Underwater Pilots - Complexity doesn't bore

Interview by Bernard Van Isacker

Underwater Pilots is the project by the German duo Manuel G. Richter and Grégoire Vanoli. Signed to the Funker Vogt owned label Repo Records, their very first release "Tranquil places" offers electropop with a fair amount of complex structures and danceable beats. We dragged both pilots out of the freezing winter water for some comments.

The electropop you guys deliver has some very nice side ingredients in there for people who also enjoy bands like Autechre, the track "Why can't it be simple" is a very nice example of this. Since most synthpop is not really after difficult structures, was that an intentional difference you wanted to add?

Manuel We like music with 4/4 beats like used in trance for example but I also like intensive listening music, soundart, neue musik and jazz, just everything. We prefer good music of all styles. In the pop, future pop and electro scene are many good, fat sounding productions, but often one can hear that it's just the new techniques (computers and software) what makes it. Many releases are just boring after 3-4 titles, because the real musical feeling is missing.

Grégoire My favourite electro-sound is psytrance (FreQ, Cosma, etc). What I really like in this kind of music is that it has a four on the floor beat and a complex network of sounds laying on it. It just doesn't get boring. I love music in which I can still find new elements and musical relationships after having heard it 20 times...

Sideline The tracks "I will fly" and "Ice cream" are less conventional, yet very powerful. It is my guess that you have been listening more to bands like Blancmange or Men Without Hats than actual the contemporary synthpop we know from Iris, De/Vision or Wolfsheim, right? "Tranquil Places" is not just another synthpop album, is it...?

Manuel I know the music of Wolfsheim but haven´t got any records of them and of De/Vision I only know the new album and I was surprised, it is fucking good. Very good and clear songs, wow. But I never heard Blancmange and don´t know much of Men without Hats. Most of my record collection is about experimental and intensive listening stuff or just normal music, a lot of electronic but less synthpop. "Ice Cream" and "I Will Fly" ... sure we didn´t care about anything while composing these tracks, we just wanted to find a good sound for our idea. And we wanted to create a style what can be played at home and perhaps in a club, too.

Grégoire Hehe, yes. Producing "I will fly" was like an odyssey. We went through about 4 different versions until we agreed with the song. And to be honest, if we hadn't released the album I'm sure it would sound different. Man, am I glad we released it... And no, it isn't just another synthpop album. It's our album.

Sideline What do your eating habits have to do with music? I found it rather odd to read that Manuel is a vegetarian living on musli and salads and that Grégoire is fond of beer and pizza... The UP sense of humor?

Grégoire Well. Having a piece of pizza in one hand, a control of a synth in the other and a beer in the third, wow! That's sound!

Sideline The overall sound makes me belive that you guys are soundwizzards, there are not that many sounds if not any that one hears often. What does production mean to you? Is the band in fact a live band as well?

Manuel Until now it was just a studio project but we want to go out on stage in 2005 and will begin to prepare within the next months. Production means to us to give every song-idea the sound it wants to have. We try to follow the music and not to press the music in a specific (sound-) form.

Grégoire Yip. For me, writing a song is a long and slow process. I often hear a few bars as a loop and after two or three minutes WHAM, yeah yeah yeah that's it! And with a big smile in my face, the song goes on. And that makes me happy. So for your question what production means to us: To feel better.

Manuel But first of all we tried to write good songs. I really don't know if we reached this goal. Maybe we'll find out by playing them live. But in general I think that you can play a really good song in every style you want. Have a look at Sting for example. He plays his songs as rock, reggae, blues, jazz, just everything, and it works. And yes, we like to work on sounds and we spent many hours on that.

Sideline Can you tell me something from your background, relevant studies or so? What other bands have you been in?

Manuel I had drum lessons for 8 years. Between 1988 and 1997 I played as drummer and electro-man in rock and pop bands, experimental and tribal bands. I did some electronic projects. Since 1997 I create experimental music, did many concerts and some releases with my solo project xabec. I am music therapist and I love music and sound. Every sound can be music, sound is a form of communication. With music we can tell things what we never could describe with words.

Grégoire My first real instrument was a piano. I had lessons for about 9 years. Aged 14 /15 I teached myself guitar and bass playing. And then I got an old computer from my dad. The first thing I then bought was a sound card... oh oh. My first band was a rock band. We started with playing covers and later to compose our own music. Really wasn't easy because everyone of us had different ideas. Then my brother Raphael started to play in a funk band called Café Mix. I often had sessions with this band playing the bass, I was the sub bassman for concerts. With this band I really got lots of experience. In '97 I met Sebastian Scharner, and we reactivated his old Fusion band Xerck. Btw with singer Tim Fockenbrock / Ravenous. Unfornately that band existed for just 5 months because almost every member moved to another town for studying purposes or things like that. 2000/01 I recorded a few songs with Tim but until today they remain unreleased. Except one that came out on the dedon sampler. In the last five years I worked on many songs on my own, in styles from ambient over psytrance to pop ... lots of them with my brother on guitar. I think I'll make a big release one day...

Sideline The press release states that you got to learn about each other via a re-mix, tell us something more about this 'encounter'...

Manuel Oh it was nothing special, we just re-mixed an old tune of Grégoire's former psy-trance project.

Grégoire For me it was the first hands-on contact with analogue modular synthesis.

Sideline Cute to see that your site is optimized for the Mozilla browser Firefox... Why this very open declaration of war so to speak?

Grégoire Hehe. In the beginning I had some problems with the Opera browser... The site didn't show up correctly and so I wrote that note in the start page. I was a bit angry, yes. Things got more and more complicated, and in that moment it felt (a little bit) like a declaration of war... Later I got the problems fixed, but I didn't remove that note. Maybe i's time to do so... By the way: I have been asked to put our songs on our website. This will be part of the next update. We also think about putting small samples/ segments on our site for remix purposes.

Sideline I must admit that I had never heard of you guys before, so how did you end up on RepoRecords, the playground of Kai and Björn from Funker Vogt? What do you expect from them? What do they offer that made you sign to Repo?

Manuel I know Kai from school-times many years ago. Over the years we met here and there. He did very rofessional work for Funker Vogt in all this years and when we started with our project I contacted him at once. Why work with a bigger and anonymous label when I know what professional power this small one has?

Sideline You are joined on the label by another exquisite act that draw my attention, Birthday Massacre, a completely different style yet it offers a very nice diversity to the label. Do you see this as an advantage and why?

Manuel Oh I don't know. The label is still at its beginning and maybe they want to check out the resonance on the different styles. I like that. In the moment many (big) labels try to sign only bands in a very small bandwidth. With the first release the complete marketing front stands up. CD, web, promotion, merchandise and everything and if it doesn't work there will be no second or third cd. No one has time, no one invests time and no one wants to loose money. But by all this they ignore one fact: wich good and now successful band had their break though with the first cd ? We need time and love to develop - like flowers need water.

Grégoire I like their music. I'm glad they're on the same label.

Sideline Was it easy getting signed for you?

Manuel Yes and no. We had contact with the label since we did the first demo. At that time we had no promise, but we informed Repo of every step and so we came together.

Sideline I have the vague impression that you don't really have a soft spot for the dark electro that is getting popular once again, I mean that your music seems to be too stylish for that... Am I correct?

Manuel Hmm, I like dark electro a lot and I can truly imagine to play in that area. We use elements of that scene and the actual sound aesthetic, because I really like it. Many people, agazines and dj's locate us in the future pop area and that's totally ok to us as a start point. But for us that is just one aspect and not everything. I don't know how our style will develop and we are 100% open to work on it and change things. We don't do only future pop or whatever. First of all we want to compose good music with interesting sounds and arrangements, nice melodies and some power. We want to hear the songs a hundred times without getting bored. I wouldn't say that we are too stylish, some other acts are more modern and stylish.

Grégoire It's not that dark in my head. But I don't think our music is more stylish than other ones, this depends on ones point of view. Our lyrics talk about feeling a bit depressed. In my eyes every human is depressive from time to time, thats absolutely natural. But for me it is important not to let that feeling getting too strong. For me, making music has a great part in this. If I reach only a few people with this intention, I'm really glad.

Thanks a lot for the interest in our music and the interview. Greetings, Manu & Grégoire.