by Graham Geren
After a stunning Chicago debut performance at The Mid this past April, Dutch electronic musician Trentemøller makes his return to the Silver City with his full live band on October 18th to play the legendary Metro theatre. In his second exclusive interview with UR Chicago, Anders Trentemøller divulges some of his studio secrets, his views on the differences between analog and digital, and why he has begun to move away from the glitchy, electronically manipulated sound that helped define his earlier work.
UR: This will be your second time playing Chicago, how was the response to the first show at The Mid? Was it better or worse than you anticipated?
Trentemøller: It was actually quite good, I think we were lucky with our shows on the U.S. tour, as far as I remember. Chicago was more like a nightclub compared to a normal venue, so for us, it was maybe a little bit different from playing venues because I think the crowd was a little bit more club-oriented, but it still was a really good night for us and hopefully also for the people there. We had nothing to complain about! (laughs)
UR: When you play Chicago this time around, you're playing the Metro, which is by far my favorite venue in the city. It's got some great history behind it and is genuinely the best place for live bands to play in Chicago.
T: Nice! We are really looking forward also to coming back, and as I said we were actually quite happy playing there so it seems like there is a good music culture there!
UR: Our last interview contained more general questions, so this interview will focus more on your production methods. There is a video interview online from a few years back that showed your studio setup in your apartment bedroom that was mostly software-based, what is your studio or your recording setup looking like right now?
T: Right now, I'm actually standing in the middle of my new studio; it's very far from the bedroom studio where I started. I'm sharing this studio together with our new touring drummer, and we have a lot of gear here; two drum sets and a lot of guitar amps, so it is possible to record right away when we have ideas. That is especially great for me when I'm going to start working on the next studio album because, as you said, I was working in my bedroom in the beginning and I was always getting complaints from the neighbors! (laughs) Of course it wasn't possible to record drums and guitars because it was simply too loud, so now I can sit here all night and play as loudly as I want to, and I’m able to record while I'm having an idea. Back in the old days, I needed to record a demo and go to a studio to record it properly and then back into the bedroom studio again, so now its an easier way to do the whole recording process.
UR: What program/DAW are you currently using for your production? I know you were on PCs a while ago, are you on Macs now?
T: Yea I'm on a Mac now and I'm using Ableton Live, I'm not using it as most people do, for DJing and using it in what is called the "Session View." I'm using it more as an old fashioned recorder as you would use Logic or Cubase. It’s mostly used as a multitrack recorder and then I actually record a lot of my things on to tape also, so not everything is going into the computer first, most of the analog stuff is being recorded to tape and then from the tape to the computer to have that special saturation and that tape sound that I really love.
UR: Do you have an analog console like a Neve or an SSL that everything runs into before the computer for all the analog stuff?
T: No, actually I just have some ToolTech preamps and some API preamps and some EQs and also a Chandler limiter, the Abbey Roads special edition, so it’s quite simple. I don't have any mixing desks, everything is mixed in the computer, but when I record things I really like to have a good basic recording because then it sits much better in the final mix I think.
UR: This album, The Great Wide Yonder, focuses much more on reverbs and delays than your previous record, The Last Resort, and it sounds much bigger, are those reverbs and delays coming from hardware or software?
T: I'm actually using software for all my reverbs, I would really love a real spring reverb, but so far I don't have any, so I'm using quite a lot of "Altiverb," an Audio Ease plug-in, that’s the one I go to for most of my reverb things. I also use the UAD plug-ins, they sound very good.
UR: A large amount of people who use Ableton Live to produce electronic music use it for it’s ease of creating choppy, glitchy sounds, whereas when you moved to Ableton, you actually kind of moved away from that choppier, glitchier sound. Do you ever see yourself returning to that sound or incorporating more of those elements again?
T: Not so much with the whole glitchy thing, because I'm getting a little bit tired of that sound. I think you can find it in so many places now, and sometimes I can actually hear when people have used some of the effects in Ableton Live, so I much prefer to use Ableton, as I said, as a recorder mostly and of course I use it with plug-ins, but I'm not using it so much for the more hardcore glitchy stuff. My inspiration lies much more in the recording of the real instruments, and maybe after having recorded a drum loop, going in and doing something with the drum recording in the computer and doing edits of it, but not using the effects that Ableton has because they are very easy to hear, I think. Maybe it’s just me that can hear it, but I'm getting a bit tired of the sound of Ableton actually, especially one plug-in called “Beat Repeat” in Ableton that makes this kind of stutter, and that is on many, many electronic tracks right now. (laughs)
UR: I feel like people, or maybe just music producers can hear the difference between something like “Beat Repeat” and when you actually undertake the effort to cut something up by hand.
T: Exactly! That was actually what I meant before, that is what I'm always doing is sitting the old fashioned way and really editing every little snippet to have it sound the way that I was thinking in my head before I did it. So of course its always fun to do some random effects with the computer and that can be cool, but most of the time I actually end up editing it myself, because you can do things that sound cooler.
UR: Do you have a favorite piece of gear or anything you consider essential?
T: Actually yeah, that must be my Chandler limiter, it was this Abbey Road compressor that I use a lot, often very lightly, it’s not very over compressed, but I use it on nearly every track, on drums and vocals and synths and bass. It’s a very nice sounding piece of hardware gear, compressors especially sound more musical and organic when they’re hardware I think, it’s still hard to recreate the way they are working in the software.
UR: What are you using for your synthesizers nowadays? I’m guessing you've evolved beyond the MicroKorg used in some of your early press shots?
T: Actually the MicroKorg was something I was using more for live performances, but last time I was touring in the states I bought this old Casio organ, its quite a big one, called a Casiotone 701, and that sounds fantastic. It has this really cool sound, it’s not so typical as the smaller more well known Casio keyboards, it’s from the late 70s and it has really smooth warm sounds with organs and some really nice piano-type sounds. Then I also use my Roland SH-101 and I have a Moog Voyager, so I'm pretty much not using soft synths anymore, because analog synths somehow do the same thing as the hardware compressors, the bottom end is fatter and it just sounds better, I think.
UR: What were you using for your iconic bass sounds like you used on your remixes for The Knife and Depeche Mode?
T: Actually on the Depeche Mode remix the bass is a Moog Voyager, but when I did the Knife remix it was still soft synths, so sometimes it is the mixture of real synths and soft synths. I use a lot of different things, one of the synths is called “Massive” from Native Instruments, it can really do some fat and cool baselines, and sometimes I do the same bassline with the Moog and the soft synth and combine them, and maybe only use the high end of the soft synth and the low end of the Moog and mix it together and it can do some really fat stuff.
UR: So you're doing the frequency splitting trick, where you'll split them apart and maybe use a Low Pass Filter on one synth at 100hz and then do the same with a High Pass Filter at 100hz on the other synth and then combine them and make a new sound?
T: Yeah, definitely, because sometimes it can be hard to hear the sub bass on smaller speakers and it doesn't come through so much, so if you put a part of the bassline that has a pure, high end sound to it, it really sits much better in the final mix, so I’m using that trick often.
UR: What are your thoughts on the advance of so-called "bass music" where people are just running pure sine wave sub basses under everything? Your friends Lulu Rouge seem to be into it, and it seems to have been big in Europe for a while but it's just now getting bigger in the United States with the rise of dubstep and the return of DnB to the spotlight.
T: Actually, I hadn't heard the expression bass music before, (laughs) but I definitely understand what you mean, I'm quite tired of this dubstep "wowowow" bass because everyone is using it, and again, it's a bit like, it's very typical when there is something hyped, a lot of artists copy that sound, and then it’s not so interesting anymore. It’s a really massive sound and it works very well, but I’d like it if people took it even further, like an artist like Modeselektor does very well, because they take elements from dubstep and take it further in a way. When you're talking about putting sub basses underneath basslines, it’s actually something I’ve always done, so its very similar to what we talked about before, when you're doing this really deep sub bass that goes under the more pure high bassline, so using sine waves is a good trick that I’ve been using since I started actually I think, so it's not that new for me! (laughs) But sometimes it can also be really hard to mix that together with a very bass-heavy bass drum, so it’s a big challenge not to put too much bass in it.
UR: Are you then using side chain compression when you do your kick versus your sub bass?
T: Yeah, not so much that it is really audible, but just so every time that the bass drum kicks in, the bass goes down a little bit in volume, but I'm not using it as an effect like you hear on Daft Punk or a lot of other artists. Sometimes I'm using it as an effect like if I have a string going on, then the kick will duck that, but then again that's also another effect that is being used very much right now, and I tend to be just a little bit tired of it, (laughs) but it’s just a matter of what you like, of course, and your taste.
UR: You previously mentioned Modeselektor, have you heard of their friend Siriusmo? He also does that dubsteppy sound but in his own way, I think it would be interesting to hear you guys remix each other.
T: Yeah, definitely, we love his sound also, maybe that could be the next remix swap thing, that could be really cool, because his approach to music has a really raw and rough kind of a dubstep feeling, but it’s not dubstep, it’s his own kind of electronic thing.
UR: What would you give as advice to up and coming producers right now?
T: Use your ears and not think too much about what the hype or sound is right now — try to define and find your own sound in a way. Of course you will always be influenced by other musicians, but really try to define your own sound, that would be my main advice, and also something I’ve been spending a lot of time on myself, and maybe not releasing the first stuff that you're doing but taking your time to define your own sound.
UR: Last time we spoke, we talked about composing for soundtracks and Trent Reznor. For the past few albums Nine Inch Nails has released, Reznor has put all the stems for his songs on his website so people can sign up to download the parts and do their own remixes of his songs, have you ever thought about doing something like that?
T: Yeah, it sounds quite interesting, I was actually thinking of doing it for one or two tracks from the next album and letting people do their own remixes and mixes because I think its important to share your music in a more creative way, so I think that could definitely be something that would be fun to do. I've never tried it before but I think it's a good idea.
UR: What is your favorite remix you've done, or alternately, what is your favorite remix someone has done of your work?
T: I'm actually very, very happy about the remix I did for this band called The Dø that is coming out on my new Remixed/Reworked album in November, it's a great melody called "Too insistent," and the singer from that band has a really nice voice. One of the best remixes that other artists have done of my work would be the UNKLE remix, they have done a really cool version of the track "Neverglade" from my last album, and that will also appear on my double CD compilation.
UR: Is there anyone you dream of going on tour with? What would be your ideal tour?
T: There are so many great bands now, but it would be fantastic if we had the opportunity to open up for a band like Portishead or Radiohead, everyone that has "head" in their band name would be great! (laughs) Portishead and Radiohead have really been a big influence and inspiration to me and could be great to do a warm-up gig for them!
UR: Was it awesome for you to remix Modeselektor’s song “The White Flash” which features Thom Yorke on it as a big Radiohead fan?
T: Definitely. It was really fun, even if there weren't so many vocal parts. There were actually only 2 sentences in the song, but Yorke just has this fantastic voice and it is so easy to fit in especially with electronic music. If you listen to his solo album it blends really well together, so it was a big honor for me to work with his voice.
UR: What’s next for you?
T: After this US tour I will actually stop touring for about one year or a maybe a little bit more, and then I will definitely concentrate on working on my next studio album. I'm slowly beginning to work on small sketches, but I haven't really gotten the time because we've been playing so many concerts, and we actually played a lot of festivals in Europe this summer, I think we had more than 20 different festivals, so I'm really looking forward to going back into working mode in my new studio here in Copenhagen and just going crazy and doing a lot of experimenting because now we are capable of recording live music. So I will definitely incorporate that into the next album I think.
UR: Thanks so much for your time, I'm looking forward to seeing you in Chicago again at the Metro!
T: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to playing that venue! When you say it’s probably the best venue for live music in Chicago that is really cool. I really hate when the stage is too far away or too high and you don't have the contact with the crowd, so I'm looking very much forward to it, it's going to be great!
Trentemøller’s upcoming Trentemøller: Reworked/Remixed double album will be released on his own label ‘In My Room’ on November 8th, 2011 but you can pick up a copy early at any of his U.S. tour stops!