For once, Synthspiria relaunches its interview machine which had been at a standstill for quite some time now. And to get back to work, we attack hard with one of the pioneers of the movement and the genre, Carpenter Brut!
Carpenter Brut, an artist who is no longer really necessary to present for all the fans of the Synthwave scene, his influence and his music having contributed to the expansion and success of the genre so much, especially on the Darksynth side.
After the Trilogy compilation in 2015 gathering its first three EPs (soberly entitled EP I, EP II and EP III), a first album Leather Teeth released in 2018 mixing Electro, Hard Rock 80′ and Glam Metal, as well as a first soundtrack for the medium-length film Blood Machines, Carpenter Brut is about to make a comeback next year with a new album, Leather Terror… the opportunity to know a bit more during an interview!
A sound engineer by trade coming from the Metal scene and gathering a large audience, from the electronic to the Heavy Metal scene, Carpenter Brut kindly gave us some time to answer our questions where he reveals his vision of music, his relationship to the scene, his collaboration with Seth Ickerman on Turbo Killer and Blood Machines, his live shows and concerts, and finally the future of Carpenter Brut!
Hi CB! Let’s start at the heart of the matter, since the beginning, Carpenter Brut never dares to show himself too much, nor reveal his private life, outside the spotlight. You distribute your music independently through your label No Quarter Prod. A desire to escape the ‘star-system’? A way to put your music before the man behind it I guess?
Having my own label allows me to be completely free, to do what I want, and especially when I want. When I started and the question of finding a label came up, I didn’t want to waste my time sending out demos that nobody would listen to anyway. So I’m independent artistically and financially, but for distribution I work with Caroline/ Universal, because putting records in stores is the only thing an independent can’t do as easily as the rest. If I want people to be able to easily find the records, I have to go through this kind of structures. They’re cool and they work very well so it’s perfect for me.
After that, and with the success you’re now experiencing, you reveal yourself a little more to the public while preserving yourself? How do you feel about it?
Let’s just say that by force of circumstance, I was forced to show up on stage. But that’s something I didn’t want to do at the beginning of the project. And it’s still not something I like the most. I’ve had some exceptional moments, but I’d rather stay at home and tinker around in my studio than be on a bus travelling thousands of miles. But a lot of people are happy to come and get high at concerts so I try to take it upon myself and make sure they leave satisfied. So inevitably, I had to reveal myself a bit more, but overall I try to stay hidden as much as possible, and to be discreet. I like to be quiet.
[…] I was interested in going down that road, mixing Metal while keeping the neon and Californian side of Synthwave. It seemed like a good idea. It still does.
In a documentary for TCM Cinéma about John Carpenter, I remember that you presented your music in a rather simple way: a mix of Justice and music from films and series from the 80s, John Carpenter in the stern. Since then, your new releases and your evolution, how would you characterize your music now ? Especially since Leather Teeth which is a little bit different from what you did before.
I will always find it difficult to describe what I do, it’s more the work of journalists or listeners. If you say “Synthwave” to me it’s fine with me. It’s always a bit complicated to give a style to a music which is often made of many influences. In any case, the basic idea was to mix Carpenter and Justice. But that was eight years ago, and obviously music evolves, me too, people, society etc. Leather Teeth was one more musical step, I got a taste for glam rock of the 80s. Kind of shameful during all the 90’s and 2000 when Nirvana exploded with grunge. Depression replaced partying and fucking. It’s like that, haha. But I was interested in going down that road, mixing “metal” while keeping the neon and Californian side of the Synthwave. It seemed like a good idea. It still does to me.
When you’re composing, at what point do you judge that it’s good, you can go in this direction or that direction? Is it a matter of feeling at time T? Or are you precisely looking for something when you’re composing?
There are several stages when I start an album. I compose anything and everything. For the next one, I had to compose thirty or forty snippets of songs. And then I let it smoulder for a while. When I listen to it again in retrospect I can see which songs deserve to be lingered on. Very often it’s rubbish, haha! After that, I look for a common point in all this, I write a story, I work on the sounds and I finish the song. So I judge a song to be good when I work on it a lot, and I judge it to be finished when I feel that I’ve gone through all the possibilities and it can’t be better than what I’ve done. But knowing that it’s crap and you never get the level you want, haha. It’s tiring for the head, always doubting, questioning etc. But when you listen to the finished song two years later, you think “ok, what was on my mind when I did this one”. That’s also the beauty of it, not recognizing yourself in your own music.
What makes a piece of Carpenter Brut finished and successful?
That never happens, it’s the listeners who finish it, who give it an identity and who find it good or bad, you know what I mean. It’s the audience that makes a hit or a flop. My favourite CB tracks are the ones that get the least amount of attention.
According to you, how do you explain the fact that your music brings together two completely different audiences, the metal and the electronic scene? And, while you make electronic music, it’s the metal scene that is most often present. For example, I did the Nordik Impakt festival in 2016, a very techno oriented festival where you were programmed, but the audience was not very receptive… At least that’s what I felt during the concert despite being spaced out.
I’m not sure I’m very well known in the electro scene, or even appreciated. But that’s not a problem, it’s just the way it is. Overall yes, there are a lot of metalheads, and gamers at the shows, but pure electro fans, I don’t think so. People are attracted by the novelty and surely at the time, in the metal scene, it was stagnating a bit and what I was doing brought a bit of freshness. But again, my goal was not to do v3.0 metal but electro. Electro made by a metalhead, maybe that’s what was appreciated, I don’t know.
Since Leather Teeth, which has very metal-oriented influences, at least much more marked, and especially glam metal, do you have other tracks to consider for your next projects ? Or are you going to continue the Leather Teeth project ?
No, the next one will be less glamorous and a bit darker, without going back to the sound of the beginnings, I can’t do that, probably because I don’t want to do the same thing again. It’s all in the past, you have to evolve. But on the whole, even if I’m experimenting with things for the next one you’ll find the only four chords I know haha! Maybe my work on Blood Machines will impregnate the next album a little bit with ambiences oriented to film music. We’ll see. It’s not for now anyway. It has time to change a thousand times.
The Rise of the Synths documentary has been released and you make an appearance to give your feelings on this movement that was destined to run out of steam and yet still continues. It’s been a few years already, but what do you think of the Synthwave movement today, in 2020, in retrospect now? Do you see it as a genre that has run out of steam, that is in the process of running out of steam, or do you see an evolution with other musical genres to arrive at a form of electronic music, somewhat hybrid, being caught in the middle with “retro” influences, with the characteristic use of synthesizers, etc?
I don’t know who said that the movement was bound to run out of steam, but I don’t think it is. I think it will have the longevity and quality that we would like to give it. When you see the graphic and musical orientation of The Weeknd for example, it even seems to be a mainstream trend. It’s this trend that will run out of steam. Guys will find themselves plundering new genres like they always have. But you will always have that core group of fans and musicians who will always make that music. I think the scene will evolve, just like any other. Some artists will come and kick to break the codes, and others will want to follow them to the letter. I don’t care, as long as everyone gets something out of it.
For a lot of people the movement was a fad of the 2010’s, like a nostalgic reaction, something born on the internet and which was therefore doomed to disappear. Some artists from the early days of the movement have moved on to something else, hence my question. But we’re still here to talk about the genre with Synthspiria, although the evolution is there. On this subject, for you, Synthwave was better before?
No, not necessarily. That said, I don’t listen to it a lot. And I have the impression that, overall, we’re still in the same musical frenzy as we were five or ten years ago, aren’t we?
The madness is still there, it’s true! Besides, are you aware of having influenced a good part of the scene with Perturbator in particular, in what we classify as the Dark part of the Synthwave: the Darksynth? Do you consider yourself as a pioneer of this kind ?
I am told this sometimes, but since I don’t keep up with what comes out I don’t feel that much. And even if I did, that’s not going to help me compose the next album, haha! But as they often say, if it makes young people want to make music, then it’s perfect.
I’m thinking of making a cool box set at the end of the “Leather Trilogy”, so it’s not impossible that there will be a Blu-Ray or a live to close the three albums, like for the first trilogy for example.
Let’s talk about your lives. I saw you for the very first time at the Terra Incognita festival in 2015, in a small farm… Five years ago! How do you live the evolution of Carpenter Brut since then? From a small stage, to several thousands of people, to big festivals and bigger venues… Complicated to apprehend or did it just happen by itself ? Has your relationship with the public evolved, between the first aficionados and now for example?
From my point of view it hasn’t been easy at all. Like I said, I’m not cut out for the stage, it’s really not my element. On stage you have to “look” more than “be”. It’s a show, so there’s a balance to be found between having stature and being natural. I don’t think I’ve reached the stage where I’m comfortable yet. I still feel like I’m not in place, I don’t know what to do etc… I’m not expansive in life, and it’s on stage that you have to be the most expansive. I had been reproached once, saying that I felt like I was being pissed off, when it was more that I didn’t know how to behave. And it’s already difficult in front of three hundred people, so in front of three thousand it’s even worse. You don’t want to disappoint, so you put extra pressure on yourself. Add to that the technique that involves a big show with not a lot of means, hoping that the computer doesn’t crash, that the synths don’t go to shit and so on… It’s a lot of pressure I think.
After CARPENTERBRUTLIVE in 2017, are there other projects of this same style? Another live album planned? A project of the same kind of ARTE Concert’s Release Party?
Not at the moment. I’m thinking of making a cool box set at the end of the “Leather Trilogy”, so it’s not impossible that there will be a Blu-Ray or a live to close the three albums, like for the first trilogy for example.
About ARTE Concert’s Release Party for the release of Leather Teeth, can you tell us more about it? How did it happen and how did the idea come up? What was the genesis of the project? The collaboration with ARTE Concert?
It’s a proposal from them. I was a bit reluctant at first because there were no means, but frankly they did a great job, it looks great, the story is cool, the people who came to have fun really did the job, and it was seen nearly six hundred thousand times so it’s really super correct. I don’t know if I’ll do something like that again, but I have good memories of it.
All that middle school spirit, cheerleaders, high school athletic chads, et cetera, et cetera. All that comes out of the horror American teen movie of the 80s is a culture that I’m sure speaks to you a lot. What makes you vibrate in all this, beyond the very present nostalgia? Is there a particular experience or film that has left its mark on you and acts as a manifesto of this whole culture?
The real nostalgia I get more from watching Goonies, I identified quite a bit with Data at the time. I love guys who tinker with stuff. That was my favourite part in the episodes of The A-Team, haha. I was also a big fan of horror movies. You can’t miss all those clichés, the cheerleader, the students lost in the forest or drunk at a party who will end up beheaded, etc… I grew up with that, it’s still a fun thing. It’s completely useless, but I loved special effects. I was trying to redo them by tinkering with fake blood etc… I’ve got a couple of movies that really blew my mind like Bad Taste, Street Thrash or the first Friday the 13th. I love those movies.
With COVID and containment, a particular desire to return to the stage? In a particular form? Is this a period you’ve been through?
No. I haven’t even thought about doing live streaming, that kind of thing. I really enjoyed that period, though. No choice but to work. And then nobody on the road, it’s priceless haha! And even if this phase is a bit scary, I’m sure that many musicians will tell you the same thing, haha.
Moreover, live, you are accompanied by your sidekicks Adrien Grousset and Florent Marcadet from the progressive Death Metal band HACRIDE. Do you plan to modify your live set-up on a possible next tour ? A new scenography, or a desire to do it maybe?
I think we’ll be able to stay at three for the concerts, so far the formula is working well and I’m not convinced that another musician will be needed, unless I wanted to lighten the arrangement tracks so that they can be played live. But would it be a good experience? I’m not sure. For the scenography I’m thinking of stopping the LED wall and the film passages. It’s really a white elephant to install, even if it looks great. But I always thought it was too small. I would have preferred something huge that takes up the whole scene, but I’m not yet able to get everything I want, so I have to trick it or find other alternatives. And then I don’t fill the stadiums and the expenses have to be at least equal to the income, and a LED wall is expensive.
And despite the situation, what’s next on the agenda?
There’s nothing planned.
I basically believe that film music is a thing for me. I think I’ll end up a bit like Reznor or Junkie XL. It’s really something I like to do.
Let’s talk about another big project, Blood Machines by the duo Seth Ickerman, which has toured festivals and is starting to be distributed to the general public in SVOD. In 2016, you were already collaborating with this duo of reals on the video clip of the hit song Turbo Killer. Could you tell us more about this meeting? How did it happen? Were you fully involved in the video, or did you give carte blanche to Seth Ickerman?
The Etrange Festival in Tours had contacted me to use my music, telling me that the teaser would be directed by Seth Ickerman. When I searched and saw the teaser, I got slapped in the face. I contacted them for a music video. I didn’t have a lot of money unfortunately, but they gave everything they had and I can’t thank them enough for that. I hope one day they’ll be offered a super bad ass project. They deserve it.
Later, Blood Machines, a medium-length film used as a prequel to Turbo Killer where you do the original soundtrack, came along. How did you compose the music for the film? Beforehand? On a few notes of intention or atmosphere supporting the scenario? Or with images from the film?
The theme was a song I had composed for Leather Teeth but I couldn’t find a place for it on the album. So I dropped it. And then when I started working on the soundtrack I thought it would fit the overall mood and it went like this. I obviously reworked it a lot but I started from the arpeggiator line at the beginning. I composed everything else between September 2018 and August 2019 from memory. I was on tour at the same time, so it was a real mess. Besides the film being full of VFX, I was only working with live images without effects or with deluxe 3D animated storyboard. So it wasn’t really easy to project. I discovered the finished film roughly when the festival screenings started.
I guess it was almost blind, huh? On that subject, your music is inspired by 80’s film music, how does it feel to make music for a film?
I basically believe that film music is a thing for me. I think I’ll end up a bit like Reznor or Junkie XL. It’s really something I like to do. Even if it was hard for me with the Seth’s because we’re skulls with a strong character who don’t give up anything haha, it’s still a rewarding experience, and I learned a lot working on this movie.
Carpenter Brut at the B.O. in the ’70s and ’80s, how would that look?
Haha I don’t know, I’d probably try to do bad Mozart with a DX7?
With Turbo Killer and now Blood Machines, a whole universe links Carpenter Brut to Seth Ickerman, are there other projects in this universe you’d like to do?
No, I think that we worked well on the concept and everyone has done their part. Maybe we’ll work together again, with pleasure, on something different, maybe a clip that won’t last fifty minutes this time haha, or on their film if they feel like it. It’s all open. And even if Turbo Killer is my most famous song, I’ve still started a new trilogy even if nobody cares haha! So we have to move on.
Your music is sometimes included in other mediums such as the games Furi, Hacknet, The Crew, Hotline Miami 2; the movies The Editor and Night Fare… A trailer for season 5 of Samurai Jack, and sometimes even some quite unexpected formats, like an AdopteUnMec commercial. Are you selective on the different projects that call upon you and your music? Have you ever received requests that you have refused for rather particular, or even crazy reasons?
When we receive proposals, we see if they respect my rules, so obviously everything that can be racist, misogynistic, etc., it bogs off. But I’ve never had a request in that sense, and when white supremacists used one of my tracks for their shitty video, it was obviously done without my consent, you can imagine. So apart from that very bad experience, usually it’s film students who contact me for their graduation film, and I often say “OK” to them because I don’t mind, and I think it’s cool. But otherwise from memory I don’t.
I’m thinking of continuing Carpenter Brut for as long as I feel like it and I’ll probably sign the soundtracks of movies with that name if I make more.
Concerning the continuation of Carpenter Brut, what are your next projects?
Leather Terror, which I hope will be out by the end of 2021. I’m quite late, because I don’t have the big musical guideline yet. I’m still in research. I’ve got a few songs but when I play them they say “it doesn’t sound like fucking Carpenter Brut” haha! There will be more disappointed people, sorry.
You and Carpenter Brut are in it for life? Or any side-project ideas?
Yes and no. I’m thinking of continuing Carpenter Brut for as long as I feel like it and I’ll probably sign the soundtracks of movies with that name if I make more. So it can go on for a long time, yes. Shows, no I don’t think I’ll be touring much longer. But I’ll do some more dates, don’t worry. And I have one or two side projects that may come out next year, but it will depend on other members’ agendas, but it can be fun to do. But it’s neither my priority nor theirs at the moment. It may only lead to an EP or two tracks. We’ll see what happens. Let’s just let it live, hehe.
A particular desire to collaborate with a person or a group on a next track?
Not especially. I’ve already done some feats for the next album with people I wanted to work with, plus the feats on the previous album. I’m pretty happy with that. You know you never know what the future holds, so I’d rather not say too much for fear of being disappointed.
I’m sure it is. Finally, to finish on a small personal musical question as we are used to at Synthspiria… what’s your song of the moment?
Duchess by Genesis!
Thanks a lot CB!
Albums, additionnal infos and merch available on No Quarter Prod.