Australian band Single Gun Theory discuss their creative process
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1993
On their last LP, “Millions, Like Stars in My Hands, The Daggers In My Heart Wage War,” Australia’s Single Gun Theory proved to be masters at creating non-synthetic sounding electronic music. Unlike their more industrial album debut, “Exorcise This Wasteland,” the LP had a very warm, natural tone, due primarily to the ambient samples recorded by members Pete Rivett-Carnac and Jacqui Hunt on their travels to the Far East. The trio is currently composing tracks for a new LP, which they will record in Vancouver for a summer release.
Single Gun Theory had their beginnings back in 1984. Pete and Kath Power had been friends and decided to get some musical gear and put a band together. “We saw Jacqui in a band and thought that’s the singer we want,” says Kath. “Somehow we conned her into joining up – we nabbed her.”
Her pre-Single Gun band had been Jacqui’s first time singing with a group and turned out not to be a good experience for her. “I was not really doing the kind of music that I liked,” she explains. “So that’s why when opportunity came up to join Kath and Pete it was great.”
Over the years, the evolution of technology has made the group change a great deal. In the beginning, the band just had a few analogue synths and a four-track, but now they have gotten into computers and samplers. “I think the sampler changed a lot of what we do,” says Kath. “Because we’ve integrated and used that as much as we can. We’ve always liked technology a lot.”
The music is composed by Kath and Pete, who use Macintosh computers and 8-track tape so that they can work on material individually and then have the other add to it and make changes. “Kath will come up with the vocal idea, usually with chords and stuff as well,” explains Pete. “I strip away all the music and just leave the vocal line and write the music around it. It seems to work for us.”
Most of the words are written by Kath, who sees lyrics as a good way to express emotions. “In some ways, I’m a good communicator, and in someways I’m not,” she explains. “I think I use music as a vehicle for communication.”
The unusual incorporation of Eastern music and vocal samples came about after Pete and Jacqui’s travels through India, Turkey, and South East Asia in 1989. Pete recorded sounds that he liked on a portable cassette recorder, not really knowing what would be done with them. When he returned home, he sampled and experimented with them and began using them on the songs that would become “Like Stars In My Hands.”
These sounds are particularly effective on the LP’s first single, “From a Million Miles,” where the “pray for me” sample fits in perfectly with Jacqui’s vocals. This type of sampling creates a wide array of musical possibilities, though Pete doesn’t want to say what’s in store on the new LP. But he did say there will be more samples from Asia and the fact that he’s living in a city now will be a contributing factor.
Beyond the sounds used, the music on “Like Stars in My Hands” is quite a bit different from “Exorcise The Wasteland,” and the group says this was mainly a reaction to general changes in music they were listening to. Pete says the new LP is turning out to be a bit more accessible than their past music, even though there was no conscious effort to create a more commercial sound.
Having released only two albums in eight years, Single Gun Theory are not the most prolific group in the world. One explanation for this is that all the members still have day jobs. Kath is a licensed psychotherapist, Jacqui does fashion design and Pete works in the computer field. Even though they are signed to one of the largest independent labels (Nettwerk) and have distribution through IRS, the members do not see Single Gun Theory as their main career right now.
“It would be fantastic if we could do it full-time,” says Jacqui. “But there’s a certain quality to life that we’re used to now because we work and we want to maintain that, too. If we did do music full-time, we’d still have other little projects that we’d do outside of music because I think we’re just like that. As three individuals, we can’t just dedicate our lives to one thing.”
The group got their deal with Nettwerk when Pete was playing keyboards with Severed Heads and gave the label a demo of Single Gun Theory. “It was a bit of luck there,” he says. “You have to have some sort of lucky break, and for us it was that Severed Heads tour and being able to meet the people at the record company.”
Single Gun Theory has yet to tour America, though they hope the new album will bring them here. The group tends to put on elaborate stage shows with Indian and belly dancers on stage and video screens. Adapting the music to the live setting still poses a problem for the band, who are forced to use backing DATs. “We can’t really afford to buy enough samplers to do it,” explains Pete. “And we can’t really get live musicians because most of the instruments don’t actually exist. Most of the sounds that we use are made up inside the Macintosh, using Alchemy [a sample processing program].”
The success of Like Stars in My Hands has come as a surprise to the band, who were only expecting the LP to sell about 1,000 copies. In Australia alone, the album sold 10,000 copies and made it to number 41 in the mainstream music charts.
But being an Australian band on a North American label, Single Gun Theory feel a bit sheltered from their public. “Because we’re here in Australia, we don’t really feel that it is successful,” explains Jacqui. “You know that it must be reasonably successful because you’re making another record. We do feel isolated in a way from success. It’s there, and that’s nice, but it’s not overwhelming.”See all interviews →