For an artist that offers sound as shelter, known for his warm rhythms and creating gentle abodes through song,

Bibio

has managed to remain impressively unpredictable throughout his career.

Ever since his breakthrough with Ambivalence Avenue, Stephen Wilkinson has continued to charmingly challenge and surprise his listeners, from the long-gestating ambient purity of Phantom Brickworks right up to his latest effort, this year's Ribbons.

Bursting more than ever before in Wilkinson's career with elements of folk, with an energy and feeling all its own, it stands among the very best of Bibio's work to date. To celebrate recent strides regarding the record, we linked up with the man himself for a reflection on the album, his career overall, and much more. Check it out below.

You’ve gone down a lot of avenues (no dull pun intended) in your recording career, despite Ambivalence Avenue being slapped with a folktronica tag (among others), I wouldn’t have expected the sound you’ve developed here on Ribbons. What inspired you to go in this direction?

Oh folktronica, I wish that word was buried… It doesn’t feel like a new direction for me, it’s more a combination of a continuation of something I’ve been doing for years, revisiting some older ideas, forms and techniques but bringing them out with more experience, maturity and of course adding new elements to all of it.

Especially after Phantom Brickworks being “truly” ambient, it’s quite a turn, were you thinking of these kind of sounds during the making of that project, or did all this transpire afterwards? Essentially, what brought you from there to here?

Phantom Brickworks was going on for a period of over 10 years, so I started it before Ambivalence Avenue, in fact it started before I was signed to Warp. It’s seeped into my releases in places over the years, some excerpts from those earlier Phantom Brickworks sessions can be heard here and there on my Warp releases, listen to the end of ‘Abrasion’ for example, or the opening of ‘A Thousand Syllables’ - that’s Phantom Brickworks before the Phantom Brickworks album was finished, in fact the title track ‘Phantom Brickworks’ was part of the soundtrack to Jason Reitman’s ‘Men, Women and Children’ from 2014. What my audience hear and how and when they hear it is very different to how I perceive my catalogue and my archive, because from my perspective it’s all one big flux of music making, where all of the different styles happen side by side and sometimes merge. The creation of albums and EPs are the careful compiling of select pieces to make something that feels like a journey.

Are you interested (or planning) to delve back into ambient in the future?

It’s all part of the flux I mentioned, I’m already doing it, it’s something that’s happening all the time, it was happening 20 years ago and is something I’ve always done. Admittedly, it took some convincing to get Warp to put out Phantom Brickworks, as ambient albums can be hard to sell. I was quite aware of this, but it was really important to me as an artist to flaunt that side of what I do because I spend a large amount of time listening to that aspect of what I create as well as making it. I’m very passionate about all of my music and I wanted people to hear it. So yes, there will be more ambient music in future, I can’t say when, it might be a very long time off before I release another whole album of it, despite already having enough ambient stuff in my archives to release 10 ambient albums.

What were you listening to during recording?

During Ribbons? I mostly listen to 50s and 60s Jazz at home, but I don’t feel like that is an influence, not on this album anyway. In the past few years I’ve been listening to J.S. Bach a lot, particularly the Cello Suites, in the last year I’ve been listening to Kevin Burke & Micheal O’Domhnail and The Bothy Band, mostly as I took an interest in playing mandolin and violin.

Are you a fan of Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece? I don’t seem to see other writers connecting it with Ribbons, but I got shades of that record in listening to this one.

I’ve never heard it, so can’t comment.

What inspired the artwork? It’s an interestingly surreal image to choose to represent what I might call an “earthier” recording.

It just came to me one night when I couldn’t sleep. There was some experimentation during the process, so it evolved a bit from the original idea.

Ribbons, to me, exists in this curious, nearly uncategorizable world between the past and present, the guitar tones and general vibe take me back to Veedon Fleece or 60’s type vibes, and yet the electronic layers and so on look to the future, was this a conscious feeling you sought out, or just how what you wanted to ‘say’ ended up feeling?

As I work alone, there is no dialogue for the way I work, I’m conscious of what I do and I have ideas and plans of course, but it’s wordless, if I was working with another musician, then there’d be dialogue, so there might be more that’s put into words. Even with the technical and scientific side, it’s a thought process of a chain of events or a chain of ideas, how to connect certain things together to achieve a certain result. When it comes to interviews, I don’t always have the answers because I haven’t thought it about it in words. I could talk all day about gear and studio techniques, but the artistic decisions exist in a way that I find hard to talk about. My artistic ideas manifest into the music and the images I make, I think the result is far deeper and more nuanced than I could put into words.

If it was conscious, how exactly did you go about perfecting such a blend? Of course there have been projects that delve both into the past and present, but the ideas feel so naturally contrasted here. What ideas would come first? I.e. would you play something on guitar and that would in turn inspire things to layer over it, or did you begin with electronic ideas? A vague question I realize, go with it wherever you like!

I think of the different elements as tones, colours, voices etc. I don’t get too bothered about whether they’re electronic or acoustic or what genres they’re associated with, unless I’m latching on to some specific influence that combined specific instruments or tones. I tend to favour organic sounding music, whether it’s acoustic or electronic. There are examples of electronic music that sound very organic and there are examples of acoustic music that are about as organic as brushed aluminium.

I think you showed interesting restraint in allowing your vocals to often live, if you will, ‘behind’, the music, I felt you wanted the instrumentation and sounds to take a front seat to your singing, was that a conscious choice?

It’s just a matter of taste really, and every track is different, the way I mix is just feeling, what sounds good to me, what sounds right. If you start applying rules then it gets boring and formulaic, I allow every track I do to speak back to me and tell me how it should sound, saying I prefer loud vocals or quiet vocals is daft, it always depends on the track. Sometimes that means burying the vocals, other times it means mixing upfront vocals. I remember a friend of mine hearing ‘Feminine Eye’ and commented on the mix (which is very vocal-froward) as sounding like a fisheye lens. I like that analogy.

What was the last great book you read? (and/or) What were you reading during recording?

I don’t really read, hardly ever. I started reading Alan Watts ‘Nature, Man and Woman’ last year but I’m too restless to get stuck into books, I need long flights or train journeys to get into a book but I haven’t done much travelling in the last couple of years, and even when I do, I’m quite happy to listen to music on headphones for 8 hours - and in the case of a train journey - look out of the window.

Where do you think you might go next? Are you more interested in delving further into the sounds of Ribbons or heading somewhere entirely foreign to you?

I’ll just see where my ideas take me, I’m not a very disciplined person, I’m quite messy but I get obsessive about certain things for periods of time, I think these traits combined might explain why my discography is quite eclectic. Right now I want to practice violin and cello more but I’ve been busy with making videos and doing press/promo stuff. I’ve just ordered a modular synth as I’m craving messing around with synthesis more, so at the moment I have some very blurry idea of the future where I’ll be getting into electronic sounds more, but making them very organic. But I won’t force it, I’ll follow my nose, I always have done. I hate deadlines and things like that, they interfere with my creative flow. I need time to play and dream, I’m far more productive that way, I don’t want to cling onto an idea if something new comes along and excites me more.

Just as a personal aside, I spent time living in Korea, and on a trip with my partner at the time to Seoul, and walking down from Seoul tower (a long hike down the mountain) and I played her the record and she (being Korean) hadn’t found all too much Western music that spoke to her, but she absolutely loved it, and it remains one of our strongest memories of the trip, exploring Seoul by night to the tunes. It’s one of precious few records that truly live in a specific place of memory for me. Figured you might appreciate the image.

That’s interesting, I was saying to a friend the other day about looking through royalty statements and seeing where my music and merchandise ends up, I was wondering what Phantom Brickworks sounds like to someone from a tropical island, as I’ve seen sales pop up in some places that are very different to where I’m from. I think globalisation has diluted the power of exoticism somewhat, even though it’s amazing that I can go on YouTube and go down a rabbit hole of listening to something really specific, like 78RPM shellac records from Vietnam. So it’s a blessing, but also makes it less exciting when it’s all within reach. I’m speaking from the viewpoint of a certain generation though, I suppose, because I remember getting really excited about tracking rarities down in the past, before the days of the internet. Sometimes it took pure coincidence, now we’ve got Shazam in our pocket and we can type stuff into search bars.