KUBO have a great music calibre with Brian O’Malley and Aidan Casserly. They are childhood friends who had a band called ManSeries when they were both at school. Their sound is has that amazing eighties feel and emotion but yet that have updated that great sound, they even use the original synths to keep the sound sweet.
Phill – Thank you so much for giving Grave Concerns Ezine this interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves?
KUBO – Thank you Phill. Kubo are a Dublin based electronic duo, consisting of Brian O'Malley (PolyDROID) and Aidan Casserly (The Wazp, Empire State Human) which was formed in October 2012, launched in March 2013. The music is a synthwave project and created using vintage analogue synthesizers. Kubo explores the more minimal side of electronic music basically.
Phill – Your music is created on 70’s and 80’s synthesizers, why do you prefer the older technology when you have all the recent synths?
KUBO – We’re fortunate to be able to write and record with real vintage analogue synths instead of virtual versions. There’s something more inspiring playing a physical synth for us, having immediate access to all the knobs, sliders and switches. Plus, they have a more organic, unpredictable nature to them. We marry these synths to Apple Mac/Logic, so they are compatible with the very latest recording processes. It’s the best of both worlds for us.
Allowing the real synths to inspire us has given us a fantastic pallet to begin our songs from. All the songs are originated from the starting point of playing these synths, from sound to final song. Those original inspirations, fuelled by a fascination with Science Fiction, Avant-Garde cinema, alienation and Vampires, are at the centre of these recordings. They form a synthetic landscape of brooding, melodic, minimal electronica, with the focus on a pure and deliberate exploration of synthetic sound and evocative vocal melody.
Phill – You released a single with a limited number on cassette through Vocoder Tapes, why did you choose to do this?
KUBO – We decided to that our debut release (‘I Dream Electric’ b/w ‘The Light that Blinds’ on Vocoder Tapes) on cassette with a minimal/Synthwave label would be a fantastic starting point for Kubo for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s interesting. Releasing on CD no longer holds any fascination for people, and it’s a little premature to be expecting a vinyl release 5 weeks after announcing ourselves to the world. For that reason the cassette is the perfect medium. It’s inexpensive and it creates an interesting story.
Secondly it shows a real desire to be part of that evolving mindset - that vinyl and cassette now represent the physical side of the electronic sub genres. So to be part of an ever-growing electronic genre, such as Minimal Wave/Synthwave, through a physical cassette release is Kubo’s way of introducing ourselves to that dedicated community. The next stage would be a vinyl EP or album.
Today many acts release on digital only, and then disappear. Since our launch in March 2013 the reaction has already been extremely encouraging. We had over 1,000 plays on Soundcloud within a matter of days, followed immediately by a CNN online feature, so we understand and embrace the power of digital mediums. But releasing a debut single with Vocoder Tapes, which will be followed by a compilation appearance with the same label, is really a statement of intent and a promise of quality. Plus it means we live forever!
Phill – What is the one thing you miss the most from the eighties?
KUBO – There was a real spontaneity about music making. Renting synths and a 4-track tape recorder for the weekend, writing as you recorded. People had to be more focused within the time they recorded or wrote, as access to equipment for young bands (unless you were signed or financed) was extremely limited. Because of this bands had a more creative and unique sound and voice. Some of that was also down to lack of technical ability, it was more difficult to emulate other bands with greater grasp of electronic equipment, and as a result your own unique voice presented itself pretty quickly.
Today we’ve become lost in the process of creating music, due to the easy nature of recording/virtual software, and the endless possibilities it presents. There are pluses to it of course, and we embrace those, but the price that’s being paid is high quality, generic electronic music with little content in terms of song writing.
However we’ve managed to rediscover some of those original recording methods, despite the use of modern recording software. We now sit down with a blank page (or screen) and within two hours we’ll have a brand new song, inspired entirely by the sounds we have access to, the influences in our lives, and the spontaneity of sparking off each other, something we’ve had between us since we were teenagers.
Phill – A lot of band’s music carries a message; does your music carry a specific message?
KUBO – Our fascination and inspiration for Kubo songs come from varied themes, mostly what we experience and love within cinema actually. We marry Sci-Fi, avante garde cinema with art and darker subjects like isolation and loneliness, which give us both a cold and detached quality, as well as one that can be quite emotive, even within the same song. The vocals often have a melancholic slant to them, but often there are pop elements too, so it’s a very strong sound on first listen.
When writing we will discuss an idea of a song, even before we write it. We dearly want our songs to be more than just songs about love lost and won. There’s 100,000’s of song out there about that already. But a song about David Bowman entering the star gate at the end ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (The Light That Blinds), or the concept of being sexually attracted to an android, à la ‘Blade Runner’ in the song ‘I Dream Electric’, very much ticks the Kubo box. There’s always a soul within the machinery of our songs.
Phill – KUBO was originally ManSeries when you were both in school. What are your memories of ManSeries and how do you think you have improved since then?
KUBO – Having first recorded electronic music together in 1986 under the name ManSeries, this initial partnership, which was minimal in its form and structure, began whilst we were both still at school. It was music created by 16/18 year olds, yet it was more experimental and certainly more alternative then we imagined it was at the time. We would hire a Juno 60, sequencer and 808 drum machine on a Friday, set it up in one of our living rooms along with a Korg MS10 we got for 50 quid, and we would literally write on the spot, the ghetto blaster on continuous record in the background. When we listened back to those old tapes, that essential spirit and mind-set, or stepping back into ourselves, was liberating and inspiring.
Since then we’ve both explored difference genres and arenas, collaborating again in various forms over the years, including the very early days of ‘Empire State Human’ as well as a film score for Brian’s directed short 'Screwback'. We always had a similar mind set to what we thought was good music, which makes for a very quick working environment.
When we decided to team up again to write as a unit we were delighted at how quickly we created new songs, and how good we felt they were. All the creating with other bands had paid off and when we began working on Kubo in November 2012 the results were pretty instant. Being older and more knowledgeable musically has also changed us from the ManSeries days, we don’t procrastinate, we just react to what we hear and it quickly evolves into a song.
The amount of vintage analogue synths at our disposal is a major factor too as we can literally have 8 vintage synths playing live via Logic Studio at the same time, each easily tweakable. It’s like having many instances of a soft synth open at once, just a whole lot better.
Phill – If there was one great lesson that the early days of ManSeries taught you, what was it?
KUBO – Stick to the original ideas of why you started the band. Too many acts never fully explore the original intention that sparked the music to begin with, and instead quickly try to evolve into something more mainstream or widely acceptable, without having the skill set or ability to do so successfully. Often it’s the naivety of your original creations that made you interesting, so explore that fully first. If you genuinely have something to offer, that exploration should yield results for some time!
Being young and fearless is an amazing position to be in, and one you can lose sight of very quickly over time. We certainly should have explored our more minimal offerings much further before moving into more mainstream pop territory in the early 90’s. But here we are now with Kubo in 2013, picking up where we left off with all that experience behind us. It’s amazing how a brief musical period in your life can turn out to be the most important.
Phill – In recent years there have been a few smaller record labels popped up, do you think this has helped or hindered bands with them being able to sign to smaller labels?
KUBO – Bands now need to work harder and try and do as much as they can themselves. From mixing, mastering, video making, seeking reviews, interviews, airplay and networking. It can be done, but it takes work. Regarding the amount of labels hindering bands, we’d be more worried with labels popping up and doing nothing or stagnating. Once a label has a vision, a goal or direction and they follow up on what they say they will do, you can’t complain. To start a label takes a lot of courage, money and dedication. The bands should try to match the label for workload, finding ways to get the music out there to a wider audience.
This is much easier today, particularly when it comes to sub genres, and you can find your audience much quicker than was previously possible. We used to do gigs in pubs where we were laughed at by long haired rockers. Now you can find the exact audience who will like your music. Its hard work, but its very liberating and ultimately more satisfying.
Phill – Your equipment and to some point your sound are very much from the eighties, but is there any modern piece of equipment or a gadget you cannot do without?
KUBO – Our retro-futuristic sound is something that has an 80s quality certainly, yet also there’s that modern approach and attention to sonic detail. The Apple Mac/Logic is probably the piece of modern equipment we couldn’t do without, or at least it would make things a whole lot more difficult and certainly slower. Exquisite audio quality of the Apple Mac and precise detail of Logic contrasted with the unpredictability and unstable nature of vintage analogue hardware is a perfect combination for us.
Phill – Come To My Disco is a song you have updated from your ManSeries days, what have you done to resurrect it?
KUBO – ‘Come to My Disco’ is very similar to the original. This started out as a live, living room recording, which then evolved into a more finessed studio recording. Thankfully we discovered a fairly obsessive friend of ours who ran a label we were involved with (Futuresque Records, Irelands first ever dedicated electronic music label), and whom we also rented the synths from back in the day, held onto some of the original multi tracks of many of those bands.
So in the case of ‘Come to My Disco’ we were able to take the elements from an 8 track recording into Logic Studio and reuse them. Some of the synth lines were played in by hand originally, and were a bit flaky, so we recreated them using the same synths. We also tweaked drums sounds and other elements, particularly effects etc. The result you hear now on SoundCloud is a kind of Redux – some old elements, some new, maybe 50/50, but certainly better sounding than the original, without losing the atmosphere of the track.
Each time we go back to it we replace a sound with something better, but Kubo is about Kubo, not a recreation of ManSeries, so were comfortable with that.
Phill – Apart from sound and lyrics, what do you think music needs to have to be good?
KUBO – The basic bass/chord progression are the building blocks for what makes music good and memorable. Without those elements there’s no opportunity for melody, rhythm and production. Production should be secondary to the quality of the song and for Kubo less layers are definitely more. If required, then we do add that little bit more but only if it feels right or it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the song or our sound. As a rule we try to use drums, bass line, sequence, lead riff and chords, and we tend to stick to that for the most part. In our opinion, simplicity and strong composition are that key ingredients to what makes synthwave music good.
Phill – Thank you so much for giving Grave Concerns Ezine this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
KUBO – Just to say thank you for the well thought out questions. We enjoyed answering them and hope your readers find them interesting.
Please check out our debut single “I Dream Electric” on Vocoder Tapes and keep up to date with what Kubo are doing via –
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