Interview: Commander Keen

A few months back, I described Commader Keen‘s My Tascam Dreams as one of the finest things I had heard all year. Listening to it (quite often, I have to say!) I stand by my comment ‘ Imagine Sigur Ros, John Martyn and Squarepusher recording an album together. Imagine that the result was as beautiful as Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.’ Stuart Torrance, the mainman behind Commander Keen, came over to Edinburgh to talk about the release to 17 Seconds.

In the flesh, he’s a very warm friendly guy, who’s clearly very passionate about what he’s doing. He’s also extremely polite and apologetic, especially when he considers that he’s gone off topic (something I am accused of quite often myself!)

When we meet, Stuart’s a month off releasing My Tascam Dreams. To me it’s wonderful, fresh and new, but to Stuart, who tends to record at home, it seems quite a bit older. ‘Now the stuff that we’re doing is so different and I’m working with that every spare minute I’ve got, and you’re coming back to old stuff…it’s a really weird thing’ he chuckles.

I ask him how long he’s been doing stuff as Commander Keen. ‘Well, there was a year of … kind of solo stuff which was bloody awful, but I can feel sort of bad about that, or look back and see it as experimental to find the kind of stuff I wanted to do,’ he reasons. ‘ There are ideas that have survived.’ There was also a period when he worked with a cellist, which didn’t work out, but he is quick to add that there ‘are no hard feelings.’ Now he’s working with two others, Rafe Fitzpatrick on violin and Craig McGinnis on bass and backing vocals. Stuart himself contributes guitars, laptop programming…and quite a lot else besides.

This was something I had been looking to clear up, I say. Is Commander Keen a band or a solo artist -or does he want to get away from these labels? ‘Well, that EP [My Tascam Dreams] was just myself working with samples. I really liked samples at that point. The only guest on that was a trumpet player.’ They are scheduled to have another release out in January or February 2008, done as the three of them. Is this going to be an album or single? ‘I think at the moment we’re just keeping our releases small,’ he says modestly. ‘If you keep bundles fairly small, then people won’t get so fed up with it. He adds, sounding genuinely amazed: ‘There are people who seem to really like it that I wouldn’t have thought would like it…I don’t want to use the phrase ‘pop-punky shite’ but that’s what they’re [Normally] into.

He isn’t quite sure where the sound fits in, but he likes the idea of Squarepusher jamming with John Martyn. I also tell him that in parts it reminds me of The Blue Nile. ‘Someone else said that to me -I’ve not listened to a lot of their stuff.’ He mentions band like Aereogramme and Arab Strap, part of what 17 Seconds has described
as the scottish indie aesthetic, and there’s something of the peculairly scottish sadness there too.

Like many of us, his tastes have changed. He says how his tastes as a teenager tended towards guitar music, though he listens to a lot more Ambient stuff now. Sigur Ros’ Ágætis Byrjun was also an eye-opening, or rather, ear-opening album for him.

Although he was born in Edinburgh and went to school here, he’s now based in Glasgow where he studies. The two cities have long since shared a (mostly) friendly rivalry. We discuss how in Glasgow it’s more ‘in your face’ whereas in Edinburgh it’s something that requires digging out. Perhaps it’s something to do with Glasgow’s more settled population rather than Edinburgh which tends to be quite transient. Stuart considers this. ‘What I notice is that people involved in the edinburgh scene, all of them seem really nice, whereas in Glasgow there’s a lot of egos flying about.’ It’s balanced out in odd ways too. Edinburgh has a lot of covers bands, whereas in Glasgow ‘there’s a lot of bands with funny eyeliner and lip rings’ he says with a shudder. He is too tactful to name them -and he’s far too nice to press- but he suggests that there are venues in Glasgow that are just opening up for profit.

I ask him what he’s been listening to of late. On the train over for the interview, he was listening to a band called Frog Pocket, though he says he’s got a great love of Four Tet. This leads us on to a discussion about being open to more types of music, and how much diversity there is in the scottish music scene, it needs to be consolidated and brought together in terms of accessibility.

He’s very modest about how he expects to do. After he and I have ranted together about the likes of Simon Cowell for five minutes, he says that when you make the sort of music he does, you have to accept that it may not be successful, at least not in the way of a bona fide pop star. It would be a shame, this is music that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. The band are also gigging in and around Scotland, so take a telling and go investigate!

Commander Keen’s myspace page is here

He also sent me through some mp3 clips of the My Tascam Dreams which can be downloaded here:

Commander Keen -‘Panic Attack.’ mp3

Commander Keen -‘My Tascam Dreams.’ mp3

Commander Keen -‘I Thought If You Heard This (Alternate Version).’ mp3

Commander Keen -‘You Know the Words.’ mp3

Commander Keen -‘She Dances (Original Instrumental).’ mp3

If you like what you hear, buy My Tascam Dreams, which is also available at iTunes.

(Mini) Album Review: Commander Keen

Commander Keen: My Tascam Dreams (Hackpen Records)

This five track mini-album is, without a doubt, one of the finest things I have heard all year. Imagine Sigur Ros, John Martyn and Squarepusher recording an album together. Imagine that the result was as beautiful as Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. These five tracks are nothing less than an utterly bewitching mixture of folk and electronica (folk-tronica? Oh, whatever) that deserved to be heard by everyone. To listen to this is to be reminded why Durutti Column and Boards Of Canada deserve to be more popular., and to know that this is something that is special and deserved to be treasured. Including recent download only single ‘Panic Attack’ Commander Keen will hopefully be massive.


My Tascam Dreams will be released by Hackpen on September 24.

To hear tracks go to Commander Keen’s myspace page and their website is here