Friday, 12 September 2008

TD interviews… MORGAN GEIST

This month Morgan Geist releases his first solo album in 11 years, 'Double Night Time'. Featuring vocal contributions from Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys, it's the Environ Records lynchpin's attempt at a proper, grown up electronic pop album. We think it's pretty stunning, if truth be told, and thought it was about time we dropped MG a line to find out more. Below is the transcription of our email interview. Enjoy…

This is your first solo album for 11 years. So, why the decade-long pause between drinks?
"I’d say the dominating factor was fear, really. Lots of self-doubt and worry that things aren’t good enough, and fear of the permanence of releasing an album to the public. You can’t retract or edit or revise, and perfectionists want to do that all the time. That’s the folly of perfectionism – it’s not even like perfectionism makes the album better! It just delays completion. I kept starting and stopping, discarding songs, changing directions.
But there were also just practical matters, like not having enough time – I run the label by myself, I was doing Metro Area, I was producing and mixing Kelley Polar. I was doing remixes and touring. Part of having a label with other artists on it besides yourself is the tendency stop paying attention to your own career while developing the business and the rest of the roster."

‘Double Night Time’ seems to be quite a personal record for a number of reasons. What inspired you personally to make an album like this?
"I think I’ve always been attracted to pop music, and as I get older I want to make good pop music. I wanted to explore lyric writing and vocals. It’s quite a trite, predictable development as a musician gets older, I think. I was also struggling with a lot of problems while making the record, and it’s hard to get the emotion out sometimes just doing dance music. I also find dance music pretty conservative and boring, especially for a genre that prides itself on inclusion, open-mindedness and experimentation. I think that’s a self-perpetuated fiction most of the time, and I tend to call that out a lot, or bitch about how lame and boring I find most new dance music. I think doing a record like this one, a record that wasn’t caring much about DJs or dancefloors, was my way of expressing that opinion musically."

One of the things we like about the album is the seeming interplay between the upbeat and the melancholic. Is this a reflection of how you were feeling when you made the album?
"Yes, definitely. Thank you for noticing this. I love the interplay between those elements. It’s an easy trick to add depth. Think of “Walk On By” - with other lyrics, that might be a sweet, simple love song; indeed, maybe it would even border on just being a joyous song without those lyrics. But with the sad story the lyrics tell, it’s just turning up the depth and dissonance between message and sound. I love that! And yes, I think it’s a reflection of how I was feeling while I made the album. Public self-reflection is potentially embarrassing, maybe even something you’ll regret – you have to temper it a bit with contrast and contradiction. So my depressing, introspective approach was tempered with snappy 808 patterns."

‘Double Night Time’ is a very different beast from ‘The Driving Memoirs’, shot through with a strong electronic ‘technno-pop’ feel. Are you a big fan of smart electronic pop? Has it always been an important musical influence for you?
"Yes, I am when it’s done right. I thought I was stuck in the 80s with my memories of New Order, OMD, YMO, Pet Shop Boys, even Alphaville or (this is terrifying) Erasure when I was younger. Remember, this shit was considered weird in the US, it wasn’t all mainstream like in the UK! Kraftwerk, YMO...I love that stuff. I also loved truly weird electronic pop too, like Severed Heads, who were one of my most important influences (more philosophically than sonically). But then a new band like Junior Boys comes along with all of those influences minus (I feel) a lot of the detrimental, cheesier elements, and I like that too. I hope there are more young, new bands doing fantastic, smart pop that appeals to me. I feel like a lot of people are just doing referential, ironic stuff. Lame. Put some feeling in it!"

Those following your career closely won’t be surprised by any of the contents of ‘Double Night Time’, but some of those who’ve only heard Metro Aarea may be. How do you think the album will be received? Do you care?
"I’d love to say, “I don’t care.” But the truth is I care somewhat. I am not going to change the music I make simply because I want an album to be liked. I’ll do what I want. However, I’m not going to pretend I would be unaffected if everyone ignored it. That would be the worst. If everyone hated it, it might be depressing, but at least hatred is a reaction. Of course I’d prefer people just like it. That’s what pop music is, really. Public reaction is really what defines what is pop, right? Otherwise how could “White Lines” or “Fish Heads” or Crazy Frog be considered pop? They’d just sit in their own genres and never be considered pop."

Aside from human vocals and a bit of trumpet on ‘Lullaby’, almost all the album is made up of electronic sounds. Was this something you felt passionate about? Was it an aim of yours to make it as electronic as possible?
"Yes. I wanted it to be distinct from Metro Area, which has lots of live instruments. Metro Area has a human feel, and I wanted this to have that idealistic, early-synth feel of YMO, Logic System, Kraftwerk, mixed with what I felt was contemporary songwriting. I love how you can hear the naïve excitement in those early synth-pop records, where you just know people are having fun with the studio. I guess I was also being a bit reactionary. I wanted to feel versatile and not just do a Metro Area record with vocals. Detailed, precise music spills out of me a bit more easily than the Metro Area stuff. I like making crafted records, as Kelley Polar might say. So it was nice to go back to that."

Speaking of vocals, the songs with Jeremy Greenspan work wonderfully well – it’s almost like he has the perfect voice for this kind of warm electronic pop. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? Do you think the songs would have worked as well with another vocalist? Could you imagine anyone else singing the same vocals?
"I could imagine someone else singing the vocals, but I don’t think they’d work like Jeremy did. Jeremy has a voice I really like, but his feeling, or the mood of his vocals, something... it just fit. I knew I wouldn’t have to explain the approach to him. Plus it’s fun to work together. We have very similar senses of humour, and I learned a lot from working with him."

Lyrically the album is interesting, and like a lot of classic techno-pop/synth-pop the songs seem to fuse quite personal, often melancholic/introspective musings on relationships with fairly upbeat music. Was that something you were conscious of?
"Yes, it was something I was conscious of. Unfortunately I was conscious of everything! Although I grew up with that interplay (I’m just thinking of a lot of Vince Clark stuff, Yaz...where there’s almost a disconnect between the electronic backing and some intimate vocal on top, which sounds like it fell onto the music by accident) and I’m sure that influence made itself known subconsciously while I was creating the music."

Speaking of the lyrics, am I right in thinking that you wrote the majority of them yourself? If so, how did you find this? Is it something you’ve done much of before?
"I wrote everything but “City of Smoke & Flame.” It’s terrifying. It’s difficult. I tended to want to express really complex, detailed ideas, or say too much in one song. It was as if I’d forgotten everything I learned while making instrumental music, which is that less can be more, or that there is an undeniable elegance in simple ideas. The lyrics are at about 50% of what I wanted. I hope to improve. But I still think they’re good enough, and man, the bar is set pretty fucking low in pop right now."

Was it a difficult album to make? How did you get the sound so rich? It’s an incredibly “full” sound, even though there’s plenty of space in the mix and lots of subtle fills, sounds etc.
"It wasn’t technically difficult. It was just emotionally and creatively difficult. Technically, I just do what I always do, but maybe a bit more neatly and carefully. I also was really into stacking simple sounds to make complex ones. I had a semi-modular synth, some really complex stuff, but I kept reverting to using simple monosynths and stacking the sounds and arranging as if each sound was its own instrument or section. I am pretty meticulous, much to the displeasure of people I collaborate with, so I’m glad you can hear all the work and that there is something positive coming out of that! People seem to like the way the album sounds, which is really important to me, especially in this day of making music so that it sounds good on a cell phone. Again, the bar is pretty fucking low."

On a more nerdy tip, is that your voice on ‘Nocebo’, because the harmonising has a very Kelley Polar feel to it…
"It has a Kelley Polar feel because he is the one doing the vocals. I wrote the line and he sang it, but then of course added all of this brilliant stacked harmony to it that I could play with. He also does some textural vocal work on “Palace Life"."

How long did the album take to produce? Was it a real intense labour of love?
"It was labour. It was more obsession than love. It was made in a tough time, over the course of three or four years. Under different circumstances I could have made it in a fraction of the time. If I don’t quit music completely, the next one will definitely be more fun and a labour of love once again."

'Double Night Time' is released by Environ on September 26

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