Madison musician brings eccentric British electronic album to vinyl
Renaldo And The Loaf’s lost first record is coming to LP thanks to Vincent Presley of Zebras.
Madison-based musician Vincent Presley has long been obsessed with experimental band and art collective The Residents and their in-house label, Ralph Records. Presley runs a label of his own, Secret Records, that’s mostly devoted to putting out music from his own bands, including thrash-metal outfit Zebras. He’s not really interested in running a full-on label, but lately his obsession has led him to put out vinyl reissues of some pretty obscure records from an already esoteric little corner of the music world.
Last fall, he put out 300 vinyl copies of a 1981 live recording from Snakefinger, a punk artist and occasional Residents collaborator, and in June he’ll ship out the first-ever LP copies of Behind Closed Curtains, the long-shelved first album from British experimental duo Renaldo And The Loaf. Multi-instrumentalists Brian Poole and David Janssen made the record in 1978, before they’d actually settled on the name and sound of the project, and ended up putting it aside after the label that was slated to release it, a UK independent called Raw, went out of business. Long story short, their first proper release was 1979’s Struvé And Sneff, after which they joined Ralph Records and issued three more albums before ending the project in 1987.
Behind Closed Curtains went basically unheard until a Vienna label named Klanggalerie reissued it on CD in 2014 (along with an EP recorded around the same time, Tap Dancing In Slush), and after Presley heard it, he decided he wanted to put it out on vinyl.
The record captures Poole and Janssen in a period of formative experimentation. On “Catch!” and “Old Clone,” they make pulsating, mangled music that approaches pop by way of eerily processed vocal melodies. “For Jane” and “Robot Tango,” meanwhile, are serene ambient tracks, built on looped flutes and clarinets and minimal, textural melodies suggesting the two were early followers of electronic trailblazers like Cluster and Brian Eno.
"I think it’s a bit like looking at old photos of yourself as a youngster—you see the resemblance, you know it’s you, but it seems strangely unreal,” Poole said in an email last week. "It showcases a prototype Renaldo And The Loaf—in fact at the time we recorded it we hadn’t adopted that name. Also it does have a certain innocent freedom about it.”
Beyond its sheer wide-ranging strangeness, Behind Closed Curtains also showcases some pretty damn resourceful do-it-yourself recording. Basically none of the warped sounds on the record come from a synthesizer—they’re all acoustic percussion, stringed, or wind instruments, processed through effects and tape manipulation, and layered together by bouncing tracks back and forth between two consumer reel-to-reel tape recorders.
"In terms of writing, we met on a Saturday with the goal of having a finished piece by the evening. That might have been totally from scratch, it might have emerged out of an improvisation, or as the result of discussions we'd had during the week,” Janssen says of the recording process. "But whatever, we'd have finished piece by the end of the day.”
After making this record, the duo upgraded to a four-track recorder and adopted a more painstaking production process, yet listening back now they still retain a fondness for this early work. "Mainly it brings back memories of the frustration we felt when the deal with Raw Records fell through, but also the impetus and confidence it gave us to produce more music,” Janssen says.
Presley first got in touch with Poole and Janssen when he covered their song “Dying Inside” in his early-2000s industrial project, Logan 5. "I wanted, like, real permission to do it, so I tracked them down online somehow and they gave me permission to cover it and they kept in contact for a long time,” Presley says.
He says his only real motivation is putting out things that he himself wants to have on vinyl (Presley and I worked at the same record store for a few months, and I can attest that he’s a pretty serious record hoarder, and probably has to be pretty into something to go to the effort of putting it out), and given the small but dedicated following The Residents and Ralph Records have, he can likely make his money back on a limited run of 500 or so copies and pay the band. Presley drew up a business agreement with Poole, Janssen, and Klanggalerie for the reissue, but has found the process to be pretty uncomplicated as these things go.
“They’re just a couple of weirdos that are really excited that people are still playing their music,” Presley says.
The vinyl reissue is currently available for pre-order.