By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2002
“Somewhere Something,” the ninth album from UK-based electronic act Astralasia, marks their debut on Transient Records. Like it’s predecessor, “White Bird,” the disc features vocals more prominently than early Astralasia releases did. While the band has evolved and mutated quite a bit throughout their career, Astralasia remain as innovative and unique as ever. They don’t fit into any particular genre, but any fan of underground electronic and dance music should definitely check them out. In a phone interview, founder Swordfish told us more about the new cd, use of musical technology, and future of Astralasia.
On the last couple of albums vocals have been used more than on early releases, what made you decided to do that?
“There’s just sort of more people about, and we thought we’d try different ideas, really. When you’re just making instrumental music, you’re looking to try other things, trying to communicate with people on a different level. Rather than just through waveforms and synthesized music.”
Has the evolution of musical technology affected your creative process at all?
“I don’t think it makes much difference, in regards to the creativity. There’s more tools there and things are easier to do in certain environments. And the equipment has gotten smaller. Obviously, the odd little things comes out that you get an idea with. But really, even with pre-historic equipment, it’s your imagination. You can always get something together. I don’t think it’s massively helped the creativity, it just opens up things more. You’re got more opportunities to do things. I’ve still found that having a limited amount to equipment makes you push. When you’ve got all the toys in the cupboard and you can try this, that, and everything, you can get spoiled.”
What was the first piece of electronic musical equipment you got?
“The first pieces I had was a delay line. I started off with guitar, and basically the first thing I had was a digital delay. It was a Powertran kit one, which I sort of made myself. And 1/4 inch tape recorders, using them as echo machines. I actually saw a diagram on the back of an Eno album and it showed me how to do it. I thought I’d have a go with that.”
What got you into electronic music in the first place?
” I was originally a drummer, but was frustrated sitting at the back of the band, and then MIDI came out on the Atari in the mid to late 80’s, and I just jumped on it. It just opened up all these possibilities to control the whole sound picture rather than just being a player in a group”
Do you find you need to adapt your music to the live setting when you perform?
“Yeah, I do adapt it, you just can’t take out loads of equipment. It just gets cumbersome, certainly in dance environments. It’s different in a concert/gig situation, but in a dance club environment, you have to keep it simple. So I take out a very stripped down, almost back to acid house techno set up. Just a 909, a 303, and a little laptop that basically controls the program. But I don’t take out any big software or anything like that, it’s basically an old binary sequencer that just controls the drum machine and whatever.”
Have you used software synths at all?
“Yeah, I have used them. I don’t use them live, just because it would be cumbersome if they crashed or things like that. I prefer to use the real things and take them out and just have a bit of fun. But in the studio I’ve used various softsynths and they’re wonderful. Hats off to the people who are programming them, how you can emulate something and have it be very close to the original. It’s very good.”
What was the reason for the change of labels this time around?
“Well we’d just gone as far as we could with our own cottage industry sort of label. And Transient were up for taking it further, beyond what we were doing. And I’ve very grateful for that, for Transient taking it to the next level. At the moment we’re finishing off the new album, so we’re hoping that will open it up even further.”
Did you finish the album and then shop it around, or was the deal in place as you were working on it?
“We didn’t shop it around. There was one other person interested. It was mostly finished by the time they picked it up, it wasn’t a kind of progress in motion like the new one is. We weren’t after a pop deal or anything like that, we just wanted to go with someone who we thought had the same kind of ideas we had, someone on the same level.”
Can you describe the upcoming album?
“It’s a bit of an evolution. I am trying to make it sound like it’s a band, so it sounds like a group of people rather than a studio project. And I hope that comes across. It isn’t like one guy making trance music purely synthetically. I’m trying to put a bit of organic in there, which is what the guitar and the vocals and the various other bits do. I try to make it feel like it has a persona. But I’m not consciously trying to be commercial, it’s just a sort of evolution. But the new album has gone back, I’ve gone back to sort of what we were really doing in the first place. A lot more chill stuff, a lot more ambient stuff, using vocals more minimally. All the time, I’m just trying things out. I don’t like to get stuck in the same groove.
When you make music, do you think at all about WHERE it will be heard (in terms of home listening vs club play)?
“No, not at all. With mixes and other projects I work on I might, but this is just a labor of love. If I like it at the end of the day, then that’s it. If we were, we’d be doing what everyone else is doing because you have to, it has to fit into a genre. And I think we’re doing something a bit leftield of everything else. If we weren’t, it would be much more dance and club friendly, but it’s not. It’s an Astralasia album and that’s it. There’s no category, it doesn’t fit in with anything else. It’s our next album, and that’s it.”
How many people are in the live line-up for Astralasia?
“Well that varies, it’s all kind of down to budget. I can take out as many as there needs to be. It depends on the event as well. There’s a nucleus of about 3 or 4 people, sometimes we’ve gone out as a duo, but really it’s 3.or 4. And we sometimes go up to 7 or 8, with dancers and additional singers and stuff.”
Do you do remix work for other people?
“Yeah, always. You can get inspired by anything, at the moment and helping a new metal band, which is something new for me. That’s quite exciting, to do something new, and they’ve got a decent deal behind them. They’re looking for a band here to rival what’s going on in America, a Linkin Park or something.”
Is there anything in particular you look for in a song when approached to do a remix?
“If it’s a vocal, obviously it’s got to have something in it passion-wise. But really, I can get inspired by everything. I like lo-fi stuff, stuff that’s bad, because you can always get something out of a song that’s bad. I’m really not that picky, I get inspired by anything.”See all interviews →