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Baltic Fleet is the largely instrumental project of ex-Echo and The Bunnymen keyboardist, Paul Fleming.
Fleming, who comes originally from Merseyside, was a member of Echo and The Bunnymen between 2003 and 2009, and formed Baltic Fleet while he was on tour with them.
Baltic Fleet’s lo-fi 2008 eponymous debut was recorded across the world, and, reflecting and musing upon his life on the road, was produced using a laptop and with whatever other instruments were available. Fleming released a second Baltic Fleet album, ‘Towers’, in August, which, recorded in his bedroom studio on old synthesisers and guitars, has a Krautrock/industrial sound
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Paul Fleming after a Baltic Towers gig in Leicester about his years with Echo and The Bunnymen and ‘Towers’.
PB: Were you born and raised in Liverpool?
PF: Yeah, just outside of Liverpool. I live in Warrington now, but I was born in Merseyside and brought up in Widnes. I was born in 1976.
PB: So you missed out on the whole of punk?
PF: Yeah, so I had to catch up on it all.
PB: Your dad was mates with the Beatles, wasn’t he?
PF: Yeah, me Dad had a band in the 60s with my uncle and his brother called Mark Peters and The Silhouette. They were formed in the late 1950s, and they were signed to Oriole. They released some singles in 1963 and 1964, and did a few compilations. They were part of the Cavern scene, and so I grew up with stories of that and the Hamburg scene. When I finally saw ‘Backbeat’, the movie, it was what he had already told me of his experiences. He toured France for a year, and had some great stories and great times.
I think there are a lot of musicians of my age that had dads that were part of the Merseybeat era. I have to say that his mum and dad banned him from seeing the Beatles. When he was young and about sixteen or seventeen, they were hanging out on Bold Street, and Ma saw him talking to these lads, and when he got home he was told, “I don't want you hanging around with those lads,. They look rough.” And those lads were the Beatles. After that he was visually banned from hanging out with them. They had Teddy Boy socks, as did my dad, and my grandad threw his on the fire as punishment for hanging out with them.
PB: So, you were born in '76. When did you become aware of music and the effect it has?
PF: I think about in 1984. I used to go swimming in the evening with my family in the local leisure centre, but from 7 p.m., after we finished, there was a youth club disco, I was like eight years old. I used to go to the top and watch all these kids dance. It was rare groove stuff, but I saw the effect it had on people. It was a bit stalker like, seeing this and how this music affected people. That is my first memory. A lot of stuff, I like, such as funky music, comes from around that time.
I started playing when I was about thirteen or fourteen after watching my dad's band, and then I asked for piano lessons. Since then I have played in bands ever since.
PB: Were you aware of Liverpool's biggest band of that time, Frankie Goes To Hollywood?
PF.: Yeah, but only from ‘Top of the Pops’. I have always liked a mixed bag of tastes. I like post punk now and disco and funk, I like Krautrock, I am pretty much an open door. I was learning piano when I was thirteen or fourteen. I was also playing in a band, and we would do Inspiral Carpets and Charlatans covers. Then in the lessons, I would be doing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, great songs but I quit, because I wanted to play songs that I like. I was self-taught. Me dad also taught me some things, so I made up original chords and found my own way.
PB: Can you play the guitar as well?
PF: Yeah, I first picked it up when I was about nineteen or twenty. I have never taken it seriously, but I like playing it, like getting a sound out of it. I don't want to master it. It is the same with the bass. The things that are in my head I just need to get them out somehow. I am also learning the drums as well.
PB: Did you play in any name bands before Echo and The Bunnymen?
PF: Not really, from the age of 14, I was in bands with my best friends. The first signed band was Snowblind, who were on Independiente. I did a small tour with them, and second LP demos. They were on Heavenly first. That was the first proper band with original music.
I did like my own white labels before that, sort of groove-based stuff under different names. I took them to a few labels, just bedroom stuff, like what I am doing now.
PB: Were there a lot of bands before you joined Echo And The Bunnymen?
PF: There were a few. I was in Snowblind for about a year. After about another six months, I got into the Bunnymen, but I was still doing my own stuff. I was always like a bedroom producer.
A guy that I knew also knew the Bunnymen, and he introduced me, I didn't know their music. I got called for this audition. As I didn't know them, it didn't phrase me. Ian McCulloch auditioned me. I played the songs well, and joined the band, and was with them for six years, but carried on doing my stuff under the radar. That is when I started Baltic Fleet. The Bunnymen,set me on my path.
PB: Where did you play with them?
PF: I started with Mac first. We did Europe, and America, and then joined the Bunnymen. The first tour was for Mac's third solo album,’Sideling’. I was catapulted from a 9-5 job into my first gig with Echo and The Bunnymen, which was supporting Coldplay at The Manchester Arena and then at Earl's Court. It was very surreal.
On tour I brought along this laptop, an Apple, and the guys listened to it as we toured. It just filled in the time, Will Sergeant turned me on to different bands, He heard something that I had done, and said it sounded like Boards of Canada. He would tell me to check things out, and he was also DJing a lot as we toured, and one night he played a track of mine. We got into a routine after that in which I would produce something during the day, give him a WAP file, and he would DJ it at night, so I would be able to see how it went down, When I saw people dance to something I did that day, that was very surreal.
That really started the ball rolling. I found a lot of new influences, and got into Krautrock, Neu! and Can. I didn't know a lot about Bowie's ‘Low’, but Will got me into things like that. Touring was very important in the start of Baltic Fleet. I was lost in music, miles from home (Laughs).
PB: How long did it take to write ‘Towers ‘and record it?
PF: ‘Towers’ was a long one. It took probably three years to put together. Some tunes came from 2005, maybe like a riff or bass line, and I brought it all together.
PB: Is it all you on this record?
PF: I took five songs into the studio to put real drums on it, and got the current Bunnymen drummer, Nick Kilroe, to do that and to give it a live feel. The rest I did at home.
PB: How did the name come about? There are various things on the internet, like it is the name of a knife gang in Glasgow.
PF: I didn't know about the knife gang. I am named after a pub. I wanted a name that was quite military, and I was driving past this pub with that name. I didn't want to use a pub name, but the name was just perfect.
PB: You are signed to Blow Up Records. Why did you decide to sign with them?
PF: I grew up with a DIY attitude, and Blow Up tied up with that idea. I supported someone else on the label, Alfa 9, and they got in touch the next day
PB: Have you started working on the next album yet?
PF: I have got some ideas. I am going to lock myself up at Christmas and New Year. I have also bought a new drum machine, but I don't know what it's going to sound like yet. The psych scene has taken me in as has the dance scene. There are lot of things going on. I am not sure where, I am going to take it, but there are some interesting results. We are going to develop the live sound more.
I also have been doing a lot of remixing lately. I have just done a remix for Eva Petersen, whose from Liverpool and Will has just produced her debut album, ‘Emerald Green Eyes’. I did a remix for the Red Suns, who are on PIAS, and a remix for Cold Shoulder.
I now have two babies. That's why I left the Bunnymen, I can't be in Brazil and be away for four months. I would miss them growing up.
PB: Thank you.
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Anthony Strutt speaks to ex-Echo and The Bunnymen keyboardist, Paul Fleming, about his years with the band, and ‘Towers’, the industrial-influenced second album of Baltic Fleet, his solo project
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