Check out his full interview and feature here.
Tiny Wight has been composing electronic dance music for over 20 years with his dark electro-shock band The Deadites. Best known for their outrageous live performances and their annual “Halloween Extravaganza”, The Deadites have also received considerable critical acclaim for their recently released EP “The Big, Scary Monster Hunts at Midnight”.
In late 2012, Tiny eschewed the ease and flexibility of composing with VST instruments for the real-life, hands-on satisfaction of creating music with vintage and modern analog synthesizers and electric pianos. Since then, his collection has grown to include some of the coolest synths from the 70′s until today.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you into electronic music?
Tiny Wight: I’ve been an unapologetic nerd for a long time; I was programming computers and running a BBS (Bulletin Board System – think of it as the internet in slow motion with only one person on at a time) when I was 10 years old. My close friend Brian Kokernak exposed me to some great electronic stuff around that same time: Depeche Mode, The Shamen, Erasure, Yaz, Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys. Electronic gateway drugs that lead to harder stuff like NIN, Nitzer Ebb, Ministry, and their ilk The list just went on and on and I loved all of it. When the time came to pick a “band” instrument, it was a no-brainer: SYNTHESIZER! Unfortunately, the tiny Casio that my parents bought me wasn’t exactly equipped to lay down the sorts of tracks that I liked at the time. In 1989 I purchased my first real workstation keyboard, an Ensoniq SQ-1, and things started to get interesting.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting synthesizers and what was your first?
Tiny Wight: I got my first synth – a little Casio MT-100 – back around 1985 when I was 11 (for “band”). I graduated to the equally terrible Yamaha PSR-47 when I was 13 or so. At 16 I picked up an Ensoniq SQ-1 and things started to get interesting. All of the early Deadites songs were made on this keyboard and an Alesis DM-5 module slaved to the onboard sequencer. I wrote with this combo plus an E-mu Orbit for about a decade, from 1990-2000.
Somewhere in the mid-1990′s, I started using a computer pretty extensively for songwriting, but mostly for sequencing and mixing. I picked up Propellerheads Reason v1 shortly after it came out towards the end of 2000 and used versions of that more or less exclusively until 2012, when I said, “F#*$& this sh#*&. This isn’t fun at all anymore”, and started my synth collection with a limited edition Moog Little Phatty Toxic Edition. Once I got my hands on it, my fate was sealed, and my wallet literally exploded, permanently injuring my right buttock.
I♥SYNTHS: What type of music do you listen to? Any artists out there that inspire you?
Tiny Wight: Nearest and dearest to me is the 70′s and 80′s electronic stuff like Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Howard Jones, YMO, and most of the 80′s synthpop “one-hit-wonders”, along with more ambient stuff like Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream. I’m also very inspired by the soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, Goblin, and Wendy Carlos. Nowadays I find most of the stuff that I like best by kicking off a Pandora station like Boards of Canada, Kraftwerk, Erlend Oye, The Knife, or Kavinsky. We live in such a great and awful time for electronic music; there are so many fantastic bands out there, but they’re being obscured by some real garbage.
I♥SYNTHS: Is there a “Tiny Wight” sound? Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
Tiny Wight: Danceable beats, catchy solos, arpeggiated synth, lush pads is what usually comes out, regardless of what I set out to do. I can’t not try to write hooks when I’m putting together a song; it’s part of my musical DNA. I’m always writing songs for people with the intention of having people dance to them, but not in any particular style; I’m all over the place with tonality, sound, tempo, etc. Somehow though, no matter how hard I try to make something that’s totally different, it ends up being a Tiny Wight song. I guess that’s a good thing in that it speaks to the idea of me having found a unique style.
As for my favorite -most heavily used, let’s say- piece of gear, it’s really hard to choose; it really depends on the mood I’m in that day. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that 70′s vibe and the Roland Paraphonic 505 or Wurlitzer 200 comes out to play. Sometimes I’m more in the mood for arpeggiated breakdance sort of flavor and I gravitate to the DSI Prophet 08 or something like the Jupiter 6.
Tiny Wight: I only just recently picked up the Moog Voyager XL, but I have a feeling that’s going to make its way on just about every track I make from here on out. It’s a lovely, beastly, wonderful synth.
I♥SYNTHS: Are you strictly hardware now? Do you use VSTs and how do you go about recording?
Tiny Wight: I’m strictly using hardware for my sounds at this point. I’m recording to Logic and mostly just doing EQ, compression, and panning. I like the Native Instruments Guitar Rig plugin quite a bit, so I’ll occasionally throw something like that on a track. There will probably come a day when I drift back to using effects plugins for post production work, but it has been so invigorating to get my hands on hardware again that I’m really in no big rush to bother with the computer. Aside from acting as a master MIDI clock while I jam out, the computer is doing very little nowadays. I’m having an absolute blast making electronic music again.
My advice to anyone thinking about introducing hardware to their setup is to start cheap <$500 with something vintage that has knobs. Yamaha CS-5 maybe? You'll know very quickly if it's for you. Like, as soon as your fingers touch the keys quickly
I♥SYNTHS: Your room is full of inspiration. Can you tell us about your concept for the space?
Tiny Wight: In 2012, when I decided to step away from computer-based songwriting, I sort of put on the brakes and took a close look at what I was getting out of music. Specifically, I asked myself whether I was truly inspired by what was around me and by the equipment I was using to make music. I sort of – wasn’t. So I stripped down everything that had become comfortable and boring for me and rebuilt my studio and writing process from the ground up. I began surrounding myself not only with musical gear that I felt inspired by, but also with posters and art that spoke to me in a musical sort of way.
Recently, I commissioned my artist buddy Derek Ring to create a piece for the studio that would bring some futuristic vibes to the space. We brainstormed for a bit and then he hit the ground running, finally giving me a piece that brought together many of the movies and stories that I enjoy, from Blade Runner to Lone Wolf and Cub. I printed it up 2′ x 5′ on canvas, and it now serves as a sort of focal point in the studio.
Early on, I just sort of boxed myself in with a couple keyboard stands and started playing. As the collection grew, I started to realize that that setup wasn’t going to work for long. I hit my local Home Depot, grabbed some building materials and built a large wall in the studio that serves both to define the workspace and to hide an absolute shit-ton of cables behind. Two equipment racks sit side-by-side in the wall for my rack-mounted gear, including two line mixers which are starting to feel a bit intimidated by the growing number of synths in the room. All of my patching is done behind that wall, where cabling and inputs/outputs are completely exposed, yet entirely out-of-sight.
Wanting to further immerse myself in a futuristic music-making microcosm, I added programmable colored lights to the space that allow me to create whatever mood best suits the track I’m working on. To be honest, in spite of the flexibility, I rarely stray from Tron cyans and blues. The original movie, along with the Wendy Carlos soundtrack, serves as a big inspiration for me in general, and for what I hope will be coming soon from me in particular.
I♥SYNTHS: Are your young ones enjoying the pretty lights and knobs?
Tiny Wight: I want to make the studio and synthesizers available to them as much as I can, and I’ve even added programmable lights to the space to have on while they’re dancing. My youngest just loves to tweak synths, and the Moog Liberation, which sits on a guitar stand, is never safe from his little fingers. Some of the best, weirdest stuff I’ve heard out of that synth came from him tweaking it!
We have a great time in the studio. I’ll usually play solos on the Liberation while the two of them are dancing or playing around with the other synths. It is my fervent hope that I can pass along everything I know about making music to them and let them springboard into music making at an early age. If they’re interested. Which they will be, dammit.
I♥SYNTHS:As well as your vintage collection, you’ve recently acquired some newer pieces. Can you tell us your thoughts on them?
Tiny Wight: As much as the newer analog synths look like vintage equivalents on paper, there really are some fundamental differences in the sound of the older and newer stuff. To be honest, I don’t feel like many of the newer flagship pieces have the mojo that even some of the cheapest vintage stuff has. There’s just something fundamentally different – better, I guess- about the way the vintage pieces like the Yamaha CS50 or the Roland Jupiter 6 sound to my ears. That said, I’ll often get something I really love out of the DSI Prophet 08 or the Voyager XL and write a whole track around it.
The old and new synths work so nicely together for the type of music I like to write. That’s a big part of what keeps me bringing more and more of them into the studio; they’ve all got different “voices”, and they usually manage to come together to create something that’s better than the sum of its parts. What the modern synths lack in raw awesomesauce, they more than make up for in power and convenience. It’s a tradeoff that works out very nicely in a well-balanced studio.
I♥SYNTHS: What synthesizer is your most rare or special to you?
Tiny Wight: The Moog Liberation is so ridiculous and so awesome that I’ve just got to pick that one. The sound and feel of it, along with the amazing modulation options for live play, are so satisfying. For obvious reasons, it’s something that could never, ever be emulated by a computer. Also, I don’t know if all of the Liberations are like this, but mine’s got this weird, sweet smell to it that augments the enjoyment of playing a real, lovely musical instrument.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have your eye on any other synths right now?
Tiny Wight: I like to keep everything plugged in and ready to play, but at this point I’m seriously running out of physical space and mixer channels! That said, I’ll probably find a way to add a Jupiter 8, an Oberheim OB8, and a Roland TR-808 at some point. There are so many synths that I’m interested in, but I’m trying to keep cool and just add stuff that’s really going to help the music. If I had unlimited space, budget, and time I’d add some of the littler guys like an Akai AX60/80, Kawai SX-240, Roland SH-1, etc. The list goes on and on, and the cost goes up, up, up! There are so many incredible synths out there. I’m trying to keep some focus in the studio and collect only stuff that I’ll really use and love.
I♥SYNTHS: Tell us a little about your group “The Deadites”.
Tiny Wight: The Deadites as a band was created in 1991 by my long-time friend Dynamo Marz and me out of a need to generate money to buy the equipment we needed to continue hunting and killing monsters, which we had been doing for a number of years already. We flourished through the 90s and early 2000s, both as a band and a monster hunting organization, then fell on hard times when the government stopped funding independent monster hunters. All our funding has come from private sources for the past decade or so.
There will always be a need for someone to kill zombies, vampires, werewolves, and all those other bad guys, but we’ve been living hand-to-mouth for a long time now. Much as they may want to, folks can’t generally pay us what the government offered back in the day; a few hundred dollars on a contract is generally the best we can hope for, regardless of what is called for. Even with a dozen or so members of The Deadites Secret Twilight Society working steadily on a monthly basis, we’re barely making what we need to keep our headquarters open.
As far as music is concerned, The Deadites have won multiple awards for our live performances over the years. We have recorded multiple full-length albums over the years, but one villain or another always stepped in to destroy the recorded masters. It has been frustrating to say the least. In 2012 we quickly and covertly recorded and released our EP entitled “The Big, Scary Monster Hunts at Midnight”. It has been well-received, and even appeared in Fearnet.com’s “Best of 2012: The Year’s Top 10 Horror-Friendly Albums”. A full-length release is planned for 2014, but please don’t spread it around; the baddies might find out and try to put a stop to it.
I♥SYNTHS: You are also part of the “Trick or Trick” podcast. Tell us a little about that.
Tiny Wight: The Trick or Treat Radio Podcast was started by The Deadites’ producer of media Johnny Wolfenstein in August of 2012 as a promotional vehicle for The Deadites as a musical entity. It has since grown to become its own project altogether. The show has been referred to by listeners as “the Drive Time Show from Hell” — part Howard Stern, part Nerdist, part improvisational radio drama. We’re informative with our films reviews, but we also throw in plenty of humor. We’ve had guests from all backgrounds on our show including NY Times Best Selling Authors, Filmmakers, Musicians, Comic Book Writers/Artists, Game Designers and Professional Wrestlers.
We discuss the things that we enjoy – Films, especially Horror, Comic Books, Music, Video Games, Books, and other Pop Culture topics. Our show broadcasts live every Wednesday evening starting at 8:30pm, and is available for download on Friday mornings. The show can be downloaded from iTunes, Stitcher Radio and from our site http://trickortreatradio.com. In the short history of the show, we have been featured on “New and Noteworthy” and “What’s Hot” on the iTunes podcasts page. We also have a Facebook Group. So yeah, good on us! Come check it out!
I♥SYNTHS: When you put on the mask, do you feel like you have super powers?
Tiny Wight: I wouldn’t say superpowers, no, but I can wade through a crowd of zombies or take out a master vampire like a boss, and it looks a lot cooler on video in slow-motion when the mask is on.
The mask is for anonymity and intimidation. I’m quite well-known in the monster hunting community, and by most villains who mess with the dark arts. Seeing the bad guys’ faces drop when I walk into a room is one of my favorite parts of my job as a monster hunter. The mask just hides the smile.
Oh, and it’s a fun part of the stage show, too. Something iconic to anchor the band, I suppose.
I♥SYNTHS: How do you handle your live rig? What gear do you take out?
Tiny Wight: For the sake of my fellow musicians on stage, I try to keep it simple. I usually bring one or two synths and the Moog Liberation, along with a laptop for backing tracks. There are four of us that play live over the tracks and four vocalists. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have to leave most of the synths back in the studio. Something like the CS50 may make its way out to future shows, in spite of its size and weight. It is ridiculously expressive and ridiculously fun to play. The Wurlitzer 200 might also travel well… Shit, don’t get me started!
I♥SYNTHS: Care to share some new music from your solo efforts and “The Deadites”?
Tiny Wight: Sure! Here are my latest tracks on soundcloud.
In 1989, Shawn Rudiman started production work with Ed Vargo as part of the seminal Industrial group T.H.D. (Total Harmonic Distortion). This EBM/Elektro unit became quite popular in the EBM/Industrial music scene of the early to mid 90′s. They released 4 full-length albums, countless remixes and compilation releases on both European and domestic labels. During these formative years, Shawn developed a fascination with vintage music machines. In 1997, he decided to stray from his Industrial-EBM roots to explore the depths of pure rhythm and sounds in Techno music.
Rudiman’s all live sets of non-stop, improvised techno became his trademark. His innate understanding of hardware drum machines, sequencers, samplers and synthesizers gave his performances the fluidity and smoothness of any DJ set, but entirely flexible in direction and tempo (well before the introduction of software live applications). These performances gained international attention throughout the Techno community and became the stuff of legend.
Today he resides in the Midwest, still releasing records and remixes. Always a consummate studio enthusiast, Shawn maintains, repairs and builds analog and vintage synthesizers while keeping a busy international touring schedule.
Photos by: Christa Majoras
I♥SYNTHS: What was your first synth and what made you want to get into electronic music?
Shawn Rudiman: My first synth was a Yamaha b200 M. That was what started me on this wild ride. It was a Prosumer FM 8 voice / 4 op poly. I got it for Christmas in 1990. I believe I was 18 and It was my first real love. That poor synth has had a lot of flight time hours on it. They keys have started to degrade and melt and the buttons are all in need of serious replacing as well. I still love it and pull it out sometimes. The next day after that Christmas, I went out and picked up an HR16b, with whatever money I had saved. I still have that as well and it’s been modified now with the patch bay-hack that scrambles the 16-bit data lines which makes the sounds totally into something new.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you into electronic music?
Shawn Rudiman: I was always into space and sci-fi TV shows and read sci-fi as a kid. Synthesizers to me, were almost like a tiny bit of that, in the here and now. Along with that, I was totally obsessed with synthpop and electro/freestyle or anything that had synths and drum machines in it. I was too young to go out to clubs and was totally in the wrong place as well (the backwoods of Pennsylvania).
I♥SYNTHS: Are there any songs that stick out for you?
Shawn Rudiman: The two distinct memories were hearing “19” and “Rockit” for the first times. My mind was totally blown, I had never heard anything like those two songs ever before. Wow, they floored me. Also, hearing Gary Numan’s “Cars” at a really early age. I was supposed to be in bed sleeping (I think I was in first or second grade), and I was listening to a radio station on a little transistor radio under the covers. The station must have been a college station that I somehow picked up or maybe had a new wave or synth dance show on. Needless to say, I was doomed after that. “Cars” is still haunting and a flawless song.
I♥SYNTHS: When did your obsession start with collecting synths?
Shawn Rudiman: The day after that Christmas in 1990! It was really fueled by diving headfirst into making music. My friend Ed Vargo and I decided we were going do this shit and try it out. We were so arrogant and had zero idea what we were doing. Totally green on every front. Long story short, we somehow managed to get a demo of industrial stuff to a label in Denmark. They liked what they heard and signed us for a full cd.
I♥SYNTHS: When you were signed, did you go out and pick up more gear?
Shawn Rudiman: Yes! The label gave us $3,700 as an advance. We used that money, which at the time would be comparable to $15,000 today, to purchase more gear. We bought everything we could find that was electronic. And then, we began learning what actually was made, the specs, etc.
The early 90’s were the time to buy analog synths and drum machines. It was really great. You really had to dig for that shit though. We scoured pawnshops and mom and pop music stores all the time. Also, we used newspapers. There was no eBay or Craigslist. You had to want that junk, and it was junk at the time.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you consider yourself as a collector or musician?
Shawn Rudiman: I still don’t consider myself a collector. Collectors don’t use them. I try and use everything I come into. Sometimes I buy them and sometimes I make them. They all get used and appreciated by being used in songs and tracks. Without them making sound, they’re kind of useless. They have to be used, to be the gems they are!
I♥SYNTHS: What was the best deal you’ve scored on a synthesizer?
Shawn Rudiman: Oh man. I’d say there were a couple of good scores in my time but, the prices were skewed to the early 90’s so, it sounds totally insane by today’s standard. My Roland 909 was only $325, minty in the packaging.
I♥SYNTHS: Any regrets? What synthesizers did you let go and wish you could get back?
Shawn Rudiman: First and foremost, it would be my Jupiter 6. I traded it (as a career move of sorts) in 2000 or so for my FR-777. They were new and I had zero money and really, I was playing a lot of rave gigs and I knew I was going to have to maybe fly one day to a gig. I needed something sound-wise that was equivalent to a Pro-One with an onboard sequencer. The 777 was exactly what I need at the time. I still miss that machine.
Also, when I moved to Pittsburgh, I split the old studio I had with my studio partner Ed Vargo. We had bought a Yamaha CS-70M together over the years and luckily when I moved we had things that were sort of comparable to split. It was an “amicable divorce” I guess, you could say. We each got the things we liked. He got the CS-70M and I got the JP-6. That CS-70m is one of the most beautiful sounding machines I’ve ever touched. It’s amazingly huge in size and sound. We put the Kenton midi kit into as well so its really super duper sweet.
I also miss my Octave Cat a lot. I traded that synth years ago for a 727 with trigger outs on all voices. Once again, another trade for gig machine, rather than cool studio stuff. I also miss my Avatar. I sold it to help pay for my Virus A in 1997. Oh, add my re-555 to that list as well. So, there’s always things I miss and probably won’t find again. Those days are long over for getting machines at humane prices.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s your most prized possession in the studio?
Shawn Rudiman: Hmm, that’s a tough call. All of the kids are loved equally but if I’d say the MPC 3000. He’s on every single time I’m in the studio. To me, it’s as good as its ever going to get. Also, add the Prophet VS, The 440, Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Oberheim Xpander to that list as well.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you get into working on creating your own synths?
Shawn Rudiman: Well, I don’t really create my own synthesizers. I’ll find DIY things and make them into my own look or I’ll modify the circuits to do more/other than intended things. I started doing this about 5-6 years ago. I never understood schematics or electrical engineering before that. I just wasn’t ready. It stemmed from things going bad and malfunctioning or finding broken things for sale and monkeying around inside with them to learn more. The first thing I’ve ever fixed from the dead was a Crumar Bit One. After that, I fixed my TR-909, which was dead for 3 years. Then, it was a cascade of things that just kept getting more and more intense.
I♥SYNTHS: Any shout outs to people or companies that helped you along the way?
Shawn Rudiman: I looked into DIY stuff and found the MFOS site. Wow. I dove head first into their hardest project and spent a year making a bank of sequencers and modding them to do new things! I seemed to really have a knack for figuring things out from a user standpoint. Then, I spent time learning how to electrically make that happen. Ray Wilson from MFOS is the man. He was very patient with my constant questions and learning. He’s truly an awesome guy.
Then it was synths. The Doepfer DIY synth was my first. Then another and another and the mutable instruments stuff as well. All of the Meeblip stuff which is all modded and built into crazy custom cases and faceplates. I see them as synthesizers I cant afford to buy so, I just make them. I guess I’m also a fan of the underdog and unknown or raw sounding things.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for you? Any current builds or something you have your eye on?
Shawn Rudiman: I’m currently working on another extra-modded Doepfer DIY synth (2 subs, 2 extra envs and tons of extra cv patch outs, a mutable Anushri with several mods (that shares the cabinet with the DIY #3), My Arp odyssey 2800 (MKI) which is totally patched and modded with a new rotary potentiometer faceplate. Also, I’m adding switchable res/pan mod to my studio 440. I’m also replacing the power supplies too. Things are reaching that time when the capacitors and regulators are just getting to the end of their designed lifespan. I need to finish the projects on my bench before I go looking for anything new in the DIY area. They are easy to find and hard to finish.
I♥SYNTHS: We love that you’re a hardware guy. Can you share a live set link and tell us why is it your favorite?
Shawn Rudiman: Sure this is a video of a live set from the legendary TRESOR club in Berlin, Germany.
It’s one of the best sets I’ve played in a very long time. My performances are always off the cuff and sequenced, programmed, mixed on the fly. It’s 20 minutes of a 2.5 hour set. Some Detroit techno business, as for why it’s my favorite. I didn’t over do things and rush things along or ruin it with too much. I let things groove and be what they could be.
I also did an “industrial “ album a couple years back that was a lot of fun to do. It was a great break from the techno aesthetic and allowed me to return to songs again. It’s called THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) – “ The Evolution of Our Decay”
It’s a fave because I really enjoyed making it. From the song writing to lyrics to production, it was a breath of fresh air for me. It was just really what I was trying to get out.
I♥SYNTHS: Can you tell us a little about Custom Synth? When did you get started and what made you get into the business?
Custom Synth: A while back, I got involved in music because one of my brothers, Toby Toman, played drums in various British bands (The Nosebleeds, Ludus, The Durutti Column, Blue Orchids, and Primal Scream) so I grew up around rehearsal rooms and studios. I started Custom Synth several years ago, mainly restoring vintage equipment, rack gear, rusty keyboards and more. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to customize hi-tech equipment? Fender and other guitar companies have custom shops so, that kind of started me off. I now notice Roland, Korg and other companies have started to do it. Then, I was commissioned to customize a Nord in black, so it could be used in an orchestra pit and not stand out. Red Nords are cool but having a black option would be handy for something like this.
I♥SYNTHS: If someone wanted a custom synth, what’s the best way to get started?
I♥SYNTHS: Can you explain a little about your process on customizing?
Custom Synth: Once the project is started and the colors/graphics are worked out, the equipment is stripped down. Then, the parts are prepared, sanded, resprayed and screen printed. I work with friend who has a screen printing company (they used to do all of the Joe Meek gear).
I♥SYNTHS: Do you get any other instrument requests besides synthesizers?
Custom Synth: I do mostly hi-tech instruments and rack gear. I did work with Native Instruments for a while, customizing the Maschine for the artist series and a few one-offs. I also worked with Novation with the dicers and launchpads in chrome/gold and more. Really, anything that can be sprayed and printed can be customized or restored.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve done some custom synths for celebrities and famous musicians. What was your most unique or original project?
Custom Synth: One of the most unique projects was for Tom Rowlands (The Chemical Brothers studio). I built a midi controller keyboard to sit in the bumper rail of a large SSL mixing desk. It has a detachable cover to match the rest of the desk and two modular cabinets. One was for the Serge modular system in a two piece metal arch and the other was a MOTM system to match the Roland 700 system.
I♥SYNTHS: Any other unique stories or projects?
Custom Synth: The restoration work I do for RL Music is rewarding and the finished instruments always look and function beautifully. You can see more at http://www.rlmusic.co.uk/
Custom Synth: Also, the Kaiser Chiefs have a white keyboard set up for their world tours including Peanut’s custom Nova-modded 808-style SH101.
Custom Synth: Howard Jones has a great looking sci-fi Deco chrome keyboard setup.
Custom Synth: Pete Watson, a session musician (Hurts, Lily Allen, Live), uses mainly Nords in black with reverse keys.
Custom Synth: Keane uses a custom Roland SH-201 in yellow.
Custom Synth: Rachel Furner uses a Roland RD-700 GX piano with blue and white stripes.
Custom Synth: Chromeo has a few all-chrome pieces like the MS20, Nord Modular, Nord Stage, a Roland SH-101, Akai MPC, Moog Voyager and Simmons Drum pads.
Custom Synth: Mike Skinner (The Streets) urban camoflage tr 909, a custom white Logan string machine, a white ARP Axxe and pink Fender amp.
Custom Synth: Gary Go has a custom black Nord stage and microKORG.
Custom Synth: Major Tweaks Studio (Roger Lyons) is the north’s leading analogue synth recording studio, custom SH-101s, MS20s, a CS and modular racks. Other customers include: Goldfish , Robbie Bronnimann , Tom (Editors), Shadow Child, Spoony, Funkagenda to name a couple.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a favorite synthesizer to work on?
Custom Synth: Anything is great to work on. Seeing something in a sorry state or rusty and beat up and then refreshing them and making them usable again is worth it.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s been your most challenging project?
Custom Synth: I recently had a Jupiter-8 that had been in its case in damp storage. The lining of the case had turned to sludge, eaten the paint off and bubbled the paintwork. That took a lot of refinishing and it came out rather well.
Custom Synth: Similar with a TR-909, that had sat in a puddle for a year. Someone had a go at painting it which kind of reacted and the finish became bubbly. I gave that an 808-color makeover.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a large personal collection of custom synths?
Custom Synth: I used to but not now. I just use a Roland Fantom G6, a Eurorack modular (which is growing) and a laptop with Reason on it, for my music
I♥SYNTHS: Have you ever fallen in love with a project and wanted to keep it for yourself?
Custom Synth: Yes, I love everything I do, but you have to let the kids leave home. They can always come back.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Custom Synth? Do you have any future projects or new ideas you’re looking to do this year?
Custom Synth: I have been making a few t-shirt designs, which I sell on eBay. I try and keep the designs unique. They change all the time and helps pay for the projects.You can check them out here on http://www.ebay.com/usr/customsynth
Custom Synth: I’m still finishing a duo SH-09 which is a work-in-progress but, it’s getting there. I am also going to make a few Custom Synth one-offs this year and continue to experiment with different colors and finishes. I did have a plan to make some speakers for modular systems but, I’ve noticed people have started to do that. Perhaps customizing Eurorack modulars would be great! Maybe a rainbow modular? Different colors used for functions might be nice. I’m also working out a way to mount effects pedals into Eurorack formats too.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! I hope to one day own one of your amazing pieces of equipment.
Kebu is a composer and keyboardist, who creates melodic synthesizer music, common to the sounds that were popular in the 70’s and 80’s. He’s attracted a lot of appraisal for his captivating live performances and over one million views on his YouTube channel. Playing in numerous bands through the years, touring and recording awesome studio videos, he’s had some time to acquire a pretty nice collection of synthesizers.
I♥SYNTHS: Tell us about Kebu. What does the name mean and what got you into synthesizers and electronic music?
Kebu: It was my nickname that I got at the university. One typical nickname for someone named Sebastian here is “Sebu”, but that was already taken so I became “Kebu”. My dad had cassette’s that he had taped from the radio with all kinds of music, among that Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Abba and even Boney M and I grew up listening to those cassettes. One of the first technical things I learned as a kid was, how to operate our home cassette deck. So that’s where my interest in electronic music started. I was also very fascinated by electronic keyboards early on, but my parents were advised to get the kid a real piano to learn on.
I♥SYNTHS: Where you classically trained on piano first?
Kebu: Yes, I started playing piano when I was 6-7 years old with lessons once a week for a few years, but my piano teacher could only teach me the basics. The next step would have been to go to the closest town and study classical piano, but I was living in a small village far away and my parents couldn’t afford to drive me once a week to the town. So eventually I lost interest in playing piano, but picked it up again when I was in high school and got interested in synthesizers. Since then I have been playing keyboards in probably almost twenty different hobby bands.
I♥SYNTHS: What was your first synthesizer?
Kebu: A new Kawai K1 II, which I hated because it didn’t have a decent piano sound and the black keys were harder to press than the white keys. I probably would appreciate it now for what it is, but back then I would have needed a PCM-based workstation, like a Korg M1 that I lusted for, but couldn’t afford back then. Soon after, I found a used Roland SC-155 (Sound Canvas module), which I really liked but realized that I really need the patch storage capability for live use, which the SC-155 lacked. I then realized that synths are VERY different from each other. Not in terms of nuances, like with different types of guitars, but more like apples and oranges. I also realized that by learning and trading on the second hand market I could try many different synths without loosing too much money. So the Kaway K1 was the first and only new synth I ever bought. After that, I’ve had over one hundred different hardware synths.
I♥SYNTHS: Who is your biggest inspiration for what you do? And, are you into any current artists?
Kebu: My biggest inspiration is hard to pick. Still, Jean Michel Jarre is probably my largest influence on what I’ve done as Kebu up to know, although I listen to a lot of different music, from qawwali to bluegrass. Lately, I’ve listened a lot to current trance music, as I think that is what melodic synthesizer music of the 80′s evolved into. Especially Arty and Mat Zo are current artists are making some very good music.
I♥SYNTHS: Is KEBU full-time now or do you still work a day job?
Kebu: I always respond to that question that I have a full-time job as a researcher and in addition a half-time job as Kebu. Although I say it as a joke, it is true. So I’m kind of in the middle of a struggle right now, because I would need more time for evolving my music, but I couldn’t make a living on my music yet.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite piece of gear?
Kebu: My favorite piece of gear is probably my Korg Mono/Poly. It is such a great sounding synth and surprisingly flexible!
I♥SYNTHS: Do you use any newer gear or do you like to stick with the vintage stuff?
Kebu: With my “To Jupiter and Back” album, I wanted to restrict myself to using only analog synths, which is something I still do. Most of these were from the eighties, with the oldest from 1975 (I think) and the newest just a few years old (Vermona DRM1 Mk III). You get a different character from new analog synths in comparison with old ones – both equally valuable in a mix. But for me, the most important thing comes from the fact that I work with real hardware. The fast hands-on approach get me creative, but also its limitations does so. Instead of infinite possibilities it gives me a strict palette and canvas to work with, which I find inspires me a lot. Originally I thought about taking my recording approach to the edge with a strict AAAA approach – recording analog synths to multitrack tape and mixing it with an analog mixer and analog effects to 2-track tape. Eventually I noticed that I couldn’t get the spacious sound I sought after using only the two spring reverbs and a tape delay that I had. I knew I didn’t have the space or money for getting a real plate reverb and good quality 2-track tape machine, so I went halfway, using my multitrack tape machine and analog mixer, but digital reverb/delays and a digital master. Live I use a relatively modern digital sequencer (Yamaha RS-7000) and a digital Behringer mixer (DDX-3216) for being able to switch settings fast between songs.
I♥SYNTHS: Are you still actively buying synths? Any piece out there you’re still in search for?
Kebu: I am actually very satisfied with the setup I have right now. I just found myself a mint Alesis Andromeda, which has so much potential that I think I could spend the next few years just programming that. But I really need a new live mixer, because I use all channels available in the DDX and still I need more, and the built-in effects are quite bad.
I♥SYNTHS: How do you go about recording your YouTube videos?
Kebu: When I started out I made mostly videos of me performing a tune with one synth only, so it was basically a camcorder on a stand and then performing the tune over and over from different angles and then edit it into a video. Later on I started filming my live shows, so then it turned into using as many cameras as possible from different angles and then it is mostly a matter of choosing the best angles. In order to get some movement I digitally pan and zoom the takes, but you loose a lot of quality when you do that, so I try to get someone to shoot the concerts with a handheld camera as well.
I♥SYNTHS: For your live shows, do you have a lot of rehearsal time or do you tend to wing it?
Kebu: There is quite a lot of preparation work, but most of that work goes into the technical side, like sequencer arrangements and mixer settings/automation. Once that is done the songs take some practicing, but there are usually more technical challenges than I expect, which eats time away from the practicing. Also, the tunes are very tricky to perform live. They sound so simple – simple melody lines and technically not that difficult. But because they are so simple, anyone can hear when I make a mistake. Also, most of the old analog synths have quite bad keyboards. Each key triggers the sound at slightly different height and sometimes they mistrigger. In the beginning, I used the Arp Odyssey live, but it has such a lousy keyboard that it made me sound like a much worse keyboard player than I am, so nowadays I play those parts with other synths.
photo by: Tapani Rintala
I♥SYNTHS: Do you remember your first show? How have you evolved since then?
Kebu: The first time I played keyboards in front of a large audience was when I was 7 or 8. Then I froze up on the second last note, because I was so nervous that I tried to read the score exactly, while I normally played by heart. Nowadays I’m more afraid that my synths will freeze up. My first show as Kebu was in 2012, but I’ve played over a hundred gigs before that with other bands, so I’m very comfortable on stage nowadays. But it is a very different thing to play a solo gig than as a band member. Still, I was very happily surprised when I started doing my solo gigs that the audience responded so well to them. I was afraid they would find them boring – I’m still only one guy onstage in a cage of keyboards. But since I put quite a lot of effort into preparing the gigs – thinking about what type of audience can be expected and the type of place where I perform and making the tune selection and the order of the tunes based on that and trying to minimize idle time (that I still need for switching sounds and adjusting parameters) – it seems to pay off and make an enjoyable concert.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Kebu in 2014?
Kebu: We were planning to organize a Northern Europe-wide club tour, but I’m seriously considering postponing it, because I realized that I need use all available spare time composing and recording, if I want to release an album by the end of 2014 – which I really would like to!
I♥SYNTHS: Are there any favorite concerts or live shows that have inspired you?
Kebu: A hidden gem is the Jean Michel Jarre DVD-concert called “live in your living room”. It was originally only available on the 30th anniversary Oxygen album as a bonus DVD, but I think the concert was much more interesting than the album, because on the DVD they perform the whole album live and have composed some extra music that binds the Oxygen parts together in a new way. Dominique Perrier is playing keyboards in this video, whose own band Space Art I arranged two concerts for here in Finland a year ago and had the honor to perform as warm up act for them! It was fun, but they arrived in the middle of a snow storm. I almost crashed the van we we’re travelling with and it’s engine died after the second show, but eventually we managed to perform both shows successfully and get home safe and sound.
Another concert worth mentioning, probably kind of unexpected, is the Madonna Confessions Tour DVD. It contains a very synth-heavy arrangement, with quite a lot of influences from early 70′s disco. Many of her tunes are re-arranged to suit the style and the whole concert follows both musically and visually a very coherent vision. Stuart Price was the musical producer for the DVD (check out his all-white customized synths), who was also producer for her Confessions on a dance floor album and Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite album (also worth checking out), both albums using quite a lot of vintage synth flavours!
I♥SYNTHS: When did Jam open their doors?
JAM: We first started out as a small used synthesizer store in early 1997.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you interested in selling synthesizers?
JAM: There really wasn’t any business thinking behind it. I just wanted to be around really cool music gear all day, preferably things you had only seen in Peter Forrest’s A-Z of synthesisers or Mark Vails Vintage Synthesizers-book.
I♥SYNTHS: Were you primarily a synth shop and then expanded to other instruments?
JAM: Yes, that’s correct. We have a specialised store for guitars right across the street and a PA-equipment store, just round the corner. JAM Syntotek is specialised in synthesizers (and some studio gear). We are also one of the few stores in Sweden that has both used and new gear, which is sort of how I think a music store should be. It should be fun to visit the store, not like going to your local supermarket.
I♥SYNTHS: What was the coolest synth to walk through the doors?
JAM: Oh, there’s too many, really. We had an original Buchla Music Easel for a day, just visiting from the Royal Music Academy collection. Apart from that, I would say the Technos Acxel (which we’ve had one of before and now just got another one in stock, there’s supposedly less than 40 of them around), the Synton Syrinx Special Edition (super rare, only six made), the super obscure swedish modular Dataton, some EMLs which I am really into and a huge Moog Modular IIc.
But, the coolest piece of gear will always be the EMU SP1200 sampler for me.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you collect as well, or is everything for sale?
JAM: I do keep gear for my self periodically, but usually everything in the store is for sale.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your rarest synth in the collection?
JAM: At the moment it is the Technis Acxel. We really don’t know how to put a price on it.
I♥SYNTHS: Have you had any celebrity sales? What did they purchase?
JAM: Mostly swedish celebrities, although Daft Punk bought an MaM sequencer in the late nineties. Philippe Zdar, who I really like as a producer, bought a couple of Neumann mikes and turned out to be about the nicest guy we’ve ever met.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you do repairs and maintenance too?
JAM: Yes, we do. We have a service technician who shares space with us, who is really good at fixing stuff without schematics. We also know most of the repair guys around so, whenever we’re too busy or if it is too hard, we call them in.
I♥SYNTHS: Modular synths have exploded onto the scene in the past few years. Are you noticing more traditional keyboard players getting into it or is this a whole new breed of music makers?
JAM: I would say both, really. There’s these guys who use them only for production, and those who make modular sound just for the activity, I guess. Both is ok in my book. I think the dubstep kids etc are mostly into soft synths though.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! Care to share some original music or a popular album you’re into at the moment?
JAM: You should always plug your friends so I will have to say, Andreas Tilliander / TM404, his stuff is great, check it out on https://soundcloud.com/tilliander
Also, Smutskatt is a really good swedish beats producer that I tend to play at work a lot http://soundcloud.com/smutskatt
The represses of Eliane Radigues fantastic drone music is also well worth checking out.
Oh, I would also like to plug our instagram account where we put up all the goodies as they come in;
Jam on INSTAGRAM