Stefan talks synths and pop
Stefan is a man with a passion for synths, particularly vintage ones.
Ever since we formed as a band we’ve constantly learned more about synths, we’ve bought a lot more gear and that sort of thing and always wanted to develop and make it better, we’re total perfectionists so it took us a while before we reached a point where we felt happy with our sound.
I wasn’t happy in the beginning when we had the band, it was just a band, it was a little project we had on the side as a hobby. But then when we found this dreamy filmic kind of sound it felt as though we’d tapped into something that felt somewhat unique. I mean you know where all the influences come from but as a whole it felt like we were entitled to exist and that took a while to reach and it’s mostly thanks to the synths.
We started out as a guitar, ukelele and trumpet based band and we’ve moved on from that sound so there’s no guitars – well there might be one or two guitars on the album and one or two instances of piano but apart from that it’s all very much just analogue synths and that’s mainly what we played on the album.
He explains that roughly 90% of the album involved analog synths, and they hunt down rarities.
Smaller cousin to a classic synth, now an icon in its own right and reissued as Voyager
We’ve spent almost every dime we’ve ever made on the band, every tour we’ve done we’ve just invested in new synths, so it’s an ever-growing collection.
It includes a Minimoog, a Korg MS-20, a Juno-60 and a Juno-6, an Omnichord, a Roland SH-1000. There’s also an Elektron Sid Station, though that is coming into its own on the newer material.
Vintage portable analog monosynth - a real gem
The album is quite soft and the Sid Station is very hard but I’ve started using it more now
Stefan is clearly in his element comparing synths, and has lots to say about analog versus digital.
To be fair some of our synths like the Juno and a couple of other things, you could probably recreate what we’ve done with them digitally. But there are some synths that are just irreplaceable, like the Yamaha SK20 which is absolutely my favourite. It’s the synth we’ve used the most and that has such a unique sound, there’s something about it, you cannot get that sound with a computer.
Just irreplaceable… absolutely my favourite
Having said that I think it’s a bit of a nerdy thing, well obviously it’s quite nerdy but when it comes to this thing about everything has to be analogue, a lot of it is just about the idea of a sound coming from a machine that actually exists. And that you’ve got knobs and that sort of thing.
He also considers the computer-based synths capable of hampering creativity rather than helping it.
If you do something on a computer there’s no real limit and that can sometimes be very limiting actually, to have limitless abilities to create whatever you want to create.
Vintage classic - the first in a series of affordable quality synths
However, he has a practical approach to touring with vintage synths.
We used to tour with our analogue synths but for one it was so expensive and two it was so straining for our backs to carry those things, they are so heavy. They were so expensive and they started to break, we’ve gone through a couple of the SK20s and, especially, it’s sad when something so old dies, it’s managed to survive for 35 years. Then it falls into the wrong hands.
But now what we’ve done is to multi-sample our sounds which a lot of acts do when they fly, so we’ve got a MIDI keyboard which actually plays the analogue sounds because we recorded it in our studio, pressing down one key then pressing down the next key and just multi-sampling like that.
One of the first Junos - still popular today
Midi keyboards are no safer in the hands of The Sound Of Arrows though, apparently.
Yeah we’re very rock and roll when we play. No… Flying around with them in bad suitcases, it just ends up breaking
As well as recording and touring, The Sound Of Arrows are much in demand for remixing tracks for mainstream pop acts.
A lot of people that listen to our remixes, especially the bigger pop things… Maybe I’m being detrimental, oh I shouldn’t say that, but the point being that they don’t really care about the sound. To me it was just an interesting idea to have a lot of analogue synths alongside Lady Gaga and Nicole Sherzinger’s voice. It feels like it’s quite far away from what they usually do. But I’ve been told that Lady Gaga’s stuff, a lot of it is the Jupiter 8, which to me is… I find it very weird, I can’t really hear that but I guess if you play it tight enough. I just thought it was all computer based.
Roland SH -1000
A total classic - the first instrument that Roland made. Analog synth used by legendary bands.
Some people might say they’re bringing a more organic sound to these acts.
We just do whatever pleases us. It’s a good way of learning a new synth or just trying out weird stuff… For every remix we’ve done it’s some new thing we wanted to try and so it’s good for us.
Though nowadays he’s so passionate about synths that he almost paid £13,000 for a Yamaha CS80, as made popular by Greek pop genius Vangelis before deciding that this was insane and as he put it, going too far, way into nerd territory.
Stefan started his musical trajectory with the guitar.
I inherited a guitar from my brother and I didn’t play synths until we started having our band, it was always guitar-based. I was obsessed by Britpop and that sort of thing, I played that kind of stuff.
He is happy to claim Damon Albarn as one of his greatest inspirations, as well.
Damon Albarn not so much for this album I guess. Maybe like a good sense of melody, that’s what Damon Albarn has. But he’s always been my one hero more or less. I love Blur, I love Gorillaz, I love his soundtracks, I love The Good The Bad & The Queen. Didn’t really care for the opera but I still bought the album.