Q. Pre 'siliconchipsuperstar', Could you give me a brief history as to how and when it all started for you as a musician?
A. Brief? You'll be lucky ! I had a fascination for music from a very young age. I started on guitar age 9 years and whenever I could borrow an instrument I'd try to play it (saxophone, whistle, fiddle, bass guitar and so on). I got my first synth when I started university in 1985 and never really looked back: it was my gateway into bands and my first band "Mirror Freak" played some very cool Talking Heads and Japan tracks. It was always on my mind to be a solo synth-based project but every time I started I was distracted by being in a band or lacked confidence in my voice or songwriting. I remember being in a rehearsal room with a very good singer and trying to do a Yazoo rip-off... even then I was finding reasons why it wouldn't work (I didn't have enough equipment?) so I joined another band and made friends I've been in touch with 30 years later. I've made many friends for life in the various bands I've been in though - no regrets on that front.
There was a period of a year or 2 when I was playing with ex-Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey and one night was a member of a full on Lizzy reunion with Brian and Eric Bell... another night we found ourselves playing with the late Gary Moore. A million miles away from synthpop !
A big step for me came in 2007-08 when I did a workshop with Tom Robinson (look him up) and unlocked the songwriter and performer in me that had been locked away for years. Tom gave me real encouragement and confidence. I came back to Dublin booking gigs for myself even though I hadn't written any songs ! I immersed myself in it all and looking back I realise that in order to get to the point where I could write a synthpop album I needed to learn the basics of songwriting and make some mistakes under the radar.
Q. What was it that gave you the urge to write and record a new album after all those years?
A. I had released a guitar-based album "Other People's Hats" in 2012 and while it was satisfying artistically and great fun to do a sold-out launch gig here in Dublin I was frustrated by the lack of radio play, lukewarm sales and no reviews.
Yet again I was miles away from my original dream of that solo synth act. The tracks I had most fun with were the ones I added synth to and one of the radio singles was a song called 'Saving Souls' which used a CR78 drum machine and a Fender Rhodes. It pointed in the direction I was going.
In retrospect while I think some of the songs on that album stand up well I was kidding myself thinking that what I had was original enough to warrant attention. There's a million singer-songwriters with guitars. Eventually, I decided to stop as it wasn't fun anymore. I decided to get back to what I really enjoyed and stopped gigging, sending out promo CDs and generally banging my head off a wall.
I began playing with synths and drum machines for the first time in years. I was having fun and found some of the songs came easily. From there I kept writing and next thing I knew I had an album written. But all that time it was for me: I indulged myself in the sounds, rhythms and themes of post-punk synthpop.
Q. Was there an air of anxiety when you finally sat down to start the album and thought, this is it?
A. None at all. I had started with some song demos and got great feedback on them so I kept writing and demoing. I was invited to play at Night Of The Machines in 2014 which opened up the possibility of doing something with these songs. A few months later I sat down and realised I was finally doing what I wanted to do all along. Soon as I stopped thinking about it I ended up with an identity and a sound. I had found my voice.
The only "this is it" moment came with the test pressing of the vinyl. There is one sound on the album I'm unhappy with and I wrestled for a weekend mulling over whether to remix, remaster the track and then get the album re-cut. I didn't and signed off on the test pressing. Nobody has noticed the sound so I was right... but if I ever re-issue that track I'm fixing the sound!
Q. When you started the album, what was your thought process behind it, musically and lyrically?
A. Musically I wanted to capture the essence of 1978-82 in the sounds used: I used soft synths and a few hardware synths. My only rule was that the instruments had to be from the 70s & 80s. I think the most modern instrument on the album was a Roland D-50. I used software recreations of the classic Linn Drum, DMX, CR78 and TR808 drum machines. This was important to getting the sound of the era which I think I captured.
Every track on the album had to stand alone as a good song. I'm passionate about songwriting as an art form and wanted to emulate my influences in that respect. My benchmarks were Yazoo 'Upstairs At Erics' and Thomas Dolby 'Golden Age Of Wireless'.
There was a post-it note on my mixing desk for the duration of the album which said "no chords allowed". A reminder to write melody. Most of the songs started as vocal melodies which I'd try to play along with using 2 synths and a drum loop.
Lyrically it was a change for me. Taking advice from a friend I stopped writing "about" things and just wrote using words that sounded nice and weren't out of place with this genre. The song "Reverberate" started off as a song where I got to sing that word but it developed a little when I stuck in a few lines about "the picture that they want to show you... is not the one that you drew... long ago".
I think the only track on 'siliconchipsuperstar' that's really about something is "In Your Shoes" which was written the week Robin Williams took his life. Here and there I've inserted my own little comments: in one track I refer to "water has no memory" which is my little dig at homeopathy and pseudo-science in general.
Although when writing the songs on this album I tried not to make the lyrics about anything I can see that subconsciously there's something in each lyric.
One of the lyrics was co-written with Brian McCloskey (the guy who runs the Smash Hits blog "likepunkneverhappened "). Brian & I were chatting online and sure enough, the topic of lyrics came up. I've rarely had success writing a song around someone else's lyric but this was one of the more successful collaborations. It yielded "Ghost Machine" which is a favourite track for many. Ghost Machine" which is a favourite track for many.
Q. One thing I picked up on Peter whilst reading your blog about the album was, if you were going to do an album, every part of the process had to be done to perfection. Is that a fair comment?
A.I don't know if 'perfection' is the word I'd use. I think it's probably more accurate to say I wanted everything to align with the vision I had for the album. The nature of electronic music & synth pop, in particular, is mechanical precision. So from that point of view yes it had to be "perfect".
There is a degree of effort and obsession required to realise an artistic vision. When engineering and mixing it requires discipline for sure. In the earlier stages of writing and arranging the songs, I think I pushed myself hard to try and deliver for myself because I made the album for me.
Q. Your mind was made up from the offset that the album would be released on vinyl, why were you so determined for a vinyl release rather using the usual digital outlets?
A. The vision I had for 'siliconchipsuperstar' was that it should be the album experience we had back in the day. Reading the inner sleeve while playing the album for the first time... looking at the album art in forensic detail... checking for messages etched into the runout groove on the vinyl... the ownership of a physical product.
So from an artistic point of view, it was essential that it should be on vinyl. Originally I was going to go hardcore and not even do a CD or make it available as a download but that leads me to the economics of such a product.
I discussed this topic with Martyn Ware (oooh look at him name dropping!) after the Heaven 17 gig in the Jazz Cafe in 2015. The physical product is an essential part of the album release which we carelessly let slip away. People don't buy digital and the target audience for 'siliconchipsuperstar' is the person who loves music and has an attachment to the experience of a physical product. I relented to common sense and included a CD of the album in the vinyl package (along with a CD of remixes).
I firmly believe that if I had released this album on CD only that I'd have sold less than half than I've sold of the vinyl + 2CD package. If I had released it digitally I'd probably have sold very very few copies.
Q. I did notice it is on Spotify, is there a reason for that?
A. Yes, I decided to use Spotify and by that, I mean "use it to support my own objectives".
In order to get songs visible in a digital world, it's necessary to put something out there. My strategy was to put only the 3 singles and remixes up on Spotify. This meant the tracks could be included on playlists such as the Pansentient Synthpop annual playlist that Jer White publishes on Spotify.
So it was a deliberate 'using' of Spotify by me. You need to be in the shop window when people search for you. Similarly, I think the 3 singles off the album are up there on iTunes. The few Euros I spent on the digital releases probably paid for themselves by getting Circuit3 into the shop window.
The full album is not available on Spotify or other (legal) streaming services and I've no plans to change that. There's nothing in it for me.
Q. When it was finally finished and you had to release what some artists deem as their 'babies', what were your thoughts?
A. I was incredibly excited. I knew I had made the album I wanted to make. I wondered how it would 'land' with my immediate circle of music friends. I wondered if I would be left with many of the 250 copies I had decided to press. Developing a thick skin is part and parcel of being a recording artist and songwriter. I'm sure there are people I know who think 'siliconchipsuperstar' is rubbish but I didn't make this album for them - I made it for me. So I was ok to release this baby to the world comfortable that I had done what I had set out to do.
Q. You have released 2 tracks already from the album, 'New Man' & 'Ghost Machine', will there will be a third?
A. Ahh.. now... there's an example of how social media, email etc falls down. There is actually a 3rd single already released! The 3rd single was Darkroom and I released it as a free download with 2 remixes along with a video. It just shows you how much gets lost in the flotsam and jetsam of social media.
I was asked if I'd consider releasing another track (Running Out of Time) as a single and while I'll never say never. I'm not sure of the value in doing that because I'm already writing material for the next release.
Q. Why was it important to you to have a video to accompany the singles?
A. Because a single isn't a single without a promo video! This is an example of what we carelessly threw out in the run to digital convenience. The videos were part of the vision. Just like when an album was released in the early 80s there were 2-3 singles and each had a video. That's part of the deal and I enjoy video. I had a lot of fun making them.
Q. Richard Dowling mastered your album and you mention he sent you files for CD and Vinyl, what's the difference?
A. It comes down to how loud the master audio is. The overall level cannot be as high on vinyl as on CD because the cutting of the vinyl master cannot handle those levels.
When Richard mastered the album we listened and agreed on the master and then he ran off the master again at a 'hotter' level for CD. I know it sounds 'simple' but really that was the main difference.
We did, of course, make sure that anything in the master didn't create problems for vinyl cutting. Bass has to be managed carefully or the vinyl will skip and also sibilant sounds have to be mixed carefully and the master has to EQ & compress that frequency range with care.
Q. You involved your children in certain areas of the process, that must have been enjoyable for you all?
A. I did and it was hugely enjoyable. They're not really children anymore. My eldest (Alison) is studying visual communications in college and is a super artist. I sat with her and showed her classic album covers. She explained the use of white space to me and put up with my less-than-brilliant ideas. We did it her way in the end ! Alison took the photos, designed the Circuit3 logo and did the entire sleeve layout design.
My eldest son Oscar is studying Theatre & Drama at a very exclusive course (proud parent insert) in Trinity College Dublin. He's quite technical and we watched some videos by John Foxx and Ultravox while he explained how they got the effects with the budget lighting they had available. Although I did the video edit it was Oscar who managed the shooting, lighting and staging.
He was stage managing a local youth theatre production which we went to and they had setup a crashed car on the stage and a wire-fenced area with climbing frame. I knew I could make a video with them. Next day we got 1 hour in the theatre and shot the entire "Darkroom" video and half of the "New Man" video there on one camera.
New Man was shot over 30 minutes on that crashed car and in a 4-hour session in a rehearsal studio. Darkroom was shot in 30 minutes on that stage. The video for Ghost Machine was created from public domain 'Metropolis' which Queen also used for 'Radio Gaga'.
My younger son Ben inspired me to do all of this. He has overcome a bunch of challenges in his life and I could hardly ask him to work so hard to do what he wants to do while I sat wishing I could make the music I always wanted to make.
Where I came from going to art college wasn't an option and although I'm grateful for the education I received (I was the first in my family to go to university) I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to go to some of the more groundbreaking music colleges in the UK. But c'est la vie... I'd be a different person and maybe in a parallel universe there's a version of me who went to LIPA...
Q. You mention on the blog about the lack of airplay in the past and you found it soul destroying, has that changed for you now or were you just unaware of the amount of DJs/Podcasters out there?
A. Yes, it has changed. Beyond my wildest expectations. I'm reluctant to list the shows that have played Circuit3 because I'll forget one of them. I'm eternally grateful for that airtime. There is a great collection of internet-based radio shows out there. I think the highlights were getting played on Rusty Egan's "Electronic Family Tree" show when he mixed my song "Hundred Hands" into a Human League track and then on Dan Hegarty's show when I had album of the week and did an on-air interview. I didn't bother pushing 'regular' radio and definitely didn't send promo CDs to radio in Ireland.
When I heard that one show on RTE (Irish national radio) played electronic music I decided to send in an MP3 of 'Ghost Machine' and a promo CD of the album. It was a jaw-dropping moment for me when the presenter (Dan Hegarty) emailed me to say he was playing 'Ghost Machine' that day. I was sitting on an airplane en route to the UK when we were informed we'd be delayed about an hour or so. I got to hear my debut on national radio (thanks, British Airways!). A few weeks later 'siliconchipsuperstar' was album of the week on Dan's show and I dropped in a few weeks later to do an interview. It was rewarding but I'll be very cold and cynical here: despite the national airplay, and make no mistake I'm grateful for it, I didn't sell one additional LP! Now... I've sold multiple copies of the album after tracks were played on DEF, Rob Harvey and Rusty Egan's shows. In fact, I've seen mentions on Twitter being followed by album sales almost immediately.
Q. I do listen to certain radio stations in Ireland and not many of them cater for the synth genre, how do you go about getting your music heard over there?
A. I don't. Radio here in Ireland is, on the whole, a bloody disgrace. The honourable exception is Dan Hegarty's show. He's like a John Peel in an ocean of shite. Commercial daytime radio is lowest common denominator rubbish and our broadcasting authority should hang their heads in shame. I'm sure there are other shows similar to Dan's out there but Irish radio has a history of ignoring homegrown talent and pretending electronic music can't come from this island.
Q. You are obviously proud to have your music on vinyl and it has/is appearing on other compilations?.
A. Proud and satisfied. Yes: a remix of 'New Man' by my friend iEuropean features on SYNTH WAVE VOLUME ONE which is released in May. I can't begin to say how psyched I am by this because I was invited to be on this compilation. They could have invited lots of other people but they didn't! The only other compilation I've appeared on was a very limited CD release for charity in the UK which has an early version of "In Your Shoes"
Q. You are appearing at Electro London on September 10th 2016 along with other talented independent artists and headlining is none other than Wolfgang Flur.
A. I'm really looking forward to the show in September. It's a big deal to take this to London and I'm hoping a few friends will be there. I've been chatting online with some of the other acts and I can't wait to meet them all. Because the Electro London team invited me it has given me the confidence to look for other festivals around Europe so it might be the start of a world tour ! I've already played some of the album live at an electronic night we've started here in Dublin and it's great fun. I sing and play live along with the electronics and use video projection. Nobody wants to watch some bald git on a stage with some keyboards (sorry Mr Dolby) so I use video as part of the show. I purposefully chose the video content and edit them. The songs are also reworked for live shows. I enjoy the interaction with a live audience too.
Q. You've had a very positive start to 2016, what else for Circuit3, new album perhaps?
A. Positive indeed - exceeded all my expectations. I've already started writing new songs and would like to get another release out this year. I don't think it will be a full album because that's really an 18-month process and I don't want to wait until late 2017 to put something new out. At the moment, I think it will be a mini-LP with 5 or 6 new songs. However: if "siliconchipsuperstar" sells out this spring (which is looking possible) I might need to reconsider and look at a new release mixing both 'old' and 'new' songs.
Q. Thanks Peter for taking part in this Q&A and good luck for the future. Is there anything you would like to add?
A. Yes. Two things. Love one another. Buy my album.
Thank You ;-)