Industrial Ruination a été l'album surprise des fans d'Electro-industriel à l'ancienne. Pit, Larry et Neil de Black Agent ont bien voulu répondre aux questionnaire des Kitchen Notes pour un article exceptionnel foisonnant de détails et d'anecdotes qui ne donne qu'une envie : voir le groupe sur scène un jour. Bonne lecture.
Industrial Nation has been the big surprise release for any fan of good old Electro-Industrial. Pit, Larry and Neil from Black Agent have been kind enough to answer in detail to Kitchen Notes questionnaire for an outstanding article, overflowing with details and stories leading to only one desire : see the band on stage one day. Have a nice reading.
Gears and software
What gears/software did you use for Industial Ruination ?Pit: For a DAW we use Ableton Live suite 10. Larry and Neil have PCs, I use a Mac. Our plugin list is pretty vast, but highlights include Arturia Pigments and most of the Cherry Audio synths. But, we’re pretty old school and we tend to rely a lot on hardware. Neil’s studio Space Kitty, is analog synth heaven, it would take pages to list all his gear, but the key synth we use is the Ensoniq ESQ-1, all three of us have our own ESQ-1, Larry has 2 :) We also use the Roland Junos (and the Cherry Audio version), as well as Larry’s modular. Neil’s guitar/amp collection is also pretty vast but for live use he just uses a Zoom 505 and an expression pedal.
Pit: Synthesizer-wise, I’d have to say my Oberheim OB-8, although it only got used on maybe one or two tracks on Industrial Ruination. I’m also deeply in love with my Roland VP-03 vocoder and the Behringer Model D. For plugins, the Cherry Audio DCO-106 is getting used on almost every new song I work on these days. Vocally, I use a Shure 565SD mic (thanks to a tip from Neil) and do the Al Jorgenson studio trick of cascading it through two compressors to get that distorted tone. Larry has a massive collection of rack delays that he’ll run my vocals and samples through. You should also ask Larry about his love of 1980’s samplers :)
Larry: As stated, Ableton Live 10, lots of Arturia plug ins, Pigments makes an appearance quite a bit on this album, as does their SQ80v synth. Both Waves and Arturia for processing/Mastering as well. Hardware wise, the Ensoniq ESQ-1 and E-MU EMAX II sampler are used in abundance on this album. Yamaha DX7/TX802 FM synths, Behringer Pro-1, Waldorf Microwave II, Eurorack Modular system, I believe a Moog Grandmother was used at one point. I think I used a Yamaha MODX6 as well. A bunch of other stuff I can't quite remember =o] Live, I use the ESQ-1, EMAX for playing, and an Akai MPC Live for the backing tracks, and my modular for intros/outros and filling in the spaces inbetween songs.
Neil: for the guitars and bass sounds,I used a Rivera “super” amp with the Evil Twin mod. The pedals are vintage boss, midimods boss and keeley boss modded. For CS I played four guitars two in dropped D and two in standard e/g tunings. Our biggest problem was at the time a huge tube amp, right in our faces. Amazing for tone but it was very loud. And we will use the amazing vintage amp collection again, but for live I had to tuck my cock and use a direct box. The zoom 505 was always my sound (thru tube amps) during the 1990’s and it is back and better than before for this project.
Any evolution in your setup ?
Larry: I’m always buying/trading synths and drum machines. I’ve gotten quite a bit of stuff recently for use on the new album once we start writing new material. But my main tools remain pretty much the same.
Pit: I used to be all hardware and only used effects plugins in Ableton but I’ve really been using the Cherry Audio plugins a lot lately. They are dirt cheap, sound amazing, and unlike a lot of my analog gear they remember their settings when you reload the project and start working on it again.
Neil: Buying more synth hardware, like the Behringer clones has made a lot of sounds accessible to us. I’m constantly buying gear for the studio and also refining my live sound. Again going from loud vintage tube amps and analog synths to digital items for live performance. I am going wireless for the first time in 20 years! That is something.
Do you use/tweak presets ?Larry: I tend to avoid presets, and will usually delete them, or write over them if i can. I buy synthesizers to create new sounds, not use existing ones. But sometimes, a preset will do exactly what is needed, and i’ve used them here and there, but try to avoid it whenever possible. I want people to wonder how these sounds are made, rather than go “ah yea, that’s preset #53 on so and so synth”.
Neil: Yes! A preset is a great way to start making music. No one should be defined by a sound. Just play and when you are ready make a new sound. I do start modding the “ stock “ sounds with filters and then slowly progress that patch into my own.
Pit: Absolutely. Sound designers spend many hours crafting those preset sounds. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of their amazing work? I will often take a preset and mess with the filter or filter/amp envelopes to get something closer to what I want and run with it.
Do you design you own sound ? On which synth/plugin in particular ?
Pit: Sure. I have a small eurorack modular rig for really out there sounds, but often I’ll patch things on the ESQ-1, JP-08, Pro-One, OB-8 or Model D. The modular, Model-D, and Pro-One have no presets/storage, so, everything is a one off to be honest…I mean, you can take pictures of the front panel all you want but you aren’t going to recreate those sounds exactly. Ever. It’s unique but difficult at the same time. Hence why I’ve been using plugins more lately. Often some of the weirdest sounds are just samples that I’ve tweaked beyond recognition inside Ableton
Neil: yes and no, unless it’s on a digital machine or one of the guys saved a VST preset. It’s the bloody wild west here at space kitty. Loss of power that unit off and it is gone forever. And with the age of the items here, it may never power on again! I have a lot of old stuff.
Personal synth storyLarry: I once sold one of my old Sequential Circuits Pro-Ones to Adam Miller of ADULT. They still have it =o] I have a huge love of 80s samplers, the EMAX being king in my book. Both myself and Karl from Angelspit are obsessed with them, at one point I owned three of them. I also really love old 80s digital delays. The Lexicon PCM 41 and Korg SDD-1000 being my faves.
Neil: For me it is a deep regret that I sold so many classic synths. None of us ever knew that 20+ years later a pawn shop/ thrift fine was the next investment. I miss those sounds and the dusty feel of that gear. I miss those analogs like the Opus 3, OBx. Mono/poly and the Trident.
My guitar sound is 1980’s /1990’s made in Japan Fender guitars with Duncan pickups and ione of my bases has a custom order Dimazio pickup. I have Five vintage fender amps and a vintage MusicMan amp. Five bass guitars and seven electric guitars. My amps are a Rivera era Super amp with blue back Jensens, Two matching 85W Bassman 10’s a 69.Super reverb and a 80’ Musicman 150HD combo. I also have a Blues Jr/ under my desk and a Randall Switchmaster I wish Pitt would take home.
Pit: Larry and I met in the mid 2000s on the x0xb0x (open source TB303 clone) forum, before he even moved to Seattle. Both of us are obsessed with the 303 and acid. I coded one of the early x0xb0x firmware patches to give it swing timing
What would be your main writing/composing method ? Do you start classical rythm/bassline then arrange around it ? Do you already have structure in mind ? Do you improvise, record sessions then select ? ...Larry: I normally start with a drum sequence, then go from there. Sometimes it’ll be a bass line, or a lead sequence, it all depends on what comes out really. I rarely have a structure in mind since it usually changes by the time I get the project back for final adjustments. I’m not classically trained musically, and know very little of music theory, so my stuff tends to be more rhythmic/noisey than anything else.
Pit: Typically Larry will come up with a beat or bassline and then Neil and I will run with it. Sometimes one of us will make something closer to a complete track and we’ll pass the Ableton bundles back and forth adding to it. Once the bulk of the music is there, I’ll start writing lyrics and then the song will get pushed around further to fit the lyrical structure.
Neil: I just shred on anything they throw at me, well seriously it is an amazing process and I am very happy to be part of it. Hopefully the next album I get a few in.
Do you produce/mix in the box or do you use mainly external gears (effect/comp/eq...) ?
Larry: Mixing and effects/processing are all in the box, i’d say it’s about 50/50 on synths and sampling. But I think this next album will be more hardware than software as far as synths go.
Neil: Not much is done in the box. I would go back to tape if I won the lottery.
Pit: Most of our synths/samplers/drum machines/guitars/vocals etc come from outside the box, but most of the effects are in the box. The exception would be for the pile of rack delays Larry has and Neil’s guitar amps/rig and army of effects pedals. Most of the vocals are recorded straight into my Lexicon ionix FW810s interface. I actually have 3 of them. They’re fantastic and have built in digital mixing, dolby effects, etc.
What is your most painful / enjoyable step in track production ? Sound design, arrangement, mixing, mastering ?
Larry: I’d have to say that mixing is a bit of a pain at times. Getting everything to sit right in the mix can take a while sometimes. I also don’t like naming songs, since I can never come up with anything clever =o] And the title usually changes once Jason does the lyrics/vocals. So my names are usually just temporary anyway. Unless I have a clear idea on what I want a certain song to be about. The final arrangement is usually done by Jason since he needs to shuffle things to fit the vocals. The most enjoyable time is when a song just flows out without much effort. Ides come fast and it just all goes smooth.
Pit: Most painful…Mastering…without a doubt. The label asked a couple different people to master the album for us but we really weren’t happy with what they did so we ended up mastering it ourselves, which was extremely stressful. The three of us love sound design, writing and producing. Neil has us over to Space Kitty once a week, makes an incredible dinner for us, and we write, jam, or practice for a few hours.
Neil: I am not gonna even touch this one :)
Black Agent's tips
Larry: A good quality mixer and monitoring/headphones are important. Learn your tools! Don’t let GAS take hold, buy what you can afford and use it beyond it’s full potential. You don’t need a room full of expensive stuff to make a killer album. A good idea and good song writing will do far more than the newest $2000 synthesizer will. A lot of the stuff we use was once considered cheap and throw away. My ESQ-1s both cost under $400 each, and my EMAX sampler cost me $500. It has a whopping 8mb of memory, as opposed to the GBs of memory things have now. Those two are my main pieces both in the studio and live. And don’t get caught up in the Analog/Digital debate. Who cares, we use and love both. If it sounds good, use it. Curating your own sample library is also a good thing to do. Give your music your own personal touch with samples you make yourself. I have a thing I do where I listen to movie audio and look for unique sounds to sample. Sample a radio. Use small snippets, 1-2 seconds max. Layer those samples with your drum sounds, or use them as a rhythmic element. Most of all, have fun.
Pit: Buy some decent studio monitors. Investing in my Yamaha HS8s wasn’t sexy but was one of the best things I ever did. Don’t be afraid of doing things wrong. Sample a guitar or piano even if you can’t play. Flip the sample backwards. Run it into a vocoder and mic a talk radio program. Embrace chaos and be creative with the tools available to you. We have a ton of really expensive gear, but honestly creativity is the key, gear doesn’t matter. I’m so jealous of kids starting out now. I would have killed for the tools available now, even for free. Don’t let some gorgeous coveted piece of gear get in your way. Make an album with your phone. Write songs about things that matter to you and that you’re passionate about. Then share it with the world.
Neil: never give in! I have been through a shit storm and I struggle to finish a song I started three years ago. Keep going, and keep your head up!
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/BlackAgentBand
SpaceKitty Studio : https://spacekittystudio.com/