Prison Behaviour, the solo project of Mark Greenwood, has a lockdown EP – Snake Fever – due for release next week. We decided a chat was in order. It took an unexpected twist.
His pedigree is impressive, but perhaps it’s his solo work that grabs more. It may be of a less immediate popular appeal, but that is perhaps why it deserves spending some time exploring. Experimental and pop-infused at the same time, Prison Behaviour is a class act, especially when consumed live.
There’s a new EP, Snake Fever, due on 5 February.
So, we were keen to see what Mark had to say in advance of the release.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Mark: I’m at home, as you’d expect. In St Michaels (Liverpool), where I’ve been for 10 years, now. So, I think I’ve passed my scouser authentication process by now.
P3dro: Tell us a bit about the Prison Behaviour project. What was the idea behind it?
Mark: I was in a band called Cavalier Song, basically doing spoken word stuff with them over a kind of experimental rock music. We were signed with God Unknown Records and the band went for a few years and we toured a bit, but the band kind of imploded.
So, I made a decision then to carry on with my own project, Prison Behaviour. It came from this desire to sing. Whenever I tried to sing with Cavalier Song, they said they didn’t want that, they just wanted spoken word.
But I’d found the kind of music I was working with leant itself to a more melodic approach. So, the first thing I did when I started Prison Behaviour was to start trying to sing. And I also tried to write songs that had a bit more of a poppy hook, although there’s still the kind of experimental approach that I’m using. It’s still very punk and DIY in its style, but much more arranged around a pop template, if you like.
So, it was a kind of response to that, really. I still do a lot of spoken word. I work with the a.P.A.t.T guys and have done a few collaborations with them. I’ve had a few commissions to do spoken word stuff, but Prison Behaviour is more of a vehicle to write pop songs.
But also while trying to maintain some kind of gritty, industrial, punk aesthetic.
P3dro: Yeah, you’re not exactly Radio 1 kind of material.
Mark: No, definitely not! I don’t think I ever could be, although I have had attempts to do that in the past. I played bass in Dubstar before they got big. I was thrown out and replaced by a synthesizer.
I think that was probably my most unsuccessful attempt at getting played on Radio 1.
P3dro: Who would you cite as your influences for Prison Behaviour?
Mark: Erm. I listen to so much music. Jazz, classical. I love 20th century experimental music, so people like Stravinsky, Shostakovich, esoteric Russian composers. But, I suppose the most direct [influences] would be people like Suicide, lo-fi DIY stuff, early Kraftwerk, early Tangerine Dream. I’m fascinated by a lot of early psych prog as well. But, I’ve always been a punk, since I was nine years old.
I’m fascinated by 70’s punk. But for my job, I drive around the city at night, delivering medication to care homes and I listen to Greatest Hits Radio, because that’s the only thing I can access in the van. So, I listen to a lot of 80’s pop, which is great for driving to, but it also allows me to pick up on those early post punk, synth bands like Human League, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, that kind of genre, I really love.
But I tend to just let the machines I use dictate the sounds. I use a couple of synthesizers, drum machines and they kind of dictate the sound in a way. It’s quite restrictive, the studio I’ve got, it’s in the house, but I like working within those restrictions.
Inevitably there’s this late 1970s, early 1980s, synth pop kind of sound.
P3dro: We saw from the credits on the last album that you had Chrissy Connor [Lonesaw] playing sax.
Mark: Yeah, that’s right. Before the pandemic kicked in SPINE were doing a lot of events and I’d played live with them a couple of times. I’d just run into them at other peoples’ gigs and I’d heard Chrissy playing sax. I had written a song called ‘Tunnels’, which was an instrumental. My producer said it would be great to have some brass on the track.
I actually have a trumpet, so I started making a bit of noise with that, but it just sounded rubbish. So, I knew Chrissy was interested in the more experimental stuff, so I asked him. I went to down to their studio in the Dingle and recorded him improvising around the chords.
SPINE have been very supportive and there’s a hope the next Prison Behaviour album could be released on the SPINE label.
That would be great, because I’m terrible at the dissemination and distribution [of my music]. I’m not that fond of the promotion side of things. So, I’m happy for someone else to take the reins on that kind of activity.
I’m just happy to be involved with them. It’s hard doing things on your own, especially with this kind of music. Trying to find a context for it is something I’ve struggled with for years.
P3dro: What do you have set up at home? How easy is it for you to write and record?
Mark: It’s really easy. I’ve got a portable recording studio upstairs, I’ve got a bunch of keyboards, drum machines and samplers. It’s pretty congested in there and kind of messy, but I can go and escape up there, and lock myself in for hours.
I like recording stuff real time. I’ve never been the world’s greatest musician. I’ve played bass and guitar in various bands, but now, playing keyboards, that I’ve had to learn from scratch in the past two or three years, I kind of insist on learning all the keyboard parts and playing them live as if I were in a band.
Rather than using editing software, where I can add or take away bits, I try and get that live feel. And I think that improves my playing and makes the songs [better]. It gives it that human touch. Working with machines and sequencers sometimes means the music can come across as being a bit cold, so I try and re-input that human element.
P3dro: There’s the new EP coming out on 5 February. How was the writing and recording process for that over the last few months?
Mark: Yeah, it got quite complicated. The songs came really easily. But then I went out on a drinking session with my producer on Smithdown Road and then Lark Lane and we got completely inebriated. I didn’t know at the time, but I had an abscess in my mouth coming up, so I was drinking to try and control the pain of it.
I ended up completely drunk, smashed my phone, falling over a few times. So the next day I went to the dentist in this horrible, horrible hungover state where they removed a tooth and then put me on some antibiotics. They put me in this weird halucinatory dimension that was really unpleasant.
In order to distract myself I dived straight into the songs that form the EP. They have an almost morphine kind of edge to them that was brought on by the medication. So recording the demos was easy, but we got into a never ending cycle of editing and [changing bits]. In the end I went back to the original demos, but with the whole pandemic thing the process kept getting interrupted, over and over again.
It got really long winded and went on for much longer than I had wanted. So it’s a real relief to get the stuff out there and I can start working on new stuff.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.
Mark: Oh, don’t do this to me! But I would definitely suggest listening to any of the Lonesaw stuff you can get your hands on. I’ve also been listening a lot to Luke Mawdsley’s work on Maple Death Records. His last album – Vulgar Displays of Affection – was brilliant.
I also recommend Claire Welles. Her stuff is fantastic.