Saturday, 3 March 2012


Italian-English electronic duo Walls have recently returned from a tour of America with the mighty Battles, and are enjoying some amazing press for 'Coracle', their second full-length album. Acclaimed across the board, with 'Album of the Month' accolades from everyone from Vice and NME to Mojo and the Guardian, Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia's shimmering analogue future-dub joins the dots between Four Tet, Burial, Animal Collective and Nicolas Jaar while it blurs the boundaries between Chicago House, shoegaze and Krautrock. People are starting to wise up to Walls, thanks in part to the band's label - Cologne's impeccable Kompakt - so we spoke to Sam before they get too big to talk to people like me...

Walls. Photograph by Robert Bellamy.

How was the Battles tour? What kind of places were you playing in? Did you get to go record shopping?
It was amazing! The venues were mostly around 1000 capacity, often theatres... We got to see the Redwood Forest and Mount Rushmore. Also, getting to go to the less travelled parts of the US like Idaho, Minnesota, Ohio, Montana and so on was fascinating, the real America basically! The Battles guys have been super welcoming and friendly, we get on great together. We went to Amoeba Music in LA which is massive - we were happy to see that they'd racked out our album with a nice description! Also we went to Powell's Bookstore in Portland which was a real treat - it's huge and has an incredible selection. Such a welcoming and cosy environment. The sad thing is that it's hard to imagine a business like that getting off the ground nowadays...

What's your live set-up? How much of your studio gear can you take on tour with you?
We have a bunch of hardware - samplers, sequencers, monosynths, lots of delay pedals and mixers.. It's a real pain to travel with, but it's so much more fun when we're playing. Using a laptop was never really an option!

It hasn't taken you long to put two albums out on Kompakt. Did you have your debut ready to go when you signed? How did your deal with them come about?
Yeah, we had already composed a bunch of tracks before they asked us to do the record. Originally it was due to be an EP but we decided to expand it into a short album. It took us about six months of work. It was mostly original compositions but some older stuff was cannibalised as part of the process! We've been friends with the guys there for a while and would always talk on email. It all just happened very quickly and naturally, and when the first tracks came together they were the natural first choice for our music!

Did you get a trolley-dash of the Kompakt warehouse when you signed?
More a dash through the Kompakt archives - they have an incredible back catalogue. The GAS boxset reissue was a particularly prized acquisition, alongside some of the earlier label compilations... Things were a lot more raw and minimal in those days!

What other labels are you digging just now?
We love what our friends at Border Community do...

The new album sounds a lot more rhythmic than the first one. Is this a reflection of what you've been listening to in the last year or so?
It's more a reflection on us playing a lot of live shows to be honest. With the first record, we were really exploring where we wanted to take our collaboration. We really enjoy making people dance, but also tripping them out! 

What have you been listening to anyway? Has it changed much since Alessio moved to London? 
We're always discovering new stuff that excites us, of all different genres and eras. It seems crazy to us that the vast majority of people focus so strongly on the music being released now when there's so much incredible stuff out there. We've got the entire history of recorded music at our fingertips!

Can you elaborate?
Loads of individual tracks. It all depends on the time and context really. Personally I've been getting really into going back and listening to classic pop records from the 70s, just to marvel over the wonderful analogue sound. And the masterful production, joyous melodies and songwriting! Like Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain' for example - putting a song like that alongside Lady Gaga really makes you wanna weep about how music is going...

You're getting a lot of praise in the press - is it possible to continue doing what you do without paying too much attention to this? 
We just carry on making music all the time regardless. We try our best not to be swayed by other people's opinions on what we do. For us to release anything, it has to be something that we both really love. We've come this far by staying true to ourselves, so that's the simple plan for the future too!

Do you see much of each other? How much of the writing is done together? Is everything recorded and mastered with the pair of you present?
We see each other pretty much every day at some point. We do quite a bit of both writing apart and together, that definitely yields different results, so it's fun to play with the process in that way.
What kind of different results? How much would it affect your music if you lived in the same house? Like The Monkees.
We'd go crazy living in the same house! we definitely enjoy our work together, but it's vital to have separate space to develop ideas, explore new possibilities with plugins and equipment that we can then bring back into the fold

You endlessly get referred to as either krautrock, shoegaze, or both. Does that offend you?
It's fine, it's pointless trying to fight against that stuff!

It's great that your LPs come packaged with the CD too. What's your thinking behind this? Most people only bother putting in a download redemption code.
That's Kompakt's idea. We're really happy about it, as it means that people can buy the vinyl and still have the CD too. We must prefer the aesthetic of the LP anyway, it's a much more pleasing format!

There's talk of the majors phasing out CD albums now. Do you think vinyl might actually outlast CDs?
Absolutely, it's just so much more of a pleasing format than a jewel case CD, although we understand that some people really treasure their CD collection... It's always going to change for successive generations, each format means something different. We grew up in the 80s, just as CD was starting to come in, so that seems somehow the more authentic medium 

Where and when were you skating?
Back in the mid 90s, in the heyday of Tom Penny and Geoff Rowley, and around the Manchester gasworks area. I still love to watch the odd skate video now and then - 'Video Days' has to be a favourite!

Can you think of any videos that stand out, musically, from the past?
I'm really bad with titles, but I remember hearing Mobb Deep 'Shook Ones' for the first time via a skate video, and that was really one of the first tracks to turn me on to hip-hop properly. (BMW guesses Sam heard this on Rick Jaramillo's 'Profile' in 411 #24).

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