The secret is finally out — we are incredibly proud to have released the first ever solo recordings by ex-Engineers songwriter Mark Peters in the form of the mini-album Innerland, which is out now as a download and a limited-edition cassette which looks like a mini Ordnance Survey Landranger map. Buy it now from the Sonic Cathedral Shop.
We have been friends with Mark ever since his former band played the second Sonic Cathedral night way back in February, 2005 and we are excited to be involved in this first chapter of his solo career. A couple years later we introduced him to Ulrich Schnauss in a pizza takeaway along the road from the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds and, to date, they have made two albums together, but Innerland is his first totally solo outing.
It’s a six-track collection of instrumentals — with nods to Brian Eno, Talk Talk, Richard Thompson, Vini Reilly and Felt’s Maurice Deebank — that highlights Mark’s incredible musicianship, positioning his guitar rather than his voice as the focal point of the music. It also finds him reconnecting with his youth and rediscovering a sense of place, following a move back home to northwest England late last year, with all the songs named after local places and landmarks, such as ‘Windy Arbour’ above.
Been starting over…
Mark’s journey home began on the other side of the country.
“A couple years ago, I rang up a rehearsal room on the outskirts of York, where I was living at the time, and booked an evening with no plan other than I would take my guitar and make some abstract, formless noise,” he explains. “The recordings lay dormant on my hard drive for a year and I really wasn’t sure what to do with them until, one day at my parents’ house, I came across an old demo tape that I made when I was 19.
“The first track was a jam that had the same sense of spontaneity I’d striven for in the ambient recordings. I wanted to make music that was instinct driven rather than thought driven and, by returning to the place where I grew up, I rediscovered that elemental motivation that gets obscured over time.”
Memories suitably stirred, Mark resumed work on the recordings and set about mapping his own emotional cartography (the Innerland of the title), but even though the Ordnance Survey-style map that is wrapped around the cassette version is fictitious, the places the tracks are named after are all very real, if a little obscure.
“Some are only known to locals,” reveals Mark. “Twenty Bridges is an old nickname for a disused viaduct I could see from the window of a flat where I lived in the mid-’90s; Shaley Brow is a part of Billinge Hill from where you can see the Welsh mountains on one side and Manchester and Blackpool on the other.”
It was the slightly mythical, folkloric nature of these places that appealed to Mark, rather than the often mundane modern reality — visitors to Windy Arbour today will find a farm shop selling organic fruit and vegetables. The Romans used to call it the genius loci, or spirit of the place, and it is this that Mark has tried to tap into.
“I read about the history and started to perceive these places in a timeless way rather than in the here and now,” says Mark. “Folklore is pretty gloomy and mysterious in these parts, too, some of it documented and some not. I think being slightly scared by a place adds to the overall atmosphere and compelling nature of it. This is something I appreciate in recordings, too. Fear and awe aren’t too dissimilar.”
If we are going to delve into the psychogeography of Mark’s Innerland, we should also make mention of key theorist Guy Debord’s central concept of the dérive (which translates as ‘the drift’). It’s an unplanned journey through a landscape, in which usually small groups rather than individuals drop their everyday relation and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”. Essentially, these are the places where Mark used to hang out with his mates.
“Like a lot of teenagers in the ’90s I spent a lot of time at parties,” he recalls. “When I was at sixth form college, before many of us had our own places, we would head to the hills, or to a beach on the west coast, and gloriously waste hours and braincells in stimulating and inspiring surroundings. You don’t feel the cold when you’re young, so we’d sit up all night listening to music and making fires.
“Maybe there’s some kind of ancient social instinct that made these experiences so appealing, or maybe we were just a bunch of teenagers making the most out of our surroundings. Regardless, these times still really resonate in my memory. Something to do with the coupling of the expansive music with epic Lancashire vistas… I still always think in these terms when I make music. And, with Innerland, I have aimed for the same feeling of timelessness that these places possess. That’s why it’s instrumental, because I feel that one voice can sometimes prevent the listener from making universal interpretations.”
Innerland is definitely all about the music and, with more than 20 years’ experience and four Engineers albums behind him, Mark’s playing has evolved into a much sparer and more considered sound. “I now appreciate that there’s personality in my style and that I can communicate a feeling through playing in a simple, direct way,” he says. “I enjoy leaving space now. I always used to think that was a contrived stance in people, but now I realise that it’s in those spaces where your imagination responds to what you’ve just heard. Also, over time, I’ve really come to appreciate tone and feel a lot more. Back in the day, I felt that a simple electric guitar sound was boring, that it always needed to be doctored and given a twist. In Engineers, we always saw the parts we played as a framework for the songs, not to be enjoyed in isolation. The cover of our first album was no coincidence – we approached music in an almost architectural fashion, each element a building block, each track a sum of its parts.”
It’s no coincidence either that one of Engineers’ most well-known songs, ‘Home’ (which was used as the theme tune for the hit US TV show ‘Big Love’), is about yearning to return to the safety and sanctuary of familiar terrain. With Innerland, Mark Peters has finally done that. This is his home.