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Rob Green of The Department
Q. Hi Rob, Thanks for taking time out from your very busy schedule. I'm going to start with your current band The Department, how did you and Magnus Lindstrom meet and decide to form The Department?
A. No problem at all! I formed The Department in late 2012 as an outlet for new musical ideas I had, heavily influenced by my favourite synth pop and new wave music of the 80's. I asked a friend to be the singer and we wrote and recorded a few songs together with me as the synth guy and we soon realised we had something special. We had a great response from early posts of songs on Soundcloud with many thousnds of plays and comments and one day I was contacted by a lady in Sweden called Kaisa Virta, who said our music would be perfect for a club she frequented in Gothenburg. So she contected the promoter and soon we were headlining at Romo Night in Gothenburg in front of 200 people... not bad for our 1st gig! Sadly, the singer decided he suffered from too much stage fright and he quickly left the band, leaving me scratching my head. For a short time I looked around for singers but realised that finding someone who fitted the bill would be very difficult, so I decided to become the lead singer myself, a role which I had never before considered or desired. I asked Magnus Lindstrom, a friend of Kaisa's, who had lent me his Roland JX3P to use live at the Romo Night gig, if he would like to step in as synth player as he loved our music and image and talent wise was perfect for the job. I soon got the buzz for singing live and thanks to some hard work and cheap Ryan Air flights, The Department became the band you know today and we went on to write more cool songs and perform at some amazing gigs.
Q. Magnus lives in Sweden, so what is the process behind the production of your music when you live so far apart, is that one of the reasons the album 'Alpha' took almost 2 years to complete?
A. A fair question. Because the line-up had changed so dramatically, I took a while to recoil and hone the act properly. I knew I wanted do deliver a debut album for the fans we had gained, but I wanted it to be right. I can honestly say that I'm proud of that album. Magnus wrote some synth parts on it, which he would record in his studio and email to me. Then I mixed those lines into the masters I had made on my own. In a way 'Alpha' is almost a solo album, but the new tunes will feature much more writing from Magnus and Cliff Chapman (Naked Lunch), which is something I'm very happy about as they're both brilliant world class synth players.
Q. Magnus is a member of the band 'Mr Jones Machine', any plans to bring them to the UK to perform alongside The Department?
A. Magnus and I hope to perform as The Department alongside 'Mr Jones Machine' in Sweden at some point, let's see. I love their music but most of their lyrics are in Swedish, which is probably why they're not well known here. Also the scene in sweden is so radically different to here. I would love to do a gig swap for sure but they would certainly headline in Gothenburg as they have a strong fan base over there. They've had appearances on Swedish TV – synth pop is much more a part of the fabric of their culture than it is here.
Q. The album 'Alpha' was released in 2015 on Hard Cell Records, Is this your own record label?
A. Yes, Hard Cell Records was founded by me specifically for The Department. I looked around for deals early on, but it didn't seem like anyone who would possibly accept us, could offer us anything more than we could do on our own label. At the end of the day, we would still have been promoting and funding it ourselves if we were signed to a small indie label. If we had the right offer, we would consider signing to another label.
Q. Do you have any other artists signed to the label?
A. I released an EP under the name Thirteen on HCR last year which was a fun side-project. I have been approached by some great acts interested in being on board. Watch this space!
Q. Record labels and deals aren't new to you, Is it true you were signed to Virgin in the 90's?
A. In a way, yes. I was signed to a subsidiary of Virgin called EXP which was founded by Feargal Sharkey. I used to make 'progressive house' tracks on his label and they did pretty well. I got played on Radio 1 by Pete Tong and by top Djs around the world. I loved it but that type of music just isn't enough for me these days. Im a sucker for great songs with fascinating melodies now – I've gone back to my roots!
Q. In the 90s you were heavily involved with the dance scene and remixed for several artists, what brought you back to making synth music?
A. I experienced the decline in sales of underground 12” dance records in the late 1990's. Earlier on, I actually made a living out of it. We could sell up to 10,000 records on one 12” single because of the 'bedroom DJ' fever spreading across Europe and the US. Artists like me weren't even famous. It was quite faceless and I did it out of passion for moving people on dance floors in a way that reached their minds as well as their bodies. When the tide turned and digital crept in, I continued to produce dance music on underground labels but sales were incredibly low – down to less than 400 per-release. I was starting to get back into new wave, synth pop and goth stuff that I was into early in my teens and that came to the fore in some of the dance music I was creating. I realised that if the more formulaic dance music I was making wasn't selling well, then I might as well put all my effort into making 'real electronic music' without the constraints that club music brings. So from 2012 I was synthpop through-and through!
Q. You have teamed up with Mr Johnny Normal and set the place alight at such a rapid pace, how did your paths cross?
A. I was aware of Johnny Normal online as he has such a presence on Facebook. When he was recovering from his awful near-terminal illness and had returned to the airwaves, I listened in and loved the music he was playing. It immediately became a Wednesday night mainstay and I contacted Johnny through that, by sending him tracks from The Department. We realised we had a lot in common and became good friends. The rest, as they say, is history!
Q. You both seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet regarding the electronic scene at the moment, what is it Rob that you are trying to achieve?
A. We want this fantastic global electro scene to be stronger and accepted by more mainstream stations and press because we believe there is astonishing, top class music in there that the wider world need to hear. Actually though, we both love what we're doing and that's mainly what makes us tick. Some of our tastes are the same, but we don't agree on everything - perhaps that's partly why it's a good partnership. We are both very ambitious and when we come to a locked door, we tend to try and break it down, or at least climb over it, proverbially speaking of course!
Q. What have been the frustrating factors for you that have given you this determination to make it happen?
A. For me, it's partly from dealing with A&R (artist and repertoir) people from large indie and major labels in the 90's and early noughties. They would speak in riddles and blow smoke up your arse, but you'd walk out of the meeting and realise you'd basically been brushed off! I've had meetings with some of these guys recently and they're exactly the same – riddlers! So I decided the only way I could face the music business was in my own way, on my own terms, without middle men who don't really get it, being in the way. If I ever meet a great A&R person who can actually help me and who truly understands what I'm doing, I'll certainly listen to them however.
Q. Electro London 1 was a huge success and this September we have Electro London 2, Is it safe to say this is now an annual event?
A. As far as we're concerned, we'll carry on and on doing it.
Q. My biggest joy for you both and everyone involved is the release of 'Synth Wave 1' on Vinyl! Why did you choose the Vinyl format?
A.We chose vinyl because we wanted the Synth Wave Volume 1 compilation to be special. Vinyl sales are on the up, whereas CD sales are rapidly decreasing. We did our homework. Also, I have recently re-deiscovered vinyl and fallen in love with my old records again. Now I'm an avid collector. Playing my favourite music on a turntable at home means so much more to me than clicking on an mp3 file or playing a CD. It also sounds better to me. We wanted it to be as near perfect as possible and hired a brilliant sleeve designer and mastering engineer who has worked for the likes of U2 and DM. Therefore we didn't want it to simply be a Bandcamp release. Happily, we've won a contract with SRD for a global physical and digital distribution deal for Electro London Records. We want this to be in record shops around the world and in the UK it will be in HMV and the like.
Q. Will it get a digital release?
A. Yes, it will be released on vinyl and digital around early June. Keep checking the Facebook Page for more release info
Q. What was the selection process when it came to choosing the 10 artists and tracks?
A. We started with a few songs that we liked with a certain 'vibe' and built up the album from there. It's carefully selected and programmed to take the listener on a stylish journey through different types of classy synth wave music. The kernel of the idea was developed over Christmas 2015 and we met at Johnny's house on 7th January this year and started compiling the release. The music came together pretty quickly to be honest.
Q. Do you plan to release a different compilation every year on the Electro London Label?
A. I hope so. Let's see what the future holds!
Q. What pleased me the most was the way you included artists from across the globe, I personally feel that it makes this ever growing circle bigger and it does prove the scene is bursting at the seams with brilliant electronic music, would you agree?
A. I would definitely agree with that. This scene is apparently a simultaeous global event. It seems that everyone is sick of the crap we are fed by the main stream music business – even much of the music they feed us that poports to be 'synth pop' and 'indie' seems quite methodised and watered down. I think this global scene of artists expressing themselves through great melodic electonic songs, seemingly spontaneously, may well be a reaction to this.
Q. What would it take for you and Johnny to stand and say 'We did it' ?
A. We say that all the time, and then we decide what we want to do next!
Q. Is the future looking brighter in the world of electronic music, can you see another synth revival happening or should I say it already is?
A. In a sense, it's already here, it's just that the rest of society now needs to have more awareness and access to it. This scene is great – it's so positive and strong. As Depeche Mode would say, 'it's just a question of time'!
Q. Away from all the excitement of Electro London and Synth Wave 1, what's on the agenda for The Department?
A. The Department is even more potent now Cliff Chapman (ex-Naked Lunch founding member) is on board. He has added even more authenticity and creativity and Magnus and I are very happy he is on board. Look out for a new single from the new lineup very soon and a new album will be on its way in coming months.
Q. Would you like to add any further comments Rob?
A. Thanks to everyone – the Djs, the writers, the artists, the photographers and the music lovers who are giving this scene its awsome pulse. We do it for love. Thanks Revival Synth - keep on truckin'! X
Thanks Rob and best of luck with everything you are doing at the moment.
website : http://www.thedepartment-official.com/
CHECK OUT THE ELECTRO LONDON PAGE HERE ON REVIVAL SYNTH
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