By now, synthwave (or retrowave, or darksynth, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it) masters Carpenter Brut may as well be a household name. With several well-received EPs and tours under their anonymous belts and a live album in the works for 2017, the French outfit stands firmly at the forefront of this particular genre. While the project's founder is a mysterious producer who enjoys remaining anonymous, he tours with a live drummer and guitarist, and a recent round of epic live shows have reaffirmed that this upswing in popularity is no fluke—Carpenter Brut is here to stay.
Their much-hyped maiden North American tour recently made its second stop at Brooklyn nightclub Schimanski. At the packed, sold-out gig, the crowd cycled between rounds of fist-pumping, jumping, hip-shaking, and moshing. The energy was intense, and it was strangely powerful to see an audience that featured many patch jackets and spikes go so ballistic for this kind of music.
This wasn't my first time experiencing them, though; six months ago, I traveled to Kiev, Ukraine to witness Carpenter Brut live myself for the first time. After the show, I caught up with him backstage for a quick interview to explore the connections between metal and his own sounds, a conversation that revealed some potentially surprising influences and insights.
Much has happened for Brut since then, including a stint of US dates last fall opening for Ghost. When I caught up with him just before the show at Schimanski, he brought me up to speed on what's happening in the wild, neon world of Carpenter Brut—and dropped a few hints about the future.
Noisey: When did it all begin? What are your first musical memories?
Carpenter Brut: It's hard to recall; I've only just been writing music for 3 or 4 years, and previously was a producer. After a while, I realized I was making all these decisions for bands, not myself, so I started asking myself, 'What would I do?' But I was really into Justice and John Carpenter as first influences. As a kid, I remember playing Iron Maiden on my shitty drum kit! After that, Metallica, Megadeth, but the first 'Wow!' moment I had was with Meshuggah's Destroy Erase Improve. I didn't understand the riff or rhythm but it was my first real musical shock. Also among my favorites are Type-O Negative and the Deftones.
"Synthwave" is a bit of an overloaded term at this point; how would you personally describe your music? I've described your music to people as "heavy metal Justice on crack."
Well, heavy metal Justice on crack! I can't describe my music, but you did it well. Really, it's music from the 80s that didn't exist in the 80'.
I know you're not planning on writing any new music until next year, but are there any new things you want to try out?
I'm not sure what's next. I need to improve some aspects. Like with Trent Reznor; every album, it's always him, but each is different. It's hard to write the same song over and over, and I don't want to do that anyways. For the new stuff, maybe I'll try something more serious, and darker. I would like to do something like that. Maybe something more rhythmic, try something more metal or even like Meshuggah. I like when music is penetrating. You need to choose a great riff though.
What about other media, such as books or comics? Any influences there?
I've only recently gotten into comics books; I'm usually not a reading guy because I fall asleep or am thinking of something else. Walking Dead. Preacher. Batman/Gotham City. Sin City. Akira. Read 1984 this summer. Maybe my next album will speak on totalitarianism and politics; something that makes me afraid. Blaming strangers. Building a wall. It's funny, but it's not actually fun. Why is it so hard for people to get along with those who are different?
Good question. On a more positive note, the video for "Turbo Killer" is one of my favorite things ever; it's now a staple of parties and for introducing my friends to your music. What is your favorite music video?
"Thriller." I was a kid and my parents forbid the children to watch it because it was freaky. So of course we wanted to see, because it's forbidden. There are just lots of things in the video; John Landis, zombies, dance, werewolves. Videos now are more about swimming pools and money.
Do you have any other guilty pleasures?
My Chemical Romance, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. I love that album.
Anyone alive or dead you would love to collaborate with?
Any awkward moments on tours so far?
I think the worst moment was this festival gig; no one seemed to like us. I think I was wearing this shirt [gestures down at his Eagles T-shirt].
Is the Eagles your warmup music?
I don't listen to music before the gig, I try to remember my parts. But the Eagles are great—"Hotel California" has the best guitar solo ever.
What have the past five months been for you overall? Are you exhausted? I feel like the buzz has been increasing dramatically for you and the synth scene since then.
Yes, I'm kind of exhausted, those past months since September 2016 have been pretty intense. We had to refuse more tour dates offers because otherwise we would have been permanently on the road. I didn't rest a lot, and still I have to stay focused on the composition of my next album.
**There's a frequent juxtaposition of synthwave with metal, and the two really collided last fall when you did a string of dates with Ghost. The last time we spoke, we discussed how sometimes, the reception from metal fans at predominantly metal shows can be... difficult. How did you find it this time around with Ghost? ** We had a very good reception from Ghost's fans. Obviously we knew that the majority of the crowd was there only for Ghost, so they were pretty calm. Some were very curious about our music, some liked it (and we gained more fans) and others were just indifferent.
So can you tell me who Ghost all actually are, then? I promise I won't tell anyone …
If I tell you, I'll have to kill you...
Did you get to meet any crazy American fans?
One fan drove 400 miles with his arm in plaster! Some fans drove thousands of miles to come to our shows, from Memphis to Chicago for example. We mostly met people happy and excited to come and see us live. Big ups to them all!
How was the American beer?
Do you guys really call it 'beer'? [Laughs]
**Speaking of metal meeting synth, how did it come about that you guys were asked to play Roadburn 2017? ** I can't tell you why the Roadburn asked us to play there, [but] I'm pretty excited to play this fest because there is this kind of aura around Roadburn, you know? Roadburn is a household name, its curation has always been very exciting with great bands so...well... I try not thinking about it too much.
What's coming down the pipes for Carpenter Brut in terms of new music? When we chatted in Kiev, one thing you discussed was how much you enjoyed playing with a band, and that you thought your music would continue to get heavier and more 'metal'—have you been able to write new music with all the touring?
Nope, touring took me too much time, way too much to be honest. But at the same time I regret nothing. 2017 looks very busy as well but I've finally started to compose. However it is too early to give more details.
Have you been listening to any new music that is worth noting or that you think may influence new music that you write?
When I compose I try not to listen to music so that I'm not influenced indirectly. These days I'm listening to Run The Jewels 3, _which I guess won't influence my new music _[laughs].
The Kickstarter for Turbo Killer 2_—the sci-fi film for which you're writing the score—_hit **185,000 euros! Have you started working on the project yet?** They wanted to make a movie for a long time with me composing the music, way before the "Turbo Killer" video. After the success of the "Turbo Killer" video clip(which they directed) and all the comments on YouTube asking for a sequel, they had the idea to make a movie around Turbo Killer's universe. The movie will also be a video for my next album. We have come full circle. I didn't start working on it, waiting for the first shoots.
I think the first "Turbo Killer" video should be nominated for an Oscar; thoughts?
An Oscar, a Grammy, and an MTV Award, at least!
Tommy Young is dancing in the dark on Twitter.
Cover image by Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia