Certain personalities leave their marks like earthquakes or tornadoes. They come in, revolutionize what’s going on, woo the zeitgeist, and then leave as quickly as they came. Other influential people work more like glaciers. they dig in slowly, nearly unnoticed, until their mark is made.
Robert Hampson is one of the latter. Hamspon has enjoyed quite a colorful career, even if deliberately behind the scenes most of the time. Throughout the eighties, Robert did time as one-third of the guitar-bending trio Loop. Pictures and band details were obscured and quite often indecipherable. When Loop called it quits at the end of the decade, Robert served a short stint in Godflesh (while Neil and John went on to form The Hair & Skin Trading Company), with whom Loop was touring at the time.
“I was in Godflesh” for about a year,” Robert explains. “I joined not long after the Loop thing was over. I did a few tours with them and played on a few tracks on the Pure (Earache, 1992) album, and that was about it, really. We [Robert and Loop-mate Scott] had already gotten the genesis of the idea of Main underway, so I just thought with Godflesh commitments I wouldn’t have much time to spend on Main.”
Main’s burgeoning stock of releases since their inception doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. “I’m a complete workaholic when it comes to Main, ” Robert says matter-of-factly, and it’s not hard to believe. Their newest double CD, Hz (Beggars Banquet, 1996), is a compilation of the six (count ‘em, six!) EPs they did throughout 1995.
Though still working in layers of guitar, Main’s overall sound is a major departure from Robert’s experiments with Loop. Where Loop’s guitars were up front and recognizable (even if a wall of noise), Main’s are strecthed out and hardly sound like guitars at all. “Eighty to eighty-five percent of it is guitar sounds,” Robert claims, “but they’ve been manipulated and restructured.” Vocals and bass are in the mix as well, but the whole mass of sounds weaves itself into something new and nearly undefinable.
“The way that I structure songs lyrically and stuff is similar (to Loop),” Robert Explains, “but that’s just the way I’ve always written anyway. Really, I can’t say that there’s a lot of Loop in main anymore. I mean apart from the guitars. Main is a lot more free-form. Where Loop was very much about guitar sounds and layers of extreme sounds, with Main, we’ve kind of decommissioned the guitar, taken away all the rock features of it, and tried to utilize a very different approach.”
This approach is what makes Main stand apart from its contemporaries. Rather than just playing riffs or rhythms and building songs, main create huge masses of sound from which to glean their songs. “Generally we pretty much just improvise to a multi-track tape and then we find all the bits that we like — the ones that seem to be going somewhere — and we either take samples form those bits, or restructure the sound and make a new piece out of that. It’s just a process of building and stripping away, really, until we get a layer of sounds that we think we can work with, and then it’s a case of mixing and re-editing and sticking the blocks of sound all together to try and make one thing.”
The ice of Robert Hampson’s glacier-like career shows no signs of melting yet, but when it does, expect there to be a huge dent in the world of guitar.