Following the release of their third album, 'Control', Keith gets to speak to Tim Synthetic about the journey thus far, and maybe discover some things about the future. (July 2003)
|1. Firstly, congratulations on the third album 'Control' how pleased are you with it?
We're all very pleased with Control. With this album, we were determined to introduce more variety, and more sophisticated production. The album is the culmination of working together for years. We learned what works best for us whilst recording our first two albums - and we developed a way of working that was right for us.
2. Most bands struggle to produce a second album, and then when they finally do, they find the third album plain sailing. Was this the case for you guys? If not what problems did you encounter during the production of Control?
Not really. Our second album (ADSR) came together very smoothly. With ADSR we had a more focused idea of what we were doing than with the first album (MIDI Slave). We didn't really hit any major snags in writing or recording the whole album, and it's stylistically very coherent. But with the new album we wanted more variety. I spent longer over the songwriting - mainly because I wrote lots of extra material alongside the final album tracks. There was a clearly defined writing period, seperate from the recording stage. When we eventually started recording Control we had already spent a lot of time experimenting with production techniques, so lots of the technical trouble-shooting had been done.
3. I have to ask about the CD inlay art why does it sport the picture it does (the pier)? What inspired this? The Brighton link?
Yes, that was part of the reason. We like to use imagery that really means something to us. Something personal. All three albums feature photos I have taken on Brighton seafront, not more than 10 minutes walk from my home - places I see every day. The Control cover-photo is the collapsed West Pier. It's a beautiful gothic pier - a real landmark. But it fell into disrepair - so it looked like a derelict building from an old horror movie. This year the pier has suffered a major collapse and two fires. Now it's just an iron skeleton. But the cover-photo was taken between the collapse and the fires - a freeze frame of a very short period of the pier's history. Against the red sunset it looks like a giant beetle on Mars.
4. How much work (from all band members) went into Control?
Before we started recording the album, we spent a year deciding how to record it. Of course during this time I was also writing the songs - something that I do on my own. I wrote the whole album on an acoustic guitar, in contrast to ADSR which I wrote on the piano. I think that choice of writing-instrument has a major influence on the feel of the songs. The next stage was to program the basic outline on various keyboards and MIDI gear. Once we had a working outline Paul & I worked out the guitar parts and sorted out the song arrangements. Then it started to get very technical, because we had decided to record the album using Logic Audio and Cubase, on both Mac and PC. So it couldn't have been more complicated! This was where Sarn became very involved, developing the synth parts. Paul did a lot of work on the drums at this stage too. We spent a lot of time over the production.
5. So Tim, what inspires you to write the lyrics you do? Theyre very accessible, and quite catchy a trick some songwriters miss out on completely. Whats your secret?
Thanks! All the songs are about different things, or different people. I think issues of personal identity are a common thread through my songs. Questions like Who am I? What should I do with my life? Can you really know someone else? I like to base the songs around real people or events, though often these can be compounds made up of different fragments. I like metaphor. It allows you to express really personal things without your life becomming an open book, and also enables you to paint a more vivid picture. The song subjects suggest themselves, and they are very much a product of the moment - if you wrote a song the next day it could be lyrically very different.
6. Speaking of influences, who are Synthetics biggest influences either in the music scene or out of it?
Musically it's very hard to point to anyone in particular. We live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded by music all the time. You grow up with it. This ongoing exposure has to be the predominant influence. Perhaps the most significant influence mights be 80's music, because that was the sound I was first emersed in. Or maybe it's bands like the Velvet Underground and Death In June, because that's what I listened to as a student. Who knows. I can't point to any goth or electro bands and single them out as a particular musical influence - nothing that specific. The dance scene, taken as a whole, has affected the way we think about music - it has widened the musical possibilities. In terms of personality, I'm very much a collector - I like to hoard ideas and styles, rather than moving on with a clean sweep. Synthetic is a magpie. I would have to thank goth, new wave, punk, rock and dance music. But the influences are sub-conscious.
7. Playing Whitby this April must have been a blast how did you find it, and how were you received by the other bands on the bill?
It was brilliant. We love playing Whitby. It's probably the best gig to play in the UK. Both times we've played we've had tremendous crowd support, and the performances have been hugely enjoyable for us. We like to socialize at gigs and festivals - rather than hide backstage - so most of the time we are out front with the audience, which is where I want to be. So we didn't get to spend that much time with the other bands - except Spares, who we shared a dressing room & merch stall with. They are great people, and we keep meaning to meet up again.
8. Whats your take on the Whitby Goth weekends?
Whitby is great fun. A chance to meet old friends and make new ones. Still the greatest party on planet goth. There are bigger festivals in Europe, but Whitby is the best party. Having said that, I think that Wave Gotik Treffen also deserves a special mention for it's awesome line-ups of international bands and it's variety of venues. But Whitby has a special atmosphere - so many goths in such a small picturesque town - there's a special nostalgic charm. And I love hanging around in the Pavillion's foyer - it's brightly lit and overcrowded, but it's the best 'club' ever. Everyone is really dressed up and determined to have a great time. There's a place for serious goth, but it isn't Whitby - it's a chance to dress up, but also to let your hair down.
9. Going back to the past now, how did Synthetic come together?
Synthetic was formed by me and Sarn. We had previously been in two bands together - Centre Cannot Hold (neo-folk) and May Blood (fairly trad goth). May Blood also featured Paul on guitar. Me and Sarn moved to Brighton from London in 1998. We were very excited about new musical styles like big beat, and combining them with song-based structures. Taking sounds and rhythms from dance music and fusing them with pop and rock to form a hybrid genre. This was early Synthetic. We started writing and programming in May 1998, and did our first gig that October at an industrial club in Brighton called Offworld Colony. Then we did some gigs with other 'crossover' bands like The Narcissus Pool and The Chaos Engine.
10. Have there been any changes along the way?
The single biggest change was the addition of Paul on guitar in 1999. We had all been in bands together before. He was the drummer in an indie/punk band that I had formed in London called Late Show. But guitar had always been his main instrument. When me and Sarn moved to Brighton, Paul had developed a dance/rock crossover project called Serotonin Sunset. We did a gig together in Brighton: Serotonin Sunset + Synthetic + The Chaos Engine. It just seemed obvious to join forces. So Paul joined the band, and we layered guitar onto MIDI Slave, which was already entirely written and substantially recorded. He played his first gig with us supporting Passion Play - I think Arkam Asylum were on first, playing their first ever gig. This was when the Brighton dark-alt scene was very vibrant. Mark Eris (now with Wasp Factory) was putting on loads of great gigs. It really was the place to be.
11. Given that the third album is out now, whats next for the band? Is there a fourth album on the cards, and if so, will it mirror the sounds on Control?
Well there's still some way to go with promoting Control before we release the next album. But I can confirm that I am already working on the fourth album. In fact most the songwriting for that album is already well underway. But the programming, arranging and production will take a long time, so don't hold your breath! We plan to release our fourth album in summer 2004. But our path might not be quite so straightforward. We're currently in talks for a new record deal, and that could add complexity into the schedule - but in a good way!
12. Care to divulge a bit about the message behind the lyrics on the third track on the album, Spooky Kabuki? They sound as if they are aimed at someone in particular.
Spooky Kabuki is open to interpretation, and I don't want to talk too specifically about its meaning. On the face of it, it's about being in a relationship with someone who changes. A couple who loose their common ground and drift apart - one of them doesn't seem to care, the other is devastated but can't let go - instead they obsess about how things used to be. It's about subculture, specifically about someone giving up on the goth scene. Can people change? Can relationships cope with change?
13. What are the best things about being in Synthetic? What drives the band?
Synthetic provides us with a creative outlet. I would write the songs anyway, but Synthetic provides a structure and context for them. And being in a band means the music can grow and evolve, with input and ideas from several people - people you get to know very well musically. A band develops a style, and in turn people develop expectations about your sound. With a new album you can change certain elements - but there is an idea of the band which gives both the band and the audience a sense of stability. Synthetic also allows me to perform live - which I love - and to explore visual ideas.
14. Chose five words that for you (and the band) sum up the current UK Goth/Alternative scene, and why?
Original - In visual and musical terms, the UK goth scene is still the most exciting, original & cutting edge scene in the world today. Okay, I might be biased here, but so it seems to me (though can I take this opportunity to say that Japan also has some fantastic visual scenes)
Isolated - The UK goth scene is a cultural island. It's relatively separate from other scenes. Everyone knows everyone. This is both good and bad - but on balance I like it. But it could do with being less divided - the trad / bleepy split is particularly counter productive.
Unpretentious - Goth is a very positve subculture, by which I mean that people are goths for positve reasons - they like the image, the clothes, the music. It's very unpretentious, because goths are simply expressing their true selves. The UK goth scene is particularly down to earth - most goths like the style & the music and feel at home in the scene - they don't need some other agenda.
Independent - We are always reading that goth is back in fashion. At the moment there is some truth in this. But the mass media's definition of goth is usually a metal/spooky thing. In both fashion and film the genre currently has quite a strong presence. But don't expect this to convert directly into more goths at your local club. Goth is long-term and deeply felt. It's a fashion resistant sub-culture, with it's own underground media network.
Stable - The scene developed a great deal during the 90's, but little has changed duiring the last 3 years. Ironically, many people view the 90's (when the scene was relatively small) as a period of stagnation, and the 00's (a period of expansion) as a time of rapid development. In fact, most of the major developments (netgoth, Whitby, cybergoth etc) happened in the 90's. Most of the scene's festivals, media and events have become institutions (because they are good, because they work). But the scene must not become complacent. It must continue to change and develop. There has to be a will to evolve.
15. Finally, name one ambition you all have, and describe how you plan to realise that ambition.
Me and Sarn would love to make our own movie. I work in film - especially in the area of computer animation - and we were recently involved in making Dominator. But we also plan to make our own film, with real action (as opposed to animation). I've got several screenplays in development, and would like to start production within 18 months. This is a big ambition, but it is possible. Sarn & I are also very keen to develop our fashion work. We will do this alongside Synthetic. The band will continue to be a key priority.