“In a way, it’s a Hyperbubble album turned inside-out,” says Hyperbubble’s Jeff DeCuir about their most recent release, “Drastic Cinematic.” While previous releases consisted primarily of catchy, offbeat synth pop, “Drastic Cinematic” lives up its name with darker, atmospheric tracks containing minimal vocals. At times, it actually seems to be entering the realm of ‘industrial dance’ music.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, Hyperbubble is comprised of Jeff and his wife Jess. They both have art backgrounds, which are utilized in live shows, videos, packaging, and other visual aspects of the Hyperbubble experience. In the following email interview, Jeff and wife/bandmate Jess explain a bit about history, technology, and the creative process behind Hyperbubble, as well as how “Drastic Cinematic” came about.
I see quite an extensive equipment list on your website. Is your music created entirely through hardware synths/samplers, or do you use computer-based virtual instruments as well?
JEFF: We usually sample our analog keyboards, then sequence them on a computer, but there’s no specific method, really.
JESS: Overall, we’ll use anything we can get our hands on: Microwave ovens, power drills, electronic bird feeders, lunchboxes, doorbells, toys, house pets…whatever works.
How long have you both been doing music? Have you always been working with electronic styles?
JESS: We’ve been doing music since we were tots. School band in Jr. High, followed by punk/new wave bands during high school, as well as a bit of musical theater.
JEFF: Jess still uses the Casio she had in her first band, an all-girl group called Twice A Day. My first band, The Junior Vacuums, also dabbled with keyboards and drum machines.
What was the first synth that each of you had?
JEFF: A Moog Rogue.
JESS: A Casio MT-500. It’s not really a synth, but I love it anyway. Plus, it has those sexy orange hexagonal drum pads.
JEFF: We picked up a few new toys this year. Jess bought me a Roland Gaia SH-01 and I bought her a Moog Theremin , plus my brother just gave her a Stylophone for her birthday.
JESS: So expect to hear some fresh new sounds on future Hyperbubble releases!
JEFF: The first full-on digital sampler we used, an Ensoniq EPS, previously belonged to Ministry. They recorded The Land of Rape and Honey album with it. It makes us giggle to know that the very same sampler used to make songs like “Flashback” was later used to make “Candy Apple Daydreams”.
Do you have a general approach to performing the material live, in terms of which parts are played, which are sequenced, how things are manipulated, etc? Is it always just the 2 of you, or do you add additional musicians for performances?
JEFF: Generally, we have our drums and bass lines sequenced and play the rest by hand, however Jess recently started playing Simmons drums live, as well. I also add live percussion fills on my Roland T-707. It’s always been the two of us on stage, and always will be. While it’s fun to work with other musicians in the recording studio, adding more on stage, and calling it “Hyperbubble” would ruin our concept.
With a more cinematic feel and less emphasis on vocals, “Drastic Cinematic” sounds a bit different from your previous releases. Could you describe the motivations behind it? Did you have a general concept in mind going into it, or did it just evolve out of the music you found yourselves coming up with?
JEFF: It started out as a request from the German record label, Pure Pop For Now People. They asked if we could do something for their “Black Label Series”, which is more cold and stark than the stuff we usually do. From there, we came up with the concept. We thought, “cold…stark…black….ahhhh, Film Noir!”
JESS: Also, we wanted to do something that contrasted our previous album, which was full-on bubblepop.
JEFF: In a way, it’s a Hyperbubble album turned inside-out. The music is in the forefront, the keyboards carry the melodies, and the vocals are there for effect.
JESS: It’s also far more interactive than previous albums. Each track begins with a bit of dialogue to trigger the listeners imagination. From there they can come up with their own story to go along with the music.
Have you done any actual soundtrack work? Is it something that you see Hyperbubble pursuing in the future?
JEFF: Yes to both! Along with doing music for radio commercials, our first soundtrack assignment was not for a film, but for a comic book. Antarctic Press (best known for their “Ninja High School” series) hired our previous group, Pink Filth, to record soundtrack CDs for two of their newer titles, “Shotgun Mary” and “Areala”. I also recently recorded the theme song to “Nightlife”, a show about vampire killers, under the pseudonym “Macchio Man”.
JESS: It’s funny. Tracks from Drastic Cinematic are now popping up in independent films such as “Austin to S.A.” by Hondo Aguilar, and “Slick” by artist Sabra Booth, as well as being used as the theme music for the St Louis radio show, “Juxtaposition” on KDHX, so it’s kind of a soundtrack album in reverse!
JEFF: Perrey & Kingsley style!
How do the visual/conceptual and musical side of things affect each other during the creative process? For example, when working on new music do you ever question if something fits your ‘image’?
JESS: The music and visuals are definitely concept-driven, but I can’t remember a time when one of us said, “No, that’s not Hyperbubble enough”, though we probably do it subconsciously.
JEFF: One interviewer suggested to me that we could make music with sticks and stones and it would still come out sounding like a Hyperbubble song.
JESS: Even though there’s a concept at work, what you hear on our albums is the real Jess and Jeff, because our “image” is actually just an extension of our real selves, so we figure as long as we’re honest about making our music, the concept takes care of itself. On the other hand, if we were hired to do a piece based on someone else’s concept, or make a solo recording, we may consider doing it under a different name.
Do you come up with visual ideas while working on a song, which in turn influence how the song ultimately turns out?
JEFF: Absolutely! Quite often, the album cover art is created before the music, as we like to make the music sound like the artwork looks.
JESS: To quote our own song (Synesthesia), “The sounds and the colors are one.”
JEFF: Sure. We’ve played lots of local shows! Especially when we were starting out.
JESS: The San Antonio music scene is pretty big. The art scene is even bigger. Being musicians with art degrees, we like to straddle both. So far, half of the shows we’ve played locally have been at music venues, and the other half were at art museums and city sponsored festivals like Fiesta and Luminaria. Our most recent show was on KSYM radio, where we performed the entire Drastic Cinematic album live.
As musicians, what are your feelings on services like Spotify? (both the subscription model, and the fact that it makes is even easier to seek out / instantly hear music).
JEFF: Spotify’s got its pros and cons. But generally, anything that turns people on to new music is a good thing, providing the artists get fairly compensated for their work. At the moment our favorite Spotify blog is Jer White’s Pansentient League.
Do you agree that the Casio keyboards of today are incredibly boring compared to those that came out in the 80’s.
JEFF: Not sure. The 80’s models have effects like reverb and delay built into the sounds, so if you want the tone without the effect, you’re out of luck. Modern Casios tend to leave their sounds a bit dry, so the user can have more control, and add effects later, if they want. That said, yeah, I guess the older ones do have a bit more personality, for instance, that irresistible “Human Voice” on the SK-1.
JESS: We’re currently back in the studio writing and recording new stuff with Manda Rin, from the Scottish pop group Bis, and the singer of The Powerpuff Girls cartoon theme song. I can’t think of a more perfect match.
JEFF: We’ve also just finished a track for the French label, Winter Records, created entirely from Western movie samples…Stuff like locomotives, harmonicas, and squeaky water pumps.
What are your long term goals?
JEFF: To be honest, we don’t have any long term goals. Never have. When we started the band, it was for kicks. We thought we’d just do it for a year or so, and now it’s been over a decade! Things just started to snowball, and we’ve been having too much fun to quit.