It’s been an amazing year for music. If you don’t think so, you’re ears aren’t open. In-particular, the year in electronic/heavy synth has been incredible. From artists like Hunter Complex, Skragn, Jonas Munk and Nicklas Sorensen; to Galactic Protector, Skeleton Beach, Mr. Eff, and Cory Kilduff, the year has been an overwhelming wave of forward-thinking artists blowing minds with heady vibes. I’ve made no secret of my love of synth music. I like all kinds, but what really trips my trigger is the deep dives into 70s Komische and Krautrock. Darker walks down circuital paths that lead to some kind of discovery in ourselves.
Or stuff that sounds righteous thru tower speakers after a couple pints.
Derek Jones, of the electronic duo Cemetery Gates, dropped his debut solo album as Circadian Rhythm Section back in the middle of October. Safety in Numbers was recorded entirely on the Minilogue XD and is an absolute deep dive in heady synth scapes and space drift madness. It was released on Grief Thief Records, which Jones runs with his Cemetery Gates brother(and Skeleton Beach wizard) Gene Priest. This album is quickly becoming a staple of my audio intake diet.
I talked with Derek about the record, the record label, his roots, and Trapper Keepers. Check out our conversation below, then check out the premiere of his new video “Imposter Syndrome” directed by Gene Priest, after our chat.
J Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Derek Jones: I grew up in Corryton, Tn. It’s a little town about 15 miles outside of Knoxville.
J Hubner: When did you first get into music, as a fan?
Derek Jones: Oh, man it’s been a longtime love affair. I don’t recall a time that I wasn’t infatuated with music.
J Hubner: Do you remember the first album you bought?
Derek Jones: I’m not 100% sure. I know the first cassette I got was Appetite for Destruction when I was 5 years old. I think it was taken from me by my mom pretty soon after I got it though because she saw the cartoon picture of a naked girl in the J-card. The first album I recall using my own money for was Nirvana’s Nevermind album when I was around 9.
J Hubner: When did you get into horror movies?
Derek Jones: Probably earlier than I should have. My parents were pretty liberal with what I got to watch at a young age. I recall watching Nightmare on Elm Street as a 5 year old kid. I remember getting school supplies for first grade and I picked out Freddy Krueger folders for my Trapper Keeper.
J Hubner: What was the first horror movie that scared the hell out of you?
Derek Jones: Hands down Nightmare on Elm Street. I mean, I was 5 so it was pretty appropriate for me to be terrified of it, but that movie scared the shit out of me. It is responsible for many of my own nightmares growing up, but also the movie that made me fall in love with the genre in the first place.
J Hubner: When did you start playing music? What was the first instrument you learned to play?
Derek Jones: My Grandmother played piano a lot and whenever I was at her house I was pretty attached to clunking around on it. I never had any type of music lessons or anything, but I really loved trying to replicate melodies by ear on the piano. My first real attempt at an instrument wasn’t until my senior year of High School. I bought my first guitar, a red Squire Strat i believe, at a pawn shop and fell in love with it. Gene, my other half in Cemetery Gates, was actually with me when I bought it.
J Hubner: What pushed you into electronic music? Who were some artists that influenced your desire to work with synths and horror soundtrack work?
Derek Jones: Gene actually got me interested in it. He had been releasing albums as Skeleton Beach for a bit and would show me different synths and programs when I would come over to do our Sharing Needles with Friends podcast. It was just fascinating. It wasn’t long before we were starting up Cemetery Gates and I had found a new addiction. As far as artists that influenced me I really don’t know. I had never really listened to much electronic music at the time. I knew I loved the scores that would accompany my favorite horror movies, but I really never sought out any of the artists or albums. Since then, however, it has opened a world of music to me that I never knew existed and it’s been wonderful.
J. Hubner: Besides being one half of electronic duo Cemetery Gates, you recently released your debut as Circadian Rhythm Section. ‘Safety in Numbers’ is an incredible album. Talk to me about the writing process for the record. What influenced the album?
Derek Jones: Thanks so much! I’m really proud of it. Writing this album really started out as a learning exercise. I had just purchased my Minilogue XD and it was the first hard synth I had ever owned. I kind of challenged myself to make a bunch of tracks using only the XD to be able to learn the ins and outs of it. As I was doing that the album really just came together on its own. That little synth is a badass. Every single noise on Safety in Numbers is made with that bad boy.
J Hubner: Were there specific horror soundtracks or artists you were pulling inspiration from during the writing/recording process?
Derek Jones: Gene and I had just finished making the Häxan score at the time so a lot of the inspiration was taken from watching that film on repeat. I kind of used that film as the fuel for this album as well since I was still in that world mentally.
J Hubner: Does it help to come up with some kind of narrative to write to when creating songs?
Derek Jones: On most things I make though I do definitely love writing a fake movie or narrative in my head as I’m making an album or track. I like to concentrate on a certain emotion and try to make the music fit it perfectly.
J Hubner: You and Gene Priest(other half of Cemetery Gates) started your own record label, Grief Thief Records. What was the idea behind starting your own label? Just the freedom to put out what you want?
Derek Jones: The label is an outlet for us to put out whatever we want when we want, really. We both create constantly and have a lot of output and it’s nice to have a central hub to let all of our projects live.
J Hubner: Is there a specific aesthetic you two are keeping with in regards to sound and style?
Derek Jones: There’s no real aesthetic we are trying to stick to. We both decided long ago that experimentation was key and we didn’t really want to feel caged in to a certain sound. If either of us make something we don’t feel like fits into our current projects we just release it under another name on Grief Thief. I feel like a lot of bands I’ve been in over the years would get stagnant due to trying to maintain a certain identity, but with this partnership anything goes. It’s like Grief Thief is us and the different projects are our multiple personalities. It’s exciting to branch out of comfort zones and really focus on nothing but enjoying the act of making music. We recently started the Grief Thief subscription service and I think the diversity in sound will keep the subscribers from getting too sick of us.
J Hubner: Are there plans to release other artists as well as your own work?
Derek Jones: As far as releasing other artists that is something we haven’t really thought about. It may be something we do in the future, but for right now it’s purpose is just a central location for us to build our own sound library.
J Hubner: What’s been one of your favorite albums you’ve heard this year?
Derek Jones: Man, that’s a tough question. The albums I have listened to the most are Purple Mountains self titled album, Boris LOVE/EVOL, and the new Clipping album There Existed an Addiction to Blood.
J Hubner: What about films?
Derek Jones: My favorite film this year is probably Midsommar. I loved Brightburn and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark a lot as well. I haven’t seen The Lighthouse yet but I could almost already say it will be in the mix when I do get the chance to see it.
J Hubner: What does 2020 look like for Derek Jones?
Derek Jones: I see a lot of output coming from both Circadian Rhythm Section and Cemetery Gates. We already have a bunch of OST type albums for Cemetery Gates recorded and awaiting release for the Grief Thief subscribers. 2019 has been a hell of a year for me musically between the Häxan release on Lakeshore and putting out my first solo album. I really just hope the ball continues to roll.
Check out Grief Thief Records here, and grab a subscription for access to everything they put out(including Safety in Numbers.) Check out the premiere of the Gene Priest-directed “Imposter Syndrome” from Circadian Rhythm Section below.