“a beautiful conclusion” : Catching Up With Composer Timothy Fife

Back in 2016 I’d come across this 2-song 10 inch from a band called Victims. The EP was called Form Hell and it kind of blew my mind. I’d never heard something that captured the spirit and sonic depth of early 70s Tangerine Dream quite like that. It wasn’t that Victims emulated Froese, but interpreted the music and put it through their own beautiful and dark filter. Where Phaedra and Rubycon felt like the cosmos and 50,000 leagues under the sea respectively, Form Hell was darker. It was midnight and clouds taking over the moonlight. Wobbly, synthesized euphoria mixed with suffocating dread. Those two tracks made me take notice.

Victims was(maybe still is) the musical project of composer Timothy Fife and Video Nasties’ Chris Livengood. I’d reached out to Tim about the Victims album and found him to a be extremely humble and gracious guy. A year later Fife went on to release his debut Black Carbon with Death Waltz Originals(who also released Form Hell). Continuing the sonic explorations of Victims, but expanding it to a widescreen sound, Black Carbon was a stunning electronic record that showcased Fife’s strengths as a composer and purveyor of mood. It was one of my favorite albums of 2017.

I’ve kept up with Timothy Fife ever since. He’s worked on numerous film projects, a live scoring of Hoichi The Earless from the Japanese film anthology Kwaidan(released through Lighten Up Sounds), contributed to Burning Witches Records compilations, made a collaborative album with UK electronic composer Repeated Viewing, and released Transcommunication with Library Of The Occult.

And now Fife is releasing his proper follow-up to 2017s Black Carbon.

Clear Off is Timothy Fife’s newest album, dropping March 17th with SFI Recording. It’s a stunning album, and once again putting Fife front and center with his knack for composition, creating mood, and his unique ability to pull the listener out of their own head for a bit and lose themselves in his album’s sonic world.

I got a chance to chat with Timothy about the album and its inspirations, as well as what he’s been up to recently.

J Hubner: It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve heard from you, though I guess a pandemic will do that. Your self-titled debut Black Carbon came out in 2017 with Death Waltz. In-between then and now you released a collaborative LP with Repeated Viewing in 2019 on Burning Witches Records and Transcommunication in 2020 on Library Of The Occult, and I think there might have been a re-score somewhere in there as well. It’s now 2023 and you’re now readying your brand new album Clear Off with SFI Recording.

How have you been? And how has your world changed from 2017 to now?

Timothy Fife: Hey John, it’s been a while! Been pretty good. The pandemic was rough, as it was for a lot of people. I really wanted to spend that time working on my craft more, watching more inspiring films and all that stuff but I feel like I made so little of that time valuable. I kind of regret that, but maybe that’s what I need at the time. But since 2017, I’ve had a lot of ups and a few downs. I did a few projects I would never have expected to do, like work for Severin films on some pretty big releases. I realized I don’t like to perform live anymore, and haven’t since 2018. I was supposed to perform live in 2020 at the Boston Underground Film Festival, but didn’t because of obvious reasons but those sessions became what is the Transcommunication LP. I also haven’t seen a live show since my friends opened for Ladytron back in 2019, that’s something I hope changes in the next year.

J Hubner: The new album Clear Off is amazing. Your work always sounds like you. You intermingle komische with ambient/new age textures for this very otherworldly sound. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the record? How long of a process has the writing and recording been in making the album?

Timothy Fife: Thanks John. This record is actually 4 or five years old now. It was supposed to be released a couple of times, but for a bunch of reason it just didn’t happen. So it feels really good for it to finally come out. When I was making it, I would take really long walks with my dog and I made a playlist of specific tracks I wanted to pull influence from. A lot of the tracks on the playlist were for little moments in songs honestly that I felt were really special and I wanted to emulate. I remember it had a lot of the ambient greats on there like the KLF and FSOL. But also people like Conrad Schnitzler and Tim Hecker,. I wish I had that mix, but this was five years ago now.

J Hubner: Can you tell me a bit about the album art? Who designed it? Did you give any input into it, or did you just send the files and say “Do what you do.”? For some reason it puts me in mind of early Soft Machine album art, which in my head is a very good thing.

Timothy Fife: Jordan Warren did the visuals for this album and he was great to work with. He has this airbrush style that I thought worked really well with the record. I gave him a few ideas of what I was looking for, but mostly this is all his idea and I’m really happy with it.

J Hubner: You’re releasing Clear Off with SFI Recording out of Seattle. Andrew has curated a pretty special spot on the music landscape since his label arrived back in 2020. How did you get involved with Andrew and SFI?

Timothy Fife: Andrew is actually from New Hampshire, where I live. We knew some mutual people and he introduced himself to me I think after hearing The Victims EP. I could be wrong about that, it’s been a while that we’ve been in communication. He came back home at some point and we went out to dinner and we had a great connection.

J Hubner: Certain albums just feel and sound at home on vinyl, and Clear Off is getting the vinyl treatment at SFI. Making the record did you envision these songs spinning on wax, as opposed to just a cassette release or digital? Do you even think in those terms? Or is just getting it out in the world regardless of format the most important thing?

Timothy Fife: Yeah, I always think about that when I’m making an album. With Black Carbon, I wanted the album to be kind of doomy on the first side and eventually come to a beautiful conclusion on the second side. Similarly with this record but maybe less on the doom. I actually always saw Clear Off as the companion to Black Carbon.

J Hubner: What’s the last album you listened to that blew you away? And the last book you read?

Timothy Fife: I don’t listen to as much new stuff as I should and I’ll take any suggestions that I can get! I’m still stuck on finding as much early electronic material that I can find. The 2022 album that I really loved was that Panda Bear Sonic Boom colab. I’m a huge Spacemen 3 fan, but this record was just really solid regardless and it was my soundtrack to that summer. I wish I was better about reading, and that was something else about the pandemic I wish I capitalized on. I did buy the book about Sun Ra’s album artwork and that has some great essays in it, but besides reading books to my kids I haven’t read as much as I’d like.

J Hubner: I forget that your kids are quite a bit younger than mine. I think the first few years we were parents I didn’t read anything that wasn’t Maurice Sendak, Bill Martin, Jr, or Maisy books.

Speaking of kids, back when I was writing and recording years ago when my kids were little, I’d occasionally let them all jump on an instrument and I’d hit record on the DAW and just see what they would come up with. It was typically unorganized chaos but it was still fun. We even recorded a song called “Headache” and it lived up to its name. Do you ever let the kids mess around on the recording equipment? Do they show any interest in what dad does when he disappears into the studio space?

Timothy Fife: Yeah, my kids have played in my studio a little. When my daughter was younger we did that a lot more, but now that I have two kids it’s harder to wrangle them so I don’t do it as much as I want to. The kids have a few keyboards to play with on their own, and they both love using the Casio SK-1 the most because of the sampler.

J Hubner: With Clear Off ready for the world stage, what musical plans do you have next? Any other projects you can talk about?

Timothy Fife: There’s a few things in the works with labels I’ve worked with in the past. And that’s as much as I can say now, but you’ll be the first to know when I can say what those are. Really hoping to do more work with companies like Severin, doing more behind the scenes work on films that I really love and respect. There’s a bunch of other stuff in the works, but nothing concrete.

Clear Off’ is up for preorder. Hit up SFI Recording now and preorder the exclusive color vinyl, standard black, or snag those zeros and ones if that’s your thing. But don’t miss out on Timothy Fife’s latest.

2 thoughts on ““a beautiful conclusion” : Catching Up With Composer Timothy Fife

  1. Nice to open this up and see an interview. Great stuff J as I enjoyed the Q&A regarding kids and letting them have free reign on a keyboard. That kind of thing is always cool to read about…

    Liked by 1 person

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