- 2001 ELECTROGARDEN COMMUNITY AWARDS
OF THE YEAR
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
In today's world of electronic music, much of the great music being created is by independent artists. One of these bands is Brand New Idol, made up of the brother team of Timothy and Kris Heireth (formerly of Joy Machine) and lead singer Frank J. Freda. Fresh off their wins as Best Unsigned Artist and Album of the Year for 2001 at the Electrogarden Community awards, BNI took some time to share their thoughts with us here at the EN.
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Brand New Idol has been called by some "the best unsigned band in the world". What is your reaction to that statement?
Kris: It's definitely very flattering. I think it was Scott Malonee, who's now a writer for RE/VOLT, that coined it first.
Frank: I think that we are among the best in our genre, signed or unsigned. We have great songwriting and I think we do a great job producing our songs. We also have a variety of different styles, so I think we appeal to non-synthpop fans as well.
Tim: It's very validating to see that people like what we do. I only wish their belief in us would be shared by a record company out there.
Along those lines, Brand New Idol is still unsigned. What type of record deal are you working towards and any offers yet?
Kris: We haven't been approached by any labels, nor have we passed on any deals involving compilations.
Frank: We haven't been approached about signing a deal yet, Our main goal is to sign a deal with a label that will have the distribution power to get us into large chains like Tower Records and Virgin Megastores, and vigorously promote us so that people will want to check us out.
Tim: We are looking for three things from a record label. 1) Distribution! There are a lot of great indie labels out there, but they simply don't have any real distribution. If you can't find a CD at Tower or other local music store then, unless you are really persistent, you don't find it period. Not everybody has a computer at home to track down CD's and a lot that do, don't trust making purchases on the Internet. 2) A solid business plan and promotions power. Record labels drop off the face of the earth everyday. We want to know that if we sign to a label on Friday, it will still exist on Monday. Plus (as Frank stated), any successful label needs to have a staff dedicated to promoting their artists. This is what makes you succeed in the business. 3) An honest love of what we do. In the industry music is the product. We want to be involved with a label that honestly cares about the music we make. That's the charm of indie labels.
What does winning the Electrogarden Network community awards for best unsigned artists and album of the year mean to you? What do you think it will do for your career?
Frank: First of all, congratulations to all of the nominees and winners. For me, winning these awards is a validation. I have always believed that the quality of our music was as good, if not better, than anything else available in our genre. It's nice to have the Electrogarden community and our fans reinforce my belief by voting for us.
My hope is that these awards will bring us more exposure and fans. The Internet is today's "grass roots" campaign for electronic artists who do not have as much opportunity to tour as do traditional guitar-bass-drum bands that can play anywhere. We have gained so many fans, friends and supporters through the web and they have helped to spread the word about us. Unfortunately, there are not many clubs that welcome a band consisting of two synth players, pre-sequenced music and a vocalist. It is even harder (nearly impossible) for one-man electronic acts.
Kris: The awards mean a great deal, and are truly a huge honor coming from EGN! We were early EGN contributors/adopters, I remember when EGN first created that killer flash site that wow'ed us all, it was really fascinating seeing how fresh the flash work was.
Will the award create in-roads for our career? I hope so, obviously it has made some impact as I find more and more people have learned who BNI is. It's obviously something we hope will make in-roads with festivals such as Synthcon, which we thought we were a shoe-in for this year, but weren't chosen to play.
Tim: I am extremely grateful to everyone that participated in the awards. It is a validation to me that after 14 years dabbling in my favorite genre, we are still able to produce music that can draw such a positive response. What makes these awards so special to me is that they come directly from the synthpop community. I only wish that more people were involved in the voting process. It doesn't bode well for our scene, if when given the chance to speak up, people don't. The opinions of a couple thousand registered members on this site were left to 150-200 dedicated people.
As far as what I think this will do for our career, this is a great leg up for us in the synthpop community. And to be totally honest it's a huge resume builder. When we started making music back in '88 with our band Heads Up Display, we didn't have the Internet to get our music out there to the masses. Though we did manage to sell 2000 tapes at our live shows, record company doors just wouldn't open up for us. When we retooled our sound with Joy Machine, we had to contend with the grunge fad. Nobody wanted to sign synthpop acts in the US. Now that there is a global Internet driven synthpop community, with a voice, that is accessible to both the fans and the industry, these awards can only strengthen our chances of signing that elusive deal.
Joy Machine has gained quite a large following posthumously. What do you attribute this to and how has this helped Brand New Idol? Has it had any drawbacks?
Honestly, through a bit of luck by uploading a few Joy Machine songs on MP3.com early on when MP3.com was still in it's infancy, being exposed to people that thought synthpop wasn't being created anymore, and through diligence on our part to be approachable when fans contacted us about the JM tracks. MP3.com was and still is a huge promotional tool for synthpop artists even though many of us don't like the policies and major label wranglings that go on with this service today. MP3.com still offers the highest level of visibility to artists and when you connect there you connect. It was through the popularity of JM that BNI was formed, since we knew we still had the spark to write good songs.
There haven't been too many drawbacks other than trying to get people to connect the dots between the two bands. Early on it was hard to get people to realize that Joy Machine didn't exist anymore and that Brand New Idol was rising from the ashes and writing the new material. A lot of fans like the DM sound we went after with JM, some even commented that it was better than what DM had began to release post Alan. But we're not here to replicate DM with BNI.
Tim: At the time we released our Joy Machine material on the Internet we we're only concerned with one thing, saving it. We used to record our songs on a direct-to-tape 6 track recorder. When Kris and I listened to one of the songs ("Will I Lie") one day, we noticed that there were dropouts in the music. So we decided to archive our songs on disc. While talking to Simon (Former JM member) about the best way to do it, we decided to remaster everything and put it up somewhere people could actually hear it. I think people were hungry for something new and Joy Machine fit the bill. I actually talked to Peter at the time about reforming Joy Machine, but he's in love with Brit pop now and wanted to focus on his band, Saintface. So we moved on to BNI. Last year, before the release of DM's new album someone put a couple JM songs up on Napster as DM rare b-sides. When people found out who really did the songs, we got two types of responses: one being total outrage (as if artists had any control over what was on Napster) and the other praise that there was something out there that sounded the way DM should sound.
"Still Beautiful Falling Apart" has been out for a few months now. How do you perceive that it has been received by the synthpop community? What are your favorite tracks?
Frank: I think that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received very complimentary reviews praising our song writing, production and vocals. My favorite songs change from time to time, but my current favorites are "The Lonelier You Get", "Someone Else's Eyes", and "Still Beautiful Falling Apart".
Tim: Yeah, so far the response has been great, though a bit limited. The fans that we have are all rabidly loyal. I think that once we get our name out there more people will warm up to what we're trying to do. I think that a lot of synthpop has become formulaic, relying on technology more than melody. We are obsessed with melody. That's what I think makes us so popular with those who have become our "Idol Worshippers." A lot of artists out there, particularly on electrogarden.com, seem to share our obsession. Hopefully it will spread out to the bleak arpeggiated waste that the world wide synthpop community has become. My favorite songs on SBFA would have to be "Still Beautiful Falling Apart" only because I wrote it so long ago and I'm glad it has held up to time, "The Lonelier You Get" because I think it's closest to our current production aesthetic and "Your Favorite Disguise" because I wrote it in one night and it doesn't sound like anything else we've done.
Kris: My favorite tracks have to be "Your Favorite Disguise", "Someone Else's Eyes", and our cover of the PSB song, "This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave".
You have played a few "live" dates now. How has that gone and what venues can we expect to see you at in the future?
Frank: We have three shows under our belt and they have been in New Jersey, New York City and Connecticut. It has gone extremely well and we are all pleased with our performances and the turnouts at the shows. We have had fans travel from as far as California to see us, which is extremely flattering. Aside from songs from "Still Beautiful Falling Apart" we have also performed some surprise tracks like our cover of "How Soon Is Now?".
Our next scheduled show is at the Loop Lounge in Passaic Park, NJ () on Friday, March 8th. We are very excited about this show as we will be playing on the same stage that has hosted Nine Inch Nails, Anything Box, The Rollins Band, Faith No More, The Smithereens and They Might Be Giants.
Tim: The fan response at our shows has been overwhelming. The crowd response at our second show @ True in NYC was so insane that it has opened up a half dozen high profile venues to us. We are currently narrowing down show dates with those venues so that has to remain hush, hush for now. We are frantically finishing up some of our new material for our upcoming shows, plus you can look forward to us doing our cover of "This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave" that we recorded for the European based Pet Shop Boys fan tribute album "Attribute".
For at least the first half of 2002 we will be focusing most of our live shows in the NY, NJ, CT and PA area simply due to the fact that we all have day jobs and the technology we use is so expensive it leaves us with little, if any, extra cash to fund a larger scale tour. But don't worry, we will be out to your area soon enough!
Kris: Playing live has been great, our set is tight, were getting comfortable getting up on stage again. I'm sure anyone that has come to see us has had a great time, I'd like to think were very engaging live band. We'd love to get out of the CT/NJ/NY area, though it is a great place to play, since there are many venues to choose from. We've had requests to play up in toronto, detroit and a few others, obviously time is an issue, and we all work, but we could put on a show a week if we had the right incentive. Our goal right now is to play out about 3 - 4 times a month. Places I'd like to see us play: London, Berlin, Los Angeles, San Fran, San Diego, Philly, Detroit, Toronto. Some really solid synthpop markets where we have a installed fan base from JM.
Your new album "Atomic Age Playboy" is due out this summer. What sneak peeks can you give us? How do you expect this album to differ from "Still Beautiful Falling Apart"?
Tim: Well I can tell you that it's going to be really great. We have developed a style that I think will be very popular. Still Beautiful Falling Apart is a study in the growth of our band. You can definitely tell the difference between the older and newer tracks. Expect "The Atomic Age Playboy" to be much more mature. The production style will be something akin to "The Lonelier You Get." I imagine songs like "True Believer", "Heaven On Earth" & "Atomic Age Playboy" will be very popular. We will start to test them out on unsuspecting audiences in the spring, once we've finished our remix album "Beauty Is Sometimes Hard On The Eyes." Also there will be exclusive previews available only to members of our Idol Worship message board.
Kris: I think we're finally developing a cool sound and production. I think AAP is going to be very mature, very listenable and have some of the strongest song writing we've done yet.
Frank: I am very excited about the songs we will be releasing. Tim has been the most prolific, writing the majority of our material to date, but I am going to be contributing more in this area (both musically and lyrically) for the next release. One of the songs that Tim and I have been working on and are looking forward to completing is a track called "True Believer".
What equipment are you using to make the new album and what are some of your favorite pieces in your arsenal?
Tim: We have a deep loyalty to the gear that we've been using all these years. Our workhorses have always been our Roland D-70 and Juno 106 plus our Oberheim Matrix 1000. They will always find a voice in our music, but I have personally fallen in love with the Korg Triton. It's so easy to make sounds on that beast. It has opened up a lot of creative time that was spent bogged down in the mire of waveform editing and sample manipulation. Also, I find it kind of ironic that I bought the Yamaha QY70 as a sort of sketchbook for song ideas, because now I find myself using it more and more in our finished productions. Those Freezepop people are on to something. Our other active gear includes: Yamaha TX81Z (great fm synth) Yamaha TQ5, Korg 01W, Kurzweil K-2000VP (the perfect controller) and a venerable Boss DR 660 (that still has some nice percussion.)
Our dusty remnants include: A Roland JX10, Oberheim Matrix 6, Emu ESI 32 (that I reluctantly consigned to the closet after we got the Triton), Korg EX-800(lost it's memory), Emu Emax SE, Yamaha TX16W (Ravers still seem to love this sampler) Kawai K5 (best keys, worst sounds) and our first sampler ever, a Roland S-200 (8 bits of pure power!)
: The newest equipment we added in the last year were a Korg Triton and a Yamaha QY-70. The Triton is my favorite to work with because it has so many great sounds (512 programs and 512 combinations plus preset appregiators and great drum kits) that inspire me.
What are your favorite bands today and who has had the most impact on you musically?
Kris: Well I flip flop some of my favorite bands today are The Faint, Turin Breaks, a lot of British electronic bands like the Basement Jaxx, Chemical Brothers, Les Rhythm Digitales, etc. I would have to say that Vince Clark has impacted me the most, musically.
Frank: My biggest influences are the classic acts of synthpop, industrial and alternative - Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Camouflage, Erasure, The Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths. My favorites of our genre today include simulator, Iris, The Nine and Neuropa.
Tim: That's a very broad question. As far as my current favs, they would include groups like Mesh, Beborn Beton, Apoptygma Berzerk and though I'm trying to fight the good fight, I've started to get a bit partial to Linkin Park (feel free to hate me now).
As far as who has had the most influence, think of the classics from the 80's. Particularly, but not limited to Alphaville, DM, Wire, Nitzer Ebb, Fad Gadget, The Smiths, Front 242, Yazoo, Erasure, Heaven 17 and definitely one specific song by Peter Godwin called "Images Of Heaven" because aside from DM, it was my first introduction to synthpop on MTV.
What is your take on the synthpop scene today and where do you see it going in the near future?
Tim: The scene today seems to be very exclusive. It's not as much about what it is, as it is about whether or not you were the first to know about it. You see people in forums asking simple questions like "I like DM, can you tell me about any bands that sound like that?" getting bombarded with arguments about how DM is no longer synthpop and "hey check out my band @ nothinglikedm.com..." it's hard to get your fair due in an environment like that. It's clique or be ignored. As far as the club scene goes, there isn't one. It's either Eighties night or week night "goth/industrial/ebm/maybe if your lucky we'll play some synthpop" at some little bar. It's funny though that at said eighties nights the synthpop songs always seem to get the best response. Hopefully some day in the not to distant future, we'll all start working together to get our scene out of the closet and back to the masses where it belongs. But just so that I'm clear, I love the underground synth fans, because they know what they want and they make sure you know as well!
Kris: The U.S. scene is extremely exclusive, Tim hits it on the head. People can argue the fact but we're very up front about it, can't candy coat it. I think the best thing is to make a presence on the web and show those DJ's that when they play a synthpop song the dance floor packs, hire a pr firm to get the reviews in the magazines that matter(Keyboard, AP, Details, etc.) A lot of people read these magazines and do impulse buy. But the problem so far with what I see is the scene is preaching to the converted, that's great you have a built in audience but how do you hit that crowd that's not listening to you but probably would enjoy it. I won't get into the dynamics behind promotion but to look at one band "The Faint" and see how they do it. It's very interesting. Here's a band that plays out a lot, considered synthpop, have become media darlings, has a label that really knows who to hire to promote the record, and they have blown up and blown out of the mold. We as a genre should be figuring out ways to ride on those coat tails, the opportunity has been made we should do it through examples like The Faint. How many synthpop bands play out, not many, and not many dates when they do, is this a lack of interest, no, it's a lack of promotion. Trying to get someone to buy your record and become a fan is the ultimate goal, we should be figuring out ways to utilize this momentum that's building in the genre. Hey admin how bout a Faint interview :)
Frank: It is definitely a word-of-mouth genre - I learn about new bands and new songs through friends more than I do from radio or video. In fact, I rarely listen to the radio anymore. I prefer to make my own CDs of bands I like. I think that synthpop will continue to stay in the shadows, but that it will continue to expand its fan base.
Why do you think synthpop has had such a hard time breaking back into the mainstream?
Kris: Once again because we've allowed ourselves to say "this is the best it's going to be so lets keep the current business model and not think out of the box we're in". It's not that it's not possible to break into a mainstream market, it's being done. Ultimately it's up to the label to think out of the box, break the records, and have bands that are willing to take it to the next level. But there is complacency I think and possibly worry that's making people to comfortable to taking the plunge (i.e. losing their day job, putting too much money into marketing a record) I would bet that every synthpop label has a model and says, OK I P&D X band for 1000 units, I send 100 copies to clubs pools, send 50 copies to radio and that's that and send 15 copies to the same 15 magazines that always write about my bands. Well that's not the way to do it, if you feel you have the record you should promote it to it's fullest. How is Saddle Creek records doing it for The Faint? Maybe someone should give them a call and build a relationship.
Frank: It's all about money. I think that if we could prove to advertisers that there was a large demographic of men and women age 15 - ? that loves synthpop they might take notice. One thing that I think would help is if people continue to request to hear synthpop on the radio and on video television. I applaud all of the club, college, and commercial (there are a few) DJs who put on alternative shows and spin unsigned bands. Also noteworthy are the independent labels that put out compilations that help introduce synthpop bands to the masses.
Tim: And as I said before, I think that a lot of the current synthpoppers are relying too heavily on the fancy arpeggiators and sweeps instead of hooks and melodies. How would "Enjoy The Silence" sound without it's famous hooks (Probably a lot like the new DM album). We are after all making pop music. Understandably synthpop's take is darker than Britney, but there is a relationship. (whether we're willing to admit it our not) I would love to see synthpop make it back to the top of the charts, but as with anything that goes underground, it is hard to move up to the light without loosing the disaffected core of fans that support you. Everybody wants it to be their dirty little secret. You can definitely tell that people want synthpop, just listen to the Europop club hits by Gigi D'Agostino and Eiffel 65. People want it, they just don't want to look for it. It's a shame that most of the major artists out there seem to be trying to shake off the 80's stigma by turning out albums that are obviously less than they are capable off. It does absolutely nothing to help the cause. Just like Trent Reznor trashing all the industrial and ebm bands that made it possible for him to get noticed, the low-tech production on DM's "Exciter" and Erasure's "Love boat" make it harder for the underground synthpoppers to get a fair shot with the major labels.
Tell the fans out there a little about yourself and some of your favorite past-times outside of the music scene?
Tim: I'm 31, born on August 19, 1970. I have A BFA in sculpture from The University Of The Arts in Philadelphia. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I work for a company called Anthropologie as a display artist for their flagship Soho store. The first album I ever bought was "Construction Time Again" by Depeche Mode when I was 13. I am engaged to a beautiful woman named Corey Rossiter and we should be married before the end of the year if we can afford it.
I have two passions in life, music and art. I was never quite satisfied with just listening to music, just as I have never been satisfied with just looking at art. I'm a two trick pony. But if you really must know my deep dark secret, I love Star Wars Legos. As a kid my two favorite toys were my Star Wars figures and my legos. So now what did they go and do? Put 'em together in one neat little package. Twenty years of hipness cast aside like an old newspaper. I have a living room full of them. I've never really ever tried to hide my love of Star Wars, I even have the Imperial emblem tattooed on my leg, but now I've got the "collection". Aside from that, I love campy films. More than one of my inspirations for a song came from a campy movie. The cheesier and more obscure the better. The only other thing I can think of is sleep. Sleep is a luxury for me. I get so little of it between my days at work and nights in the studio, that when I do get the chance to sleep in, I do it with abandon. Saturday which is usually my only day to sleep in, I average about 14-16 hours. So you better not ever consider trying to contact me that day!
Kris: I'm 32, born May 27th, 1969, I have a BA in Music Composition from Western Connecticut State University. I live in Jersey City, NJ. I work for Caroline Music Distribution as their New Media Manager. First band I remember buying anything for was Charlie Daniels "Devil Went Down to Georgia" 7" single and Prince "1999" 7" single, yes this was all in the same transaction. I like do web programming which keeps me engaged, it's also what I do for a living. Huge fan of movies and seeing films in theatres instead of renting them after they come out on VHS or DVD. I also play way too much everquest; (I know ... D&D geek) but I can't be the only synthpop artist that plays this game :) or could I?
Frank: One interesting thing about me is that my eyes are different shades. My left eye is dark brown and my right eye is hazel/green. I have a BS degree in Management from St. John's University and I am a computer networking professional. I was born in NY on 1/28/71 and I now live in NJ. I have a younger brother, Chris and two older sisters, Nadine and Kim. Music is so integrated into everything I do. I love watching movies and I love good food. I am a huge New York Yankees fan and I like to catch a few games a year at Yankee Stadium. Other than that, I love spending time with my girlfriend, Nancy, and my family and friends.
Thanks guys! Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
Frank: I would just like to say thank you again to everyone who has voted for us, played us in clubs, included us on compilations, reviewed our CD, come to our shows, purchased our CD, and introduced us to their friends. They are the ones who keep this genre alive. It is very rewarding for us to know that we are heard and appreciated. We want you to know that we are truly grateful.
Kris: I just want to thank all the fans that have supported us over the years and for the opportunity for this interview, former bandmates, and my mom who allowed us to sit up to the break of dawn while our 150 watt per side PA speakers were thumping all night, so we could plug along writing tunes (sorry for the sleep deprivation).
Tim: I have to say that I am grateful to all of the wonderful people that we have met along the way that have supported us. We are starting to play out more often and have had nothing but positive responses from everyone we have met. I hope that someday soon we'll get out and tour the country so that everyone can get a chance to gawk at us live.
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