An Interview with Underwater Pilots by DJ Candy Durant

Underwater Pilots is comprised of two German based musicians, Manuel Richter and Gregoire Vanolif. Their debut album Tranquil Places was previously reviewed on Philly Goth Industrial with positive feedback. This time, the duo sat down to answer a few questions for us.

What is your earliest memory of playing music?
Greg: The first instrument I learned to play was the flute, but my earliest memory is my grandparents' piano. I don´t want to know what that sounded like, but I just loved to make noises with it. Really early I also took eurythmy lessons with my brother and other kids.
Manu: I was 9 years old and my parents had an old Roland RS-09 String Synth, borrowed from the music school over the weekend. I was recording with a tape deck. At the same time my friends and me were always playing "playback band" and mostly I was the drummer (playing air-drums of course). A year later I was sitting behind the old drumset of the drummer of my fathers jazz band and were practicing single strokes and movements. Man I hated that, but later it went better and more fun!

Manu, how did you make the transition from being a classical drummer to an electronic composer?
Manu: When I got Kraftwerk´s"Radioaktivität" in ´83 from my parents and listened to Depeche Mode on the radio, my heart was lost. Good electronic sounds are an unbelievable experience for me. I simply love it, it´s soo sexy. This deep feeling never went away again. I am absulutely addicted to sounds and music generally. In ´88 my father bought a Yamaha DX-11 and a rhythm machine and from this time on I used it more than Gerd himself. Well, that was the start. Later I made my own money, bought own equipment. In ´97 or ´98 I tried to go a new way, threw away all song structures and developed my own way of collaging experimental sounds: The birth of my solo project Xabec, wich is still active.

Name your top 5 favorite bands/solo artists of all time
Greg: Actually those would be more than five, but let´s break it down to that number. Debussy, Sting, Dave Matthews, FreQ, Cosma.
Manu: STING makes me always feel at home, with BIOSPHERE I can ride through silent clouds, PORCUPINE TREE fills my energy up and Gavin Harrisons drumming is so fucking sexy. NINE INCH NAILS have some of the most sexy distortion sounds ever and SCORNs "Stealth" include my favourite slow, heavy grooves. Alan Wilders RECOIL is the bible of the most sexy Synth Sounds. Oh that was six

Best live concert you have ever attended?
Manu: Wow that´s difficult. Neurosis in 1997 were extremely good, Pan Sonic in ´97 also. ans in ´95 and Nils Petter Molvaer in `09. Hmm, you know I am interested in too many musical styles for picking out just one. Sorry.

What band would you like to tour with?
Greg: VNV Nation.
Manu: Maybe Click Click at their best times, that would have been great! At the moment there are a lot of uninteresting bands. Ok many of them are successful but maybe that says more about the listeners than the bands itself.

Do you have any plans to tour in the US?
Manu: Not really at the moment. To tell the truth, our live activities have been a shame. Not that we are bad, I think definitely not! But we don´t play enough. We definitely should play more in Europe before going to USA. The music market is very difficult at the moment, no one pays good fees where you can fix your costs with and so forget it for the moment. If we could find someone who could properly set up a little tour and get it well organized, yes why not.

How did you meet each other
Manu: Greg and me knew each other via some common friends and got in touch about 2001. We tried working on some music but it was really hard, our ways of working were so different. But we continued, worked and tried very hard in 2002/03 and then we more and more found our common likes and skills. It was cool!
Greg: Yes, the beginning was a bit difficult. Our ways to make music were completely different. Manu was used to work with synths and hardware for long years, whereas at that time, I was completely on the software-side of music - at least for the electronic music. I remember our first session: we took one of my old songs, and routed some sounds to an extra output to be processed by Manu's modular synth. Sort of an interface between real and virtual world. It was a completely new experience for me. And looking back, a really important one ;)

What do you admire most about each other?
Manu: I learned a lot from Greg! I learned how to arrange, re-arrange things and what it means to finish a production, give it the final polish. Greg never stops trying until something is ready. I would stop and go home hours before, but I´ve seen that you can really earn sweet fruits when ou keep on trying. Meanwhile I managed to do it a bit the same ;-)
Greg: *laugh* During the last years, our ways to produce were influenced by each other, and I also learned a lot from Manu. Especially long bows or suspense curves in music, drones, and of course, a huge amount of synthesis knowledge! I used to be a preset-user... now I love to change and create sounds until they really match to what I have in my head.

How did you come up with the name "Underwater Pilots?"
Greg: We searched for a name that reflects our music, which in my eyes can be described as sometimes really calm but then also rhythmic and more agitated. Just like an ocean. What holds those elements together is the space we try to put into our songs, sounds that feel like spreading your wings, getting faster, and to take off. And the only way to fly without a machine is to swim underwater. Put together, these thoughts led us to "Underwater Pilots". We sit in the cockpit of some kind of a machine, taking the listener into a ride through sounds.
Manu: Well, we like the feeling of diving into sound, flying away. Music is our drug. It´s simple, we tried to find a name which can transfer the feeling we have while making sound to the listeners.

From your album "Tranquil Places," what is your favorite track and why?
Manu: I think "Leaving Home" 'cause it means or meant so much to me. It was the essence of the time when we started the album. We enjoyed our time at this beautiful place where I lived and we had the studio extremely much but I decided to move to Leipzig into the unknown and I was so aware of my fears and also the possibilities. This song is 100% true like most of the album.
Greg: "Flood." The track uses elements that I absolutely love in electronic music. It leaves me the choice to relax or to move on. I can choose at what speed I want to feel it. Hope you understand what I mean.

Are you working on any new material?
Greg: Well of course. But we're still not sure when it will be enough for an album, as we want it to be really good.
Manu: If a new album will happen, it will be 100% what we wanted to do. Everything else would be worthless for us. I don't know if you can sell so many records at the moment with things which are so true. You know, a lot of albums try to fit "in a box", in a specific style, then every brainless human will know what style this music is. That is a very common way of marketing but completely uninteresting for me. I like to think and feel and get surprised by the richness of an album.

What does your family and friends think of your music?
Manu: My parents like that I am so active. They are musicians too. My father is 74 years old and sometimes plays 2 gigs a weekend with his jazz combo, that's awesome man. But they always say that my or our music could be more interesting harmonically. And, they're right. My friends Well, in former times I defined myself very much through the music, that is still like that but in different way. Meanwhile I don't try to pose with my music anymore. So I don't ask all the time if they like it. If they call it shitty music, well that's fine. I do what I want to do and they are my friends 'cause the tell me the truth!
Greg: Absolutely. People around me say a lot of things about my music; from "wow, great" to hum, oh, well, not my style. Can we please listen to something else?" It's really important to get feedback, but also not to get too influenced by it. I try to always keep an open ear to what others say, and to adapt it in a way I can still identify with my music.

iTunes and the age of mp3's.. helpful or harmful to the music business?
Manu: Oh man. That's the kind of topic I can talk about for hours. I like mp3´s, I have a player too and it's cool. And also in former times we were copying music on tapes, trading and so. With the digital age some things changed: a cassette copy was always sounding more crappy with the next copy, now you can take 1000 copies and all sound the same. It is definitely not a bad thing to have the possibilities of making copies or sharing music with your next friend. It is about the awareness: an album has to be made. We work months and months for it, we spend all our time, money and love on it. Then people come rip it and sell it illegally on platforms without having any rights on the music. All platforms where you can "buy" the music of my solo project for example are 100% illegal! Nor I or the label gave any rights to anyone! THIS is the point I am very, very concerned about. They fuck us before we sold 300 copies!! Meanwhile you can be really lucky if you (band and label) get your money back, but this seems to be a high goal and I think in some years you can't afford to make CDs anymore as a small band or label. Maybe the time of physical things like CD or DVD are over soon, that's fine. But nearly no one buys mp3. Why should you? It's just data, no cover or anything. It seems to be a different worth somehow. But the point is: making a good album needs a lot, really a lot of time. In this time you can't do other things, you need equipment, food, pay the flat and, and... When nothing is coming back then, how can you finance that? THIS is the question you should think about. We all have to be aware what we do and what or who we feature by doing things. There's no other way. If you want good music you have to feature the bands otherwise all will look like a desert in some years and only some hobby musicians and big majors can survive.
Greg: The digital age could be really fine if everybody'd be willing to pay...

Do you miss the days of vinyl?
Manu: I released a lot of vinyls as Xabec, but I don't really miss it. It's a nice ritual and I like 7" Vinyl generally. Nice sound, good for the dj but, well, meanwhile I like my cd´s and the digital playlists.
Greg: As I never had an own turntable, no, not really. My parents had one, and as a boy I loved it. (note: this interviewer now feels very old, haha.)

Manu, you co-produced Anne Clark's latest album "The Smallest Acts Of Kindness." How did this come about?
Manu: I met her in 2004, gave her my CD "Seelenschiff" and she was very interested in it. So we emailed and met sometimes and slowly the plan developed. It's great because I like Anne's music a lot and it was a big influence to me during the end of the 80s. She is a very open minded person, friendly, I like her a lot. Working with her is very, very nice!

Living or dead, who is your hero?
Manu: Uff. I don't know but I am sure it's no politician and no religious idiot. Hmm, I would say I don't have a single hero. I have some ideals or role models: my former psychotherapist, cause he was such a warm person and teacher and brought me back to earth with very, very simple words. My parents for showing me that you can be alive in your soul and heart also when you are older, life doesn't have to stop when you get older than 40, always things can change. Ludwig, a friend of my family, for showing me what it means to trust someone. He trusted me when I was a teen, and I was really strange! He told me "Manu you are a good guy, follow your heart." Many years later I recognized how important that was.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Greg: Good question. Of course I'd love to make lots of music. But maybe also children... Not sure how I'll be able to combine all of this, as it's really hard and time-consuming to earn enough money with music...
Manu: Somehow I want to know but somehow it's a stupid question, 'cause imagine you would know what will happen in 5 years. Man, how boring. I hope many cool and important things and changes will happen, I never was able to foresee, that's my wish. Just having the feeling of being alive inside. If that comes true, the rest will follow, I am sure.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Manu: Bike riding, making music. Listening to music, doing things with my girl friend, meeting friends. I like nature, climbing on rocks, feeling the weather. Well, normal things I guess.
Greg: Haha. Well, as I don't earn much money with music, I have to do other jobs. So, in my free time.... I make music! But not in the first place. First I have my girlfriend, and also two aquariums. And I like to spend time with friends, playing cards or going out in the park.

What 3 words best describe you?
Greg: Hum. Maybe existentialism, survive, confidence?
Manu: Creativity, loneliness, humanism.

What has been your proudest moment?
Manu: I was very proud when I finished my education in psychotherapy (Gestalt Therapy). Then I knew "Manu you can change yourself and stand your fears". But there were some more: When Anne Clarks band was playing my songs in the rehearsal room for the first time or when I started my sabbatical year, it showed me that I am able to build my own life. Proud moments don't have to be spectacular I think.
Greg: I got the job to produce Friedemann Tischmeyers' "Internal Mixing" and "Audio Mastering" tutorial DVD Series.