Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

“The most important thing you can work with is silence.” Mark Hollis died five years ago

February 25 marks the 5th anniversary of his death. On this occasion, we remind you what the career of the creator of such hits as has looked like over the years “It’s My Life” Whether “Life’s What You Make It”.

It is impossible not to mention the beginnings of Mark Hollis’s career without the most important decision in his life – quitting psychology studies. “It was really boring. Most of the material I was learning was nothing like what I expected,” he said in a 1983 interview with Kim Magazine. Working in the laboratory didn’t help either. “I couldn’t wait to get home and start writing lyrics and songs. Throughout the day, I wrote down ideas on paper and just waited for the moment when I could record them on tape,” he continued.

This need to express itself led to the uprising The Reaction, Hollis’ first group, which recorded its first demo in 1977. It existed for only two years, leaving behind the singles “Talk Talk Talk Talk” and “I Can’t Resist” and a demo available on the Internet containing early versions of Talk Talk songs such as “Have You Heard The News”, “Mirror Man “, “Candy” or “Renee”.

Exactly – TalkTalk. The group was created somewhat by accident. Ed Hollis, Mark’s brother and manager of several punk and pop bands, took the demo to the owners of Island Records. Intrigued by the songs’ potential, they paid for a recording session. Guitars were completely removed from the demo versions in favor of the then modern synthesizer sounds, and session musicians were co-opted into Hollis: Simon Brenner on keyboards, Paul Webb on bass and Lee Harris on drums. They quickly became full members of the band, and what was originally intended to be Hollis’ solo album turned into Talk Talk. The demo itself attracted particular interest from EMI, which signed a contract with the group. It resulted in the release of the band’s debut in 1982 “The Party’s Over”.

This is an album perfectly suited to the times in which it was created. At that time, Duran Duran was at the peak of its career after the release of the album “Rio”, and the synthesizer sounds and the band’s name composed of two identical words only encouraged comparisons and imposing the label of another new romantic group.

The successor, the much more popular “It’s My Life”, released two years later, was still in line with the sounds of the 80s, but allowed for slightly more organic sounds. He was the originator of the direction Tim Friese-Green – the group’s new producer, who also replaced Brenner on keyboards. From then on, Talk Talk’s songs were entirely the result of his collaboration with Hollis. Tim Friese-Greene himself, although today inextricably associated with the band and its greatest artistic successes, never became its official member.

Talk Talk’s biggest commercial success was of course “The Color of Spring” from 1986, promoted by hits such as: “Life’s What You Make It” and “Living in Another World”. This is something that shifts the group’s genre horizon from synth-pop to full-throated progressive art-pop. The songs were arranged much richer, there were no synthesizer sounds here, and the musicians focused on live instruments, finally bringing guitars back into favor. Although Peter Gabriel’s “So” and Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” are hardly detached from what was happening on stage, their sound definitely seems to be the most timeless of the group’s works so far.

The absolute peak of Talk Talk’s career was the band’s concert during the Montreux Jazz Festival, released years later on DVD, which was an element promoting the “The Color of Spring” tour. This moment revealed much more about the inspiration of jazz, especially improvised jazz, which Hollis has often talked about in interviews. And these seem crucial in the context of his further work.

This is where the most interesting thing happens. Encouraged by the success of “The Color of Spring”, EMI gave Hollis and company an almost unlimited budget to record a follow-up. What the label received had nothing to do with its hit predecessor. “Spirit of Eden” was a quiet, introspective album, largely devoid of song structures. This was due to the nature of the work on this album – the musicians from Talk Talk invited the musicians to the almost dark studio rooms in Wessex and had them record parts, encouraging them to endless improvisations.

Like it or not, with this work philosophy, most of the recordings ended up in the trash, often very logistically expensive, such as recording the first version of choirs for “I Don’t Believe In You”. “It was difficult to determine what we were doing because most of the creative process was a process of elimination. We knew better what we didn’t want than what we wanted,” said Paul Webb, better known today by his pseudonym Rustin Man, who left the group shortly after finishing work on “Spirit of Eden”.

EMI especially did not know how to deal with the new album of the former chart winners. The leader of Talk Talk refused to play concerts, considering the material to be extremely non-concert. Only one music video for the song was created “I Believe In You”, which shows Hollis sitting in a chair and playing the guitar. The musician began to criticize the image itself shortly after the filming was completed. “This song means so much to me that it’s incredibly stupid to sit there and play it. I felt like I was prostituting myself,” he told International Musican and Recording World magazine.

Tense relations between Talk Talk and EMI led to court battles that freed the musicians from their contract. The group signed with Polydor Records, gaining assurance of full artistic independence. This is how it began to be born “Laughing Stock” – an album that concludes the history of Talk Talk.

As many as 50 musicians were invited to cooperate, but due to elimination, only 18 of them were used. “Removing 80% of the material requires a lot of discipline. Few artists have the courage to do such a thing,” the sound engineer recalled years later when working on the album. Phil Brown. The creative philosophy was not much different from that used in its predecessor. Darkened studio rooms, introducing invited musicians only to the basic chord structure of individual songs and encouraging them to improvise.

With such a rich set of sounds, it was possible to create an even more intimate track than “Spirit of Eden”, bringing the minimalism of its predecessor to perfection. The best proof of this is the guitar solo on one note in the song “After The Flood”. “The most important thing you can work with is silence…” Hollis told Vox in 1991. Although the quote most associated with the creator is: “Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note. And don’t play another note until you find a real reason to do it.”

The recording of “Laughing Stock” was so mentally exhausting that Hollis could not recover for a long time after finishing work on the album. He himself wasn’t a fan of the “Laughing Stock” story. When asked by a “Melody Maker” journalist who started the interview with the words “So the album is…”, he simply replied: “It is what it is”. The musician hid himself in the countryside near London for several years, only to return unexpectedly in 1998.

Interestingly, the last album by Mark Hollis, when sending promotional CDs to the editors, was signed as another Talk Talk album called “Mountains of the Moon”. The album itself was an epitaph for the album work of the Briton, who decided to focus entirely on his family. “I can’t tour and be a good father at the same time,” he said, even though he played his last tour 12 years earlier. He did not hide the fact that the last album in his career, although prepared with the care of its predecessors and constituting their obvious continuation, was also a release from his publishing contract.

“I can’t imagine not playing music, but I don’t feel the need to play it and I don’t feel the need to record it. I’m really happy that I can play one note and hit it at different volumes to see how long it resonates before it will stop,” he said in his last television interview for Danish television in 1998.

Over the following years, Mark Hollis appeared rarely and reluctantly. He officially co-produced and played in two songs on the album “Smiling & Waving” by Anja Garbarek, in which you can immediately hear the influence of the late Talk Talk. Less officially, he contributed to the album “AV 1” by Dave Allison and the previously mentioned Phil Brown with an over 14-minute piano piece in the spirit of minimalism, performing under the pseudonym John Cope. We could also hear him on the debut of the trip-hop group UNKLE, but ultimately he decided to keep his creative contribution to the song “Chaos” anonymous.

However, other musicians have not forgotten about Mark Hollis. Radiohead and Slowdive directly referred to the legacy of Talk Talk, and covers of “It’s My Life” by No Doubt and “Life’s What You Make It” by Placebo successfully conquered the charts already in the 21st century.

In 2004, Hollis made a surprise final public appearance to receive the Broadcast Music Inc. Award. for “It’s My Life”, written 20 years earlier. However, the last manifestation of his work was a number created for the American television series “Boss” in 2012. It lasted only 55 seconds and its appearance was as unexpected as the musician’s death. Mark Hollis died February 25, 2018 from cancer at the age of 64. Away from the spotlight – just as he preferred.