Annika Henderson says that a few years ago, back in Berlin, “she had almost given up on music, again” when she ventured to Mexico City from “the cold, dark desert of the Berlin winter” to play some shows under her solo project, Anika. This led her to Hugo Robota’s studio where she met Amon, Martin and Bona. “ I couldn’t stand Martin at first but somehow we became like family and worked past the first impressions – the hard exteriors – to find three of the sweetest guys I know. During the rehearsals, whilst we were waiting for Bona to arrive, we started jamming. It was so liberating; a true adventure without expectation. It was such a relief to work with such talented musicians who had their own gear. Hugo has the most impressive synth collection I have ever seen and I must admit, Mexico City was the last place I expected to find it. And so the story goes…”.
They discovered a shared love for 80s post punk, “vinyl and geeky stuff”, Nancy Sinatra and Alice Coltrane, as well as the obscure gems from Paul Giovanni’s score of the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, specifically the erotic ballad, Willow’s Song performed by Britt Ekland.
Her previous band experience, <Beak was vastly different than that of Exploded View. Annika came into the equation with an already made band and – even though she genuinely liked the guys in the group – admits that it did feel like the guys were loaning their skills out, making it feel more like a session proper. With Exploded View, the process was much different. “ We are more a family and the atmosphere is different. We also have more time to just play music, for no reason and build up that kind of relationship. Of course, there’s the odd family barney too (but mostly not).”
The recording process was an easy-going, organic approach that Henderson describes as beginning by “setting up equipment for a long time” at Hugo’s place, everyone slowly trickling in. She would isolate herself in the kitchen to prep by singing to herself for a little while.
“Martin is always early (but he lives the closest),” she explains, “Amon and I battle with the DF transport system and arrive with a “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Someone nips out to buy coffee or a sandwich, or we decide after setting up for a few hours that maybe we should get lunch. Then we come back and everyone is a little sleepy, so we make some more coffee.” Once reaching the 4 or 5pm mark, the decision to start working is made, “ So we listen to some records.” The group shares a love for an eclectic range of sounds ranging anywhere from Mort Garson to jungle, Psychic TV to Dusty Springfield, French chanson to “old Ninja Tune stuff.” This hodge podge of audible interests comes through loud and clear on the record, which, while tightly arranged to its own singular soundscape has a distinctly William S. Burroughs cut-up feel, maintaining an exciting eclecticism that makes for an utterly compelling listen from start to finish.
A typical jam session (for lack of better terminology) starts with the band playing, and if she isn’t up for singing, she starts playing around on a synth or guitar. “ Or sometimes I’m sitting in the kitchen scribbling and making notes, OD-ing on ginger brews, while the boys are playing, when suddenly I hear a really nice bit and then I run in and start singing.”
Much of the album feels highly improvisational, but the creative process is far from that. She often brings in old notebooks to pour over, “ Or I just start writing that morning, or even that very minute the words just come out my mouth.”
“This kind of improv is only possible when I feel completely relaxed and like no one is expecting anything and everyone is just getting into their thing, then suddenly it comes. It’s like watching a kettle boil otherwise. And the kettle doesn’t like to be watched.”
Speaking further on the improvisational aspect of Exploded View she says, “ You can only really improvise once you’ve got so close that you can come away again and be given the freedom. It’s an earned process but very liberating at the end.”
Henderson claims that the record is a record that was never intended, that instead it stemmed from reality itself. Much of the content deals with personal anxieties and overcoming them, or simply giving voice to them. This vocalization has helped as a way of lessening their power, and despite the claim that they are personal, they are anxieties that many listeners have felt a deep connection with.
Robert Dinero and His Disco Glove is a song she describes as being about “double standards.” Thematically, it questions why we say some things are wrong, yet are okay with other things that seem just as much at fault. At one point, she poses the question: “ Could you reassess your world view?”
“Incidentally, the song has nothing to do with Robert De Niro,” she laughs, going on to explain, “it’s a song questioning why it’s deemed wrong by many, for two men or two women to be together. It was around the time of many protests against gay rights and marriage, across the globe, whilst simultaneously there were many scandals about older men in positions of power sexually taking advantage of young employees, both men and women. The strange thing about the latter is that it was reported as if an anomaly. There were McCarthy-ist style witch hunts for one or two perpetrators, yet the sad truth is, there are many more and such behaviour is or certainly was commonplace in the workplace.
This recent Trump scandal highlights that ( during the time this interview was being given, Trump was coming under fire for the infamous “grab her by the pussy” remarks that had surfaced during an interview done several years earlier). The song questions, ‘Why is okay for a dirty old perv to be jerking off behind the ladies bogs but not okay for two men to be together? Why do some consider the latter perverse, yet turn a blind eye to the former? Why is it that casual office sexism and power abuse are seemingly tolerated, to a point, when at the same time there are so many marching against gay rights? I support freedom of speech and of the heart, but to the point of taking another life because that can never be justified, whatever side you’re on.”
Some columnists writing about No More Parties in the Attic have made the supposition that it is in reference to the death of capitalism. When faced with this assessment, Annika wryly puzzles, “ Ooh, I must check this song, never heard of it!” She goes on to explain, “ It was more about a group of young up and comings, or the new generation who seemed to be turning a blind eye to ramifications. They kept living like there was an endless stash of everything, that it would just keep giving. But, who was it who was doing the giving? Hiding in the past is no protection nor excuse for dealing with the consequences of present choices. I dunno, who wants to be explained things anyway? Make of it what you will. None of it is preaching, it’s just voicing inner thoughts. It doesn’t make it right or wrong but just an expression of personal emotion, with the hope that it can help ease someone else’s thoughts or that someone can relate to it. Isn’t that what music is about?”
Preaching is not what the album is about, and any interpretations appear to be just what they are: interpretations. Each song is a series of explorations, such as ‘Lark Descending’, which asks, “ Why is it we have such a lust for blood? We watch TV shows showing cold-blooded murder. We start wars, casual racism is so common. The majority of us have thankfully not had the experience of war or therewith forced migration first hand. Why are we not more careful about welcoming such disastrous realities it into our lives? And why are we not more compassionate to those for whom that is the reality?”. During troubling times such as these, when human atrocities are constantly being consumed through the guise of social media, the thematic elements touched on in the album feels urgent in its prescience.
Annika remains wary of any overbearing, dogmatic sentiments however, concluding, “ like I said, there is no right or wrong, things are up for interpretation as you like.”
The path to the completion of the album was not an easy one. With a band whose members live in different corners of the globe, logistics were definitely an issue, yet a welcome one. “ (it is) a pain but also great because it’s a working vacation. Living in Berlin, it’s a welcome working vacation! But yes, of course, it’s difficult for other reasons. Personally, I think it’s worth it, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. Always a fan of the thorny path.”
Easy answers and easy solutions are not something the artists behind Exploded View are here to give. Instead, they offer a welcome dose of questioning in a world that has become far to complacent with lazy answers and false justifications for actions that should be held accountable. By investigating the uncomfortable anxieties which at their core are as personal as they are political, Exploded View has taken the thorny, but much more rewarding path to achieving their vision.
With a tour now safely under their belt that she describes as “great, but exhausting”, she nevertheless is looking forward to the next one. When asked about any plans Exploded View has for the future, she quips, “ Fun in Acapulco (highly recommended film, actually).”
The self-titled album by Exploded View can be purchased via Sacred Bones