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Create interview from ElectroAmbient Space

August/September 2005

By Phil Derby


Usually I try to write a pithy little intro about my interview subject. Apologies to Steve, but other than heís 32, hails from the UK, and loves curry, I havenít learned enough to give him a proper intro Ė so letís just move it along and learn together, shall we? And many thanks, Steve, for taking the time to chat via email the past few weeks.


I seem to recall that you got a very late start making music, that it all happened very fast - is that true?

Very true indeed. Iíve enjoyed electronic music for a long time. Iíve been to many gigs in the UK seeing the likes of Airsculpture, RMI, and Andy Pickford, and had always wanted to try to record something myself. The reason why I never tried was because I had no musical background, and I felt way out of my depth buying synths, mixers and effects units when Iíd never laid a finger on a keyboard before.


Then around September 2002 I bought a music magazine with a demo of Reason which is a software music studio Ė it contains everything from synths to drum machines to sequencers. I thought that this is a really great piece of software and maybe I would be able to record something. I recorded lots of music between then and December 2003 when I started work on Reflections From The Inner Light and as time passed by I felt the tracks were improving to the point that around Christmas time 2003 I recorded ďNarissaĒ Ė my tribute to Airsculpture Ė which a few people said was great. The rest of the album followed and was recorded over a period of 3 months between December 2003 and February 2004.

After sending out demos to various labels, I was contacted by Ron Boots at Groove who said that he loved the music and would I be interested in signing for the label and the rest they say is history!

What were your musical influences growing up? Have you always tended toward electronic music?

I think my first taste of electronic music wouldíve been the synth-pop based stuff like Howard Jones and Depeche Mode were playing in the early eighties. I also thought how cool they looked on TV with their analogue synths. Discovered Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre around 1986 and have loved electronic music ever since.

Before I started making music I was a big collector of electronic music and I must say itís nice sometimes to be away from the studio and listen to other types of EM. I enjoy listening to Airsculpture, RMI, Redshift, Ian Boddy, Ron Boots, and Keller and SchŲnwšlder, just to name a few. I also really like Ulrich Schnauss who is a German musician. I remember hearing one of his tracks on the radio whilst on the way to work thinking thatís great I must buy the CD!

Other musicians I like are Marillion, R.E.M., David Gray, and Crowded House.


So if you do most of your music using software, and have no formal music background, how does that work for performing live?  Didnít I hear that you have a show coming up?
My first ambition when I started out 3 years ago was to record an album and have it released and after that was a second ambition to play live. I knew at the time of recording Reflections From The Inner Light and only have a minimal setup that it would be not only very difficult to recreate the music live but also quite boring for the audience. What I mean here is I couldnít see myself taking to the stage and sitting behind a keyboard with a computer screen in front of my face. I really wanted to embrace the idea of having a mixture of hardware and software synths on stage, and the audience then being able to see everything I did.

So over quite a short space of time I bought quite a lot of hardware and practiced playing the synths alongside Reason, which handled the sequencing and recorded material for what was to be my debut gig in November 2004 in Nottingham where I supported Jez Creek a.k.a. Modulator ESP. I was still using the Reason program as the heart of the setup and added to this a selection of hardware keyboards which I could play whilst Reason handled the sequencing, drums, effects, and so on.
My studio is setup in a U shape configuration with me at the heart of the equipment and this is how I played a couple of weeks ago in Leeds as part of the Awakenings series of gigs. It will also be setup this way when I visit Eindhoven in October to play E-Live, thus giving the audience their a great view of everything I do!

Create is an unusual name - itís not often that someone chooses a verb as their moniker.  How did that come about?

The Create name was taken from one of the menu titles in the Reason program, which I was using at the time to record Reflections. I like the word, as it is a creative process when recording music. Itís nice also as itís easy to remember and not difficult to pronounce!


You said you bought a lot of hardware and software in a relatively short period of time.  So are you independently wealthy?
Independently wealthy.... I wish! No, the majority of the hardware synths were bought secondhand at a fraction of their original retail value. When I did buy something I tried to buy it from someone locally so I could see the condition of the keyboard etc before parting with the cash. Iíve heard quite a few stories of people buying things via auction sites only to find faults etc.

As an audience member long before I started making electronic music I always remember seeing the likes of Airsculpture, RMI, and Redshift at Jodrell Bank and been amazed at all the equipment they had on stage. This always stuck with me and I thought one day Iíd love to be on stage surrounded by lots of keyboards and electronics!

Youíve made no secret of your love for the band Airsculpture.  Why them specifically, and how do they influence your music?

Iíd never seen Tangerine Dream play any improvised concerts in the 70ís as I was only 5 or 6 years old, so seeing Airsculpture play improvised music was my first encounter and an amazing experience. Airsculpture blew me away when I saw them for the first time on stage at EMMA 3 in Sheffield, here were three guys playing improvised based sequencer music. Not only did the music sound great, the band seemed really tuned to each other and it was amazing to see them play music without any real idea of what to expect themselves.

My music has certainly taken a more improvised and organic approach in the studio now that Iím using hardware as well as software synths. I like the way Airsculpture start a track with dreamy pad sounds and atmosphere before fading in sequencer lines, which is a similar style I adopted when I recorded Reflections.


You mentioned you didnít get a chance to see TD improvise in the 70s?  Have you seen them more recently, and what did you think?

I saw Tangerine Dream play in London in June of this year. The gig was ok but to my ears anyway it sounded as though a lot of the music was coming from backing tracks. I felt as though the sound was too polished and sounded more like listening to a CD rather than the excitement of a live gig. Still glad I went though as it was great to see Edgar on stage who certainly is a great influence on me as a musician and listener of electronic music. As a band they must of been amazing to see in the 70ís with those big Moog systems and analogue synths!

Occasionally Iíll see a quote by the EM pioneers like TD or Klaus complain that musicians today donít have to work very hard, or words to that effect, to make synthesizer music today, like they had to.  How would you reply to that?

I think Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Jean-Michel Jarre who were recording music with analogue equipment in the 70ís must of had a real hard time due to how unstable analogue synths can be. They were the first electronic musicians using these keyboards and modular systems, so maybe there was a lot more trial and error that went into the music. Also, recording techniques were a lot more primitive.

Technology has advanced somewhat so it makes it easier in that respect to make music today, but to come up with something good musically you have to have respect for the machines around you and yourself as a musician. Both Reflections and the soon to be released follow-up From Earth To Mars were recorded over a 3-month period where I was just using Reason, which is a software music studio as opposed to hardware synths. After finishing From Earth To Mars I started buying some hardware synths as well and during that time I recorded an as yet unreleased third CD called Biospherical Imagery but because all the hardware technology was new to me as a musician it took roughly six months to complete. For me itís a case of quality over quantity.

EM seems to have more than its share of fans with bootleg recordings. As a fan, obviously itís great to have these recordings. Now that you are a musician selling your own CDs, what do you think about it?

To be honest Iím fine with it as long as the fan has say bought CDs of the artist in question. Iím really against people who just have bootleg copies of everything but who have never spent a penny on actually buying CDs. I think itís nice to have a bootleg but also good to invest money into the electronic music scene weather it be buying CDs of your favorite artist/group or getting to see them perform live.


What is your all time favorite EM CD and why? 

Tough one this as I like lots of EM CDs! For me I would have to say Faultline by Redshift, which is a live recording of their performance at Hampshire Jam 2. I was lucky enough to be at the gig and witness the raw power and excitement of Mark Shreeveís Moog Modular System. Not only is it my favorite live performance but also my favorite CD as in my eyes the music is perfection. The sequencing is the best Iíve heard and the atmospheres and additional guitar playing by Rob Jenkins seem to fit so well.

What do you do when youíre not making music?

When Iím not making music I like listening to it Ė bands like I mentioned earlier, such as Marillion, Genesis, Porcupine Tree, and Depeche Mode. I also love listening to David Gray, James Blunt, Coldplay, Howard Jones and Neil Finn.

I enjoy going to the cinema to watch the latest film releases and I also like to watch TV series on DVD such as CSI, 24, Alias, and Lost. Itís nice to relax as well with a good book, I like to read crime and horror stories by authors such as Stephen King, Dean Koonts, Jeffery Deaver, and Lee Child.

Recently I joined a gym, which I go to 3 times a week in the hope to become fitter. Iíve no excuse now as itís only over the road from the house!


Which do you like better: performing your own music live, composing your music in the studio, or just being a regular music fan intently listening to your favorite music by other artists?

When I started making music for the very first time my main goal was to maybe someday release a CD of my music. And at the time I enjoyed the buzz of recording at home in the studio and progressing as a musician to the point where Ron Boots enjoyed Reflections From The Inner Light so much he wanted to sign me to Groove. I couldn't believe that I had Ron Boots on the other end of the phone asking if I wanted to sign to Groove. Before I made any music I used to listen as a fan and collect EM by Ron Boots as well as many other artists. Next thing I know I'm signed to Groove and that was great to see me first CD officially released.

After completing Reflections I started thinking about maybe playing live but with only one synth and a computer I though t it would look quite dull from a fans perspective. This was around June 2004 after completing From Earth To Mars when I took the plunge and started buying hardware synths to run alongside Reason with a view to playing live at some point in the future.

During the summer of 2004 I put together a 70 minute set of material which I would play live at my very first gig which was in November of 2004 at a pub in Nottingham called Peggars which incidentally has now shut down. It was great to play my first gig but also nerve racking as well. I got a really positive response from the audience who liked what I played.

Whilst all the music was still fresh in my mind I recorded studio versions of the three tracks I played and these will form, I hope, the third CD Biospherical Imagery. So yes live certainly gives you a huge adrenaline rush compared to playing in your studio. I now know what it's like to shift loads of equipment from studio to car to venue to car to studio. Hard work I can tell you! Maybe I shouldíve stuck to a PC and one keyboard Ė it would of been a lot easier!

I'm still a big electronic music fan but I would say that since I started making music I don't listen as much as I used to do. I tend to listen to CD's in the car now rather than in the house and I also carry an MP3 player with me when I'm out and about. It's a 40GB one so I can put plenty of CD's on it to listen to.

What is the biggest thrill for you so far, being a fledgling musician?  And what is your ultimate goal musically?

So far I would say having my debut CD released and also playing as part of the Awakenings series of gigs in Leeds. What made that night so special for me was that a guy called Mark came all the way from London to see me play because he had enjoyed Reflections From The Inner Light so much.

The next big step is to play at E-Live next month in Holland! It was only last year that I went for the first time as part of the audience and here I am 12 months later gearing up to play!

My ultimate goal I think is to just carry on enjoying making music and continue to become a better musician.

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