Mary Byker & Noko present ‘Am I Dead Yet?

ITN Magazine: Let's talk a little about the history of your band. When did you originally form and is this the original line-up? 

Mary - We started work with this band a little over two years ago, however I was living in Brazil at the time and regularly coming over to play with Pop Will Eat Itself. I really wanted to do some writing with Noko again and somehow we managed  to find the time to write the song ‘Loneliness’ from the album, which really set the tone for the musical aesthetic we eventually followed. We continued to write via the internet for around 6 months and then due to the political situation and instability in Brazil I decided to move back to the UK which meant the writing process became much easier. We have history between us : I met Noko when he produced my post Gaye Bykers on Acid band, Hyperhead, back in the early nineties. We also had a band together called Maximum Roach. He then invited me to join his band Apollo 440 with whom we had some success. This album is the result a long collaborative partnership.

Noko - Yeah, Byker and I have known each other a long time and have successfully collaborated in lots of different contexts. We seem to be able to get on with it without too much drama, compared to a lot of tempestuous working relationships. It’s ultimately a matter of trust and respect.

ITN Magazine: How would you categorize the style of the band?

Mary - Dark Symphonic pop.

Noko - I’m glad he just did, ‘cos I don’t like to. 

ITN Magazine: What image do you want your music to convey to your fans?

Noko - That there is a glimmer of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

ITN Magazine: Who are your influences and how have they shaped your bands sound?

Mary - Our influences are many and varied. Noko is influenced by the great film composers of the 60’s and 70’s people like John Barry, Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schifrin. We both grew up listening to a healthy mix Classic Rock like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd,

and people like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker and a lot of punk and post-punk music Nick Cave, Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire and more avant garde music like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass.

Noko - Yeah, our maximalist wall-of-sound has, at it’s roots, the stamp of the great American minimalists!

ITN Magazine: Let's talk a little about your latest album what are the listeners in store for with this release? 

Mary - Lots of lush dark melodic songs of existential ennui.

ITN Magazine: Where did you record your latest release at? 

Mary - We recorded mainly at NoKontrol Studios in Clapton. Some of the vocals and basic backing were recorded at my old home studio in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil.

Noko - Yeah, this definitely started as a long-distance email relationship. My place, NoKontrol is the essential remnants of the old Apollo 440 studio in Caledonian Road, shoved into a few racks. I’m blessed with a nice sounding space here. We have a rack of vintage mic preamps that came from Trevor Horn’s Sarm West Studios, so everything that we record here has a bit of his sonic magic in it’s DNA… So Frankie says we can Relax!

ITN Magazine: Producers are a very important factor in recording a good record. Who did you use to produce your record? 

Mary - Noko has done an incredible job in producing the album.

Noko - Mary acts as my bullshit-detector and tells me when to stop.

ITN Magazine: Does the entire band contribute to the writing process?

Mary - We both contribute musically and lyrically although it’s fair to say Noko handles the majority of the music and production, and I take care of the lyrics and top line melodies.

Noko - Yeah, we both dabble in each other’s specialist areas!

ITN Magazine: How do you feel the band has evolved musically and personally over the last year?

Mary - We’re lucky in that we have settled into a pretty fluid song writing process where we respect what each of us bring to the table. If either of us don’t like something we work around it until we are both happy with the end result.

Noko - Yeah, effortlessly pragmatic with very little ego drama.

ITN Magazine: Where do you draw the inspiration for the songs you write?

Mary - I’m inspired by the general craziness that’s going on around us at the moment and the effect, good and bad that social media and technology is having on us.

Noko - The soundscape, for me, always has its roots in the golden age of film soundtracks and symphonic progressive rock.

ITN Magazine: How important do you rate the lyrical side of your albums? 

Mary - The lyrics are very important to us, being able to articulate feelings that hopefully the listener can relate to.

Noko - Lyrics are massively important. I’ve been lucky enough to be in two bands with Howard Devoto, and I always figured him to be the best lyricist the post-punk period produced. Morrissey is a genius of the balance of attention-seeker and conversationalist. Much misunderstood… and of course, there’s always a Dylan line for every occasion.

ITN Magazine: What are your current tour plans, if any? 

Mary - We are playing two shows in May. One on the 10th May at The Islington in London which is a kind of album launch, and on the 18th May at The Donkey in Leicester. Hopefully we’ll be doing a more comprehensive tour in the autumn.

ITN Magazine: Describe your live performance for those who have never seen you live? 

Mary - We’ve only played live twice so it’s difficult to describe! For these next dates we are expanding the live set up with a drummer and a bass player to embellish the sound. We have old friends, Cliff Hewitt from Apollo 440 on drums and Derek ‘Hoodlum Priest’ Thompson on bass. We like to use projections as well to make it a multimedia experience.

ITN Magazine: What do you think of the music industry right now?

Mary - I guess it’s pretty exciting as the technology and means to produce and release music has never been easier. However the dilemma is always getting your music heard by as many people as possible. We raised money to finish our project by creating our own crowdfunding site which was a very liberating process. It’s great that our small group of fans and friends have enabled us to get our music out into the world. That’s a very new way of working for us.

ITN Magazine: Did you find it hard to break into the business and what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Mary - We’ve both been involved in the music business a long time. The paradigm was different back in the old days when we started. There was a well-trodden path to success, but it involved hard work : release a single and hope John Peel would play it; get written about by one of the 3 or 4 music papers that existed then; get into the indie charts; gig constantly and hopefully get signed to a major label, who in those days gave you time to develop and would not drop you if the first single failed! That’s the way it was with my first Band Gaye Bykers on Acid.

Noko - Yeah, me too. First single on an indie, spun on the John Peel show… I then played in a few big bands as a bit part, got signed by Beggars Banquet (Luxuria), then ten years on Sony (Apollo 440)… Then dropped despite having recouped…. Madness!

Having said that, the Apollo 440 thing started out with our own self-financed dance white labels on our own Stealthsonic label, that rapidly turned into a very healthy remixing career, which financed the band before we signed to Sony. So that was just more of the same cottage-industry, just in a different era. I scored a few movies (notably a couple of French-language thrillers), then here. This current self-sufficiency, cottage-industry method is an exciting way of working that’s both empowering and exhausting at the same time. The biggest obstacle, or challenge is to be adaptable, so you can stay roughly the same as everything around you changes.

ITN Magazine: Tell us about your thoughts on your local music scene?

Mary - I was living in Brazil for 10 years until last year and have just moved to Brighton which has a pretty healthy music scene. The best band from here by far is Royal Blood though they are hardly new!

Noko - I’m originally from Liverpool, but I’ve been in London for more of my life than I haven’t. My current fave from here is Snapped Ankles. They’re so exciting live and are going to be enormous. 

ITN Magazine: How has Social Networking (Facebook,Twitter, etc.) impacted your band?

Mary - Very much so in many ways! It’s negative effects have provided inspiration for songs and obviously it’s the way of communicating with fans and disseminating information also without social media our crowdfunding would not have happened.

Noko - I’m not even on Facebook.

ITN Magazine: Where can our readers find you on the web?

Mary - On Facebook, Twitter and soon to be on Instagram ,as apparently that’s where it’s all going on now! Or our website www.amideadyet.co.uk

ITN Magazine: What equipment is the band using and do you have any endorsements currently?

Mary - A Beyerdynamic MC 834 mic in the studio a Shure SM58 mic live, Logic and Stylophone.

Noko - He also sings through a Neumann U89i and Shure bullet mic in the studio btw.

My ‘Am I Dead Yet?’ rig : Gretsch White Falcon and Parker Fly guitars ; Kemper Powerack into Mission Engineering GM-2 self-powered, full-range cab with a Boss DM3 on my board.

Our ‘orchestra’ is all virtual, with a top layer of me playing viola. The most exciting instrument I acquired during the recording of this album was an absolute rusty wreck of a 19th Century Hungarian cimbalom that looks like it’s been at the bottom of the sea for 100 years! It’s all over the record and adds a lovely gypsy-folk-cold-war atmosphere. Very high and low tech at the same time.

ITN Magazine: Thanks for answering these questions. Do you have any last comments for our readers?

Mary - Question everything and hey, have a good time all the time! 

Noko - I’m seriously questioning whether it’s actually possible to have a good time all of the time… We’ll die trying though!