Future Pilot AKA's Sushil K Dade: 'Sound in all its variety will always be my first love'
- David Pollock
- 7 October 2019
Nine years in the making, Future Pilot AKA's new album is a typically diverse and collaborative endeavour. He talks about feeling sick at the prospect of playing live and the joy he takes in stretching time
'Future Pilot AKA has been going longer than the Beatles,' says Sushil K Dade, telling us more about his assertion that the new album Orkestra Digitalis will be his last: at least under his most familiar alias. 'Essentially it's a solo project,' he continues. 'How can you split from yourself? It's quite easy, because even though I've been doing solo work, all my albums are collaborative. I've got so much stuff in the archives that once this one's out the way, I can really dip into what's out there. Live stuff, outtakes: maybe it's my incentive to revisit what's available.'
Dade has been a fixture of music made in Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, for more than three decades now, although not always in the most obvious ways. He was a member of the city's only successful baggy-era group The Soup Dragons and David Keenan's mid-90s indie collective Telstar Ponies. In 1996, he released his first single as Future Pilot AKA with a debut album Vs a Galaxy of Sound appearing in 1999, the first of five in total, with the most recent, Secrets from the Clockhouse, appearing in 2007.
'My gosh, I didn't realise it was 12 years, thanks for reminding me,' when I point this out to him (and immediately make apologies). 'No, it's fine. I don't know if you've heard of the Long Now Foundation? It's something Brian Eno's involved in, about the whole concept of time, as we as a human species get so caught up in the idea of wanting to do things in a rush. It imagines a clock which measures in decades or centuries, and that one tick which would normally be a second is, say, ten years. I was quite into that; it excited me, this idea of really slowing things down. It's worth applying it to, not just record making, but how we live as humans.'
Dade is speaking from his car, in a layby near Helensburgh, where he lives with his family. The Indo-Scots musician and producer has pulled in to chat on the way home from work as a programme producer – mostly of jazz shows – for BBC Radio Scotland. 'I'm in love with the sound world in all forms, whether it's broadcasting, radio, podcasts, making music, the sound of nature,' he says with a tangibly wistful air. 'I'm just sitting here in the car park and I can hear the trees rustling; I can see the coast. Sound in all its variety will always be my first love, that will never go away, but I think it's good just to take a wee sidestep. There are so many things in life we want to do. I'm not really up for climbing mountains, but whether it's going sailing or painting or cooking, it's nice to take a moment to pause. What's the point in all this rush, and having to feel obliged to make another record because it's the end of a year.'
In 2010, the end of a year had arrived and Dade did indeed feel like he wanted to make a record. In the few empty days between Christmas and New Year, he hired Le Chunky in Glasgow and went into the studio with a group of musicians to record instrumental tracks which he calls the 'backbone' of Orkestra Digitalis. 'There was no rush,' he says. 'I think some of the musicians were a wee bit upset, because they kept asking, "when's the record coming out?" I told them, "it'll come out, there's no rush".'
Dade's Future Pilot AKA recordings are renowned for their guest lists. In the past, artists such as Philip Glass, Can's Damo Suzuki, The Go-Betweens and Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch have all contributed, with a similarly impressive roster coming together over the past nine years. 'I love these people and their music has inspired me for years,' says Dade. 'It's a thrill to have them take part. Robert Wyatt, for example, was a postal collaboration, started as just a series of postcard exchanges; initially he wasn't available to record, but four years passed and I thought, "ach, I'll write to him again". Then another few months passed and something arrived in my postbox: a cassette from Robert Wyatt!'
This is what makes the theory about time-stretching interesting to Dade. 'Imagine if you had a fixed window of, I don't know, six months to get it done? It would be quite stressful. You never know who you might stumble across. [The Ethiopian jazz musician] Mulatu Astatke had never sung before, so I just explained the piece to him, and he sang a refrain. This was face-to-face, and he was like a wee boy in a sweet shop: "yes, I've been singing!" Robert's piece inspired a whole backing track, but with Mulatu's, I'd already finished the track but wasn't able to play him it, so both were quite opposite. And from what you might think is the end, you realise is a starting point. What RM Hubbert sent me was so lovely that I completely erased my backing track, which revealed his pure solo guitar playing.'
It can't be understated how much of a coup it is for Dade to have revered names like Wyatt and Astatke on his album, with other well-known guest artists including Emma Pollock, Ron Sexsmith and Mairi Campbell, as well as Dade's wife Vinita singing in Punjabi. As with his means of recording, the way the album was initially released was also unconventional: in a series of single-track CDs hidden amid the landscape and found by fans through clues delivered on Facebook.
'It was a thrill,' says Dade, who timed the delivery of each package with family days out. 'Doing it this way was all about seeking out music a bit more; in the old days you would browse through record stores, and I guess in the modern age you just flick through Spotify or whatever. That's maybe slightly old-fashioned, but I was hoping people would seek out and interact with nature, and have fun trying to find a piece of unique sound art that was hidden in the elements. The natural conclusion after that was to bring them all together in a one-off edition: a picnic hamper. I hid that quite near where I am now actually, abandoned in a bus stop near Faslane. When it was found I felt the mission had been completed, but then the musicians asked again, "when can we hear this?" Four years later, here we are.'
Dade says he's happy if he never plays live again, saying that the illness he feels when thinking about it may be a form of stage fright. 'There will always be projects but they just probably won't be billed as Future Pilot AKA. Right now I'm hearing a project in my mind, even as I'm speaking to you – I'd love to do a project with no instruments on it, just purely sound; I know this might sound a bit trippy, but leaves on trees or water. I guess we find ourselves in a situation where we're devoid of any industry, devoid of possible airplay or listeners, so you're just making sound paintings for yourself. There will always be ideas. I remember making one of my first recordings on a four-track with my wee nephew who was about three, and we were recording things like washing machines and domestic sounds. I found that quite exciting. Who needs melody? I'm joking: I love pop music, of course I do. But it's nice to hear things outwith any format or context.'
Orkestra Digitalis by Future Pilot AKA is out now on Glass Modern.