Have you ever listened to music that just put you into another place? You could’ve had the worst day imaginable, but as soon as you drop the needle or hit “play” all of that washes away. It could be anything. Maybe for someone it’s Bob Dylan, or Neil Young. Maybe it’s the Replacements or George Harrison. For me, while all those artists are great and hold serious depth in the hearts and ears of a dedicated few million people around the world, there’s something about a good synthesizer album that always lulls me out of whatever existential funk I may be dealing with. Call it nostalgia or call it whatever you want. The dreamy, dystopian sounds of analog synthesizers have always given me great comfort. They allow me to focus on the task at hand; while in the same respect act as a sort of portal into some blank space where I don’t have to think about anything. Synth music is very meditative for me.
Of all the great synth albums I’ve discovered over the last couple of years, one of my favorites is the recently discovered(by way of my good friend Joe Storey over in Wales, England) Night Flights Vol. 1. The album is by, coincidentally enough, the band Night Flights. Night Flights is the synth-heavy side project of Carlton Melton band member Rich Millman. Carlton Melton are no strangers to long, expansive, psych-tinged jams, and Rich Millman colors those records with plenty of great synth layers. But with Night Flights, the synthesizer plays the biggest role. The songs he creates for this project are heavy on atmosphere and dreamy soundscapes. Millman gets a little help from Carlton Melton bandmate Andy Duvall on the excellently titled “Alpha Jerk”, but other than that it’s just Rich Millman getting lost in tones and spacey vibes.
I recently got a chance to talk with Rich about Night Flights and the music he created on Night Flights Vol. 1.
J. Hubner: Hey Rich, it’s nice to meet you. So tell me about Night Flights. Is this a fairly new project or has it been floating around for awhile now?
Rich Millman: The track ‘Night Flights’ was recorded some time ago.. maybe 2008 or earlier. It was recorded onto a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. It was initially 25 minutes long. An edited 5 minute version was added as a bonus track on Carlton Melton’s ‘Country Ways’ CD released by Agitated Records in 2010.
J. Hubner: So when did Night Flights come into play?
Rich Millman: Simon Keeler at Agitated asked if I had any other synth-based recordings for a possible full length LP down the road. I told him I could probably muster up a few more ideas, and by 2014 ‘Night Flights Vol. I’ came together.
J. Hubner: So who or what are your influences when you create music as Night Flights?
Rich Millman: It’s mostly just having the synth and the tape machines set up at home, plugged in, and finding time to record ideas. Just getting inspired to do it at any time, day or night, and then being able to go back over stuff at a later time.
J. Hubner: How do you come up with music for Night Flights? How do you start or conceive a track like “Night Flights” or “Origins”? In my mind I could see you starting with a patch of sound and just seeing where it takes you. I’m not sure if it’s that simple or not.
Rich Millman: Yeah, it’s pretty simple. I found myself just recording a lot of stuff to tape and just going back and finding stuff that sounded cool; turning tapes over and playing backwards, then recording over that, slowing stuff down or speeding tracks up with tape speeds and pitch
controls and recording over that in actual time..simple really. Fun stuff. I feel like the more that it does not sound like an actual synth or guitar or drum the better.
J. Hubner: What sort of equipment do you use? Is it mostly analog? What’s your recording set up like?
Rich Millman: I just have an Alesis Micron Synth. I record to old Tascam 4-track cassette recorders. I have a huge box of type II hi bias tape…they don’t manufacture it anymore so when it runs out I’ll have to search for more online somewhere. Sometimes I’ll run the synth and both tape machines at the same time. Always trying to experiment. It’s a very lo-fi set up.
J. Hubner: The sound to Night Flights Vol. 1 is very vast and expansive. Is there any sort of concept to the record? A narrative of sorts?
Rich Millman: No, no concepts. The title ‘Night Flights’ I just used because it reminded me of being a teenager and watching the TV show ‘Night Flights’ that would televise on weekends growing up. First time I ever saw Devo was on that show and they freaked me out.
J. Hubner: While four of the six tracks on the album are all about atmosphere, there’s two that have a bit of a groove to them. “Alpha Jerk” and “Corpse Strut” have a bit of a dark groove with electronic beats. Is there a story behind them? They’re great song titles, by the way.
Rich Millman: Well , ‘Alpha Jerk’ is in the Jimi Hendrix movie. It’s the one where his friends, the twin brothers, are interviewed and explain what they think was going on in Jimi’s mind when he died.
J. Hubner: Oh, I see.
Rich Millman: You have to see it to get it. Andy Duvall, who also plays in Carlton Melton , plays some guitar on the track. Andy and I first met and bonded over a love for the music of Jimi Hendrix some 25 years ago… so there is a little insight into using the ‘alpha jerk’ title. ‘Corpse Strut’ just instantly sounded fitting for that track. That was the working title and it stuck.
J. Hubner: How do you discern between a Carlton Melton track and a Night Flights track?
Rich Millman: Mostly all the recordings to tape are ideas for when I jam with Carlton Melton. I’ll always try to play weird tape stuff to spark ideas or to get an odd riff going with the band. But I’ll also have plenty of stuff left over or laying around that may work on a Night Flights record, or maybe for a future jam in Carlton Melton. I feel like the more ideas on tape laying around the better.
J. Hubner: Do you take the Night Flights music on the road?
Rich Millman: Can’t really see playing this stuff live right now. There is a lot of tape manipulation going on..some stuff I just captured it one time only I think.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me about the album artwork? It’s a great album cover. Who did it for you?
Rich Millman: I send the music to my friend Kaveh Soofi. He lives outside Chicago. He likes to listen to this kind of music at home and layer art ideas in a similar way that the music is layered.
J. Hubner: Have you worked with Kaveh before?
Rich Millman: Kaveh has done quite a few LP covers for Carlton Melton. Kaveh is a great all around guy who is generous with his time and talents to help out with the art. Very fortunate to have him on-board as he can create a great visual to look at while listening to the record.
J. Hubner: Will there be a Night Flights Vol. 2 at some point?
Rich Millman: I’d like to think so. Hopefully within the next three years possibly.
J. Hubner: I’ve pretty much been obsessing over synth music as of late. I picked up Rudiger Lorenz’ ‘Invisible Voices’, Z ‘Visions of Dune’, as well as Sinoia Caves’ ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ soundtrack over the summer and they’ve all been heavily played and loved by me. Now with Night Flights that love of synth soundscapes has come back all over again. What do you think the appeal is with synth music? For you personally what drew you to synth music?
Rich Millman: Thanks for the listening suggestions. Something that caught my ear recently was some of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Not sure what drew me to synth music. I remember seeing the John Carpenter movies when they first came out; Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween. I was young and the movies and music hit me as hard as any Heavy Metal or Rock music I was listening to at that time.
J. Hubner: So what was the reason you first bought a synth?
Rich Millman: I originally bought the synth to play simple chords or undertones while I could play my guitar over it. To stay in practice and stuff. This was when I was not playing in a band and before Carlton Melton started playing. The synth turned out to be so much fun it inspired me and some friends to get together and record some music with the synth and amps, loud guitars and drums, and which eventually became a band with Carlton Melton. I would recommend a synth to anyone playing guitar or other solo instruments..an endless array of sounds.
J. Hubner: You seem pretty well versed on the synthesizer.
Rich Millman: I still consider myself a hack with the synth. With Carlton Melton we have been lucky enough to play with a lot of great bands with extraordinary synth and keyboard players. Glitter Wizard , Wooden Shjips , Moon Duo , White Manna, The Cosmic Dead, Tar Halos, Mugstar, and Mind Mountain to name just a few.
Night Flights’ Night Flights Vol. 1 is out now on Agitated Records. Keep up with Rich Millman and Carlton Melton at http://www.carltonmeltonmusic.com/. You can also keep up with everything Night Flights at http://nightflightsvolumei.blogspot.com/?m=1