Erased Tapes cornerstone, Rival Consoles guides us round his South London studio and talks us through some creative processes that help give him that dynamic blend of undulating melodies, ambient textures and rich analogue minimalism, on full display across his recent album Persona.
What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?
I started playing the guitar when I was 12 and formed a band very quickly with friends at school. To begin with the set up was a guitar, an amp and my friends on drums and bass. I was in bands for the first five to ten years of my music life and I didn’t even touch a synth until after this period. By the time I started exploring music production I had a songwriting perspective, which I think helped with structuring ideas. My first synth was the Microkorg and a M-audio sound card and some Philips speakers that were £40.
What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?
Probably the Prophet 8 and Moog Voyager, which I bought at the same time. The Prophet 8 has become my go to synth and is very identifiable within my music I think.
Thanks for letting us snoop around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?
The main synth of choice is Prophet 8 and now it’s Revision (Rev2). I also use Korg Minilogue (this was used on ‘Be Kind’, which an improvisation using just one layer of the synth). I got the Matrixbrute at the very end of making Persona so it wasn’t used, but it is amazingly powerful! Moog Mother32s I used for some textural things. The Yamaha Reface CP I used a lot for ambient delayed-out Rhodes sounds. Roland Space Echo 555 was used a lot for dark reverb synth sounds. 6176 preamp/compressor and lots of guitar pedals and little gadgets were used to add character to synths.
Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?
I am in South East London. It’s just me mainly and, from time to time, any musician friends who are around at the time to improvise together.
What’s been your method for creating this studio?
Just an environment that feels comfortable and has a simple selection of instruments that I’m excited to explore. I do love having plants around synths which I think makes the studio feel more relaxed. I’m not a fan of the uber pro studio style thing. I still love the DIY, lo-fi home studio feel because it never feels like work, only play. A pro, acoustically treated room with racks of gear tend to feel more like a job to me.
Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase?
Very gradual, over the past 10 years. I never had a lot of money through my teens and 20s for cool music purchases so the exciting stuff came later. I think now is a really exciting time for people into hardware synths and devices because there are so many out there and many great pieces at affordable prices.
Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or add equipment?
Yes, I am in the process of building a drum kit/percussion selection, which I want to record and experiment with much more in the future. So far I have a beautiful dark ride cymbal and a ludwig snare which I played on Persona with brushes and many small percussion items such as shakers but I really want to get deeper into the power of live percussion recording. I am also considering expanding my modular set up, as I feel that is something I should be exploring more.
You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?
It would probably be the prophet 8, as I have made my last five records with it and has become a kind of recognisable sound of mine.
What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?
I usually improvise a lot and then try to build structure and more exact ideas into the moments that seem to have some momentum. I tend to record in very long synth parts live on the prophet, such as me exploring chord progressions, melodies and ambience. If anything magical happens I try to slowly build around that by what it inspires me. Sometimes I do have specific concepts in my mind such as ‘Recovery’ where I wanted to create a very specific rhythmic idea with synth. Same with ‘Unfolding’, which is centred around the concept of unison in music.
Do you have a routine beforehand, to get you in a creative mindset?
Not really. I mainly improvise hours of ideas a month and out of that hopefully things excite me. I tend to believe that working a lot increases your chances of witnessing something interesting, without forcing something. Also time away helps refresh your mind too.
Where do you go or what do you do when you have writers block? Anything outside the world of music that helps inspire you or resets the mental hardware?
I tend to go out a lot to try to stimulate making music. I am lucky that I have lots of friends that work in the arts so being around like minded people helps inspire new ideas and creates energy. I also go to art exhibitions a lot when I feel my work is lacking substance or direction, I find different art forms help me more than music itself.
Your new album Persona is inspired by an Ingmar Bergman’s film, specifically a shot in the opening credits. When it comes to music being used in film, are there any soundtracks which have been key in your development as a producer?
I grew up watching lots of classic films, all of the Hitchcock films for example, so iconic scores like Vertigo by Bernard Herrman made a bold impression on me as a kid. I didn’t understand anything about music then, but once I started to think about structure and ideas this became important. Herrman’s work is so powerful in how it changes mood and shape. I love all Sergio Leone films and of course Ennio Morricone, who also achieves such powerful emotional raw energy from his chord progressions and melodies. I think this traditional set of values is at the core of my music. Of course there’s the synth based scores such as Blade Runner, Escape from New York, A Clockwork Orange and Under the skin.
What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new album, Persona?
Probably Korg Minilogue. I created many subtle ambient sounds with this, which are all over the record but kind of hidden away and they create a more real picture to me.
Beyond the album, what else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?
I am playing many shows worldwide which is very exciting. I feel it always inspires the writing process to travel and hear my ideas in new places. I am also always creating music so I am excited to continue.