Former Engineers songwriter Mark Peters pays on final visit to his debut solo album Innerland on April 19, with the release of a collection of reworkings titled New Routes out of Innerland.
Innerland was one of last year’s most surprising sleeper successes. An intentionally low-key album of windswept instrumentals inspired by Mark’s move back to his native northwest, it gave musical nods to Eno, Talk Talk, Vini Reilly and Richard Thompson, and first appeared as a limited-edition cassette at the end of 2017, before being expanded to a full vinyl, CD and digital release last April.
Something about its beautiful simplicity struck a chord and slowly but surely – thanks to word of mouth, as well as the support of the likes of Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 6 Music and positive reviews everywhere from Uncut to The Times – it worked its way into people’s hearts. By the end of the year it had also worked its way into Rough Trade’s top 10 albums of 2018 and, to celebrate, another limited edition vinyl only version called Ambient Innerland was released, an even more introspective iteration that stripped away all of the percussion.
This new version, however, is completely different. It finds Mark looking outwards, away from the bleak, post-industrial landscapes of Wigan, and inviting eight different artists from around the world to interpret and translate the instrumentals of Innerland into their own musical and geographical languages.
German sound artist Andi Otto takes ‘Twenty Bridges’ and turns it into a weird world music groove, the cello recalling Arthur Russell, the rhythm Holger Czukay circa ‘Movies’; Polish composer Olga Wojciechowska sprinkles stardust all over ‘Mann Island’, morphing it into a slice of febrile, filmic techno; former Disappears and now FACS frontman Brian Case wrangles ‘Windy Arbour’ into a dark, dystopian drone; as previously heard last year on a limited edition lathe-cut 7” single, Ulrich Schnauss subtly re-frames ‘May Mill’ as elegiac electronica, the kind of oddity that could have graced a Tears For Fears B-side circa ‘Songs From The Big Chair’; Moon Gangs, aka Will Young from BEAK>, climbs ‘Gabriel’s Ladder’ and finds some delicate drone’n’bass; American producer and DJ Odd Nosdam takes his experience of working with Boards Of Canada and turns ‘Shaley Brow’ into a sinister tape collage, entirely in keeping with the murky history of the locale; E Ruscha V, the erstwhile Medicine guitarist also known as Secret Circuit, converts ‘Cabin Hill’ into Balearic Blue Nile; finally, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma lights up ‘Ashurst’s Beacon’ as an inferno of deliciously distorted shoegaze. All eight are so disparate and yet they hang together perfectly, resulting in an exciting musical journey to somewhere completely new.
Route planning: Mark Peters on revisiting Innerland
“It just seemed like the logical next step,” Mark explains of the decision to return to the eight songs of Innerland and hand them over to other people to translate. “A surprising but compelling iterative process unfolded, mainly through Marc Jones’ Ordnance Survey-inspired artwork and then later on with the vinyl release of Ambient Innerland, and it felt natural that it should be developed in this way.
“I put this album together with Nat from Sonic Cathedral and we wanted to hear how the different atmospheres of the tracks were reinterpreted by artists with varying cultural and geographical mindsets. It’s exciting to find out what someone else hears in your music and I love how New Routes… works. It’s like it starts off at the same point as the main album and then jumps back and forth between dimensions, occasionally hinting at the originals before soaring off once again. A massive thank you to all of the artists who contributed; everyone who we hoped would work on it did; it all came together very easily.”
However, the international theme, which takes in remixers from Germany, Poland and the United States, wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision, more of a case of praxis makes perfect. “It was mainly due to the fact that these eight artists were the ones we felt would be the most interesting from a musical point of view,” admits Mark, “but economic and identity crises are constantly repeating global themes and to not explore and compare ideas at this stage in history I think would be a wasted opportunity.”
He doesn’t explicitly mention the 2016 referendum which saw the hometown that largely inspired Innerland turn in a vote that was 63.9 per cent in favour of the Leave campaign, but it’s clear that the looming shadow of Brexit made its mark on both the original and reworked versions of Innerland. Because it is wordless, it is clearly not an explicitly political record, but still very much a product of its times, and the strange mix of personal and political feelings that Mark’s return to Wigan stirred up.
“Something just struck me upon my return to my hometown,” he explains. “Some of the titles on the record are actually the old names for places that are close to being forgotten and are in a state of decline. To some degree, there’s a lack of pride in our local heritage and this seems completely out of step with contemporary themes of ownership and supposed national pride.”
But why did such an introspective record appeal to so many people? Perhaps because something so escapist and evocative of open spaces is a panacea for the times we are living through.
“The wordless nature of the music and the simple nature of the artwork certainly stimulate interpretations in the minds of the imaginative, I hope,” agrees Mark. “It’s an evocative three-way experience – the song titles, the artwork and the music all kind of merged into a singular, enigmatic oddity. The artwork especially is free of connotation; there’s no mysticism or point of view, it’s just a map. You have to find your own way…”
As for what happens next, Mark says that some solo live shows and a third collaborative album with Ulrich Schnauss are on the horizon. Does this mean he will be leaving Innerland behind for good?
“Not necessarily,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed the Innerland experience. It’s been really liberating for me because I’ve always wanted my music to be seen in this way, as an equal partner with the visual side, and also to use it to explore various themes and ideas. I am open to anything at the moment. The idea of travelling and responding to different spaces with music feels especially appealing.”