Album launches are a weird and wonderful thing. Usually consisting of either a payback of the latest release in a club to an invited audience where the band sit around disinterested waiting for the bar to open or a gig used to guilt folk into buying the new opus neither are really a celebration of the hard work and effort put into getting the product out.
The approach taken by Tim Bowness for the release of ‘Butterfly Mind’ was, as usual for this most singular of artists, to beat his own path. The Everyman 4, venue for tonight’s performance, is a cinema so not your usual cathedral of rock and roll excess and seats about 50, so not an excuse to shift 1000 copies of the album.
The small queue outside were given access once Tim and his band casually wandered into the venue. Once inside a taste of how tonight was to go came from the sight of Bowness having piles of CDs pushed into his hands by his longtime collaborator Steven Wilson, and this set the tone for what was less gig and more akin to going round to your mates to watch him jam in his living room. With backing consisting of Fierce and the Dead guitarist Matt Stevens and another established Bowness contributor Peter Chilvers on keys, this was not going to be a full on rock and roll show, there was just enough room for a small merch table in the venue, let alone lasers and pyro.
Bowness started the evening by acknowledging the reason for us all coming together, the new album ‘Butterfly Mind’ and then promptly told the audience he is going to ignore that and go for a wander through his own extensive back catalogue. This ‘disregard’ for the new release even extended to there being no copies of ‘Butterfly Mind’ available to buy on the night. As I say, ploughing his own furrow.
Things kicked off with a very early composition ‘Never Needing’. We were then treated, and it was a treat, to ‘Brightest Blue’, a track written with another long term musical sparring partner Richard Barbieri. This was a theme for the evening with a number of unexpected treats played, some for the first time in decades.
The most enthusiastically received tracks were from the band Bowness formed with Steven Wilson, NO-MAN. The first of these ‘Time Travel In Texas’ featured some fine playing from Stevens and apparently a hidden homage to Roobarb and Custard!
The work with Peter Chilvers was represented by the melancholy ‘Days Turn Into Years’ from the ‘California, Norfolk’ album, a holiday destination we were all encouraged to visit.
Anyone who has listened to the excellent ‘The Album Years’ podcast will know Bowness is an engaging conversationalist and this carries forward to his back and forth with the audience. The first set closed with ‘Back When You Were Beautiful’ which was introduced with a tale of shoplifting in a Norwich Thornton’s chocolate shop. As I said, not your typical gig…
The interval was a chance for the band to mingle with the audience in the evening sunshine. This included well-kent faces like John Mitchell and comedian Al Murray. Tim got so caught up in mixing with his guests, he had to be reminded by Peter Chilvers he had a second set to play.
That second set picked up where the first left off with more NO-MAN music in the shape of ‘Wherever There is Light’ and the Bowness track ‘The Warm-Up Man Forever’ which was welcome as it is a particular favourite not only of mine but also the audience.
‘Not Married Anymore’ once again highlighted how wonderful Bowness’s voice is. In an almost ‘torchsong’ setting and with minimal instrumentation, it is allowed to come to the fore. I have never hidden my regard for his vocal style and the up-close nature of this show only reinforces that. His ability to deliver the saddest of lyrical content without it seeming forced is a skill few possess.
A ukulele free ‘Rainmark’ heralded the home stretch for the set which did include one ‘Butterfly Mind track’, ‘It’s Easier To Love’ before that back catalogue was raided for a final time with an excerpt of Sweetheart Raw. This showed age has not diminished Bowness’s vocal prowess despite his worry about the song being in the original key.
There was also welcome outing for the early NO-MAN song ‘Days in the Trees’. Another run through of ‘The Warm-Up Man Forever’ as ‘voted’ for by the audience closed proceedings off.
This was an album launch unlike any I have attended before. It was more a celebration of a career which thankfully, on the evidence of that new album ‘Butterfly Mind’, shows no signs of decline. I look forward to more live outings, hopefully in the very near future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Tim Bowness
INFRA VIOLET are the Brighton-based duo comprising of Beth Munroe and Toby Campen.
Adversity often fuels emotive creativity and INFRA VIOLET were a product of the worldwide lockdown. With dynamic self-production of a high standard for an independent release, their synth rock flavoured debut album ‘Dream Tether’ issued in Summer 2021 has been well received with Munroe’s heartfelt vocals being singled out for praise.
Making a lot of noise for two people, INFRA VIOLET provide a warm injection of enthusiasm whenever performing live, aided by their inherent musicality and instrumental versatility with an aim not to get trapped by on-stage computerisation.
Having just returned from the first live tour of the UK, INFRA VIOLET spoke about their musical journey so far to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK before heading back into the studio to write new material for their second album.
INFRA VIOLET have a quite eclectic musical background, how did synths become part of your sound?
Beth: It was Toby that got me into the synthwave sound, before that, I was doing my own thing as a fingerstyle guitarist / indie solo artist until Toby sent me a message at the beginning of lockdown. I loved the combinations of our sounds straight away.
Toby: My parents were big fans of new wave music so I was brought up on a lot of synth music and played piano from a young age. Although I was in a lot of rock bands prior to INFRA VIOLET, I always had a curiosity for synths and when I heard CHVRCHES’ first album, that re-ignited my love for more modern synth music. Along with growing up listening to alternative / rock adjacent acts like NINE INCH NAILS and THE PRODIGY.
What VST emulations have you particularly taken to? Is there a vintage hardware synth that you covet?
Toby: In the studio, we use a lot of the Arturia and Native Instruments emulations, I’m a big fan of the Roland Juno and Jupiter synths as you can probably hear in our music, along with the Korg Mono/Poly and MS-20. Growing up, my dad had a Yamaha DX7 and Korg M1 in the house so I have fond memories of those. Live I play a Roland JDXi, as we prefer not to rely on laptops at the moment.
The fretboard soloing that INFRA VIOLET use is perhaps more closely associated with The Blues which gives you an unusual sound?
Beth: Some of the solos might sound a bit like classic rock which comes from Blues I suppose. The tapping that you see comes from acoustic fingerstyle, playing with both hands that you might typically see on an acoustic guitar, we’ve been experimenting with moving that over into our genre on electric, with mixed results but it gives a good show.
How would you describe your creative dynamic?
Beth: We both come up with original ideas that we take to the other. The first few songs, including ‘Polaroid’, Toby just presented me with this polished track that just needed vocals. As we worked together more, I put forward tracks as well. Overall, I’m really good at starting songs, and Toby’s really good at getting them finished and actually sounding good, but our roles are pretty fluid.
From your first single ‘Polaroid’, INFRA VIOLET were quickly embraced by the synthwave community, did that surprise you?
Beth: Yeah it really did, coming from a rock / singer songwriter background, those genres are so oversaturated that there just isn’t a community there anymore. I was so blown away from the support we got right from the start, how lovely everyone was, and how interconnected the UK synthwave scene is. It feels very hopeful for the genre.
Toby: Yes it was a pleasant surprise. There are a lot of musicians in this genre putting out great music, so to be noticed quite early on in our journey was very rewarding and for our first venture into this type of music as well.
Was there a need for you to study the synthwave form as it were? Did you have any particular inspirations or acts who you looked up to?
Toby: Being children of the late 80s / early 90s, the nostalgia element of this sort of music comes quite naturally. When we started making music as a duo, we weren’t really that aware of synthwave as a genre, until people started comparing our song ‘Polaroid’ to acts like The MIDNIGHT and Dana Jean Phoenix. When I first heard these acts, that was it, I was hooked. It mixed synthpop with lots of the 80s soundtrack music I loved like ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Terminator’.
‘Grow’ has become your most popular track, what was its genesis and realisation?
Beth: Toby gave me the track, it was originally a lot slower and more ambient, and when talking about a lyrical brief, we both agreed it would be quite nice to have an environmental song, with both of us being environmentalists. I wrote the lyrics about how it actually feels to be in this generation and see the ecosystem and life sustainability of the planet dissolve around us, rather than getting on a soapbox about it. Over time we sped up the track and found the groove of the song, and it all came together.
Toby: From a musical standpoint this song is definitely more post punk / dark wave inspired. I’d been listening to a lot of JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER at this point in time, along with some newer bands like PALE WAVES and KORINE. However I knew once this was given to Beth with her vocal and guitar style it would transform into something a little different. She suggested making it more upbeat and dancey which helped tackle the difficult subject matter of the lyrics.
Is the confessional of ‘Mess’ autobiographical or do you write as characters?
Beth: All of the songs come from a very personal space, and all of the stories within them are true and mine.
Toby: One thing I have always quite liked about Beth’s lyrics is they are very personal and written from life experience. Quite a few bands in our genre write fictional lyrics so if this sets us apart a little, that’s not a bad thing.
Your debut album ‘Dream Tether’ was very well received and got reviews in mainstream media, it was released in all the usual formats including cassette while the vinyl has sold out. As independent artists, how did you decide what formats to go with and how much of a gamble is it?
Beth: It was my idea to push cassette tape, as I noticed when touring as a DIY artist previously, lots of people started asking for tape, what I didn’t expect was to sell out on our cassettes as well, that was absolutely wild.
Toby: It was a bit of a gamble to do all the formats on our first album, as Beth mentioned our cassettes moved pretty quickly and as a format cassettes are having quite a resurgence right now, especially in electronic music. I think I pushed more for the vinyl as it has always been a dream of mine to put something out on vinyl and in all the bands I’ve been in over the years (going on 20 now) this is the first to do so. Due to huge backlogs in getting vinyl pressed, we went with lathe cut from a company called Lathe To The Grave who I can thoroughly recommend and this made it faster to get our run made. They were a very limited run but we might make more if there’s a demand… message us and say!
Which are your favourite songs on ‘Dream Tether’?
Beth: I like ‘Water’, it’s one of the first we wrote together, and I love the sense of power and gravitas it has, although so much of that is Toby’s production. I like ‘Run’ and ‘Mess’, my two little fingerstyle experiments as well, with the really personal lyrics they both have a nice sense of fun to them. I’m proud of all of it honestly.
Toby: It’s hard to pick as I’m also very proud of it as a body of work. ‘Grow’ will definitely always be a favourite of mine, but some of the lower key songs like ‘Radio’ and ‘Gold’ are also personal favourites because of the way they came out production wise, and also Beth’s lyrics. It’s not on this album but our new single ‘Easy’ is probably one of the songs I’m most proud of to date and it has quite a different sound.
INFRA VIOLET have taken to playing live with aplomb, but what have been the challenges in bringing your sound to the stage?
Beth: It’s definitely very different from anything I’ve known playing live before. Playing to a backing track with in-ear monitors gives a very different feeling, and there’s a lot of tech that could go wrong. Luckily Toby is there to sort the technical side, we’re still finding our feet live for sure, but it’s getting there.
Toby: Initially working out how we would perform everything was a challenge and deciding whether to sequence hardware or go the laptop route etc. In a perfect world everything would be performed as a bigger band with more musicians, but right now that’s just not logistically ideal for us. Our songs also have quite a few patch changes from start to end, with lots of different synths and samples as we write to make the songs the best they can be, then worry about live later. So we are tied to using backing tracks for now, but for me the way we perform with the main synths, guitar and vocals gives enough of a show visually and we can still be entertaining and have fun performing live.
INFRA VIOLET released an instrumental versions EP, but was there any pressure on you to do this as there is this strange line that’s been drawn between vocal and instrumental synthwave. Just taking off a vocal from a song does not necessarily make it a good instrumental track, which is why a number of synthwave instrumentals sound like someone has forgotten to sing…
Beth: I mean I definitely agree, instrumental tracks require texture, melody, and some sort of theme or build that keeps the reader engaged. If you’re going to remove the texture and melodic layer of vocals, you need to either replace it or shift the track around to accommodate the empty space and keep us interested. Toby’s a fantastic producer, and I’m lucky to find someone who knows what they’re doing and can pack the track full of these interesting sounds and textures and little harmonies and hooks that you don’t always notice at first. It’s something not everyone gets right in this genre, so I’m glad Toby can.
Toby: Agreed, I think initially we did feel the pressure to release some as instrumentals and we did actually get requests from people to do so early on. When we do release instrumentals, I’ll remix the songs to suit this format, but we haven’t released all our songs this way for the very reason that some of them would just be boring without the vocals.
But INFRA VIOLET have specifically written instrumentals and contributed ‘Nightmares’ to the soundtrack of the short ghost film ‘The Understudy’. How did that come about, did you compose to moving images and would you like to do more of this kind of commission?
Beth: Yes, we also specifically write instrumental music for film and TV, and we’d love to do more. We wrote ‘Nightmares’ which was a lot of fun writing a spooky synthwave tune with lots of heavy distorted guitars. Our instrumentals are also going to feature in the upcoming documentary ‘Cult Of VHS’ and we’re working on another horror soundtrack at the moment as well. It’s a world we’d love to get more into.
Toby: As my day job I’ve been working in film and TV as a sound designer for most of my career, so some of these opportunities have come via directors that I know. We’d definitely like to score more films as INFRA VIOLET and when we do we compose to the picture as a Hollywood composer would. In that world of film composition, I’m largely influenced by the work of composers like Geoff Barrow, Trent Reznor, John Carpenter
If you were a ‘Stranger Things’ character, who would you be most like?
Beth: I’d be Dustin, I think. He’s my fav, I relate to his clownery and silly upbeat attitude a lot.
Toby: Probably Hopper because I’m partial to a Hawaiian shirt.
So DEPECHE MODE or NINE INCH NAILS?
Beth: I would actually say DEPECHE MODE, but only marginally more my favourite, I love them both.
Toby: For me definitely NIN (if that’s an unpopular opinion) as I grew up listening to a lot of their music and although it’s maybe not audibly obvious, the work of Trent Reznor is a big influence on my music.
How supportive have your parents been in your pursuit of a music career? Have they offered any friendly advice or guidance?
Toby: Mine have been very encouraging of me being in bands. Music has been in my family for many generations, so I had piano lessons as a young child and learnt other instruments after that. My dad was also in numerous synth bands over the years – namely GREY PARADE who were on Numa Records, and you can see that recently mentioned on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s social media! He’s given me a fair bit of music industry advice over the years and been a good sounding board for song ideas.
Beth: My dad taught me some fingerpicking acoustic guitar when I was younger, I think you can still hear echoes of that when I play now. My mum bought me my first electric guitar and CD player so I could play along to MUSE and GREEN DAY. They’ve both been very supportive of me since, and only a little disappointed I didn’t become a writer instead.
Your most recent single ‘Easy’ appears to have entered more countrified direction? So what’s in store for your next body of work?
Beth: I think people might be a bit surprised when they hear what we have in store after ‘Easy’. It didn’t occur to us ‘Easy’ sounded a bit like country, but it makes sense with the upbeat vibe and the guitars. We’re working on a few different things, and still figuring out our sound, but our next release is likely to be a lot darker and more deviant, I can’t wait to see people’s reaction.
Toby: As Beth said some of our yet to be released songs have taken us in some unexpected directions so we have some darker and lighter sounding ones in the bank. After our first album we’re now taking some time to experiment and see where we can take our sound.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to INFRA VIOLET
Just 13 months after her debut solo long player ‘Let Me Speak’, Norwich songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Gemma Cullingford will be presenting her second full-length album, ‘Tongue Tied’.
A member of acclaimed post-punk funk duo SINK YA TEETH, Gemma Cullingford’s solo career was accidental consequence of lockdown. ‘Let Me Speak’ was an autobiographical statement, stepping away from the collaborative format which began with indie band KAITO.
Using largely electronic instrumentation, ‘Let Me Speak’ steadily gained momentum by word of mouth with an unexpected snowball effect and its recent shortlisting in Loud Women’s Hercury Prize was the culmination of that acclaim. Now comes ‘Tongue Tied’, a more confident and polished follow-up that Cullingford says is “perhaps the fruits of that voyage of discovery…”, although the endearing emotions conveyed remain anxious and introspective yet joyous and defiant.
Taking a break from assembling the Dinked edition LP and CDs of ‘Tongue Tied’ with their accompanying zines and screen prints, Gemma Cullingford chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the motivations and inspirations behind the making of her new album.
Your debut album ‘Let Me Speak’ has just been shortlisted for the Loud Women Hercury Prize, how does that feel?
I feel very honoured! Cassie et al at Loud Women work so hard and do such a great job at championing female and trans artists and giving us a platform to be heard. There are a lot of great female artists out there and on the shortlist, so to be amongst them is quite something!
You released your first single with KAITO in 1998 while the debut SINK YA TEETH release came out in 2015, but there appears to have been a gap between 2006 to 2015, what was happening with you then?
I got a proper office job for the most of it, I needed some money and routine! Did a couple of bands GGGRITS and KOMIZA, decided I wanted to work in music so got some teaching qualifications and set up my own business offering ukulele lessons to primary school kids (which is still my job), dabbled in floristry and got obsessed with flowers for a couple of years.
Bass, guitar, ukulele, flute and synths is quite a wide ranging instrument portfolio, how would you describe your abilities with each?
Bass guitar will I think always be my main instrument. I feel most connected to that and when I play it on stage, it feels like an extra limb! Flute is from my childhood really. I got quite good at it but dropped it at high school for guitar, which I’m not great at as it has too many strings and frets for me. The flute is the only instrument I ever learned how to play properly with notation and music theory and stuff.
But in general I like to work things out my own way, I don’t like having to stick to rules. So although I consider myself fairly good on bass, I don’t know what the notes are or anything and wouldn’t be able to read music. Same with guitar. And with ukulele I learnt a little bit of tab but only enough to teach kids. I have no desire to progress much further on any instrument to be honest. I like working within a few restrictions. I’ve tried to play the flute live at my first ever gig but no notes would come out! I must have been breathing funny. So I’ve got rather rusty at that!
What encouraged you to take a more electronic dance direction for your solo work?
If you have a laptop with a DAW (I use Logic Pro X), you then have every instrument under the sun at your fingertips, and you don’t have to know how to play each instrument. I’ll sometimes plug my bass and guitar in but the majority of stuff is done on Logic. It can be done in my spare room, I don’t need tons of equipment, session musicians etc so it was perfect for lockdown! Also when writing both albums, I developed Rheumatoid arthritis and couldn’t play bass or guitar for a good few months, hence a lot of bass sounds are programmed. I appear to be over it now though thankfully, at least for the moment so I can play bass live again.
Has this been sort of the music you have always wanted to make, but maybe 25 years ago the technology wasn’t as portable and affordable, you haven’t been able to do it until now?
No, I’ve always made the music I’ve wanted to make regardless of the limitations I’ve had. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Electronic music just opens up so many more opportunities.
It wouldn’t surprise me if I end up going acoustic or more ‘bandy’ in the future but I don’t like to plan, so who knows what I’ll do?! (Hoping to have a bit of a break to be honest!)
You’re a SUPER FURRY ANIMALS fan so did you like Gruff Rhys’ electronic side project NEON NEON?
I must admit I never checked it out! Super Furries were very much an era of my life when I first started discovering cool music and they’ll always have a special place in my heart. But so many more discoveries followed so quickly, actually a lot of electronic music that I like now (perhaps embarrassingly), I only discovered very very recently. I was a post-punk fan followed by dreampop. But I’ve also always created music and when I’m creating, I try not to listen to other music as I don’t want to be too influenced by anything else, so I go through bouts of not listening to other music at all for months or years.
On ‘Let Me Speak’, you included a very original cover version of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, how did that come into being?
I was making a playlist for my mum’s birthday and my boyfriend suggested ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. I’d never heard it before and was mesmerised by it. I loved the melody, the fact that it was quite a happy sounding song but the lyrics seemed quite dark. Then I read the lyrics and saw just how dark they are, and I kinda jokingly said I’d do a cover of it. And I did really quickly. It just came out! I had no idea that it was such a well-known and loved song and I’m sure to some Bobby Gentry fans think what I’ve done is sacrilegious, but there are plenty of covers of it out there!
‘Queen Bee’ was another highlight from ‘Let Me Speak’ and featured a closing instrumental synth passage that came over a bit like Gary Numan? What was your thinking?
I don’t really think when I’m writing! ‘Queen Bee’ was the first song I ever wrote on my own in the style I’ve become known for. I barely ever remember the actual writing process, but I would imagine I found a synth sound and just played whatever my fingers came out with to the drum track. It’s usually about finding a sound I like, one that speaks to me at that moment in time and then just seeing what comes out of me! There’s little to zero planning with me. I’m just not that organised. If I did have a plan, whatever I write would come out completely differently anyway.
Has the positive reception for ‘Let Me Speak’ surprised you as something of an indie music veteran? Do you have a key memory from the making of the album?
The positive reception has surprised (and delighted) me but not as an indie music veteran. The only indie music if you can call it that would her been through being in KAITO, and I still take a lot of influence from those days. Particularly the creative writing process, and approaching sounds in an experimental way. The noise comes from those days, and some of the minimalism in places does too.
I didn’t really set out to make an album, it just kinda evolved as I had a bunch of songs. I do remember it going from “I have enough songs for an album (in fact more)” to “maybe I’ll pop them on Bandcamp under an anonymous moniker?” to “I wonder if Outré would put it out digitally?” to “Outré are gonna release it on vinyl” to “I think I’ll just use my own name actually” to “It’s just a studio album though, not gonna play live” to now I have a second album out and am touring and enjoying playing live!
The new album ‘Tongue Tied’ is out on September 2nd and the title song has this glorious Walking On Thin Ice’ art disco vibe, but what was its actual inspiration, musically and lyrically?
All my songs start with the music. Lyrics aren’t really my thing. Musically I THINK it came from me taking my (B side to ‘Wide Boys’) track ‘104’ and messing around with it until I came up with something completely new. My boyfriend provided the lyrics knowing that I often get tongue tied and mince my words so he knew they’d mean something to me.
I knew I wanted it to be quite poppy so the melody I remember coming up with while singing to myself walking my dog. It’s where a few melodies have happened actually! I do love ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ and was listening to it a lot around then, so I guess it did rub off! Not intentionally though. See that’s why I try not to listen to much music when I’m writing, I soak up inspiration like a sponge but I want everything to be my own when it comes out!
‘Holding Dreams’ features a wonderful blend of icy synths, hypnotic bass and wispy vocals to a good beat, what was the genesis of this idea?
I’ve no idea! It probably just all developed round the live bass line. Again I wanted something quite catchy so this one has a double chorus which I do remember humming whilst walking my dog again.
‘Accessory’ is a bit like mutant Giorgio Moroder but where did that subtle textural guitar solo come from?
I don’t generally like guitar solos like that, too blokey for me, so I wanted to incorporate one into a song and use it and mould it to suit me and put me at ease with it.
My boyfriend suggested his friend Phil Searchfield for a guitar solo, so I sent him the drums and bass and he recorded the guitar solo from his house in Brussels. It was perfect!! And in fact I didn’t have to chop it up, I just added some delay and reverb as it fitted perfectly and just felt so right. I love it now. Job done! Aim achieved!
Where does the phrase ‘Bass Face’ come from? There appears to be some A CERTAIN RATIO funk motifs too alongside your flute?
Yeah SINK YA TEETH toured quite a lot with ACR so there’s another example of me being influenced a lot! In fact Martin Moscrop gave me some production mentoring for this album! I think ‘Bass Face’ was one of his favourites. I wanted a flute on the album somewhere to connect it with my debut album.
‘Bass Face’ was actually initially gonna be a much more stripped down instrumental on ‘Let Me Speak’, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of the album so I saved it and revisited it for ‘Tongue Tied’. The name ‘Bass Face’ occurred due to the kinda talking synth noise I use on it, which sounds to me like they’re saying “Bass Face” (they’re not. They’re not actually saying anything!), and what with bass being my instrument, I thought I’d go with it. It also conjures up images to me of funny faces bass players sometimes pull, like her from HAIM! Ha ha!
‘New Day’ has quite an unusual structure with some great synth hooks while the vocal veers between BLACK BOX RECORDER and SAINT ETIENNE?
Another one I wrote the music to years ago when I was living back at my parents’ house and wrote it in my old bedroom which we turned into a temporary studio. I couldn’t work out a top line for it for love nor money, but I started to think I wanted something delivered in a similar way to ‘West End Girls’ by PET SHOP BOYS. My boyfriend showed me a poem he’d written, and I read it to the music and it fitted! I did actually approach Neil Tennant to do the vocal on this song but he was “too busy” ha ha! You never know if you don’t try, right?
My vocal style is like that mainly because a) I’m not a strong singer and b) I get really embarrassed recording vocals and singing out loud in case my neighbours or my boyfriend can hear, so a lot of them are very whispery and gentle. If there are songs where I belt it out, then I must have had the house to myself that day!
‘No Fail’ goes fully into some deeper house vibes, which were your own favourite clubs or dance locations?
Ironically I don’t like going to dance clubs etc! I like to go to bed early and I’m a bit sensitive to noise and crowds. But I like to write music that others can dance to.
I lived in Brighton for a bit so went to a couple of dance clubs there, but I’m happier with smaller clubs after a few drinks. Anything I can play air guitar too and jump around to and get home before 1am is good for me. I don’t do much of that though, never really have! Rock ‘n’ roll!
‘Red Room’ is a highlight, there is so much going on, how was do you ensure it did not get too messy?
Thanks. Yeah I call this one my electro-glam SCISSOR SISTERS type of song. No idea how it’s not too messy, some may argue that it IS too messy! It’s another one where I wanted it to be quite ‘pop’. In fact, it started off as a ukulele song I’d written for 5 year olds, ha ha!
The ‘Tongue Tied’ album comes over as a much more confident record than ‘Let Me Speak’, do you have any particular favourite songs on the album?
Not really. It changes all the time, but I think today it’s ‘Accessory’ for that guitar part. I also enjoy singing it live as it’s so different from my other songs. It’s a bit more angry.
You are touring the album this Autumn, how are preparations coming along? What is your set up live?
Yeah just a handful of dates. I can’t wait. Headlining the Norwich Arts Centre in my home town is a dream come true. I may have some familiar faces join me on stage for that too (and possibly London) but that’s a surprise! Also having Alice Hubble as joint headline for some gigs is gonna be fun as I love her stuff so watching her is a treat for me. Then later I have Rodney Cromwell joining me for Manchester and Bristol too.
For those who may be considering coming along, what can they expect?
Expect me grinning like a loon on stage, no doubt some bad jokes and some visuals I made.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Gemma Cullingford
Brighton Residents Records (2nd September), Norwich Arts Centre (8th September)*, Ipswich Smokehouse (9th September)*, London Dalston Shacklewell Arms (10th September)*, Manchester Talleyrand (17th September)+, Bristol Crofter’s Rights (29th October)+
*with Alice Hubble +with Rodney Cromwell
Based in Wolverhampton, the unrelated duo of Rebecca Davies and Robin Davies are YOUNG EMPRESS.
Combining synths, guitars, bass and other live instrumentation with modern technology, YOUNG EMPRESS opened their account with the strident single ‘Peacemaker’ in late 2020. Using the art of cinema as a prime influence, their sound found an audience within the Synthwave community.
The haunting arpeggiated ‘Ghosts’ maintained the standard while ‘Christine’ entered darker territory in an ode to the John Carpenter film of the same name.
The summer of 2021 saw YOUNG EMPRESS issue their best single yet in the ‘Dead Poets Society’ inspired dreamwave of ‘Eyes Closed’ as a trailer to their well-received debut long player ‘Lost Time’ on Aztec Records. But prior to the release of their first album, there was a collaboration with Zak Vortex on a moody synth laden cover of FLEETWOOD MAC’s embittered break-up anthem ‘Go Your Own Way’.
During a studio break, YOUNG EMPRESS collectively answered some questions put to them by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about their musical ethos, the influence of visuals and the making of the ‘Lost Time’ album.
Your motto is “Drink Tab, play Robotron, listen to DURAN DURAN”, but neither of you look old enough to have drunk Tab? 😉
That’s very kind of you. We certainly drink a lot of water so perhaps that’s responsible for our youthful looks. This is a quote from ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline. We’re big fans. It’s a great read for book worms and a great watch for film lovers too.
Have you come across a real vintage arcade version of Robotron? Do you have any favourite games?
Funnily enough, we shot some scenes for our short, self-titled film ‘Young Empress’ in a local arcade that had a version of Roboton: 2048.
We both love retro games – especially Outrun – which we would love to have in our music studio. We may invest one day. Although we’d probably spend more time driving than writing music if we did.
So why DURAN DURAN over SPANDAU BALLET? 😉
Both are great! One of Bex’s favourite songs is ‘True’ by SPANDAU BALLET but DURAN DURAN has that get up and dance vibe. That would pull us to the dance floor of any family wedding disco in a heartbeat. We wouldn’t say no to either it just depends what mood we’re in.
What are the musical roots of YOUNG EMPRESS’ vocal and instrumentation format?
We gather inspiration from such a wide variety of sources. It’s not just exclusive to the electronic music scene. We are children of the 80s and loved that era of music but the 90s music played a big part in our youth too. It spans the decades for us and I think we would both agree that it was music from the 60s and 70s that encouraged our first musical awakenings. Even now we’re still open to suggestion and we love stumbling across older bands and artists that we have yet explored fully. We’ve been likened to a handful of musicians over the years but hopefully our love of both male and female vocals from the 80s helps us to create elements of a more androgynous vocal sound.
In terms of palette, where are you sourcing your sounds from? Hardware, software, vintage and traditional instruments?
A lot of our synth sounds are VST versions of retro synths, mainly Juno, Jupiter, DX7 and Moogs, but we also include aspects of live drums, sax, guitar and bass too. We are both multi-instrumentalists, so we like to keep an element of live sound in the mix of our tracks. Even when we are looping sounds and programming instruments, we still start with real live instruments and lean on them heavily in the writing and recording process. It’s a combination for sure and finding the right balance throughout.
‘Peacemaker’ has this marvellous anthemic quality which appears to recall the penultimate section of ‘Music’ by John Miles from 1975, what was the song’s genesis?
When we wrote the tracks for ‘Lost Time’, we used movies as our inspiration and often had them running on a TV screen in the background while we chucking new ideas around. ‘Peacemaker’ was written with ‘The Magnificent Seven’ playing silently and on loop. The main synth riff just kind of came out from watching the screen and playing along. It soon developed into the track you hear today and the vocals tell a narrative of the action shown in the movie.
Where did that marvellous synth solo on ‘Eyes Closed’ come from? Were there any particular influences at play?
Any of the synth solos in the tracks are played and written by Bex. Sometimes they stem from us humming ideas at each other until something sticks, but mainly it comes from her ability to write a catchy little hook. We wanted something that ran a scale and jumped between octaves. We’ve always thought that it has old school ‘Doctor Who’ vibes to it. We love the sound we chose for that one so we’re happy it’s a catchy section.
‘Ghosts’ has many different aesthetic layers and a strong lyrical message and with the sax coming in, it almost turns into QUARTERFLASH?
That’s a great reference. We haven’t heard that one before. We love a good sax solo. Bex wrote and played the sax solo for this, then we layered up everything with a session musician playing over the top. It’s one of our favourite tracks. It’s the second song we ever wrote for YOUNG EMPRESS before we even thought about making an album. It’s based on the film ‘The Sixth Sense’ which gave us a great selection of dialogue to play around – especially the tag line “we see ghosts all the time”. We had really good fun writing this one. When we could see it gaining popularity, it made us really proud. It will always be a special track for us.
Aside from the collaborations, the ‘Lost Time’ album is self-produced. As independent musicians, what do you think is in your extra 10% that has made it stand up next to the deluge of bedroom electronic-based acts that are now ten-a-penny these days?
We have always written and produced our own material. We think it’s really important to have a handle on your own sound, how it develops, how it sounds live and how you can get that across in your mix. Robin will spend hours trying to find the right sounds, FX and levels for YOUNG EMPRESS, with Bex waiting the wings, listening in the dark, co-producing from the side lines.
We also work with an amazing guy called Ryan Pinson from RML studios in Wolverhampton. He takes our mixes to the next level with production and mastering. He has honestly been the 3rd member of YOUNG EMPRESS at times, and he brings an outside ear to our tracks that we wouldn’t hear when we’re locked away on our own for days writing. You can become deaf to your own mixes when you hear them day in and day out. So we draft in trusted talent to listen and guide us forwards. That’s a really important part of the writing process for us.
How was it to work on tracks with Sunglasses Kid and Maxx Parker while aiming to maintain the continuity of ‘Lost Time’ as a body of work?
Both artists are amazing, and we feel really privileged to have worked with them on the tracks that made it to our album. We are all on the same label with Aztec Records and we reached out to Sunglasses Kid who had written a short idea for a track which he posted on Instagram. It instantly grabbed our attention so we asked if we could put vocals over the top for him. Luckily, he liked what we wrote so he agreed to let us lay guitars over the top and add it to our album tracks. He’s a great guy and a real talent on the scene, and we really admire what he’s creating.
Maxx Parker has fast become a good friend of ours and he’s an incredibly talented chap. He asked us to collaborate with him on a track called ‘Last Dance’ which appeared on his debut album ‘Outsider’, then we returned the favour and drafted him in to craft a track for ‘Lost Time’. He came back with the fundamentals of ‘It’s Always Dark’ and we instantly loved it. He understood the brief and absolutely nailed this track for us. It’s another firm favourite of ours and it’s really fun to play live too.
Your music has an impressionistic visual quality about it and you produced a short film featuring ‘Peacemaker’, ‘Ghosts’, ‘Christine’ and ‘Home’, how did the story board and track selection come about?
We always wanted to make a short film and have our music be the soundtrack. We wrote the songs before we wrote the story itself. It was a collaborative project with filmmaker Anthony Davies of 12:42 Studios and Kayleigh Watson, who created a fantastic screenplay for us without the need for dialogue. A tricky task but we think she nailed it! ‘Peacemaker’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Christine’ were written ahead of filming and helped sculpt the narrative for what we shot but ‘Home’ was written specifically for the project. All of our other tracks are inspired by movies so naturally we took our experiences of what we were filming, the actors we were working with and the story that was coming to life in front of us to bring this final song to its completion.
We took inspiration from films we loved from our childhood and mirrored scenes to give the project a nostalgic feel. The character of Death was probably the most time consuming to create. Manifesting an entity that was a physical embodiment of grief, fear and depression took a long time. We spent many hours discussing our own fears and films we were scared by as kids. All of it came together to create the final cut. It’s something that we really enjoyed doing and we will be venturing outside of the realms of song writing again in the near future so keep your eyes peeled for updates.
YOUNG EMPRESS have released an instrumental version of ‘Lost Time’, did you feel any particular pressure to do this as there’s to be this oddball elitist line that’s been drawn between vocal and instrumental synthwave. Just taking off a vocal from a song does not necessarily make it a good instrumental track, while a number of intended synthwave instrumentals sound like someone has forgotten to sing because those tracks lack hooks and themes…
I think the way we tend to look at it is our audience is quite diverse and everyone has different opinions about what they like musically, especially on the synthwave scene. There are certain gatekeepers who believe an artist’s sound should complete a tick box of dos and don’ts to meet the criteria of the genre. We aren’t necessarily out to please anyone but ourselves so when we write, so long as we enjoy what we’re creating then that’s all that matters.
We are fans of vocal driven tracks just as much as we are instrumentals, and although it should be more than just removing lyrics from a song, sometimes it takes elements of silence within a track to isolate what’s really happening in the background. You can’t always appreciate the work that goes on behind a track once vocals are over the top. It tends to become more about the lyrical hook sometimes but when you strip it back to the music beneath it can be just as enjoyable.
With our instrumental album, we just wanted to give our listeners the option to hear it with and without vocals. Beyond that, we’ve remixed our own tracks, reworked and re-envisioned them, as well as asking our peers to recreate them for us with their own spin on it. It’s all just about experimentation for us. How far can we push ourselves, how far outside of this box can we step and how can our tracks continue to evolve. The science of synthwave! We love to flex it a little. That’s the real fun.
Which are you own favourite tracks on ‘Lost Time’? How do you feel the album has been received?
We are so pleased with what we’ve created and how well it’s done in such a short space of time.
We are thrilled with the number of streams we have on the tracks, and we couldn’t ever have imagined that so many people would stumble across our music and keep us spinning but more than that, what makes all the difference to us is the feedback we get, the people who come up and chat to us at gigs, the messages they send us online. That’s really heart-warming and we appreciate everyone who gets in touch to talk to us about our music.
Its early days for us but we’re currently at 150k streams on the album and that still blows our minds! It’s all those streams that build an audience for us and a fanbase who take an interest in what we are doing. It gives us a platform to write more and progress as musicians towards whatever comes next, and we are really grateful for that opportunity.
When we perform live, Robin enjoys ‘Lost Time’ and ‘Christine’ because they are a lot of fun to play on guitar but this changes regularly. Bex likes ‘It’s Always Dark’, which was one of the last tracks we wrote for the album. It’s based on ‘The Never Ending Story’ – one of her favourite films from her childhood, and with one of the main characters being the inspiration for the band’s name (The Childlike Empress) it will always be special to both of us. We are just so happy that people are listening to our music and coming to our gigs. It’s been a really wild ride so far but we are enjoying every minute.
Which character from either ‘The Breakfast Club’ or ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ would you be and why?
We love ‘The Breakfast Club’! It was our inspiration for the track ‘Saturday’. Robin would probably associate himself with Emilio Estevez’s character Andrew. Growing up as a sensitive, sporty kid who had a lot of pressure to succeed but never really ‘belonged’ in the social circle – that seems very familiar.
Bex would like to think she’s a hybrid of more than one character. A bit nerdy like Brian, a bit of a rebel like John Bender and a bit of a weirdo like Ally Sheedy. Definitely not sporty like Andrew or a beauty queen like Claire. It’s a great film for highlighting all the awkward parts of teenage life I’m sure many of us can relate to.
If we can be anyone from ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ then we’re opting for Rob Lowe. Who wouldn’t love that beautiful face!
There was this drummer who so depressed about his timing, he threw himself behind a train… what is your favourite drummer joke? 😁
How can you tell a drummer is at your door? The knocking speeds up.
What’s next for YOUNG EMPRESS?
We have another tour coming up at the end of the year and we will be announcing dates soon. We loved hitting the road to perform this summer so why stop now! For the next run of dates we are ramping up our live performance and we have a few ideas in the making to pump everyone up. Album Two is in the making – don’t you worry! Studio time is just the best. We can’t rest – we love to write. Our sound is developing, and the ideas are rolling in already. The synths are out in full force, and we are really excited to see how this one evolves.
There will be more videos, more content across our social media platforms, more laughing and joking too and a few more surprises to announce along the way. We hope to end the year on a high and start 2023 with a bang. Watch this space!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to YOUNG EMPRESS
‘Nowhere Lines’ is the fifth album by DEKAD, the musical vehicle of enigmatic French producer JB, his first after a seven year hiatus.
Originally a trio from Tours that recorded two albums ‘Sin_Lab’ and ‘Confidential Tears’, the third DEKAD album ‘Monophonic’ in 2011 was effectively a JB solo album and led to a fruitful association with fellow Gallic electronic duo FORETASTE.
JB became their live keyboardist and their Creature XY co-produced 2015’s ‘A Perfect Picture’; the inscrutable musician returns to co-produce ‘Nowhere Lines’.
With a stark concept highlighting a future environmental catastrophe intended as “both as a thriller and a dark audio road movie to nowhere”, ‘Nowhere Lines’ points to “exactly the place where humanity is currently heading to”
Despite the inclusion of ‘Love Is Like Fever’, ‘Nowhere Lines’ takes a while to get going with its exploration of generic midtempo darkwave climes dominating the start. But from the third song, things kick into action with ‘I Know’ providing a throbbing gothic mantra and icy hooks in equal measures.
More steadfast with distorted rhythmic loops but bubbling with tension, ‘Watching You’ recalls the moodier resonances of COVENANT’s ‘Bullet’. The spikey doom of ‘Your World’ grooves with a haunted mystery and a punchy rhythm construction, while sans tambour, ‘Artificial Love’ provides a melodic brightness to counterpoint the solemn vocal delivery.
‘Last Chance’ provides an absorbing instrumental as a kind of entr’acte musique into the brooding ‘Stay’ and the strident lead single ‘A Deadly Show’ which provides commentary of “a tragic addiction”. The boisterous ‘Never Sleep Again’ reflects some of the doomier inclinations of later period CAMOUFLAGE before ‘Promises’ closes proceedings.
With its narrative on a road to nowhere, the future is bleak but as cultural history has often proved, adversity can stimulate the creation of some very good music, of which ‘Nowhere Lines’ contains.