CARL JENKINSON talks to BOGART SWADCHUCK of Epsilon Minus (June 03)
|Q. Before we go on I couldn't help but mention that it's a shame that Jennifer has left the band, especially when you were making such a name for yourselves, were there any particular reasons for this parting of the ways?
I chose to have Jenn leave Epsilon Minus, because I felt I had backed myself into a corner with the project, and I didn't want to be where I was. I'd stereotyped myself as a goth-pop producer. I wasn't free to experiment, and to me, that's the whole point. I would never be happy rewriting the same songs over and over, or even working within a single genre, which is what I felt as though I was expected to do. Jenn's got her own stuff now, and I'm sure she's much happier with it than trying to compromise with me, and I feel the same way. I'm free to do whatever I want now, and it's paying off in some very diverse sounds, and I'm extremely happy with my current position.
Q.How is this likely to effect the future output of the band?
The foremost change is that Epsilon Minus is now predominantly instrumental. The music itself doesn't feel like a drastic stylistic change to me, but I've been told by friends and family that it sounds like it's come from an entirely different person. I'm experimenting with more openly structured dance music, with influences from techno, trance, IDM, hip hop, etc. I think genre-jumping has always been an element of Epsilon Minus, through both albums, so it doesn't seem unnatural to me. I'm sure it's going to get very split reactions in the future, because the looser the genre, the more flak it's going to take from people who expect one sound out of an album.
Q.Presumably you're not concerned about possibly alienating your existing fans.
No, I'm not concerned about it. If people just want more vocal EBM, there's plenty of it to choose from already. The reason I'm doing what I'm doing now, is that I'm tired of catering to an audience that doesn't want to hear anything new. If you watch the dancefloor at any goth club in the world, they're still only dancing to the same 5 songs. It's the same crap everywhere you go, and no one wants to hear anything different or new.
If I alienate people by trying to do something new and more interesting, then fine, there's thousands of bands doing Headhunter clones, or trying to sound like VNV Nation, I'll be forgotten by next week. I understand that what I'm doing is not for everybody, but nothing could possibly be more not-for-everybody than 1993 EBM flashbacks. I'm very confident that what I'm doing now has the potential to find a larger audience than what I was doing before.
Q.Might you both work together in the future, perhaps as a one-off?
There's no chance of that.
Q. You said that EM will now become predominantly instrumental, does this mean you have no plans to work with other vocalists? (which I thought I read somewhere!!)
I'm still using vocalists for club singles. Right now I'm working with Ned from Stromkern, Eric from Null Device, Kristy from The Azoic, and am planning to work with Martha from Distorted Reality. I don't mind working with vocalists I enjoy, on occasional one-off tracks. I don't plan to ever have another "permanent" vocalist.
Q. To go back to the beginning, what prompted your interest in music?
I just grew up a fan of music. When I was a kid, my parents made me tapes of songs I liked, and I'd listen to them obsessively, often section by section. I've pretty much always been into music and sound.
Q. Canada is not renowned for it's electronic music scene, was it difficult to gain much in the way of interest locally?
Not particularly. I put alot of demos in the hands of DJs, and that got stuff played in clubs and on radio, fairly often, before there was a label involved. I guess you can call that local interest. As far as having any sort of wide Canadian fan base, I'm not sure that we have one. Maybe we do, but I don't really have any way of knowing, my only feedback comes from the internet, and I don't generally pay attention to where it's coming from geographically.
Q.In your earlier days were there any artistsor general music styles of that influenced you in particular?
I don't know if there was any particularly direct influence. I'm influenced by everything I hear. When I was still forming my style and process, I was paying alot of attention to techno, jungle, mainstream dance, old school industrial, ambient, hip hop, and new wave. Now I'm also listening to alot of IDM and psytrance. It all has its influence, anything people are doing with electronic music is going to give me ideas and inspiration.
Q.What lead to you signing with Alfa Matrix?
Alfa Matrix was the first good choice. We had some interest from other labels, some shakier than others, and Alfa Matrix seemed like a good stable bet. I'm sure they were the right choice, as they've allowed me a lot of freedom that other labels might not have.
Q. Your debut album seemed to be a mixture of infectious rhythms & melodics with Jennifer's often gloomy or introspective lyrics, did you find that the two of you complimented each other in this way?
Honestly, it's not something I considered alot. I've never been less than honest about this, I'm not a fan of vocal music. When it comes to electronic music, I almost invariably prefer instrumentals. However, the music I was making at the time didn't stand on its own instrumentally, so I looked for a vocalist to fill to out. Working with Jenn came down to me handing her a finished instrumental, and her writing a lyric to add to the song. It's up to the listener to decide whether they worked.
Q. The established view of a male/female duo is that the female sings & the male plays the tunes, did you have any say in the lyrics/vocals & ditto Jennifer with the musical side?
No, there was never any overlap there. I would have no interest in taking part in lyric/vocal work, and I'm very stingy about musical collaboration. I don't play well with others.
Q.You also seem to have become Alfa Matrix's 'remixers of choice' at the moment, with no less than four remixes on the "Venusa XX Vol.2" comp alone, is this an enjoyable outlet for you? How do you go about changing the established song?
That's not as true now as it was in the past, I've actually not done a remix in quite some time. I was, though, doing a lot of remixes for them. I do enjoy remixing, it's much simpler than writing new songs, all the groundwork is already laid, so it's sort of "straight to the fun stuff". The first thing I listen to is the melodic theme, and the vocals, and I just try to bring them out in a different way than the original.
Q. Sometimes I get the feeling that some songs are just so good any remixes could never match them, is this a situation you've found yourself in?
Yes, definitely. My greatest musical regret is my remix of Stromkern's "Terrorist". I specifically requested that Ned let me remix that song, because I was really enjoying it at the time. Once I started remixing it, I realized that anything I did to change what was great about the original was going to take away from the song. I ended up getting really frustrated and was left with a remix that sounded almost identical to the original, except much more poorly produced. I feel like sort of a putz about it. I should have known it would happen with a song I liked such specific things about.
Q. On the other hand, of course, you've also been remixed heavily yourself, were there any mixes that you thought "wow, if only I'd thought of that" or even "omigod, what have they done here?"
Yeah, I think Boole's remix of "80s Boy" is awesome. "80s Boy" was, instrumentally, my least favourite song on "Mark II", but I thought it had the best vocals. Brad put those vocals to music 10x better than mine, with a really original take on the song, and it became an instant DJ favourite. Everyone who gets the limited edition mentions that track right away, because he worked magic on it.
Q. If you had the choice, which artist(s) would you most like to remix or be remixed by?
If I could remix anyone, I think it would be Snoop Dogg.
Q.With the success that the first album was, did it prove difficult in writing the follow-up?
I don't think difficult is the word, but if I hadn't been challenged to top the first album, it wouldn't have been worth doing a second one. I just thought about all the things I failed at the first time, and tried not to fail them again, and to improve on everything that had worked out right. It took less time, and probably alot less effort to create the follow-up, and I'm very confident that I did a better job with it. Now I'm working hard at topping everything once again. If I ever find myself unable to do better than my last release, I'll stop releasing.
Q. What about gigs? Have you found many outlets for playing live, in Canada, the US or Europe?
I don't play live, not have I looked for opportunities to play live. In fact I've actually turned down some opportunities in Europe and the US. I feel pretty strongly about live electronic music. I don't like the attitude that "being there is enough", where bands show up and pretend to look busy on stage, and the audience pretends they're entertained. I'm not an instrumentalist, so I had no desire to travel the world barely playing a keyboard. Now, I'm a little more flexible, because I've created some material from which I can DJ a "live" set, that provides me with 100% engagement onstage, and provides an audience with new music, new versions of old music, and a different set each time. It's not strictly live performance, but it beats karaoke.
Q.Your music has been referred to by the label 'future pop' which certain musicians have expressed an intense dislike for, do you have a problem with this label?
I've got two middle fingers for the entire 'future pop' phenomenon. I'm not future pop, I don't care about future pop, I don't believe in future pop, there is no future pop. A new genre label is not a substitute for innovation. No "future pop" band is doing anything that wasn't done 20 years ago, so naming it something new is just an attention grab. No one with any sense is going to call what I'm doing now future pop, so it's a moot point.
Q. Being so far away geographically & looking in how do you perceive the electro/EBM etc scenes in Europe in relation to that in North America?
I don't know the first thing about the electro/EBM scenes in Europe, all I know is I'm not impressed with them here. I think there's a lack of perspective inherent in that scene that cripples it's respectability, and I don't consider myself a part of it anymore. EBM's glory days are over, and people need to be opening their doors to what else is out there. I see people closing their ears to music that's not only compatible with the world of EBM, but more interesting than the abundance of stale EBM cliches, simply because it's classified outside of that narrow genre. I've had alot of responses to my own music that amounted to "it's not very EBM or industrial or future pop or whatever so I don't like it", and that's just silly.