Synthesizers and Event Horizons : A Conversation With Steve Greene

Photo by Brian Rozman Photography

 

Steve Greene is not a soft synth kind of guy. He likes hardware. He likes the tangibility of a real synth; buttons, faders, patches, circuits, and keys. His band Voyag3r is a progressive synth rock band, and there’s tangibility in the sound they create. It’s synth rock, with emphasis on the rock. Steve Greene mans the stack of vintage synths while his cousin Aaron Greene lays down some crunchy guitar tones. Greg Mastin adds the nice touch of both electric and acoustic drums. Being a Detroit band, there’s a working class feel to the space rock they create. They can get into orbit for sure, but there’s always a feeling of groundedness on albums like Doom Fortress and Are You Synthetic. 

Steve had been writing songs on his own and felt these were songs meant for something besides another Voyag3r album, so they culminated into Greene’s debut solo LP. Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence is a tour-de-force of hard synths, proggy feels, and sci fi vibes. It’s a hell of a record and one Steve Greene was happy to talk to me about. We also discussed his childhood, influences, his first high school rock band, and just what Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence really means to him.


J. Hubner: So where did you grow up Steve?

Steve Greene: A little bit in Michigan and Florida.

J. Hubner: At what age did music start to have an impact on you? Do you remember the first song or album that made an impression on you?

Steve Greene: Music impacted me pretty early. My parents always had some rock, funk and R&B 45’s spinning. Also, a huge impact on me was the Star Wars soundtrack I had on 2xLP with the gatefold with scenes from the movie as well as the poster. Super inspiring!

As the era of Miami Vice, Knight Rider and Street Hawk set in, I was about 10 years old and soaked up all the imagery, energy and music those shows put out.

J. Hubner: At what age did you start to play an instrument? Was piano/keys your first foray into playing?

Steve Green: When I was in 6th grade I started playing saxophone in jr high band. Shortly thereafter I picked up a bass guitar and that’s what started me on composing and performing music. I was super inspired by punk rock like the Dead Kennesys, Butthole Surfers and staples like the Beatles and Neil Young.

J. Hubner: Did you have a band or bands in high school? What artists did you cover, if any?

Steve Greene: My high school band was called the Vegetarian Cannibals along with my cousin and Voyag3r guitarist Aaron Greene. We released a few self produced cassettes. Along with our own songs, we covered “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles and “Gary Floyd” by the Butthole Surfers. Many years later the Vegetarian Cannibals album Before The Fact was re-released by Cass City Records and Jack White wrote a couple of paragraphs in the liner notes describing how he and our drummer at that time would listen to those tapes and how he enjoyed the raw energy and spirit of Vegetarian Cannibals. We recorded that record on a boom box in a bedroom. True punk, DIY style.

J. Hubner: Horror and sci fi seem to be a big influence on you and your work. As a kid were you a fan of horror films? What are some pivotal films that made an impact on you?

Steve Greene: Indeed, it’s always been a part of my life. I used to have to hide in the back of my parents station wagon as we went to the drive in to see Halloween, Phantasm, Motel Hell and Jaws… to name a few. I loved that stuff and can remember all the times we would go.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little about how Voyag3r started? Was there a concept behind the band? With albums like ‘Doom Fortress’ and ‘Are You Synthetic’ you guys seemed to cover quite a bit of ground sound and mood-wise.

Steve Greene: Thanks! Both were vary fun albums to write. Initially, I knew I wanted to do music akin to what Voyag3r is doing. Several years before we formed, I didn’t think I’d be able to find anyone to play this sort of music with me, so I just composed and recorded a handful of songs by myself. After the rock band I was in with Aaron and Greg Mastin came to an end, I was trying to put a proper band together in the vein of a synth focused rock band. I first asked Greg if he would be interested and to my surprise he was all in. We auditioned a guitarist, but it wasn’t clicking, so I asked my cousin Aaron if he wanted to do this weird thing I had in my head. He was also all about it. We have been in 3 bands together since the 90’s, so that was actually a relief because we know each other so well and work very smoothly together. So, then we started writing Voyag3r songs and I also kept composing solo songs… finally now releasing my debut solo album.

J. Hubner: Voyag3r recorded ‘Are You Synthetic’ direct to 2″ tape. Do you prefer working in an analog music world, as opposed to computers, plug-ins, and Pro Tools? What is it about analog that appeals to you? From what I’ve seen you have quite a collection of classic synth hardware.

Steve Greene: Actually, Victory In The Battle Chamber, Doom Fortress and AYS were all recorded to 2” tape through a Harrison console. I don’t mind working in either format, but if time, bugdet and logistic allow, I’d choose tape most of the time.

It’s probably related to the era in which I came up in, but I very much prefer real instruments and “earning” your performance, vibe and atmosphere. Even when I produce or record into Pro Tools, I still utilize a lot of old school practices and really just use Pro Tools as a tape machine. I mostly record, on the way in, how I want the track to sound and don’t really heavily rely on Pro Tolls to edit the life out of something. I also love to turn real, tactile knobs and react to what sounds they produce. I don’t really have too much fun with software or a pedal that emulates something.

J. Hubner: You have just recently released your debut solo debut called ‘Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence’. It’s an amazing piece of heavy synth and sci fi vibes. I particularly love “Machines, Schemes, and Manipulations” and “Aerial Maneuvers” which I first heard when Tony Giles played it on his DFC podcast back in early January. The album has a great narrative flow to it.

What made you decide to do a solo album, as opposed to going back in with Voyag3r and putting out an album with them?

Steve Greene: Thank you! I always appreciate Tony and crew at the Damn Fine Cast’s support. I have always planned to do music with and without the band. A solo record, I feel, let’s me get even more “out there” wilth less of a rock band mentality. I love both.

J. Hubner: So what’s the inspiration behind the title Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence? It has a very Philip K. Dick vibe to it.

Steve Greene: I feel there is so much of our reality we do not understand or perceive and I find that, more often than not, my mind wonders into that blurred area between what we think we know and the event horizon of the unknown. I get inspiration, moods and colors from that zone. I think that this album title also helps illustrate that frame of mind. I’ve heard quite a few ideas on what people think it means and I like all of them.

J. Hubner: Are there pros or cons to working on your own, as opposed to being in a band environment?

Steve Greene: No pros or cons to me, just different head spaces. I plan to keep making music in many capacities as I have time. I am really proud of my solo album and people seem to be responding very positively to it. I am also excited about the new Voyag3r songs we are working on. Things seem to be taking a heavier turn. We’ll see how the final collection turns out.

J. Hubner: Are you playing any shows to promote ‘Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence’? If so, do you have a band lined up to play with you for these shows or will you be playing solo? 

Steve Greene: I do intend to play some solo shows as time permits. It will just be me surrounded by a bunch of synthesizers. Looking forward to it!

J. Hubner: What album has been a constant for you thru the years? That one record that you would replace no matter how many times it was misplaced? 

Steve Greene: Death – Human

J. Hubner: Romero or Argento? And why?

Steve Greene: That is really tough! I absolutely love both. I’d go with Romero, I think he wrote better characters in his films.

J. Hubner: So what does the rest of 2018 hold for Steve Greene? 

Steve Greene: Playing a few solo shows to promote Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence while continuing to write the next Voyag3r album and then hitting the studio to start recording it. Lastly, I am super excited for this sort of audio book I worked on with author and friend Dirk Manning. We took 4 short stories from his popular Nightmare World comic books series and turned them into these cool radio drama type pieces. I composed an original score to go with the reading and even mixed in a little bit of select Foley(sound effects artist Jack Foley) to enhance the vibe. I really think it turned out pretty special. That should be available later this year.


Head over to Steve Greene’s Bandcamp page and give Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence a spin. It is quite amazing. But listen, I know you’re going to love it so just head over to Bellyache Records and order the vinyl. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

The Motor City’s Protomartyr sound like modern harbingers of doom. Singer Joe Casey takes the podium front and center like a prophet telling us the secrets of our demise as a society in riddles, suggestions, and proclamations. Guitarist Greg Ahee blends melodic moments with outright blasts of contempt, while bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard lay the foundation to which Casey and Ahee can blast us with poetic chaos. They’ve been building their post-punk brand for nearly 10 years now and with each record they’ve honed their desolation music with precision, coming to near perfection with 2015s The Agent Intellect.

Protomartyr are back and have jumped from Hardly Art to Domino Records. Their debut with Domino is the poignantly titled Relatives In Descent, a post-punk/noise rock art piece that seems to reflect the current state of disarray our country is currently in. This record cuts delicately, but it still cuts deep.

One constant in the music of Protomartyr is the sense of urgency that pumps through each track. And yet you feel you must push forward there’s still an elegance in the poetry of Joe Casey and the music the band backs his words with. “A Private Understanding” opens with tension. A feeling that something important needs to happen. It opens with busy drums and the guitars trying to find resolve. There is a resolve in the chorus as Casey keeps repeating “She’s just trying to reach you”. “Here Is The Thing” sounds like Pere Ubu on a Gang of Four jag. Casey does his best street-level preacher; a dystopian philosopher preaching his sermon on the mound. “Windsor Hum” wonders if things might be better across the river, while “Night-Blooming Cereus” is much more of a contemplative track. This is the most Protomartyr have ever sounded like Wire. On the other side of that coin, “Up The Tower” explodes into musical shards and shrapnel with hardcore vigor. Mark E. Smith is somewhere in this track, rearing his angst-y, curmudgeonly head. “Corpses In Regalia” has an angular feel with the airtight rhythm section while Ahee lays down some almost Andy Sommers guitar vibe. “Half Sister” sounds like doom and gloom for the coffeehouse crowd.

I think where Protomartyr succeed most is when they disengage the fuzz and noise and go for more of a fierce Smiths sound. Jangly guitars, tight rhythm section, and plenty of room for Joe Casey to spit his vitriol all over the place. When things get too noisy Casey gets lost in the mix and that’s a shame as he’s got plenty to say.

Relatives In Descent is a continued steady march towards something greater. There are moments that feel they need a little tweaking, but those are few and far between. These Motor City prophets are still as urgent as ever. We just need to open our ears and take it all in.

7.6 out of 10

Protomartyr : The Agent Intellect

Over the last fifteen years there have been many bands to emerge that wore the post-punk moniker proudly. That’s not to say they deserved to wear that moniker, mind you. That’s also not say they picked that moniker out themselves. It seems music critics(I’m not one as I don’t get invited to their soirees, nor do I care what’s cool or hip) can be sort of lazy in their name-calling. The National, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, and a few more have been given the title of “post-punk band” over the years, and while each of those bands have put out great albums at one point or another in their careers they’ve proven to not be what we music nerds know as “post-punk”. Mission Of Burma, The Fall, Wire, Gang of Four, early Talking Heads, Joy Division, Television(to some degree), and early Cure were what I consider classic post-punk.

However, there have been a handful of bands to rise from the ashes of those post-punk yesteryears that possess that jagged spirit of post-punk. Iceage is one of them. Viet Cong is another. The newest, to my ears anyways, is Detroit’s Protomartyr. Protomartyr have that perfect balance of bloodied and bruised angst while underneath it all there’s a bit of doomed romanticism. That’s the recipe for not just great post-punk, but a great band. The Agent Intellect is Protomartyr’s new album. It seems pissed off at the world and then some. It’s also an intellectually aural beating. The best kind of beating, really.

Joe Casey’s voice is the Greek Chorus of Protomartyr. He’s the voice in your head telling you what you don’t want to conceptualize with your own words. In “The Devil In His Youth” Casey sings “Before recorded time/In some suburban room, see/The devil in his youth/He grew up very healthy/With the blessings of his father/The devil in his youth”, telling the tale of societies evils being born not in a childhood of violence and abuse, but of suburban bliss and seemingly parental love. Casey delivers these words like a drunken carnival barker. “Cowards Starve” has the push of Mission of Burma and the smirk of Mark E. Smith behind it. “Pontiac 87” is a dreamier trip from these Detroit guys as Casey talks about seeing the Pope in 1987 as a kid and the hopeless feeling it left him with. You really do get the feeling of burnt out buildings and steely gray horizons as the Detroit River seeps into Lake St. Clair and Lake Eerie.

Protomartyr never get stale or lose the buzz of tension. “Dope Cloud” is about as catchy as they get, and it’s pretty damn catchy. It’s a weird little tune that goes from this quirky guitar riff into Casey singing “It’s not gonna save you, man”. “The Hermit” buzzes with anxiety, while “Clandestine Time” is this uneasy breeze of Bauhaus and Casey’s vocals hint at a slightly mad Matt Berninger. This is the genius of Protomartyr; balancing melancholy, anger, and madness so beautifully. “Why Does It Shake” seethes and spits with clenched fist indignation. The album ends on the one-two slap in the face of “Ellen” and “Feast of Stephen”. With both of these the angst seems to subside and we get an introspective vibe. “Ellen” is over six minutes of almost early R.E.M. jangle and breeze, while “Feast of Stephen” is a melancholy ode St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, or Protomartyr. Or maybe it’s about something completely different.

Regardless, the song makes me sad and I love it.

Maybe I went on too long about what post-punk is. I don’t know. I will say this, Protomartyr’s The Age Intellect is a hell of an album. It makes me excited about music again, much like Viet Cong(or whatever they’re called now) did earlier this year. If you think you know what post-punk is, then you need to get this album. Savor it. Then play it again. Repeat.

8.8 out of 10