Our interview with super-producer John Fryer

Our interview with super-producer John Fryer (Nine Inch Nails, Cocteau Twins,)
Photo credit: Rod Dovlin

Over the past few decades, veteran soundscape creator and super-producer John Fryer has shaped the music and produced the records of renowned bands like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Cocteau Twins (to name a very select few) on illustrious labels like 4AD, Mute, Rough Trade, and Beggar’s Banquet.

While Fryer may have worked more in the background on those projects, he was in the spotlight as one-half of the revered duo This Mortal Coil which he co-founded with Ivo Watts-Russell. He also mixed Watts-Russell’s material as The Hope Blister, and most recently Fryer has been releasing music as the collaborative project Black Needle Noise.

In the following interview, Fryer delves into his connection with Bill Leeb (Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, Delerium), the imminent release of Lost In Reflections, his second album as Black Needle Noise, and much more.

Northern Transmissions: Hello John! It’s a pleasure and a privilege to touch base with you about your superlative music career and find out what you’re into nowadays. You recently released the collaborative track, “A Shiver of Want”, with the renowned Bill Leeb under your music project Black Needle Noise. What is your connection to Leeb? Does your musical lineage go far back with him or this a new joint venture by two veteran innovators?

John Fryer: This is all shinny and new with Mr. Leeb. We met in Oslo a couple of years ago when Front Line Assembly was on tour and have become great friends since. Bill has never sung on anyone’s music before; he has had plenty of people singing on his music. It took a little bit of persuading, but finally he agreed and I think it turned out superbly.

NT: Are you planning on creating more music with Bill Leeb or is “A Shiver of Want” a one-off?

JF: We are talking about doing another song as I type these answers for you.

NT: What was it like working with Bill Leeb? Did you both craft the sonic composition and the lyrics or did you separate musical duties?

JF: With Black Needle Noise, I work the same way with everyone: I create the music and send it to the singer wherever they are in the world and leave them to do their thing. It gives them time and space to do whatever they want and go wherever the music takes them.

NT: You’ve recently been releasing a string of singles featuring, as always, captivating guest vocals from a slew of spectacular singers. One of these vocalists is Mimi Page who also collaborated with Bill Leeb as part of Delirium for the album Mythologie. How did you connect with Mimi Page? Did you know of her before hearing her work with Delerium?

JF: We met at the Delirium album listening party last September, but we didn’t really get time to talk much there. We became friends on Facebook and I found out she is a huge This Mortal Coil fan and wanted to do something together – and Black Needle Noise is the perfect home to release songs through. We will be doing another song soon too. 

NT: Your latest album, Before The Tears Came, arrived just about a year ago and it’s a collaboratively packed cornucopia of compelling music and vocals. Two of the 11 tracks feature famed Jarboe (Swans) on vocals. Why did you decide to highlight her twice on the album?

JF: Jarboe and I worked together many moons ago and I still really love what she is doing, so I thought I would just ask her. The worst thing she could have done was said no, so there’s never any harm in asking for something, but fortunately she said yes and did an amazing job on the two songs, and I thank her so much for doing them, as I thank all the singers.

NT: Are you currently shaping a follow-up album that will include the singles you’ve already released?

JF: Funny you should ask that. Yes, the second album, Lost In Reflections, will be up on Bandcamp the 22nd of June and out for general digital distribution on the 13th of July.

NT: What techniques, instruments, and/or styles do you explore on your run of singles?

JF: I’m always trying out new things, sounds; combining them with the old and trying to explore some new styles so I can put my own twist on them to make some kind of my own hybrid. 

NT: What does Black Needle Noise bring to you that your other illustrious projects (This Mortal Coil, The Hope Blister) haven’t?

JF: Black Needle Noise is my music, my project, and is very personal to me. I’m very proud of all the other music I have been involved with, but that has always been working for someone else, bringing someone else’s visions alive. With Black Needle Noise I’m bringing my own visions alive.

NT: Where does the name Black Needle Noise come from? I’m picturing the needle as it drops on the vinyl disc spinning on a record player, but maybe I’m dating myself with that image! LOL

JF: No, you are correct, that is one way of looking at Black Needle Noise; the needle on the black vinyl and the sound (noise) coming out of the speakers. The other is, I was watching the Black Mirrors TV show and got to thinking about taking black vinyl and melting it down into a liquid form and injecting it into your body and you would be able to control when you can turn it on or off and have the music throbbing through you whenever you felt like it. Maybe one day it will happen?

NT: You are a revered producer and have worked with some of the biggest and/or most respected names in the business, like Cocteau Twins, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Wire, Swans, Kristin Hersh, Clan of Xymox… I could go on and on! You’ve currently had a hand in shaping the material of Dead Leaf Echo and The Foreign Resort. What was it like guiding these two acts?

JF: It’s a such pleasure and honour to work with such great bands, helping them to create their sound, and bringing their dreams alive. It’s such a rewarding feeling to know you’ve made a lot of people happy, not just the bands, but the fans as well.  

NT: You’ve also produced soundtracks for major motion pictures including hits and cult films like Seven, Clerks, Johnny Mnemonic, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. What is your job as the producer of a soundtrack? Are you editing another composer’s material or do you come up with the score yourself?

JF: Well, to be honest, so far in all those movies, they have just used work I have produced. I’m hoping that with Black Needle Noise, they will want to use these tracks in some movies and TV shows too. Recently, I have been asked to write songs for some movies and TV shows; “I Face The Wall” being one and “Neon Noir” on the new album being another. There are others and they will be released later. I’ve just finished music for a TV pilot and will be starting on some ads very soon too.

NT: Have you been personally affected the current divisive state of the US (and UK) or is all copacetic where you’re located in California?

JF: No, it’s not really affected me; I’m trying not to let it and just concentrate on making music so if people are, they can always get lost in some of my songs and get taken away to a glorious place of their dreams and forget reality for a while.

NT: Was your jump from the UK to the US musically motivated? Have you found what you’re looking for (Gee, that sounds so U2!) by this change of location?

JF: Well, actually, I jumped over to here from Norway. I’ve not lived in the UK for about 9 or 10 years now. I’m very happy here; nice to wake up to blue skies and feel the warmth of the sun on your body, even though I spend most days in the studio working. Still, it’s nice to know it’s sunny outside. I’m trying to get more involved in the movie and TV world and everyone told me I have to be here for that, so I’m here and always on-call to do music when asked for in between mixing for other bands and making new Black Needle Noise songs.

Interview by Jen Dan