Got the chance to interview the incredible Tim Gane of Stereolab. This one is pretty special because Stereolab are one of my all-time favorite bands! Tim also makes music under Cavern of Anti-Matter, which I highly recommend checking out if you haven't.
Below Tim talks about his favorite records, first pieces of gear and more.
Synth History: What were some of the albums you were listening to growing up?
Tim Gane: I got into music right a the start of the new wave period in the UK, just after punk. That would have been around Spring/Summer of 1978, I was 13 then. The first LP I bought was Elvis Costello - This Years Model, which I still have, and from then on explored all of the new wave/punk into post punk
and then the new electronic scenes.
In 18 months I’d gone from Elvis Costello and Buzzcocks to Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire.
Here are some of the mainstay LPs I listened to from those days, the first that come to my head. Wire - Chairs Missing, This Heat - This Heat LP, Saints - Know Your Product, PIL - Metal Box, The Fall - Dragnet, Television - Marquee Moon, Cabaret Voltaire - The Voice Of America, Residents - Duck Stab!, Chrome - Alien Soundtracks, Throbbing Gristle - DOA, Kraftwerk - The Man Machine, Siouxsie and the Banshees - The Scream.
Synth History: What was your first instrument?
Tim Gane: A Burns electric guitar was my first instrument, followed by a Rickenbacker 360. I also had an unknown - don’t remember the name of it - sequencer, with soft pad controls that could only be sequenced using crotchets and quavers, which I didn’t understand, so everything was programmed randomly. I also had my first Moog around that time: a Prodigy and a WEM Copicat and bought my first 4-track cassette recorder, a Fostex X-15. This machine lasted all the way up to the Dots and Loops period of Stereolab, 16 years later! See, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Synth History: What have been some of your go-to pieces of equipment throughout the years, doesn't have to be synth-related but could be?
Tim Gane: In the period of Stereolab, it would’ve been Fender guitars, mainly Jaguars, and Farfisa organs, the grey ones; a Farfisa electric harpsichord/cembalo. [Which I] still have, although it's not really working anymore. A Vox Continental organ, which I also still have and it works! A Moog Rogue, most of the electronics on the early Stereolab records. That’s gone to Moog heaven, the post Bob section; although Bob did repair the Rogue when we were on tour in the mid 90s, as we had gone to see him in Asheville. It was a bit cheeky to ask him and although he said he didn’t build that one himself, he did fix it for us with a smile.
Synth History: Is there any story behind the Moog Opus 3 synth as seen in the live video of "Les Yper Sound" on the Jools Holland show?
Tim Gane: No real story except that it was cheap, like all our synths, and not really much liked at the time. We liked it and Laetitia used it as her keyboard, mainly using the “Brass” sounds in all our concerts up until the end of the first round, I think. It eventually just died, but I do miss it and it really worked well live:
some real grit to it that punched through. The new digital thing now she’s got, I don’t like it that much but she’s managed to find some usable sounds on it.
Synth History: There are a number of film inspirations in Stereolab’s work, for example Emperor Tomato Ketchup, named after the 1971 film by Shūji Terayama. What are some of your favorite films and what are some more examples of films inspiring the music of Stereolab?
Tim Gane: Big question and one that I could talk hours about but to try and be concise: films and film music is of paramount importance to the music of Stereolab and myself personally in all the music I do outside of Stereolab. TV themes and soundtracks were the first music that affected me long before I started buying records. I had a DIN plug on the TV and could record audio onto a cassette recorder. The programs I liked most were the ones with the best music and the way the title sequences went with the music. When I first saw The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, it really blew my mind. The way film and TV music is arranged was a big influence on me, I think. It's a bit different to pop song arrangements and can go off on interesting tangents into out of the way places.
Synth History: I loved the score for In Fabric - and when I heard the music in the film, I immediately had to look it up and was happy to learn of The Cavern of Anti-Matter. What is it like scoring something versus making your own personal music and what was the process like for scoring that film?
Tim Gane: I’ve been involved with four or five film soundtracks so far and they are all quite different in their own way, but the one thing you know is, it's going to be hard work. You need maximum flexibility and to be prepared to throw away a lot of music that you love personally. To make music to an image is wonderful in the way that it heightens the senses of both the music and the image; and immediately confirms whether the two mediums are working together, there’s a yardstick. The director might not like it though, and you have to do it again and again, but in the end you get something worthwhile.
Synth History: Do you think there is an audible difference between analog sounds and digital sounds and do you have a preference for either?
Tim Gane: Ah! Yes, this old chestnut. Another complex conundrum. I have to separate them into two distinct digital groups: machines that either create original sounds or process audio via digital or analog/digital components; or those which try to emulate specific analog instruments and where direct
comparisons can be made. Digital/analog hybrid synths have been available for 50 years now and they sound great, but the digital pianos, organs, etc... I don’t like them much, or [use them] only as a convenience. It always made me feel down when Stereolab were forced to take up the Nord Lead live due to constant organ breakdowns and travel restrictions. I really hate the Nord Lead and the way it looks, but only because it's not the sound I want. I understand why other people use it, but for me, the sound is just a void.
Play a chord on a Vox Continental and it can bring a tear to your eye, play one on a digital organ, a Hammond usually, and I will never get that. There is something missing to my mind. Also, they don’t amp well, which is another thing. I think digital/analog hybrids are the way to go probably, various pieces of modular gear and remakes like the ARP Odyssey and Mellotron prove that this is a viable solution. I love the Mellotron by the way!
Synth History: If you had to pick your personal favorite Stereolab records that you’re most proud of, what would they be? I know this question might be hard because they’re all great obviously!
Tim Gane: They’re not all great to be honest, but a few do stick out, for reasons not all due to the music but sometimes the effect of the packaging and titles in combination with the music: John Cage Bubblegum 7”, Kyberneticka Babicka 7”, Fluorescences 12”, Cobra and Phases Group, Sound Dust, Switched On 2, Switched On 5, Simple Headphone Mind 12”.
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