Lots of musical projects are based around the exploration of a few key ideas. Many a substance-inspired 4am bar conversation has proceeded along the lines of "DUDE, okay, imagine if we took, like, the sonic guitar sound of Sonic Youth, and combined it with like the totally synthy synths of Giorgio Moroder—and then had, like… Azealia Banks on vocals? Let's do that band!" Melbourne analogue synth enthusiast/sometime Boredoms drummer Mat Watson chose a far less annoying concept as the basis for his excellent solo project Other Places: the extremely rare and cool EMS Synthi AKS synthesizer. Visually resembling a cross between a prop from Doctor Who and a particularly futuristic edition of Battleship, the AKS produces wonderfully warped waves of unpredictable sci-fi awesomeness. Watson's new album Symbols propels the listener through cosmic worlds of abstract analogue composition, melancholic synthesiser heaven and vintage electronic freak-outs. We caught up for a hair of the dog to chat about synths, soldiers and the relationship between techno and country music.
THUMP: So tell us about your new record.
Mat Watson: It's a snapshot of a year of work; post my self-titled record, which was released in 2011. I took some time out after a crazy year to explore new processes, exploring the AKS. I ended up with several hours of demos and ideas I was playing around with, and that was the basis for this album.
How much does experimentation play a role in your songwriting?
Particularly with the new record, I'd suggest it would be 75 percent of the process. I like to think that all of the good stuff on this album has come from the fleeting weird accidents that sort of come up and you capture, and then you explore those a little bit. You end up with tracks with that are products of improvising, something might come up that is some kind of weird anomaly, or a particular sound that you'll never find again. So yes, it is definitely a major part of my compositional process.
And is that randomness involved in the live show as well?
Yeah. Definitely. In the live show, there's an element of preplanned ideas—I use an analogue drum machine with memory and pre-prepared sequences, and then something that resembles a live delivery over the top of that.
Is your live rig 100% analogue these days?
I use the Dave Smith Tempest, which is an analogue drum machine synthesizer, and of course the AKS – you can't get more analogue than that!
Have you played with many other bands that use the AKS?
Hardly any around here. Ben Taylor from Chrome Dome has John Murphy's old AKS, and I have Ollie Olsen's. So there's a lot of history with those instruments. We are the only ones I've seen out in Melbourne.
Is it a big synth nerd attractor at shows?
Yes it is. It attracts synth nerds both male and female. Obviously I'd prefer it to be attracting more of the female really… (laughs)
You self-release your records, what are the pros and cons of that?
The benefit of putting it out yourself is that once you get over what seem like insurmountable odds and an enormous amount of work—once you start to go down that path—it's becomes quite an addictive workflow. You have complete control over how, where, when and why things happen. You're not waiting for anyone else, you just go and do it. If you want to service a record to radio you can do that, print it up and get it done. The benefits of having a label, on the other hand, are that if you belong to a label or are under the umbrella of a label, there's definitely a validation of your work, which comes with that. You find an identity through a label in that way—and the networks that can open up around that—that's the main thing I crave and miss, even though I like being a lone soldier and doing it my own way. If I do it myself I generate my own network of people, though.
So many people from rock bands now make electronic music…
Someone said to me recently that the only logical conclusion for a music maker who plays in a rock band is to go in one of two ways: you either become an acoustic country singer-songwriter guy, or you get a laptop and synths and whatever and you start making techno. I'm certainly not in the former category.
Other Places new album Symbols is out now.
Miles Brown plays the theremin, writes music and yells about things in Melbourne. Follow him on Twitter: @M1le5Br0wn