By Daniel SylvesterWhen synthesized music started to gain a sizeable following, late '70s pioneers like Giorgio Moroder, the Normal and Tubeway Army strived to make art that was progressive and ultramodern. It took another two decades before electronic music gained a sense of history, as emerging artists like Boards of Canada and Daft Punk began to create throwback music that melded sci-fi with kitsch. Galactic Melt, the debut LP (and follow-up to last year's stellar Cyanide Sisters EP) for New Jersey's Seth Haley, is equally interested in directive and perspective. Over ten rounded-edge, synthesizer-shaped instrumentals, Haley (as Com Truise) gives critics easy talking points: from the Fairlight CMI vs. Tiger Electronics vibe of "VHS Sex" to the new jack cheese of "Futureworld." Somehow, it doesn't seem out of place when Haley gives songs like "Flightwave" and "Hyperlips" a prog-rock sheen, focusing on traversing melodies and cross-stitching structures rather than allowing the beguiling 4/4 beat to simply carry the song. Like contemporaries Baths, Bibio and CFCF, the music of Com Truise is brimming with emotional energy and childlike awe, employing ebb and flow structures to create a narrative just as sturdy as something from a folk song. The medium truly is the message and Galactic Melt is aural proof.
Am I catching you at home in New Jersey? Yes, I'm at home. I have a break ― the tour starts again on June 27. I played a couple of shows in Stockholm, Detroit and in Toronto. Actually, when I was in Toronto, I picked up a copy of Exclaim! and I really, really like it.
Considering you are a relatively new artist, can you give us a bit of background? About 11 years ago, I bought myself my first set of turntables and decided to spin records. I've done that all the way through, but I used to spin drum & bass music for a couple of years, then I thought, "I want to make something that I don't hear," so I started to produce music. I produced drum & bass for a little while; I realized that I love that music, but it's not right for me. I found out about Boards of Canada and then I started to dabble in downtempo music. That stuck with me for quite a long time, around five years, and then I sort of branched off into some other stuff, like downtempo-hip-hip, and somehow it all came together and formed the Com Truise project. And, of course, in my childhood, I was exposed to '80s music, but recently it's been my obsession.
Upon listening, one may conclude that you started as a pianist. Do you have any formal training? No formal training. My mother is a pretty good pianist ― I remember her playing a lot when I was little ― but I'm a self-taught musician. When I was finding myself musically, I gravitated towards White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, but it wasn't until I found out about Boards of Canada that I realized, "Hey, I really do love melody." With drum & bass, I was making really hard, heavy stuff. So after a while I was like, "Okay, let's try some more melodic stuff."
What would you say is your biggest non-electronic musical influence? I would have to say Billy Joel. My parents are huge Billy Joel fans; it was mostly Billy Joel, Boy George and the Pointer Sisters. But it's Billy Joel that mostly sticks out in my mind. I still know all of those songs from when I was a kid because I heard them a million times.
Is it just familiarity or do you think there's something in his music that you really connect with? I love the piano and I think he's a great songwriter.
Can you talk a bit about the recording of Galactic Melt? Basically, I had been kind of moving around in New Jersey to find work because I'm a designer by trade. But it was all recorded in New Jersey. I could explain it as a score for an un-filmed science fiction movie. There are so many artists who draw directly from their lives, and some of it is, but it's more drawn back because I'm big on mystery in music.
You're fond of vintage equipment; do certain synth patches ever dictate what you choose to write? People lump my music in with the '80s sound. I'm more interested in the production style and the actual "sound" of the sound. But I've always drawn a lot from funk, Italo disco and hip-hop in general. I'll think, "I really like that sound, but how can I own it and how can I keep that nostalgic quality that it holds?"
With the Com Truise moniker, as well as the album art for Galactic Melt and video for "VHS Sex," you like to reference the familiar. Can you comment on that? Well, obviously the name is a play on Tom Cruise. As far as the design of the album, people say, "It kind of looks like [Joy Division's] Unknown Pleasures a little." But I didn't have that cover in my mind. Maybe I did but didn't realize it.
It could be an art designer thing, where you're always absorbing images and it comes out in different ways. Does this happen with your music? Oh, constantly, all the time. I have one song, "Dreambender," where I played the bass guitar on it and someone commented, "Is that the bass line from [Joy Division's] "Transmission"? It follows the same scale but it's not "exactly" the same. But I was like, "Pretty close… whoops!" But it's like they say: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."
As Com Truise, you virtually have no material released before 2010. How do you respond when people say that you're a new artist? I've been making music for roughly 11 years, but I never really pushed my music that hard; I never really sent out demos. For Cyanide Sisters, my EP before this album, I had found a blog that I liked and they happened to have a digital label [AM Discs] that pretty much gives away everything for free and I was like, "Well, if you guys want to do something, let's put it out." I had no intentions of it going further; I was just making music as a hobby. It did happen very fast. People might know me from other projects, but it really wasn't that long a road.
Did the fact that you've received some positive press and attention make you second-guess anything while you were recording Galactic Melt? Oh, definitely. Half of the album was written before I signed the contract with Ghostly International, but the other half definitely comes off colder and darker. It's from learning how to deal with negative people, but trying to not let that affect my music. However, a lot of it came through, plus most of it was written during the winter months. I did second-guess things. There's so much complex music out there; I listen to complex music, I love it, but I don't want to necessarily write super-complex music. I don't want to have to listen to my song and think what's going on or try to pull it apart to hear every single sound in the song. I just want people to listen to it and pick up whatever they want. I don't want it to be too complex.
Once the album is released, what are your plans? I have about four or five remixes to get through before I leave on tour with Phantogram and Glitch Mob. Stuff's still coming in; I might actually turn some stuff down now. It's overwhelming; I feel… stuff's sort of going crazy. I still work full-time, but I actually put in my two-week notice today. I thought they would freak, but my boss was like, "I'm so happy for you!"
What remix is most interesting that you're working on. I did one for Kings of Leon that I really, really like, for "The End." Actually, I was really nervous to do that. At first I was like, "I don't know. Kings of Leon? My style?" But it's my favourite remix. I did it months ago and it's just killing me; it's been on my computer forever. I just want everyone to hear it. It sounds like if me, Vangelis and the lead singer of Kings of Leon sat down and made a song.
How did they contact you? They're really up on electronic music; they're really into it. A remix broker contacted us that was working on a project for Sony to do a remix compilation and they're just waiting on a bunch of other artists to turn in their remixes.
Before you worked with them, what was your opinion of Kings of Leon? They're not really my style. At first I was like, "Is it going to seem like I'm selling out?" I would see a lot of media stuff about them, the bird poop thing and stuff like that, but once I got into it, I was like, "I really like this song!" I really think the sound of his voice worked well with my synthesizers. At first, I was nervous and then I was like, "Wow, this is amazing!"