“Synths Are Not Nostalgic” : Lars Meijer Talks Hunter Complex’ Newest ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Lars Meijer works in a sonic world unto himself. You listen to one of his Hunter Complex records and you’ll likely hear something familiar, but within a moment the familiarity fades and you’re hearing something completely unique. Meijer pulls influence from artists as wide-ranging as Mark Isham, Prince, and Guided By Voices. He pulls bits and pieces of each and creates something wholly unique and beautiful through a prism of 80s pop sheen. His last record, the masterful Open Sea, was mix of quietly charming and blissfully anthemic. He’s not afraid to layer his songs in a glow of synthetic joy. His music sounds like new love; that butterflies in the stomach vibe that makes you smile ear to ear and want to keep hitting repeat till whoever is with you yells “Enough!”

Lars Meijer has been making music as Hunter Complex for years now. Each record is an evolution from what came before. Dark, propulsive electronic music that was equal parts darkwave, post-punk, and underground dance music that transformed into a more welcoming and open-hearted sound. Hunter Complex is not a nostalgia act, though. There’s nothing about what Meijer does that is trying to bring back the “good old days” of early electronic. Though his sound is very reminiscent of the 80s, it’s very modern and forward-thinking. Which brings us to his newest record, Dead Calm and Zero Degrees. 

After Open Sea was released, Meijer had another album’s worth of songs that were written and demoed in the same time frame as his Death Waltz Originals release. Enter Darren and Gary of Burning Witches Records. They asked Lars about releasing and album with them, so began the fine tuning and completion of Dead Calm and Zero Degrees(out 3/20.)

To celebrate the newest Hunter Complex record, I chatted with Lars about the album, it’s creation, and how it all came together. Read our conversation below, and pick up Dead Calm and Zero Degrees afterwards over at Burning Witches Records.

J. Hubner: Listening to your upcoming new album with Burning Witches Records ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ I get a decidedly different vibe than your previous album ‘Open Sea’. Yet, they were recorded at the same time and could’ve been released as a double album. Do you hear a difference in the vibes of each record? If so, how would you describe the two? Possibly one a dark record, while the other more optimistic?

Lars Meijer: Yes, there certainly is a difference. Mind you, the tracks originated around the same time, but were definitely not finished at the same time. I finished mixing ‘Open Sea’ in January 2017 and ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ in May 2018. I think ‘Dead Calm’ sounds much brighter and detailed production-wise. But the music itself is a lot more melancholic and personal.

J. Hubner: Tell me a little about some of the tracks. “Star Crash” is absolutely gorgeous, man. One of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. 

Lars Meijer: I wrote the track ‘Star Crash’ in the middle of the night, while holding my son Wolf, who just was born back then. And ‘June Gloom’ is about a short trip to LA.

J. Hubner: LA? What were you doing in LA? 

Lars Meijer: I was going to interview Anthony Kiedis about the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album and I read his book ‘Scar Tissue’ in the plane over there. It gave a LA a really unfriendly face. I somehow felt ungrounded and totally lost.

J. Hubner: I’ve been to a few cities in California, but never LA.

Lars Meijer: Of all the American cities I visited, LA felt the weirdest. I like Denver, New Orleans and Minneapolis way better.

J. Hubner: Denver is amazing. And Minneapolis is a classic Midwestern city with lots of music history. The Replacements, Husker Du, and of course Prince. 

Lars Meijer: Actually, “Fragile Flyers” is about Prince in the days before he died. His plane had to land in Moline, Illinois after a show because he was non-responsive. He told everyone he would be fine at Paisley Park a couple of days later, but then he died. It was one of the worst moment of my life.

J. Hubner: Between the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, 2016 was a pretty terrible year. That’s not even counting the election that year. But back to the record. Where did you get the title ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’? 

Lars Meijer: I got the title from the 2004 TV documentary ‘Alone in the Wilderness’. It tells the story of Dick Proenneke who built his own cabin in the wilderness of Alaska in the late sixties. He filmed the whole thing with a 16mm camera. It’s a beautiful and powerful documentary, makes you feel small as a human being and humble to our planet earth. He went through some tough times over there and he really got to know himself and his boundaries. Especially now, in these Corona days, I’m very jealous of how he pulled that off.

J. Hubner: Getting off the grid and living in the wilderness definitely sounds pretty good right about now. 

This time around you’re releasing the album with Burning Witches Records, instead of with Death Waltz Originals/ Mondo. How did you get hooked up with BWR?

Lars Meijer: I don’t know where they heard my music first, but Darren and Gary from Burning Witches both ordered ‘Heat’ (2013) a day after each other in November 2017 and almost immediately after that, they asked me if I wanted to release something on Burning Witches Records. They were just starting out and I was waiting for Death Waltz to release ‘Open Sea’, so I had all the time to finish and mix ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ the way I wanted it to, which was great. Since then they have turned out to be one of my favourite labels, I buy everything they release. So I guess I have found a great home for my music.

J. Hubner: Darren and Gary being musicians themselves know what an artist wants when it comes to releasing an album. They’re approaching running a label from an artist’s perspective, which is an amazing thing. 

Lars Meijer: I especially like that they give room to artists no one has ever heard about, and trust them to release a full album. Albums matter to me big time. It still is the best art form for an artist. Make your point in 45 minutes.

J. Hubner: Absolutely. There’s a real respect for the process. It’s not nostalgia. They want to release music that pushes electronic music forward. 

Lars Meijer: And one other thing, Burning Witches is one of the few labels that takes synths seriously. Synths are not nostalgic, like guitars are not artifacts.

J. Hubner: Exactly. They’re tools of the trade, not museum pieces. Speaking of tools of the trade, is there another album waiting to be released?

Lars Meijer: ‘Open Sea’ and ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ were released relatively close to one another. I can’t  imagine that people need new material from me soon after these two records, so I have time. I’m currently working on 28 tracks at once at the moment, have been for the last months. I’m not seeing an album yet, some of the tracks are too embryonic. But it’s going to be different, much less beat-driven, more ambient, taking more time to get in your gut. I’m using different synths, different production methods and a bit more improv. I recorded two tracks improvising thinking of the Greek islands, they are absolutely wonderful and full of love.

J. Hubner: What have you heard lately that’s excited you? 

Lars Meijer: Last year I really got taken by three records, ‘Night Ride Home’ by Joni Mitchell, ‘U.F.O.F. by Big Thief and ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’ by Cocteau Twins. I picked up the Joni record after I heard ‘Chalk Mark in the Rain Storm’ from 1988. I always read that Joni stopped releasing interesting records after ‘Mingus’ (1979), but the opposite is the case. ‘Night Ride Home’ is now my favorite Joni album. It’s so much bigger and less egocentric than ‘Blue’, which I still adore by the way. Same goes for ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’ by Cocteau Twins. Their indie-classic is ‘Lorelei’ from ‘Treasure’ (1984). Beautiful song, don’t get me wrong, but ‘Heaven’ is so much more mature and universal. Prince sampled the intro of the track ‘Fifity-fifty clown’ for ‘Love… Thy Will Be Done’, the song he gave to Martika, but finally got released in his own version on last year’s ‘Originals’. It’s one of his most deepest songs. It brings me to tears everytime I hear it. Just last week I started crying in the train when it came on, so much power. He must have felt the same thing when he heard that Cocteau Twins album. But what it comes down to, it doesn’t matter anymore how old you are anymore. The latest Pet Shop Boys record ‘Hotspot’ is up there with ‘Actually’, it’s absolutely brilliant. And Roedelius is still releasing music that is much more relevant than the next big thing from the Anglocentric countries. And there is this new jazz label from Chicago, International Anthem Records, that is releasing the one great record after the other. I need to hear everything they release. Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven, Jeff Parker (of Tortoise), Alabaster DePlume.

J. Hubner: I recently discovered International Anthem Records through Joel Ross’ ‘Kingmaker’. I’d read he performed on McCraven’s ‘Univeral Beings’ album so I jumped in head first and I’ve been deep diving ever since. Amazing stuff. And Cocteau Twins are an absolute favorite of mine. Heaven or Las Vegas is a masterpiece. 

So what do you have planned for the remainder of 2020. Or I should say, what will this pandemic allow you to do?

Lars Meijer: First there is an EP that will be released to everyone that has bought the album. It’s called ‘Rain in Europe’. It has a track on there, “Coral Way”, that is about the fathers of my friends that have died in the last couple of years. And a track ‘Television Sky’, that continues the ‘Neuromancer’ narrative, like “Night City” from ‘Open Sea’. And also I want to play live a lot more. I just did a set in Groningen in January that has a lot of potential (link: https://soundcloud.com/huntercomplex/sets/live-tracks). But this damn virus has put the whole live music scene on hold. Instead I will focus on finishing those tracks, which I’m absolutely thrilled about. I like it that ‘Open Sea’ and ‘Dead Calm’ don’t sound like ‘Heat’ at all, and the new album – working title: ‘Call of the Wild’ or ‘The Garden’ – is going to sound different and fresh too.

‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ is out now. Hit up Burning Witches Records for the digital version, or snag the limited edition color vinyl. Keep up with all things Hunter Complex over at his website here

Also, today only Bandcamp is waiving all fees. Everything you buy off Bandcamp will go directly to the artists. They could all use your help right now, so if there’s some stuff you’ve been thinking about buying then today is a damn good day to drop some digital cash. 

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