LARGE NUMBER: "I Thrive On Uncertainty"
Interview by Erkki Rautio / pHinnWeb
31 March, 2004 (revised September 2004) -- Large Number is Ann Shenton of UK. She used to be a member of the cult act Add N To (X), but left under circumstances that might best be called "mysterious". Leading a rural life in the countryside of England, she has now released as Large Number the quirky album Spray On Sound. Ann Shenton has also worked as an auxiliary member of Chicks on Speed, touring September 2004 with them in South America, taking the place of Melissa Logan of the Chix who was then pregnant. (And pHinnWeb can proudly admit getting CoS and Ann together in the first time, when the former saw the first version of this interview...)
- So what's happening now in the life of Large Number, any news?
Respect all wildlife, that is my rule. And we are compiling an electronic album The Electronic Bible with bands like Fashion Flesh (USA), Richard H. Kirk a.k.a. Cabaret Voltaire, Andy Weatherall, Black Rainbow (Ladytron) and lots of others that is due for release in June on White Label Music. And I am looking forward to doing Futuresonic Festival in Manchester on the May 1st 2004, where I will be playing the laser harp in the nude.
- How did you start to make music?
I started making music in the 80s with a band called The Furry Helicopters. It was like Sugar Cubes/musique concrète... Then I partook in lots of other bands, saving money to pay for rehearsals, living on scraps of food, befriending elderly men with lots of cash to pay for recording sessions; all the usual crap. Then we did VA6, Radix Couplement and Add N to (X).
- Are the any role models or influential artists for you?
Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram from The Radiophonic Workshop, Monsieur Frog, Fleur de Lys, Sigmar Polke (German painter), Buckminster Fuller (architect/inventor), Throbbing Gristle, the Dadaists & Fluxus art movement.
- You used to be in Add N To (X), but then split. What actually happened there, and how do you feel about that now?
I didn't know what the hell was gonna happen; I started selling antiques and lived in a tent. I helped my friends design some clothes for a Japanese buyer, I drank too much wine, I was going bonkers; then, like a junkie I got my sonic fix again in the form of Large Number.
- Then to the obligatory geek stuff. You're a collector of old analogue synthesizers; Moogs, Theremins, etc. Tell me something about the equipment you create your music with. And your own favourite musical instruments?
I use a Moog Rogue, Korg MS20, theremin, SH101, other synths, mellotron, harpsichord, and percussive instruments. A lot of all the old equipment from Add X days has "disappeared"/gone for a walk, so I wasn't left with a lot of gear. My mate Fashion Flesh is building me a new synth called the "Gestapo-Sizer". I am very excited to get my filthy hands on that.
- Tell also something about those other people you have been creating your record with?
The other people on the album are Mr Rob Allum, my old drummer from Add N To (X): he is like the heartbeat, a solid drummer and a damn fine cricketer (Chigwell Cricket Club). David Guez on guitar, he's a Tom Verlaine look-alike; Robert Weston, a retired doctor who plays banjo, and Jackie Freeworld who is an ex-progrocker/biker percussionist. On the single we also had Simon Fernsby (ex-House of Love) and will be recording with Mick Bund (ex-Primal Scream/Felt/Mexico 70).
- What about your live performances as Large Number, and any interesting anecdotes about them? What have been the best and worst places to play, for example?
Best ever was in a nuclear bunker in Scotland with Sonic Boom. Worst ever was at Glastonbury when I vomited over Rob on drums. At a gig in L.A. a Down Syndrome boy bent my theremin Ariel. And I played the shortest one ever last week in Lisbon where I was on stage for less than three minutes (with a band called The Ultimate Architects).
- Your first performance with Chicks on Speed was a warm-up gig with The Red Hot Chili Peppers in June 2004. How was that experience?
It was the most aggressive audience I have ever been on the receiving end of. I was flabbergasted by them; men and women throwing glass at us. Well, we all still have our eyes, thank God, and no casualties, except emotional ones maybe... A baptism of fire, it most definitely was! I will be going to South America with the CoS in September. So that should be an adventure, hopefully not quite so violent!
- Have you ever heard Kevin Blechdom? I thought there's something similar in your eclectic approach to music, with the same quirky sense of humour. Especially 'The Transgenic Banjo Player' reminded me a lot of Kevin Blechdom's Bitches With Britches album on Chicks of Speed Records... and with tracks like 'Pink Jazz' there's obviously a big love towards traditional torch-song chanteuses...
Kevin Blechdom -- I am trying to get hold of her to ask if she can recommend any electronic bands for our compilation; bands that are not already on Chicks on Speed label, obviously. I like her attitude/sense of humour/music. In fact, if anyone wants to submit a track for the Electronic Bible volume 2, you should do it via the Large Number Website.
- And I can also hear a bit reminding me of Perrey & Kingsley's Moog albums there too, all those funny sounds... and some musique concrète too.
Perry & Kingsley: yeah, I have the record The In Sound from Way Out from 1966. Very Moog. I love titles like 'Baroque Hoedown': two diametrically opposed styles of music/dance.
- You've also been compared to someone like Wendy Carlos. Care to comment?
Have I?!? Well, I can assure you these breasts are real and I have never been in possession of a penis; at least not one I grew myself. I do love Wendy Carlos's work: it's magical and has an air of mischievousness; it's chronosynclastic, it evades time-capture.
- How's the music scene where you live? For example, any good clubs?
The music scene where I live isn't renowned for its underground scene -- I prefer the Berlin electronic scene. I don't frequent London clubs so much anymore, I only go to gigs. I like to discover a secret club, a place that only stays there for a few weeks then disappears and re-appears in another location. The only place I like to go to regularly is the local pub, you can sit in the darkened corner and drink in peace.
- Your own Top Ten for the moment/all-time?
1. Monsieur Frog, 1972 prog electronic
2 Fleur De Lys, prog 1968
3. Svarta Pan, Swedish metal 2004,
4. Fashion Flesh (USA)
5. Tomita Snow Flakes Are Dancing
6. Wendy Carlos Sonic Seasonings
8. Mt Vernon Music That Destroys Itself
9. Dantalion's Chariot, 1960s, 'Madman Running Through The Fields'
10. Devo 'Mongoloid'
- I really like the surreal graphics on your Website and album sleeve. Also those little stories and tidbits coming with them. Those bugs running around your Web pages freak me out! Can you tell something about those graphics; who created them, etc.?
The Website should be an ever-changing visual synopsis of your music, not just somewhere to buy T-shirts. It's even better if you find a Website with a molecule of humour attached to it.
- Your own future plans now?
Futuresonic festival, Electronic Bible compilation album, a new single, some new panties.
- Your favourite question they never ask in interviews?
"Why the fuck do you do what you do?" And then I answer: "Because if I didn't do what I do, I would have problems, because I cant do what the other people do." I never feel safe making music, but that is my addiction, I have evolved into a mammal that thrives on uncertainty. Fuck order and kill the predictable. (As long as my chickens keep laying eggs, I'm all right; I had a conversation with PJ Harvey once about chickens: she keeps them too, you know.)
Copyright © (for the text) pHinnWeb 2004.