I’ve been a fan of Miles Brown for over two years now. It started with a friend telling me I should check out this band called The Night Terrors back in January of 2014. “I think you’ll dig them.” Well, he was well aware of my fondness for eerie synth music, all things gothic, and horror films, so when I first heard “The Dream Eater” off their album Back To Zero I was on Discogs looking for a copy to buy. It was an eerie and oddly beautiful track that elicited both a dread and melancholy, like floating in space with no chance of ever getting home but still enjoying the view nonetheless.
Within a month they had released another album, the excellent Spiral Vortex, and by October had released yet another, the spooky Pavor Nocturnus. It seems Miles Brown, the lead synth and theremin player in The Night Terrors decided to step back and work on something a little more personal and so he recorded a record all by himself over the course of 2015. Released on Death Waltz Originals/Mondo back in December, Seance Fiction is a collection of tightly constructed heavy synth songs that are far more pop-oriented and less proggy than the Terrors records. Not only that, but Brown sings(and quite well I might add) on quite a few of the tracks. I think it turned out far more pop than even Miles Brown thought they would. It’s a nice change from his main gig, and it’s just a damn great record.
Miles was kind enough to take some time out of his very busy schedule to answer a few questions I sent his way.
J. Hubner: So tell me about Séance Fiction. How did the record come about? How long have you been working on it?
Miles Brown: I actually started writing this album in the downtime between recording Spiral Vortex and Pavor Nocturnus. I had been touring a lot, with both the Night Terrors and , and we took a break while half of our members were living in Berlin.
J. Hubner: Did you have anything specifically in mind when you began writing these songs?
Miles Brown: My original idea with the solo project was to write some quieter, more restrained electronic material so I could do some more intimate theremin performances, without the volume and expense of dragging along the whole band. At this point The Night Terrors was starting to become quite a gargantuan production with lots of equipment and complex technical requirements. I wanted to make a mini version where I could just concentrate on playing the theremin and make it accessible to people who maybe weren’t that interested in having their heads blown off at a full band show. So while I was back in Melbourne for a while I started playing solo shows, and it was great fun. What I found, however, was that even though the concept was for a quieter situation, what I was writing at the time was actually really up and dancey. My mission with the theremin has always been to take it places it maybe hasn’t been before, and one of the many ideas I’d had for a while was to place it in the context of dance music. We’d started to move in this direction with the band on Spiral Vortex, but I realised perhaps this was crushing out some of the emotional content from the Terrors as a project. Also, I think I was starting to write a lot more in general, having a bit of a purple period as it were, and the stuff that was coming out was all over the places stylistically. A lot of it was obviously not suitable for The Night Terrors. So I just kinda took the brakes off completely and started to experiment with new songs live, adding things to the solo set and letting them evolve on stage, then going back and updating them. The solo thing took on its own life and I realised how fun it was to be writing music with the live audience’s reaction in mind.
J. Hubner: What were some inspirations going into the album? It’s not a total departure from the Night Terrors in regards of mood, but it certainly feels more personal. It sounds like more of a pop-inspired album.
Miles Brown: Yes, that’s true. To be honest I’d always been interested in writing pop songs but every time I tried over the years there would be big scary prog monsters waiting at the gate instead. I’m a firm believer that as a composer you should always honour what is waiting for you when you open the channel to the creative netherworld. So maybe it was the case that there was a lot of weird stuff that needed to be let out before the poppier things could step through the portal. Also I think I had realised that while I will always have a responsibility to explore the theremin as a lead instrument, many of the ideas that were coming through were not suitable for that format. So, okay! Now I’m writing songs with lyrics and exploring a different songwriting voice.
J. Hubner: Another change here is that you’re singing on quite a bit of the record. That adds a whole other level to the record.
Miles Brown: The aim with The Night Terrors, as a largely instrumental project featuring the theremin, is to delve into emotional territory that is universal, and free from the constraint of spoken language. With the solo stuff I just allowed whatever came through in terms of lyrics to be what they were, and yes they were quite personal and a bit teenaged goth. Which I think is quite amusing.
J Hubner: Did you make the album completely on your own?
Miles Brown: Yes this is a 100% solo effort, using a pretty streamlined bunch of gear – all analogue. I think there are only five synths on the album: Roland sh101, Rs202, sh3a, JX3P and a Waldorf Pulse. Plus my Etherwave Pro theremin and a bunch of analogue drum machines recorded to tape and sampled. I recorded the album with my portable studio around Melbourne and Tasmania, and tracked the vocals at some studios around Melbourne. The only guest appearance is Jenny Branagan from the amazing Melbourne band , who sang with me on the choruses for “Control”.
J. Hubner: How did the songwriting process work for you on this record?
Miles Brown: A lot of these songs come from just playing around with the equipment, finding things that are fun, and then adding more fun bits on top. I was exploring some of the more traditional uses of my gear, including the analogue sequencing and CV capabilities that the early Roland stuff is awesome for. For me it’s always about playing around til you find something that sounds “right”, and then making more passes until it sounds “finished”.
J. Hubner: Maybe you could walk me through the process in writing “Electrics”?
Miles Brown: “Electrics” is actually one of the simplest tracks I’ve ever written. When we took in to for mixing I was surprised to see how few tracks it actually involves. Not like the band, where things can really blow out in terms of layers. It’s great to try and be effective with minimal resources. The lyrics to “Electrics” actually developed live – for my early shows I would just turn up the vocal effects really high and make up words on the spot. When I came to write “proper” words for “Electrics” I wrote down what I had been singing, just to see what the rhythms were like, and found that the temp lyrics were actually quite clearly about something already! So that was awesome, to realise that writing words can be done in the same way as writing melodies – just get out of your own way and see what is happening naturally.
J. Hubner: How different is your approach to songwriting on your own compared to writing in The Night Terrors? Do you like having that freedom of working on your own?
Miles Brown: It’s great to have the solo project so I can expunge some of my megalomaniacal tendencies without driving anyone else mad! You can certainly work very fast and as hard as you like. It makes working with the band a much looser and more enjoyable experience. Right now it’s interesting because I have just returned from a three-month writing trip in Berlin, and I have about 60 new pieces in various stages of completion. Some of it will be solo, some will be Night Terrors, and some of it is quite obviously neither of these projects. So these days it’s all about trying things out in different contexts and seeing where it feels right. I’m pretty sure there are four distinct projects emerging from this last bout of writing. One of them is definitely a Terrors album, and there are a few new solo projects taking shape as well.
J. Hubner: With all of the new pieces you’ve come up with on this recent Berlin songwriting excursion, could you ever see any of that writing energy going towards scoring for film? The Terrors’ stuff was all very cinematic anyways, so I would imagine it could be something you could walk right into.
Miles Brown: Absolutely. That’s something we have always been very keen to move into, it’s just a matter of finding the right project really. I have a lot of material that would lend itself to film music and also I’m really excited by the format of what has traditionally been involved in horror soundtracks. Particularly the pop theme song over the credits – I wish there was more of that these days. In the last year I’ve done a few things for film – a soundtrack for video artist Allison Gibbs’ art film Our Extra Sensory Selves which showed in Glasgow last July, and a theme song for a great little Ozploitation short called Insomnolence made by young Australian horror director Kiefer Findlow. I’m also working on some music for a short by Tasmanian director Briony Kidd, who runs the fantastic Horror Film festival.
J. Hubner: So how did you get hooked up with Spencer and Death Waltz Originals? Seems like an inevitable partnership.
Miles Brown: Spencer was a really vocal supporter of Back To Zero reissue on Homeless, so when we were releasing Spiral Vortex we sent him an advance copy and he was really into it. I suppose he saw us as fitting into his musical universe. When we did Pavor Nocturnus, the guys at Twisted Nerve sent him a copy and they organized to do a special Death Waltz colour variant just for his subscribers, which was really awesome. I really love how Death Waltz do that – recently the Crypt Vapor LP got this treatment which is particularly cool as he is also a fellow Tasmanian – in fact he played my album launch just a few weeks ago. So yeah, when I had Séance Fiction ready to go I sent it to Spencer to see if he might be interested. Lucky for me he was! It’s really great because lots of my friends are on there too – Antoni Maiovvi, Sinoia Caves, it’s like a big nerdy synth weirdo party.
J. Hubner: That sounds like my kind of party. Is there any extensive touring in the works? Any possible US dates?
Miles Brown: Yes! I’ll be heading back to Europe later this year and will certainly be heading to the US from there. The Terrors have never toured the US either so I imagine you’ll be seeing a lot of us in the near future.
J. Hubner: What was one defining record that changed everything for you? What record blew the mind of a teenaged goth Miles Brown?
Miles Brown: Definitely The Art of the Theremin by Clara Rockmore. To hear the instrument played with such gravitas and emotional depth made me totally reassess my ideas of what was possible. Until that point I had been getting off on Messer Chups, Add N to (X) and the weirder sci-fi uses of the instrument. Clara showed me that there was a whole world of feeling to be explored. Also the strange combination of old school classical pieces interpreted with this otherworldy voice was an intoxicating proposition. Her version of “Hebrew Melody” by Achron is still one of my fave pieces of recorded music ever.