The following interview is with the three members of a rock band called Signals: Adam, Ben, and Cathy. Adam plays the drum machine and sings; Ben plays the synthesizer and guitar; Cathy plays the sequencer and keyboards. They have been together as a group since 1980 and have released six albums.
“What do you think made your group so popular?”
“We’ve had a lot of different kinds of success,” says Ben, “but I think what made us popular at first was our songs. We write all our own material. The other thing is, we’re pretty good musicians.”
“We make sure we can really play our instruments before we begin writing a song,” adds Adam. “That way we know what sounds are available to us when we start composing.”
“A lot of bands will just start writing right away, but then they have to rewrite parts because they can’t play them,” says Cathy.
“Our music is also very energetic,” says Adam. “It’s meant to be played live.”
“Are there any major influences on your style?”
“The Beatles are probably our biggest influence,” says Cathy. “We like their music because it’s innovative and experimental but accessible at the same time.”
Electronic rock bands have a storied history. From Kraftwerk to Talking Heads, many of the biggest names in music have employed the most sophisticated technology to make great music. But few bands have been so closely intertwined with the technology as Los Angeles-based Signals. Their first album, “On the Air,” garnered critical praise for its originality and the band has since toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with lead singer Julie Stone about her band’s unique sound and how she combines a passion for music with a love of technology.
Signals is a two-man band that combines digital instruments with traditional rock and roll instrumentation. The band members, who call themselves micro and macro, compose their music using synthesizers, sequencers, and computers.
“There’s something very mechanical about a lot of our music,” says macro. “I don’t think it’s too far from industrial music.”
He’s right. The lyrics to many of Signals’ songs are about things like nuclear war, political corruption, and technological change. These themes are combined with a driving beat to create a kind of suspenseful dance music.
Signals has been around for almost five years now and they have toured the East Coast several times. They have also produced two albums: “The Physics of Fire” and “On the Other Side.”
micro is responsible for writing most of the lyrics to Signals’ songs while macro handles the music. But sometimes they collaborate on both parts of a tune. Usually one of them will come up with something and then play it for the other guy. Then he will make some suggestions or changes to suit his own style of playing.
“We’re pretty much self-taught musicians,” says micro, “and we’re always trying to improve our skills.” Like most bands
The band is called Signals. The members are all software engineers, and they make all their music using computers, synthesizers, and other electronic tools. They met in college, and after they graduated they formed a rock band.
Signals’ first album was a big success. Now they are trying to figure out what to do for the next one. How can you follow up an album like that? What’s a good way to get inspiration for new songs? Is there any value to the traditional method of living the rock-and-roll lifestyle? I talked about these questions with the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Paul Graham.
Paul Graham: We have been thinking about this a lot lately. On the one hand it seems like we should take it seriously– try to figure out what made our last album successful so we can reproduce it on the next one. But on the other hand, you don’t want to let your thinking get too structured. You want to keep it playful– not just in what you do but in how you think about it. So we’re trying to figure out ways to structure our thinking that still let us play around naturally.
I’m hoping for some insight from talking about this with people who aren’t musicians. Maybe there
Q: I know you’ve been doing a lot of touring lately. How’s that going? Do you find you connect with audiences differently in different cities?
A: It’s been great. We’ve been to Europe twice this year and we had a U.S. tour over the summer. It’s always interesting how different audiences react to our music, but it seems like people really respond to the energy of our live show, no matter where they’re from. Our fans are really loyal, too; they usually show up really early and stay after the show to say hello and ask us questions. It makes us feel good that we’re reaching people with what we’re doing.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to play?
A: We love playing in New York and L.A., because those are the cities where we got our start, but my favorite place is probably Seattle. I’ve got a lot of family there and they always come out to our shows and make me feel at home when I’m on the road so far from home.
Q: You guys have gotten a lot of press lately about your new album, “Signals.” What was it like working with producer Bob Smith?
A: We were all just
Signals is an electronic rock band from Austin, Texas. They have been making music together for six years and have just released their first full-length album. Their sound is uniquely their own, combining elements of synthpop, new wave, ambient, and more. I sat down with lead singer Max Hart to talk about how he got started as a musician and how Signals came to be.
Max likes to tell the story of how he wrote his first song. He was five years old and attending summer camp near his home in Dallas, Texas. The camp had a very old piano on which the children could play whenever they wanted to. One day Max decided that he wanted to write a song on the piano. He sat down at the keyboard and began playing around for a few moments. Then he suddenly realized that what he was playing sounded good to him, so he quickly memorized the melody in case he forgot it later. When he got home from camp that night, he went straight to his parents’ piano and played back the melody exactly as it had come to him earlier that day at camp. Although Max did not know it at the time, this would be a defining moment in his life; music had become his passion.
The Signal is a band with a pretty interesting origin story. What’s the story behind how you guys formed?
Brian: The Signal formed in 2005, I was studying computer science at the time, and I had been writing music and engineering it on computers as kind of a hobby. I had made a few songs before that and played them for friends, but at that point I hadn’t been in any bands, but I was always interested in music.
So my friend Andrew who was also studying computer science, we were friends and he went to high school together; he was living across the hall from me. He heard the music that I was working on and started jamming on it with me. And then we recruited Scott who was another friend of ours who had gone to high school with Andrew and Scott also studied computer science at UNH.
He was a roommate of mine for a while in college too actually, so we all knew each other from college. He played guitar and sang in some punk bands when he was in high school so he brought his guitar skills to the mix and we just started jamming around my room on my computer equipment, which is not really set up for live music but we figured out how to make it work.