We both generally come at our music from slightly different directions, I think. Obviously, we have a good idea of how we’re likely to respond to any curveball we throw at each other, but we can still surprise each other with a new slice of sonic insanity. It turns out we have a lot in common too, though. Chris has an insatiable appetite for new experimental and adventurous bands of various genres and it’s that attitude that we respect in each other. Hence I knew I could throw a drum beat like ‘Rat Race’ (first album) at him, knowing full well it’d return with something perfectly appropriate attached to it! I listen to lots of things like Primal Scream, Chemical Bros., Red Snapper, Portishead, Sparklehorse, Stereolab and Bonobo. Earlier influences that still hold strong are T. Rex, Alice Cooper and post punk bands like Siouxsie & The Banshees, Talking Heads and Magazine. I also like almost anything that Sly & Robbie have had their hands in too. Pretty catholic, really. Then Chris will slip me an album he’s stumbled on. On his tips I’ve found new favourites like Craven Faults and Mammal Hands.
Chris: Yes, as Nick says, although we may come at things from slightly different angles, we both seem to have a very broad range of influences and listening habits. We both value that sense of experimentation and indeed jeopardy that can be found in music, especially in a live setting. I’m always looking to find new things to listen to, whether they be contemporary or from the dim and distant past. I’ll be as happy listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell through to Creep Show, Anadol, Yussef Dayes, via Sun Ra, Can, Morphine, Fatima Mansions and all those crannies in between.
The instrumentation is varied and full. What is your set up and what is the workflow to create the depth of production?
Nick: We usually work apart. Me in my garden shed – A computer with a couple of USB mics set up around a drum kit – or rearranged for a bit of bongo bothering. Meanwhile Chris has his synths, keyboards and mysterious effects boxes piled up on stands in a room at his own place about eight miles down the valley. We arrived at this working arrangement just before the pandemic lockdown that also forced everyone else to explore these methods. The internet is a wonderful thing. It was great to realise we already had the facilities to communicate on that level. Chris has all the cool tech – and I’ll leave him to talk about how he gets those bleeps and swooshes, though. Despite recording and mixing tracks for the various bands I’ve played with, I deliberately avoided getting too immersed in big software. I usually mix and edit our tracks using the freeware application Audacity! Which to some of our more geeky friends may come as a bit of a disappointment. That said, you’ve gotta remember that the tracks Chris supplies me with have already been built and fettled on his sophisticated systems. He also does some voodoo on my drums tracks, once I’m happy with the sync and syncopation. Ultimately, once we’re both happy with a final mix, he’ll master it. That, in itself, will lend the track an enhanced dynamic.
Chris: My set up at present is as follows: Vermona Perfourmer, Moog Sub 37, Elektron Digitone, Arturia Mini Brute 2S, Erebus Dreadbox, Eventide H90 effects pedal, Novation Launchpad Pro, with Nektar P4 and Arturia Keystep keyboard controllers. I use Propellerheads Reason software as my main DAW and Izotope plug-ins for mixing and mastering. Our workflow is generally a to and form of ideas and tracks via the net. Nick’s got a pretty good ear, so I know when I send him something I can trust him to send back a good mix and arrangement.
There are a number of artists featured on this – how do your collaborations happen?
Nick: We’ve been around long enough to have met some pretty cool musicians. All of our previous albums have had a few extra helping hands on some of the tracks. ‘Beguiled’ features three key collaborators.
Shaun Bailey plays guitars on ‘Layer Cake’. He’s primarily a guitarist, but also a tasty bassist, synths fiddler and even particularly handy behind a mixing desk. I crossed paths with him several years ago when I briefly joined his progadelic outfit MonkeyTrial. Chris and I also formed a space rock outfit with him called Delphini for a little while. He’s added guitars to several Thought Bubble tracks over the years. I’d have to check, but I think he’s on all of our albums somewhere or other. Like the other collaborators, he’s able to record his parts in his own studio. They all work to our rough early version of a track and file transfer their stems for me to sync with our own.
I was at the psychedelic festival Kozfest in Summer 2022 and heard Pure Mischief doing her groovy solo thing in a marquee – so caught her afterwards for a natter. Once it was established she was up for collaborating remotely too, she was added to my little list of potential people to call should we need a hand – or voice. And so ‘Take One Soul’ was born. What was already a tasty track then had a story of fiery resilience to lift it up to a new level!
Despite living about ten miles apart, we’re yet to actually meet Joseph Cave face to face. But, like I always say “It’s not where you’re from – it’s where you’re at”. (Previous albums have featured musicians in Seattle). Joseph played in Shrewsbury band Baby Twin. He jumped at the chance to play some guitar on ‘ReEntry’, which we loved. But then, as ‘Take One Soul’ started taking shape, we also called on him to help bolster that track too. He knew exactly what to do. Apparently, he did that bass part in one live take! He’s a keeper.
Chris: Nothing to add to that apart from to say thanks for their generous and always enthusiastic participation. It’s always great to have others contribute their ideas and skills.
And there are videos! The design element comes across as a strong part of your identity. How important is the full audio-visual package to you? How are the visuals put together?
Nick: I usually make the videos. However, it was Chris who gave me the idea. He used to occasionally make surreal little clips for tracks our old band Glowpeople had created. Odd, distorted shapes and crazy colours. Including one where he’d wrapped his entire head in kitchen foil and then filmed himself nodding and gesturing like some alien overlord transmitting a message to us Earthlings. I really must try and persuade him to raid the kitchen drawers again. I guess I slipped into the visualising role from there, though. I paint too, so one of my abstract pieces adorns the sleeve of our first LP. As a graphic designer I do all the sleeves now. Well… except for this one. The sleeve of ‘Beguiled’ was something I asked my friend Dave Bullmore to generate. He’d been posting some mad images created using some AI app, on social media, for albums that don’t exist on social media. Some were quite amazing and needed to be realised. So, I gave him a few key words that he could feed in. I added the butterflies and fishes, mostly from my own photo collection.
Chris: Yeah, I tend to let Nick get on with the design and visuals, what with his graphic design background, his artistic eye, not to mention his superior software! I’d be a fool not to really, but perhaps it is time to bring back the silver foil. Again, thanks to Dave for his work on this release.
Is there a live element to Thought Bubble? Any gigs to look forward to?
Nick: We’re very much from the live music background. All our previous bands were focussed on getting out there and performing. It’s just that circumstances dictated we work remotely and that, in itself, revealed a new way of working. It really suits us and allows our production processes to flourish. Our lockdown period was further extended by me discovering I needed some serious surgery, so we somehow just stopped thinking about ways we could ever get back onstage. However, I got fixed – and after that fateful Kozfest last Summer where I not only met Pure Mischief – I also landed up playing hand percussion onstage with nine different bands! I was clearly rebooted and I knew that once we’d worked out how I could use monitors to clearly hear “the midi clock” that drives all of Chris’s synths and sequencers Thought Bubble could feasibly get out there too. So, this September, we did just that! The midi / monitor set up did glitch out at one point (grrrr…), but it worked! So, Thought Bubble are now looking for more little festivals to play. In fact, we may have found one already. Or rather they found us (which is rather flattering). Unfortunately, as I type, I’m not quite at liberty to mention which one. However, if things pan out, we’ll announce everything to our Bandcamp followers.
Chris: We both have a real love of live music. So it’s great now that Nick is back to his old self, that we have been able to get together and blast out some noise in the same room.
It’s a bit of a learning curve with just the two of us but we’re getting there and hopefully, now that our first gig is out of the way, there will be more to follow.
Interview conducted by Moolakii label