Solar Bears: Through the Lens | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, December 5th, 2019  

Solar Bears

Through the Lens

Jul 01, 2013 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share

"Stasis," the opening track of Solar Bears' sophomore album Supermigration, begins with a wobbly piano, which gives way to an electronic pulse, building toward an implied liftoff. It's a dramatic, wide-sweeping opening, worthy of the adjective that gets thrown around to describe any album with an iota of ambition: cinematic. Given the content of the album's other remaining 11 tracks, which features moments of synth disco, ambient passages, and ethereal vocal contributions from Keep Shelly in Athens' Sarah P and Beth Hirsch (who has also sung for likeminded electro duo Air), it's no wonder that the Irish producers are film buffs.

We recently spoke via email to Solar Bears' John Kowalski. He told us why he and bandmate Rian Trench work so well together, the surprising history of the vocoder, and the upside of nostalgia.

Supermigration is out now via Planet Mu.

Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): Is making music an escape from reality, or an extension of it?

John Kowalski: It has done us a lot of good, especially in the past year given our experiences outside of the band. Where we write and record is a break from city lifeit gives us the chance to re-evaluate and immerse in something ethereal, something non-physical.

Rough estimate: how many instruments went into recording Supermigration?

Off the top of my head I would guess 15 to 20, but then I would class the tape machine as an instrument in itself. We also employed a record player in the final track on the album, "Rainbow Collision," for sound effects.

Does having more gear in the studio help encourage creativity? Or do you need limited options to come up with creative solutions?

It can open doors and avenues, certainlythe flip side of which is being forced to be innovative when you only have few pieces of gear at hand. I respect bands that have a streamlined sound palette.

Was it a conscious decision to only include contributions from female vocalists on the album? Any male singers you'd be interested in working with next time?

That's literally how it panned out. It was a conscious decision to pepper the LP with female choirs as we were enamored with horror scores of the '70s at the time.

When you get stuck, how do you help yourself to think outside of the box?

Luckily we aren't expected to repeat anything we have produced in the past. Most people that know us realize we suit ourselves. If an idea isn't working, we try something completely at odds with the original premise. Neither of us are precious about our contributions. We simply try to get the best out of each other.

Why does the vocoder get such a bad rap in modern music?

I didn't realize it had a bad reputation, to be honest. There's a difference between a vocoder, a talk box, Auto-Tune, and a VariPhrase sampler, which "robotizes" a recording. Vocoders can be used on things other than vocals. If you listen to Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder then you will know their potentialsame goes for DāM-FunK, who is a contemporary artist.

Nostalgia: crucial musical ingredient or flirting with danger?

It's only crucial if you are making the listener feel something. That doesn't require an element that dictates a person to look back. Using vintage equipment isn't some tactic to revisit an era, nor is melodic taste/tendencies.

Do you think your sound would have been altered if you had chosen to stay in school longer?

Probably, considering most schools/institutions try and replicate the same person over and over again. It bothers me how much sameness is celebrated in the arts.

As film fans, what should movie(s) should we see that we might have missed?

Persona, Hidden, La Jetée, Gandahar, Don't Look Now, Dead Man's Shoes, The Red Balloon, Enter The Void, Russian Ark, and Stalker.

And if dreams come true (why not, right?), what director would we most likely see you collaborate with?

Shane Meadows or Darren Aronofsky.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.