‘We have always been a band who have thrived on progression,’ states Linger. Those who have been following the Neils Children saga over the past decade, who have seen the progression from Mod-inspired freakbeat to snotty psychedelic punk to a more melodic post-punk sound in recent years, won’t argue with that – but there are always those who crave for the past. ‘Some of our fans have been a bit behind us in terms of how we develop our sound and criticised us for changing our sound, but they don’t understand that if we continued writing 'I Hate Models' type songs four to five years later, we would be criticised for that too. The album is tougher in places, with a much more direct sound.’
‘I Hate Models’, the band’s 2004 commercial peak, has been something of an albatross around Neils Children’s necks, and there’s still the occasional request at their live shows – ignored or mocked, of course, since they’ve gained a reputation as a band dead set against self-nostalgia. Surprising, then, to hear the reappearance in their set last year of a few songs which had long been missing, presumed dead – 2006’s cover of ‘Lucifer Sam’ by Pink Floyd and, most astonishingly, ‘Come Down’, the single that introduced the band to a wider public in 2003, aired at Offset Festival, 2008’s most public outing for the band. Linger explains: ‘I think the way some of the newer songs sound made us re-evaluate some of the older material. We know that the older material is very powerful, but to us as artists, lacks certain elements which we have developed since… I think the fact that we played those songs for years goes some length at helping people realise why we wanted to distance ourselves from them. They are great songs, but the newer songs are even better, and next to some of the tracks from the new album, the older tracks make a lot more sense to us.’
So, with that in mind, the band present X.Enc., due out in March. The title is taken from an experimental sound collage single from the late 1970s – ‘it’s supposed to be interpretive, so people can call it what they want to. We feel it had a mysterious nature to it, but there is also a correct meaning and pronunciation to it... answers on a postcard’. Linger describes it as ‘both a step forward and a look backwards’, and says that the convoluted abandonment of Pop:Aural (originally scheduled for May 2007 and finally officially terminated in March last year) had an important impact on the new project. ‘We realised how we wanted to present our music to people. The fact that we decided against releasing the album helped us look upon the way we had recorded the songs, and have a different approach to the way we recorded X.Enc. We wanted to make the album harder, but not lose the melodic quality to songs which we had developed.’
The track listing is different to that proposed for Pop:Aural, and includes some songs which have been in the live set for a year or more, and some which are yet to be heard. ‘The songs written after Pop:Aural had a much different sound, and we wanted to make a complete sounding album. We knew where we were heading by knowing what we didn’t like about the scrapped album, so it was a case of saving some tracks from that sinking ship, whilst using the album to mainly showcase the new material. It was a balancing act.’
The band seems to have got away with the act so far, managing to write new material, salvage old songs, and record the album in isolation over the course of the year. ‘We can proudly say that X.Enc. was recorded by us and us alone, except for 'Reflective/Surface’, which was recorded in Paris with a producer called Arnaud Bascunana. We recorded the remaining tracks in an industrial unit in Cheshunt, our home town. I mixed the album myself over the course of a week or so. We really benefited by recording in isolation. It added to the tougher sound of the record. It pissed down with rain most days we were recording, and you can hear the rain on the metal doors in some of the quieter bits.’
Just to emphasise this DIY stance, the band decided to release the album themselves as well. They’ve created the Structurally Sound label to put out not only X.Enc and last year’s 'I’m Ill' 7”, but also releases from other bands, possibly including something from Chichester’s Disconcerts, managed by John Linger. But why found your own label when there are hundreds out there already? ‘I guess it was due to the experiences we had with labels in the past,’ explains Linger. ‘We have worked with some great people, and some… not so great. We just wanted to take control of what we released and when we released it. Brandon starting Modern Pop Records [the label owned by Brandon Jacobs, Neils Children drummer, has released music by Strange Idols and Electricity In Our Homes] influenced us as well, and the whole DIY thing is very much a part of our ethos.’
So, with the whole project under the watchful eye of the Children themselves, this time nothing (hopefully) will go wrong, and the world will finally see a full-length Neils Children album. What next? ‘We will be playing shows around the country and also in Japan and Europe. We want to keep releasing new material as it comes, so we don’t become stale and so we keep people up to date with how we are developing our sound. There will be an X.Enc. album launch in London in March... it will be special.’ Details are under wraps, but pencil something in your diary for the 16th. For now Neils Children are keeping themselves busy with have concerts booked in Italy, France, Germany, Wales, and Sheffield. Those who cling to the band’s past might have to revise their views, because Neils Children are doing their best to forge themselves a future. Whether they’ll get the exposure that they’ve skirted so narrowly for so long remains to be seen.