Interview with Xander Harris:
s.o.t.r.-Can you discuss some of your influences musically?
Z.H.-The biggest musical influence on me would have to be Chris Carter’s solo album “The Space Between”. When I was in high school, there was this chain music store in the mall of my hometown that was going out of business. They had this giant bin of the Mute label cassettes that they were trying to unload so they were selling four cassettes for a dollar. I bought a bunch of stuff based on the cover art and “The Space Between” was the gem out of all the ones I purchased. I’ve been obsessed with that release for a very long time and I’ve had to purchase multiple copies of it throughout the years. “The Space Between” is one of those albums that I always use as a reference point for true synthesis and composition. There are some killer grooves on that record and some of the most memorable bass synth sounds I’ve ever heard. The other influences I pull from are Skinny Puppy, Depeche Mode, Wolfgang Riechmann, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, Cabaret Voltaire, Claudio Simonetti, and Wendy Carlos Williams. I’m also pretty obsessed with Italian Post Apocalypse films and their soundtracks. The soundtracks to those movies are insanely good and it’s unfortunate that most of those works are not readily available. Newer artists working that influence me are LA Vampires, Maria Minerva, John Maus, Umberto, Dylan Ettinger, Oneohtrix Point Never, Cosmetics, Steve Moore, and Soft Metals. I feel like now is an exciting time for synthesizers again and people are creating some amazing music.
s.o.t.r.-What is your set up like, gear wise, I love the nostalgic vibe of all the vintage sounds.
Z.H.-Thank you! I record everything into Logic using a Mac. I use an old Roland midi sequencer for making a lot of the arpeggiations that you hear on “Urban Gothic”. Some of the sounds are created via VST from Native Instruments. I like to run a hybrid digital/analog set up. I use a Roland electronic drum set for all of the drum sounds that I have hooked up through a midi controller. I actually don’t loop my drum sounds. I play them live on the Roland set to give it more of a loose vibe. I used the digital synths the Roland XP-10 and the Alesis QS-6 for a lot of sounds. For the samples of dialogue, I have an old Roland SP-303 sampler to chop and screw the voices once I get my sources down. I utilized a microKORG and this old Concertmate MG-1 for a lot of the leads on the album. I need to get the Concermate MG-1 serviced soon as it’s old and needs some love. It needs new switches and pots and a couple of the key contacts are dead so I’m going to take that in to this place here in Austin called “Switched On” for repair. “Switched On” is this amazing shop that focuses primarily on DJ/Synthesizer/Digital Recording culture with a technician that can fix just about anything. You can walk into that place and they have tons of working vintage synths all over the place. When Dylan Ettinger was here in Austin for SXSW, we checked that place out messing around on an Arp Odyssey and other vintage gear. I remember Dylan saying he went to that place a lot while he was in town. It’s the only instrument shop I’ve been in where the guys behind the counter are super nice and they encourage you to play around with the gear. I’m always on the hunt for new gear so it’s nice to go in there and test stuff out. I’d love to be able to afford a Oberheim Matrix-6 in really good condition for the next album. I have a couple of friends who use those and I’ve always liked the sound of that keyboard.
s.o.t.r.- Not Not Fun just released a fresh batch of your latest album “Urban Goth”, can you tell us a bit about this release.
Z.H.-With “Urban Gothic” I wanted to make a synthesizer record of music that I would like to listen to and share with my friends. I’ve always had little tracks that I would do here and there. My friend Isobelle encouraged me to keep exploring what I was doing even though some of the first stuff I did wasn’t so hot. I don’t think I would have finished the record if it wasn’t for her enthusiasm and support. I started off just recording synth tracks with my gear after years of working in psych rock bands as a drummer and working in noise projects. I wanted to challenge myself and try to make the kind of synthesizer music that I had always heard in my head. I was getting frustrated with music and I wanted to get away from guitar based sounds. Synthesizers have this calming effect on me so I would plug stuff in and jam to get away from everything. I also wanted to get away from straight up noise music. I was getting bored with what I was composing as soundscapes and the stuff I was doing didn’t resonate well with me. During the time of recording and writing of “Urban Gothic”, I discovered the amazing horror author Brian Keene. I’ve blown through just about every book and story the guy has ever written. I picked up his novel “Urban Gothic” and I was floored at how amazingly harsh the story was so that particular book stuck with me. I’m really picky about my horror fiction and films, even though I’m a huge buff of the genre, so I was happy to have found this guy that was blowing me away with his stories. Brian Keene’s work has this quality to it that can be so brutal but kind of unnervingly poignant at the same time. After I finished recording the basic tracks, I reformed and re-recorded some of the songs to match the themes explored in the novel. I used samples of dialogue that were 90% aligned with what I felt the vibe of the book to be. I thought it would be weird and cool to make the album a soundtrack for a book that I love. The surprising and amazing thing to come out of this is that I posted the tracks to his forum on a whim one day and I got a ringing endorsement from Keene, which is just about the coolest thing to ever happen to me outside of the release and positive reception of the record. Also, yes, the name that I record under is indeed based on the character from the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. I liked the way it sounded more than my own name plus I thought it was a great way to pay tribute to my total geek-dom.
s.o.t.r.-Any new music/albums in the works?
Z.H.-I have a cassette EP called “Contamination” that was just released on the Los Angeles tape label “Complicated Dance Steps” that explores horror and horror based science fiction sounds. It’s got a lot of 70s influences from people like Michael Garrison and Jean Michael Jarre. I have a 12″ single for the remix of “I Want More Than Just Blood” coming out on 100%SILK that I’m really stoked about and I hope it gets people dancing. I’d love to walk into a club someday and see people getting down to one of my tracks. I’m in the planning stages on the follow up to “Urban Gothic”. I have a direction that I want to go in but I never say for certain what it will be until it’s done. I definitely want the next one to be one of the weirdest evil themed dance record. I want it to scare you but make you want to get down at the same time.
s.o.t.r.-Do you ever have plans of incorporating more vocals into your songs?
Z.H.-Yes, I think in the future you’ll hear more dialogue samples and vocals later on down the road with Xander Harris. I’ve got an arc on how I want this to go and I can tell you that vocals will eventually be included at some point.
s.o.t.r.-Alot of blogs equate your music to a Jon Carpetner era horror movie soundtrack, has this started to annoy you yet?
Z.H.-Not at all. As a huge horror nerd, it’s a huge compliment. I’ve always thought that John Carpenter and Alan Howarth didn’t explore the dark synth sounds of the “Halloween III” and “Prince of Darkness” soundtracks enough. I’m hoping these blogs name checking John Carpenter are turning fans of what I do onto other synth soundtracks and left field synth based artists.