Interview : Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17, talks us through his new band Afterhere.
I managed to chat to Glenn Gregory, famed as the frontman from Sheffield’s own Heaven 17, to talk about his latest project Afterhere.
Berenice Scott, who also plays keyboards in Heaven 17, joins Glenn to form a musical partnership where the duo create dreamy, ethereal, atmospheric, and at times epic tracks.
Hi Glenn, thanks for talking to us today. People will know you as the front man for Heaven 17, however you join us to talk about your latest project Afterhere. How did this all start?
Glenn –Afterhere started really when Berenice and I started working together on writing music for TV and film. I have been writing score for about 15 years now, I used to work with someone else but unfortunately that person became to unreliable… so I began writing on my own, for about two years I did that but I was beginning to go insane, sitting in front of a screen composing to picture on my own, I’d started to talk to myself… what was worse was the fact that I’d begun to answer myself as well! I decided that I’d like to work with someone again.
Berenice had been working with Heaven 17 for a few years and we had always gotten on very well, I asked her if she would be interested in working with me on a TV project, she said yes and that was the start of everything. Berenice is classically trained and it was the perfect fit, we very quickly realised that we both loved working together. I knew Berenice’s solo work and loved her voice and said that we should write some songs together, and that was it… Afterhere was born.
Afterhere’s sound is very fresh, atmospheric and moving. Has that been a conscious effort to create something different from your previous work, or is it a more natural process that has come from working with Berenice?
Glenn –I don’t think either of us have made a conscious decision to not sound like anything we have done before, we work very closely when we are writing, it’s like a tag team… Berenice will be at the controls, then suddenly push away and I’ll step in seamlessly taking over until I fade then she steps back in… it really is total balance, it’s beautiful.
I think it is fresh, we both try hard to make very part of what we do sound special, every sound is considered and important, we also try hard to remain sparse and hopefully there’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be there. I will quite often spend several hours adding sounds, instruments or parts only to spend several hours taking them away again… but within that process find exactly what it is that was needed, as well as a whole heap of stuff that wasn’t. What you take away is often more important that what you leave in.
The short answer would have been it’s a very natural process, nothing is forced we have found a very creative symbiotic partnership.
Afterhere recently released your album “Addict”, which largely features Berenice as the lead vocal. Have you enjoyed taking a step back from the spotlight?
Glenn –Yes, actually I didn’t mind stepping back at all, especially to make room for such a beautiful and emotive voice as Berenice’s. We weren’t really sure when we were writing the songs who would take the lead… we thought perhaps that it might end up 50/50 but as each song was written, and the time came to do a vocal, I certainly found that I preferred Berenice’s voice on them… it was funny sometimes we’d both sit solidly in our studio chairs saying, “you sing it”… “no, you sing it”, luckily I won.
With a fresh new sound in this project, has there been any particular synthesizers or other pieces of equipment you’ve discovered as part of the process?
Glenn –All our sounds are very important, even a simple piano, we work very hard on every sound, neither of us like sounds that are “out of the box” sounds that you just plug and play, we try and make everything we use sound like it’s an Afterhere sound. We used quite a few different plugins but never anything that was just as it came. No outboard gear actually, it was all soft synths… well, some guitar and bass but everything else from inside the computer.
People may not realise, but as you mentioned earlier you’ve built a solid career composing for radio, film and TV. How have you found that transition compared to writing pop music?
Glenn –It’s a very different way of working, song writing is really laying yourself bare, being judged, laying it out, naked for the world to see. Scoring is more of a supportive role, a skeleton or scaffold, sometimes barely being noticed at all, but still so important, actually those moments where you’re trying not to be noticed can be the hardest things to do, butare some of my favourite moments. You can say so much with something so simple when scoring, the viewer might not even register that there is any music there, but you are still driving the narrative and holding the mood. Although that said, songwriting I think is my favourite… I love it. We are very lucky to have the chance to do both things, and even luckier when these two disciplines connect and we get to write a song for a film or series, as we did with Liar or when we worked on Vanity Fair with our cover of All Along The Watchtower.
As you say Glenn, you’ve scored the soundtrack for the series “Liar” on ITV last year, which was 6 episodes at 45 minutes each. That sounds like a lot of work! How did that differ to writing an album like “Addict”?
Glenn –We did, it was hard work but it was great fun, we worked very closely with the director and writers, it was hard work, mainly due to the fact that the whole premise of the series was that no one knew who was the liar and who was the victim, so we had to be very careful musically not to lean in either direction when scoring, we would sometimes write a piece and then decide that it was just too heavily leaning one way… it was a delicate balancing act and made us very aware just how much the score could influence the viewer. Even musically we couldn’t give the game away.
Writing the album Addict was just as enjoyable and interesting and indeed had it’s own pitfalls, and there are a few songs that we left by the wayside.
You’ve got your first live show as Afterhere coming up very soon on the 4th October. Are you excited or nervous to get Afterhere out of the recording studio and in front of an audience?
Glenn –Well, we always knew that we wanted to make Afterhere a live thing, even after the first song we began talking and getting excited about playing in front of an audience… of course now the album is finished and we are in the process of putting together a live Afterhere show, I’m scared to death! It’s funny I have done a million live gigs with H17 and Holy Holy but suddenly here we are with a project that is so new, so close to my heart and so important to both Berenice and myself that I find for the first time in a very long time, really, really nervous…. I’m sure it will be great though… but arghhhhhh.
As we’re based in Sheffield we have to talk about the electronic scene here! Heaven 17 and The Human League obviously laid the blueprint for electronic pop back in the 80s. Do you see any new acts coming through or has that particular style had its time?
Glenn –To be honest, I’m afraid I don’t. There are quite a few bands that I see coming out of Sheffield but more guitar based, or am I missing something… Please enlighten me.
Cal: There’s a few Sheffield bands hitting an electronic vibe; International Teachers of Pop, Promenade Cinema, and Pilosa are all certainly worth checking out!
Over 35 years since you started out with Heaven 17, can you imagine what you would be doing now if you hadn’t been able to follow a musical career?
Glenn –I’m not sure, photography has always been a passion, art, record sleeves, design, drunk, trainee manager at co-op… band manager, whippet breeder, old surf fella…Dead! All things could have been possible. Luckily I’ll never know… or will I?
Cheers for talking to us Glenn. Best of luck with your first Afterhere concert!
Glenn –Thank you, and I suggest you get on a train and come and see the gig!