Unsigned Act – Blue Swan (and Subculture)

With this blog and the radio shows that came before it, I have always tried to keep some space available for unsigned artists, but honestly giving them the chance to be written about or to appear on an actual radio station yields surprisingly poor results. In the end, I only ever covered two unsigned acts on my old radio show Music for the Masses (2004-2005), one of whom was Blue Swan.

I must have contacted them via email, and wrote the following…

The duo consists of Henrik Jürgensen, 31, the vocalist and a soon-to-be qualified accountant, and Kasper Lauest, 30, who is the producer and also a psychologist (in the band?) They have been producing music since late 1999, when they met on the first Pet Shop Boys internet forum at Dotmusic, discovering by chance that they had gone to the same high school, one class apart, so they decided to meet up.

They listened to each other’s music, and both liked what they heard. When they heard about the Pet Shop Boys fan tribute project Attribute, they decided to record a cover of A New Life. They liked the result, so continued working together. They continue the story:

Last August, we released our first “virtual” album Sinister But Fragile. The track Black Widow was supposed to have been recorded by a famous Danish artist for her international debut album, but the deal fell through.

They are situated around Copenhagen, Denmark. All of their songs are recorded in their home studio in Kasper’s house. They write their songs together, sometimes in collaboration with Kasper’s younger brother Jakob.

The track Black Widow was done as an instrumental entitled Brutal, written by Kasper and his brother. When Henrik heard it, he absolutely loved it and wrote the lyrics and melody line on top of it. All synth sounds on Black Widow were made using an Access Virus C, while the beat was programmed using Reason 2.5.

Their virtual album Sinister But Fragile can be heard and downloaded in its entirety for free at (a website which no longer exists).

Their favourite band is the Pet Shop Boys, and Kasper’s favourite TV show is 24.

If you’re wondering, the other unsigned act we featured on the show was Subculture, but my only notes for them read as follows:

  • “Trash pop”
  • New Order
  • The Human League
  • David Bowie
  • OMD
  • Suede
  • Ladytron

Ross (vocals), Mace (synth), Matt (guitar), and Julia (bass).

You can read our most recent feature on Blue Swan here. If you’re unsigned and want some coverage, please get in touch using the form on the “Are You Unsigned” page.

Where are they now?

We’ve covered eight unsigned acts to date, and since I’ve heard more good things from a couple of them recently, let’s take a quick look at what they’ve been up to!

The first act we covered last year was Jonteknik, who has just released another album The Satellites of Substance. It sounds a bit like Kraftwerk, and is really, really good. Check it out on his official website.

Movement Ten have just done another album too, entitled Build Them and They Will Come. A couple of tracks on Movement Ten were very good indeed, as I said when we listened to them together previously. More information at their website.

And finally – for now – Devin Tait is still touring in the Los Angeles region – read what we learnt about him before here, and visit his website there.

Do you want to be covered on this blog? Take a look at the guidelines in the Are you unsigned? section.

Introducing Rance Garrison

A bit of a change of genre for this week’s unsigned act. Rance Garrison has been writing and recording songs for “almost as long as he has been able to talk.” His debut album Black Crow came out last year, and he’s currently working on his second. Here’s a picture of Black Crow:

Cover Photo Edit 2

Rance “hails,” rather dramatically, from the Appalachian foothills of southwest Virginia. As usual, I asked him to pick just three tracks as a little demo to share. First up is It Still Moves:

“The night is silent like a tomb,” he tells us. I think it’s the haunting piano sound that makes this track rather beautiful. Bonus points for the rather flamboyant ending – I think this is probably my favourite of the three.

Next up is The Last Question:

I’d struggle slightly to categorise this one – it seems darker and altogether more apocalyptic than the previous track, and yet there’s also something decidedly chirpy about it.

Finally from this set, we have Seven Trumpets:

This is the most gentle of the trio, driven mainly by a piano and softer sounds. Things all go a bit discordant towards the end, reminding me – perhaps unintentionally – of Scottish bagpipe music! See what you think…

Rance points out, incidentally, that these tracks are best heard in the context of the album Black Crow, which you can find on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, CDBaby, and also on Bandcamp with bonus tracks and a booklet.

What’s your source of inspiration?

These particular songs (and the album as a whole, really) were written in the wake of several deaths that occurred in my family from 2008 to 2009. It was a sort of dark stretch, but death wasn’t ever far from my mind, and by extension, you could say that my personal spiritual beliefs about God and my understanding of faith and the meaning of life were never far from my mind, either, though I prefer not to think of these songs as an endorsement of any particular religion or of myself as an explicitly “religious artist.” In any case, the themes I was dealing with in my songwriting were at that time, and continue to be, pretty heavy stuff, I suppose.

As far as musical inspiration, I’m inspired by a bit of everything. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits have been big influences on my lyrics. Musically, I’ve been influenced by Pink Floyd, Waits, Dylan, Neil Young, The Twilight Singers, Bon Iver, and a host of other bands from the 1960s up to modern times. I’ve recently gotten pretty into Phosphorescent, but discovered that band after these tracks were written and recorded.

A lot of Radiohead‘s work also really resonates with me, especially from the Kid A and Amnesiac era of 1999 to around 2001. Basically, if it’s memorable and unique, and not afraid to go out on a limb and be a little experimental, I’m gonna dig it.

How long does it normally take to record a track?

I work out of a home studio since I live in a rural area that’s not exactly known as a center of musical creativity and since, at this point anyway, I couldn’t afford professional studio time even if that weren’t the case. On average, I would say that I can record a single track over a period of two to three days, sometimes less than that, and sometimes taking as long as a week or even a month to put the finishing touches on. If I recall correctly, It Still Moves was the last song I recorded for Black Crow, and it was done over a weekend. The Last Question was the first song that was finished, I think, and was recorded here and there over the course of about two weeks. Seven Trumpets was recorded over the course of about a week, I think.

It’s hard to say exactly how much time went into each track just because I’m also a full-time college student and have to do a sort of catch-as-catch-can style. All of the songs were recorded in the late night/early morning hours between work, school, spending time with my fiance, and other responsibilities.

If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

On a deeply personal level, I would love to go back and stop the car crash that claimed the life of my little cousin, Stephanie, in 2008. I’m an only child, and she was the closest thing I ever had to a sister, rest her soul. Her death, and the deaths of her father and my great-grandmother that occurred later in 2009 that turned my life upside down (I was living in Nashville at the time and moved back home to rural southwest Virginia to care for family) inspired all of this music, but I’d trade that to have her in my life again.

Also I wish I would have taken greater advantage of the music scene in Nashville while I was there, but again, if that stuff hadn’t happened, these songs wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be where I am now, about to finish my bachelor’s degree at the ripe old age of twenty-seven and engaged to a wonderful woman who is my best friend. I met her when I came back home, and I wouldn’t change that, either. Life is funny. The things you wish you could change lead you to where you are, and even if you are happy with the way things are, every man and woman has their regrets. Such is the way of life, I suppose.

Visit Rance Garrison‘s Bandcamp page for more information and to hear more.

Introducing Devin Tait

This week’s unsigned artist may be one of the most patient I’ve ever come across, as I’ve kept him waiting for several months since he first contacted me, but nonetheless he was good enough to take part. His name is Devin Tait, and here he is:

pianohowlSMObviously he didn’t grow up with the story about the old lady who swallowed a fly. Even so, he’s currently recording his second solo release Art Damage in Los Angeles, with his band The Traitors, who are Liana Hernandez (vocals), Brandon Strecker (bass and guitar), and Myles Matisse (drums). The next single You Leave Me will be on its way soon, as will a couple of tributes to someone called The Dream Academy (no, I’ve never heard of them either!)

On his debut album, Devin says he was learning as he went along, largely on his own. This time around, he’s been paying more attention to songwriting, working his way through all the elements. He has, he says, “more colours in [his] crayon box this time.”

Devin was kind enough to pick three tracks for us to hear today, firstly the wonderfully titled Tape:

Tape has a really great bouncy feel to it, and it’s probably my favourite of the three tracks – it particularly sounds like something that would go down well live.

Next up is Digital Representation:

As with the first track, this is taken from the debut album It’s Never the Way You Imagine It, available from Bandcamp via the links in the player. This one is a little more knowingly retro than Tape, with some fun nods to their influences (we’ll learn more about them in just a second).

The third and final track for now is To Be Young & On Downers:

What you’re seeing here is a live performance of a track which will appear on the forthcoming album. Devin tells me that he and his band perform regularly in the Los Angeles area, and this really gives you a feel for how they sound and just how much energy there is on stage when they perform.

Of course, I’m not exactly professional, so as usual I asked Devin a selection of daft and random questions, and here are some highlights from the answers he sent me:

What’s your source of inspiration?

Life inspires me in many different ways, but I also draw inspiration from the Holy Trinity (Phil, Susan and Joanne) and many other friends, family, and musicians (especially people who fit into all three categories). I still daydream like I’ve always done, although these days it’s a lot less about the Thompson Twins coming to save me.

How did you pick the name you record under?

When I started I just went by my first and last name. I went by that in the first few bands I was in. Then, when my brother ended up joining my band in Los Angeles (Shitting Glitter), for some reason I thought it would be better if we switched to using our middle names for our last names, a trick I stole from Melissa and Tracey from Voice of the Beehive. That way people wouldn’t necessarily know that we were brothers, and a lot of them didn’t. They also didn’t know he was dating our lesbian lead singer, and we liked people not really knowing everything.

When I left that band and decided to start doing my own music, I knew I’d want a band for live shows, but I also knew I would want some flexibility. I’ve already basically had two different incarnations of my band, The Traitors (I picked that name not only because it sounded good with “Tait” but because of the opening song on the Sugarcubes‘ debut album) and I envision their could be more. The Traitors might be a dance troupe at some point, or at least include one. This way I can keep it a solo project but with some great help from some of my friends.

If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

It would undoubtedly be to go back in time and make myself practice for my piano lessons. I was so lazy about it and so unfocused and I just would never rehearse, or if anything do the bare minimum. I thought it was horribly uncool to learn about the key signatures and the scales and the chords and notation. I thought music should come from the heart, man! It was pretty late in the game when I really realized how much easier music would be able to flow from the heart had I the technical proficiency to back up my imagination!

I’m a pretty awkward pianist. I’ve had church-induced trauma of playing hymns and never knowing what the next chord I played was going to sound like because I knew I wasn’t playing what was on the paper. I do enjoy trying to learn everything now, but now I also get to learn the technology and keep up. Along those lines, if I could change one more thing, I would have learned a foreign language.

A massive thanks to Devin Tait for everything! In case you missed the reference, Phil, Susan and Joanne are The Human League!

Devin Tait‘s official website, including videos and information about forthcoming gigs, is here.

Introducing mindXpander

Kicking off our second batch of unsigned acts is mindXpander, who I first came across an extremely long time ago… They are Patrik Rydberg and David Lijia, who met in a boys’ choir almost 25 years ago. Here’s a picture of their current album Triumphant Return, released last year:

mindXpander-TriumphantReturn_300px

For my part, I originally came across them about fifteen years ago, back in the days of the original mp3.com, and I thought they might be well placed to kick off this series of unsigned acts. They’re a pair of computer and music nerds who love sound design and modular synthesisers, and also seem to be very good friends too. The three tracks they selected are all from Triumphant Return. First is Hoshi No Koe:

My first thought was Vince Clarke when I heard the squelching backing and rhythm on here, but it quickly builds into a sort of Euro-Pet Shop Boys. As far as I can make out, the title translates as Voices of a Star, and seems to be taken from a Japanese anime film.

Northern Lights is the second track they picked, and it’s tagged with things like “laserdance”, “koto” and “Italo disco”. I’m not sure I can really add anything to that, apart from that it’s excellent and the title is very apt.

Finally we have Ad Astra, a trance-flavoured track with a few echoes of the tracks that used to be on mp3.com. It’s been a few years since I was last in the kind of club that plays this sort of thing, but I can see it going down a storm!

As always, I sent a few daft questions to them so that we could understand them a little better, and as is often the case, they answered them extremely well. Normally I edit these, but these are just too good – here are their responses in full…

What’s your source of inspiration?

David: A lot of different things. Can be everything from an artist, a certain sound or a demo of an instrument. I like to dive through presets on my favourite synths. I later change everything to patches we’ve programmed ourselves to get that certain mindXpander sound.

Patrik: Can be a lot of different things. I tend to be influenced by the music I’m listening to. I mostly listen to music in other genres than the ones I’m active in, and even though it’s hopefully not very obvious (I think so at least. Don’t think most listeners will hear metal influences in mindXpander tracks for instance…), I can often listen to music I’ve been involved in making, and hear what other music I was listening too at that time. Also, sounds and messing around with synth, my modular, and studio tech. It’s like a form of meditation to me, or a drug if you will, so even if I’m not inspired to make proper music, I often just play around in the studio, testing out sounds, techniques and ideas, and sometimes those sounds spark inspiration and evolves into proper songs.

At what point during a typical day would I listen to your music?

David: I’m listening to Triumphant Return while commuting to the office and back. It’s a great way to shield yourself from all the noisy commuters on the underground. But I guess it can be enjoyed during a nice car drive along the country side as well. Or with your friends. But preferably when we perform live – which has happened three times since 1998. Yeah, we’re swamped.

Patrik: Well, I don’t think our music is intended for any specific time of day. I’d say anytime you need a bit of added energy in your life. That said, the music is mostly created (and pretty much without exception finished) late at night, so to get that most authentic first listen feel, I’d say 3.30 am.

How did you pick the name you record under?

David: Patrik made it up back in the days and I simply just loved it. I had a couple of other suggestions which we tossed around but he nailed it with this one. He’s in fact really good at making up artist, album and track names.

Patrik: Ah yes! The next album will be named It came from the giant space toad’s left nostril, or possibly the right. Has a nice catchy upliftedness to it.

David: See? We have a winner. Let’s put some donk on it!

What ringtone do you have on your phone?

David: That was actually a happy accident when I was patching my Eurorack modular. I think it sounds like a futuristic phone. My phone’s on silent mode 99% of the time so I never get to hear it though.

Patrik: A small arpeggiated sequence I once created on a DSI Evolver, complemented by distorted drums.

What’s your definition of a bombastic groove style?

David: Cinematic drums are my first feeling. Like the drums in any of the Juno Reactor tracks written for the Matrix movies.

Patrik: A Booooombastic grove is, like, in cinematic music when you have gigantic drums drenched in huuuuuge amounts of reverb, so you have these BomBomBoorrrooomBoBOOOOOOOOM <rattle, shake, sub-bass ending>. An Ooompastic grove on the other hand relies on a combination of brass instruments, predominantly tubas, creating the classic and much loved OmpahBompahOmpahBompahOmpahBompahPomPomPomPom. Bombastic? I don’t know…

David: Yeah, like the track Selecta by Infected Mushroom. Oompah oompah! We should have more of that in our mindXpander tracks!

You can find out more about mindXpander via their official website here.

Are you (still) unsigned?

I’m just getting together another series of unsigned posts to run soon. Are you interested in appearing?

If so, all the guidelines and details are here.

If you know someone else who is, or fancy spreading the word, I’d be grateful for your help! The worst that can happen is that I have to run another series again in the near future.

Please also take a moment to browse through the previous entries here.

Introducing Movement Ten

We’ve sadly reached the last of our first batch of unsigned artists. The last of our artists for now is Movement Ten. A duo consisting of Shadowless Man and Sweet Chap (or, if you prefer, Tristan and Mike), they’re a matter of weeks into having released their debut eponymous album. Completely self-recorded, self-engineered and self-produced, it also comes with this rather wonderful sleeve artwork:

They describe their music as blending different cityscapes – Düsseldorf, London, Brighton, and Detroit – and they quote influences as varied as Conny PlankSebastiAnJustice and Roni Size. As usual I asked them to pick a mini-demo of three tracks to share with you lot, and all three are from the album Movement Ten. First up is Gravity:

This was the first single, and with its slightly rock-tinged electronic sound I’m somewhat reminded of Dirty Vegas or Alpinestars, both of whom are favourites of mine.

Their second choice was Monochrome:

This gentle piece of almost-drum-and-bass is also unusual with its acoustic lead line. It stands alone slightly on the album, but as a taster for the kind of variety these guys can achieve it’s great.

Their final choice was BWK:

With one of the biggest kick drums on the planet and excellent vocals, it’s got a bit of a disco vibe going on, and is really rather good.

Movement Ten were actually kind enough to send their whole album over, and so I can assure you that the trend of great vocals and lively backing continues. I can also heartily recommend Machine Girl and One Hundred Percent as well as the samples above.

As always I compiled some daft and entirely unprofessional questions for them to tackle:

What’s your favourite synth, and why?

Something big, looming and modular by Buchla or Moog. I like synths that have a life of their own, that fight back and won’t be controlled. As well as that, if they don’t fill up most of the room, then what’s the point?

Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to use either of the two I mentioned, so something a bit more compact, the TB-303, is probably my favourite that I have “played”. Such an iconic sound, and it always has to be centre of attention. You normally end up tuning all the other instruments to it, rather than vice-versa! Not many synths can claim to be responsible for a whole genre of music.

Also, it’s not a synth as such, but Hypercyclic by Mucoder definitely has a life of its own. You feed it MIDI and it takes over; it fires back sounds that you wouldn’t be expecting.

If I forced you to do an exclusive cover version, what would it be?

We are looking to work a cover into our live set at the moment actually. The track I am considering is Icon by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I am not sure if we will be able to do it justice, but it will be interesting to see what happens. I think you learn a lot about yourself by covering other people’s work. I have worked on sample recreation projects in the past as well, where you have to accurately copy the sound of a recording. Again this is a fantastic way to learn. If you can deconstruct and reassemble what has been done before, it can only make you better at what you do.

Rearrange the following into the correct order: The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Mozart, Kraftwerk.

They all have their place of course, and every musical project requires tenacity and toil to be completed. This is the case whether the main objective is record sales or sonic experimentation.

My collection only really covers the age of recorded music, so I am not very familiar with classical music, even someone as influential as Mozart. It is interesting how there is no definitive recorded version of Mozart’s works, it makes you think about how recording anchors a piece of music to a particular point in time. You can go and buy Sgt. Peppers, Autobahn or Believe (that’s a Justin Bieber album, I had to Google it!), and the recording will be the same, you can’t do that with Mozart. There would be hundreds of versions of his works by different orchestras, producers and labels. I wouldn’t know where to start.

There is an element of this too with recorded music, with re-mastering and different formats. Which is the definitive version of Autobahn now? The vinyl, the CD, or the re-mastered version that is part of The Catalogue? The re-masters were done by Ralf Hütter, so they are still a proper Kraftwerk product along with the other versions.

Kraftwerk and Beatles are where my interest would lie on this list though, but maybe Justin Bieber just needs the right producer?

Of course, the definitive versions of Kraftwerk‘s albums are the ones that are part of Der Katalog, but we’ll discuss this another time. And definitely some food for thought at the end there!

But that’s it for now – we’ll pick this up again in the New Year. Thanks to everyone who took part, and my apologies to those who didn’t quite make the grade. Thanks again to Movement Ten for getting in touch and for sending such great responses over. You can visit their official website here.