Comprising of Emma Barson and Dorian Cramm, PROMENADE CINÉMA aim to take their “Cinedramatic Synthpop” to the next level by unleashing some ‘Living Ghosts’ in the shape of their debut long player. Containing their most accomplished song so far in ‘Spotlight’, the excellent gothic synth tune is one of the highlights of ‘Living Ghosts’,
The album also features two expansive widescreen numbers in ‘Credits’ and ‘Norway’; Barson’s forlorn vocals work particularly well on this pair of solemn closers, with the former exuding a wonderful synthetic orchestration around classically flavoured structures and hints of VANGELIS, while the latter conjures up monochromatic Mittel Europa imagery with its glistening array of swirling synths, cascading piano and minimal rhythms in the vein of ULTRAVOX.
The album also features the more direct electro Schaffel of ‘The Quiet Silently Wait’ and the uptempo call-and-response drama of ‘As The World Stops Revolving’. Meanwhile, the new single ‘Polaroid Stranger’ acts as fine darkwave trailer for those curious about PROMENADE CINÉMA.
With their debut album about to be unleashed to the world, Emma Barson and Dorian Cramm kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about their ‘Living Ghosts’…
So how did PROMENADE CINÉMA emerge and what was in your ethos to make things different?
Emma: Being a couple, we are already very familiar with the importance of working well together and compromise! There were always going to be creative differences during the recording of the album as we are both very passionate and driven in terms of musical direction, but we used any differences to our advantage to experiment with different sounds and approaches that wouldn’t be instinctively natural to us – and the results are really exciting!
Dorian: We share a vision to create synthpop with feeling and grandiosity, whilst being accessible enough for listeners with varying musical tastes. Whether you enjoy electro, modern pop, film scores or something a little darker; we think most people will find plenty to enjoy on the upcoming album; ‘Living Ghosts’.
Who are your main influences?
Emma: My musical taste really is a mixed bag, although I’d have to say my biggest influences are the late 70s and early 80s synth pioneers SPARKS, DEPECHE MODE, JOHN FOXX, YAZOO etc, as well as modern acts such as IAMX, MESH, WHITE LIES and LADYTRON. I also have a huge guilty pleasure in the form of the Eurovision Song Contest!
Dorian: The third album by EDITORS was a huge influence for me and inspired me to make the transition from piano to synthesizers. Shortly after this, I finally watched the original ‘Blade Runner’ film and the soundtrack by VANGELIS cemented the idea that I wanted to create music which I felt was both electronic and cinematic.
The Electricity Club was impressed that despite being so young, you knew of cult acts like POEME ELECTRONIQUE?
Emma: My dad brought me up listening to the synth, goth, punk and new wave classics, which has given me a solid background knowledge of particularly obscure artists. To this day, he still regularly discovers new bands and compiles playlists for the car when we visit! ‘I Wouldn’t Change Me For Anyone’ by POEME ELECTRONIQUE was one of my staple tracks when running the ‘Frequency’ synthpop nights in Sheffield and Chester during university. They are a great act.
You decided to rework ‘Words Of A Stranger’ from your time in BERLYN TRILOGY as one of your first recordings as PROMENADE CINÉMA?
Dorian: It was one of the few songs I wanted to pull over from my time in Berlyn. The version we made started life as a remix by Emma. We decided to have her sing it rather than myself, as it helped create a sense that we weren’t just playing a Berlyn song, we were bringing a new dynamic to it which showed the track in a different light. I also felt that it highlighted the fundamental differences between the two bands. We’ve played a few other Berlyn songs in our live set from time to time, but this one feels almost as much of a PROMENADE CINÉMA song as a Berlyn one.
Emma: The creative dynamic is very fluid within the band which is something that we feel really gives us an advantage when songwriting. We don’t have a set approach to composition – Dorian often doodles lyrics on scraps of paper, which are found all over the house, whereas I will sit down with the intention of writing a song.
The lyrics are usually a joint effort when it comes to the final song, but the tell-tale signs of who has taken the lead tend to be in whether there’s a strong rhyming pattern from me or a more abstract structure from Dor.
Dorian: I learned to play the piano at a young age which is a huge advantage when it comes to the body and soul of the songs. Emma is particularly creative in terms of vocal melodies and developing lead riffs. Nevertheless we regularly switch roles throughout the writing process to keep things fresh.
‘Spotlight’ has been your most accomplished track to date, why do you think this one might have grabbed people’s attention.
Emma: Funnily enough, we had been discussing artists with a particularly formulaic approach to songwriting and how this often seemed to result in a popular track. Tongue in cheek, we decided to write a song called ‘The Formula’ with the intention to tick all of those populist boxes which result in a ‘hit’. This then became ‘Spotlight’!
I’m pleased to say that we did make a lot of additions and changes to give it that PROMENADE CINÉMA vibe and complexity and to move away from some of the typical tick boxes, but we do find it somewhat ironic that this ended up being our most popular track to date!
Emma: No idea what you mean 😉
In all seriousness though, it’s not ALL about layers… we both value strong melodies, catchy hooks, sound experimentation and a good set of lyrics. When you hit that benchmark with a song, we feel it can only be elevated by interweaving layers and counter melodies to create our signature ‘cinematic’ sound. We both really enjoy songs with a variety of hooks and melodies which all come together in layers at the end to create a big finish – such as ‘Photographic’ by DEPECHE MODE.
The previously released ‘The Quiet Silently Wait’, ‘A Chemical Haunting’ and ‘As The World Stops Revolving’ are also included on the album, how important was it for you to have these songs on your debut?
Dorian: We set out with the intention to create an album from the very beginning, with the goal of having a quality body of work to build upon over time. The reception that we received for all of the aforementioned tracks was so positive, (and in the bigger scheme of things, there are so many more people yet to hear our music), that it felt completely natural to include these tracks and encompass our whole journey to date for the debut album.
Is the new single ‘Polaroid Stranger’ representative of what the rest of your debut album ‘Living Ghosts’ is like?
Dorian: ‘Polaroid Stranger’ is the most recent track that we have written alongside ‘Credits’ and they couldn’t be more different! Some tracks such as ‘A Chemical Haunting’ and ‘As The World Stops Revolving’ were written several years ago, with others being completed at the very end of 2017. This has resulted in a real feeling of being on a journey throughout the album as we have developed our sound and style over the course of the writing and recording process.
Whilst this required some tricky production work to ensure a consistency across the album, it has resulted in an extremely varied and interesting portfolio of our experience so far.
‘Credits’ is a wonderfully progressive cinematic mood piece that will surprise some listeners while ‘Norway’ is cut from a similar cloth. It’s like the sonic restraint has worked wonders for you? Discuss!
Emma: Initially ‘Credits’ was written with the intention of being an emotional piano ballad, however after experimenting with choirs and orchestral layers, it became something more. It took time to develop the track as the reality just wasn’t living up to the dream we had for it. The original piano line even ended up being used as a foundation for ‘Stock Image Model’.
After watching the new ‘Blade Runner 2049’ film, we both recognised that the feeling we had been trying to create in ‘Credits’, was reflected in the emotionally charged closing track at the end of the movie. I think this inspired a concerted effort to encapsulate a cinematic film score feeling throughout the song and we couldn’t be happier with the end result!
Dorian: ‘Norway’ on the other hand, was one of the very first tracks that we wrote together and is particularly special to us. It was always the intention to close the album with ‘Norway’ as it has such a strong climax and really encompasses the feeling we wanted to achieve with the album; it’s got pop sensibilities and melodic hooks but at the core there’s a foreboding sadness. Thematically, the songs throughout the album don’t have happy endings.
Dorian: We use a combination of both throughout all of the tracks on ‘Living Ghosts’, usually starting with software to create the drum track and then developing sounds and arpeggiators via hardware. During the course of the recording we have definitely experimented with more of the software options to add variation and differing frequencies to the tracks, but we find hardware limitations force us to be more creative, which takes the music to another level.
Our most recent purchase is a piece of hardware which allows you to import Virtual Studio Technology and hook this up to a synth / keyboard, much like you would a modular unit. This is invaluable for recreating some of our sounds live in situations where we cannot practically take all of the hardware synths along to a show.
Ultimately we feel it’s important to use what works for the individual artist and results in the best sound / overall finish for a track, rather than being too hung up on how the sounds were created.
Speaking of practicalities, how do you approach recreating your dense musical template for live work?
Emma: As a duo, there is only so much that we can operate live and it’s important for us not to lose the grandeur within our songs. We have experimented with different setups over time and have found the most effective method is to utilise the Zoom R8 as a basis for the song structure, with Dorian playing live synths. The hardware tends to vary based upon the location of the show; the odds of fitting a full 88 key synthesizer into hand luggage on our recent trip to Poland weren’t favourable!
Dorian: Emma takes the lead in terms of vocals and supports the percussive elements, using an Alesis Sample Pad.
Being in this line of artistic pursuit means bumping into all sorts of people…who is the most famous person you’ve met since PROMENADE CINÉMA came into being?
Emma: That would probably have to be Phil Oakey of THE HUMAN LEAGUE! Over the last two years we have attended SynthFestUK in Sheffield, performing as part of their 2017 event alongside Hannah Peel, and we bumped into Phil. He was absolutely lovely – maybe it’s not such a bad thing to meet your heroes after all?
‘Living Ghosts’ is released on 23rd February 2018, available as a CD or download from https://promenadecinema.bandcamp.com/album/living-ghosts
PROMENADE CINÉMA perform at Café Totem in Sheffield on Tuesday 13th March 2018
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Sean Gummer Photography
6th February 2018