While you may know William Covert as the drummer of Droughts and Space Blood, he released his debut album Music for Synthesizer and Drums earlier in the year and it was a bit of a departure in musical terms. Over to Will on what influenced the album…
Music for Synthesizer and Drums – Album Influences
After a decade of drumming in various math rock, post-rock, post-hardcore, and punk bands including Space Blood, Droughts, and Rust Ring I decided to try something different and began writing music on my own that led to the making of my first solo album. Inspired by the hybrid acoustic-electronic drumming of Bill Bruford in the 1980’s lineup of King Crimson, I bought my first electronic drum kit, a mid-80’s analogue Simmons SDS 800 with the classic hexagonal drum pads, when I was 18. Since then I’ve slowly amassed a collection of synths and electronic music gear over the years, which I did incorporate some of in Space Blood, but most of it never felt quite fitting to use in any of the heavier bands I play in. I went down an analogue synth rabbit hole a few years back after getting a Korg Monologue synth and found myself listening to more and more synth based music ranging from horror music soundtracks to ambient soundscapes to krautrock as I was figuring out how to use the instrument.
Making electronic music by yourself is a very solidarity and introspective experience that in and of itself influenced the album in terms of feel and mood. I decided to call the album, Music for Synthesizer and Drums, because I wrote most of the songs from a perspective of playing to synths and drums in a live setting at the same time and was just focused on trying to make interesting music using only synthesizers and drums. I created a playlist of the artists who were in my constant listening rotation when I wrote and recorded the album.
Spotify Playlist – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/54IaKlt0ROLGZO5kXnIgz8
The band that I’ve probably become obsessed with the most as I got more and more obsessed with analogue synths is Zombi. I feel like they serve as a great gateway band into synth based music for someone who is into math rock, post-metal, prog, post-hardcore, etc., but not really familiar with or into electronic music. Zombi’s use of odd-time signatures and polyrhythms is what originally caught my attention, but the way they use synths and sequencers to compose and arrange songs is what really influenced my playing. In some songs the way they use sequencers as loops and play over them is reminiscent to the way Don Caballero, or so many math rock bands since, use guitar looping in songs. My use of sequencers on the songs “I Am Not Paul Avery” and “Terraforming” was largely influenced by Zombi.
Along with Zombi, the music of John Carpenter was another gateway I found from the world of math rock over to synth based electronic music. I watch a lot of horror movies, especially 80’s horror movies, and while I do prefer practical special effects over CGI, it’s the music of 80’s horror movies that in my opinion make them so great. John Carpenter’s most notable original song is the theme to Halloween, which happens to be in 5/4 and like a lot of Carpenter’s songs is very brooding and dark. As a fan of bands with dark and brooding minimalistic music like Slint and Codeine, I feel that sense of foreboding is very prevalent throughout horror and suspense movie scores. John Carpenter’s theme for his 1983 movie Christine is probably my favorite of his movie themes and when listening to it today it sounds like a classic 80’s horror score and also weirdly contemporary as it sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to Stranger Things or It Follows.
Angelo Badalamanti and the Music of David Lynch
I’m a huge David Lynch fan, and one of my favorite things about Lynch is how he uses music in his films and TV. Angelo Badalamanti’s “Laura Palmer’s Theme” for the Twin Peaks soundtrack is just a very powerful and cathartic song while at the same time being very minimal straightforward. My song “Under My Skin Sing Lonely Wires” was written with the music of Twin Peaks in my mind along with the melancholic emotions of Codeine. The song title is a lyric take from the Codeine song “Wird.” Another Lynch influence on the album is the album artwork. I was on vacation in Seattle, Washington, and traveled to various locations outside of Seattle where they shot Twin Peaks and the album cover is a picture I took just down river from Snoqualmie Falls, which is the waterfall in the opening credits and the site of the Great Northern Hotel in the show.
More Soundtracks, Soundtracks, Soundtracks
A couple other movie soundtracks that I listened to a lot when writing the album was Ben Frost’s amazing soundtrack to the 2017 film Super Dark Times and Wendy Carlos’ work on The Shining. Ben Frost’s music is equally dark as it is meditative, and along with the OST for Super Dark Times he also released an experimental electronic album in 2017 called The Centre Cannot Hold that was recorded with Steve Albini (Shellac, Big Black) at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago and the production collaboration in making a raw live in the studio recording in Albini’s signature recording style was something I wanted to replicate when recording Music for Synthesizer and Drums. All of Wendy Carlos soundtrack work with Stanley Kubrick is great, and besides being one of the first users of a Moog synthesizer in the 1960’s, she was also an openly transgendered woman, and had an immense influence on the shaping of electronic music.
Bill Bruford and King Crimson
Bill Bruford is my favorite drummer and his style of drumming in 1980’s King Crimson and his solo band Bruford has been a long-time influence in my playing. I use Simmons SDS 800 electronic drums throughout my solo album and a lot I learned about how to dial in sounds and tones on my Simmons analogue module I’ve learned from trying to replicate electronic drum sounds used on the King Crimson albums Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair. My song “Neon Heat Disease” is a lyrical reference to the Crimson song “Neurotica” off their 1982 album Beat. The Simmons pads electronic drum tones on their song “Waiting Man” also off of Beat, was a large influence in the shape and tone of my Simmons pads I used on the album.
Louisville’s Watter is a very underrated band that has become one of my favorite bands of the past 5 years. Britt Walford of Slint is one of my favorite drummers, and Zak Riles, who was also a long-time member of Grails, is an incredibly accomplished guitarist and keyboardist. Watter is an eclectic mix of krautrock, ambient, post-rock, experimental electronic music, and prog. The arrangement of my song “Terraforming” was largely influenced by Watter’s album History of the Future.
Liturgy being a black metal band is probably the most out of place on this list. They did something on their last album The Ark Work that I thought was unique and interesting with incorporating electronic elements that I wanted to try myself when writing this album. Throughout The Ark Work they would layer acoustic and electronic instruments on top of each other, so regular electric guitar would be playing with a guitar synth being on top of it, which creates real unique textures and timbres. They do the same thing with drums where electronic drum samples will be playing on top of the acoustic drums and just be real glitchy and kind of attention grabbing. On the song “I Am Not Paul Avery” I play both real acoustic bells in that song as well as playing digital bells pads on a drum synth at the same time and experimenting with that mix of tones in the song was a Liturgy influence.
Modular Synth Artists
The more I’ve been playing analogue synthesizers the deeper my respect has gotten for artists who play modular synthesizers. If you don’t know what a modular synthesizer is, if you ever seen an image of a synth that looks like an old telephone switch board that you have to plug cables into and turn knobs to get a sound, that’s a modular synthesizer though today they’ll usually much smaller in size, but still just as confusing to operate. Sam Prekop and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith are my two favorite contemporary modular synth artists and I recently got my first modular synth and only going further down that rabbit hole.
I have bought and listened to numerous albums by Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, and Tangerine Dream, but none of those classic krautrock bands of note every translating to influencing what I was doing musically. Contemporary bands with a krautrock lean like Bitchin’ Bajas and Horse Lords as well as the aforementioned Zombi and Watter have become recent sources of inspiration. I saw both Bitchin’ Bajas and Horse Lords live while I was writing the album and those shows were both pretty transformative to me with shaping my own music and had the most last impacting of any shows I saw during the time I was writing for the album. The song “Resplendent in Divergence” was largely influenced by both of those bands.
My gear set-up at Jamdek Studio during the album’s recording session.
Solo Electronic Drummers
Adam Betts of Three Trapped Tigers, Ian Chang of Son Lux, and Greg Fox of Liturgy have all put out solo albums heavily featuring electronic drums and electronic music in the past couple years. Space Blood played with Adam Betts on the same stage at ArcTanGent in 2016. Betts’ solo set was very inspiring and made me interested in to checking out what other solo drum projects were out there and see what approach other drummers were doing in terms of gear and electronics. Learning what other drummers were doing to make solo electronic music helped me when I started writing Music for Synthesizer and Drums so I could try to stay away from the approaches of other solo drummers or certain pieces of electronic gear they used in order to try to put my own stamp on what a solo album by a drummer could be.
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