‘Cryosleep’ is the new debut album from the ace New York based producer Kurt Uenala aka Null + Void, having teamed up with some giant collaborators including Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and more, Fav check’s in with the electronica whizz, to find out more…
Hi Kurt, welcome to DMCWorld Magazine! First please tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you first got into making music?
I’m from Switzerland and grew up in a small village in the german speaking part. As a boy my brother was a big Depeche Mode and New Order fan and he played the Sakamoto Soundtrack, so that’s when i got into it, as a listener. But i was not making music back then. Just playing Cello. Creating music came later, when I was a bass player. And when I arrived in the US, it was a way to make money and meet people. Bassists are rare and there is always someone to play with. But i always had a drum machine and a 4 track and made stuff, but often with a Bass instead of a synth. Then, in the late 90’s i got deeper into electronic music with an Atari and an Akai sampler. Around 2002 Electroclash was taking off in New York and I was lucky enough to live 100m from the heart of that scene, right by Club Luxx. It was a great time. I just kept making my own stuff and then stumbled into programming and production as a means to pay rent in NYC.
What’s the best new piece of music you’ve heard this week?
I am a huge fan of Suction Records since the early 2000’s and they posted a RX101 song this week which really encapsulates what I love in electronic music. And also contains what I often miss in electronic music of today…chords, harmony and song structure.
Some hail you as the new prince of Dark Pop, what inspires your music and songwriting and how would you describe your sound?
Haha, really? I mean, the title “Prince” alone is already an incredible honor, haha.
As I mentioned above, I am very much into current electronic music and production and also the technology behind it. But a lot of what is released blows my mind when I hear it on a proper soundsystem and swaying in the club but I would not put it on in my headphones and close my eyes and really let it get to me. The music i try to make is definitely for listening alone and really letting yourself get lost. I try to keep it interesting from a sound design standpoint but most importantly, from a compositional angle. I react mostly to chord changes and melodies and song structure. I know, it’s quite traditional and maybe a bit old fashioned but it’s just what speaks to me the most and therefore is what I want to create. At the end of the day, I make those songs for myself but do hope they connect with other people as well. I hope to find my gang of fellow “dark pop lovers” out there 😉
You’ve just released your debut album ‘Cryosleep’ (which we think is amazing!), what were your goals and are you pleased with the results?
Super! Thanks for checking it out and I am happy you liked it. I just have been working on music so much for other people even though I had all these songs that I wrote over the last 3 years just sitting there. I just couldn’t find the right team and vision and also the time to release it. But the puzzle pieces fell together when my good friend and manager Kasper Bjørke heard 5 song ideas and declared that this could be a great record. He had a close connection to a cool label called HFN and I loved the music they release such as Trentemoller and Kaspers Bjorke’s own music. So when they expressed interest in the record, it was very motivating to finish it and get all the parts together.
What does the ‘Cryosleep’ title mean, what’s it all about?
It’s about the struggle to let go. To keep a loved one alive and possibly reunite or communicate with them. I was reading a great book called Ubik at the time and the story about how one of the characters tries to ask his dead wife for advice really connected with me.
Listening to your music it’s clear that you’re influenced by early electronic music including Depeche Mode, so you must have been thrilled to have lead singer Dave Gahan collaborate with you on ‘Where I Wait’. Tell us about the song and how the collaboration came about?
As a boy my brother was a big Depeche Mode and New Order fan so that’s how I got into electronic music. To have Dave sing on a track is of course pretty thrilling, even though we have been working together for a few years. I wrote the music for “Where I Wait” particularly for Dave’s voice and he thankfully really responded well to it. He wrote the melody & lyrics shortly after Cancer treatment which i think influenced the melancholy vibe. The arrangement went through a few changes but by last November, we had it where we both were happy…
What was Dave like to work with?
I worked with Dave since 10 years so it was business as usual and do what we always do. He is really passionate about writing and gets really into a song and will listen to the raw idea for days until something pops into his mind which he then sings down into his digital recorder and then comes into the studio and we try to capture and refine the idea better. We then make changes to the music and the structure or the key. It’s very collaborative when Dave and I work on songs.
You’ve got some other great collaborations with the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Big Pink and Shannon Funchess, how did you go about selecting the artists to work with and what did they bring to the table musically?
I dreamt of asking the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gang for a collaboration for a long time! They are the last rock band that you will find in my music library. I love the vulnerability in Peter’s voice and what he came up with lyrically. He also added a lot of effects to his vocal that made a huge difference.
Another singer I always liked was Robbie from The Big Pink. Ever since we worked on some songs for his upcoming album, I wanted to collaborate for Cryosleep. The main melodic motif is his voice, sampled and played like an instrument.
Shannon Funchess is such a strong force, you hear her raw vocal and you know that there is just nobody like her. Her band Light Asylum blew my mind and I had her on my radar ever since. I was so excited when she agreed to collaborate.
Do you have a particular favourite song from the album you’d like to tell us about?
I think a special song is “Come to Me”. I am a big fan of Science Fiction and the Movie “Solaris” is very dear to me. The feeling of loss and that urge to reconnect with lost loved ones is of course a theme on this record. “Come to Me” is a slightly darker take on that desire and the possibility of getting lost in that quest.
There is evidently a lot of analogue in your music, what are you favourite pieces of studio kit and have you got a massive collection of synths?
The Oberheim OB-8 Synthesizer is probably the most important instrument on this record. Both the opening and the closing piece are just that one Synth. The way you can choose the position of a voice in the stereo field is very powerful and inspiring and of course fill out the stereo spectrum beautifully. The other synth that was used a lot is the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 with it’s creat cross modulation abilities and the dirty, slightly overdriven tone. Then there is a lot of Spring reverb on the album, mostly courtesy of the mighty Arp2600 semi modular synth which has my favorite Spring reverb in it. Has a great “boink” or “drip” and is extremely stereo, thanks to the 2 springs being out of phase. You hear that on every song even if it’s hidden.
Which piece of music holds the most precious memories for you?
Golden Boy & Miss Kittin – Rippin Kittin is the soundtrack of me arriving in NYC in the early 2000’s and going out, being really broke but in love, making music and meeting people. Also, it’s a swiss artist and that made me very proud as there is not too much music coming out of Switzerland, sadly. I had the pleasure of playing with Goldenboy (Stefan) at a festival in 2002 and I was excited to see him perform live.
Which record makes you say “Damn, I wish I’d made that”?
This Karl Bartos song really blew my mind when I first heard it. The modulations in tonality and chord changes, paired with the cold programming style of Kraftwerk and of course, the crisp vocoder really impresses me still.
Have you any plans to take the album on the road for some live shows, what’s next for Null + Void?
I am hoping to be able to go play a few concerts, absolutely. I did one small test gig in Brooklyn and it went great, except that I have so much gear to carry. But bringing out so many synths enabled me to keep things a bit more improvised. I am trying to keep the performances loose and a bit risky without losing the essence of the song.. If it sounds slightly different than the album and that’s fine by me as I love going to see acts that take risks and created something new to listen to rather than just performing the album note by note or actually just playing backing tracks. I am planning to spend a few months in Europe starting in December. At the moment I am just focusing on getting my Live and DJ sets tighter and shopping for road cases. It’s not easy to tour with synthesizers due to all these air travel restrictions and regulations.
‘Cryosleep’ is out now on HFN