CATHERINE MOAN is the musical vehicle of Philadelphian songstress Angel Jefferson. Her rework of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Fools’ launched her into the world of electronic pop.
Part of an emerging group of independent North American female synth artists that include DANZ CM, GLITBITER, CLASS ACTRESS and MECHA MAIKO, the debut CATHERINE MOAN album ‘Chain Reaction’ is a short but sweet collection of eight dreamily innocent synthpop songs with a consistent sound and feel running throughout.
The album’s lead single ‘Drop It!’ captured the mindset of many and craved the excitement of nightlife. Set over a classic four chord progression, its proclamation was to “keep this fire burning ‘til the record stops turning, ‘til the lights and the drugs stop working…”
Angel Jefferson talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about being CATHERINE MOAN and provided some insight into her ‘Chain Reaction’…
How did you become interested in making pop music with synthesizers?
I first became interested in making pop music on a whim when someone offered to gift me a cheap sampler and I realized how intuitive and easy it could be at its bare minimum. After years of obsessing over and listening to so many pop musicians and imagining if that could be me, I felt that spark and reached out for it to see if I could manifest that.
Had you tried making music in other styles or with other people before?
Great question! I have a few demos sitting on my laptop where I went for a more alternative indie vibe with just a guitar, drum machine, and vocals. In the end, it just didn’t feel very authentic to me and what I wanted to be making.
There’s also a few demos I worked on with a friend that was kinda witch housey and darker than what I usually make, but for similar reasons, I just felt like I couldn’t follow through because it didn’t feel like what I wanted to say was coming through.
The up-and-coming British singer-songwriter Hattie Cooke uses just GarageBand for her recordings; did you opt for a hardware set-up or take advantage of what modern software had to offer?
Just checked out Hattie Cooke and wow what a talent! I wish it wasn’t a debate that people even have, but I think if we have the means to use it. I will always favor modern software because it is so forgiving and intuitive. Not to deprecate myself but I am a very instant gratification brained person, and GarageBand gave me just what I needed as a jumping off point. All the songs on my first EP were made entirely in GarageBand, it makes the songwriting process so fool proof for a beginner. As someone who at the time had never made music before, it really gave me the tools I needed. And while I have nothing but respect for people who opt for fully analog, I enjoy the simplicity and comfort of a digital workspace.
Technologically, is there any particular synth that you don’t own but particularly covet?
The Prophet, I use the digital version a bit and it is just a powerhouse when it comes to the dreamy, melancholic, cinematic timbres I like to look for. Another synth I would love to have is the Moog Minitaur, I love using the virtual Moog Mini and when I found this compact bass centered synth they made, I immediately got starry eyed because the bass sounds it makes are so tasty. Unfortunately I don’t have it like that when it comes to money. so it will never be a justifiable purchase!
Were there any particular acts that you looked up for your more predominantly synthesized template?
The acts that I look up to the most are FEVER RAY, CHRISTINE & THE QUEENS, and CHVRCHES. I think all of those artists do a really great job of taking a diverse array of synthesized sounds and interpolating 80s and 90s “vibes” and making them sound really fresh and modern.
In North America, there are a number of emerging female synth artists like DANZ CM, GLITBITER, CLASS ACTRESS and MECHA MAIKO, do you feel any affinity or kinship with them?
I’ll have to sit and listen to all these artists, I’m definitely a huge fan of Danz. I listened to a lot of COMPUTER MAGIC when I was first getting into production, I was very inspired by the DIY bedroom synthpop vibes.
There was been a significant sonic leap from your self-titled debut EP to ‘Chain Reaction’ in terms of production values, although ‘Cut It’ indicated you were interested in more European music forms? How do you look back on your first work as “Catherine”?
The production quality leap absolutely came from entrusting someone else to do the mixing and mastering. The CM EP was kind of a crash course in songwriting and production for me, and once I knew I could do it, I didn’t feel adverse to the idea of letting someone else in to help get it to a more professional sonic quality. While I started off with a DIY mindset, I ended up favoring the idea of being more collaborative and passing the music around to other ears to get it the best it could be rather than leave it sounding raw.
I look back on those first tracks fondly, it was a very exciting moment for me. They are sloppy, weird and unconventionally structured songs from a brain with little to no musicality and I hope I can channel that in future work.
Why did you feel the need to create the CATHERINE MOAN persona to channel your creativity?
I think the persona originally came out of a desire to be discreet and not attached to my real self. It seems like it’s a bit easier to act with more bravado and confidence when you’re pretending to be someone else. But to be honest CATHERINE MOAN is 100% me, it’s just a cooler sounding name than my real one.
You came to wider attention with a really good cover version of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Fools’, your choice was interesting not just because it was a B-side but because it was written by Alan Wilder, the man many fans cite as being the sonic soul of the band’s imperial era, what was your approach in your reinterpretation?
‘Construction Time Again’ is a VERY good album! Specifically the deluxe edition with all those B-Sides, the idea to cover one of them came from intensely listening to that record last winter. I almost covered the song ‘Get The Balance Right’, but ‘Fools’ has that whimsical fun energy that I really feel a connection to. When I was recording the cover, the first thing I wanted to do was make it unique to the original, I changed the key to be in a more comfortable vocal range and cut out the entire middle of the song and made up a riff inspired by the original’s composition.
The album’s title ‘Chain Reaction’ reflects some of your emotive impetuosity but has this enforced lockdown helped you become more patient or do you feel that life is short and you should “go for it”?
100% Life is short, go for it. While the album is melancholic at times, I don’t regret chasing the highs that lead to a lot of my disappointments and painful memories. Hindsight is 20/20 and regret lasts forever, but you never know unless you take chances. The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of spontaneity and huge life altering decisions and I really wanted to channel the manic and introspective elements of that in my songwriting.
I think those moments of my life were the true catalyst for me to even start songwriting, that’s the real chain reaction huh haha.
So was ‘Drop It!’ composed before or during the lockdown, what was the song’s genesis?
‘Drop It!’ was composed in the middle of the pandemic! I had this fling with someone where we would just dance around my room to our favorite songs, and it made me long so much for the bright lights and booming bass of the clubs. I channeled that into the song, very intentionally writing a really basic pop song in a tongue-in-cheek generic method.
Creating in lockdown was a challenge for anyone, but you managed to produce a charming and optimistic video for ‘Drop It!’ too?
Thank you! It was honestly a happy accident, I was scrambling for ideas and the idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. The intensity of manically trying to make something deep or provocative in the confines of my bedroom sparked the idea to do something extremely constricted to just one color and scene. It ended up working very well as a metaphor for how I was feeling when I wrote the song.
‘Wasted’ is like a cousin of ‘Drop It!’, and substantiates a sonic continuity that runs through this album?
Yes! It was a very deliberate decision to have those songs in succession. I wrote them both with the same synthesizer, my Korg Minilogue. And they both somehow conveyed such opposite spectrums of an emotional scale and it felt like a good yin and yang of my 2020 mania.
The striking of an anvil is a recurring percussive texture on ‘Faces’, was this as a result of listening to DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’?
YES! I wrote that song before the ‘Fools’ cover and I was so enthralled by the percussion of that album and was really trying to mimic some of the sounds. When I was writing the track, all I could think about was someone just banging on drums like a hammer.
‘Lucky Lobotomy’ has to be the song title of year and is quite funky, what is this actually about?
That’s my favorite song on the album right there! The idea from the song came from this emotional state that is close to hysteria when it comes to infatuation. Like sometimes you just want to just shut your brain off or at least just hit the brakes but it just isn’t possible. The chorus is just a mantra to myself to be low key and calm down, a cognitive behavioral therapy to subdue my erratic lovesick mind.
The sound of the album deviates slightly with some guitar on ‘Body Work’ and ‘The Ordinary’, where does this influence in your sound come from?
Specifically the guitar on ‘Body Work’ is influenced by post punk bands like JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER, it’s certainly my most moody song and I really wanted a very emotional guitar tone to fit the energy of that track.
‘Skin Graft’ is quite sombre yet wonderfully dancey, which kind of sums up the sad/happy dichotomy of your music?
I’m glad someone is noticing this song! ‘Skin Graft’ was the last song I wrote and to me it was the cherry on top of the albums theme of converting heavy emotions into palatable danceable pop songs! My thesis when it comes to my music is even when I’m at my saddest, to make the tracks something you want to bob your head and sway too, because if you’re gonna be in your feelings, you might as well have some fun! And in truth I’m a very optimistic person, even when I’m at my lowest, I try to aspire myself into happier more light-hearted thinking.
As an album, ‘Chain Reaction’ is short and sweet and leaves the audience wanting more, where do anticipate you might take your music in the future?
Thank you! Right now I’m in creative limbo where I’m not 100% sure what to do, but I know I’m not calling it quits anytime soon. I want my next assortment of songs to be dancier, catchier and impossible to get out of your head. And I think what that entails is being more serious and tending to the music more. ‘Chain Reaction’ was very much me trying to prove a point to myself, that I as an amateur with no musical upbringing can make an album.
You played your first live gig as CATHERINE MOAN recently, how was it? Do you consider yourself a natural performer?
My first live shows have been electric! I had never performed before and I was really afraid but I really think I’m a natural performer. Once I’m on the stage, I just want to dance and influence the people watching to dance to, it’s just pure fun honestly.
What’s next for you?
For now it’s focusing on playing live and getting my sea legs, because I think it’s going to take a while to really get the chops to become a quality life performer. But I really want to get back into the studio writing, all in due time I guess 🙂
Thanks for the great questions, and of course thanks for sharing my music and being a supporter!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Angel Jefferson
A wonderful delightfully odd experience that is accessible on many levels, ‘T.O.N.T.O.’ is the fifth album in 3 years by the Canadian musician Robin Hatch.
The eight track body of work uses the huge customised synthesizer system created for the music of TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND, the duo comprising of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who together co-produced some of Stevie Wonder’s best known albums such as ‘Talking Book’ and ‘Innervisions’.
Hatch was first introduced to “The Original New Timbral Orchestra” by Cecil at a Los Angeles trade show in 2015 while later, she met up with Margouleff to discuss the suitability of her compositions for T.O.N.T.O. Having previously issued piano and experimental works, Hatch’s fourth record ‘Noise’ featured vocals and drum machine with occasional inclinations into pop.
But the entirely instrumental ‘T.O.N.T.O’ was written and recorded by Hatch at the National Music Centre in Calgary where “The Original New Timbral Orchestra” is now based, just before Malcolm Cecil passed away at the age of 84. Hatch has dedicated the album to him, which has also been mastered by Robert Margouleff.
Robin Hatch kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about her career to date and utilising the vast possibilities of T.O.N.T.O. for her own expressive purposes under some challenging circumstances.
You have described yourself as “a classical player trying to play jazz and not being very good at either”, why did you say that?
I don’t practice enough, so I think it’s just a way to cover my bases there, plus it immediately lets people know about my neuroses.
You effectively lead a triple life as a musician in classical, alternative rock and experimental synth, are your tastes quite eclectic? Is there any genre which you don’t embrace?
I enjoy listening to all types of music — left to my own devices, I generally listen to yacht rock or music that sounds like it could be on ‘The Immaculate Collection’. I don’t like present day Top 40 pop music all that much, but you still get a good song in there every couple of years or so.
How did you get into synthesizers and what was your first acquisition or experience?
I think my first synthesizer purchase was for an all-female WEEZER cover band I played in, SHEEZER. I got a digital Roland Juno-Di I think because it was the cheapest synth available where I could easily replicate the ElectroComp 101 sound that they used on ‘Pinkerton’. My first analog synth was a used Nord Lead 2X that I picked up when I joined OUR LADY PEACE on tour.
You’ve cited John Cage as an influence on your approach as he “embellished the weird”?
I love John Cage, he was so strange. I like how he treated the composition of music as high art that you might find in a gallery (such as his list of New York waltzes where it’s a list of groupings of three streets, and performing the waltz requires you walk between the three streets), and then could go on television and show a TV host how he’d made a distorted microphone face mask and laugh maniacally at his own invention.
I think there is a fine line between this and insanity and John Cage was always good at remaining in the academic realm. I’m reading a book called ‘Where The Heart Beats’ right now about how he got into Zen Buddhism.
I once did DJ set of 4’33” covers between live acts during an event that even made Jonathan Barnbrook who did the minimalist artwork for David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ raise an eyebrow, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for the sake of artistic expression?
Ha ha! Well I never went to school for theatre or visual art so in my early 30s, I think I’m just discovering sides of performance where people who study performance might roll their eyes. I get pretty outrageous on Twitter and I think it’s interesting to call that artistic expression, whether or not that’s valid artistic expression. It’s about as artistic as a personal blog, I suppose.
There’s a very vibrant outspoken guy here in Canada named Frank D’Angelo who is a very successful businessman, film director, and jazz musician. He also hosts his own talk show called ‘Being Frank’.
I had chirped him one day on Twitter, saying a song of his that I’d heard on the radio sounded like it was ripping something else off.
He name-searches, so he replied right away and ended up inviting me on his talk show, where I played one of my strange 5/8 time signature piano pieces.
He gave all the guests on the show that day (me and many Canadian television actors) a copy of his latest film script, and told me he’d “f*ckin kill me” if I ever showed anyone. It was a fun day overall and hope to work with him again someday.
After the experimental ‘Hatch’ album plus your previous piano works, you opted to feature vocals and drum machine on your fourth album ‘Noise’? ‘Tie A Bow’ is almost the closest you’ve got to pop?
I’m trying harder for these new songs I’m working on! If I had unlimited budget, the rest of it would have sounded poppier too but still sort of figuring out mixing and arranging on the fly.
‘Planetarium’ sounds as if you are exorcising demons?
Yeah, I was trying to be as strange as possible. I think I had this idea during Covid that I could do some sort of girl version of Klaus Nomi. I can’t even listen to it now because the vocals embarrass me so much.
So how did you discover T.O.N.T.O. and its history?
I was in LA for a trade show called NAMM in 2015 to try and network myself for sponsorships. I had auditioned for Dave Stewart the day before to play in his daughter’s band, and turned down the gig offer because I had a boyfriend back home (like an idiot!). This was the final day of the trade show, and this is still true but it’s pretty hard to get taken seriously by most people you speak to as a female musician, so I was on my way out with my tail between my legs and saw a mad scientist-looking fellow frantically pointing around over
by the Moog booth.
I basically walked up and cold-asked him who he was… it was Malcolm Cecil and he very kindly told me all about T.O.N.T.O. and gave me an autographed copy of TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND CD. I was already a Stevie fan from Motown cover bands I was playing in back in Toronto, and that interaction sort of solidified that love.
It represented for me, at that time, an appreciation for music which was separate from needing to have success within the industry, plus I got to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of the type of knowledge you need in order to create any synthesizer, let alone a massive Frankenstein like T.O.N.T.O.
How did you come to conceive a work around T.O.N.T.O.?
In the summer of 2019, I toured the National Music Centre in Calgary, AB, where T.O.N.T.O. is currently housed, and found out about residencies they offer there.
I posted about that to my Instagram, and a friend of mine reached out that he knew Robert Margouleff through the VR microphone industry.
I was in California that fall for a wedding and went to meet Robert mostly out of corny fan interest in picking his brain for stories. At that time I had released my first album, ‘Works For Solo Piano’, and Robert asked to hear some of the songs off of it.
He is the only person who has ever immediately identified Béla Bartók as one of my influences, ha! He comes from a classical background as well. It was Robert’s advice to try to sort of re-conceive the contrapuntal piano pieces I already write as separate voices in chamber pieces, and to run those parts into the separate synthesizers in T.O.N.T.O. essentially treating it as a MIDI chamber group automaton.
For the uninitiated, please can you tell us what is incorporated within the T.O.N.T.O. system and how did you find using it?
It has two Moog Modular 3 systems, two ARP 2600s, Oberheim SEM modules, and custom Serge modules as well as modules designed by Malcolm and Robert. While I was there, the Oberheim modules were out of commission so I used Studio Bell’s Four Voice instead.
There was a massive learning curve. It helped to study the Arturia Vintage VSTs in advance and get somewhat of a sense of the layout of those synthesizers. It is incredibly difficult to keep the thing in tune and most of the time, the best you can get it to sound, 50 years since it was built, is sort of like when you hear a group of children playing their first violin recital.
Jason Tawkin at Studio Bell had a lot of hands-on experience with Malcolm Cecil and (the late engineer and equipment technician) John Leimsider who restored T.O.N.T.O. – so Jason’s expertise in assisting with programming was invaluable, especially for songs like ‘Water’. I found the ARP 2600s easier to dial in, but the Moog modulars were a nightmare.
Was a four day residency enough to fully explore the possibilities of T.O.N.T.O.?
No… originally it was supposed to be twelve days but because of COVID, it was postponed for a year and pushed back to four days.
I could have used a lot more time plus “heads up” time to write the record, but I wasn’t about to complain when I got the e-mail it was moving forward!
‘Buttercups’ and ‘My Lucid Mind’ recall Wendy Carlos, has she always been a source of inspiration for you?
I am a massive fan of Wendy Carlos’ early film scoring and if it reminds you of those, that is extremely flattering.
I think I was trying to rip off the orchestrations from ‘Peter & The Wolf’ and then Robert Schumann for ‘Buttercups’… I had written the melody part on electric guitar and then fleshed it out more via that ostinato line. Then ‘My Lucid Mind’, I was trying to experiment with the tritone and diminished scales plus adding a countermelody that could play with and bounce off of the main melody.
You bring in a LinnDrum Computer for ‘Rest Stop’, was it the LM-1 which didn’t have enough chip memory for a cymbal crash?
I think that’s true of the LM-1. I was working with an LM-2 which had been hacked so it had MIDI. You know, I only had four days in studio and wish I had had more time to dial in a proper Linn sound for the record. It was what it was, but I almost wish I had overdubbed the song with VST LinnDrums because they don’t sound as full as I’d like.
How do you find the digital drum machines compared with the primitive analogue rhythm boxes?
In terms of digital drum machine emulators of vintage analogue rhythm boxes, it’s pretty difficult to tell the difference at this point.
But it’s a lot more difficult to get a good sound from the analogue rhythm boxes and I imagine they sound beefier live.
‘Brazil’ ventures into jazz, what’s the story here?
I think the goal was to try and make something that sounded musically like a Stevie Wonder song, the spaces in modal jazz where you can’t tell if someone is playing in sharps or flats. It originally had LinnDrums similar to those on ‘Rest Stop’, but as a shot in the dark, I asked Eric Slick if he would drum on the song, and his playing plus Leland on sax just caused a more jazz-like sound.
‘Airplane’ is very solemn and tense, it features the violin of Laura Bates?
There was a Therevox (Canadian-made version of the Ondes Martenot) in the production room and I decided to attempt my best Jonny Greenwood there. Not being a string player myself, only about 20 seconds of that ended up on the recording, but Laura Bates, who is an incredible violinist and has a great metal band called VOLUR, helped me out with nailing the rhythm properly on those lines.
Amongst all the analogue synths on the ‘T.O.N.T.O.’ album, you use a Fairlight VST for a voice sample on ‘Mockingbird’, but have you ever used a real Fairlight CMI before?
No. I got to see one in person at EMEAPP this past month in Harleysville, PA. Hoping to get to use theirs someday. It’s on the “bucket list”.
Are there any other synths you would like to try out or are you happy with the set-up you have for the moment?
That new ARP2600 that Korg has out is pretty killer. I have a Prophet 12 that I’m still learning the ins and outs of, and I picked up an Elektron Rytm MkII drum machine last year with some of my pandemic unemployment, so I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied before I delve into modulars, for instance. I wouldn’t say no to a Moog Grandmother.
There’s a great distorted pipe texture on ‘Inspector’, how did you sound design that?
That is basically a sine wave patch where one of the oscillators is then running into a ring modulator. It gets pretty gritty towards the end but the ring modulator happened to be in tune enough and it was my favourite take of that song.
You used an RMI Explorer with its Flying Hammers?
I played the RMI Explorer on ‘Water’ and ‘My Lucid Mind’. For the former, the (excellent) engineer Jason Tawkin had helped me patch in a sound similar to water flowing on one of T.O.N.T.O.’s two Moog Modular 3 systems, which we were using on ‘Airplane’ and it was the end of the second day and we decided to jam out over that particular sound, and that plucked RMI Explorer patch seemed to complement the flowy, river-like nature of the Moog atmospherics.
For ‘My Lucid Mind’, it was the final day and I was tossing off some overdubs to add a more whimsical, weird circus-like energy to the song.
What were your personal favourite moments during the making of the ‘T.O.N.T.O.’?
I had some free time and I dialled in one of the sounds listed in the original ARP2600 patch book called “Jonathan Synthesized Seagull”, and it sounded exactly like a seagull. I’ll send you a video clip of it.
It made me laugh to think of the guy who stayed up and designed that for the manual, and how keyboard patch name humour hasn’t really changed much over the decades.
Just before the pandemic hit, I passed the audition to play in Dweezil Zappa’s band for some summer dates, and it felt like I was finally able to break out of the glass ceiling. I’ve been sober for four years now and it has been a real struggle to get my life back in order. I live with my parents and one of them was high-risk so I hardly had any social interaction for the entire year. Obviously a bleak year for everyone; I was extremely depressed and the Canadian employment benefit was running out.
So having this residency scheduled was sort of like going to heaven, or getting the golden ticket to go to the chocolate factory. It was a Cinderella moment to get an e-mail asking which of the other synthesizers in the museum’s collection I’d want to use for additional overdubs.
Are you tempted to build a modular system of your own in the future?
Hmm. I doubt it.
What’s next for you? Do you think you might venture into songs and vocals again?
I am working on more pop-focused synthesizer music that is influenced equally by indie music of the early noughts as it is by early 80s Top 40 New Wave… I actually read a lot of the synthesizer track breakdowns posted on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to get ideas! Then I think it would be a good idea to finally get out and play some shows… I’ll likely do another piano album at some point. Playing my first American show this month in New York City, and hopefully some more US dates down the line. I’ve got a New Year’s gig playing in Andy Kim from THE ARCHIES’ band that I’m quite jazzed about. Aside from that I’ve been writing music for podcasts, and hoping to break into film and TV composing. Like all musicians, I am incredibly desperate for work at this time!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Robin Hatch
Synth earth mother Alice Hubble recently returned to follow-up her acclaimed 2019 album ‘Polarlichter’ with the similarly inspired ‘Hexentanzplatz’.
Previously best known for fronting cult favourites ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES, she has presented another mix of the forlorn avant pop and endearing instrumentals that characterised her debut, but with an expanded textural palette.
Released by Happy Robots Records, tracks from ‘Hexentanzplatz’ have already secured BBC radio airplay from the likes of Janice Long, Lauren Laverne, Cerys Matthews and Steve Lamacq. From auroras to mountains, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK spoke to Alice Hubble about the making of ‘Hexentanzplatz’ and retaining that mystic but accessible air within her work.
Judging by album titles, was ‘Hexentanzplatz’ very much a variation on the theme of ‘Polarlichter’?
I didn’t set out for the album to have a German title, it just sort of happened! I like the way the words feel in your mouth. The name of a mountain translates to mean “the Witches Dance Floor”, it was so perfect in its nature / disco / witchy connotations that I couldn’t help be drawn to it.
So it’s “a beautiful mountain” but did you actually get to visit Hexentanzplatz?
In Summer 2020, I was lucky to take a visit to Germany. As with everything in the pandemic, it was quite an ordeal getting there, our flights were cancelled three times, so when we got there I couldn’t quite believe it and it was quite a surreal visit. One day in our trip, we visited the Harz mountains to go to the Unicorn Cave, mainly because they filmed some of the TV series ‘Dark’ at the cave, but also I like a good cave (see ‘Ruby Falls’…) as much as I like a good mountain. This is where the back cover photo of the LP was taken.
On the drive to the cave, I learnt of Hexentanzplatz, the mountain is an old Saxon cult site known for its Walpurligsnacht celebrations. We were hoping to visit this summer but our visit is now planned for December. I’m so excited to visit the mountain, but I’m prepared for the reality to be a bit different to the mystical wonderland inclusive disco party I’ve imagined!
How was your overall approach to ‘Hexentanzplatz’ compared to ‘Polarlichter’?
A few tracks were started before, but the majority of the LP was written during the first lockdown. Though none of the tracks were explicitly about lockdown, I feel the anxiety of the time is so clearly captured in the music. With the first LP, I was working out what Alice Hubble is, whereas with ‘Hexentanzplatz’, my overall writing approach was more focussed and confident.
I went to the recording studio last October and I spent 10 days in Ramsgate working on additional recording and mixing with Mike Collins at Big Jelly Studios. It was really nice to have this concentrated time to focus on the record.
Did you have any new or different toys at your disposal? How was the recording process this time round?
I bought a Roland RS202 string machine which is quite prominent on some tracks. With this LP, everything happened a lot quicker and the record sounds more spontaneous as a result. With the first LP, I felt the need to be very much in control in every creative decision. With this record I felt a lot free-er and relaxed in working with a producer and open to external suggestions.
Your trusty Moog Prodigy still make a fabulous noise…
Of course 🎹😉
You’ve continued to combine standalone instrumentals like ‘West Reservoir’ and ‘Gleichfalls’ alongside your songs, do you have any particular artists whose work is primarily instrumental that you have been inspired by?
Manuel Göttsching and Laurie Spiegel who have been big influences on my instrumental work. I’ve also been listening to Kitaro and early 80s library music records which my partner plays at home a lot.
The first single from ‘Hexentanzplatz’ was ‘Power Play’, how do you feel about recent events closer to home which have made the lyrical content even more poignant?
The lyrics to ‘Power Play’ were sparked from reading an article about the mass hex of Brock Turner, but also my comment on what happens in a post #metoo world, when the news stories have been had.
I’m not sure what particular recent events you’re referring to (there are sadly so many), but I think the whole system of sexual assault trials and convictions needs a reform, the “innocent until declared guilty” track doesn’t support victims in any way and one of the reasons why a lot of cases get dropped or don’t get to court in the first place.
‘Projections’ recalled NEW ORDER’s ‘Love Vigilantes’ with a quite rousing chorus?
This is probably the oldest song on the LP, it’s probably at least 5 years old, and was a song that I wrote to confront myself regarding past affections with woefully inappropriately located men. A lot of the time you write these songs and they’re actually too personal to put out there at the time. Having some distance from the song definitely helped me.
NEW ORDER was definitely a reference, though the ‘Republic’ era was what I was going for. ‘Love Vigilantes’ has definitely been a favourite through over the years though. The track also has a guitar solo on it, which feels quite adventurous for an Alice Hubble track!
You had an opportunity to reflect on your late parents with ‘My Dear Friend’ while the music was reminiscent of the earthier moods of LADYTRON when they made ‘Gravity The Seducer’?
I’m ashamed to say I don’t know that LADYTRON album, however ‘Witching Hour’ is definitely an LP I referenced a lot when making ‘Hexentanzplatz’. I do gravitate music that mixes the synthetic with the organic, ‘Seventh Tree’ is my favourite GOLDFRAPP LP.
Which tracks on ‘Hexentanzplatz’ are your own favourites?
Oh my it’s hard to say, I love ‘Make Believe’ cause it sounds so unsettled and heavy, and ‘Gleichfalls’, I know I made all the sounds on that record happen, but I’m still not sure how it happened!
You’ve expanded the line-up for your concerts, do you feel more confident with the challenges of live performance?
I’m glad I did play solo, but being the only person on stage is a lot for anyone to take on. I’d be trying to perform but also then would be worrying about all the tech stuff too, it was fun, but at times quite stressful, especially with a laptop which is on the brink of death!
Bringing in Tom Hilverkus to the live band was a natural choice, he’s already in the Hubble Bubble (he’s my partner), but also is a great musician and has a real calming influence on me and can look after some of the techy stuff. This gives me more mental space to focus on performing and also gives us more flexibility to make the live show more interesting sonically.
What’s next for you?
Looking to next year, there’ll be some UK and German dates and festival shows. There’s another EP at some point and I also need to find space to write some new tracks.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Alice Hubble
2019 was something of a treat for long standing FIAT LUX fans.
Having reformed to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their formation with the release of ‘Secrets 2017’, things went well enough to record an album ‘Saved Symmetry’ which was to be their debut in the long playing format.
But interest in the band whose only previously released body of work had been the ‘Hired History’ EP in 1984 on Polydor saw Cherry Red license a long awaited reissue in a double CD package with the shelved but intended debut album ‘Ark Of Embers’ from 1985.
Sadly, Ian Nelson who passed away in 2006 did not get to see his co-creation see the light of day, but vocalist Steve Wright and instrumentalist David P Crickmore took FIAT LUX back into the live arena with Will Howard taking over from their departed friend, beginning with a triumphant show at St Clements C of E Church in Bradford.
Despite their momentum being stalled by the worldwide pandemic, FIAT LUX have kept busy and are about to unleash their next album entitled ‘Twisted Culture’. Steve Wright and David P Crickmore spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about its creation…
2019 was a year in which FIAT LUX re-established itself with two albums and live shows after an absence 35 years, how do you look back on it?
David: It was a bit like a rebirth, all coming as it did in that one year. First our decision to get a new record off the ground, closely followed by the long awaited reissuing of all our back-catalogue by Universal and Cherry Red.
Steve: If all that wasn’t a good reason to attempt some live dates I don’t know what was!
Your kids were watching you in Bradford at St Clements C of E Church, what was it like for them? Did they give you feedback?
Steve: I don’t think they knew what to expect but at the end they were extremely proud of everything apart from their Dad dancing. They weren’t alive when FIAT LUX was first active and I don’t think they expected the huge support from the audience that we got and the number of people who came from all over the country and abroad to watch.
David: My children, being slightly younger at the time, were more keen to work on the merch stand!
Did you have a particular moment at St Clements C of E Church where you thought “It’s good to be back, I want to do more of this”?
David: Definitely. When I flunked the opening of ‘Secrets’ on the keyboard. I thought “we need another gig or two to get this right”. Ha ha!
It must have been quite deflating that the momentum was halted by world events in 2020?
Steve: Indeed. Thwarted by circumstances – just like in 1984 when the miners’ strike killed off our video for ‘Blue Emotion’ because of the political repercussions of representing the workers’ rights at the time!
From the new album, the song ‘It Wasn’t Supposed To Be Now’ perhaps sums things up?
David: Yes, that’s all about how in different times of your life something can come along that knocks you sideways when you least expect it.
Steve: Certainly Covid has done that to everybody, many to a much greater extent than us humble musicians.
‘(How Will We Ever) Work This Way’ is another song capturing the zeitgeist although this was more or less finished before the lockdown?
David: It was pretty much done, but we adapted it slightly to make more of the dilemma everyone faced at the time making more of the prevailing sentiment: “what do we do now?”
How far had ‘Twisted Culture’ progressed with writing and production before lockdown happened, how did you approach the album’s completion?
Steve: The album was half done, we knew the direction but, as it says in the sleeve, it had to be completed in “various boltholes” rather than in the studio.
David: Will suffered this most as he hadn’t done any sax parts before the lockdown. I had to leave a suitable microphone and recording device on his doorstep and retreat a safe distance whilst he picked it up. All his parts were done at home, based on my keyboard guide parts.
They are some more directly electronic and even dance-inspired tracks than there were on ‘Saved Symmetry’ like ‘Basement City Living’ and ‘Tighter’, had this been a conscious move?
David: Part of the FIAT LUX soup has always been a dance / funkelectronic element. It’s there from our earliest times.
Steve: Although ‘Saved Symmetry’ might not have been full of them, one of its most successful tracks from it as a single was ‘It’s You’.
David: Also I heard somewhere that, during the pandemic, the BPM of all the popular songs increased a lot – maybe we were subconsciously affected?
Had you used any new synths or tech that you hadn’t incorporated before?
David: We are always trying out new things and throwing them in the mix. We always have – Jupiter 8 and Memorymoog were new back when we worked with Hugh Jones, but conversely we always have bedrock legacy instruments to hand too like Mellotron, Minimoog and marimba. It’s harder now to find a new synth or box that does something original and different but we have incorporated newer things like the Korg Volca series and the Mini Nova and there’s always new tech to be had at the mixing stage.
Steve plays a bit of guitar and keyboards on ‘Cul De Sac’ and ‘Hope’ respectively, how did it go? 😉
Steve: I have done it before! Even back on the first B-side ‘This Illness’ there’s me chugging away in the background on a plucky six string.
There are references to FIAT LUX’s early days produced by Bill Nelson with the burst of E-Bowed guitar on ‘Hope’, did you have lessons from the master himself and for the uninitiated, how is the technique different from soloing in the traditional way?
David: It was definitely Bill that showed me how to do it. I’d never encountered anybody before with one and I can’t think of anyone since for that matter. The wisdom was bestowed in the confines of the cramped setting of Ric Rac studios in Leeds where Bill recorded our first sessions.
Steve: Basically, it’s a small version of a steam iron which produces magnetic pulses that make the string vibrate indefinitely.
Will Howard joins FIAT LUX on sax and woodwinds, contributing to more than half the album on songs like ‘Cul De Sac’ and ‘The Night We Should Have Met’, how has his presence helped with the 21st Century dynamic of FIAT LUX?
Steve: We’ve always had a sax player since the Polydor years and it’s continuing that sound and mood. The real reed vibrating seems to blend in perfectly with the electronics.
David: We were mighty lucky to bump into Will when we did as I doubt we could have found anyone else who could have made such an easy fit into Ian’s role. He seemed to have all the sensibilities to understand what had passed while mixing it with his own musical personality in the new stuff.
‘The Night We Should Have Met’ features this wonderful Barber shop quartet round to finish, how did the idea for that come about?
Steve: We didn’t realise, otherwise we would have bought straw hats! It’s just part of the FIAT LUX palate – since the Hugh Jones production days we’ve always thrown the harmonies about rather than just blocking them in: Try the final minute of ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ on ‘Ark Of Embers’.
David: …Or even the middle bit of ‘Blue Emotion’.
Which are your own favourite songs on ‘Twisted Culture’ and why?
Steve: Hope – Because my keyboard line and David’s E-Bow blend so well together. I’m really happy with it.
David: I love the soring sax Will provides in ‘Cul De Sac’ which creates a plateau of bliss which we probably only last achieved in that same way with Ian’s part in ‘Photography’.
What are your hopes and fears for FIAT LUX and in general as we all re-engage with a rather changed world?
Steve: That people will continue to like our music, while I can continue to walk down the street wearing a FIAT LUX T-shirt without anyone knowing what is.
David: That’s the measure of true cult status!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to FIAT LUX
Like a high tech K-Tel compilation album but from the baton of one conductor, the multi-vocalist self-titled debut album by DIAMOND FIELD captures the spirit of the pioneering MTV era and classic Brat Pack movie soundtracks.
The musical vehicle of the New Zealander Andy Diamond, he looks to studio icons such as Hugh Padgham, Rupert Hine and Peter Wolf as prime inspirations.
Although written before the worldwide pandemic, many of the lyrics deal with hope and positivity and the international cast of Nina Luna, Matthew J Ruys, Miriam Clancy, Nik Brinkman, Cody Carpenter, Becca Starr, Belinda Bradley, Chelsea Nenni and Kyle Brauch do the songs proud.
Andy Diamond spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the creation of his DIAMOND FIELD opus while also sharing his thoughts on many of aspects of music as an independent artist.
It’s taken a while to get round to there being a DIAMOND FIELD album, were there any particular reasons?
Well, there’s a few reasons for that, ha ha. Like most people, time is a factor and I tend to have a bunch of other things going on – music to learn and rehearse with other artists, remixes and production projects, design work, family life, photography, buying records on Discogs lol. It doesn’t make it easy to allow for solid chunks of time to be blocked out for album production. I’m also collaborating with other artists and they have their own schedules. I’ve had a few instances where I was waiting several months for a vocal for a song, only to have it fall through and having to go through the process again with someone else. That stuff all adds up.
It was only in late 2020 when I finally had all the musical pieces together and was able to sit down and start mixing everything. I set myself a date to have the finished tracks ready for mastering, turning down a bunch of other things to clear time and make it happen. January to June 2021 was spent hard-out on the final mixes, a lot of ‘final’ mixes that led to more final mixes and level tweaking. Add to that all the artwork production and additional non-musical ‘fun stuff’ that goes into preparing a release and it was a busy time.
I was also wary of the increasingly long production times required for vinyl production so I needed to get things rolling. I’m not quite sure how the likes of SELLOREKT/LA DREAMS, BART GRAFT and FAINT WAVES manage to pump all those albums out! Just making one is enough of a big deal, but after all this, I definitely feel more confident in producing DIAMOND FIELD music at a higher rate of output.
Had singles like ‘Neon Summer’, ‘The Nightingale’, ‘Burning Blood’ and ‘Won’t Compromise’ been more toe-dipping exercises, how do you look back on those tracks?
No – all the singles were definite statements – “hey, this is DIAMOND FIELD, this is how we sound and this is what we do”. ‘Neon Summer’ (with Nina Yasmineh aka Nina Luna) is still a good representation of what DIAMOND FIELD was intended to be from the start, sonically and stylistically. For that first release, I carefully prepared how the visuals, social media and music video would look for maximum effect. I purposely released the song as a maxi-single with a bunch of remixes (with some well-known names) to get the widest reach. It was like “we’re here, take note, we’ve thought about this”. None of that ‘drop a song on Soundcloud and cross your fingers’ stuff.
All four singles – ‘Neon Summer’, ‘This City’ (with Matthew J Ruys), ‘Closer’ (with Rat Rios) and ‘Won’t Compromise’ (with Bob Haro) would be right at home on the DIAMOND FIELD album. In fact they were all contenders for the album – I had intended them to be lead tracks for the album but because the other songs weren’t ready, they defaulted to being standalone singles in their own right.
The other songs – the cover of ‘The Nightingale’ (with Rat Rios), “Twin Peaks” tribute ‘Burning Blood’, and then ‘Freedom Pass’ (with Dana Jean Phoenix) were all written specially for compilations that had deadlines. Those weren’t album tracks but still had the DIAMOND FIELD sound. Likewise with all of DIAMOND FIELD’s remixes for other artists (or ‘reworks’ as I prefer to call them). Those all have DIAMOND FIELD DNA in them, and because I use different artists on my own songs, reworking someone else’s song could sound like a DIAMOND FIELD cut because I’m working with supplied vocals and recreating the music in my style. A couple of good examples of those are the DIAMOND FIELD reworks of BUNNY X’s ‘Come Back’ and Roxi Drive’s ‘Electricity’.
It’s no coincidence that vocalists from previous DIAMOND FIELD singles make return appearances on the album. Nina and Matt are there and I had Rat Rios lined up but it didn’t work out this time. I look back at all these early tracks fondly and I’m very proud of them.
You are more influenced by producers like Hugh Padgham, Rupert Hine, Peter Wolf and Stephen Hague rather than actual bands or artists, what do you think these studio icons brought to their respective works?
I do think production is really the main influencer for me. I love the artists of course, but if it were not for the producers, many iconic albums would have sounded a lot different.
I guess it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation – what came first? The producer or the artist? Maybe we are in fact mixing the chicken and the egg together here, simultaneously! The common thread with all of these producers is that they weren’t afraid to utilize the emerging technology of the time and figure out how to integrate it. They were hoovering up the latest gadgets and using them to their maximum potential, even though it was a painstaking process and syncing everything up was not as easy as it is today. They were able to create distinctive sounds, rhythms and techniques that became what we refer to as “the sound of the 80s”.
In Padgham’s case it was that big gated drum sound that worked so well for Phil Collins, and Stephen Hague was great with synthesizers and nailed some great sounds that are iconic ear candy and moments. Although many of these producers worked on a lot of electronic music, they were all able to skillfully combine the electronic side of things with the traditional – guitars, bass and drums. That is why with DIAMOND FIELD you hear ‘real’ drums, bass and electric guitars combined with the drum machines, sequencers and synths. They all work so well together for that ‘80s sound that doesn’t focus solely on early DEPECHE MODE man/machine type music.
How did the album begin in earnest, was there a particular epiphany when you thought a long playing record was a realistic possibility?
Again, this was all planned out from day one and the first single ‘Neon Summer’. Everything would build on and progress from that.
The idea was always to have an album of material as the logical end goal, release it physically and play it live.
I’m still a believer in full length albums and never really bought into the “people only listen to singles” thing.
I was talking to Alex Karlinsky aka HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR about the value of albums. Is it better to just drop a single every month so you can stay visible? With an album, it’s a one-time drop. By dropping constant singles you can keep yourself in the limelight more regularly.
Of course there is no reason you can’t take ten singles and release them as an album later down the line, but an album quantifies an artist’s vision as a complete body of work. There’s no p*ssing around with dropping a track here and there – it’s “Wham! Check this thing out!” You need to put some time aside to take this all in.
I’d like to think all the tracks on the DIAMOND FIELD album could be singles and I could push them individually over time (with a music video for example). As for the live thing, that could only really happen after the album was complete as I needed to have enough completed songs to play out!
What criteria did you use to select your vocalists?
Most importantly these are people I like and respect. I’ve also worked with many of them in some way the past, with the exception of Cody. I’ll always start my songs with the music first and then add vocals on top of that. I figure out whose voice might be a good fit for the musical bed and how that could add to the overall picture. Is this a ballad? Would this be better sung from a female point of view? Is this a ‘belter’ that needs a big voice? In that way it’s kinda good to have the luxury of different vocalists because you can get additional scope that you may not get with a sole lead singer.
Sometimes I’ll write the lyrics and the main vocal melody (top line), demo it and give that to the vocalist to copy. I might have a very specific idea and that includes the lyrics and vocal melody. Other times the vocalist may write the lyrics and top line. So I’m open.
Matt and I go way back to our teens making music together and we’re good friends. He’s a total pro when it comes to vocals and full of ideas. There are several songs on the album where over half the tracks in the session are made up of Matt’s BVs alone. Chelsea and I play in her band LATE SLIP and she’s also a pro.
I’ve also played in bands with Nina, Miriam (Clancy) and guitarist Rodger Cunningham so there’s a bit of a history there. Chris Ward (saxophone) was my neighbour and I fed his cats when he was on vacation, and Kyle, Becca and Nik have all done great work on their own projects. Sometimes cold calling someone to collaborate with can work too. That’s how Nina and I originally met and since then we have made a lot of music together over. A successful cold call is a one-time thing and ideally from that you can develop a relationship and keep it going. That said, I’ve had my fair share of being turned down by people who were either not interested or too busy, but it all worked out in the end!
Had the opener ‘New Situation’ with Nina Luna been intended to be your take on TEARS FOR FEARS?
Oh I think everything of mine probably has some subliminal TEARS FOR FEARS in it lol. I was not aware of that connection while making the song, especially since it has a female vocal, but since you mentioned it, I think your reference point might be ‘Head Over Heels’? It has a similar tempo, lots of keyboards and a snare build-up.
‘Head Over Heels’ is one of my favourite TFF songs, so if I have emulated something that makes people think of it without being total rip off, then I think that’s pretty cool.
‘Glowing In The Dark’ featuring Miriam Clancy recalls BERLIN, do you think Terri Nunn’s combo are often forgotten and under-rated…for example, everyone knows ‘Take My Breath Away’ but no-one seems to remember the artist?
BERLIN are one of my favourite bands from the early to mid ‘80s. ‘Pleasure Victim’ and ‘Love Life’ are up there in my list of favorite albums. BERLIN were the epitome of sophisticated US West Coast new wave bands at the time, and like MISSING PERSONS, proved that Americans were quite good at interpreting what Europe was doing musically, but injecting some sex and glam into the equation. ‘Take My Breath Away’ is the least BERLIN sounding BERLIN song since it’s really Terri singing over someone else’s track. Check out ‘The Metro’ and ‘No More Words’ for true BERLIN classics.
Incidentally, I lifted the ‘Diamond’ part of my “stage name” from BERLIN’s synth player David Diamond. I thought it would make a cool sounding name, still being related to DIAMOND FIELD, and when David had hair in the ‘80s, he looked really sharp behind his Prophet 5. Also, BERLIN’s main songwriter John Crawford is a bass player (like myself) and in the ‘80s I sported a similar mullet to his, so I’m really on that aesthetic.
How did ‘Glowing In The Dark’ come about?
‘Glowing In the Dark’ started out as an instrumental and worked quite well in that form. A melody built around muted synth brass, sparkly DX7s and synth bass with programmed drums. Another song I’d say emulates music from 1986/87 in terms of sounds. Since there were already a lot of instrumental hooks on this, any vocals would need to be able to fit with the music (and I wanted vocals). I didn’t want to have to reduce the hooks to fit vocals around, which sometimes needs to happen to avoid conflicts – you need to have space, not competing elements.
Miriam was someone whose work I always loved as both a songwriter and singer. I was looking for an opportunity to work on a song with her and it finally panned out when she said she’d be down to sing on the album. And sing she did. What she delivered in terms of lyrics and vocals on ‘Glowing In The Dark’ were amazing. Everything fit perfectly and it was like the music and lyrics had originally been written together, not in different places at different times. Miriam also dipped-in to her bag of songwriting tricks and refined my initially over-long arrangement, so that it was more concise.
A tricky thing about ‘Glowing In The Dark’ is that it has a key change (something that is underutilized in today’s pop music) and Miriam nailed that transition. At first we thought it could have sounded gimmicky, but combined with the slowed-down ending (emulating the tempo on a sequencer being manually reduced to a stop) I think it is a nice little signature piece. There’s a personal little Easter egg at the end of the song.
In the late ‘80s, there was a very distinctive patch on the Roland D-50 synth called ‘Soundtrack’. I always loved it and wanted to use it some time. I never owned a D-50 but I did have a 1990 Korg T3 synth which had its own variation on the D-50’s Soundtrack patch. I used the T3 extensively for several years and have a big soft spot for that synth. These days I use Korg’s M1 soft synth (which includes all of the T3 sound libraries) and so what you hear at the end of the song is the Korg version of that D-50-type patch. Great to include both a patch from one of my favorite synths and the vocals from one of my favorite singers on the same track!
Matthew J Ruys gets to do two tracks, the brassy electro-funk of ‘Bring Back Love’ and the mighty blue-eyed growl of ‘Out Here For Love’, two quite different styles?
Well that’s Matt for you. He’s a very versatile singer and can sing whatever you throw at him. Back in the late 90s he was doing stuff with ORGANIZED NOISE (OUTKAST) in Atlanta so he’s able to pull off R ‘n’ B and rhymes, but is just as comfortable doing rockers and everything in-between. You can give him an instrumental and he’ll come up with a voice and style to fit. And he knows his sh*t when it comes to BVs.
On ‘Bring Back Love’ I was going for a white boy RnB/Latin feel – a little Michael McDonald and MIAMI SOUND MACHINE crossover. The overt synth brass mixed with real brass samples was intentional – I wanted to capture that ‘80s brass emulation without making it either too sterile or overly real.
For ‘Out Here For Love’, that song started from a piece of music that Australian retrowave artist Lachi James had written. It was originally going to be a collaboration with Lachi, but the timing didn’t work out so I got Matt to sing it and my old friend Rodger Cunningham to throw down the guitar leads on it. I was aiming for that hi-tech pop / rock sound that Michael Sembello was so good at on his ‘Without Walls’ album – the type of song you’d hear on a ‘Rocky’ soundtrack by Robert Tepper. It’s also the most collaborative track on the album with Lachi, Matt, Rodger and myself all contributing.
‘Look To The Stars’ gives a nod to New York electro, where there any key records from the past that helped shape this?
That’s a hard song for me to pin-down, comparison-wise. I mean I am in NYC but that’s about it. I was going for an energetic track with a heavy sequencer vibe, with overdubbed instruments. I’m trying to give the impression of something that’s been made on a Fairlight around 1986 or so, with the tight drums and sequenced bass.
I get the electro angle, in many ways that’s probably coming from the NEW ORDER corner of my brain. Kyle Brauch was a good fit for vocals on this.
I’d done a remix for his MIDAWE project and he’d done a DIAMOND FIELD remix for ‘This City’ so I had been wanting to get his vocals on one of my own songs. Kyle has that Rick Springfield vibe and knows how to belt it out. He came up with the lyrics and vocal melody too.
I added some real bass to compliment the sequenced bass which is something I do quite often (think NEW ORDER’s Peter Hook playing bass over sequenced bass parts), added some electric guitars and had The Saxophone Warrior (Chris Ward) play the sax on it. Chris is a very talented jazz player but also does cool stuff with effects and pushing the sax in new directions (although I had him keep it pretty straight on ‘Look To The Stars’ since it’s a kinda period-specific track). Chris has also played with FISCHERSPOONER who are my favourite electroclash act so that is a cool connection.
How did the wonderful ‘A Kiss Apart’ with Belinda Bradley come together?
This is another example of having an instrumental track and figuring out whose voice might suit it best. ‘A Kiss Apart’ is also tightly sequenced with late ‘80s influences. It has a fuller, more mature, lush synth pop sound so the vocal needed to compliment that. I’ve known Belinda for a while and was a big fan of her band SELON RECLINER who make amazing cinematic, widescreen pop. In a way, with Belinda writing the lyrics and singing, it’s almost like a SELON RECLINER song being covered by DIAMOND FIELD, and I’m just fine with that idea!
‘Used To Be’ pays homage to the THE GO-GO’S?
Oh for sure. In fact more specifically THE GO-GO’S’ Jane Wiedlin and her 1988 song ‘Rush Hour’ that was produced by Stephen Hague. I wanted something upbeat and fun sounding, something that Jane might have done. The original version of ‘Used To Be’ had programmed bass and a drum machine but I decided it would make for a better GO-GO’S new wave pop feel by using real bass, livelier drums and more guitars.
I was playing bass in Chelsea Nenni’s band LATE SLIP and just love her vocals, so if anyone was going to do this song justice it was Chelsea. She wrote the lyrics, came in and did couple of takes and that was it – nailed! The poppy upbeat music with Chelsea’s break up lyrics makes a good combo.
One surprise was Cody Carpenter’s track ‘Spills Like Love’ which was a lot more jazzier perhaps than the work he is associated with via his Horror Master father?
Yeah I think Cody mostly gets associated with the work he does with his dad, whereas his own projects are also really great. It was Cody’s LUDRIUM project that connected with me. The mix of prog and fusion combined with Cody’s vocals in LUDRIUM are something that you don’t often hear these days. He manages to bring together everything good about those styles without the waffling-on that sometimes gives prog a bad rep.
LUDRIUM also reminded me of the 1970s work of DAVID SANCIOUS & TONE who created wonderful, feel good fusion. I’d crafted the instrumental of ‘Spills Like Love’ to be a blend of late ‘70s West Coast vibes, yacht rock and early 80s synths.
So yeah, I had my eye on Cody for this one. He had the perfect voice and vibe. And he didn’t just stop at vocals, he dropped that amazing synth solo on there, giving me visions of Cody blazing on a white-face ARP Odyssey in a wood panelled man cave. I was also referencing ‘70s music like FLEETWOOD MAC, which featured prominent male / female vocals and so I had Becca Starr add BVs to give it that feel.
Which tracks are your own favourites on the album and why?
Oh I think I’d have to say they are all favourites. There are parts of songs I really like such as the percussion tracks in ‘Bring Back Love’ and the DX7 keyboard riff in ‘Spills Like Love’ but they are all special to me based on who is signing on the song and how and when I wrote it. Each song has its own ‘slot’ and I don’t think there’s any ‘filler’. That’s confirmed to me when people listen to the album and tell me which track is their favourite, and that tends to be a different song for everyone. That was my aim in a way, an album that was quite varied but still cohesive, where everyone finds something they like.
A number of the earlier DIAMOND FIELD singles were embraced by the synthwave community but was it a conscious decision to navigate around that scene and focus on doing a pop record?
No, not at all. All the DIAMOND FIELD music comes from the same outlet. It’s always been overtly pop with lots of synth and ‘80s elements so it made total sense to drop it in the synthwave / retrowave sphere. I figured if synthwave fans liked artists like Kristine back in 2013, or Michael Oakley in the current day, you’d probably like DIAMOND FIELD.
If you’re strictly into Darkwave or instrumental Outrun, then maybe it’s not so much your thing (although I always release instrumental versions). Synthwave / retrowave is an obvious audience for me and has become far more accepting of vocal pop. I like to think my audience extends to anyone who likes pop music, regardless of what genres they are in to. A lot of people who love the album have zero awareness of synthwave (or any kind of scenes for that matter). They just like the music, and to me that is mission accomplished!
What’s your take on how some are accusing big acts like THE WEEKND and MUSE of ‘stealing’ from synthwave so should acknowledge that scene? Surely the use of synth arpeggios is decades old, dating backing to Giorgio Moroder while sombre electronic basslines came via KRAFTWERK on ‘Radio-Activity’ so it was not something invented by Ryan Gosling for ‘Drive’? 😉💣
There’s overt rip-offs out there, like the guy who was stealing music and reposting as his own on Spotify, and then there are THE WEEKND vs VANITY & MAKEUP SET situations.
One is easy to prove as a rip off and the other is harder. Arpeggios in electronic music are tough to police because of the way an arpeggiator works.
In a nutshell, you play a note and select the timing of the arp and off it goes. Things change depending on the complexity of the arp you select and the notes played in that sequence. More often than not, the arpeggiator is used for things like basslines which are synced to the drums and tend to be pretty straightforward. That creates a situation where a song might sound very similar to another.
If you did a scientific experiment on songs that use an arpeggiator and stripped away the other tracks, you’d find a great deal of similarity. What goes on top of the arpeggiation is what starts to makes a difference. ‘Blue Monday’ isn’t directly ripping off ‘I Feel Love’ but it is highly influenced by it, as are a gazillion other songs. Does Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ sounds like George Michael’s ‘Freedom 90’? Sure. But George Michael’s estate is cool with it. How long have we got to compare all the music that sounds like something else?
While music and technology continue to evolve, there are only so many sounds, chords and progressions out there and inevitably you’ll get similarities popping up from time to time. Having a good lawyer and deep pockets can help if you really want to prove your song has been copied. Some artists are successful in doing so and others are increasingly not. Check out Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ lawsuit from a few years back as an example.
I think what bothers me most is when an artist is part of a ten person songwriting team and still manages to write a song that has obvious melodic or chordal similarities to another song. All those writers and you can’t be more original? Maybe it’s an obvious homage. But if no-one’s suing…
How do you see the future of music with regards formats, platform and live performance after a difficult 20 months for many?
Having experienced total lockdown for over a year myself, not playing or seeing any live music, it’s been so great to come out the other side and spend the six months getting back into it. Live music is very important. People are into it. They need it.
That whole live-performance-on-the-internet stuff was driving me nuts. There were some good performances and it created a new outlet for artists to perform shows online, almost by-default. Online shows are no match for live in-person performances.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch recorded live shows but I prefer that interaction of being in a crowd and having the band in front of me. There’s nothing like it. That said I’m really interested to see how this virtual ABBA thing is going to work.
With music formats, vinyl is going apesh*t and the result is that it is now taking six to eight months to get an album pressed. That’s a huge amount of lead time to plan for, especially for indie artists. Fans are now reluctantly reserved to waiting months for a physical release to materialize, having to put their funds up for something that won’t get into their hands until well after the digital release. That is a lot to ask, especially in the instant world of Amazon and music streaming. I can’t see it changing anytime soon though.
I do love the fact that many people are returning to listening to music in a better way, via vinyl and/or with better equipment to take advantage of streaming services that offer master quality hi-fi streams. Artists lamenting about having mixed and mastered their music meticulously only to have the user listen on ‘crappy earbuds’ is looking like it will be a thing of the past sooner than later
You are quite active on social media, but is there a wider caution that support for up-and-coming musicians comes from other musicians, rather than a potential non-creative audience who are actually the ones who spend money on product and gigs?
That’s an interesting question. Without a doubt, artists tend to comment on other artists’ posts, in a kind of empathetic way. But that depends on what style of social media an artist chooses to engage in. If they are fan-centric you’re going to get different posts than if they are talking about production techniques (which will get more engagement from artists vs. fans). Many artists will follow back new artists as a means of showing support but are less likely to engage with them after that. A new artist will probably follow an established artist in hopes of being noticed by that artist (and their fans).
So maybe musically, social media is a bubble with fan interaction limited to a handful of popular artists, and the rest are just talking amongst themselves. That can also be the case with a lot of reviews and online radio, where it’s only the artist that really listens, to hear their own song or to read their own review. Right now, social media is necessary but as well all know, often draining and somewhat soul destroying!
How feasible is it to take DIAMOND FIELD out live with its inherent multi-vocalist format? What are your future plans?
Yes sir – I really dug myself a hole in terms of trying to do a live show and having a dozen different vocalists on my songs! There’s no way I can get everyone together to sing one song only! To make DIAMOND FIELD work live I needed to find a vocalist (locally) that was able to sing a bunch of the songs and make a live set possible.
Luckily for me I have found such a person in Abby Holden. She’s a singer-songwriter who also just happens to be from New Zealand, and has a killer voice. We’ve put together a set list of DIAMOND FIELD songs she feels comfortable singing and are in the process of getting a live show together.
At first it’ll be the two of us with backing tracks and myself on guitar, bass or synths depending on the song. Getting that up and running means we’ll be able to start playing shows, then expand it out with other musicians down the line. These days, audiences are fine with laptops and backing tracks, but as a musician with a long history in playing in bands, I’d love to make everything as live as possible. I’m looking forward to finally getting DIAMOND FIELD on the stage!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Andy Diamond