When you listen to the music of Aerosol you get the feeling of deep contemplation, or meditating in outer space. Getting lost in the cosmos. Getting lost in your own crazy head space. Aerosol’s sole member, Causa Sui keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen, makes the kind of dense, vast electronic albums that fans of Boards of Canada, Kraftwerk, Cluster, and Manual could appreciate and even fall hard for. It’s for fans of music that you can get lost in the details of the songs. Melodies created from a patchwork of circuits and tubes, that create a warm and bubbling syncopation. Organic, yet also not of this earth.
There’s two kinds of electronic music fans(okay, maybe there’s more, but for this demonstation I only need two kinds): there’s the fans that like their electronic music with propulsive beats that go on forever so they can sweat all night on the dance floor; and there’s the kind that likes to get lost in the sounds at home with the music barreling out of 3-way speakers or headphones strapped to their head. One is not better or more important than the other. It’s just a matter of opinion. Aerosol’s electronic music is of the contemplative kind. You go on a journey listening to albums like All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Airborne, and the newest record Leave. On Leave, Rasmussen has made a clear-eyed, pristine musical statement with analog synths, guitar, and nuanced beats.
Rasmus Rasmussen recently released Leave on n5MD and is currently readying that new album for a live setting as he’ll be doing some shows as Aerosol. He took a little time out of his schedule to talk with me and answer a few questions.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me about Aerosol? Is it just you on these albums?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Yes, it’s just me. It’ been that way so far, and I guess it will be until I need something else than synth, guitars and beats. It’s cool just to do everything your own way sometimes, though it can be a very time consuming process to write, record, and mix it all yourself. But I enjoy every aspect of it.
J. Hubner: How would you describe the music of Aerosol?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Basically it’s all been electronic, though the style has changed from record to record. But whether you’d call it clicks’n’cuts, electronica, shoegaze, kraut or something else, it’s just a form. The important thing is what you put in there. The style shouldn’t be something that limits you, but something you can bend and push to fit your own expression.
J. Hubner: Who or what influences the music you create in Aerosol?
Rasmus Rasmussen: I’m influenced by a lot of different stuff. Some of it would probably seem very far from the music I make myself, but I think being open to a wide range of influences keeps your perspective open and helps you avoid running in circles within a certain genre. But of course for Leave I was very much influenced by the synthesizer music of the seventies – especially the German stuff. Initially I was thinking that Leave should be a pretty clean take on that style, but I soon found out that doing a straight genre album set too many limitations and would just make the album weaker. So I stopped worry so much about the style and just focused on making good tunes.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little bit about the kinds of keyboards you use?
Rasmus Rasmussen: For Leave it’s pretty much all analog keyboards. Both old ones like the Korg Polysix and Roland JX-3P and some newer ones. I used a sample here and there and also some digital effects, but it’s very much based on analog hardware.
J. Hubner: What about the recording aspect? Did you go with analog recording as well?
Rasmus Rasmussen: For recording it’s all digital though. I record everything to the computer and mix it there. It’s just so much easier than having to do with tape machines and stuff like that. I admire people who make that effort to get the right sound, but for me the practical advantages of recording and mixing on the computer is just so huge, that I can easily live with the fact that I might miss a bit of coloration. I’m not a purist in any way. I think analog have some advantages and digital have others, so it’s just a matter of knowing your tools and being able to get the most out of them. I love analog synths, but I have digital too, and they don’t sound any better or worse, they just sound different. So when I need that kind of sound I’ll use them.
J. Hubner: Have keyboards always been your main instrument? How long have you been playing?
Rasmus Rasmussen: No, actually for a long while the guitar was my main instrument. In my early teens I had a band called Testicle Tuesday that played grunge covers, so it was all about the big riffs and solos. Then in Limp I played bass. But keyboard was the first instrument I learned to play, back when I was about nine years old. It was only when I started the Aerosol project that I took it up again though, and then later with Causa Sui it got more serious.
Though I rarely play guitar live these days I consider both keys and guitars my main instruments. I like to play the one as much as the other and enjoy the way they complement each other, with all their unique possibilities. I don’t come up with the same thing on the guitar as I do on keys and vice versa, so in a sense it’s like having two different voices you can utilize.
J. Hubner: Your newest opus as Aerosol was just released. ‘Leave’ is a lush, grand record filled with some amazing musical landscapes. In comparison to 2009s ‘Airborne’, it feels a little more dense and atmospheric. More emphasis on texture than straight up songs. Did you go into this new record with the idea to change the vibe up a bit?
Rasmus Rasmussen: I definitely went into this record with the idea of doing things differently. But probably more in the sense of changing the work process and the tools, than actually making a shift aesthetically. But I guess those things are kind of inseparable, so when relying on hardware synths, sequencers and drum machines instead of approaching it all from the computer, it’s inevitably going to have an effect on the musical expressing. You have to try to condense things more, because the tools are simpler. You have to boil the ideas down to their essence. I guess that’s what I really like about working this way. The limitations of the machines pushes you to think creatively, so to reach your goal you have to do some twist and turns, that sometimes leads to more interesting results, then when you are in front of a laptop and able to do anything.
That the album has a different vibe than “Airborne”, probably also has to do with the fact that I wrote these songs mainly on keyboards. “Airborne” was primarily done on guitar, and with time I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to write lighter stuff and seek more traditional song structures on the guitar, whereas the chords and structures I come up with on the keyboard are usually more open and less straight forward.
J. Hubner: Title track “Leave” is particulary epic in sound. It’s reminds me a bit of Terry Riley at times. Can you give me an idea of what’s going on in that track? How many layers of synths are there? What do you start with on a song like that, or your songs in general?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Yeah, the Terry Riley reference I can definitely follow. But it’s fun. I haven’t really listened much to him, though I really like his music. But I guess he’s just the kind of guy who left such a huge mark on electronic music, that even if you don’t listen to him, his influence will seep out through other artist.
The initial idea for the track was that I wanted a solid foundation to improvise some guitar on when playing live. So I came up with those three basic bass notes that kind of carries the tune. Then I added layers of synth and improvised the guitar part, which is more or less done in one take. I then reversed the guitar and added more layers of synth. The track was then mixed and finished up, but after a while I went back to it and added more layers. And actually some of the essential parts appeared in that last phase. I think all in all there are about 7-8 layers of synths plus the guitar. Might sound like more, because they are modulating or covered in effects, but it is really pretty simple.
J. Hubner: By comparison, “Possible” is very grounded and quite beautiful. With acoustic guitar, percussion, acoustic piano and electric guitar added to the mix of synths it has the feeling of a warm summer day. How did this song come about?
Rasmus Rasmussen: The process for this song was quite different. It did actually come about on a warm summer day. I was sitting with my acoustic guitar in the sofa, playing around, and the basic guitar figure came along. I built the song around that. It’s one of the oldest tracks on the record and more of a “studio song”, built up and arranged in the computer from the start, so might not be a track I’ll play live – at least not in this version.
J. Hubner: What is your songwriting process? Are you more creative in the early morning with coffee, or are you more of a night owl?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Usually I make music in the evening, but that also has to do with the fact that I have a full time job, so I can actually only do music when I get off or sometimes in the weekend. For this record the studio practically became a home. I went straight down there from work, hung out, made music and then just went back to the apartment to sleep, and then repeated the routine the next day.
The songwriting process usually begins with finding a pattern or a series of chords, that I think is strong enough to built the track around. If you work hard on the basic parts and reach something that’s solid enough to stand for itself, it’s usually a lot easier to get the rest done. For this record most of the tracks went through several different versions, before reaching the definitive one. It can be cool sometimes to leave a track for a while and then get back to it later with new energy and new ears. I actually had what I considered a finished version of the record at one point but I knew it could be better, so I spent half a year reworking the tracks and doing new mixes before ending up with the result you hear on the album.
J. Hubner: How do you approach keyboards differently in Causa Sui from something you’d save for an Aerosol track? Or do you even approach them differently?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Well, the sounds are usually different. For Causa Sui it’s mostly the classic rock keys, organ, rhodes etc., and in the band it’s often more a case of finding something that will fit with what the guitar or the bass are playing, than making things up from the ground. So the approach is a bit different, but not like it’s completely separate worlds. I do find inspiration in the one thing that I can bring to the other, like maybe discovering a new way to use an effect or find an interesting scale. So there’s definitely a positive interchange going on.
J. Hubner: With two other guys in Causa Sui that are rather proficient on the synth as well, do you ever get the “Hey, you should do this instead” kind of thing? Or do they just let you handle it?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Usually we make up our own parts, but it’s an open process and it’s quite alright to suggest alternatives to each other if one should get an idea for a part on another instrument. Sometimes you can get stuck in a part and focus blindly on making it work a certain way. Then it’s cool if someone gives you a new perspective. It might make you realize that approaching the part in a completely different manner is the right way to go.
J. Hubner: Growing up, when did you first get into music?
Rasmus Rasmussen: My parents were very much into music and had a big record collection, so I got into music quite early.
J. Hubner: Do you remember the first album you bought?
Rasmus Rasmussen: The first record I bought was Michael Jackson’s Bad on a cheap pirated cassette on a trip to Budapest. We listened to it on this small portable cassette player constantly for the rest of the trip. Probably drove my parents crazy – they were hippies, so not really into that kind of music. I must have been around seven or eight years old at the time.
J. Hubner: Who were some of the first artists that really blew you away?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Not so long after that I got the Batman soundtrack by Prince on LP, which is a record I still enjoy. I think Prince was quite innovative on the keyboards and often had a unique way of using them in the eighties. You don’t really think about it when you listen to the records, but a lot of it is just one man with a bunch of synths, drum machines and guitars, and I really like the way he makes the synths fit this warped world of his.
J. Hubner: Will you be playing any shows in support of Aerosol? Have you ever taken this project into a live situation, or is it more of just a studio thing?
Rasmus Rasmussen: I have been playing live shows with Aerosol since the beginning of the project, but my approach has changed with the new record. Before it was just me with a laptop and maybe a midi-keyboard and a guitar, but those kind of shows really wasn’t that satisfying – not for me or probably not for the audience either. So now I’ve gotten rid of the laptop and it’s completely live, bringing all the synths and drum machines with me, and a buddy of mine plays the guitar. It’s a lot more fun that way. You are able to take the tracks to whole new places each time, so one concert is never like the others.
J. Hubner: If you don’t mind me asking, how’s the new Causa Sui album going?
Rasmus Rasmussen: We are almost done recording the basic tracks, so we’ll probably move on to overdubs pretty soon.
J. Hubner: How are you feeling about it?
Rasmus Rasmussen: I think we all have a really good feeling about it. We’ve got a whole new studio, which gives us some really cool possibilities for recording. The takes we’ve got are already sounding great, so we are very excited.
J. Hubner: What is it about synthesizer music that appeals to you? What is it that drew you to it in the first place?
Rasmus Rasmussen: There’s some kind of childlike fascination about synthesizers. They are like these electronic toys that make cool sounds when you push and turn the knobs. That was probably what drew me to synthesizer music in the first place, and that kind of fascination is still there. But more and more it’s just an instrument to me, a practical tool that I can use to express what I’m after. So when I buy a new synth these days, it’s with a specific purpose in mind – it’s got to provide me with that certain sound or function I need.
The kind of synthesizer music that usually appeals to me is something that’s basically very human, in the sense that there’s a great amount of personality and the musicians are able to make the synthesizers convey something that’s uniquely their own. I guess Boards of Canada, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Ashra, Brian Eno, Vangelis and Autechre would be good examples.
J. Hubner: What can we expect from Rasmus Rasmussen and Aerosol for the remainder of 2015?
Rasmus Rasmussen: Right now I focus on playing live shows, but in that process I’ll also be making new material. I’ve found that writing tracks with concerts in mind is an approach that works well for me. Then I’m sure the tracks will work live before I take them to the studio, and then the recording process will be more straight forward because a lot of the parts and sounds are already in place by that stage. So hopefully it won’t be that long before there’s a new record ready. But it’s not gonna be in 2015. The Causa Sui album might be ready this year though, and we have some shows lined up in the fall.
Aerosol’s new album Leave is out now on n5MD. You can order it here.