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Napster Radar Interview: Com Truise

by Philip Sherburne

Napster Radar Interview: Com Truise

About this playlist

Welcome back to Napster Radar, our month-long celebration of 24 up-and-coming artists we're excited about. Today, we've got an interview with playful electronic-music retro-futurist Com Truise.

A former drum 'n' bass DJ, Seth Haley has tried his hand at various production aliases in a variety of styles, but it wasn't until he adopted the persona Com Truise that he found his first real acclaim. Despite the cleverness (or not-cleverness) of the name, Com Truise isn't some celebrity deconstruction or po-mo prank. The retro-futurist melancholy of the music soon gives the name a different resonance -- you start thinking of "Com" as in "intercom," and "Truise" as, perhaps, a star in a distant quadrant. His debut album, Galactic Melt, pays homage to '70s synthesizer music, '80s funk, and Boards of Canada's woozy nostalgia for the same periods.

Read on as the upstate New Yorker talks to Napster about synthesizers, sci-fi, subwoofers and Spoonerisms.

First, I have to ask about the name. Why did you choose it, and what does it suggest to you?

It started out as a joke. I had two other names for the project before I decided to go with Com Truise. I woke up one morning and realized I had no real intentions for this project, so let's go with this crazy name, who cares? Then it just kind of stuck. When I think back, if I had made a different choice or went with one of the other names, I probably wouldn't be where I am now. It's silly, but I do believe it has some sort of stopping power.

A lot of people are like, "I love the music but hate the name." The point of the music isn't really the name. I could call it, like, Monkey Turd, you know?

Don't do that.

No, no. But it doesn't really bother me anymore.

I had my doubts at first, but it's come to have a certain resonance all its own, a kind of sci-fi quality.

It's meant to be sci-fi-esque.

Were you aware of Jichael Mackson and Mord Fustang?

Those are, I guess, more recent? I wasn't aware of anything until right after everything started to get big, and I heard about Wevie Stonder. They've been around for a while. But now more and more people are doing it; I see a new one every day. It's annoying, but I can't really say anything about it, because I did it, too. I just have to outshine 'em.

You said you didn't have any expectations for the project. Did you have general aesthetic parameters or techniques to direct it?

I definitely had the techniques in mind that I wanted to use. The aesthetics kind of came along afterwards. I had a vision of some of it, because I do graphic design for a livingI'm an art director. So I had somewhat of a vision, as far as the aesthetics go, and definitely techniques with sound and certain things I wanted to try. I have a bunch of other aliases. I don't really like to make a whole bunch of music under one name, different genres or styles, because I'm really big on branding, I guess, and keeping things separated.

When you sit down to make music, do you know that it's for a particular alias? Or do you sort that out later?

I usually sit down with it already set in my mind, like, "I'm working on an Airliner song," or "I'm working on a Com Truise song," or whatever. These past two weeks, I've been working on some Airliner stuff. It's actually taking me quite a lot longer than I expected to get back into the mind-frame of that project and where I want to take it. But I feel like I'm going to be jumping back and forth pretty regularly here, so I'm going to have to figure out a simple way to do that. I know that I have certain techniques that I use for each project. But I never just sit down and make something and say, "Well, it fits in this bucket or in this bucket."

How did you get started working with synthesizers and electronic production?

Probably the way most people did. I started out as a DJ about 11 or 12 years ago, and I DJ'd drum 'n' bass music. I thought, "OK, I like everything I'm playing, but I want to make my own." It's a big deal to be able to play your own music for a lot of people. I just decided to start producing. Basically, how I got into synthesizersdrum 'n' bass music has less melody, just drums, you know? It's a lot of drums. Or at least the type of drum 'n' bass I was into. I think the first time I heard Boards of Canada, I was like, "Ohhh, so that's what's lacking in my music."

I feel like [drum 'n' bass] is a very strict genre where, if you don't follow certain guidelines, you won't go as far as you could. So I felt kind of boxed in. I wasn't able to completely express what I wanted to. Basically, yeah, I heard Boards of Canada. I think a friend told me, "You might like these guys, check 'em out." I was like, "This is the most amazing music, how did I miss it?"

After that, I started producing downtempo, ambient-type stuff, and I bought my first synthesizer. It was a Minimoog Voyager, rack-mount edition, which I sadly sold.

To buy more?

Well, yeah. At that time, I wasn't fully aware of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to use certain things, so I jumped on the, like, electro bandwagon, electro-house-type stuff. So I wanted kind of an '80s synth, something that was glisten-y. So I picked up a Nord Lead 2X. The Minimoog is monophonic, and I wanted polyphony. After three or four years, I was like, "You know, I really probably should have held on to that." And it's just been a whirlwind from there.

I don't know a lot about your studio setup. Are you working principally with hardware?

I have a good healthy mix of both. One of the synths I have is the Oberheim Matrix 6 -- that's like my pad machine. I love the bass sounds it gets, but they aren't exactly sharp enough. For a lot of my bass in my songs, I use software. It's so much more precise, and I can dial everything in exactly how I want it, perfectly, instantly. It's so much faster than programming the Matrix 6 -- that's like programming the lunar module to land on Mars.

How long did you spend on the album? Was it done in a focused burst of energy, or over a long time?

It was definitely done over a long time, maybe a year and a half. There's some really recent stuff I've written, and then there's some older stuff on there. For me, listening to it, it's like, here's a new song, and then the next one is like, "Jeez, that's the oldest song ever." The actual title track, "Galactic Melt," has been done for over a year. I kind of had the whole picture in my mind of how I wanted it to sound and how I wanted it to feel. Then when the music started to blow up, starting to deal with press and pressure, I've done a bazillion remixes in such a short period of time, and I worked full time -- next week is actually my last week. I guess with all that going on, to me, the sound is cohesive, but in my mind it's disjointed, because I know that I wrote everything at different points in time, different situations, different things happening in my life. But what I strove for was for everything to sound like one solid idea, one solid chunk of sound.

If you had told me it was recorded in a couple of months, I would have believed you.

Thanks. I'm so excited, after I do a tour -- because I won't have a real job any more -- to go back and just lock myself inside and be able to work. I've been listening to the album for months now, and I hear things--I think, I should have added this here, or changed this. At the same time, I wanted to keep the music simple. There's so much crazy music out there, I didn't want to make music that you really had to think about. I just people to listen to and enjoy it, just kinda synthy, warm, somewhat dark and science-fiction type stuff.

Let's talk about the sci-fi thing -- you're a big sci-fi fan?

Huge. Super-nerd.

What's your favorite thing about sci-fi films?

I think my favorite thing is the vision of the future they had. I definitely love the technology. Whenever there's a computer in a scene in a science-fiction movie, I always pause it. Like what's on the computer screen in Aliens, all the strange animation, stuff like that. I love the way technology looked, or the way they perceived it would look.

Do you ever worry that the retro-futurist angle could become constricting, as an artist?

Yes, I think, definitely, it can be constricting. But for me, I don't know. I guess what I'm trying to do -- I'm not trying to recreate '80s sounds; I'm more focused on the production techniques. The way the music sat in the mix, the way things were compressed and EQ'd, and the reverbs... I'm more interested in the production techniques and the sound of the sound, and less in, "Oh, I want to make the same synthesizer stab from Yazoo's 'Don't Go.'" That's not really what my goal is. But I feel like on this album there are a lot of songs that are like an updated version of me, a little cleaner, and a little less nostalgic.

What is the ideal place to listen to your music? I know you said that you listen to the Blade Runner soundtrack in your car.

Yeah, yeah. Definitely the car. I listen to it in the car and I love it, a lot of bass, just cruisin' music. I'd say the car! Or some type of spaceship or something.