Boards of Canada Interview

They started making tapes around 1982 or ‘83, when they were still children. At their Hexagon Sun studio, there’s an archive of 20 years of music. “We’re a bit anal about this,” admits Eoin, “and I guess one year we might hunt through it all and release some of it. Though we’ve actually already got the next album half-finished, which will surprise some people to hear. There’s a lot of music.” Though the paucity of their released might suggest otherwise, Sandison and Eoin are anything but lazy. “A typical day for us,” writes Eoin, “is something like 15 hours thumping the shit out of drums and synthesizers and samplers, with frequent breaks for coffee or a beer.” Expectations and pressures from the outside world hardly make an impact, either.

"We’re too busy to give a shit," reckons Sandison. "Either working in our studio or being out in the fresh air with our friends somewhere. We put pressure on ourselves more than anything. Marcus and myself are pretty ruthless to one another, musically. That’s the toughest criticism we get, which is another reason the album took a long time."

Why is it so much better to live in the country rather than the city?

Mike: “I don’t think it’s easy to be truly independent as an artist at the same time as being part of an urban community. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it just doesn’t suit us. Besides, when I’m faced with the choice of hanging out with my friends round a bonfire where we live, or being squashed in a London tube with some suit’s elbow in my face, it’s an easy choice to make.”

What’s the significance of hexagons to you?

Marcus: “The hexagon theme represents that whole idea of being able to see reality for what it is, the raw maths or patterns that make everything. We’ve always been interested in science and maths. Sometimes music or art or drugs can pull back the curtain for you and reveal the Wizard of Oz, so to speak, busy pushing the levers and pressing buttons. That’s what maths is, the wizard. It sounds like nonsense but I’m sure a lot of people know what I’m talking about.”

The turquoise hexagon sun idea, the ring of people on the ‘Geogaddi’ cover, and that slightly eerie bucolic feel there is in a lot of your music, suggests something cultish, vaguely pagan.

Mike: “That’s probably just a reflection of the way we live our lives. We are a bit ritualistic, although not religious at all. We’re not really conscious of it in our music but I can see that it is happening. We’re interested in symbols. I don’t know, we never just make a pleasant tune and leave it at that, it would be pointless. So I suppose there is an intention to let the more adult, disturbed, atrocious sides of our imaginations slip into view through the pretty tunes.”

What’s the fascination with children’s voices? Is it to do with a nostalgia for childhood?

Mike: “It’s something that has a peculiar effect in music, it ought not to be there, especially in atonal, synthetic music. It’s completely out of place, and yet in that context that you can really feel the sadness of a child’s voice. Being a kid is such a transitory, fleeting part of your lifespan. If you have siblings, then if you think about it, you’ll have known them as adults for a lot longer than you ever knew them as children. It’s like a little kid lost, gone.” You’ve talked in the past about subliminal messages, hidden ideas, bombs planted in your tunes. What’s the fascination, and what form do these take?

Marcus: “If you’re in a position where you’re making recordings of music that thousands of people are going to listen to repeatedly, it gets you thinking, ‘What can we do with this? We could experiment with this…’ And so we do try to add elements that are more than just the music. Sometimes we just include voices to see if we can trigger ideas, and sometimes we even design tracks musically to follow rules that you just wouldn’t pick up on consciously, but unconsciously, who knows? ‘The Devil Is In The Details’ has a riff that was designed to imitate a specific well-known equation, but in musical terms. Maybe it won’t mean anything to anyone, but it’s interesting just to try it. We do things like this sometimes.”

One thing Boards Of Canada are emphatic about, for all the talk of bonfires and rural retreats, is that they’re not hippies. We ask if they’re a psychedelic band, and Marcus replies: “If you mean psychedelic in a scientific way, then, yeah, that’s probably fair. But if you mean it in a lifestyle way, you know, hippy-large floppy hat, patchouli oil and colourful trousers way, then nothing could be further from who we are.”

Further from what, though? Tempt BOC into the open for a few moments and still, you can only make out the faintest of outlines. And ask them, finally, how important mystery and a lack of information is to their music, and they’ll prove it by sidestepping the question. “We just try to keep ourselves to ourselves,” concludes Marcus Eoin. “The music is what is important.”

Posted on 23 May
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