Interview | Diagram’s Sam Genders

Sam Genders isn’t a man to stay in one place too long. Best known as co-founder of electro-folk band Tunng, he’s also been a member of folk super group The Accidental and is now back with solo project, Diagrams. The first album under this moniker, Black Light, features artists as diverse as Hannah Peel and Micachu and is a glorious mix of synths, off-kilter time signatures, pop beats, soft folk and some seriously psychedelic moments. It also gave Genders the chance to run round some woods covered in glitter. FFS caught up with him to talk about his latest project, geometric shapes and post-apocalyptic discos…

FFS: Do you find it easier working within the set-up of Diagrams – you at the helm, lots of different contributors – than as part of a band?

SG: It’s different… not easier as such but it’s good fun to be able to try anything and not have to check in with anyone else. I tend to be inspired by the skills of the musicians around me so in many ways it’s the same.

FFS: What influences from both life and music did you have when writing the album?

SG: I’d been listening to quite a bit of Paul Simon and Fever Ray and I can hear that influence in the record. In life in general I’d just had an interesting three years working in a primary school. That gave me quite a different outlook on life and some of my darker themes from previous records have been replaced by something a bit more hopeful!

FFS: Sleeve and video art notwithstanding, there are some rather prog moments in the album. Is this an influence, and would you consider writing a seven-minute keyboard solo?

SG: I’m not really influenced by prog as such but I do love slightly non-standard time signatures like 5/4 and 7/8. The thing is, as soon as you add a nice analogue synth into the mix you do kind of have ‘instant prog’. I have certainly considered a seven-minute keyboard solo and in fact it took all my willpower to keep some of those prog endings down to a minute or so.

FFS: The video to ‘Night All Night’ seems to be about personal journeys and discovery. Does this reflect your relationship to the material?

SG: I don’t want to get too self-helpy here but kind of. I’ve become a lot more confident in the last three years and I think the songs in general reflect that. Putting Diagrams together as a project has been quite a steep learning curve so I’ve certainly learnt a few good lessons. The video to ‘Night all Night’ is about some kind of wanderer from some kind of post-apocalyptic future who finds a fossilised disco in the woods. Perhaps a bit of a journey thing going on there but really just an excuse to run around in the woods covered in glitter and waving a red flare around.

FFS: What’s the significance of the geometric shapes?

SG: A lot of the imagery I used in Tunng and The Accidental was very soft and natural, more organic, so partly it’s just me exploring different themes. Also I think I was influenced by the geometric themes I was seeing in art by people such as Chrissie Abbott who does all the Diagrams artwork. In my mind geometry is related to modernity, industry, cities and science. Science especially is very interesting to me. At the same time the music is more angular with more straight edges so the two kind of work together.

FFS: You have a lot of different artists contributing on Black Light. How does this affect the dynamic both in the studio and live?

SG: The bulk of the album was made by myself and my producer Mark Brydon, so in the studio it felt pretty simple – just me and Mark. Live is very different with an 8 or 9 piece band. It’s great fun and much more exuberant! I find the main dynamic of working with so many people is the inspiration it gives you. And everyone has something to contribute that makes the record or the gig so much better than it would be if it was just me.

FFS: Is Diagrams a tangent or do you see this being your main focus for a while now?

SG: I love to collaborate and hope that I’ll always work with different people. I especially love co-writing for other projects. But for now Diagrams is what I’m focusing on.

Words: Theresa Heath