Darwin: Okay. Today I am happy to get a chance to talk to somebody whose work I've followed for a long time. His name's Rhys Fulber and he kind of got his bones working in collaboration with Bill Leeb on a number of projects like Front Line assembly, Intermix, Delirium and things like that. Subsequent to that he launched into a number of solo projects, but also a really heavy duty production work schedule. And recently he started producing solo albums. I've been kind of binge listening to it and really getting into it. so I'm really excited about the chance to talk to Rhys. So with no more a ado, let's talk to him. Hey Rhys, how's it going?
Rhys Fulber: It's going well. A little better than yesterday. Yesterday the sky was brown with smoke and I had now power for half the day. So today's a huge upgrade. I live in Los Angeles, so it's always the apocalypse!
Darwin: Yeah, there's always something. Well it makes sense that you'd be in LA because of your production work; you are pounding out the productions. I looked at your list of work and it seems like the last decade has been a nonstop production whirlwind for you.
Rhys: Yeah. You know, honestly, I'm not doing as much outside production as I was some years ago. I've kind of gone in a different direction. I think the industry has changed and more people just produce their own records. So, I'm moving back into being an artist more again, which is something I kind of wanted to do anyway. It all sort of worked out. You know, you have to keep busy. If this is what you do to support yourself, you kind of have to keep busy. I always liked to find ways I can both be keeping busy and be artistically satisfied, I guess you could say.
Darwin: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. So what kinds of projects are you working on right now?
Rhys: Honestly, I'm mostly just working on my own material, either on my own or I'm starting some collaborations with other artists. I kind of started working in the Techno scene a little bit, which sort of kind of happened. I had some music that I was working on and a couple people heard some of the material and expressed interest in releasing it into that scene I guess. And so I've been operating in that world a little bit and performing live as well, which I actually really enjoy because it's a way of playing electronic music that is variable, and improvising. And I'm doing things that I've always wanted to do with electronic music that are now possible within that format, which is building tracks every time you play them, rather than running static backing tracks and playing parts on top of them. You're actually manipulating the entire track itself.
So, you know, no two sets are alike and you're open for making mistakes and you're open for playing something that you really like - that you're never going to be able to play again. And I really enjoy that.
Darwin: Sure. Now, like I mentioned, I've been binge listening to some of your solo work and especially I really dug the Ostalgia album, which is the most recent one that I was able to get my hands on. It's interesting because I can see where there's kind of a mix of almost hard edge EBM type stuff mixed in with some real Techno-ish structure and Techno sound design. But also it brings in a lot of your almost cinematic or ethereal sound design that you used in projects like Delirium. It seems like a really interesting collision of the things that are your artistry.
Rhys: Well, I appreciate that. I mean I think I'm just trying to do something that I like, basically. And you know, being on more of a Techno label there, you know, I'm working with some basic parameters that allow it to fit into that format - but not that much, because I think I don't hear a lot of other Techno records that sound like that. So I take it as a good thing (though, in some ways it's a bad thing because if DJ's don't play your records then you don't get a lot of exposure). I would rather be just doing my own thing because there's a lot of people out there making club tracks and you know, there's no point in doing more. You gotta carve your own path and do what's comfortable. So I basically just do what I think is good and I like to always incorporate an element of melody or musicality in everything I do, even even when it's more abstract because that's just the sound that I enjoy.
So I'm happy to hear that because I'll have a track that I think is cool and I go, "You know, what would be really cool on this? Some strings, you know?" And then I can work on something like that because I love that kind of element. And I don't hear enough of that. I think it's starting to happen more now where people are broadening the scope a little bit, but everyone was so fixated on being really aggressive and hard and pounding, but I like the subtlety and I like having a tinge of melody hidden in there somewhere. You can only go so far with the aggressive music, you know, you eventually hit a wall and I know some artists that have done that and gone the other way and started making ambient music because you can only take something so far. So it's good to start to be branched out in a few different areas at once musically. Then you always have another turn to make.
Darwin: Well, the other thing is the kind of music you're making now really seems to align with a lot of stuff that I'm hearing coming out of LA, which is that combination of kind of hard edge stuff along with melodicism. I think it's because a lot of people are being drawn into doing things like soundtrack work or soundtracks for games. And so they're being drawn into melodic and harmonic content, but also still wanting to combine it with the kind of edge that makes it exciting, right?
Rhys: Yeah, exactly. And you know, that's why I moved to Los Angeles actually. I initially was with a film composer agency and I ended up moving here. So that's initially what brought me here. I started working in that and then, long story short, the person that brought me to the agency left the agency and - as any band that signed on a major label would know - once your A/R person gets fired, it's kind of hard to know where you're at. I ended up sticking with what was working at the time, which was producing; but, you know, I probably should have ground it out a little bit more in that field and done more spec work and done the leg work. But I was getting a lot of production work. So I just kind of went that way.
And I regret it a little bit now because some of my colleagues that got into the game at the same time as me are now major composers in Hollywood, which isn't to say that I would be one of them too, because you never know, but it makes you think a little bit. That's just the way it goes - I still make a living off music, I can't complain about anything. But that's initially what brought me here. So I've always had a little bit of that in the back of my mind. But I also think a lot of people don't realize how difficult it is. Composing is a really hard game, it's really difficult to get in. It's really difficult to stay in. It's a lot of work and it's a lot of opinions. You have to pull together. In some ways it really would take over your whole life in a way that, you know, you might not necessarily be... you know, it's fun to make music you wanna make and go out and play gigs in different countries. Maybe the money's not as good, but I think you're going to be a happy person just making art and doing it your way because, you know, with composing, you're never doing anything your way. It's a tremendous amount of work and people skills.
Darwin: Right. I want to come back to that because I have about a million questions already, but before we get there, one of the things I like doing in my podcast is talking to people about how they became the artists that they are. I'm curious [about you] because, for anybody who goes back and really dives deeply in your catalog, there's such a breadth of, influences that are clear, right? It's clear that you have at least some sort of a empathy for classical music, empathy for cinematic music, but also dance styles and industrial styles. I'm curious how you got to be the musician you are. What was your background? Did you come out of high school band, or were you a guitar kid or how did you get into it?
Rhys: I was in high school band. I was really into high school band. That was one of the only things that kept me in high school for my brief stay there. But my father was a musician and his father was a musician. Interesting story: my grandfather was a horn player and he's my father and my grandfather are German. My grandfather escaped Germany at the beginning of world war II because he lived on his family's commune and they were like, what you'd call Christian Socialists or something - something the nasties didn't like. So he left Germany and ended up in a prison camp in Canada. In the prison camp they're doing farm labor and he was listening to American radio. He was a trained violinist and horn player and could read and write music. So while listening to the radio, he was transcribing charts off the radio of Glenn Miller, big band and everything, right?
So when the war's over, he goes back to Germany, which is in ruins. He puts a band together and starts making money either either performing for the soldiers that were occupying or whatever, because he knew all the hits since he'd written them all down. So, you know, I grew up around him playing the songs every Christmas. And then my dad played in bands. My dad played in cover bands in the 70s, and I grew up hanging around the bar and you know, I'm like a little kid hanging around a stinky nightclub in the middle of the day. And then my dad got into punk rock at the end of the seventies, so I would be hanging around all his gigs and I would go to all-ages gigs when I could. So I was like 10 years old going to punk rock shows. And then my father and his friend built a studio.
So when I was like 11 or 12 I would just hang out at the studio. And it was actually the studio where like people like Duff from Guns N' Roses would be when he came up with his punk band from Seattle. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and I used to go watch the Vancouver punk band, DOA, rehearse when I was like 10 years old. So not only did I grow up around music, but I grew up around counterculture music. It was never anything totally mainstream. And also it has a lot to do with my father and his record collection. I mean, he had an awesome record collection, had really good taste. I grew up, you know, listening to Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, you know, that's the stuff my dad was into. So it has a lot to do with his record collection.
The fact is that I knew who Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly were, and I also knew who Frank Zappa was. I also knew who George Benson was. It's just all my father's record collection. So I grew up completely immersed in music and listening to headphones from a single digit age. And I also started playing drums around that time because our dining room was a jam space. So from when I was like, you know, I couldn't even reach the pedals and I was already kind of playing drums. So that's how I grew up. My father is from Dusseldorf and we lived over there when I was really little. So he was aware of Kraftwerk and all those bands. We had Autobahn, the album, I remember when I was really little and they took me to the concert when I was like six years old. Kraftwerk actually played in Vancouver. And I remember going, I was one of my earliest memories of the neon signs and Floyd and Schneider playing flute. And so I kind of am really lucky that I came from not only a very musical background but also like good taste. You know, like my father had amazing tastes, so I just really lucky that I had all of that to draw from.
Darwin: Well, not only amazing tastes, but also real breadth. I mean, a lot of times, when I talk to people whose parents were musicians, they often talk about how it was like a very single path through musicianship. Either their parents were into jazz, so they grew up only hearing jazz or their parents were like classical musicians. So they only heard classical music. It sounds like you got a really wide variety of stuff because your father was really gravitating towards the best in music, not as specific style.
Rhys: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean jazz was big in the 70's, so for awhile there he had, you know, a fair amount of jazz records and then when the punk new wave thing exploded, he got really into that. He suddenly started bringing home really different types of records, so I got to go all through all of that with him. I mean he took me to see Public Image, Ltd. when I was like 12 or something at the university. I got to go through all of that with him and then take it a step further. When I started getting into electronic music, he got me a synthesizer - so by the time I'm 14 even though I was really into playing drums and jazz band at school and taking lessons and really being serious about drums. I heard like an album by Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks called Homosapien cause I love the Buzzcocks.
They were my favorite band - still to this day are my favorite band, or one of them. And I heard his electronic record and I was aware of Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre and stuff, but when I heard that record I was like, "You know what? I think this is the cutting edge." It's electronic music. And that's around the time I got a synthesizer and I just really stayed in my room with a synthesizer and figured out how to play songs. I had a little keyboard training when I was a kid, but not that much. I kinda had to figure most of it out myself. But I could read music from playing in band, so I just transcribed that from rhythm into learning melodies. And I had the OMD (Orchestral Manoeuveres in the Dark) Architecture and Morality songbook when I got my first synthesizer, and I learned all the songs - that's sort of what got me started. I have to say my musical foundations would have to be Buzzcocks, OMD and Kraftwerk. Those are the three big bands for me.
Darwin: That's really interesting. I mean, OMD was so influential for me too. Just because they brought the tools similar to what I think of as your music styling. They kind of brought together a lot of different threads of music and in a really interesting way.
Rhys: OMD is incredible underrated. And their four albums are so good. It's like I didn't know who Depeche mode was. I was into OMD. I had a friend from Sweden, a family friend. He was a little bit older than me and he turned me onto Depeche mode and Front 242 and he brought this other music from Europe over. But I was just... I had just started moving out of the punk rock obsession. I dropped right into OMD and just literally studied that, especially Architecture and Morality. I just studied that album back to front. It's just a... that's why I'm still partial to it. Mellotron sounds and all that stuff. I still love it. It's just the sound of that record and, and the fact that there's edgy stuff on it too, and experimental stuff on it, it's really like they got a bit of everything. And not too many bands have pulled that off. I mean, even today, you know?
Darwin: So how did you go from having your first synth and your first drum machine and dissecting OMD, how did you go from there into working with Bill on the Front line Assembly stuff and the Delirium work? How, how did you make that transition? What were the steps that got you there?
Rhys: Well, honestly, it's not a huge transition because when you think of what that time was, what electronic music was - I mean, now that I know Bill and cEvin from Skinny Puppy... I mean we all kind of like the same records. They're older than me, but we were all loved OMD. We were all kind of the same thing. And then, you know, my friend from Sweden, he turned me onto Front 242 and then I was like, "Wow, I really like the energy of this. This is really cool!" And then Skinny Puppy happened in Vancouver and I heard from music and I went "Wow, this is amazing." It's electronic music, but it's got elements of punk and it really grabbed me and as soon as I heard Skinny Puppy, I had to know where this came from. So I immediately started trying to figure out the bands that they listened to.
And so right away, Cabaret Voltaire, Portion Control, I had to figure it all out, you know? And so I was really into all that music from there on out. And because Vancouver wasn't that big of a city back then, there was the one professional music store which everybody would go to. I used to skip school and in there all day with headphones playing with synthesizers. Like that's what I used to do. So I used to see cEvin from Skinny Puppy and I used to see all the local musicians coming through. And I remember I was coming into the one import record store downtown and I had like a drum machine or something with me and there was cEvin from Skinny Puppy and he might've been with Bill and they were sort of like, you know... and I had my look and everything.
I looked a little bit, you know, left of center and they're sort of like "What's this kid doing? Hey, what do you do? What are you?" And Bill still used to work at this clothing store across the street. And there was one little strip in Vancouver where all that kind of stuff happened, right? So you would run into people and I went into the store Bill worked at, he was playing all this incredible music. I asked him what it was and you know, he had like Les Liaisons Dangereuses limited edition cassettes. I still don't even know how you get that. And he was playing all this great stuff and he made me a mix tape, which I still have somewhere. And he knew that I had some gear and he said, eventually after hanging out in there a little bit, he just said, "Well, why don't you, you know, bring your gear over? Let's see what happens."
And I went and jammed with him. I was like 16 the first time, I think. And we just messed around in his living room with this Portastudio and just kind of developed from there. And also his store... cEvin would come in when they've finished at the studio the night before. So I was like skipping high school, standing there and cEvin plays [Skinny Puppy's] Dig It the day after they did it, in the store, but nobody in the store except for me and those two. And I'm like five foot nine and they're like six and a half feet tall and I'm standing there and they play Dig It. It was, it was pretty incredible at time. You know, I was lucky to have been part of all that. So, yeah, I was just around those guys and I had gear and I was really motivated. And so Bill invited me over to jam. I worked on a couple of the early releases on a few tracks and then when Front Line went to do their first tour in 1989, they invited me out to play percussion and samples. And so 18 years old, I'm out on the road and Europe with Front Line Assembly in Europe and America. And then it just kind of grew from there.
Darwin: That's an amazing story. But also it sort of shows the power of like being honest to yourself with your look - and to always carry your drum machine around with you!
Rhys: Well, I can't remember what I was doing. I might've been taking it to the shop or something. I don't even know.
Darwin: I mean, if there's anything that's going to be a badge of honor in that world though, it's walking around town with a drum machine. So that's, that's pretty cool.
Rhys: A TR-707, too. I still to this day, don't like that drum machine. Lots of people do.
Darwin: Yeah, I, I'm with you. I don't really get that one, but there you go.
Rhys: Even worse, I got rid of a Sequential Tom for the 707 - that was a huge error. Big error.
Darwin: Yeah. So you started working with Front Line, but then also you continue to collaborate on all of these other projects - each one which kind of had its own sonic variation. So you had Intermix, which was really kind of dancey stuff. You had Delirium, which was really kind of, not only was it like this ethereal dance thing, but it also had really super high production level. How did you get drawn into each of these stylistic things? Was it just the opportunity presented itself or did you really want to do it? How'd you get into all these different stylings?
Rhys: Well I liked Techno right away, by the early nineties already. We were listening to a lot of that kind of music and we wanted to mess around with some dancier elements. We didn't want to commit them to Front Line Assembly. So Intermix is basically us trying stuff out to see if what would work for Front Line. "This isn't going to work for Front Line, but this music is actually kind of cool. Maybe we should just release it." So that's Intermix, with us trying different things to see what would happen. We decided release it because, you know, we thought it was good enough. And you know, Delirium was just initially more dark ambient music that we all loved. You know, we all loved the early dark ambient music; we especially love Lustmord, the one SBK album and Dead Can Dance. And when William Orbit first started making stuff, I mean we loved all of that, but we couldn't put it as Front Line Assembly. So this is mostly how this stuff started. It was just music we liked that we wanted to make and we just thought it would be better to give it a different home. And then of course Delirium evolved into something altogether. More commercial. When we tried putting some vocals, we tried putting a singer on it, we threw a couple of major chords on it and then
Darwin: ...it's off to the races.
Rhys: Yeah. It turned into its own kind of, you know... it far, far outsold Front Line Assembly. You know, even before, the Semantic Spaces album did quite well in Canada especially. So, you know, Delirium just kind of took on a life of its own probably because we just presented it differently and it's a softer sound. It's a little more palatable for a wider audience. It wasn't completely intentional. It just sort of happened. I always tell people that successful records are always organic. They're never planned, you know? It never works, you know? So it was all quite organic, how the whole Delirium process happened.
Darwin: I remember when the album Karma came home and it was like you had put this record out and then shortly thereafter, like weeks maybe thereafter, it was like the appetite for that kind of music all of a sudden bloomed in the general public. And I would say that in a period of a couple of weeks, I had a number of people were like, "I never listen to this kind of music, but have you heard this album Karm?" It just happened to be at the right place at the right time. And you guys really hit a chord.
Rhys: Absolutely. I mean, that's like any record I've worked on that's done well; ii's always "right place at right time" that has so much to do with the record. It's gotta be music that people connect with and it has to come out at the right time. And everything just worked out on that record. It was that whole... like electronic music was becoming more of an acceptable thing in America at that time. And it just was the right time. And you know, we got a couple of licenses on some films and it gave the record a lot of exposure and it just gathered its own momentum. And then of course, you know, Sarah McLaughlin started getting popular and that tied over into us a little bit as well. It's hard to argue with.
Darwin: Right on. So, what got you started doing production work? At what point did you start getting drawn into producing other artists? Was it through doing remixes or did you start off in full production?
Rhys: Honestly, I think it was the first Fear Factory remixes. Fear is the Mind Killer, which wasn't a huge record, but a lot of people heard it and people liked it and people saw metal in a different way off of that. And I got asked to do programming. There was a local alternative rock band in Vancouver called Econoline Crush that were getting signed to EMI and they had heard some of that stuff and they go, "Hey, can you do some programming for us?" And I went and did some programming for them and I'm thinking it was... I'm trying to get my timeline straight. That was one of the things. And then of course when Fear Factory had me come in and work on their Demanufacture record and we ended up kind of taking over the record, even though I didn't produce that record, it was produced by Colin Richardson, but we were told by the band to take the record over and remix and adjust everything the way we like it, which was more of the way they liked it - because the record before was more of a traditional metal record as to the way Colin heard it.
And then the Econoline Crush band I did programming for, then they went and tried to make an album with another producer and it didn't work out. They asked me to come and produce their whole record after-the-fact for, like, no money on a couple of ADAT's and it was for EMI. So it was for a big label and the record got a little radio in Canada. Between that and Fear Factory, I felt that, especially Fear Factory, you know, a lot of people heard Demanufacture and at the time it turned a few heads. And so that's sort of where it all started. And then the other, I've done production stuff that I think people might not be aware of, like way more mainstream. Like I worked on the first Josh Groban record, I produced two songs on that and that's the most mainstream record I've ever worked on.
And that was with David Foster, Canadian mega producer. And in a lot of ways it might not be the coolest thing to say, but in a lot of ways I was like the highlight of my career working with somebody like that. And, you know, being treated like a colleague and a collaborator, and it was an incredible experience, but that came off the success of Delirium. You know, Delirium started getting out there and then people started saying, "Hey, we like this, this vibey atmospheric programming. We would like that on our pop record or something." So between those two angles, you know, I did like some programming on like a Rob Thomas song. And even recently I worked on a Three Days Grace record, which is, you know, very mainstream rock music. And so I still am infiltrating the mainstream, not as much as I used to, but here and there, just really subtly.
And then in Canada, I made a lot of records for EMI. I even made a a jazz record one time. I produced a jazz record by a Canadian acoustic bassist and a bunch of really more mainstream Canadian music. I did a singer songwriter called Serena Ryder, which is a completely different kind of music. So, you know, I have done lots of different things. Most people know me for the electronic stuff, but I actually have done a lots of other types of music as well, which I really - I think you get something out of everything you do in, right?
Darwin: Sure. So you were doing all of this stuff while you were still in Vancouver,
Rhys: In the 90's I actually lived in Amsterdam for a while, so I was kind of all over the place. I would just travel for a lot of production. And then I moved to LA in 2000 so the mainstream stuff all kind of happened out of LA, you know? In the 90's I was still in Vancouver, then in Amsterdam. So I had done some productions in Europe and so I was kind of all over the place, but a lot of the initial stuff started with Vancouver with Fear Factor. I would travel to where they were at, you know, Los Angeles or upstate New York where we did the Demanufacture record.
Darwin: So now with your solo work, you're coming back to stuff that actually sounds like in a way kind of modernized versions of EBM almost. But I'm wondering what drew you back into that and what is sort of like your working system? Are you working with a lot of samples? Are you working with a modular system? How are you working your way back into it and what does like your cockpit look like?
Rhys: Well, what kind of happened is, I've been working on a lot of more melodic, softer electronic music. I mean others on top of Delirium. I had another project of my own called Conjure One, which was similar to Delirium. It was atmospheric, it was electronic, it was melodic. I made an album a few years ago for the Trance label Armada, even though it's not a Trance record, but they would get remixes and stuff... but, you know, it's very song-based and I'd been putting so much into this music to be perfectly honest, I wasn't getting a lot out of it. We were getting some streaming and stuff, but I couldn't really play it live because it didn't fit into a category. It was too commercial to be with the weird people and too weird to be with the commercial people.
So I was kind of in no man's land a little bit. And then I started wanting to just do something different. You know, cause I put so much into the, with the album was called Holoscenic. It came out a few years ago. I put so much into that record that I just felt like I don't know how much I can give to this style of, like, figuring out interesting chord progressions or whatever. And it just took a lot out of me. So I wanted to just experiment with some aggressive sounds again. So I just started messing around and Adam X at Sonic Groove Records in Berlin as Techno label. He heard some of what I was doing and I started to hear about how the whole old EBM sound is becoming really in vogue again. I mean, at least on an underground level, and people were asking me, "Why don't you make stuff like this?"
And so that's sort of what brought me into it. But obviously as soon as I got back in, I immediately didn't want to just do EBM, you know? Because I can't get as excited about something that I've done before. I have to try and twist it a certain way. That's why Ostalgia has already moved away from the EBM thing because it just - I can't stay excited about that. We kind of had our time with that. And I mean, I like the fact that that music is interesting for people again, but I don't know if I can make it and be honest about making it, if that makes any sense.
Darwin: Oh, sure. It does.
Rhys: It would be a pastiche. I would be like I'm going to dress up in my old clothes, you know? I wouldn't be honest if I made a whole bunch of... I have to be honest about the music I make. I make the odd track that might sound like that, but you know, I just have to do what comes out. And I think that's the only way you can be now that there's so much music out there. The only way you can be is [to be] yourself. You, can't try and fit somewhere or try too hard to appropriate things. Maybe now more than ever, you have to be more of an individual. And you know, people are fairly discerning, people don't give their audience enough credit. I think people can hear when you mean it and when you're trying it on, so I have to mean it when I'm doing it. So wherever that takes me is where it's going to be. But it's hard for me just to go and make an EBM album because I wouldn't be honest doing that.
Darwin: Sure. Well, and again, listening to a couple of more recent records, they really actually do seem to be you drawing in a variety of different voices and kind of bringing them together in a surprisingly organic way. I would've had trouble imagining some of these combinations, but they really work and especially the sound design is really compelling because just when you think, well, this is going to be a lot of ethereal sounds, all of a sudden something will come in that sounds like a chip tune thing, right? And you think, "Oh, okay. He's bringing that in!" And all of a sudden the pitches on the kick drum start changing and you're like, "Oh wow, that's a subtle but super-powerful feeling." There's all these subtleties, but also these kind of overt changes that happen too. And it just seems like you've found a way to draw all of these pieces of pieces of your voice together in kind of a singular thing. I think it's phenomenal.
Rhys: Well, I appreciate that. I think the way as far as the setup I use, I use Ableton Live. I used Pro Tools for a long time, especially when I was producing, I would always do everything in Pro Tools and I do feel it sounds better. I know people will argue that on Gearslutz and whatever, but I think the algorithm of Pro Tools, the summing algorithm in the software, I still think sounds better than most other platforms. I mean, I've got the same hardware, but when I open Pro Tools, it seems to sound better to me. I could be wrong - it's just my perception, but that's just how I hear it. But Ableton is way better for... Pro Tools is very dry and it's not as inspiring compositionally, I think that's what I'm looking for. So I ended up doing everything in Ableton.
I've also used modular gears since 1997 when I bought my first Doepfer system and I've been using that stuff ever since, so I've always used a lot of modular gear. I'm not crazy about the way the modular thing has become such a thing. Like it's almost this means to an end kind of thing. But I think it's okay - you know, it's a tool, I think it's become too much of a badge maybe. I don't know. I might be a grumpy old man, but I still love it. I still use it, but I use whatever: I use a soft synth, I use a modular, there's no... it could be anything.
Darwin: You're not religious about any of it.
Rhys: I tried to be initially and I realized I'm just making everything harder on myself. It's whatever is going to be working, you know, I still have a fair amount of gear. I still have a lot of hardware synths and stuff. I don't always use them. I mean I should - sometimes I just have an idea that came on my laptop and I should just finish that. I mean it really, it really depends, you know? I do have a lot of nice equipment. I've had a lot of synths over the years. I still love gear but I don't have the same attitude I had before and now it's just whatever is getting it done for me and whatever. It sounded good. I will say I'm no longer interested really in buying synthesizers anymore. Like the stuff I buy now, the modules I buy now are almost never synthesizers.
They're always like an effect or a sequencer or... I rarely buy oscillators and filters. You know, it's always like I bought the Jomox T-Resonator cause that's just a weird processing. I'm more interested in and stuff like that. Or sample manipulation. Like I kinda don't need synthesis. I mean I have great synthesizers. The other day I was patching a sequence on the modular with the sequencer and I'm like, "Why am I making this so hard?" And I just pulled up the MIDI-CV converter and played the part I wanted in and, you know, I was done in 10 minutes rather than 45 minutes, trying to dial it in on the modular sequencer. So you can get stuff in that way that you wouldn't get by playing in, which I know and appreciate and do sometimes. But a lot of times the music I make, I already have a lot of it in my head and I just need to put it down. So I hear a lot of the riffs already. Sometimes I'm making it harder when I'm trying to enter it onto a modular sequence or what. I could just play the riff end and then, you know...
Darwin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So now you said that you've been playing live some what, how do you take the piles of gear that you have in your studio or how do you translate that into something that you can play live?
Rhys: Okay. The way I've sort of figured out a way I now use Ableton with an APC.
Darwin: The APC 40, right.
Rhys: So I basically have that with Ableton. I have a Nord modular where I have patches I've programmed into the Nord modular, which is clocked to the M-Audio interface via MIDI. I have a Waldorf Rocket, which I use for sequences I have in Ableton and I have a little Eurorack Bento Box with a few modules at it. Like a lot of Noise Engineering. They are my favorite - Noise Engineering stuff, a Clouds module. So I'm running sequences live on the modular and then using Clouds as an instrument. And I have loops of elements from the records in Ableton, but everything's broken up so I can build and arrange the tracks as I want and mix elements how I want. So I kind of jam it out, you know, I mean I basically have a lot of four-bar loops in Ableton that I can play as I want. And then I run sequences on the hardware that I can evolve and manipulate, and it's always different. You know, like I build songs. I know sometimes before the show I'll build a new part to play, you know? And then I have it set up in a way that you hear familiar elements but you're putting them together differently every time. And then I go into sections where with the modular and stuff I can improvise and create almost new compositions based off the elements I have.
Darwin: Right on.
Rhys: It's like I didn't want to do something completely random and improvise. I want it to be a connection to the album cause I'm not playing purely Techno gigs all the time. And usually when people come and see you, they kind of want to hear some of the [album] material. So I've tried to find a balance between some familiar material and complete improvisation.
Darwin: That also helps me understand how you can do this thing where you feel free to explore but still kind of maintain the thing that people are hoping to hear when they come see you. That makes a lot of sense.
Rhys: Yeah. I really like doing it this way. It's like I've probably had a couple shows where I'll have something coming on Clouds that just sounds great and you just know it's not going to happen again. I remember I played a gig in Germany where I stretched the ending out like 10 minutes, because I just thought it sounds so cool. I'm just going to keep it going 'cause I'm not going to get this again. Never going to happen. I was interested in the new Akai units, the new MPCs, but they didn't have a temple control on the front. So I'm like - I don't even care. Yeah. I mean I change tempos when I play. I thought about getting an Octatrack and getting rid of the laptop, but I don't want to spend a year learning how to use it.
I mean I have a son, I have other stuff I have to do. I know there's a lot of people out there that trash people that use laptops, but just because you have two Elektrons and no computer does not make you Miles Davis. You are still triggering stored information. That's still what you're doing. It's a computer in a different box, a laptop and an Octatrack is really a different box. You still have information you have put in this machine that you are manipulating. It's exactly technically the same. No one is sitting there playing keyboards. It's not George Duke, you know what I mean? It's like this is what I understand. You know? So I have no problems doing things the way I do because.. I actually asked my friends that are Elektron experts.
I wouldn't be able to do what I do with an Octatrack because of the way the instrument is structured. I wouldn't have access to as many loops at once that I do now. I really wanted to push it and try different things and maybe try and get off the computer, but I like what I'm doing, you know, and I realized I wouldn't be able to do it that way. So I'm just gonna keep rolling with it until something else changes. I'm always looking to be as live and as open to improvising and doing different things as possible. So I'm still interested in that concept. But currently right now I have a friend, actually my friend Jeff Swearingen and he did some sound design on my album, so I gotta give him credit for some of that as well because he's the Elektron master.
He would send a bunch of like little sounds in little tiny sections he had done on his Analog Four. And he basically gave me a sample library. So when I'd be working on tracks and I go, "I need another texture." And throw a couple of textures in there and stuff, cause he's just unbelievable. He's like one of the best sound designers I've ever met, so I have to give him a little credit because some of his elements are all over Ostalgia. I would have a groove and I go, "This is missing something." And then I would open up Jeff's folder and go, "This is awesome." So he's in there as well. I can't take credit for everything on there. But he's the one that sort of explained to me, he knows that those instruments so well and so he was sort of like, "You might as well just keep doing what you're doing because I don't think you would get what you want out of this machine." Even though I really want to still get into that machine because I've seen people do such cool stuff on it. It's just - I might need to get one and just learn it on the side.
Darwin: Right. Well, it's very much an instrument. So what you have to do is you have to come to you willing to play the kind of music that that instrument is good at. You know?
Rhys: But that being said, a lot of people use them. So maybe it's good not to!
Darwin: Maybe, maybe. Well, Rhys, I want to thank you so much for the time. I know that you've got another appointment here, so I'm going to let you go. But I want to thank you so much for taking the time to have the great chat with me.
Rhys: All right, take care. Have a great day. Bye.
Copyright 2019 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.