Flying Saucer Attack
Pulled from the X-Files
by Stephen Slaybaugh

This week we’re taking a different tack. Instead of focusing on the present, we’re taking a look back, specifically at Flying Saucer Attack. Mainly the brainstorm of David Pearce, FSA formed in Bristol in the early ’90s as a collaboration with Rachel Brook. During this period, termed “phase one” by Pearce, the duo (sometimes with members of the Third Eye Foundation) created several albums of foggy notions that melded the shoegazed haze and trip-hopped textures of years previous with an eye to the future. On records like their self-titled debut and their “second album but not album number two” (as Pearce put it), Distance, one can easily hear elements in their sonic explorations predating the psych and electro sounds currently in vogue. And while FSA utilized cassette recorders in making all of their albums, there was never anything decidedly “lo-fi” about what they did. Rather, these were boundary pushing compositions that defied the limitations of the band’s equipment and physical capabilities. Pearce continued on after Brook’s departure, creating two more albums that pushed FSA’s music into further realms, the meandering nebula of New Lands and the more accessible territory of Mirror. He eventually recorded an album with Jessica Bailiff, released under the name Clear Horizon in 2003, but Flying Saucer Attack was never heard from again.

In 2000, after the release of Mirror, I spoke to Pearce, on the phone from Bristol. However, this interview was never published anywhere before, and I think it is at times prophetic, in addition to offering some insight into an enigmatic and under-appreciated artist.

Can you describe the equipment you used to record each of your records?

David Pearce: For the first one, I borrowed a small cassette four-track that didn’t have many knobs on it. And we used the same equipment on Distance. And Further, I was at home with a slightly more complicated cassette four-track. I think it was a Tascam, but I could be wrong.

And for New Lands you stepped up to an eight-track?

DP: Yeah, and that’s what we used for the new one as well. It was a Yamaha, with a dual cassette thing. Some people may go, “Oh my god, a cassette eight-track! Oh dear, oh dear.” Even if they can handle the idea of a cassette four-track, they can’t handle the idea of cassette eight-track, but it sounds alright to me. I don’t mind. If you look at any of the albums, you’ll see at some point in the credits, they’ll say something about being recorded at my friend Rocker’s house. He’s always had fairly proper equipment. He’s been building up lots of stuff over the years. Now he’s got digital eight-tracks, samplers and stuff, all running into a Mac. He’s a dentist by trade, so he’s got money to spend on things.

You mentioned in an interview with Magnet that some of the stuff was done at home on your equipment, but then you meshed it together.

DP: Yeah, on the latest album, there are a number of parts that Rocker and I messed with over here a little bit. All the songs I did entirely here or I started them with Rocker and then finished over here. There’s nothing that was done entirely with Rocker’s digital set-up.

How about the folkier songs? Did you just do those at home by yourself?

DP: Yes, just little me in my little kitchen with my guitar and stuff. With Flying Saucer Attack, we’ve never done anything in a studio. I did two Peel Sessions a couple years ago, and they were done at home and then posted to them. So none of it’s been done in studios. When I was a kid and in bands, we’d save up and go into the studio and they’d piss us around and it put it me off to it.

How would you characterize Rocker’s role?

DP: Sometimes it’s a bit of us both messing around. Some songs, I might suggest getting a drum pattern going and then I’ll think of what’s to be done with it. But it varies. He’s turned into a techno DJ recently, so I haven’t seen him for three months. But yeah, some songs he’s very much the dominant person.

On Further you wrote that “home taping is reinventing music.” Do you still feel that way?

DP: Well, at that juncture, I was talking about dance stuff more than less dancey people who might be doing stuff. Dance people seemed to be kind of doing it in their backrooms, and it seemed like there was a move towards that in rock stuff. It wasn’t the actual doing it that way that I was concerned with—it was the sound. It just seemed like in the ’80s, everything sounded fairly stiff and very similar for a lot of the time. Rock music always seems to change depending on what equipment becomes available, and in the early ’90s, the home recording equipment was becoming more affordable for more people and records weren’t sounding quite so insipid. Ultimately whether or not home recording reinvented anything, I don’t know, but it made it more interesting or a least broadened the palette.

Over here it seems like we’ve become somewhat saturated with everyone and his brother putting out a record.

DP: Well, I said that before that really happened! I thought it was a good comment on the sound of things and not so much in the sense of things becoming more democratic without prohibitively costly studios stopping people recording. But yeah, you do have a lot of records by a lot of people recently. In retrospect, it’s probably the only way for things to go, whether or not that’s a good thing. I can never keep track of stuff anyway. If anyone asks me what my favorite band is at the moment, I really don’t know.

You’ve mostly worked in a set-up where it’s just you and one other collaborator. Is that a preference of yours or is just the way things work out?

DP: It’s probably more of the latter to be honest, especially if you have a home-recording multi-track set-up. It’s kind of difficult with a full band to get the sound of a room.

Do you dislike being in a full band?

DP: I’ve had this idea of maybe being bass guitarist in someone else’s band and obey orders and try it. But I think it’s hard to originate stuff. You always have a rush ideas when you start out, but you end up getting very basic. But I don’t know if anyone would want me to play bass in their band. I’m kind of a moody git!

Mirror’s songs are perhaps the closest you’ve come to having real structures. Would you consider this phase three? It seems like a departure.

DP: I don’t think phase two ever really happened in the end, did it? So this is probably phase two then. The thing is I needed something, to make songs with an end, if not a chorus. The thing with Mirror... I’m quite pleased with this one. I’m not so embarrassed about the singing. However abstract it is, they’re still meant to be songs. In the past, they weren’t very song-y, and this time I did really want for them to be songs. But in terms of making a definitive statement as far as a new phase, the stuff I’ve tried to start for the next one doesn’t seem to be along the same lines as Mirror. I don’t know what it is—it’s pretty unfinished—but it’s not going to be more drumbeats. It’s going to be more bleak acoustic songs. I don’t think there’s going to be more sampled drum patterns. Some of it might be bleak in another way...


DP: I’m sorry, did you say “Oh?” Did I hear an exclamation?

I just sort of said “huh.” I was pondering that.

DP: What exactly does that mean young fella?

That’s interesting that that’s the way you’re going...

DP: Into bleakness?

Yeah, into bleakness.

DP: Well, that’s how I feel.

If we’re going to use the word “bleak,” I would categorize the previous albums as much more bleak.

DP: Yeah, I’d agree, which makes Mirror more palatable to me than anyone else. But I’m afraid, that’s the way it seems to be coming out. I mean, I’ve got to try to record something, haven’t I? Otherwise, it’s a big waste of time, and that’s the way it’s coming out. That’s not to say if I keep carrying on that in the future I might not come up with more upbeat stuff. I don’t know, but that’s just the way it is.

Sure. What was the influence to include more rhythms on this one? Rocker?

DP: Yeah, he got a sampler and he wanted to see if he could make it work. But even going back to the first album, we’ve tried drum machines. I didn’t want to have this sort of embarrassing one snare, one cymbal drumming going on anymore, to be honest. I thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like to have fairly overt beats, however out of date they may be. I just wanted to see if that could work. There was a review in The Wire that basically said that I had run out of ideas, but that’s not the case. If the tracks hadn’t sounded good to me, they wouldn’t have gone on the record.

I think if you made another New Lands then that would have been more indicative of running out of ideas.

DP: New Lands is a bit difficult, isn’t it?

Yeah, well let’s talk about that. You said that you didn’t care for that album after it came out. What specifically didn’t you like?

DP: I don’t know. I think I was probably trying to make something more like Mirror.

Listening to it now, it sounds like the transition between Further and Mirror. It’s not as cohesive, but you’re moving in a new direction.

DP: Yeah, I think that’s what happened. It was kind of a halfway thing, and there were some scrappy things that I should have held back. Some of the more difficult things make me feel down about it and that it’s not fully realized. Some of the stuff I gave up on and left them as they were, and you can’t really operate like that. Right now I’ve got a handful of things that I’m not anywhere near finishing and they’re more realized sounding than some of the stuff on New Lands.

And then there’s the title, which sounds pretentious. That was another mistake. It had another title, which was going to be “Fuck You,” but that was worse and explains why it was quite noisy. I don’t know who the “you” was, but I couldn’t call it that. Like Meet the Beatles or the New York Dolls in Too Much Too Soon, it was going to be “Flying Saucer Attack Fuck You.” So obviously I wasn’t in a good state of mind at that point. With Mirror, I had the title before any of it. In a way, that effected the kind of stuff recorded for it. I haven’t gotten a title at the moment because I’m just pissing around. But yeah, New Lands is a kind of an ancient phenomena, and there also were these dance records called New Forms or new this or new other. The problem is that you can’t call an album something like that unless it’s any good and there just seems to be too many mistakes.

On the previous records, as far as your lyrics go, you seemed to be stringing a series of images together to create a mood, whereas you seem to be more direct on Mirror. Was that your intention?

DP: Yeah, the idea was to be more direct, and I think some of it is. I felt like my singing was better so we turned it up a bit. Also, I wanted to try to do something with the lyric side of it and be more direct. Still, I don’t know that I have anything to say, and if I do, it probably comes through more in the music. Most of my opinions on things aren’t really the kind of things I’d want to put into songs. Like, “I hate government.” Well, if I put that into a song, it would just sound embarrassing. You have to be a really good lyricist to tackle a subject like that.

You stated that Flying Saucer Attack is a recording project. Do you ever see it evolving into a live thing?

DP: Well, it didn’t really work when we tried. If in some way I could turn it into a live thing and if I could actually stand on the stage without being petrified, then in terms of, dare I say it, “my career,” it would probably help.

Well, XTC has made a pretty long career out of it, and they never play live.

DP: That’s because the poor fellow is mad!

But it is possible to have a career.

DP: Before he couldn’t face doing all that anymore, they were already a pretty big band. But with Flying Saucer Attack, I’ve got this small, little thing and it’s gotten even smaller. It’s pretty stupid, but I’m afraid that’s the way it is. But even with the best band in the world, it’s just not happening, so I just have to accept that’s the way it is. But I think in the long run, the way the records sound will matter to me more. The trouble is when you get to the stage where your record sales are so abysmal no one will release them anymore. But I haven’t quite gotten to that stage yet.

I don’t foresee Drag City doing that.

DP: They seem quite happy with how the new one is doing. They say they’re reasonably happy and want to hear new stuff. So at the moment, there’s hopefully still a future there. But you know how it is: record sales are dropping off year by year for everybody, so the squeeze is on.