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For many people in America, Portishead was their introduction to the lush, soulful, experimental music collectively stamped as trip-hop. From its debut, 1994's Dummy, Portishead struck a wide audience with its seemingly complete disconnect from the grunge and alternative rock that dominated the era.
The outfit's cool, dusky compositions were a vibrant alloy of jazz, lounge, hip-hop and electronica that many have imitated but none have mastered since. Beth Gibbons sang with a soulful intensity in which every syllable spoke volumes, and the music was like something from another era, modernized with a tasteful use of samples and the talent to keep it from seeming kitschy or gimmicky. We recently had the opportunity to chat with the band's Geoff Barrow about the influence of the Silver Apples and his casual collaboration with Banksy.
Westword: "We Carry On" has kind of a Silver Apples sound to it. What was your introduction to that music, and in what ways did it influence you?
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Geoff Barrow: I was introduced to Silver Apples by Adrian [Utley] from the band; he found the album at Good Music in New York. When he first bought it, he actually thought it was modern, because it was just extraordinary. It didn't really click with me the first time I heard it. Speaking to Simeon, I was just hugely influenced by, and interested by, the way he had an amazing musical but non-musical ability about him — like tuning and the noises and the lack of "music" proper. It was outer-space music, if you know what I mean.
It's the kind of thing Public Enemy would have sampled. They most certainly did at some point, you know what I mean? Making punk music, but with folk, and the idea of a singer who is using traditional-sounding songs with these extraordinary jazz and electronic sounds. Three stylistically different pieces of music being shoehorned in such an incredible way. That's what really interested me.
How did you end up being the music supervisor for Exit Through the Gift Shop? Were you sworn to secrecy about Banksy's identity?
No, I knew him from bumping into each other late-night at Bristol bars. He used to have a place around the corner from where my studio is, so we used to see each other in this terrible supermarket that just sells frozen goods. The game of when you go to the supermarket is to find something that is going to be the least harmful for you to eat; they're the purveyors of grey meat matter. Then, I don't know, I think he knew I was all right and could be trusted, so he got in contact. It wasn't like a big deal — we just sat down, and he knew what he wanted, and I tried to help him out on it. And that's how it worked. It was a really stress-free thing.