"Loop is not a permanent reunion": DiS meets Robert Hampson of Loop
Formed by Robert Hampson (vocals/guitar) in South London in 1986, Loop were one of the first bands to introduce psychedelic and drone rock elements to the post-punk era. Influencing numerous bands right through to the present day, they've become one of the most reverentially esteemed bands to emerge from the UK's independent scene. Their first single release, '16 Dreams', came out in the early part of 1987 on the band's own Head label. A second 45, 'Spinning' was released in the summer of that year followed by acclaimed debut album Heaven's End. Around this period several personnel changes ensued; early members including then-guitarist James Endeacott - since known for signing The Libertines to Rough Trade and founding 1965 Records - culminating in the band arriving at the line-up (Hampson, Neil Mackay on bass, John Wills on drums and later Scott Dowson also on guitar) that would carry them through until their split in 1991.
Now, almost twenty-three years on, they've reformed. Their first show will be at London's Netil House on 18th November, followed by four dates in Italy before appearing as Saturday's curators of the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties weekender at Camber Sands twelve days later. With rehearsals in full swing, DiS managed to drag Robert Hampson away from the studio for half an hour to talk about all things past, present and future in the world of Loop.
DiS: What persuaded you to reform Loop?
Robert Hampson: Even though I hadn't been thinking about it for quite a while there were a lot of people talking around the subject and asking about the possibilities of Loop reforming. In the end, I'd got to the point where I felt like I wanted to do it again. There were always some nagging issues with the way it ended first time around. And with a lot of people talking about it I just came to the conclusion that this was the right time to do it. If ever there was going to be a time it was now. It's not going to be a permanent thing. I've stated very obviously that it's not going to be forever. We're just gonna come back and play some shows, play some festivals, enjoy ourselves a little bit and put it to rest in a nicer way than it actually ended the first time around.
DiS: So there are no plans to record any new material?
Robert Hampson: As it stands right now, no. Never say never, but at the moment we're just focusing on playing the live shows. We'll see what happens but it isn't on the agenda just yet. We might change our minds but right now it's purely concentrated on the shows.
DiS: With the abrupt way it ended first time round, is this a case of unfinished business?
Robert Hampson: Possibly. For ourselves I think. To be a little bit selfish about things it's a nicer way for us to end because it was a little bit messy the time before. It's a good way of settling it even though it's taken a long time. This time around we're enjoying doing it for what it is, giving the people that did enjoy our music the chance to come and see us before we disappear again.
DiS: The reformed line-up is the one which recorded A Gilded Eternity. Do you see that as being the most definitive Loop line-up?
Robert Hampson: It was definitely the most stable. I think other people do. The line-up of myself, John (Wills, drums) and Neil (MacKay, bass) was the one that made Fade Out as well. At that stage we were going through transitional periods with other guitar players, and it was the same with A Gilded Eternity. Scott (Dowson, guitar) joined just after that, so I guess it was the most stable line-up with the nucleus of myself, John and Neil and then with the added guitarist for live shows. So from that aspect it made sense to go back to the quintessential Loop line-up.
DiS: Will you just be playing material from Fade Out onwards or will you be going as far back as Heaven's End and the singles that preceded it?
Robert Hampson: We'll be doing bits of everything. We're covering the whole range of Loop's career so we'll be going right back to the start, and also the very end!
DiS: Are there any songs which you won't be playing?
Robert Hampson: There are a few, but mainly because we've only got a certain amount of time. We're in rehearsals at the minute. The easiest thing for us was to design a set that combines a bit of everything so obviously some things will get left out. Some songs we never actually played live anyway so that makes it a little bit easier. Hopefully we'll keep people happy by playing a good cross section of Loop's material. It will vary from show to show as well. We're not going to play the same set every night. None of us want to do that. We're rehearsing enough material to have a good variation in sets each night.
DiS: How many songs have you rehearsed so far?
Robert Hampson: I think we're on about twenty at the moment. There's some of the singles, then bits from Heaven's End, Fade Out and A Gilded Eternity, plus a few other bits and pieces in between.
DiS: Looking back at all of the band's releases, which are you most proud of?
Robert Hampson: I'm proud of them all because each one means something to me from a different period of time. I don't have any favourites, but if I was to say which one satisfies me the most I would probably say A Gilded Eternity. The others were all recorded very quickly, and it's always a case of when you think you've done it well you could have possibly made it better if we'd had that extra bit of time.
DiS: When I listen to Loop's back catalogue in chronological order, starting with The World In Your Eyes compilation all the way through to A Gilded Eternity, every subsequent release seemed like a natural progression, which seems to be the case with Main as well. Is that something you've always been conscious of when making music?
Robert Hampson: Definitely. From a personal level I've always wanted to move forward. That's my raison d'être. I always want to stand my ground. I like to move forward. And that goes for the music I make as a solo artist as well. If you don't feel you've made a progression I can only see that as being static or moving backwards. And I don't really care for that. Whether it's successful or not in other people's ears is a different matter, but that's my working ethic for sure.
DiS: Quite a lot of current bands cite Loop as an influence. Are there any which you're particularly fond of?
Robert Hampson: I couldn't tell you. In all honesty I don't really listen out for things like that. Even when people point these things out to me I try not to pay too much attention to it. I'd rather judge a band on their own merits. For me to approach music in that way already creates a rift between what you're trying to listen to and what the objectives of the artist are really. We can all knowingly smile at times and say we've heard that before but not everybody should be a critic. We should all move on in our own way. If someone ever tells me they're influenced by Loop or were great fans of the band that's always very endearing. I'm gratefully happy to hear things like that. I think people purposefully look out far too much for influences in things. It can destroy the impetus of what the artist was trying to do, even in their own naivety perhaps. And everyone deserves to be given a bit of a break.
DiS: I was listening to The Field Mice cover of 'Burning World' the other day, which again illustrates how far and wide your influence has spread, even back when the band were going first time around. Have you heard it?
Robert Hampson: Funnily enough, I only heard it for the first time quite recently, and that's because I've become friends with Bob Wratten over the past few years. I didn't really know him back then. And even then, I came across it purely by accident! He didn't even tell me himself that he'd recorded a version with The Field Mice in 1991, so that was quite funny to hear something that had been done so long ago. And also quite unusual for a band like The Field Mice to be covering us I suppose!
DiS: I guess that also highlights how Loop didn't fit into one specific genre.
Robert Hampson: I don't like categories. I don't like the way that everyone is always trying to pigeonhole or label groups. There should be more of a free spirit about things. I don't like it when people try and make a scene out of something. I find it all a bit narrow minded really. Why do we always have to categorise bands as being part of something? I suppose you could argue it makes life easier for music journalists and critics to express something but it also marginalises everything. I guess it can also make people go and check a certain band out if the description is interesting to them, but at the same time it also cheapens everything a little bit. You can't win. No one's ever going to make everybody happy all of the time. All you can ever hope for as a musician or artist is that everything is taken on its own merits, and that people literally take it for what it is.
DiS: You've been asked to curate the final ATP at Camber Sands at the end of November. How did that come about?
Robert Hampson: Well, purely because ATP had been haranguing me for ages to reform Loop. I guess that was one of their carrots to dangle in front of me. Reform the band and you can curate one of our events.
DiS: When was the first time ATP asked you to reform Loop?
Robert Hampson: A while ago. To be honest, I've lost count of the amount of times ATP and other people have asked. It's twenty-three years now. Someone actually asked me to reform Loop two weeks after we'd split up, which is a bit of a record I guess, and it's been like that for a very long time ever since. I've a always cracked the joke that if I was given £1 for every time I was asked to reform Loop I wouldn't need to reform them!
DiS: Which bands on the ATP bill are you looking forward to seeing?
Robert Hampson: All the ones who've been curated on our day for sure. It's no secret that I've always been a big fan of The Pop Group and 23 Skidoo. I'm a fan of every band that's on our day - we've only curated the Saturday - so I'm really happy that they all agreed to play. To me, all of the bands on this bill are equal. I know you have to curate it so there are headliners and stuff but to me, if I was a fan I'd want to see the whole line-up and just treat it as a great day of music. That's not to cheapen the other days with Slint, Mogwai and all the other bands who are playing. It's a great festival. One thing that was important to us when curating our day was that we didn't just choose rock bands. To have 23 Skidoo playing is just amazing. I'm so happy they agreed to do it. I was a huge fan of theirs back in the day, so for them to reform is particularly interesting to me.
DiS: And it's great to see new bands on the bill like Hookworms and The KVB too.
Robert Hampson: Absolutely. The KVB are supporting us on the rest of our UK tour as well. I love White Fence. I like them all. If I didn't they wouldn't be there, that's all I can say. But I like a lot of the bands who are playing on the other days as well. I hope for a lot of people they see it as one of the more interesting ATPs. I don't think anybody would mind me saying that. It's a little more eclectic than normal I think.
DiS: Will there be a full UK tour?
Robert Hampson: I hope so. Next year. I'd imagine we'll be playing bigger venues. This one's very low-key. We're just trying to find our feet again. We haven't played together for twenty-three years. It's all very well rehearsing but you don't really get your chops until you're back on stage. It's nice for us just to edge ourselves back in a little gently and see how it goes. There's plans for a lot bigger things next year.
DiS: Are you surprised at the response to the band's reformation so far? In some circles, Loop are held in the same reverential esteem as the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Ride for example.
Robert Hampson: But we don't sell as many tickets! Or records! It's just nice to be held in such high high esteem. It would be arrogant to say I expected it so from that perspective it is a nice surprise to see such a positive response. But then at the same time, people have been asking us to reform for so long it is like the interest never went away, and then just got me into a corner and made me say yes. But that's a nice thing. That's OK. I'm filled with trepidation about it. I'm a little bit nervous about it as anyone would after such a long time of not doing something. We're a little bit nervous as to how people are gonna see this. All I can say is I hope we're as good live now as we used to be.
DiS: I did actually see Loop at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic with Godflesh in 1990 and can honestly say up to that point it was the loudest gig I'd ever seen! In fact, I'm pretty sure you blew the speakers and caused a power cut that evening.
Robert Hampson: (laughs) We used to have a reputation for blowing sound systems so hopefully we can keep that going!
DiS: Will you continue to make music as Main and under your solo guise and is John Wills continuing with his Pumajaw project?
Robert Hampson: I believe so. I'm not going to stop making my own records. I've plans for a new release which will be out on Editions Mego early next year. I'm also hoping to record another Main album soon and I know John is hoping to do the same with Pumajaw, so even though we're taking a backseat with our normal projects for Loop it's only for a limited period of time. Loop is not a permanent reunion. It's only for approximately a year, and then we'll all just grow old gracefully and go away again.
DiS: Finally, psychedelic rock or "psych" as it's come to be known appears to be enjoying something of a resurgence at present. What do you make of it all?
Robert Hampson: I honestly don't know much about it. I guess what goes around comes around. Sometimes it takes a bit longer, but there's nothing new under the sun.
Loop play the following UK shows.
18 London Netil House
30 Camber Sands All Tomorrow's Parties
2 Bristol Fleece
3 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
4 Edinburgh Liquid Rooms
5 Brighton Concorde 2
For more information visit their official website.