Interview conducted by Rotwang
The interview that follows was conducted by Rotwang over the phone and via e-mail over the second week of November, 1997. The Machine in the Garden is a electro/darkwave band currently consisting of Roger FracÚ and Summer Bowman, lovers. The interview was made just prior to the release of their first full-length album, Underworld.
Rotwang: To start off with, tell us a bit about how The Machine in the Garden formed and why it was formed.
Roger: The name "The Machine in the Garden" was first used, I believe, in 1992. I had been doing band and solo stuff since 1988 under various names. It was really just a case of wanting to make music and have some fun with it, but it grew into something much more than that. Becoming so emotionally attached to what I was creating and getting positive feedback from friends was definitely encouraging as well.
Summer: The band in its current state was formed in March of this year. Roger and I just sort of started creating music together and it worked out really well. I don't think there was really any reason why. I don't know that any band ever has any real reason for getting together. Just people who feel a need to make music together.
Rotwang: How did the two of you meet?
Summer: Well, we met on the internet...
Roger: Scary as it is...
Summer: ...and I was working with another band, Phantom Violets, at that time. We started chatting because Roger had the same drum machine as we did and we were having some problems with it, so he was helping us out with that. We started working together quite a while after that. I came out and did some vocals at a show in San Francisco with him. We recorded some stuff there and eventually he moved out here in Colorado, so pretty much since March we've been working together, but since then, I've put my other band on hold for other reasons (not because I gave it up for this or anything, but because it wasn't really working). So, since March, I guess.
Rotwang: When I first heard your music, I was struck by the variety and range the separate songs have. They are eclectic in nature, but when put together, form a remarkably cohesive unit. Why do you choose to have this variety, as opposed to, perhaps, one long electronic (or whatever) symphony (a la Christopher Franke's recent works) that is more homogenous? Did you look at artists such as Skinny Puppy, Die Form, and John Frizzell, and appreciate the variety in their works, instead of sticking with one formula, and perhaps exploring it more fully?
Summer: Variety is intensely important to us. Not just because we want to be varied (we do) but because it would get really dull always making the same song with a slightly different twist. I hate those bands who music always sounds the same and they just go along through the years never evolving. I like it when bands not only have variety between albums but between songs. No two Faith and the Muse songs sound the same and no two rosewater elizabeth songs sound the same. It keeps the artist growing and exploring and it also keeps the audience growing and interested with you. I try to approach music as an octopus with my tentacles creeping in every direction.
Rotwang: What do you listen to in your spare time? Does the variety shown in "Underworld" (a promotional copy was given to me before the interview, courtesy of the band) extend into your pleasure listening?
Roger: Yeah, I'd say so. I used to listen to a lot more music in the old days, but when you spend so much time around it actually making it, sometimes peace and quiet seems really nice! When I do listen to stuff, I guess my range is pretty broad. The newer goth stuff, Switchblade Symphony and stuff, and that extends into some classical, especially Beethoven, Bach and Liszt, or even to some more popular realms of music. I personally enjoy Madonna, I think we both like Portishead, and I picked up a Stereolab CD the other day. I also listen to The Residents occasionally. I like The Beatles a lot, and I think a lot of people do, too.
Summer: I think I listen to a wide variety, too. I listen to anything from the kind of jazz stuff that Linda Ronstadt does. I love Loreena McKennitt and her work and I love goth stuff, like Switchblade Symphony. I like the variety that Faith and the Muse embodies. rosewater elizabeth, Love is Colder Than Death I like, as well as Autumn. I think Autumn is a really strong new band...
Roger: They're really nice, too...
Summer: ...Trance to the Sun is a really incredible band that I've recently gotten into, and they are also in a totally different area. I also listen to some more industrial stuff like Skinny Puppy, although I haven't been into that as much, lately. Die Form I really like. I've been really more into bands with female vocalists, lately. Although, that doesn't mean I don't like bands with male vocalists.
Rotwang: Visual art, being just as important and valid as sonic art, has caused most musicians to design (or at least oversee) an appropriate package for their music. Tell us about the cover of your new album...
Summer: Well, I think Claire Voyant mentioned in their interview with you that many bands stuggle to find the right piece of artwork or the right title for the CD after the completion of the recording of the CD. Our story occured in almost an exact opposite way. We were surfing the internet for interesting images to use for random tapes and demos (we always are) and we came across a public domain images site. We downloaded the image and the whole concept of "underworld" came to be. The songs on the CD all in some way or another have to do with a concept of an "underworld" or some other state of being or state of consciousness, be it good or bad. This wasn't exaclty intentional, but somehow all the songs just ended up fitting the concept of the CD really well.
Rotwang: Roger's experience, especially with his thesis performance has been described as "multimedia." Are there any music videos, or any other multimedia extensions that have been done or are going to be done?
Roger: The only thing that has been done at this time has been the thesis performance. I would be up to doing some additional work except I don't own the equipment that would be really necessary to make something of the quality that I would actually want to produce. Renting video studios is even more insane, pricewise, then music studios. That's not as much as an option in some cases.
Summer: We are looking into doing a video with a guy in Denver who works for Fox, who is a friend of a friend. I don't know if that is going to go through. I depends on what he's going to charge us and if we are going to be able to have the artistic freedoms that we need to have, because it is something that we would really need to direct and move in the direction that we would want to. I'm interested in the future doing some more multimedia stage stuff, but that hasn't quite happened yet. I would love to integrate some of my work with theater and dance into our performance, but that tends to be a bit out there for some people. So, I'm a bit cautious about that, but it would be interesting, possibly in the future.
Roger: The only thing in multimedia that in some past shows we have done are a couple of shows where we didn't use standard stage lights. We would project slides, so we would get either images or even just textures and color washes. Then we would drape cheap cloth over the stage as sort of a level projection screen, again helping with the textures and creating very interesting shadows and atmosphere. I haven't really, due to lack of equipment and images, been able to do this more recently since I left the university to put something like that together again.
Rotwang: What other things musically (or otherwise) did both of you do before tMitG? What other trainings have you had, or other projects have you done, or perhaps still are doing?
Roger: As with the first question, yes I have done other projects, though as a "band," only I covered about 3 years of time before Summer joined. As for training, I'm basically self taught on the instruments that I use in tMitG. I did play trumpet for 9 years from elementary through high school, and I did take some synth lessons, which were mostly keyboard and synthesis theory.
Summer: I have been involved with music in some form or another virtually all my life. My father is a musician and so as a kid I was always surrounded by his music. I played the violin when I was just a little girl and then dropped that and moved to the flute for my elementary through high school years. I have always been involved in vocal music as well. From the first time I can remember I have been singing. I have had formal training in the form of voice lessons and choir in elementary, junior high, high school and college. Last year I was working with a band here in Denver called Phantom Violets. The project was put on hold when our keyboardist moved to New Mexico. Within the Machine in the Garden I have really had the chance to explore my range as a vocalist and work with my voice as well as write some songs muself and do some keyboard work. I had never written music aside from vocal melodies and lyrics before working with Roger. It has really opened me up. My drum work is still a bit shakey, though. That is one area where Roger is really very strong so I have been learning from him.
Rotwang: What is the meaning (at least to extent that you are willing to explain them) behind each of your songs? What songs did you like the most when you had the finished product? Any songs you are particularly satisfied or unsatisfied with. Anything that you felt that didn't work musically?
Summer: Well, first of all, I love everything on the new CD. Some people think it is weird when artists listen to their own music. Or that is is pretentious to love your own work. We make music that we would want to listen to (it would be stupid of us to make music we wouldn't like). Listening to our own music helps us critique and understand what works and what doesn't work. I think it all works. I hope everyone else loves it as much as I do! Now...behind the songs. Well, I am not going to tell you specific meanings, I think each person takes away their own meaning from our music and from individual songs, so I think I will tell you a bit about some themes and ideas in the songs. The main theme I have been working with lyrically lately has been my interest in eastern religions and Buddhism in particular. Several of the songs on the CD deal with themes in the Buddhist view of the world. A couple of the songs were inspired by some of Shakespeare's works and I actually used his words in one of the songs, with a little bit of rearraging to make it fit. My ideas in music are very different from those in my lyric writing. In music I usually have something going on in my head so I translate that into external music. My lyrics usually get jotted down in a notebook I keep and later get fit into a particular piece of music. For example, with "Twenty Shadows" I had the music in my head so one night I translated it into a song and realized I had written down this great section from Shakespeare's Richard II months before and that it would fit perfectly. I knew at some point I would use the text, but it hadn't fit before that. It just ended up fitting perfectly in the song. When Roger writes new music, I usually dig through my notebook until I find what fits. I can usually remember most of what I write, so I can usually just hear a song and know I have something that will work out just right. Other times I mash together writings to fit songs.
Rotwang: When you make music, what inspires you the most? What triggers that innate urge to create (any art form, not just music) in you? What gives you ideas to write music, and what aspect of the performance keeps you coming back for more? What musicians have been important in setting the groundwork for your own musicianship?
Summer: I just have the need to make music. I can't exactly tell you why, it is just a need. I perform and record for others to listen to so I can give them something they can enjoy and relate to. There are always those select few artists whose music really has an effect on me. If I can do that for someone else, then that means a lot to me. I really want to affect people or give them something they can relate to. Musicians that have greatly affected me are Siouxsie and the Banshees, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Faith and the Muse, Autumn, Tori Amos, Skinny Puppy, and Loreena McKinnit among others.
Roger: I can't think of anything specific that would inspire music. Other music and images certainly. It's just sort of what happens: these weird thoughts and mutations of things. A lot of the songs are inspired by the sounds used in them. Sometimes I feel like any given sound has a song embedded in it. It's just a matter of bringing it forward.
Rotwang: What do you do to get the "creative juices" flowing? Do you watch movies, read books or anything along those lines?
Roger: Yeah, we do like books and movies. Those are good. Reading is a good thing, yes.
Summer: We both studied different things and read different things. I tend to have similar tastes in movies, although not always. I don't think I draw as much on movies for inspiration, but a couple of the more "artsy" films really did inspire me, like "Wings of Desire." I am really intrested in studying Eastern Religions, which inspires me lyrically a lot. My own spirituality does, too. As far as reading, I'm too busy reading for school. I don't have time to read for pleasure, so not much in reading, unfortunately. I wish I had more time to read what I want to, but I end up reading most of what I need to for school, to get studying done.
Rotwang: Summer mentioned Eastern philosophies. Philosophically, would you consider your "heads to be in the clouds," thinking about things that are above and beyond our world, or to be more "down to earth," concerned with the here and now?
Roger: I'm definately in the tangible field.
Summer: I try not to limit myself. I don't want to say that I'm "down to earth" or "have my head in the clouds." I tend to contemplate, but I don't think that I'm always analytical in my thought processes. I don't limit myself. I look more, in conjunction with Eastern Religion, inside myself. I don't really think about other beings or deities very often. But I am interested in the possiblility in other realms of existance. That is almost a theme that is embodied in the CD, being that it's called "Underworld," and a lot of the songs talking about dreamlike states or other states of consciousness or other realms of existance or being. It's wasn't exactly intentional, but the CD did turn out that way, which is interesting.
Roger: And even the lyrics that weren't written by us embody the same sort of religious nature. A friend of mine wrote lyrics to a song called "Corpus Christi," which is, again, someone looking inside themselves. Instead of dealing with Eastern religion, though, it deals more with Western religion.
Rotwang: Would you consider your approach to thoughts to be more "mystical" or scientific and logical?
Roger: All of the above.
Roger: Why limit yourself to one method of analysis to find the truth in anything, whether it is religion or any other object; you need to look at it from every perspective you possibly can. I personally try to integrate all those perspectives into on complete idea, instead of just blindly following one path.
Rotwang: Roger, you mentioned being concerned with the tangible, the here and now.
Roger: I guess with me, that's sort of a vague concept. I do consider something like a dream or the concept of life to be "tangible" because you can look outside and see things that are alive, whereas, with the idea of a deity, some spirit who floats in the heavens, that is not "tangible." "Tangible" doesn't necessarily mean "material."
Rotwang: You have mentioned that the name "The Machine in the Garden" comes from technology's infringement upon nature, especially in the last century. Would you care to elaborate on these ideas a bit, because they obviously means something to you, as you use that phrase to describe your music and, hence, yourself(ves).
Summer: Ah, the never ending question about the name of the band. Well, we really don't try to or even want to make political statements with our music, but the name of the band reflects on more of a philosophy that Roger came to understand and that I tend to agree with. The fact is, the world is sick and humans are making it sick with our stupid machines. The dichotomy is that we have grown so dependent on those machines for everyday life. Technology is taking over, and what is ironic is that Roger and I are technology freaks. We create most of our music by computer and we live on the internet. What can you do?
Rotwang: In keeping with this theme of the relationship between technology and nature, one could see this "infringement" as either good or bad. When thinking of "humanity," do you feel that the human race (and therefore nature, because we as living beings are a part of nature) should "reclaim" our "humanity" by going back to our roots and back to "mother nature" in the more traditional sence? Or do you believe that technology, because the laws of "nature" (in a broader, but no less valid sence) allow for this technology to exist (one can even think of technology as using or harnessing the laws of nature and the abilities that nature allows us) and that humans, as living entities that came from nature, created technology, that it is technology which makes us human; that technology is a part of our "humanity" and we are only in a different sort of "nature"?
Summer: Well, this is a question that could get very long and very drawn out and become very messy so forgive me if I sort of fail to really answer it. I see humans as part of the earth. We don't "own" the earth any more than a baboon or a trout does, but for some reason, many humans tend to think that we do. I think that technology and nature do co-exist to a point. We are really starting to push that point and unless we start to save the ecosystems we have damaged and take steps to prevent further damage, things are going to start to get really hairy. I really don't want to say anymore for fear of coming across as a preachy environmentalist. The other side of "the Machine in the Garden" to me is summed up in a line Roger used on the inside of the booklet for "Veils and Shadows." I insisted that the same line be placed somewhere in the "Underworld" layout. It simply says, "the metal in the flowers the automation of power the machine in the garden of eden" which really just gives me a feeling of the music. I think the music is like a powerful machine with very electronic overtones, yet it flows and is beautiful in a very organic way. We use machines to make our music, yes, but there is some fluid, organic beauty in the way we do it.
Roger: I don't think the music is political at all. Philosophical maybe, but nothing "in your face". That's not something I really want: maybe a background awareness by the listener. I think one should be able to enjoy the music for what it is, not what it's saying. There's so much art that has such strong emotional or political meaning but is, say, visually unappealing. And the opposite can be true as well. I'd like to think that tMitG is a balance of these two opposites.
Rotwang: Regarding that which you see as "tangible," what concerns you most about the here and now? What concerns you the most?
Roger: Everytime I get asked this question, I feel that I answer it completely different. As far as what you asked, which is really the way you look at the world, there are certainly the technology lovers out there and there are certainly the nature lovers out there, and I mentioned that it is important to look at things from each angle, I think that it is possible that both can work in a unity. That is something that we try to do. Yeah, we have this "nature" sort of idea, but we use technology to implement it. Even with using technology, the sound is still organic at the same time. I feel we've integrated the two. You can't really say that one is better than the other. Yes, there are sounds in a synthesizer that are impossible in nature, but at the same time, a cello will still sound better than a synthesizer trying to be a cello.