Musician Magazine interview between Matt Sharp, Tim Gane, Roger Manning and Bob Moog - August 18, 1997

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Print interview with Matt Sharp, Tim Gane, Roger Manning and Bob Moog
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Publication Musician Magazine
Interviewee Matt Sharp, Tim Gane, Roger Manning and Bob Moog
Date December 1997
Title Analog Synth Summit with Bob Moog, Stereolab, Imperial Drag & Weezer
Format Print
External link Via Behind The Sweater
References See where this interview is referenced on Weezerpedia

Analog Synth Summit with Bob Moog, Stereolab, Imperial Drag & Weezer
Author: Unknown (Musician Magazine)
Published: December 1997

Models moldered in closets or got dealt off in garage sales. (Confession: I traded two excellent synths for a Maltese dog deal, maybe not, but I've learned that you don't have to clean up after a DX7 and my dog still hasn't gotten me any gigs.)

Eventually things slowed down. Maybe engineers were finding it harder to come up with innovations at an affordable price. maybe players began realizing some of those old sounds were still cool. Hip-hop bass lines had a lot to do with it; to this day, nobody's beaten that low Moog rumble.

Only one problem: The 'boards that produced those classic sounds were out of production. So what do you do? A lot of synthesists learned to live with digital approximations of Moog and ARP tones. But some diehards aren't so accepting. They place or scounge through trade ads, use the word of mouth, track down the vintage gear, dust off the old manuals, and tap the wellspring from which keyboard technology has gushed for over three decades.

The challenge for many synth-based bands today is to come up with applications that speak to the modern mentality. More and more, we're seeing this come to pass, with a new generation of early synth fanatics whose references are cutting-edge rather than Close to the Edge. Check out ex-Rentals member Matt Sharp's ear tweezing lines on "Tired of Sex" from Weezer's latest album Pinkerton, or Roger Manning's swooping chorus of "Zodiac Sign" on Imperial Drag's self-titled debut, or Tim Gane's stuttering electronics over the smooth jazz of "Brakhage" on Stereolab's Dots and Loops. Even with the differences in their sound, these guys share a commitment to exploration with the same tools.

When we learned that Bob Moog had never heard or met these three players, we realized we had to get them all together. After all, it was Moog who launched the synth era in 1964 with a paper titled Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules and his first modular machine. His concept of a system based on oscillators, filters, and amplifiers guides the industry to this day. And although he's mainly concerned now with building and marketing Theremins through his company, Big Briar Music, he remains interested in how people are using the instruments with which he changed the sound of music.

Manning, Sharp, and Gane were equally excited to talk with the man whose name became a synonym for the instruments they played. So after weeks of checking schedules, we found a time and place for all four to sit down and trade insights into the enduring and reviving phenomenon of vintage synths in modern rock.

First, what kind of vintage synths do you have?

Matt: I pretty much use only two Moogs: a Source and Opus 3.

Gane: I use the cheaper Moogs from the pre-Prodigy era. I've got two 'Opuses. But I don't have any modular synthesizers.

Manning: We all wish we did [laughs].

How has playing these instruments distinguished your band?

Matt: Whenever we go on the road, there's constant excitement because of the synthesizers, especially with the age group we're playing to. They don't know what those things are.

Gane: It fascinates people of 15 or 16.

Matt: A lot of them come up thinking that they're new. They go, "Where did you get these things? This is amazing!"

What attracted you to older equipment?

Matt: When we went in to do the first Rentals record, we completed it without any keyboards. I realized that it was missing something. So I went back to the studio, and there was the [Moog] Source.

Moog: What did you do with it?

Matt: We replaced a lot of the original bass and lead guitar stuff. We used just that one synth for the whole record.

Were you playing other keyboards at that time?

Matt: Not really. Earlier I'd used more "tech" keyboards, but they'd get me a bit confused.

Gane: We had lots of organs, Farfisas and Voxes. We also used things like the [EMS] VCS-3 and some early Moogs. But I'd started using modular synths when I was at school. When I was 15 I heard two records from the Seventies which had these sounds on them, and I couldn't figure out where they were coming form or what sort of people would make them. I had to find out what it. Obviously the Moogs were number one, and the easiest to obtain. That sounds gets in your blood. Now I can't really write music without knowing that they're gonna be used.

Matt: Does a lot of the Stereolab stuff start out with those sounds?

Gane: When we first started using Moogs they were mainly for siren sounds. But then we began to use the Moogs as the basis of chords. With that approach you can take a semi-original song and put it in a whole different atmosphere. So usually now that's the first thing to go on, because it gives the direction for everything else. i tend not to want to write too much, so I like that accidental thing about analog synthesizers. I always want to know exactly how they work, though, because I'm still discovering new sounds. There aren't many other instrument about which you can say that.

Matt: That's definitely the position I'm in most of the time, just discovering a sound and going, "Oh, my God! I've never heard that!" And taking it from there.

Moog: You don't get that from the digital stuff?

Matt: Quite honestly, I don't understand digital stuff at all. The point is, though, that the digital user interface doesn't invite you to explore as much as analog does.

Manning: Sure. A lot of the early synthesizers are laid out very sensibly. You don't have to know anything about music; they invite exploration. You turn knobs until something stimulates you, and that can inspire a whole composition. There were endless early-Eighties synth-pop bands who were notorious for that. It was an era when a lot of non-musicians picked up a couple of keyboards and a four-track, started twiddling knobs, and began making very fresh, exciting music.

Matt: That's right. I brought my Opus 3 at a black market in San Francisco for $75. I couldn't get anything out of it, but then I realized it was broken, so I took it out to get fixed, ad when it came back I found all these amazing things in it. Nowit's one of the keyboards I use the most.

Gane: Synthesizers that were made up to the late Seventies were doing something completely different from digital synthesizers. I don't think the Moogs or any of those other tried to emulate exactly the sounds of violins or basses. There were approximations of basses, but they were different. But that's exactly what makes them more interesting. It's a misnomer to state that we're using this equipment because we're nostalgic for something

Matt: Or to be considered hip.

Moog: I want to get back to something that Tim said. You said that when you did a piece of music and transferred it over to analog synths, you put it into a completely different atmosphere. Did that remind you of something else, or was it new?

Gane: It was new. I was attracted to it because it was otherworldly. It takes you far away from what you've been brought up to understand as being acceptable or normal music. I don't know any other instruments that can work with imagination more than these Moogs, because is not a musically thing to understand them. People like Rick Wakeman play them in a musically way, but the point it it's exploratory; you discover things that you normally wouldn't find out about yourself. No one person will get the same thing out of these instruments as any other person. Whereas people will punch up identical presets on more modern synths.

Gane: Yeah. When there's a Moog on a record I'm more inclined to buy it because that's a sign of some kind of imagination.

Bob, the musician with whom you're often identified are from a very different school, so how do you feel about the way these guys are using your old instruments?

Moog: Well, remember, before there were super-pyrotechnical musicians like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, I worked with experimental musicians, like Dave Borden. They had a sense of tone and timbre, of shaping a sound from beginning to end, that was incredibly exciting. What I'm hearing from you guys sounds very much like that. You're really using the synthesizers appropriately.

Can you point to a way in which an older synth opened a door you might not have gone through with a digital synth?

Gane: Two or three years ago we started to filter most all the instruments we use through our Moog Rogue: guitars, vocals, organs, everything. Our soundman has a Rogue at the desk, and he puts the whole band through it at the same time.

Moog: You literally put your whole band through that filter?

Gane: Yeah, the band and the P.A.

Moog: Wow [laughs]! that's a lot of stuff to go through one little filter. It doesn't distort or sound like hell?

Gane: It does, but ours is the kind of music that works with that. It's like listening to music that someone else creating.

Manning: I'm a fan of so many different analog synthesizers, but I always come back to the Moog because of that filter. In fact, my buddies and I like the filters so much that we had a friend of ours take some and put 'em into a Crybaby pedal.

I'll try that too [laughs]!: {{{2}}}

Okay, the floor is open. Does anybody have anything they've always wanted to ask Bob Moog?

Matt: Was there a point where you heard your creation being utilized in what you might think of as the wrong way?

Moog: Oh, yeah, all the time [laughs]. I remember in particular one "Moog record." It was called Moog Espana. These two record producers from New York came up, smoking cigars, and they wanted to get a couple of synthesizers lines down on eight-track tape. John Weiss, this very sensitive musician, helped them get these God-awful bloopy-bleepy melody lines onto a couple of tracks in this smoke-filled studio. It still sounds terrible. But that's just something we deal with.

There are lots of lousy violinists out there too.

Moog: That's right!

Gane: Where do you think analog synthesizers are going to go in the future?

Moog: I'm surprised at how little advancement there's been. In the Sixties we had VCFs, ADSR envelope generators, VCOs-- all the basic components. Very little has has been added since, but there's a ton of stuff that you could add. For example, analog has knobs. Digital saw it as convenient to get rid of the knobs, which makes it trickier to get complex sounds with digital stuff. You get a nice clean oscillator and filter, but if you get any distortion it sounds like hell, whereas a little distortion with analog is warm and expressive. I'd like to see that aspect of analog explored more.

Is there any argument for taking samples on the road rather than haul this cumbersome, irreplaceable gear?

Manning: You'd miss the live spontaneous control. Like Tim was saying, half the fun is getting that filter moving in real time. If you're onstage, there's nothing more fun than playing a bass line on the Opus 3, and you grab the filter knob during the performance. I don't even to deal with that on samplers or a digital 'face.

Gane: Besides, the Moogs look so much better than the new stuff.

Manning: That's right! We haven't discussed the most important thing, which is how cool they look. The Sonic 6 is one of the most visually pleasing keyboard to me.

Moog: Really! Why is that?

Manning: It's reminiscent of the era of NASA, circa the late Sixties. It reminds me of the furniture in movie like 2001. Any time you get rounded corners and the color blue involved, that says it all. By the way, Matt, I hear that Weezer's been playing the [Manning side side project] Moog Cookbook "Buddy Holly" cover before your shows.

Matt: The funniest thing is that the bass frequency on it is so low that half the time we play it, the CD player skips.

Manning: It's off the Memorymoog.

Where did the idea of The Moog Cookbook come from?

Matt: I saw you playing it on television. The arrangement is incredible.

Manning: It's Switched-On John Philip Sousa [laughs]. Mostly from an era that Bob might want to forget, when people were doing "switched-on" albums, covers o hits from the late Sixties-Bacharach tunes, Beatles tunes---with the modular Moog systems. They were often done for very little money or were rushed, by people who didn't know how to use the machine, so you get a lot of pleasant and unpleasant mistakes. My partner [Brian Kehew] and I were excited about doing this kind of record, so we decided to have some fun with current music.

[Editor's Note: Manning and Kehew will follow up The Moog Cookbook with the Oct. 28 release of Ye Olde Space Bande, featuring electronic arrangements of Seventies hits, on Restless.]

So is future of your invention in good hands?

Manning: Don't put put him on the spot!

Moog: Sure sounds good to me.

Moog Madness
Technically Matt Sharp is Weezer's bassist, so it's no surprise to find him with a Mexican Fender Jazz Bass or a Seventies Fender Jazz Bass (both with Schecter pickups) in his hands. But in his alter ego as a synthesist, he's a Moog man, with a Source and an Opus 3 plugged in and ready to wail through either a either a Gallien-Krueger 800RB or Alate Sixties Orange 200-watt head and an Ampeg 8x10 cabnet. Tim Gane carries a pretty basic setup on the road with Stereolab; his stage arsenal boils down to a Fender Jaguar guitar, Fender Showman amp, and two pedals, a Lovetone Meatball and an Electro-Harmonix Electric Misstress. In the studio, however, that retro gleam in his eyes grows brighter, and out come the keyboards: a Moog Rogue synth, a Farfisa Duo Compact organ, and a Wurlitzer EP200 electric piano, with an EMS vocoder and a Sherman filter bank thrown in for sweetening. Roger Manning of Imperial Drag goes a little more overboard, especially when when working on one of his Moog Cookbook projects. The latest one, featuring covers of Seventies hits, is a vintage synth extravaganza. Highlights include Rhodes Chroma and ARP 2600 solos on "Sweet Home Alabama," Minimoog melodies on "More Than a Feeling" and "25 or 6 to 4," cat noises from an Octave Cat on "Cat Scratch Fever" (which also features a Minimoog "tap dance," ARP Omni 2 strings, ARP Odyssey "guiro"), and plenty of other stuff from his EML 101, Oberheim 8-Voice, Sequential Prophet VD, ARP String Ensemble, Polymoog, Chamberlin M2, DKS Synergy---even a Evantoff Sonica and a Baldwin Fun Machiel!

See also