Psychotronic Love : The Neon Sounds of Laserblast

The 80s were a perplexing time, man. The 70s really screwed us up with its indifference, key parties, and Hal Ashby films that by the time we hit 1980 we wanted to somehow get to the future as quickly as we could. We plastered fake smiles on our faces, wore neon colors, sweetened our sitcoms with mountains of saccharine, and we began the process of taming electronic music. Those heady synths that were being used to melt minds and transcend how we view the world in albums by Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh were being used to create more mainstream sounds.

Electronic music became a little more light-hearted and welcoming. It could be grating when laid on too thick, but when there was just the right amount of romantic sway and minor key melancholy the music was quite amazing. The synthwave scene is a musical planet where the synth is using its powers for good, not evil. These aren’t horror soundtrack nods, but a tip of the shiny hat to Mad Max b-movie rip offs and exploitation space flicks. Bright and colorful Saturday morning cartoons and video games.

Danish band Laserblast are giving props to the decade of Reagan and Thatcher by honing their own sequenced 80s soundtrack with lots of hardware and space age vibes. Their music puts me in mind of Le Matos and Com Truise, but with more of a softer edge. Not so heavy on the deep bass and more concentrating on the whimsical aspect of 80s synth. There’s a sci-fi vibe that is more along the lines of adventure and thrill seeking than those darker tones a lot of synth music as of late wants to capture.

I spoke to band members Kristoffer Ovesen and Mie Jakobsen about how the Danish band got started, their influences, and what direction they want to take the band.


J. Hubner: So who is in the band?

Kristoffer Ovesen: We started out as Mie Jakobsen, EmileLouise Nielsen and myself, but after finishing the tape Emilie unfortunately had to leave us, due to lack of time. Emilie and I have been playing together in various projects for more than ten years, and she has taught me almost anything I know about sound synthesis. I first saw Mie play at an art gallery where she and Jannik Juhl, (who produces under the name Giedo Primo, as well as runs the record-label Hamarplazt) were doing a couple of impro live shows.

J. Hubner: What other band s and projects are you two involved in? How did you get started in music?

Mie Jakobsen: For me everything started when I joined musician Ras Bolding on stage. Through him I met great friends including Kristoffer and Emilie. Emilie wrote me and asked if I wanted to be a part of an Italo Disco/synthwave/80’s music project, and since I’m a big fan of these genres, I couldn’t resist.

Kristoffer Ovesen: Besides Videodrones and Laserblast I’ve done two tapes of quite repetitive techno under the moniker Metis, as well as worked with Danish performance artist Tine Louise Kortermand on several projects and done chaotic industrial-acid-techno as a part of the duo Selvmordsskolen (The name being another movie reference, it’s the title of a weird Danish comedy from the 60’s and translates School of Suicide.)

J. Hubner:  Being quite familiar with Videodrones, Laserblast seems on a completely different music spectrum. Very 80s vibe. Has a synthwave feel, as opposed to the darker tones of your other work. Who are some of the influences on the new cassette release? At times I’m reminded a bit of contemporary artists like Com Truise, Nightsatan, and even Le Matos.

Kristoffer Ovesen: Yes, we definitely strived for a more romantic and uplifting feel, than what I’ve done earlier. For us to find some sort of common ground, I had to move into a (to me) new territory, a handful of early sketches I did for the project was actually turned down by Mie, as “sounding to much like a horror soundtrack” Ha! For me Tangerine Dreams 80’s soundtracks was a big influence while working on the tracks. Risky Business, Near Dark, Miracle Mile etc.

I really like a lot of new synthwave, the combination of modern software and production techniques together with the 80’s synth sound is very inspiring. When we got together for this project 6 months ago my initial plan was to tap into the more clubby sound of Kavinsky and Lifelike, inspired also by the italo-disco of Claudio Simonetti and likes (especially a lot of the soundtracks for Italian post-apocalypse and Mad max rip-offs. Great stuff!) Quite early the projected drifted into a dreamier territory, though. Probably due to the way I produce, more hardware, less software, a lot of the techniques to achieve the more modern aspect of the harder, pumping sound of Kavinsky for example acquires a lot of software use. Listening to the completed tape, French act College might be our closest reference on the contemporary synthwave scene.

Most importantly I think the artist mentioned helped pave the way for both Videodrones and Laserblast, in the sense, that had it not been for them (and Stranger Things and Refns Drive, of course), I’m not sure many would care about what we do. Right now, it seems like people have been “conditioned” to this sound, but I’ve got a chilling feeling, that 5-10 years from now, people will want some sort of glitched out digitally shit or uk-garagy chip-munk hell again. I’m just gonna jump the wagon while it lasts and exploit the fact that 20+ years of collecting and watching 70′ and 80’s exploitation/sci-fi/horror movies, finally has some sort of relevance outside of geeky collector circles and xeroxed fanzines (even though I love both!)

Mie Jakobsen: I’m probably the one who’s been dragging Kristoffer in a more funky direction. Besides the earlier mentioned bands an important influence for me is music I would enjoy listening to in an airplane, looking down at the clouds, or the great tunes that makes my bike ride just that more awesome.

J. Hubner: What’s the songwriting process like in Laserblast?

Kristoffer Ovesen: Most tracks started out as a very minimal sketch bye me. A beat, bass-line and maybe and arp or some chords. Mie and Emile would either make alterations or just play on top of that.

J. Hubner: Let’s talk gear. What hardware are you using in Laserblast?

Kristoffer Ovesen: We sequenced the synths from my PC in Reaper and recorded back and mixed in Reaper. All beats are sequenced and played from a Korg Electribe sampler. It’s kind of outdated, but it has been with me for a long time, and I sequence beats relatively fast using it. Most drum sounds were samples from the Akai XR10. Everything else is either the Roland HS-60 or my modular. I’m not into soft-synths, really. I dig the concept and the sounds, but the work process bores me. I like knobs, cables and sliders. Both Mie and Emilie used soft-synths while composing some of their parts, but those tracks were all re-recorded later using the before mentioned gear. I mixed the EP using a minimal of plugins. Just EQ, reverb and some delay. We were running a tight deadline, as Mie left for Australia in October, there was only 6 months between our first meeting and the finished tape, so things has been moving quite smoothly.

The guitar part on the last track of the tape, Videovold, was played and recorded by Jens Hollesen, guitarist of Danish heavy metal band Death Rides a Horse (yet another film reference) and was also the final track added to the mix. Jens knows his film history and is well into Jan Hammer and 80’s Tangerine Dream as well.

J. Hubner: I really dig the artwork on your new album. Was there a concept behind it? Who created it?

Mie Jakobsen: While Emilie and Kristoffer are the masterminds behind most of the sweet bass-lines and spacey leads, I’m the one who made the cover art. Using 80’s sci-fi cartoons, Blade Runner and of course the music vibe as inspiration, Kristoffer thought a robot/laser girl would do well on the cover. The original idea was to match the color of the tape and the cover, but since we couldn’t find a pink paper good enough, we tried out a few different other colors – which is also the reason why the tape comes with two covers (the lucky owner gets to choose for himself whatever is preferred.)

Kristoffer Ovesen: I’ve been into comics since I was a kid, especially what you would call “graphic novels”. Will Eisner, Richard Corben, Moebius, Milo Manara etc. Especially the more psychedelic, weird ones caught my attention from a very young age. We were well into recording the first tracks, when I first saw Mies drawings, but from that moment it was pretty clear to me, that she had to work out some sort of visual concept for the band. The girl on the cover, I imagine as some sort of intergalactic agent. She started out as a sketch, and since the completion of the tape Mie has been sending me more drawings of her, so we might end up developing some sort of concept/story around the character. It’s a great inspiration and I like to work with some sort of concept when producing, whether it be aesthetically, thematic or technical to give you some sort of direction or framework.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me about Interzone Tapes, the label you released the cassette on?

Kristoffer Ovesen: Interzone tapes is my own label. I started it in 2013, mainly as a vehicle for my techno stuff, but since then I’ve released a handful of other artists as well. It’s very DIY, I enjoy making everything myself, including xeroxing covers late at night at my girlfriend’s workplace or recording all the tapes myself on a Tascam double-deck. I do very limited runs (20-50 tapes) and have no professional distribution, as this was never intended to grow into a bigger label. I’d rather keep it small, and release whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m definitely not “label-boss material”, but running Interzone Tapes gives me a perpetual motivation for moving forward creatively.

J. Hubner: So do you record your albums to tape? Or do you record digitally then transfer to tape?

Kristoffer Ovesen: We record digitally. Working with a hardware only set-up for the sounds, the further addition of an analog stage didn’t seem necessary. I do drive the tape recorder into the red to add a bit of tape saturation/compression during the recording of the tapes on some releases. Mainly techno and harder material. The Laserblast tapes was recorded quite conservatively to preserve the dreamy qualities. I’m no tape expert, so all of this is also a bit of a trial and error process and might not all be according to the books….

J. Hubner:  I think the cassette is great. Much like listening to the darker synth stuff puts me back to watching late night horror as a kid, the Laserblast cassette is another nostalgic trip, albeit a much different one. More like Saturday morning cartoons and getting lost in the local arcade for hours. What is it about the neon 80s and synthwave that attracts you? Were either of you an 80s kids?

Mie Jakobsen: Actually, I wasn’t even born in the 80’s. To be honest I don’t know where my fascination of everything made before 2000 came from. Sometimes I believe I was born in the wrong time.

Kristoffer Ovesen: I was born in 78′, so I grew up on Robocop, Burton’s Batman, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop etc. To me the music of Laserblast is very much about the future I was promised through eighties pop-culture. A very escapist trip, to be honest. My childhood in the 80’s were filled with fear of environmental disaster and nuclear war on one side, while there was also a very optimistic, futuristic vibe in pop-culture on the other side. I remember the eighties as a time were looking like an android were something to strive for, a time were Grace Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen were perceived as aesthetic role models for looking like machines. Things were cool in the eighties. It was cool to be cool. I was not a cool kid, though, I just liked cool stuff….

J. Hubner: How do you think the age difference helps the working relationship between you two?

Kristoffer Ovesen: I think the big age difference between Mie and I has been very important for the outcome of the project. Not having experienced 80’s pop-culture in the same way as I, gives her a different, fresh perspective. Emilie is a bit younger than me and is very much inspired by videogame music and the fact that she was a part of the Danish demo-scene, when she was younger, but we also share a love for 80’s synth-pop and EBM.

J. Hubner: Do you two want to take Laserblast on the road?

Kristoffer Ovesen: No, live shows yet, but when Mie returns from down under we’ll get right on it. Playing live was on our minds from the beginning.

J. Hubner: You’ve put out a great debut cassette which is also available digitally. Any plans for a full-length LP?

Kristoffer Ovesen: Most definitely. We aimed for an album length, but at some point, we realized, that if we were to release anything before Mie left for Australia, it had to be EP length. That also means, that we had to leave a handful of tracks unfinished, tracks that should hopefully be the foundation of a full-length vinyl, but probably not on Interzone Tapes, I want to keep that as a tape-only label, as vinyl would require bigger runs and thereby the need for professional distribution, and I’m afraid the extra amount of work going into running a vinyl-label would have a negative impact on the amount of time I spend producing music. I admire people like Jonas Munk (of El Paraiso/Causa Sui) who can keep it all together, while remaining chill as fuck…..

Mie Jakobsen: The plan is to get some lyrics and vocals recorded as well. I will be more musically active on our future releases. Our badass little front-cover character has just made her debut. Great adventure is awaiting her..

J. Hubner: What’s lined up for the rest of 2017?

Kristoffer Ovesen: Videodrones are getting ready for our first live show in December and I’ve got a release with Danish synth/space/kraut collective Mentat coming out on Interzone tapes. Otherwise I’ll be working on some of our leftovers and unfinished tracks from the tape, and see what might fit a coming full-length Laserblast release.


Head over to Laserblast’s Bandcamp page and pick this one up right away. I’ve been filling my head with it all week and it gets better each time. You should also check out Kristoffer’s Interzone Tapes. He’s putting out some really great music, and in a very DIY way. Go see what he’s got for you over at their Discogs page and take a listen at the heady tones right here.

The Magic Of Possibilities : Sankofa and 100 Magnets

Last we heard of Stephen Bryden, aka Sankofa, he was releasing onto the world an excellent LP called Ink From Rust. When Bryden does something, musical or otherwise, he puts 110% in. There’s no half-assing it. I came to Sankofa kind of late, but when I did I was in. I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to hip hop, but I feel that I know great art when I see/hear it. Ink From Rust is damn great art, created at a very grounded level where even a novice like myself could appreciate the work put into it. From the album art, to videos, to the media roll out Bryden brought together a masterful crew of truly creative Fort Wayne folks(as well as the support from home) to make Ink From Rust‘s release not just an album release, but a real happening.

With that album’s release just a few months behind us I wasn’t expecting to hear from Bryden for a while longer, but after a run-in with a school toolbox inspiration hit and Sankofa was back at it and we now have 100 Magnets. 100 Magnets is a breezy and loose 6-track album that feels like an afternoon walk thru downtown in your favorite sneakers, or an after work game of basketball with some friends. It’s a quick fix to a lousy day. Something to get you out of the everyday doldrums, even if it’s just for the album’s quick run time.

I caught up with Bryden and we talked about the new record, its inspiration, and maybe even the possibility of a new Silversmiths album.


J. Hubner: You dropped the excellent ‘Ink From Rust’ back in March of this year, and now you’ve released another gem onto the world with the 6 song ‘100 Magnets’. How did this mini-album come together? What was the concept behind it? What’s the story behind the title?

Stephen Bryden: 100 Magnets was one of two projects I had in the conceptual works when all the pieces to make Ink From Rust synced up, landed in my lap, and demanded my complete attention, thus putting 100 Magnets and the next Silversmiths album (entitled Amplifier Skull) on the backburner. I started writing an explanation rap which I ended up not recording, but it was focused on the blending of the grateful, fortunate, content, and inquisitive.  There are 6 songs because the producer (J Dankworth out of LA) liked that number. As a nod to the past, it’s getting a 25 (orange) tape release. In recognition of the present, it’s also available on digital platform mainstays. 100 Magnets is named/designed after a little box I found in an abandoned old school toolbox. To me, the box called forth the magic of possibilities, as though it were the beginning of an adventurous children’s book.

J. Hubner: It’s got a very old school feel to it. Very upbeat songs and simple beats that just stay in your head long after the album is over. 

Stephen Bryden: This is my “inspired by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince” project, with nods to the way groups like The Nonce made me feel. This is a project where the focus is fun.

J. Hubner: The first video is for the great “Dad of the Year”. That video gets me every time, man. It’s just so earnest and heartfelt. Was the video your concept? Who helped bring it to life? 

Stephen Bryden: As is most often the case, there were lots of ideas, some of which may well appear in future efforts. Bambi (longtime family portrait shooter/rap video everything collaborator) shot/edited/everythinged the video. I wanted to include dads I knew and Bambi’s odometer tells the tale as to the precise count. I sent the lyrics to a bunch of dad’s I knew, told them the general idea, and asked if they’d like to participate. “Dad of the Year” is about the fallacy of perfection, especially as it relates to the incredible challenge of parenthood. Love is bonds infinity to the impossible, a glue which holds fast when times turn the the grim.

J. Hubner: Are you playing any shows to promote ‘100 Magnets’?

Stephen Bryden: No. I’m playing a Kickstarter backer party to celebrate the community achievement of Matthew Plett and Lissa Brown’s WunderKammer murals in addition to a WELT fundraiser in November, but it’s refreshing to just chill. The event was the video launch.

Photo by Bambi Guthrie

J. Hubner: I wanted to ask you about the show you did in Illinois back in August with Fort Wayne native and Big Jaw mastermind Clint Roth. How did that show come together? A Sankofa/Big Jaw joint show seems like the perfect match, actually. 

Stephen Bryden: Joel Frieders, a larger than life whirlwind of enthusiasm. I love Big Jaw’s music and he was in Chicago with work. He asked if I’d be interested in playing a show and if I knew anyone. I contacted Joel who set up the show at the Law Office Music Hall he helped open via his Ellemy development company. The show fell on the same night as the big hype money pay per view and was dead, but I had a blast.

J. Hubner: It seemed like ‘Ink From Rust’ was an album where you had a lot to say about what’s going on in the world, good and bad. But ‘100 Magnets’ seems very personal in a different way. 

Stephen Bryden: IFR was navel gazing, 100 Magnets is life. The older I get, the simpler my approach becomes. I try to stretch from the aspect of working on my craft, but I continue to seek to evolve to simplicity. Amplifier Skull is an entirely different tack.

J. Hubner: Amplifier Skull? Can you tell me more? 

Stephen Bryden: I could tell you where the title comes from, but it’s a lot iller sans context.  Our previous endeavors have included The Algol Paradox (prod. by ognihs) and A Tandem of Giants (prod. by Agent Orange).

J. Hubner: How does your work differ in the Silversmiths, as opposed to Sankofa? 

Stephen Bryden: The Silversmiths is the rapper half (JON?DOE and myself) of a one time team up of two producers (ognihs and Manic Depressive then operating under the moniker Suspended Animators) and said rapper guys. White Collar Criminals’ “Invest-Mentality” was the result of J?D and myself living for a week with ognihs and frequently visited by Manic Depressive. Lots of Dreamcast Soul Calibre was played and lasting friendships were made. JON?DOE and I still had the itch to make songs together, but didn’t want to do that whole “act with only half the original members” thing and thus was born the Silversmiths. We recorded an album entitled Ragnarock back in 2001 which didn’t see the light of day until muuuuch later. JON?DOE is one of my best friends and an amazing rapper, so our working together provides a boost to step up my craft that sometimes proves daunting. Said focus is why I’ve yet to record my share of our album-I want to make sure I am properly prepared and truly inspired when I record my mostly-written component.  JON?DOE and I are remarkably similar in the way our minds work, to the point he’s one of the few guys who has understood what I’m talking about, more from perspective than a vocabulary-based standpoint. J?D brings a level of musicality and elasticity to his rhyming which I can only dream of nearing.  Sometimes I’ve been asked who I could make songs with  and honestly, it’s my friends, friends like JON?DOE who is a master of his craft between juggling the rest of his life.  I love that dude.

To simply answer your question: Silversmiths work differs in that it is-at any given moment-much more focused, silly, conceptual, and bizarre than my solo endeavors.

 


If you haven’t yet downloaded 100 Magnets, head to https://sankofa.bandcamp.com/ put it in your ears. For you tape aficionados, there will be a 25 orange cassette release as well. Follow Sankofa on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sankofafw so you can grab a cassette(when they’re available) and to keep up with this prolific dude.

Maiof On Maiovvi : A Conversation With Composer Anton Maiof

I think it was close to two years ago I stumbled across a split single on the record label Foreign Sounds. It was a split between Slasher Film Festival Strategy and Antoni Maiovvi. I hadn’t heard either artist before but I was in the moment it started playing. I’m sort of into that whole horror/electronic/synth gumbo that these two were throwing my way on that 12″ vinyl so I was a fan immediately. I was especially struck by Maiovvi’s track “Psychic Driver”. Hypnotic melodies and a driving, electro disco beat gave you the feel of cruising down some desolate stretch of highway where you may never find your way back from.

I started digging into Maiovvi’s musical past and it seemed to be an endless list of albums, EPs, remixes, in varied degrees of Giallo, heavy synth, and Italio Disco for every day, mood, and psychic trauma. But who was this Antoni Maiovvi, really? I imagined a cross between Giorgio Moroder and Abel Ferrara, this music composer and producer who would only come out at night in a blaze of leather jackets, analog synthesizers, mysterious women in lanky dresses, and possible concealed weapons. Turns out that’s not the case. Antoni Maiovvi is the nom de plume of musician Anton Maiof. He’s not Italian, but a Brit raised in Bristol. Though, throw one of his records on and you’ll think you were in the midst of some serious Italian groove fest.

Maiof recently released an imagined film score called Cuckoo. It’s brilliant and seedy and all those things you want out of an imagined horror film score. I sat down and asked Anton a few questions. He was kind enough to answer them.


J. Hubner: Thanks for taking the time to talk. Let’s start at the beginning, where did you grow up? Was music a big part of your life even as a young boy growing up?

Anton Maiof: I was born and raised in Bristol in the South West of the UK. To be honest I wasn’t really interested in music until I was a teenager. I thought music was for pretty people and I thought music was pretty boring. Then I heard The Jesus Lizard and I realised that maybe things could be weird and I was very interested in it. 

J. Hubner: With your music being very cinematic, has film and cinema always been a big part of your life? Were you a horror film fan growing up? Who were some of your favorite directors?

Anton Maiof: I’d say I was more interested in movies than music growing up. Horror movies were something I had to become acclimatised to. But once the nightmares stopped I was hooked. Favourite directors would be Stanley Kubrick, William Friedkin, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Altman, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Shinya Tsukamoto, Karyn Kusama, and Shane Carruth.

J. Hubner: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

Anton Maiof: It was Kick by INXS on tape.

J. Hubner: When did you become interested in making music? What instrument did you start out playing? Did the synth music come later?

Anton Maiof: I started with guitar and piano, I would borrow things later. At a friend’s house his father had an old 4 track reel to reel so I taught myself to multitrack with that. Then eventually someone showed me how to record on a computer. By this point I could play guitar, keys and drums. The computer offered more possibilities, I got into sampling and eventually when soft synths started coming along I would mess around with them. Then I went to University to study music and that’s where I learned synthesis and some more advanced digital music techniques. It’s not that exciting a story. 

J. Hubner: What were some bands you were in before stepping out on your own?

Anton Maiof: I played in the noise rock group Geisha, we released 2 albums on the Maryland based freak metal label Crucial Blast and 1 on the great UK label Super-Fi. I had a solo project called My Ambulance Is On Fire which I made some weird CDRs. I played in a improv duo called Defibrillators with the very talented Seth Cooke. I played bass in a country band called Papa Molasses & The Dane County Paragons with Dan from Sex Swing. I also played guitar for my friend Rose Kemp. I played bass for Bronnt Industries Kapital and I played guitar in a Goblin cover band called Il Goblini. I also played in the noise group Menschenfliesch with Greg Godwin and Nick Talbot. Once in Europe I played in the noise groups Ultraspiecer, The Superusers and Kottbusserdamm Terror Corpse. I also played in the folk group The Cold Hand. I also play in a duo with Umberto called Law Unit.

J. Hubner: Before I knew that Antoni Maiovvi was a nom de plume I really did think you were a 50 year-old Italian music producer. A cross between Giorgio Moroder and Abel Ferrara. How did you come up with the name? Who or what was the inspiration behind the alter ego? Why not make music as Anton Maiof?

Anton Maiof: Maiovvi was the italianised version of Maiof. I was performing as Anton Maiof all over Berlin doing improvised guitar performances. It was fun.

J. Hubner: You have quite an extensive discography with a wide range of styles ranging from electro disco to more ambient, darker tones. What’s your writing process like? Do you go into the process with a definite idea, or do you let the muse take you where she may?

Anton Maiof: Sometimes I have an idea I want to try out. Sometimes I’m just messing around. The other day a chord pattern came to me in a dream and then I wrote a song about when David Bowie said the lord’s prayer at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert with it. 

J. Hubner: I first came across your work on the split you did with Slasher Film Festival Strategy. I absolutely loved “Psychic Driver”. Jumped into your world from there. Do you enjoy collaborations? Do you prefer working alone to working with other artists?

Anton Maiof: Yes I enjoy collaborations. I just like making music. 

J. Hubner: Speaking of collaborations, how do they work normally, using the Law Unit and SFFS collaborations for example. Is it strictly file sharing online or did you actually get together in the studio with Matt or Christopher respectively?

Anton Maiof: With SFFS we didn’t collaborate it was a split. Two tracks of his and one if mine. With Matt it was a little more complex. We started sharing files but then he came to stay with me in Madrid and we worked together in my living room in between movies and cocktails.

J. Hubner: You released two film scores this year, one for a real film and for one imagined. Can you tell me about the “Karakura Orchestra” on ‘Abdullah’? What was the writing and composing process like on that project?

Anton Maiof: Technically three as Thug also came out this year. But that is an aside. Abdullah’s music existed before the film, it was my attempt at making a sort of techno out of Turkish folk music that I recorded with this radio that Milo Smee AKA Bintus who runs Power Vacuum gave me for my birthday. The radio I named “The Karakura Orchestra”. Karakura being a Turkish sleep demon. So they edited the picture to those tracks and then I edited the tracks to make the soundtrack more graceful.

J. Hubner: Your most recent release was the imagined film score ‘Cuckoo’. What was the concept behind that album? Who or what were inspirations for this album? It’s a great record, btw.

Anton Maiof: Thank you. I was living in Berlin and it had been a few years since I worked on a film soundtrack, I was a little bit frustrated by that, so I thought I’d do another record of the kind of soundtrack that I like. So there are shades of Giallo, Maniac and Nightmare On Elm Street. I tried to arrange the album so there is a narrative. The title I had for many years. I was supposed to do it as a record for Seed who released three of my albums before, Bruce really does believe in me and I appreciate it. I failed him by not making it sooner.

Sorry Bruce. 

J. Hubner: Is film scoring something you’d like to do on a more full time basis? You seem to have a knack for creating cinematic music. Yellow is one that I revisit quite often.

Anton Maiof: Yes these days I’m more interested in making film scores, I find it the most rewarding part of my career. I recently did the score for Can Evrenol’s Housewife. Though I have started enjoying DJing a bit more recently, but I am playing mostly italo and “fun” music these days. 

J. Hubner: Are there any recent records, films, books, or shows that you’ve been getting into? Anything inspiring? 

Anton Maiof: I saw an amazing film recently called ‘Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders’ which has an amazing score also. I also enjoyed the last Com Truise album and the recent Drab Majesty album and the last Boy Harsher album. 

J. Hubner: Are you doing any touring to promote ‘Cuckoo’? 

Anton Maiof: No traditional touring, but I have a band now. We will perform some it live.

J. Hubner: What are you working on next? Anything you can share? 

Anton Maiof: At the moment I have found myself writing songs again and I am close to finishing an album.

J. Hubner:  What is one album that you think everyone should own? And why?

Anton Maiof: Scott Walker’s The Drift because it is a tough listen but rewards those who are willing to put time to invest and revisit. It is also a wonderful piece of work. 


Head over to Data Airline’s Bandcamp page and give Cuckoo a listen. It’s brilliant heavy synth electronica. And check out Antoni Maiovvi’s Bandcamp page and clear about a day to indulge in those heady tunes. 

Sonic Terror : Inside The Heady Sounds of Videodrones

Videodrones is a synth duo from Denmark. What they create are the sounds of dread, doom, darkness, and those things that go bump in the night. They summon the spirits of Popol Vuh, Fabio Frizzi, Bobby Beausoleil; as well as countless soundtracks to late night horror films you watched growing up(especially if you grew up in the 80s and with local late night television at your disposal.) There’s a sickly sweet and queasy vibe to Videodrones. There’s the horror and Gothic vibe for sure, but they aren’t creating “spooky” sounds for the hell of it. There’s a purpose to their pulsating, modular madness. There’s also a serious improvisational spirit with the sound band members Jakob Skott and Kristoffer Ovesen create. It’s just the nature of synthesizers to make weird, “far out” sounds. But what these two do is take it to a new level. Obviously inspired by both synth artists and old VHS tapes filled with schlock horror films and exploitation trash(the best kind of trash), these two are taking Komisch and Berlin School noisemaking to new heights here.

For me personally, I listen to both last year’s excellent Mondo Ferox and their brand new(and equally excellent) record Nattens Hævn and I’m pulled into another place and time. I’m reminded of late night viewings with the lights off and everyone else sound asleep. But it’s not what I saw that stayed with me when I finally laid my head down to sleep, but what I heard. The music that accompanied the horror on screen. The synth-driven scores would echo in my head; square wave’s bashing on the walls of my skull as syncopated rhythms became in sync with my own bewildered heartbeat. Videodrones capture that spirit of music for me. They capture those childhood memories and add to them. They create their own sonic world of musical introspection and let you walk into these bubbly landscapes(at your own peril, of course.)

I sat down and talked with Jakob and Kristoffer about Videodrones, their influences, and their love of sonic mayhem.


J. Hubner: So tell me about the idea behind Videodrones. How did this project get started? Have you and Kristoffer Ovesen worked together prior to Videodrones?

Jakob Skott: We started simply by having a long overdue jam-session. Just a fun day of noodling with our synths. That’s where about 90% of the first album was recorded. The day we were working on it, the ideas just got better and better, and we recorded hours and hours, and it became more and more cinematic – which is probably no coincidence, because when we were younger we’d watch movies for hours from Ovesen’s vast VHS-collection. So we edited it in that style sort of reimagining the jams into something more cohesive – but it wasn’t something we’d really talked about ahead of it: “hey, let’s do a tribute album to all the movies we love” – it was way looser than that, without any real starting point and we didn’t figure out the name until we worked on the cover and titles. So the whole thing kind of just fell into place.

Kristoffer Ovesen: We’ve always had very similar film taste, so our friendship was always more about movies, than music. Although we had one or two jam-sessions about ten years ago, the day we got together to record the first album was the first time we ever got serious about making something coherent together. We’ve discussed films, and film-scores so many times before, that we didn’t really need to plan which direction to go. I think we both knew what kind of sound was common ground for us. I could elaborate some kind of grand idea, but it would all be something cooked up afterwards. It just kind of happened, really, without us ever discussing a greater concept. I think we might have discussed a bit more doing the second album, talking about which direction to go, referencing both the first album and other artists. But to say we had a plan beyond jamming might be stretching it….

J. Hubner: You two capture a very unique musical sound on both the debut album ‘Mondo Ferox’ and the newest record Nattens Hævn. Who or what are some key inspirations and influences going into the writing for Videodrones?

Jakob Skott: Like Ovesen says, I think we’ve pondered over these things for so many years that it’s embedded deeply into both of us – so to untangle it seems impossible. However I really do feel that the fascination of genre-movies from the 70s and 80s gets stronger and stronger. Directors like Jess Franco, Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci & John Carpenter – the sheer WILL needed to create their works – under B-movie exploitation standards, they managed to make their movies soar. Furthermore they were all directors working in unison with a composer in a small cluttered home-studio – like Abel Ferrara & Joe Delia or John Carpenter & Alan Howarth. It was one of the things we talked about: Not killing the music in post-production, but rather letting it breathe – as some dude who’s been painstakingly arranging his music to the cues would: just leaving a single stringer note there for suspense…

Kristoffer Ovesen: I was always more into electronic, jazz or rock scores, than orchestral soundtracks. Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter etc. The major influence of film-scores was allowing us to make small mood-pieces, instead of just full blown traditional compositions. The freedom to explore a single idea or mood, without the need of letting it go further. I enjoy listening to soundtracks because of those small pieces of psychedelic suspense-inducing freakouts, as much as the more elaborated “theme tracks”.

J. Hubner: Did you grow up gorging your brain on 70s and 80s horror movies? What was a trip to the video store like in Denmark growing up?

Kristoffer Ovesen: I grew up in small town where the local supermarket had a video rental section, just next to the newspapers and cigarettes. My mom used to drop me off in front of the shelves, and I would contemplate what was behind the strange artwork and punchline on the boxes while she was shopping. We never had a TV set during my childhood, so the rental stores were mostly just some weird display of inaccessible wonders for me. I became obsessed with videotapes during my childhood and i bought a television and a VCR and began collecting horror movies as soon as I could afford it. A lot of the classic Eurotrash and exploitation were available on Danish rental tapes in the 80’s and tapes could be rented not only in rental stores, but gas stations and supermarkets often had a small rental section too. You could find stuff like Cannibal Holocaust, Tenebre, City of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre etc. I guess it was the same as in the US or UK, but we did never have censorship like in UK or Germany. Although I did spend some time at university reading about more conventional stuff, I consider fanzine-reading and watching Dutch bootlegs of Jess Franco and Lucio Fulci movies as my real film-education….

J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little about how you two write in Videodrones? Do you get together and just start making sounds, or do you have motifs you work off of?

Jakob Skott: I have one secret weapon, which is a special way of doing live sequencing – I use the same figure at different speeds and in different variations for each voice in the track. So basically every figure is very similar to, say, the bass. It can be reversed or permuted, but it’s the same scale and basic figure that creates all the sounds. It also turns out very massive, and you can jam with 4 different polyphonic voices changing keys at the same time. It allows for vivid improvisation, but also creates a lot of great variation and motifs popping in and out of nowhere – as opposed to most other synth-jams where you usually just run an arpeggiator through chords. That’s one essential thing about this project: it’s born through improvisation – even when it doesn’t sound like it.

Kristoffer Ovesen: I used a two voice modular systems for both albums. Jakob would feed us different sequences, as described above, and the actual “writing” didn’t go much further on my behalf than “could you make that sequence faster” or “could you reverse/transpose that sequence”. I would have three or four sequences that I would feed to different voices, sometimes using a polyphonic sequence that I would split up into two or more monophonic voices. The approach was very minimalistic, allowing a maximum of freedom to improvise, without losing too much structure. The modular system also allows me to split gate and pitch signal, hence use the rhythm of one sequence together with the pitch of another sequence to create a third variation.

J. Hubner: How long does it take usually to build up enough material for an album? Is there an extensive editing process that goes with these records? The albums are so well sequenced, and everything seems to bleed perfectly into the next piece. I imagine the mixing/editing/sequencing is just as big a part of each record as creating the sounds.

Kristoffer Ovesen: Both albums were basically cut from a one-day jam, but on Nattens Hævn we recorded more tracks afterwards, than on the first album. The editing and mixing, all done by Jakob, is essential to the sound. He sends me tracks while he mixes and I sometimes record extra sequences, but all the hard work of listening through hours of endless noodling around is done by him. Both albums were actually completed quite fast, as we talked about not overdoing the post-production.

Jakob Skott: Yeah, I try to keep it fresh. The first one I think I spent no more than a few hours mixing each track. Just really cropping out huge parts and reassembling hours worth of jams – folding the layers on top of each other and immediately sending the highlights to Ovesen – trying to decipher whenever something interesting was happening. For the latest one, I spent a bit more time – and it has more depth simply because it’s mixed better – adding stuff and automating a lot of effects, pitching and tweaking as well. But still with a sketch-like mood in mind. I try to empathise the weird coincidences, sudden shifts and dropouts, rather than edit them out.

J. Hubner: With the albums, from the titles to the names given to the songs, it feels like there’s a definite theme on these albums. Do you go into these with a direction? Are you writing as if you’re composing for a film? Do you go so far as to come up with an idea for an imagined film and write around that idea?

Kristoffer Ovesen: Not really. There was never a real concept behind it, it was more an extension of watching and discussing movies. We did joke around with different fictive titles during coffee-breaks between jams, though. Some too offensive to mention…. Some track titles might be referencing a certain movie, some just a feeling, but as said before, there’s not much of a finished story  going on. It’s all just a product of our shared memory bank of psychotronic cinema, I guess.

Jakob Skott: I’m very happy that we didn’t settle on the “lost movie” theme – it’s just everywhere – it’s weird. I remembered we did the first album in May last year, and in June when Stranger Things popped up on Netflix, I watched it and thought “holy shit, this synthwave soundtrack-thing is going to explode – I need to hurry up and finish this album”. Well then it kind of happened ten-fold. But I think our inclination towards more weirded out stuff sets it apart enough to keep it fresh – at least I hope that’s how it works to the listener – maintaining a rougher edge through that whole improv-aspect. I’m as inspired by modern electronic music as by the grand synth-maestros – stuff like Autechre still sounds almost as fresh as when I first heard them 20 years ago, and I try to channel that ethos as well.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me what’s some of the go-to instruments Videodrones uses to make albums? It all has a bubbly analog warmth to it. Do you record to tape or is that aesthetic created in the engineering and mastering side of things?

Kristoffer Ovesen: I use a Eurorack modular system and a Roland HS-60, and some effect pedals. While jamming we record onto separate tracks on Jakobs computer, allowing him to mix and edit the tracks afterwards. I think the “warmth” is partly a result of Jakob not overdoing it in the mixing process, but the mastering Jonas did for us was definitely the final touch. Just like The Dude’s rug, it really ties it all together.

Jakob Skott: We use all kinds of stuff – there’s tons of digital stuff in there as well – we’re not purists, but use the best of all ages. Ovesen’s modular has a lot of really noisy and weird filters – for the stuff he puts out on Interzone Tapes – I used wavetable-synthesizer, as well as the analogues – there’s even an Ipad in there. But usually with some sort of analogue pre-amp or drive boost at the end of the chain to warm things up. I actually tend to make my mixes too dark, so Jonas actually adds some sizzle (which tape will absolutely not do) as well as ties the low-ends together – by using some hardware compressors, etc. So he adds definition to our blurriness – I’m always really happy with that, because in the end it has tons of murky vibe, but still packs a good punch.

J. Hubner: If you could only choose one, who’s a director that had the most influence on you growing up? Was there a film that affected you more than others?

Kristoffer Ovesen: That’s a tough question, different directors through the years, of course, but i think George Romero, David Lynch and Tim Burton were some of the first directors I were into in my early teens. I guess the film(s) that kicked of my interest in horror movies was the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. I watched most of them one summer night when I was 13 and it had a profound impact on me. I think being a horror-buff grew into some kind of identity for me, and to this day I like to see myself as a horror/exploitation collector/expert more than a musician, actually. The first time I remember noticing how different a film score could be done must have been watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Argento’s Profondo Rosso. Especially the pounding prog/synth scores of Goblin still resonates in my brain whenever I turn on my synths.

Jakob Skott: Right now, finishing Twin Peaks: The Return I feel inclined to say Lynch as well. I watched the first Twin Peaks series when I was about 11 or 12 – needless to say, Killer Bob has caused a fair share of night terrors for me. I also remember watching Lost Highway when I was about 17 – yet another crucial turning point: watching a world of cinema you thought you knew and understood just literally go up in smoke in front of your eyes. And of course the outer-worldly role of music in his films. The way they’re not bound to regular structures, but invents their own deeper and more emotional logic – that’s very inspiring. And this new 18 hour opus is just as heavy. I’m blown away – the old weathered faces – and also that he’s not keeping it very clean stylistically – just messing up with poor video-effects, style changes in every scene. Zero fucks given to his own legacy – that’s awesome!

J. Hubner: Can we count on more from Videodrones? If there was a once-a-year release I’d be perfectly happy with that.

Jakob Skott: The first session we had at my apartment – the 2nd was at the Studio where Causa Sui records, so I played all of Jonas Munk’s synth gear. We had a third session a few months ago, but I actually haven’t listened to it yet – that was at Ovesens place in the country side. So sure, we have to finish the trilogy just like any good movie-franchise…

Kristoffer Ovesen: What he said….

J. Hubner: So what’s on the horizon for El Paraiso Records? What musical tricks do you guys have up your sleeve for us? I’m asking so I know just how much money I need to start putting back.

Jakob Skott: Ha, sure – there’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline. I’ll give you the first 3: New Causa Sui studio album, New Mythic Sunship – and Nicklas from Papir is doing a follow-up to his first solo album. All moving up to a new level and all currently being printed. The X-mas LPs are already causing really long delays at the printers, so we’ll probably have to wait til next year. But will be worth the wait! Our best stuff yet to come!


A trilogy of Videodrones, new Causa Sui, Mythic Sunship, and Nicklas Sorensen. The future’s so bright I’ve gotta wear shades. You should wear shades, too. And grab Videodrones’ Nattens Hævn over at El Paraiso Records.

Sounds of the Universe : A Conversation With Astral TV

For me, a record has to pull me from my surroundings and put me in another headspace. I want an album to paint something in my brain and make me psychically open up and let some of the universe inside. Music should be more than just mere entertainment; it should make you feel something. As a kid music affected me in a way that cartoons, movies, and books never did. My imagination bloomed when a song hit me the right way.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to synth music. There’s nothing obvious about the musical world an analog synthesizer is creating. You’re not being told what to think or what it means. There’s a visceral aspect to synth music that you don’t get with a rock album or pop single. It’s pure, raw emotional content that’s being pushed through tubes and circuits via the composer. They can lead you down a path to contentment and beauty, enlightenment, or sonic anxiety. They open a portal and you’re allowed to step in and see where it leads.

Astral TV is a synth duo based in Copenhagen, Denmark. They released their debut with El Paraiso Records, titled Chrystal Shores, back in July and it’s a record that opens many portals. Rasmus Rasmussen and Keith Canisius have created a modern ambient album that pulls from both a New Age lean and a Sci Fi vibe. If this album was a movie it’d be a cross between Kubrick’s 2001 : A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Musically these two are taking some of the headier vibes of Tangerine Dream and giving them a bit of light, though at times the light feels a ways away. Astral TV create a warm and inviting sound that you can easily get lost in.

I had a chance to talk with Rasmus and Keith about the record, their influences, and the large amount of wires it takes to make the magic happen.


J. Hubner: So tell me about how Astral TV came together? How long have you two been making music together?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Actually Astral TV have existed less than a year. But the two of us have played together for some years now, accompanying each other in various projects. Then Keith was asked to play a concert last winter, and he suggested we do it as a duo instead, and that was the beginning of Astral TV.

J. Hubner: Who are some influences you guys are pulling from? If you had to name one album that you looked to for inspiration in creating the Astral TV world what would that be?

Rasmus Rasmussen:  I guess it’s really a wide range of stuff, and quite different for each of us. We both love newer electronic music like Boards of Canada, Tim Hecker and that kind of stuff, but for me the classic kosmische kraut stuff is definitely a huge influence as well. The same goes for Eno and also late 90’es / start 00’es electronica and ambient. One album that has influenced the way I approach what we do with Astral TV would be “New Age of Earth” by Ashra.

Keith Canisius: I think we can pull a lot of inspiration from small things. I definitely wanted to bring the film music aspect into the picture. Allowing us to work with shorter sequences and mood presentations. I’m more interested in what people think it sounds like, than the few bands I could mention, when I think hard about it.

J. Hubner: Similar to the previous question, are there any films or film soundtracks that blew your collective minds that went into molding the Astral TV sound?

Rasmus Rasmussen: The Blade Runner soundtrack would definitely be an essential key to the Astral TV sound. That’s a record which has stayed with the both of us from quite early on and still is a big influence. For me the Popol Vuh soundtracks from the 70’es have also been a big influence.

Keith Canisius: Blade Runner yes. For me most sci-fi movies from the 80’s and 70’s. I liked Interstellar too. But mostly the sci-fi movies from my childhood. Some newer movies like It Follows was really nice too. Movies play a bigger inspiration for me than actual music artists in this project.

J. Hubner: What’s the writing process like for Astral TV? Do you two get in a room together with tons of gear and improvise until you like the vibe? Or do you share music files via the internet and just add to each others ideas? Do you each have your own futuristic-looking music stations, surrounded by synths like Edgar Froese or Rick Wakeman?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Some tracks are written by one or the other, and then the other supplies his stuff, but mostly we just get in my basement and jam. We both have our gear set up down there and live right next to each other, so when we are up for it we just meet after work or in the weekends and jam out for a few hours. We’ll record it all, and at some point we go through the recordings and see what works. Most of the tracks on the album were done this way, based on improvisations. It might be edited a bit afterwards, but as little as possible. We like to keep the spontaneity of it.

And yeah, both our synths setups are quite extensive. We are gear nerds, we like knobs and don’t do well with limitations.

J. Hubner: You’ve just released your new LP Chrystal Shores via El Paraiso Records, but this isn’t your first release. You released ‘Stations’, a limited edition tape in April via Funeral Tapes. Are there any significant difference between the two? Is ‘Stations’ available digitally?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Some of the material is the same, but there are differences in the track list. Some tracks are on the tape and not on the vinyl and vice versa. Also the production is a bit different. It was the tape that actually made us realize we had some material worth putting out. One of our friends runs the Funeral Tapes label and asked us to do the tape, and that made us dig through the recordings we’d done when jamming and found that there was stuff we could use. The tape is not out digitally. It’s a very limited release of fifty tapes, which can be bought from the label.

J. Hubner: First off, ‘Chrystal Shores’ is a stunning record of beautiful electronica and heavy synth. How long was the writing and recording process for the LP? It has a really heavy 70s vibe. A basement spin for sure, complete with beanbag chair and incense burning. Was that the aesthetic you guys were going for?

Rasmus Rasmussen: Thanks! Most tracks are essentially first takes and have only been played that one time of recording. So both the writing and recording process was quite short. The mixing as well. We only did what was necessary to make it glue and work as self-enclosed tracks. Some times new stuff was added, but it was all a very spontaneous process, without too much fiddling around. That way of working is completely opposite to how I’ve done my solo albums, meticulously building it up until you have a finished track. Here you just listen to hours of jams, occasionally going: “Wait, stop, there was a track!”. There was never a conscious intent on sounding retro, but I guess there’s something inherent in using these instruments in the way we do, that’ll pull the sound in that direction. With that said there was no attempt what so ever of avoiding that thick new age vibe – on the contrary really. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, and if we can do anything to mend it’s crummy reputation just a little, I’ll be happy.

Keith Canisius: This project is also opposite from most my solo stuff. Keeping it to the idea of music for film scenes makes it easier for me to free. Then I have some simple borders to work out from. We also want to be able to perform it live without any back tracks going on. Above mentioned ideas gives it a border, that makes it much easier for me to be creative. A track like “Surveillance” is really wild. The thought that we did that suddenly in the middle of a jam without speaking about it is pure magic. A lot of tracks happened like that, but that long track was something special. Special how the whole thing came alive in one take without any communication.

J. Hubner: I wanted to ask you Keith, you live in Copenhagen but you’re originally from Massachusetts, right? How did you end up in Denmark?

Keith Canisius:  My father (Dutch) moved to Cambridge Mass., where he met my mother. They got married and had me. Later on they went to Holland, but the marriage ended. My mother took my brother and I to a friend she had from Harvard university, who had moved back to Denmark. She got settled and remarried in Denmark.

J. Hubner: What drew you two to the synthesizer? Did it start out with piano lessons as a kid then progressed to a Buchla set up in the family room?

Rasmus Rasmussen: I started playing keyboards when I was nine. It was the first instrument I learned to play. It was a fascination with 80’es synth bands that drew me to it. Aha and stuff like that, but more specifically the synth theme in Phil Collins “Another day in Paradise” played an important role. I was very much into that. So my parents sent me to keyboard lessons. I lost interest for a while, focusing on the guitar in my teens, but when I got into electronic music in the late nineties, I invested in samplers and synths and the collection has just expanded from there.

Keith Canisius:  My brother had a Juno 60 and my stepdad had a piano and later on a grand piano in our home throughout my childhood. Although guitar became my main instrument in my early teens, I’ve always be fiddling around with keys in some way. When my music became more serious I got a Prophet 08, which I still use all the time. I also think guitar got a little boring at a point. So diving into the synth world was exciting for me.

J. Hubner: With the album officially out, will you guys be taking Astral TV on the road? I can only imagine that being a daunting task. Lots of wires I imagine.

Rasmus Rasmussen: Yes, we have a couple of shows lined up in the near future. Most of the tracks are essentially recorded live, so in that way it makes good sense, but we are still trying to figure out the perfect way of bringing it to the stage. We want to keep the spontaneity and improv vibe but avoid too much aimless noodling, so it’s about finding the right balance. And yeah, the amount of wires are enormous. We’re trying to limit ourselves, but it’s not working out very well.

J. Hubner: What’s next for Astral TV? Could we see a follow up to Chrystal Shores at some point?

Rasmus Rasmussen: A follow up is very likely. We’ll focus on playing shows for a while, but in that process we’ll probably be working on a new album. We are recording continuously and already have a good deal of material and a bunch of tracks that’s more or less done.

Keith Canisius: We have some nice new stuff already as Rasmus mentioned, and we are looking forward to exploring this world much much more for many years hopefully.


 

Astral TVs Chrystal Shores is still available at El Paraiso Records and at Forced Exposure.

Andy’s Party

I came across Andy Shauf’s excellent The Party on one of those layabout Friday evenings where a couple stouts were enjoyed and a homemade pizza pie was built to perfection. It’s kind of a regular Friday evening thing around here. Anyways, I’d posted a review of the great new Beach Fossils record Somersault and my good pal Aaron from way up north told me I should look up Tuns. Tuns is a supergroup consisting of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Mike O’Neil of the Inbreds, and Matt Murphy of the Super Friendz. It was a solid lead to some seriously great power pop. I’ve been a fan of Sloan for 20 years now, having been introduced to them by Much Music in the mid-90s. I found quite a few great bands from the land of Rush and the McKenzie Brothers back then, including Big Sugar, Odds, and of course Sloan. I felt like this whole other world of amazing musicians had been hidden from me by an overwhelmingly evil American music system. Why did I not know of these bands sooner? Where was Much Music when I needed it in the early 90s? Why so many rhetorical questions?

Well this all leads to me stumbling across a guy named Andy Shauf. As I was perusing  Tuns videos on Youtube and waxing nostalgic about those exciting early days of Much Music I came across a video for Andy Shauf’s “Early To The Party”. He came up as something like-minded to Tuns, so with a bit of a beer buzz I decided to jump into the wormhole.

Holy shit.

I was immediately pulled into Shauf’s melancholy musical world that felt like it was part Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, Randy Newman’s Sail Away, and midnight listens of Michael Penn’s Untitled after a funeral carry-in meal. It was both nostalgic and alien to my ears, like some sentient being attempting to make sad power pop after receiving transmissions in deep space of old Lenny Waronker-produced albums like Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle and Randy Newman’s 12 Songs. Shauf’s voice sounds timid and fragile as he sings about trying to win the affections of a good friend’s ignored girlfriend, or the weird goings on at a party. But for me there isn’t a more exquisite and regal opening as “The Magician”. It’s built eloquently on loping piano, tasteful strings, and clarinet with a fuzzy guitar line for good measure. Lyrically it’s this juxtaposition of the idea of the magician doing these tricks to amaze and astound us, but is really just winging it each time, hoping things will work out. Sort of like the rest of us. “Just a shaking hand, without a concrete plan” he sings over this sublime musical concoction. Probably one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a long time. It takes something like this song for me to remember how much I truly used to love that 70s singer/songwriter stuff.

“Early To The Party” has a video for it that’s one of the best videos I’ve seen in years. Lyrically Shauf sounds like an unsure loner, showing up to the gathering before everyone else(much to the host’s chagrin.) “Early to the party, You’re the first one there/Overdressed and underprepared” Shauf sings over a hypnotic musical build that feels like Michael Penn at his very best. “Twist Your Ankle” is another melancholy pop gem that feels like an introvert’s anthem(“Wish I’d just stayed home“.) I don’t know if Shauf is this timid and unsure in his real life, but on record he comes across as one disappointment away from an emotional breakdown.

I think what hits me so hard is that I completely relate to his characters’ lack of confidence and social awkwardness. I wasn’t a mingler or “party dude” when I was younger. Crowds made me uncomfortable, and trying to keep up with social norms just made me ill. Fortunately I had a tight knit group of friends and a girlfriend that appreciated my insular ways so I never became some lonely, bearded guy in an apartment fantasizing about the next season of my favorite show. But I can appreciate the loner’s struggle I hear in Andy Shauf’s songs on The Party.

According to the internet, Andy Shauf was a drummer in a Canadian Christian pop punk band called Captain(sounds like a Kids In The Hall skit.) He also played Christian music with his parents as a kid. The guy plays everything, and on The Party he performed all the music. He’s a pretty stellar clarinet player and he uses it quite a bit on this record, tastefully I might add. On earlier records his vocals sounded unique, but not as effected as they do on this album. There’s some sort of accent in there, but I’m not sure what it is. He sounds like Wreckless Eric trying to be quiet during church service. It only adds more emotional depth to the songs.

Honestly, there isn’t a bad spot on The Party. From start to finish it’s a beautifully crafted piece of singer/songwriter fare. Andy Shauf hits all the right notes(metaphorically and literally.) Fans of bands like Jellyfish, Michael Penn, Owsley, Red Kross, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, and Wondermints would find something to love and hold dear on this record. Shauf also taps into something specific for me. It’s this aged, 70s vibe that I can’t get enough of. Key parties, stoned afterschool conversations in your best friend’s basement lounging on bean bag chairs, faux wood trim in boat-size Oldsmobiles that take you to and from the local arcade, and late night card games with the haze of cigarette smoke hanging just below the globe-shaped dining room light fixture. The 70s were many things in my head, but the aforementioned defines that decade for me.

So does Andy Shauf’s The Party.

Thanks Much Music, thanks Aaron, and happy 150th Canada.

Breathe Easy : The Legendary Trainhoppers Ready New Album ‘Let It Breathe’

I always look forward to talking with Fort Wayne’s The Legendary Trainhoppers. That’s a group of six guys that are at an age of mature comfort. What do I mean by that? I mean they’re middle-aged dudes with careers, kids, mortgages, and all the dad life fixings, but are still willing to take risks for the sake of the muse. After a years-long hiatus from the Trainhoppers in 2015, the guys broke out the mandolins, Telecasters, and tube amplifiers to find that magic they used to make together. They found it and then some. Family Tree was a sweeping and rugged collection of dusty Americana and buzzing rock and roll. It wasn’t a weekend warriors kind of record where dad hangs in the garage with his pals and swills Natural Lights and jams on Petty hits. The boys really did get the band back together and it was glorious.

We’re not even at a year and some change since Family Tree was released and they’re already readying a new record they recorded back in March with Jason Davis at Off The Cuff Sound. It’s called Let It Breathe and it’s their best yet. It features contributions by Cassie Beer and The Hoppin’ Horns. But not only did the guys record an all-analog warm and fuzzy beauty of a long player, they had filmmaker Brad Bores document the whole process. On June 10th at Artslab you’ll be able to hear the guys debut the record, pick up a copy of the album on CD(0r download code if that’s your thang), and see the film and relive the making of the Trainhoppers beautiful new record.

I talked to Matt Kelley and Phil Potts about the record, as well as Brad Bores about the music doc and how he got involved.

J. Hubner: So we’re just a little over a year from the release of the last Trainhoppers album ‘Family Tree’ and now thanks to the wonders of internet voyeurism I know you guys have been recording a new record. The Trainhoppers are in one hell of a creative streak. How did this new one come about so soon? Was it a strike while the iron’s hot sort of situation? Is this a whole new batch of tunes?

Matt Kelley: We definitely felt like we were on a streak, and even when promoting Family Tree, we continued to write—fear that if we stopped, we might lose momentum. All of these songs but one were written in the 15 months since recording the previous album. I think our velocity has been helped by a couple of things; for starters, we’re a six-piece and everyone contributes song ideas (rather than there just being one songwriter), and second, we’ve hit a really great collaborative place where we share ideas very early in the process, and pass ‘em around to be made different and better.

Phil Potts: There are 6 of us in the band and we’re all songwriters, so while having so many creative voices has its challenges, the upside is there is a lot of material. It was a challenge just picking which 10 to record. . .so we recorded 11.

J. Hubner:  So the album’s called ‘Let It Breathe’. You recorded this time around over at Off The Cuff Sound with Jason Davis. What made The Trainhoppers decide to go full-on analog? It seems like a perfect fit. How was the experience with Jason?

Phil Potts: It was a very different process than our last album. With the last one, we made the conscious decision to produce it ourselves. We recorded it in a more modern way, digitally. On ‘Let It Breathe’ we decided we wanted input from someone who could help us best shape the songs for recording. Not everything that is great for a live performance translates well to the studio, so having someone like Jason who has so much experience in that realm was revelatory. Having input from fresh ears was helpful because we’d been living with these songs for a year now. The real artistic benefit to recording to tape in an analog studio, in my eyes, is not some fetishization of  is that there are limitations. Constraints can be immensely beneficial to creativity. You can’t have 100 tracks. You can’t Auto-Tune a bad vocal. You don’t make everything mathematically perfect and that’s what makes it beautiful.

Matt Kelley: Well, we’ve known Jason and known about Off the Cuff for a very long time, but had never been to the studio. We had the option to record in The B-Side again—it’s comfortable (it’s where we write and rehearse) and convenient, and there’s no clock running. Which is to say, it’s an easy option. So, we checked out Off the Cuff, considering it part of our due diligence. About ten minutes into the studio tour, we were in love, and sharpening our resumés in hopes that we might work there someday. Of course, folks often thing “analog tape” immediately when they hear about Off the Cuff, but it turns out that’s the smallest part of the story. It all starts with Jason Davis and his perspective and approach and process to making a record. The incredible collection of instruments is a blast, too. Using real instruments and real gear slows everything down, forces you to make more deliberate decisions, and cranks up the pressure.

So yes, The B-Side would have been the easy choice for us. But easy is a four-letter word, and we felt Off the Cuff was the more challenging direction, and could lead to a better album. We certainly believe that to be the case. It was an experience—grueling, hilarious, brilliant—that the seven of us (band + Jason) will never forget.

J. Hubner: Song-wise did the Trainhoppers go into Off The Cuff with completed songs ready to hit record or did you guys leave space to experiment a bit? What’s the overall vibe of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Phil Potts: We had the songs completed, but we were open to changes. And they did change. Off the Cuff Studios is an inspirational environment.

Matt Kelley: The songs were ready to be performed live. But live, The Trainhoppers are often pretty busy—very loud, everything and the kitchen sink, loud. The studio often gave us the chance to actually play a little less, and be very purposeful with what we played when, and how. Also, of course, the studio’s collection of gear gave us the opportunity to experiment more than we might in a digital environment. If you have a million options, you might just choose the one you know. When you have a dozen, you might find you want to try ‘em all…

Vibe-wise, you know, it wasn’t quite spring, and definitely not summer, when we recorded. Our final pre-production and early studio days were when winter was hanging on, and the rainy season had begun. I think there’s part of that in the album, but it’s also jubilant, and it’s got some real fight to it. We stretch into some places we’ve never been before, including a song pretty much without guitar, and working with a horn section. But hey, if The Replacements could bring in the horns with Jim Dickinson on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” we can do the same, right?

J. Hubner: The album release is Saturday June 10th at ArtsLab. Besides the album, the band will be premiering a film on the making of the LP that evening, too. How did the film come about?

Matt Kelley: I first met Brad Bores when he attended a Rayland Baxter show at The B-Side with some dear mutual friends. We hit it off, and share a love for a certain loose Americana music. We were getting the band together and talking about why we did, after almost a decade off, and I left Brad a five-minute voicemail essay about it, and it just seemed like there might be a story worth telling here.

J. Hubner: Is there any ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ drama in the film? No personnel changes or vomiting mid-mix I hope.

Phil Potts: Unfortunately for the Brad Bores, the filmmaker, we all get along and had a blast making the record.

Matt Kelley: Fortunately—I think—Brad wasn’t there on those days, lol. But really, this band is far more in simpatico in 2017 than it was in 2007. We did have conflict in writing and making this record, but it was always ultimately in service of the song, and the album, and ideas bigger than any of us as individuals.

J. Hubner: So what can folks expect on June 10th at Artslab?

Matt Kelley: We’re really excited to present a very focused show—a concert performance, rather than a gig. We’re doing two shows, one at 6:30 and one at 9:30. Each will open with Brad’s film, which will be around 15 minutes. We’ll then have a Q&A with Brad, and then the band will perform the album in its entirety, and maybe a couple of requests. It’ll be a fun, all ages show. The ArtsLab is an awesome venue, and we’ll have a bar by The Brass Rail.

Phil Potts: They can expect the rain to stop falling and the clouds to part. We advise bringing extra socks because we will have rocked them off by the 3rd song. All of the ladies in the first two rows run the risk of immaculate conception just by looking at our drummer, so sit accordingly.

J. Hubner: After June 10th where can folks pick up copies of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Matt Kelley: We’ll have hard copies at shows and at TheTrainhoppers.com, hopefully Neat Neat Neat and Wooden Nickel, and digital copies on all the usual outlets, including streaming services. I’m pretty proud of the album cover, so I do recommend the CD to those who still have a way to play such a thing…

J. Hubner: Any favorite memories of making the album?

Phil Potts: There was a game of HORSE. I was draining long distance shots over and over again while missing 5-footers. I think that’s a metaphor for this album. As John Irving said “If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital.”

Matt Kelley: A long, long time ago I worked on the website for a studio in Nashville that was up in the holler surrounding the city, a getaway, a destination studio that was down-to-earth, outside the music industry and all about the song, and the art. This was when I was first discovering this guitar I had picked up was lucky. Well, I never had the chance to be part of recording there, but working with this band, with Jason at Off the Cuff, I really felt like I finally got to live an experience like the one I had daydreamed about all those years ago.


So June 10th, Artslab, and bring extra socks. And if you don’t want to be carrying an immaculate Trainhoppers baby sit in the back row. Seriously get out there. It’s gonna be great, and you’ll get to see the great film about the making of ‘Let It Breathe’ which was directed by Brad Bores, who I talked to as well.

J. Hubner: So how did you get involved in documenting the Trainhoppers recording sessions for ‘Let It Breathe’? Were you a fan of the Legendary Trainhoppers prior to the film?

Brad Bores: Yes but I wasn’t living in the Fort Wayne area for the first coming of the Trainhoppers so I am a newer fan. I met Matt Kelley at a B-Side show back in 2013(?) and when I heard his band was making a comeback a few years later I knew I would dig the music, just from knowing Matt and his musical tastes that align pretty closely with mine. Last summer the B Side hosted a screening of another music doc I made on Fort Wayne Musician PJ Sauerteig. While I was setting up Matt was talking about the Trainhoppers recording a 3rd album and I think it just clicked that this could make a great short film.

J. Hubner: Were there any music docs you were pulling inspiration from while filming?

Brad Bores: There are quite a few music docs I admire and I’m sure subconsciously elements may show up, but I was more focused on the inspiration coming from the Trainhoppers story and how the visual elements of Fort Wayne (trains, rivers, winter) are connected to the themes of their music.

J. Hubner: Did the filming take place specifically with the recording process or were you involved before that?

Brad Bores: I was filming sporadically the entire process starting last fall when they were still writing and assembling the songs. I also spent the winter chasing down countless shots of trains, bridges and rivers leading towards downtown Fort Wayne as well as the harsh winter vibes in general. The last phase of filming was in the studio this spring as they recorded the songs.

J. Hubner: How long have you been making films? Who were some of your early inspirations? Do you prefer docs to scripted films?

Brad Bores: I have been making films on some level since my college days back in the mid 2000’s. My first serious project was a feature length documentary titled “When the Bell Rings” completed in 2013. The Maysle brothers and John Cassavetes would be earlier inspirations with Roberto Minervini being a more contemporary filmmaker I have followed. I enjoy all types of films but only create docs.

J. Hubner: Will you be documenting the album release show on June 10th?

Brad Bores: Nope. I plan to just relax and enjoy the evening.

J. Hubner: What’s your overall takeaway from this experience? Could there be another music doc in your future?

Brad Bores: This isn’t my first music doc and I’m pretty certain it won’t be my last. There is such a strong relationship between film and music that when the right story or theme lines up it makes the process very conducive. I’m excited to screen this film as it is a departure from my typical style of verite into something more visual and stylistic.


Get to Artslab on June 10th for either the 6:30pm or 9:30pm all ages performances. The cover is $12 and includes a CD copy of ‘Let It Breathe'(or a download card.) Brad Bores’ short documentary will be shown first, followed by a Q&A with Bores and then a performance of the full album by the Trainhoppers. Don’t miss this one.