Interview – Synthpop.ru (2004 Interview)
Oleg Gurkin Q: Hallo Eric! First off let me congratulate you on the new album from the Null Device campus called “A Million Different Moments” that is coming out on the 10th of February 2004. With this particular new cycle in your life what particular emotions and expectations it brings and what makes these moments really different?
EO: Thanks. I don't know if we have any specific expectations with this release that we didn't have with the last ones, except that we've “found our feet” a bit more and feel more assured in what we do. “Sublimation” proved to us that our process seems to work. Personally, I have relaxed my “control freak” attitude a bit and opened things up to guest musicians and more varied feedback.
Q: Your debut LP “Sublimation” was released back in 2002; now it's 2004 and from a current point of view how greatly do you feel Null Device has developed through this period of time? Have you tried to change something about your musical technique and the general exposure of Null Device life-style?
EO: Well, a number of things have changed in terms of how we record tracks. For one thing, I have a much nicer recording space now which makes it more convenient to record, mix, and produce tracks. We've also put together a live band, which has affected the way I approach a song as well as the way I perform. In general we've tried to add a bit more of an organic feel to this album ? I've been heavily interested in various musical traditions recently and that really made an impact on how we wrote the music and the lyrics. I've not completely abandoned my synthpop roots, but this time around I've looked to a lot of other styles for inspiration. We've got elements of various forms of club music, middle-eastern folk music, soul, and good old-fashioned rock-n-roll.
Q: The two of Null Device, you and Dr. G, both have a super-high educational luggage. Does it somehow influence the music you produce and the orientation it leads? And if possible could you yourself ever measure the quality and the talent of your studio creations by some imaginary IQ?
EO: Well, in my case, my background with computers gives me some predisposition for spending hours in a studio doing technical things. I like fiddling with gadgets, so digging into synthesizers and software wasn't a big leap for me. While I don't think there's a whole lot of crossover between protein biochemistry and lyricism (I could be wrong, however), I'm pretty sure that Eric Goedken's experience in academia has augmented his very literate writing style.
As for measuring talent, well, I don't know about that. I'm no Shostakovich, that's for sure. But I am constantly impressed by Eric Goedken's writing and his almost spooky intuition about what makes a good song. Dan Clark, our live guitarist, is also a fabulous and versatile songwriter and performer in his own right. All in all the exchange in ideas we all have has been very inspiring.
Q: I may be wrong but your way of music constructions apparently seems to be rather intelligently sophisticated and deliberately fastidious. Thus do you have a special approach to it trying not to border other methods, say, to play electroclash or straight industrial EBM? Briefly, do you have some limitations in the field of music or is it just your personal paradigm to follow?
EO: I don't usually go into the production of a song thinking “this can't be EBM” or “this can't be electroclash” or anything like that. I try not to have any specific limitations, other than my own skills. Musically, I write what I think best fits the song. We've done a few songs that started out one way and ended up entirely different ? for example the early version of “How” on “Sublimation” started out as a really aggressive EBM track, but further revisions made me think that the song was better-suited as a downtempo ballad. It wasn't that I didn't like EBM or felt I shouldn't write anything of that style, it just seemed to fit the song better.
In the end I like to write music that challenges me and, with any luck, affects me emotionally. Dr. Goedken's lyrics help in that a lot, and musically I like to explore things I haven't tried before. Of course, my hard drive is also filled with experiments and ideas that failed miserably?
Q: Since Nilaihah Records isn't into releasing singles, your downloadable “Footfalls EP” was a cool idea at all. Rumors were that Null Device is going to continue the tendency of Internet only publications of the exclusive mixes and b-sides that won't ever appear on the material CDs. Can you comment on that?
EO: Well, Nilaihah isn't anti-single, it's just an expensive proposition for a smaller label. At any rate, I think the internet release is something we'll continue to do. The internet is a very powerful tool for promotion, and if not for it, we wouldn't be able to interact as we do. All our early work was released there, first independently and eventually on mp3.com, so releasing additional material on the net seemed like a logical step. Also, since we occasionally accumulate remixes and b-sides and such that might not fit on a regular album, it was nice to have an outlet for this stuff. Some talented people are involved in remixing and recording and I think it'd be a shame not to showcase the work they've done with us.
Also, the fact that it's free has been a big selling point to many people. There's less risk in downloading a few files and seeing if you like a band than spending $12.99 for a CD.
Q: You know the mighty of Kazaa and Soulseek that one day may offer all the heritage of Null Device — perhaps it's your neighbor put that things available online. How do you think is that easier for both sides to put up the whole albums immediately to the www instead of having them on the plastic discs?
EO: I think file-sharing is sort of a double-edged sword. File-sharing services eat into our sales, no doubt, but they're also responsible for propagating our music in ways that we couldn't with a plastic CD. I'm sure it's harder to get a Null Device CD in Russia than it is to find the mp3's online. It'd be cheaper for everybody to put things online, that's for sure, but I admit I like the tangibility of a CD ? it's nice to have a shiny disc to hold in your hand with artwork and lyrics and some band information. I think the ultimate solution will be somewhere in between ? some people prefer the hardware version, some people prefer the software, and in the end it'll be a matter of consumer choice.
I think as the debate expands we're also going to see more “extras” on CD's ? for example the last Hybrid album came with a very well-produced bonus DVD of their recording process and some footage from their last tour. That alone was worth buying the CD. I wouldn't have gotten that had I just downloaded the album.
Q: What if your records do not sell as well as expected – who are the ones to blame and what are the reasons to console your self?
EO: Well, I don't expect our albums to start going gold yet, so I'm not too concerned. If the albums don't sell well, it means that we didn't make an album that the public liked. However, if I can say we made an album that we liked, then I'll still be happy. The downside of course is that if nobody buys it, it will become more difficult to release more albums. Obviously we want Nilaihah to do well since Kristy has been so supportive of us. I think that if we make a good solid album, it will reach somebody other than me and Eric. That's really what we're trying to achieve in the first place.
Q: These days when every person could potentially be an artist and a “label” himself writing music in the bedroom, churning out CDs in the garage, printing graphics in the office and trading stuff through the Internet, are you worried about this state of things and soon-to-come chaos in the music industry?
EO: Worried? No, I think it's great. Sure, there's probably a lot of crap coming out of bedroom studios, but there's also a lot of really, really amazing talent out there too that otherwise wouldn't be realized. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the bedroom-studio phenomenon (my studio was, in fact, in my bedroom for many years). It gives a lot of people a chance to express themselves, and it gives music-fans a lot more choices to find something they can really enjoy. It's only going to get more “democratic” too, with the recent announcements in the music technology field. Now you can buy more power than that of a pretty decent 1980's recording studio for a few hundred dollars. You can pack it into a laptop computer and take it on vacation with you. There's free software that rivals some of the classic synthesizers in power and quality. I think this is just awesome.
Q: Sometimes you are being asked for doing remixes so you've learnt those ropes very well. Generally speaking, can you consider them (remixes) especially those made by the “big shots” of the genre as a magic cure that is able to save any album no matter how shitty it is?
EO: Well, sometimes a good remix is more fun to listen to than the bad source, but it's a very rare case that a bad song leads to a good remix. It's always tricky ? a remix can make a good song terrible, or a good song great, or even have no impact at all. A good remix can certainly take a song out of a certain realm or genre ? the classic example is the DNA remix of Susanne Vega's “Tom's Diner”, which made a folksy track into club classic. Some remixes just kind of leave me thinking “what was the point of that?”
A good remix, or even a few of them, can't save a whole bad album, though. Stick a cool BT remix at the end of a bad album, and it becomes?a bad album with a BT remix at the end.
Sometimes I think electronic music in general gets a bit too bound-up in the remix game. Remixes are great fun to do, but the original song should be the focal point, not the big name remix.
Q: You have been listening to tons of music of diverse styles. Could you please elaborate on your all-time favorites? And also, had you ever felt like borrowing some interesting finds from the music you love the most (no straightforward plagiarism meant) and adopt some really worth tricks to the creations of Null Device?
EO: I am completely hooked on Turkish pop sensation Tarkan. Sure, a lot of his ballads have that sort of 80's cheesy-ballad feel to them, but many of his tracks are this just insane mixture of Turkish folk music, western pop music, and club music, and I love it deeply. I've also been listening to Panjabi MC, who is an Indian hip-hop star. He mixes all sorts of traditional beats and instruments and “Bollywood” vocals with really heavy hip-hop beats, and it's pretty catchy. Hybrid's albums have been in constant rotation recently, too ? I really like their big filmic arrangements, which are unusual for more club-oriented music. There's Plump DJs, Conjure One, The Streets, Infected Mushroom, Radiohead?many, many things rotate through my CD player a lot these days, along with a lot of the classic bands from the 80's and 90's.
I think a little of everything is creeping into Null Device from these sources. Already the Tarkan influence got me researching middle-eastern folk music and instrumentation, and some of that is quite apparent on “A Million Different Moments.” I'm working a lot more with breakbeats in concert with ethnic percussion and rhythms, which is sort or an after-effect of both the club music and the Indian and middle-eastern music.
I try not to steal anyone's styles directly, but often I can find a lot of inspiration in another band's works?I sort of sit back and say “hey, that combination of instruments really works well together!”
Q: You are a well-known gourmet that knows almost everything about every national cuisine. And since music is one big kitchen, metaphorically speaking, what provision does Null Device have in the freezer for the future meals? Or probably there is something that's being fried at the moment?
EO: Heh, that's praise for my cooking skills that's probably way overstated. I don't really know what's in store, long-term. We're still busy in the studio, doing remixes and preparing more live tracks, and always experimenting with new ideas and techniques. I think we're going to keep trying to do new things (new to us, anyway) and just keep branching out in new directions. I've got a few things in the works, but it's still too early to know if they'll ever see the light of day.
Q: Let me again thank you sincerely for your answers! Just to finish this interview set, what would you like to fill your fans' memory banks with to remember or just to wish to all the readers of www.synthpop.ru?
EO: Thank you for your support in Russia and around the world. It's great to know that music can find an audience just about anywhere.