The names of Ash Ra Temple, Tangerine Dream and other late 70s and early 80s synth acts come up a lot when discussing Emeralds. Have these ever been a conscious influence on you?
Steve: “Of course we have heard all of that stuff, but we aren’t intending to mimic anything except the way that we feel through our instruments. I think that’s really how you arrive at a ‘new’ sound anyway. It’s easiest to depart from something if you have no idea it exists, which sucks for us because we’ve listened to so much already. Sometimes it’s actually better to be ignorant if you want to start something new.”
John: “I love Tangerine Dream, but the tag is really, really annoying at this point. I honestly have been listening to a lot of psych-rock and just plain rock lately. I guess some of the earlier electronic stuff was and continues to influence many of the works. I am burned out on a lot of synth-pop and 80s styles so I can’t say that I am influenced by them too much right now, but as a whole it’s definitely affected me. The kind of late 70s or early 80s electronic music which I enjoy right now comes more from the INA GRM and Lovely Music catalogues sides and less from the pop side.”
“It’s easiest to depart from something if you have no idea it exists, which sucks for us because we’ve listened to so much already.”
The INA GRM and Lovely Music rosters include real forward-thinking composers like Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley and Pierre Schaeffer. Is it the shared innovative ethos of artists like these that you relate to, rather than the specific sounds?
John: “Absolutely. These artists took it upon themselves to push acoustic-electric and modern electronic composition into a world where people still haven’t been able to comprehend the dense amount of information produced out of those studios. Robert Ashley is definitely a favorite, as well as Alvin Lucier and David Behrman.”
Mark: “I would say it’s a little bit of both. The spirit and ideas of artists like this are so inspiring to us to go out and create something new, something from within. I think their sounds still have an influence as well, because those records help our heads get to places that we might need to go in order to trigger something within ourselves that tells us to create.”
The new album seems different in a number of ways to your previous work. Tracks sound less improvised than anything on, say, Solar Bridge or What Happened, more structured. I’ve even heard this described as Emeralds’ “pop album”. How did the process of writing the tracks on the new album compare to previous releases?
Mark: “It was really similar to working on our self-titled record as far as the recording process. We would work with frames of ideas, go back and add things and change them as the idea developed. Since this record had a lot more songs, there was a lot we could do with each track. It was all about finding the right balance of elements for each one.”
Steve: “None of the tracks on this release were recorded live, they were made piece by piece. Songs tend to come together quite naturally for us and we can tell when a track has to be relegated to a B-side or to the ‘vaults’.”
John: “We spent a number of weeks in a home recording set-up pounding out tracks, a few at a time sometimes. ‘Genetic’ was a nightmare to record. All of our computers kept crashing or having a latency. We don’t do much post-production at all and we record with Audition which is an extremely primitive recording software. It was a longer and more calculated process for sure.”
“These artists took it upon themselves to push acoustic-electric and modern electronic composition into a world where people still haven’t been able to comprehend the dense amount of information produced out of those studios. Robert Ashley is definitely a favorite, as well as Alvin Lucier and David Behrman.”
Some of the tracks on the new album were previously released on 7″, while previous releases have been on cassette or CD-R. Does the choice of format it will be released on have any influence on the music?
John: “In some ways it must influence the track with time restrictions because in the beginning, we would always think of how the track would be on a vinyl record, so that is how we tend to think about the music which we create. For the new tracks we knew we were going to make a bunch of 7″s so we knew to keep most of them under 5 minutes for clean cuts.”
There was a change-up in terms of the equipment you used for this album, right?
Steve: “I had to rebuild my set-up from the ground up and it took a lot of capital and time to do this. I chose the Prophet 08 synthesizer by Dave Smith Instruments because of its versatility and programmability as well as its durability (I know this sounds like a plug). I enjoy creating or modifying sounds and the possibilities are literally boundless with that instrument. It is in fact 100% analoueg which a small contingent of synth dorks might have a hard time accepting because it is an 8-voice polysynth. I also use an array of different rack equipment to sculpt the sound even further – filters, effects, mixers, et cetera.”
Mark: “On the new record I play electric guitars, Les Paul and Stratocaster, and do vocals. On some of the tracks, like the title-track, I process my guitar heavily with two guitar-synthesizers. On some of the other pieces, it’s just raw guitar with no loops or effects.”
John: “On the first few tracks I use a Korg Poly 800 and a Kaossilator, which are both extremely questionable instruments…but why not? Aside from that I used a Moog Voyager OS and an analogue sequencer on the other 85% of my tracking…so pretty much an all analogue set up. I was working with three oscillators compared with the single oscillator I’m used to, and a powerful sequencer, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. We have a lot of new ideas.”