Interview with Null Device by Kim Mercil
Introduction by Mike Ventarola (www.hiddensanctuary.com )
It seems like just yesterday when Null Device was signed to Nilaihah Records and the release crossed my desk for a review. Then, as now, there are many electronic bands, each sounding rather similar in their style of work. Null Device stood out from the crowd though. They crafted a sound that was electronic, yet “organic.” We weren't clobbered with hyperventilating bass effects with growled vocals. Instead, we were offered some songs that were dance floor friendly, some that were more for a quieter time in our lives, and all conducive for an enjoyable listening experience.
Now, with their sophomore release A Million Different Moments on Nilaihah Records, Null Device does it once again. Instead of reaching for the tried and true “success” of a cookie cutter electronic sound, they instead incorporated world rhythm between the song layering. The opening Middle Eastern inspired track Destinies & Symmetries certainly has classic written all over it! This is the type of song that is sonic velvet to the ears where one hopes the song would never end.
Additionally, the disc boasts a variety of club friendly songs delivered with delightful vocals that can and DO hit the desired ranges. The song styling of sound, lyric and delivery was meticulously created, bringing a new experience as well as an offshoot genre from the typical electronic fodder on the market today.
KM: Your bio starts us off in '91 with Eric Oehler meeting Eric Goedken, but doesn't pick up again until '94. What was going on between those years?
EO: College. I wasn't writing much music, nor seriously considering recording any at that time, and both of us were up to our necks in our studies.
EG: We also went to many films and concerts, and we talked about Star Trek a lot. I don't think either of us had any idea we'd be releasing records together ten years later.
KM: In '94, how did you become involved in writing a soundtrack for a software demonstration?
EO: I was a member of the lab that wrote the software, and since some of us had been playing around with writing music with software (this was pretty cutting edge for amateurs in 1994) it seemed natural to combine the two.
KM: In '96, Null Device's original line up dissipates. Who was the original line up? Why did they leave?
EO: A number of the people who had worked on the software demo were involved in various capacities. The guy who wrote the music software left to attend grad school, another went to work for Microsoft, and another one just
decided he didn't have the interest to commit to writing more.
EG: My understanding is that at that time, as now, Eric was the chief force for writing music in the project.
KM: At this time, Eric Oehler begins recording and an album does surface. But only six copies are made, why so few?
EO: Two reasons, really. One – it was pretty bad, and two – CD-R's cost $10 a piece in those days and I was a poor college student.
EG: I have some old stuff on cassette tape from when the band was called /dev/null. I've been scared to listen to it for a while now. Still, some of the old stuff is good. For the ten people who have it, “Eviscerate” is a pretty good track.
KM: The two Erics of Null Device have been working together since '91, but it isn't until '98 that Eric Goedken is made a full songwriting partner. What was the reason for this?
EO: Well, we've known each other since 91, but we didn't really start working together until maybe about 96-97. I decided his lyrics were really indispensable at that point and asked him to come aboard.
EG: One reason that it took a while for me to land a role in the band is that I'm not a musician in any conventional sense. I love music, and it's something I enjoy on a daily basis, but I have no previous experience as a performer. My knowledge of musical theory and keys and things like that is near zero. But I have always enjoyed writing and song lyrics are a great way for self-expression.
KM: The first available release from Null Device was “The Crimson EP” in '99. Why did it take you a few years to put your music on the market?
EO: It was a question of resources. I didn't have the time or money to really produce or promote a complete recording until then. Crimson was also the first thing we'd done that really felt cohesive as an entity.
EG: It was also the first piece of work that we thought something might actually part with their cash to hear. It was around the first time that Eric started to really sing on tracks, rather than just apply pseudo-growled spoken word on top of the music. This opened a huge new set of possibilities for us, and led directly into the type of songs that appear on “Sublimation” and “A Million Different Moments”.
KM: Your second EP “Submariner” was released a year after “The Crimson EP”. Musically, how would you say each EP differs?
EO: Submariner was a one-off we'd done with another local band, as a sort of remix trade/split single deal. The song itself was sort of our early transitions from ebm to a more poppy sound, and the remix by the other band was a pretty straight up hip-hop revision. Meanwhile the other band was
sort of a glam-rock act, and I delivered an IDMish version of their song. It was an odd little release that seemed a lot better in concept than execution. It was fun, though.
KM: Eric Oehler, you recorded guest vocals on a couple of projects a few years back. How did this come about?
EO: The first set I did was for a band called “The Dark Clan”, which is an anagram of our guitarist's name, Dan Clark. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, and it was a lot of fun. Recently I've done guest vox for Epsilon Minus, which was also interesting. It gave me a chance to try my hand at a different side of the recording process, and get a feel for how other people work.
KM: Null Device produced a video for the track “Word and Deed”. Was this video ever shown or released?
EO: It was destined for our website from the start, basically. It's up on the site right now.
EG: I directed and edited the video. It was the first one we ever made. It was shot in an afternoon with the help of a friend of ours.
KM: In 2002, Null Device gets signed to Nilaihah Records. How did this come about?
EO: We'd sent out a few demos to various labels, including Nilaihah. The night before I was about to leave on a long vacation I get an excited phone call from Dr. Goedken telling me I needed to call Kristy Venrick from Nilaihah right away. We managed to figure out how to get my phone to do three-way calling, talked with Kristy about what we wanted to do musically and how we might fit in with Nilaihah, and a few weeks later we had signed contracts.
Kristy has been great to work with, too. She's very enthusiastic and supportive, and I don't think she ever sleeps.
KM: Who's currently part of Null Device?
EG: The current Null Device line-up still has Eric as chief musical force and includes myself as lyricist and production adviser. The live band crew also includes Dan Clark on guitar whose work was also featured on a pair of songs for the new album. And Chuck McKenzie is our bassist.
KM: It wasn't until '03 that we finally got to see Null Device perform. What were your thoughts before and after your very first show?
EO: Right before the show I was thinking “I hope nothing breaks.” For weeks before we'd been practicing regularly and I was nervous about how we'd be received. The live version of Null Device takes a bit more of a rock turn – I thought it more exciting to have a guitarist moving about than a few guys tweaking knobs – and I was afraid that our core audience of electronic fans might be turned off by this.
My fears were unfounded. After our first show, I felt great, the crowd had been excellent, and it was quite a rush. The other band members, all of whom were pretty seasoned live veterans in other genres, all were pretty impressed with how well it came off.
Now, it's just a blast. We're comfortable with how it all works and confident with our performance skills, so we can relax and just have some fun onstage, and the audience seems to react to that.
EG: From the beginning, I wanted to incorporate video to give the live events more visual flair. I made a backing video for each live track and at venues that are equipped to project these, I think it really adds another
dimension to the show.
KM: Another video was done for the track “Sad Truth”, do you plan on releasing a sort of “Null Device” video DVD/VHS any time soon?
EO: It'd be nice, but we'd need a lot more material before we could pull that off. Perhaps someday.
EG: “The Sad Truth” video does appear on the “Living On Video” synthpop DVD compilation from Copenhagen. If more videos (are made and) available past what's on our website, they will likely be as CD-ROM extras. The Azoic had a remix single with a video last year and that's something we could do.
KM: Null Device is planning on releasing a collection of demos, remixes, and oddities called “Footfalls EP”, why will this only be available through the internet?
EO: Actually, we've already released that. “Footfalls” was sort of a bridge between our first album and “A Million Different Moments.” We're thinking of doing a second free EP of oddities and remixes now.
We decided to make it essentially free through the internet, since it's tricky in such a small market to release a single. Giving it away over the net gave a lot of people who didn't know who we were a chance to try out our music without paying a lot of money for it. It worked pretty well – there was a surge in album sales shortly after the EP became available. The internet is a great marketing tool in that respect.
EG: An actual physical Footfalls EP is also for sale from our website. It just hasn't been mass-produced or eavily promoted but it's there if people prefer it to the downloadable version.
KM: I didn't become familiar with Null Device's music until I got a copy of “A Million Different Moments” for review. What I was expecting was a straight forward electronic sound and what I got was quite remarkable. Middle Eastern layers mixed with electronics, can you give our readers the creative breakdown that became “A Million Different Moments”?
EO: Thank you! We're quite pleased with how this album came out.
How it came about is sort of convoluted – I've always had an interest in world music, and I'd finally decided to sit down and study some of it. Some of this started creeping into the music, and Dr. Goedken ran with some of the “international” themes lyrically. This encouraged me to dig a bit deeper, try a few more things…everything sort of fell into place after that. I was also getting bored with a lot of the recent club-music trends, so I decided to experiment a bit more with making electronic tracks that were danceable, yet not strictly dance floor tracks.
KM: If you could have any one you wanted do remixes for Null Device, who would it be? and why?
EO: Nobody we could afford! Hybrid has never done a bad mix in my opinion. John Creamer and Stephane K do excellent work in the trance arena, and I think Decoder and Substance do some pretty interesting things too. There
are a lot of acts out there that do good mixes, and I'm sure there is a whole mess of them I've never heard who could do amazing things.
KM: What does the future hold for Null Device?
EG: In the short term, we're going to be contributing a track to an interesting project called “Listen to the Future” on Todd Durrant's synthpop-powerhouse label A Different Drum. The concept is to pair short-story sci-fi with songs inspired by the stories so that the audience gets both a book and CD of thematically-related music. I wrote a short story that is going to be included, and Null Device is going to be doing a song for another story. It's a new idea, and I hope people who like electronic music and science fiction give it a try.
EO: That's always a hard question for me, since if you'd asked me that last year a this time I would've told you to expect an album that isn't all that much like the one we delivered. But we do plan to play live more, and are trying out some new material in that direction right now. And I'm already starting to write some new tracks for future use…I think we'll be evolving in a pretty logical direction from here.