The New Jersey-based synth virtuoso tells us about 'seeing the sound before he can hear it' and his favorite sci-fi movies.
Sometimes you forget that great musicians, however talented or famous, are usually unassuming individuals who don’t really go for pretension. For the most part, the gifted artists we’ve come across avoid self-mythologizing and let their music do the talking. On the other hand, popular culture tends to have a different view on this. The myth of the self-important, arrogant creative permeates so much of contemporary, popular discourse that remembering the inescapable fact that artists are just people is easy to forget.
Maybe that was part of the reason why I couldn’t help preparing myself for interviewing an ego the size of an American football field before I met Com Truise AKA Seth Haley one November evening prior to his show at Dunkel Bar in Copenhagen. His epic, retro-futuristic-yet-modern, melancholy-yet-uplifting synthesizer-funk did also nudge my expectation towards an encounter with a sci-fi fetishist of a megalomaniac persuasion. The reasoning behind the latter, I suppose, was that anyone who makes otherworldly tracks that sound like a stoned Rick Ross leaving Earth to soar through the outer rings of Saturn in a supermodified DeLorean had to be at least a little pompously inclined.
But those assumptions were all put to rest when I actually met the man behind the moniker and discovered that Seth Haley is a guy who steers well clear of pretence while remaining more than a little puzzled at his current level of success.
We fired a few questions at the New Jersey-native, which he was kind enough to answer thoroughly before going on stage to perform like a seasoned synth-god.
AIAIAI: Hey Seth, thanks for talking to us. Could you begin by talking about your current projects?
Seth Haley: My current projects are actually a lot of touring. You know, watching the Galactic Melt project take its course. Basically, I’ve been touring the last 4 months solid. I don’t have too much time on the road and I don’t really feel comfortable writing music when travelling. I feel like I can’t really focus on it… there’s just too much distraction, I guess. Having said that, I’m working on the EP right now and then hopefully starting my next album after that. But right now, I’m mainly touring. After we’re done with Europe, which is on the 4th of December, we’re going to Brazil for 3 or 4 days and then we should be going back home to take a long break, which ought to give me the opportunity to write some good tunes. So I don’t really have a concrete answer to your question because for the most part I don’t even know what I’m doing the next day.
A: Right, so no upcoming collaborations or anything like that?
SH: Well, I might actually be collaborating with an LA band, but that’s not really solid at the moment. So no collaborations set in stone, if you know what I mean. I’ve been thinking about making some cassette tapes, which is because I was really inspired by how Trent Reznor did the score for The Social Network; he basically just hit record and made a lot of different noises, which he then built compositions around. I’m used to working quite structured, so that’s inspiring. The reason that I’m used to writing in a very structured way is that I come from advertising…maybe I need to get that beaten out of me. Having said that, I’m quite grateful for what advertising’s given me in terms of timing, control and process.
A: That makes sense. What are your main influences and sources of inspiration?
SH: I think my main sources of inspiration come from science fiction. That’s usually my main go-to for otherworldly type thinking…
A: ‘Otherworldly type thinking’ sounds like an apt description of Com Truise. Is that a phrase you often use in connection with your music?
SH: No, actually, that’s the first time I’ve ever used that phrase(laughs). But I think that my music is in some ways an escape for me, you know? A way to become detached for a little while. Just being nostalgic and thinking about the past is something that fuels my music. Memories of going to the beach with my family in Rhode Island, sitting on the rocks with my little sister, that kind of stuff really drives me. But I think that where I like to put my mind when I’m watching science fiction movies such as, let’s say Blade Runner, is to focus on the set design and the way they portray the technology. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that one of my biggest inspirations is the past’s vision of the future… But I’m influenced by lots of stuff. Musically, it’s everything from new wave to funk to someone like Billy Joel. Lately, I’ve been wanting to get into some live-instrumentation because I have so many new ideas. I actually have 5 different aliases- one is Airliner, another is System. It’ a way for me to try out different things, you know? And the reason I’m saying that is that some artists create albums that are these big mish- mashes of genres under one name. I don’t necessarily want to do that – mainly because it makes my brain hurt.
A: I thought it was really interesting to see how you described the Com Truise project in the Ghostly International newsletter – I remember it being extremely specific and also quite accurate.
SH: Yeah, I call it mid-fi-synth-wave-slow-motion-funk. That came from the fact that it’s extremely easy for people to put labels on music these days, so I thought: let’s come out the gate with my own label. Let’s come out swinging. And I think it actually fits pretty well. I call it mid-fi because it’s not really hi-fi and it’s not really lo-fi…Mid-fi is a pretty good place for it, I think. I mean, I love a lot of lo-fi music but I also think there’s a certain place for it. When I’m driving in my car and I want to turn the music up, some lo-fi stuff just sounds like shit. That actually played a part in me wanting to make to make something that’s kind of in-between.
A: Would it be fair to say that your music also has a certain utopian dimension to it?
SH: Well, in the grand scheme of things I don’t really pay attention to anyone but myself, but I suppose that the utopian thing is there – because I put it there for myself. If that translates to other people it’s great…I guess that means I did something right. And also that music is so many people’s escape. But it’s never something that I consciously set out to communicate.
A. Some people perceive your music as very retrospective. Is that a fair assessment? Or do you think it also resonates the here and now?
SH: Maybe a bit of both, actually. I mean synthesizers from the late 70s and the 80s definitely inspire me, but I don’t necessarily want to take the sounds of the 80s and make them my own. I focus on taking the production techniques and making them current in some way… I don’t for example want to make the exact same bass sound as the human league. That’s not my goal. The thing is that a lot of this equipment isn’t super complex. You can only go so deep, for the most part and being constrained definitely drives me. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t go on for ever and ever if I had access to everything.
A: What’s your favorite synth?
SH: That I own or would like to own?
A: That you’d like to own
SH: There’s an Italian synth that’s called the Elka Synthex. I think that’s my main must-own-someday-synth. Right now I’m actually working on building a modular unit. But yeah, the Elka Synthex is the one.
A: In terms of the visual aspect of things, I get the sense that you have strong ideas about the visual representation of your sound?
SH: Yes. I’ve been a very visual person my entire life… The last five years, I’ve actually worked in advertising. And when it comes to the visual aspects of my music, it’s funny, because sometimes I can actually see what the sound looks like before I can hear it… Sometimes I’ll just go and design T-shirts and artwork for the future and I have these ideas and I know what it looks like, but I don’t necessarily know what it sounds like. And in doing the visual aspect of it first, I think that kind of drives the sound in a way. I guess that process pushes me to really hone in on what I want because I know exactly what I was thinking.
A: How much of the Com Truise identity do you actually design?
SH: As far as videos go, not really anything, but when it comes to artwork and print, it’s all me. It’s like, who knows what the sound looks like better than me, you know? I also feel that the sound and the visuals are of equal importance. And that there are so many bands that could do a lot better if they had that part locked down.
A: How did working with the Ghostly International label come about?
SH: Well, Jacub from Ghostly had heard my music via a free net-label. We talked back and forth and I pondered things for a little while because I’d gotten other interest. But then Jacub called me up all of a sudden and told me that Sam and Jeff from Ghostly were in town and I was like ‘Really? That’s amazing!’. I went and met them for lunch where they asked me where I wanted to go with things, what intentions I had and I was basically like:’I have no idea’. I just wanted to write more music. It just sort of happened.
A: In a lot of ways it really makes sense that you’re on Ghostly, I think.
SH: Yeah, and it’s a great home if you’re an electronic musician from America. I appreciate their views and values.
A. Alright, I only have one more question. What are your favourite sci-fi movies?
SH: (laughs) Well, I’d have to say that my number 1 is probably Blade Runner. And then there’s THX1138. Hmm..I love the Alien trilogy. I really like ‘Aliens’ – It’s kinda campy, but I really like that story about the team going in. Those are definitely my top three go-to movies for inspiration.