Heather James Sublimation: An Interview with Null Device
Any fan of well-crafted electronica and synthpop music would do well to remember the name of Null Device. A Null Device song is intelligent (what do you expect from two geeks?), infectiously catchy, and definitely quality. A lot of heart and soul goes into the creation of their sound. Null Device is the brain child of dynamic duo Eric Oehler of Madison, WI and Eric Goedken of Berkeley, CA. Recently signed to Nilaihah Records (yay!), Null Device?s full-length album Sublimation is due to be released in June. I?ve been fortunate enough to get an advance preview of the music (sublime is as good a word as any, cheesey but true) and an opportunity to talk to the Erics about life, the universe and everything (i.e. music).
Bloodlossgirl: Congratulations on being signed to Nilaihah! Its a great label. I?m looking forward very much to your full-length album, can you give me a description of it?
Eric G: We're very pleased to be on Nilaihah. Kristy Venrick has some really great bands on this label. Bands that really have their own sound and aren't copycats of other, more successful groups or that just keep making the same songs over and over again. Hopefully Null Device will continue to be this original as well. We're hoping for a June release of “Sublimation”. Not sure what day yet. The record is almost done. It should be to David Friede (of the Ninthwave band Ganymede) who?s going to master it for us in the next week or so.
Eric O: It's going to be a long album. 12 tracks + 2 remixes. It's sort of a wide variety of styles and influences – we've got drum-n-bassy tracks, straightup synthpop, ethnic percussion, ambient stuff…a full string quartet…
Eric G: “Sublimation” is our debut full-length. I think the title is a good word for the album because I think we all as humans divert our primitive urges into the more culturally acceptable outlets. And I think expression through music is one of these outlets or at least it is for me. I also like the meaning of 'sublime' that is to convert into something of higher worth. Also a good description of how music and poetry can transcend traditional meanings and take on added significance.
Bloodlossgirl: How long have you known each other, and how did Null Device come about?
Eric O: Eric and I met freshman year of college. 1991, if I remember correctly. He had a class with my roommate, and came over to study or something while I was there. I was listening to Electronic's first album and we started talking about music.
Eric G: I naively asked if it was New Order. We have been friends ever since and most of the music I listen to even now is in some way connected with Eric and his vast knowledge of musical styles and artists.
Eric O: A few years later I started a sort of embryonic Null Device by making really really execrable techno with some friends in the CS department. After going it alone for a while, I found out that Eric had been writing lyric poetry and he suggested I give it a shot as lyrics. So I tried it, it worked, and we've been rolling since then.
Bloodlossgirl: The name Null Device — is that a computer geek thing? I'm a science geek, so when I first heard the name I thought of Physics. What's the mystique behind it?
Eric O: I'll field that one. Null Device – it's a computer term. It's a special file that one streams unwanted data into. Programmer/sysadmin thing.
Bloodlossgirl: I know Eric O. plays the violin, but do you each play other instruments? What other instrumentation do you use in Null Device, or what electronics? What are each of your contributions to the ND project?
Eric G: I live in Berkeley, CA while Eric O. lives in Madison, WI. This leads to a creative process in which the internet is an essential component. Eric is the musician and the vocalist. I'm the, er… Well, I write most of the lyrics and offer suggestions as Eric puts rough mixes together. I don't know much about the formal details of music (chords, keys, theory…absolutely no idea) but I know what I like in music when I hear it and Eric is kind enough to follow many of my suggestions. Eric once described himself as the “dynamic front man” and “the studio geek”; he referred to me as the “wordsmith” and “quality control”. That sums it up nicely.
Eric O: I play violins of various types, bass, guitar (poorly), keys, and am amassing a collection of instruments that I can't play well enough to record but really would like to work in someday. My theremin is collecting dust for that very reason. I do most of the studio work…the singing and music stuff. Eric G writes the lyrics, handles “quality control” so to speak (“uh, maybe you want to fix the levels there”) and keeps me from wandering off into a weird studio haze. And he's the guy who keeps things going with labels, promo, all that stuff.
Eric G: I'm also handling the video end of the band. On a lark, we made a video for “Word and Deed” in San Francisco and Oakland when Eric was out here visiting. I shot most of it with the help of a mutual friend and I edited it which is a big task considering all the cuts that happen in the typical four-minute music video. Hopefully I will be doing some video work that will be used as projections at future Null Device live shows.
Bloodlossgirl:. Have you got side projects?
Eric O: I have a few that may or may not ever see the light of day. I've recorded a few house tracks under the name “Ensku”, and done some grumbly ambient stuff under the moniker “The Advanced Toothbrush Orchestra.” I did an awfully cheesy remix once of a cartoon theme, but for legal reasons Iwon't say which one or what the project was called.
Eric G: Other than my day-job as a biochemist, no.
Bloodlossgirl: What about the awesome Dark Clan track ?Beauty?? I know Eric O. provided vocals for it.
Eric O: I just guested on that one track. That's Dan Clark's project, he brought me in as a guest vocalist. He and I have been kicking around ideas for future collaboration but haven't gotten anywhere yet.
Bloodlossgirl: The first time I heard the Wicked Game (Inferno Remix)by Null Device I thought it was a remix of the Chris Isaak song, not a cover, and was thus amazed to find it was a cover. Ditto the “There's a Light that Never Goes Out” cover of the Smiths song, which sounds like a much synthpoppier remix. Where do you get off doing such goddamn good covers? And how do you manage it? I am in awe.
Eric O: We really haven't done too many covers. “Wicked Game” was sort of a one-off that took me by surprise. I was recently single and watching VH1at 3am and saw the video (with Chris Isaak rolling around in the sand with a supermodel) and decided I reaaallly needed to record that song. Oddly, that was the first ND track in which I ever actually sang. Everything up until that point had been the kind of grr-angry industrial distorted half-spoken vocals. After WG came out so well, I decided to keep on singing. “There is a Light” is just my favorite Smiths song, and I've been listening to a lot of Smiths recently.
Eric G: I actually encourage Eric to try sound different from the original versions. And really neither the Wicked Game cover or the new Smiths cover sounds much like the original version in my opinion. Eric's voice is just has a bit of that classic croon that both Morrissey and Chris Isaak excel at, I guess.
Bloodlossgirl: I?ll say! What inspires you to write music, and particularly the type you create ?
Eric O: I'm not really sure. I'm just sort of driven to create music. I've always loved it, I come from a fairly musical family, and it's a very satisfying creative outlet. I was one of those weird kids who actually enjoyed coming home after school to practice the violin, so it's really sort of a logical progression from there.
Eric G: Generally, I write about things that upset me or are in some way troubling or puzzling. It's not that I'm a particularly unhappy person, quite the reverse. But if I'm a good mood and things are great, I'm not really compelled to write about it. As a lyricist, I can't really explain what inspires me to write what I do. Sometimes I just get ideas. Phrases come in my head, and I'm really not sure from where. I remember reading something that Ray Bradbury said about writing fiction. That he'd get ideas for a story and these ideas would bother him, nag and pester him until he sat down and wrote them. Then they'd leave him alone. I find it's much the same way with the words I write for Null Device. I've tried to sit down and force myself to write something but it's very difficult to do that just because I want to do. The ideas have to be dictating to me.
Bloodlossgirl: I ask everybody this, because I am fascinated by what musicians themselves listen to/are influenced by musically. What are your Top 5albums ever? OR Top 5 artists. (But feel free not to limit yourself to five, if its a logical impossibility).
Eric G: Top ten artists:
Nine Inch Nails
Top five albums:
1. Depeche Mode, “Violator”
2. Radiohead “OK Computer”
3. Delerium “Karma”
4. Chris Isaak “Forever Blue”
5. Nine Inch Nails “The Fragile”
Eric O: Oh god, this question…this changes for me on a daily basis. I listen to a lot of stuff. Right now, thanks to a string of coincidences including the last Peter Murphy album, I'm listening to traditional arabic folk music. But I'm also listening to the latest few releases from UweSchmidt/Atom Heart. I'm always listening to Depeche Mode, New Order, PSB and the Smiths, and I've been on a Nick Cave bender for the last two weeks. And the new Elvis Costello is good…and…
Bloodlossgirl: You've answered me pretty well about influential artists and what you listen to, but are you really going to dodge the “album” question? 🙂
Eric O: Oh, albums…okay. Top few most influential albums, and they're all influential for different reasons:
dM – Violator
Bjork – Homogenic
GusGus – Polydistortion
Nick Cave – Let Love In
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
Elvis Costello – My Aim is True
Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine
Lassigue Bendthaus – Render
Bloodlossgirl: Who has influenced you the most, musically and and non?
Eric O: Musically? Probably a tie between all the Bach I played on the violin (sweet, sweet counterpoint) and Alan Wilder (a standard name-check for a synthpop artist, but I do love his arrangements).
Eric G: See the above artists for musical influence. I'm also very influenced by movies and some lyrics are inspired by films that I have enjoyed. Forexample, the words for the track “The Sad Truth” on the new record were, in part, an ode to Lester Burnham, the Kevin Spacey character, in “American Beauty.”
Eric O: Non-musically? You mean there's something outside music?
Bloodlossgirl: If you could work with any artist, past or present, who would you choose?
Eric G: Stanley Kubrick, although he wasn't a musician as far as I know.
Eric O: Oooh, tough one. There're so many people whose talents impress me.I think it depends entirely what I'd be collaborating on. That sounds like a cop-out answer, but it's accurate.
Bloodlossgirl: Come now. If you could choose just ONE artist you'd like to work with before you die ….
Eric O: Hmmm…I'd love to work with Alan Wilder. Or Johnny Marr. Or Uwe Schmidt. Or Hafdis Huld. Or Steven Morrissey. Or maybe all of theabove.
Bloodlossgirl: So what are your short-term and long-term goals for Null Device other than the obvious “International Pop Music Stardom?”
Eric G: I'd like us to develop a following in the electro/industrial/synthpop scene. Mainly I'd just like people to hear the music and enjoy it and buy enough records that we can keep releasing them. I'd also like to start doing live shows.
Eric O: Well, International Pop Stardom would be great. Icelandic Pop Stardom would also suit me fine. I just want to keep writing music and being able to have someone release it.
Bloodlossgirl: Those are very worthy goals. Last question, and a bit off topic, but I know the readers will want to know ?. Do you consider yourself to be “geeks” and if so, based on what criteria? 🙂
Eric O: Dear lord, I do. I'm a computer nerd for a day job, I drink like a sysadmin when the oppportunity arises, and I spend hours on end tweaking sounds and synths without actually writing a note of music. Geek, yes. Yes I am.
Eric G: I am in a synthpop band. I am a scientist.
Eric O: Dr. Goedken is a special kind of geek. He's got the PhD to prove it
Eric G: I am film fanatic. I have seen every Star Trek episode in existence (save for “Voyager” which was an abomination). I am a trivia hound. I collect music obsessively. I know what an oscilloscope is, and I have used one. By every criteria I can think of I am a geek and proud of it.
For more information about the fantastic Null Device, visit http://www.nulldevice.com or http://artists.mp3.com/artists/22/null_device.html
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