Vince Clarke & Paul Hartnoll

Elec­tronic mu­sic mae­stros, Vince Clarke and Paul Hartnoll, com­bine forces (and bou­tique vin­tage syn­the­sizer col­lec­tions) to fash­ion the sub­lime Dance-cen­tric, 2Square. Hamish Mack­in­tosh rev­er­en­tially in­ves­ti­gates

Future Music - - IN THE STUDIO WITH | VINCE CLARKE & PAUL HARTNOLL - For more Vince and Paul go to: www.era­sure­info.com and http://paul­hart­noll.com 2Square is avail­able for down­load from Very Records – http://veryrecords.com

Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Ya­zoo, The Assem­bly, Era­sure) and Paul Hartnoll (Or­bital and ex­cel­lent solo al­bums) have given this jaded hack some ec­static mo­ments of elec­tronic joy over the years. Both men share a love of col­lect­ing (and get­ting the most from) de­sir­able syn­the­siz­ers of all shapes and sizes and, thank­fully, both share a key­board tech who was in­stru­men­tal in con­nect­ing the two synth le­gends to­gether for the bril­liant, re­sul­tant 2Square col­lab­o­ra­tion. Whether it’s the shim­mer­ing mod­u­lar se­quences of Un­der­wa­ter, pris­tine de­but sin­gle

Bet­ter Have A Drink To Think or the sero­tonin-stomp of Do-a-Bong, Clarke and Hartnoll fuse their not-in­con­sid­er­able tal­ents to­gether to won­der­ful ef­fect. With a gear list that reads like a ver­i­ta­ble his­tory of ana­logue synths, 2Square was born of trans-At­lantic stems fly­ing back and forth be­tween Clarke’s new Brook­lyn stu­dio and Hartnoll’s Brighton HQ, where the two con­vened to fi­nalise and mix the whole thing. FM were de­lighted to catch up with Vince in his new Brook­lyn synth-lair and Paul in his Brighton nerve cen­tre to find out more about the mak­ing of 2Square… not to men­tion some of those in­cred­i­ble synths!

Vince Clarke

FM caught up with the ana­logue doyen in his new Brook­lyn Stu­dio where he also now runs his fledg­ling Very Records im­print.

FM: What in­spired you to ap­proach Paul about pos­si­bly col­lab­o­rat­ing on some­thing?

Vince Clarke: “It ac­tu­ally came about as I’d been work­ing on tracks for a while on my own and go­ing around in cir­cles a bit. Then a mu­tual friend of my­self and Paul’s sug­gested I meet up with Paul. We hap­pened to be in Brighton, where Paul lives, on tour so we hooked up and hit it off straight­away. It wasn’t a plan; it was just one of those hap­pen­ings. I didn’t know Paul and I only re­ally knew Or­bital through our mu­tual key­board tech, ac­tu­ally.”

When you met was Paul in­stantly up for the pair of you work­ing to­gether?

“Well, I think he was a bit du­bi­ous at first. I mean, I had about six or seven tracks that I’d started. Paul’s a very sen­si­ble per­son so he didn’t just dive in and say, ‘yeah, I can sort this out for you, mate’. It was more a case of him say­ing he would get some ideas to­gether, try them out and see if I liked it. So, that hap­pened over a pe­riod of time and then, when the ideas started flow­ing back and forth, we de­cided that the best thing to do would be to ac­tu­ally get to­gether in his stu­dio and fin­ish the record off there and make it a real joint ef­fort.”

What great times we live in that you can fly tracks back and forth across the At­lantic for each other to work on?

“It is but there are also lim­i­ta­tions in as much as, what I re­ally en­joyed about do­ing this al­bum was

the last sec­tion, where Paul and I were in the stu­dio for a week to­gether. He and I can both work re­motely but, when you’ve done that for ten years it gets a bit lonely. It se­ri­ously does. When I started do­ing mu­sic back in the day, you were al­ways sur­rounded by other peo­ple… en­gi­neers, pro­duc­ers – whereas now you can do every­thing in your bed­room. It can be a bit dis­con­nected and sad.”

So, you pre­ferred the one-to-one feed­back of work­ing as a unit in the stu­dio?

“Yeah and also, the prob­lem when you work alone is that you end up go­ing around in cir­cles with­out some­one else there to say, ‘that’s good enough’ or ‘that’s not good enough’. So, it was great to have that con­nec­tion right at the end of the record.”

How long did every­thing take – from your early demos to putting the fi­nal mixes down to re­leas­ing it on your new Very Records im­print?

“Three years. I had this idea of maybe start­ing a lit­tle record com­pany and I re­ally had to sell it to Paul. I said, ‘I know I’ve never done this prop­erly be­fore but I’m re­ally ex­cited about the idea and I think it could be re­ally good’. I said that our project could be a fan­tas­tic launch plat­form for the la­bel and Paul was kind enough to con­sider that I might be com­pe­tent enough to do it.”

When we spoke a few years back you sur­prised us by say­ing you wrote most of Era­sure’s songs on pi­ano and acous­tic gui­tar. Would we be right in as­sum­ing this wasn’t the case with the

2Square songs?

“After work­ing with Martin (Gore) on the VCMG project I re­ally got into this whole min­i­mal/ Techno-ish, synth mu­sic so I started just do­ing vibe mu­sic and get­ting some grooves go­ing and some mu­si­cal events. That was the skele­tons that I gave to

Paul when he got on­board.”

Did you set any rules for what was or wasn’t al­lowed with the songs?

“It was pretty free ac­tu­ally as we were work­ing as a team. It was a col­lab­o­ra­tion rather than us hav­ing set roles. I guess the only ‘rule’ we set our­selves was to make it ‘dancey’.”

You’ve re­lo­cated to Brook­lyn from your Cabin stu­dio. What gear made the move with you?

“Well, ba­si­cally I had the Cabin in Maine and I just moved the en­tire op­er­a­tion here. I’m down in a base­ment in Brook­lyn, which still kind of looks like the Cabin as it’s all wooden walls. I’ve got it all here and, in fact, it’s prob­a­bly more op­er­a­tional than my place in Maine.”

So what were your ‘go-to’ bits of kit for these ses­sions?

“Well, there are al­ways my favourites like the ARP 2600 and the Pro One. I have started ex­plor­ing the whole Euro­rack thing too and that’s amaz­ing… a whole new world, in fact. It’s not an en­vi­ron­ment I’m com­pletely com­fort­able with yet but it’s re­ally fun to mess about and ex­per­i­ment with.”

We were go­ing to ask later what you thought about the resur­gence of mod­u­lar syn­the­siz­ers…

“It did sur­prise me as it wasn’t some­thing I ever ex­pected to hap­pen but I think it’s re­ally fan­tas­tic. There are some re­ally cre­ative peo­ple out there mak­ing some se­ri­ously in­ter­est­ing shit. [ laughs] For geeks, it’s fan­tas­tic.”

You’ve re­leased some mod­u­lar units with Ana­logue So­lu­tions, haven’t you?

“We did a cou­ple of units. The VCM20 Au­toTune is a util­i­tar­ian unit to keep syn­the­siz­ers in tune. I kind of con­cep­tu­alised it, then my brother, who is a ge­nius, did all the work and made the ac­tual thing. The Imag­i­na­tor is a se­quencer mod­ule that we both worked on… and when I say ‘both worked on’, I mean I said it and he did it!”

When we’ve spo­ken be­fore you’ve been us­ing a lot of soft synths in your process but 2Square sounds a very ‘hard­ware’ driven al­bum?

“It is, yeah. Apart from some ef­fects and EQs then I reckon 99% of it is all ex­ter­nal syn­the­siz­ers. I’m not

The prob­lem when you work alone is you end up go­ing around in cir­cles with­out some­one else to say, ‘that’s good enough’

diss­ing soft synths as they are an amaz­ing re­source but, for my­self, and I’m sure, for Paul, it’s much more fun to have the abil­ity to use two hands rather than just a mouse. It’s the phys­i­cal­ity of us­ing hard­ware synths that makes it a bonus when you’re mak­ing elec­tronic mu­sic.”

Is it still Logic you work in and was that how you sent stems be­tween you and Paul?

“Both Paul and I are us­ing Logic X as our ba­sic record­ing sta­tions. Be­cause we’re both us­ing the same thing, it means that if I send Paul over the record­ing of a sound I can also in­clude the MIDI in­for­ma­tion so, if he wants to change the sound with­out re-pro­gram­ming it then he can use that. That makes the whole op­er­a­tion much more fluid.”

So is MIDI still play­ing a big part in the writ­ing process for you both?

“Well, Logic is MIDI. I’ve been on Logic for quite a long time and I re­ally like it. Most peo­ple I know are ei­ther Logic or Pro Tools but I still think, for me as a pro­gram­mer/se­quencer-type per­son, Logic comes very nat­u­rally. The im­pres­sion I get is that Pro Tools is more of an al­ter­na­tive 24-track record­ing stu­dio and not quite so much geared to­wards se­quenc­ing – it’s more about the ac­tual record­ing. That said, they’re both amaz­ing pro­grams.”

Back in the days when you were pro­gram­ming on rudi­men­tary ARP se­quencers did you ever en­vis­age some­thing with the se­quenc­ing po­ten­tial of Logic?

“You could never re­ally imag­ine what would hap­pen and, to be hon­est, it took me a long time to go from a ba­sic MIDI se­quencer on to us­ing Logic. I couldn’t re­ally use a mouse for a long time and that took a bit to get used to. At the end of the day these things are all tools and things be­come eas­ier to use or there are more choices but that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily al­ways a good thing. The nice thing about work­ing with ana­logue, mostly mono­phonic, syn­the­siz­ers is that you have to make de­ci­sions, which means even­tu­ally your record gets fin­ished!”

Soft­ware does have the ca­pac­ity to leave us drift­ing, de­ci­sion-less for days, doesn’t it?

“For­ever! Some­one asked me the other day about why I’ve never done a solo record and I said be­cause it would never be fin­ished! When I em­bark on a new project I try and im­pose cer­tain restrictions – whether that’s to keep it to­tally ana­logue or keep it com­pletely mono­phonic. That’s mainly to make sure that you stretch your­self a bit.”

Writ­ing purely mono­phonic synth parts is def­i­nitely an in­ter­est­ing dis­ci­pline…

“Yeah… I’m work­ing on the next Era­sure record now and the orig­i­nal demos have lots of block chords and pi­ano stuff go­ing on so what I try and do is, say there’s a five-note chord hap­pen­ing in a part, then I’ll di­vide that chord into five dif­fer­ent notes and use five dif­fer­ent syn­the­siz­ers to play each note. It just gives it a dif­fer­ent tex­ture and vibe that I think is re­ally cool.”

Over and above the Pro One and ARP 2600 what other synths did you use on the al­bum?

“I used quite a bit of the Roland Sys­tem-700 and also the 100m, which I re­ally love as I know it so well. There’s also an Ober­heim OB-mx rack; I’ve got a few of those hap­pen­ing and they’re all CV/gate syn­the­siz­ers. My favourite newish synth has to be the Dave Smith Mopho. I love that synth, man! I’ve lis­tened to all the stuff Dave Smith has be­ing do­ing but there’s some­thing about the Mopho… it has an amaz­ing sound.”

Have Paul and your­self got any plans to take this out into the live arena at some point?

“We don’t re­ally know yet. For me, it’s dip­ping a toe in the wa­ter sit­u­a­tion; the rea­son that it’s down­load­only at the mo­ment is that I didn’t know how it would go down. So, we’re just tak­ing it as it comes for the mo­ment. I’d love to do some­thing live… it would be cool in a fes­ti­val sit­u­a­tion, which is what Paul is all about. That might hope­fully be a pos­si­bil­ity in the fu­ture. As far as the la­bel is con­cerned then I’ve got a few other projects brew­ing; the next re­lease is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the project Paul and I have done and that should be com­ing out later this year.”

Paul Hartnoll

FM caught up with the Or­bital main­stay at his mod­u­lar-is­cious Brighton home stu­dio where he took time out from work­ing on TV sound­track mu­sic to talk us through his en­vi­able synth col­lec­tion.

FM: What was your ini­tial re­ac­tion when Vince con­tacted you about the pos­si­bil­ity of col­lab­o­rat­ing on some stuff?

Paul Hartnoll: “Ex­cite­ment! He’s one of those peo­ple that I’ve seen around a few times – I was at the Ivor Novello awards when he won a life­time achieve­ment award and I went up to shake his hand and say con­grat­u­la­tions and made a right tit of my­self… like you do! What can some­one say other than thanks, re­ally! Vince’s mu­sic has been in my world since we got our very first video recorder and I taped Top Of The Pops with Depeche Mode do­ing

New Life… that was the first thing I taped! The first Depeche al­bum and first Ya­zoo al­bum had a big in­flu­ence on me. We both ob­vi­ously share a love of Kraftwerk as well.

“We share a back­line tech, Howard, who was the mate who hooked us up to­gether. He’d al­ways said to me that I’d get on with Vince so when Vince needed some­one to help out with the demos he had for this al­bum, it was Howard that sug­gested that he talk to me. So, we met up in a pub in Brighton to talk about it.”

Was part of the process be­ing able to let go a lit­tle bit of your cre­ation and al­low each other to work your ideas into one an­other’s mu­sic?

“Ab­so­lutely. There was one track that I was hav­ing trou­ble with, then I re­alised that was be­cause I was fight­ing it. I was try­ing to turn it into some­thing it wasn’t. So I changed and just en­hanced what it al­ready was, then it all fell into place.”

FM men­tioned to Vince that it sounded quite a ‘hard­ware-based’ al­bum… Was that the case from your end of pro­ceed­ings to?

“Ac­tu­ally, to be fair, it’s a mix­ture as any­thing I ever do al­ways is. [ laughs] I love go­ing to Gear Slutz and watch­ing all the bick­er­ing over hard­ware vs soft­ware or ana­logue vs dig­i­tal! My thing is… does it make a good sound? Is it any good? Al­though, I do have a room full of ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive ana­logue synths – most of which I bought be­fore they were ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive!

“I did, in my head, say at the out­set let’s make it us­ing a lot of hard­ware, but at the same time, if some­thing sounds good and I know it’s soft­ware then I wouldn’t change it as there’d be no point. There’s a cer­tain wild­ness that hap­pens when you com­pose in soft­ware, break it out into hard­ware then record each line separately while tweak­ing away at it all. The whole thing comes alive in a re­ally un­usual way. The track Un­der­wa­ter was done like that. It was quite static at first and the orig­i­nal demo wasn’t full of tweaked synths. I liked all the synths that were go­ing on so I just added a cou­ple of bits and re­placed some of the static lines with some mov­ing ana­logue synths. Of course, when you do one, open up the fil­ter and close it at cer­tain points then it starts to build an ar­range­ment within the ar­range­ment of get­ting big­ger and smaller. Then you su­per­im­pose on top of it so it be­comes like paint­ing these lay­ers of sound over the top of each other and it tends to swell, ebb and flow in its own lit­tle way. That is def­i­nitely a hard­ware at­tribute.”

Speak­ing with you a few years back, you’d just got your­self a Mac­beth mod­u­lar… Have you gone any deeper into the mod­u­lar rab­bit hole?

“I’ve got two mea­gre lit­tle racks of Euro­rack but I don’t re­ally go there too often if I can help it. I’ve got a Make Noise sys­tem – it’s a one-unit rack of all their weird, es­o­teric stuff that’s ba­si­cally a West Coast-style sys­tem. I’ve got a few wave-shapers, com­plex wave en­velopes and the odd nice os­cil­la­tor

but that’s about it. I’ve got lots of semi-mod­u­lar things; there’s two Mac­beth M5Ns, an ARP 2600, Roland Sys­tem-100 and 100m, so if you com­bine them with a lit­tle bit of Euro­rack it’s great fun. I don’t view them all as com­pletely sep­a­rate en­ti­ties, more as one big sys­tem.”

Those Mac­beth mod­u­lars have a very dif­fer­ent/ unique sound, don’t they?

“The two Mac­beth M5Ns I have sound dif­fer­ent from each other! If I’m go­ing to have a Mac­beth mo­ment I’ll look at them both and de­cide which it’s go­ing to be as one is def­i­nitely a bit fizzier and more open and the other one is a bit darker.”

So what spe­cific gear did you bring to the ta­ble for 2Square?

“Now, Vince said he was go­ing to put a list up of that but I brought the Make Noise mod­u­lar, the ARP 2600, both Mac­beths, Sys­tem-100m, the Ober­heim Xpan­der, Jupiter-8 and on top of that the Korg ver­sion of the ARP Odyssey, which is re­ally good. My Bass Sta­tion II for some­thing slightly more mod­ern. That was mostly it for the hard­ware.”

What about soft­ware? For the project and also stuff you use in gen­eral?

“Soft­ware-wise it’s Able­ton, al­ways. Al­though I did most of this al­bum in Logic as that’s where Vince works. That was in­ter­est­ing as it got me back into learn­ing Logic again as I’d al­ways been a Logic user prior to Able­ton, which I now pre­fer. In Logic I love Sculp­ture. I love phys­i­cal mod­el­ling synths and it’s bril­liant. That’s some­thing that’s not in the hard­ware world ei­ther. I like Na­tive In­stru­ments’ stuff a lot; Reak­tor in par­tic­u­lar. Oh and there’s one thing I al­most for­got… just to be a show off. I’ve got a SunSyn Mark II. It’s a pur­ple one, num­ber 11 of a run of ten! He made ten and by the time I got in touch they’d all gone and I said, ‘you can’t do that to me,’ so he said, for me, he’d do one more.”

Nice to see the high re­gard you’re held in by Jo­mox. Did the SunSyn live up to ex­pec­ta­tion when you got it?

“Yes but it took a bit of learn­ing as it’s very much its own beast. You have to kind of learn what it’s good at but, as soon as I got it, I did a whole film score with it, which was great. It’s an un­usual ma­chine, very lus­cious, very brassy and it’s what I imag­ine a CS80 to sound like. It can sound quite ag­gres­sive too. I know the or­ange Mk1s can be up­graded to sound like a Mk2.”

Did your tool­kit for 2Square dif­fer greatly from what you’d find your­self us­ing for your own mu­sic?

“No… it’s the same, re­ally. The only dif­fer­ence was psy­cho­log­i­cal in that you’re do­ing some­thing with some­one else so you try not to be self­ish. You open it up to think­ing ‘that’s what they like’ even if you’re not sure about some­thing… you work around it any­way. It’s not a com­pro­mise in the sense that, when you lis­ten back to it you think, ‘how did that hap­pen? I wouldn’t have done that on my

own?’ There are a lot of bits on this al­bum that I lis­ten to and I don’t even know what I make of! They sound great but I wouldn’t have done it if it had just been me. If that el­e­ment of sur­prise didn’t hap­pen then I guess there wouldn’t have been much point do­ing it!”

Did you feel like you upped your game for work­ing with Vince or was it just cool that the pair of you hit it off so well?

“I don’t know… did I up my game? I’ll tell you what, it was a lot of fun [ laughs] so I’m not sure I upped my game as that sounds like I nor­mally don’t do some­thing I should be do­ing. It was a pure plea­sure.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that Vince said sim­i­lar – he par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the pair of you work­ing to­gether at your place in Brighton…

“That was def­i­nitely the best bit be­cause I’ve never been so pro­duc­tive as we were in that week. We only did six days and often fin­ished at 4 o’clock in the af­ter­noon so there was no mess­ing about. The thing is, we worked like a tag team swap­ping roles as and when it was re­quired. There was al­ways one of us with an idea and al­ways some­thing go­ing on.”

Not know­ing when to ac­tu­ally call some­thing fin­ished is a real prob­lem with elec­tronic mu­sic. Is that some­thing you suf­fer from?

“No, I think one of my best skills is al­ways know­ing when to fin­ish. Cre­at­ing a piece of art, you al­ways start out with this no­tion that you’re go­ing to cre­ate the per­fect piece of art; you never do – no­body ever does! So, you have to know when to stop once you’ve hit a cer­tain level and it’s as good as it’s go­ing to be. Then you move on and start mak­ing an­other piece of art with the idea of mak­ing that the most per­fect piece of art. It’s a ques­tion of be­ing cav­a­lier enough to say, ‘that’ll do’.”

Were any mix­ing desks in­volved in the fi­nal process or was every­thing kept in the box?

“All done in the box down here in Brighton. I do all my mix­ing in the box these days any­way. It’s the one dig­i­tal thing that I love. I grew up mix­ing on desks and it can sound great that way but it can sound great in the box too. I think record­ing real hard­ware as the in­stru­ments and then mix­ing in the box, if you like, would be bet­ter than us­ing loads of soft synths then mix­ing on a desk, if you know what I mean? You cap­ture the raw­ness and the ‘out of the box-ness’ when you make the record­ings so then mix­ing in the box is fine. Loads of amaz­ing kind of Folk mu­sic and other stuff is done in the box now and it sounds bril­liant.”

Any­thing the pair of you worked on that didn’t end up mak­ing the cut?

“I don’t think there was, re­ally. We had a cou­ple of demos each that never made the fi­nal al­bum but they were ones that never got worked on; in that kind of way that, for every 10-track al­bum there was prob­a­bly 13 tracks and you pick the best ones.”

Have you got any plans for work­ing to­gether be­yond 2Square?

“Not at the mo­ment… let’s get this al­bum fly­ing first! I’m do­ing a lot of TV work at the mo­ment and I’m try­ing to con­cen­trate on that. I’m ne­go­ti­at­ing do­ing the mu­sic for an eight-part TV se­ries. That of­fers up some new chal­lenges… [ laughs], es­pe­cially as it’s set in the 1700s and I’m not al­lowed to use syn­the­siz­ers!”

From Or­bital to madri­gals…

“[ laughs] You’d be sur­prised how sim­i­lar they are! You’ve just got to play it on a lute in­stead. That’s been good fun do­ing that – I’ve re­ally en­joyed it. I en­joyed do­ing Peaky Blin­ders for the same rea­son that I wasn’t al­lowed to use synths there ei­ther. It’s free­ing as it’s ac­tu­ally quite nice to be told not to use your main in­stru­ment!”

You have to know when to stop once you’ve hit a cer­tain level and it’s as good as it’s go­ing to be – be cav­a­lier enough to say ‘that’ll do’

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