Popular music has always had a curiously close, if somewhat hidden, link with journeying. From Kraftwerk’s Autobahn to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, the motion, discovery of the new, and occasional frustrations have frequently provided artists with creative impetus. One such artist is 24-year-old Canadian Mike Silver, known as CFCF.
Silver’s brilliant new album Outside – his second full-length – was mostly conceived and written on lengthy coach and train trips between Montreal, Toronto, and New York. The record comes hot on the trail of the musician’s recently-released 8-track instrumental suite Music for Objects, and its potent mix of arpeggiating synthesizers, ambient washes, and cooing vocals brings to mind the kind of sweeping, epic journeys that he endured. Silver details his account of making the album, from conception to finished piece:
“Outside was in the works for about three years or so. When I began writing the album, in 2010, it was soon after my first record Continent had come out. I guess that, during that time, I was feeling a bit pigeonholed and frustrated with being labelled as a house DJ - it was never my goal to just do beat-orientated music. Outside started as a conscious effort to break out of that, to devote myself to making ‘songs’, and to broaden what I was doing.
I was travelling a lot during this period. At the time I had a girlfriend who lived in Toronto, so I’d constantly be going there from Montreal. I’d often go to New York for work too – I’d DJ in clubs and stuff. I’d take the train ride from Montreal to New York so often that I quickly ended up feeling like a veteran of the route. The reality of the trips was that, for the most part, they’re horribly monotonous. But there would sometimes be these periods where I’d just get transfixed by the changing landscape and lose myself.
Seeing it all roll by provided me with a drive; some weird fullness of spirit that encouraged me to stop listening to other people’s music
It’d be the same with the buses. On the bus, when you drive to, or from, New York and Montreal, you go through the Adirondack area, where you see these beautiful rolling mountains and a lot of thick forest. Seeing it all roll by provided me with a drive; some weird fullness of spirit that encouraged me to stop listening to other people’s music on the journeys and actually work on some of my own.
The Adirondack also inspired a lot of the themes on the album. When I was journeying, I’d be watching this beautiful scenery and would have this yearning to be outside and to be able to escape from concerns and stuff. I’d get so frustrated that I couldn’t be out there; that I had the train separating me from this kind of escapism.
A large part of the sounds on the record came from my trying to find tones that connoted or represented aspects of nature
I started demoing what would become Outside on my laptop, during my travels. A large part of the sounds on the record came from my trying to find tones that connoted or represented aspects of nature. Listening to Kate Bush’s The Sensual World and Peter Gabriel’s Security inspired me in that sense. Those records have an ability to convey different aspects of the world and nature. Particularly on Gabriel’s Security - he’s got all of these evocative sounds that take you straight there. It takes you to a version of the world that doesn’t really exist; somewhere you can escape to; some place that exists in a weird kind of twilight.
I’m particularly proud of the track Feeling, Holding. Ironically, thematically it’s different to the rest of the album – it’s the only song about the comfort of interacting with other people and inviting them into your life, so you can make a new world with them. It’s a gentle song compared to a lot of the others. It’s about feeling happy and content in a way that the rest of the album isn’t really about.
I guess that, subsequent to having finished the LP, issues of escapism are less pressing for me. I’m not so sad that I can’t just run off and lose touch with reality, in some big woodland somewhere. Maybe it’s because I’m in a better place in my life.”