Inspired by Tool, PiL and Massive Attack London 3-piece instrumental outfit Theory of Machines have been rockin’ my world with their epic EP 1.
Tell us about the origins of Theory of Machines.
RICHARD (bass, synths, programming): I was moping around after my previous band had split and I had trouble finding anything else that really exited me musically. So, I decided to start my own project. I was excited about the idea of building tracks using bass lines and loops as a solid foundation. I’ve always been inspired by the first two PiL albums, dub and really bass driven rock and electronica. Previously I’d only ever written music by improvising with other musicians in a live jam situation. It was a challenge because I had to learn how to use programs to create electronics and loops, something I’d had zero knowledge of. It was really daunting at the time—like a new language. After many months of tinkering, I got some basic, lumpy ideas together and put some feelers out for a guitar player and eventually came across Danny.
Theory of Machines is an instrumental band; why did you decided to go it without a vocalist? Do you see yourselves adding vocals in the future?
RICHARD: Well … we auditioned a lot of vocalists at the very beginning and none of them really worked – because we’re all over the place stylistically, we could never find anyone diverse enough. It was really frustrating … and depressing. We decided to scrap everything we had written up to that point and start again. We’d always been influenced by instrumental music so it made perfect sense to continue writing without vocals in mind. After we’d made the decision, it was really liberating and creatively challenging. I think what’s interesting about music without lyrical content, is that the listener makes their own interpretations about what the music is trying to say.
DANNY (guitars, sonics): We didn’t start out with the intention of being an instrumental band, we organically morphed into one. Although we tried out vocalists, it just never sounded right. It was liberating to make the decision to not worry about it, and just concentrate on creating something special. It has inevitably led to the “where’s you singer?” comment at gigs, but those people usually get distracted by the shiny lights quite quickly. We wouldn’t say no to the right vocalist, but we haven’t come across them yet.’
In 2011 ToM had quite a search for the perfect drummer with many auditions; how did you know Guillaume Charreau was the right person for the job?
RICHARD: We auditioned many drummers. Guillaume turned up to the audition and just nailed it … it’s that simple. He’d obviously put the hours in, he played with finesse and had a solid groove… it just felt good. I’m not sure he said a word other than ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, there was also an arrogance (or was it confidence?) that I think we respected. Ha!
GUILLAUME: I’d say it was confidence more than arrogance hopefully (even if I’m French). I just stumbled across their ad one night on the internet whilst browsing aimlessly, for some work on there. I thought the name of the band was pretty cool and so intended to give it the usual 8 seconds of my time to scroll through their stuff and ended up listening to Obsidian in its entirety. Then listened to the rest of the EP one song after another and concluded that even if it wasn’t a paid session I surely had found a band I was gonna play with.
How do you write songs? Is it a collective effort?
RICHARD: Because we primarily write groove driven music, it’ll usually starts with a bass line, a drum pattern or an electronic part. I’ll usually get a rough idea together and Danny will start layering melodic guitar parts on top of that, then it’ll usually change depending were the guitar takes it. “Karoshi” for instant started out as the guitar riff you hear in the intro and we built up from that point. I think once you have a strong starting point, all other parts should equal or better that initial part. That’s the challenge, then trimming off the fat.
DANNY: The process varies and has developed over time, but generally speaking Rich writes grooves to which I add guitar parts and then we collectively have a say in the overall arrangement. After many heated debates, we somehow eventually find the magic.
What song from another band would you love to lay claim to?
RICHARD: That’s tough, there’s so so many. An Ending (Ascent) by Brian Eno comes to mind, sublimely beautiful.
Danny: Teardrop by Massive Attack. It has its own unique energy.
GUILLAUME: Many come to mind: I’ll probably say, maybe La Mer or The Fragile by NIN or maybe Lover You Should Have Come Over by Jeff Buckley, such a great performance.
Theory of Machines’ music has very cinematic qualities about it; what are some of your favourite films?
RICHARD: Too many to mention. Brasil, Holy Mountain, Blade Runner, Eyes Without A Face, 2001, Down by Law, Onibaba, 2046.
DANNY: It’s probably easier to say most of the work by Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan and Terry Gilliam. Two films which have stayed with me recently though are Moon (Duncan Jones) and Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro). The soundtracks to both are just excellent.
You worked on your debut EP 1 with producer Dave Pemberton (Prodigy, Groove Armada, Orbital); what was it like to work with Dave? With all of his experience what did he bring to the table?
RICHARD: Working with Dave was a pleasure. The thing is, the recordings we gave him were so raw and grubby. He made them sound huge and warm, and not at all in an obviously “Rawk” way. Which is exactly what we were after. He has great ears and a great studio.
DANNY: We didn’t want a ‘standard’ rock mix, so it was important to work with someone who understood the vibe of the electronic element in our music. Dave’s CV speaks for itself, he’s been at the top of his game for years but he’s also completely down to earth.
What type of conversations filled your day when you were in the studio?
RICHARD: What mic shall we use for this … let’s place it here or try it back here. That kind of stuff mostly. We were experimenting with microphones a lot as I recall?
What sort of experimentation goes on in the studio and how much is already completely planned out?
RICHARD: Most of the music’s settled on before we start recording, not that were not open to experimenting. Occasionally some things change, a synth sound or an effect. All of the experimentation goes on throughout the creative process, it’s healthy, though personally I have a habit of layering and tweaking and obsessing far too much sometimes.
I’ve read that there were ‘many setbacks and disasters’ in relation to recording your EP; could you elaborate please?
RICHARD: While recording takes, we experienced random mysterious power cuts and potentially deadly electrical surges. For no good reason, some of the electronic loops we were using decided to play completely out of synch with the tracks. Guitar tracks vanished from our hard drive. Some of the files we’d recorded appeared on screen as wav files, but were oddly silent. Two computers died in the process. My bass amp also exploded at one point and so did my temper. It was hard to get it finished as our schedules were all different. Our drummer at the time, decided to quit while we were mixing. I didn’t think it was ever going to get completed at one point. It was just a very lengthy process. It felt like bad voodoo? Ha!
DANNY: Our original drummer exploded.
What’s your favourite thing about your release?
RICHARD: I think the tracks are strong. I love the rawness of it and that the mix isn’t that of a “guitar band”. For me, the process is always more fun than the end result. Once it’s done, what’s next?
DANNY: I think for most artists, your songs are like your children, and they take on their own life when they leave home. So it’s interesting to find out who they’re hanging out with and watch who they become as adults.
What’s one of your favourite sounds and what’s its significance to you?
RICHARD: Rain fall at night…it just has a peaceful effect on me
DANNY: It’s a cliché, but seagulls and the sea. Just reminds me of being a kid.
GUILLAUME: Very uninspiring! …and a very sad fact, but I get more satisfaction out of hearing the sound of my practice pad these days. Comes from the days where me and my flatmate would get up, make ridiculously strong coffee and go through one or two hours of practice every morning.
What is Theory of Machines’ aiming for when you perform your work live?
RICHARD: Play every note like it’s your last
DANNY: For the sonic to meet the cinematic in an engaging way. And to kick a massive amount of ass!
GUILLAUME: To play our best with a good amount of energy while having a good time.
Hiroki Furutani creates the live visuals for Theory of Machines; how important is the visual element to your show?
RICHARD: Very important, it certainly keeps things more interesting that way. It adds a nice dynamic to our set. Without a vocalist the average person tends to get bored easily and the visuals help. There’s also a loose narrative within in the films.
How did you come to work with Hiroki?
RICHARD: I came across his work on line, really liked it and asked to if he’d put some visuals together for us. Luckily he liked our music. He’s a talented guy: VJ, producer, musician. He has a project called Kuroi Mori which is interesting.
Does Theory of Machines feel a part of any music scene or community?
DANNY: From the outside looking in is always the most creative place to be.
GUILLAUME: I think we need to spread or wings a little more first. There are plenty of music scenes we relate to, but wouldn’t say that we “belong” to any scene specifically.
What’s been your most memorable moment as a band so far?
RICHARD: Our first gig was certainly a trial by fire. Our van driver bailed on us an hour before we were about to leave. I had to call up the hire nearest company, drive across London, try and park my car (which in London is not much fun); I get the van, the weather’s terrible, traffic’s terrible, drive back across London to pick our gear, we load the van, everything’s soaking wet, we take off for the venue and the van breaks down, the company say they can’t send another van out for an hour at least, when they arrive they blame us for using the wrong fuel, and expect us to pay £4000 to cover basic costs….and it went on and on, it was a nightmare. Needless to say… we just made it. The gig was great … tense.
DANNY: Headlining the legendary 100 Club!
GUILLAUME: The first gig was quite something! Full of disasters! When I arrived home after the gig the roof in my house had collapsed. Recording drums for the new tracks has been really good fun.
What’s next for Theory of Machines?
DANNY: World domination; but to fill in the time before that, we’re headlining Upstairs @The Garage (London) on the 20th of September.
RICHARD: More shows, new music—pushing ourselves creatively.
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