Stephen Wilkinson says politics have no place in his music. Working under the name Bibio, the artist sees his project as a form of escape from such affairs- interesting in a climate when everyone seems to be talking and creating about those same things Wilkinson wants to omit.
Still, a similar rhetoric of hope and perseverance is echoed in the title track from his record Sleep On The Wing, making its debut June 12 on Warp Records (pre-order).
“Sleep On The Wing” chooses lustrous melodies, graceful acoustic guitar and fluttering violins that outline one of the few songs on the record that includes vocals. The lyrics elevate the song to an almost lullaby style, exaggerating the calmness of the instrumentation and sums up the album’s general tone.
“It usually makes sense to lead with a song with vocals and lyrics,” Wilkinson told American Songwriter. “There are only two tracks on the EP with vocals and ‘Sleep On The Wing’ seemed to be a good way to introduce the release. I think it’s a good taster of the vibe of the EP as a whole.”
The new album was recorded and written by Wilkinson at his home in the midlands countryside of the UK. The work is primarily instrumental and focuses on the resonating force of music alone, rather than allowing too many lyrics to act as a distraction. To honor the purity of his music, Wilkinson opts to work independently and has adopted and fostered methods that work for him.
“I work alone and I have my own ways of working that I’ve discovered and developed over the years, some processes that are fairly unique to me using an odd combination of obscure pieces of equipment from different decades,” the songwriter said. “It would be a whole separate conversation to discuss them in depth, and some of them are secret.”
Making a predominantly instrumental record, it is fitting that music comes to the songwriter before anything else. The artist also uses unorthodox ways to remember how to play the riffs he captures in the moment. Instead of writing out tabs or standard sheet music, he uses illustrations to aid his memory for later use.
“With my guitar based tracks (and even some more electronic tracks), they tend to start out as a guitar riff or chord pattern or something, which I usually capture as a video sketch on my phone, to act as a reminder of both the riff and how to play it,” he said. “I use different guitar tunings and capos often, so it can be tricky to re-learn how to play a riff I came up with days, weeks, months and even years ago, if I’m relying on just my ears. Recording sketches as video clips helps me to quickly re-learn them if they have not been memorized.”
“Every so often, I dip deeper into my archives of sketches on my phone, or unfinished tracks from way back on my studio archive hard drives,” he added. “Hearing them with fresh ears can give me fresh ideas, so I might carry on with a track I started years ago, or even completely re-record it.
“There are other times where I have finished tracks that never got released because they didn’t fit the current album, but might get put on an album or EP at a later date,” he said.
The record also finds variance in the production of each song. Some songs were produced for the screen and some are born from more experimental techniques, like alternate tunings, layered instrumentation and tempo manipulation.
“’A Couple Swim’, was written to a scene in a film,” Wilkinson said. “The director of the film decided to go with a more traditional film score, so I ended up with some demos and new material that I wouldn’t have created otherwise.”
“While ‘Sleep On The Wing’ and ‘Oakmoss’ have a similar approach,” he added. “Both tracks started out as a guitar riff, which I repeated and then jammed over the top with violin, trying to find a kind of theme tune. Those tracks are more of a traditional multi-tracking approach with lots of layered instrumentation, whereas tracks like ‘Crocus’ are more about experimental production techniques, such as playing a bird song vinyl record from a stationary turntable and manipulating the speed of the platter by hand, then feeding that through a tape echo.”
Other songs adhere to tried-and-true strategies Wilkinson returns to and has made a staple in much of his music, tricks he learned early on when he only had Lo-Fi gear to work with. Some of which still have a place in his new music. Recalling the past, still Wilkinson said he never really has a clear idea of his musical journey due to his spontaneous and impulsive approach to sounds and styles.
“I never really know what I’m going to be doing in the future because I follow my urges a lot of the time,” Wilkinson said. “I didn’t know three years ago that I’d be making an album or EP with me playing violin, viola, mandolin and cello, but when the interest in those things was triggered, I delved into it and became quite occupied with that palette of sounds, which lead to a collection of tracks using acoustic stringed instruments. Ribbons and Sleep On The Wing represent this particular chapter. I will no doubt revisit those styles and sounds in future releases, but right now I’m already occupied with electric guitars, synths and drum machines again.”
“I hope that my music inspires people to enjoy and explore their own imaginations and see music as a guide for that, he said. “I feel like my music has achieved something if it takes people somewhere in their minds.”