An Interview with Electro Group
Electro Group is a long-time favorite band here at Somewherecold. Tim, Ian, and Matt are a dynamic trio hailing from Sacramento, California who make brilliant shoegaze-laden rock. Their most recent offering, Ranger, was a long time coming and is a testament to their ability to make incredible records. They answered some of my questions including those about the long hiatus between albums, writing and recording Ranger, and who they have approached writing as a band over the years.
Hello all in Electro Group. Even though we’ve known you at the magazine for some time, can you please introduce yourselves to our readers and let us all know what you do in the band? Also, how did you all get started making music?
Tim: I sing and play guitar, bass, keys. I started making music on my Mom’s piano about 6-7. Later I found her little acoustic and got an electric at age 10. First songs were written around then, 10-11.
Matt: I play drums, and will occasionally try to noodle something out on guitar or keyboard. I was forced to take piano lessons as a kid and then played the saxophone in middle school. Once I got into high school, the school band program sucked all the joy out of playing saxophone and I quit. I convinced my parents to buy me a guitar soon after and played guitar in a few high school bands not worthy of mention. After high school, I became roommates with a guy who had a drum set he didn’t play, and a rent check that bounced. Suddenly I owned a drum set. Incidentally, he’s the guy who 20 years later recorded Ranger.
Ian: I play bass, guitar, keys. Growing up I took Recorder and Piano lessons but these didn’t create any desire to actually play music. Being forced to read sheet music soured me early on as I found that I could progress much faster if I “played by ear” but this is not what the piano teacher wanted to hear. My dad even played guitar in a local Bluegrass band and had band practices at our house. I was exposed to a lot of Bluegrass music and went to a few Bluegrass festivals but still, I had zero desire to pick up a guitar or actually write music until I met Tim in high school around 1990. Tim and I bonded over The Cure and the rest is history so to speak. The fact that he already was writing his own songs completely blew my mind.
It’s been since 2006 that Somewherecold talked to Matt. This was right before Good Technology and Historical Contest came out. What has happened with Electro Group between that 2006-time period and the current release of the incredible Ranger?
Tim: First Ian moved to Seattle, then I did (closing our rehearsal/studio). Ian moved back and I’m still here. We had an entire new album close to completion by 2007 I’d say but we kinda lost enthusiasm for it. I continued to write songs and when the opportunity to record a new album came along we sorted through my library and chose the songs for this album.
Matt: Some of the songs from those recordings from 2007 ended up serving as demos for this session. Adam Hervey from Pehr Records was over at my house one afternoon and heard the working recording of what would become “We Were Strangers”, and his enthusiasm for it was what started the ball rolling on the new album.
Ian: Yeah, mainly my fault (moving to Seattle) for the lack of activity but we never actually stopped writing music. It seems like we always have several dozen songs in some state of completion.
How does the band go about composing songs and what, if anything, has changed over the years in terms of your approach as a band to writing?
Tim: Well, we used to all jam in the same room together. Sometimes I would already have the basic guitar and vocals worked out, sometimes not. Ian may have bass riffs we base a song on. In the last 6 years, we share files and work independently.
Matt: I feel like the process of working out demos and rehearsing for the recording sessions helped us work out better methods of collaborating via the internet. During some of our longer periods of inactivity, we would talk about trading files and working on songs remotely, but it rarely happened. Getting focused on the album finally helped us get serious about working effectively online.
Ian: Nothing beats being in the same room together but collaborating via the internet has kept the songwriting process moving forward. Tim probably does 90% of the initial songwriting which will normally be, as he mentioned, a basic guitar track and some vocals. For my part, I’ll add bass and will tend to throw on some synth tracks if none are present. Tim’s really good about writing a complete song. If I’m introducing a song I’m really good at writing two parts but after that, I tend to struggle getting the song to move in a specific direction.
As musicians, how do you see yourselves all progressing over the years of Electro Group? What has changed for you in relation to the instrument(s) you play?
Tim: I think all of us have become way less selfish. What I mean is that what we play is more for the good of the song and not always personal gratification. In the past one had the desire for “my part to be bad-ass” but that doesn’t always make for a better song. In that sense, I think our choices are a bit more refined.
Ian: There is some weight to Tim’s comment but I will admit, I always want my parts to be “bad ass” and I wouldn’t want to approach my writing process any other way. However, I think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to write my parts and what and where something should occur. Also, depending on the song, 75-80% of the time I’m playing chords and the bass is distorted, I don’t think this will ever change.
Matt: It kinda helps that Tim and Ian both write bad-ass parts most of the time. For me, Electro Group has spanned almost the entirety of the time that I’ve played drums. I think I had been playing for maybe four months when I started playing with Tim and Ian. Coupling that inexperience with the fact that I was already a fan of their stuff, I spent most of the early years just trying to keep up and not disappoint them. I’d hope that in the intervening 20-plus years I’ve improved a bit. At the very least I no longer feel like I’m just holding on for dear life.
Looking back at Historical Contest, how does the album hold up for you and what are your favorite tracks on the album now that you have some distance from it?
Tim: “There is a Sound” is my favorite to play live. I am also fond of Gosta Berling and Peter the Tramp.
Ian: For me, this is a mixed bag as it’s a collection of older songs except for “There is a Sound” which was the only new song on the recording. “Peter the Tramp” and “Gosta Berling” will always be my favorites. “Coronet” is also great but I prefer the Cloth Bag Cassette version.
Matt: My relationship to Historical Contest is a bit weird, since (as Ian mentions) it was a bunch of older stuff, some of which was originally recorded with their previous drummer. I was really happy to get to play some of those songs when we re-recorded them, but to me the versions on the cassette that I wore out while trying to learn the parts are the true versions. My favorites are “Peter”, “Gosta”, and “S-Trigger”.
So, let’s talk a bit about Ranger. It had been about seven years before you surfaced with Cassingle One and then you released the Rancho-Research Sessions 7”. Not long after, you released Ranger, your first full-length in ten years. What took so long to put out a new record and how do you feel about it now that it’s been released?
Tim: Non-music priorities is what happened. We actually recorded this record very quickly. It was the logistics that took so long for it to be released. I am relieved it is out and very satisfied with the record.
Ian: Yeah, simply put, life happened. Weddings, kids, out of state moves, etc.. Things were also slowing down with the band in the mid 2000’s. We had a pretty extensive run of playing several shows a month all across the West Coast but when you start driving to L.A. to play a show and you walk away with barely enough money to pay for gas to get home, the financial reality of our situation started to set in. You start racking up a lot of debt and the band moves from 1st priority to 2nd or 3rd. We never lost the love of writing music but it was clear that the band alone would not sustain our livelihoods.
Regarding Ranger, I’m very happy with it! I think Matt’s drums really shine and it’s by far our best sounding recording.
I like to ask bands about tracks that really stick out to me on the newest album. Can you talk about writing and recording “Undone” and “Unwind”?
Tim: “Undone” was the last song written for the album. We finished it up during rehearsals prior to going in the studio. It was completed very much like the old days. “Unwind” I recorded at home with drum machine and a much more prominent string arrangement than you hear on the album. We adapted the song to play as a 3 piece but still brought in elements of the original demo.
Ian: “Undone” was the last song we wrote prior to going into the studio and was the one that probably had the least amount of development time. For me, this song was written in classic EG style with Tim coming up with the intro loop on guitar and us bashing out a rough draft over several hours. It’s hard to explain but it felt like the song kind of wrote itself. It’s a rare occurrence but when we belt out a song under these circumstances, they tend to be some of my favorite EG songs.
“Unwind” I struggled with. I had an intro part that I liked but I could not settle on anything that I was totally happy with for the rest of the song. For me, it ended up being more of a “play it by the numbers” bass line.
Matt: Yeah, “Undone” was a great surprise. We were really struggling with a different song that we were going to do at the recording sessions, and when we’d take a break here and there, Tim would play that guitar loop, and suddenly we had a new song.
I really fell in love with Tim’s demo for ‘Unwind’ when we were sorting through demos to record. I ended up listening to the demo versions so many times, that Tim’s drum machine drums (specifically on “Unwind”, “Gong”, “Mandobo”, and “Monotron”) just seemed like the right fit for the songs. Then the challenge was to try and translate that drum machine part to something that was physically playable and still sounded good on a live drum kit. So for me, recording “Unwind” was all about trying to recreate Tim’s programmed drums.
For our gearheads, what sort of gear do you all use? Do you have different gear you use in the studio than you do live?
Tim: Yes. My guitar tracks were done mainly on Matt’s Squire Jaguar (expensive guitars are highly overrated). I also used some vintage guitars at the studio; an SG, 50s telecaster (with an eBow!), a 330, and a Nashville tuned Danelectro. For effects I used: POG 2, El Capistan, Freeze, Clone Theory, and various custom effects built by Matt (Happy Goat). I played through a Vox AC15 and a Fender Twin. Keyboards used were; Ian’s ARP, Nord for organ, some other cheesy organ in the studio (Yamaha PS-20?) , upright piano.
Live, I like to go as light as possible. My signal chain at the moment is: Freeze, Pitch Fork, Clari(not), Rust Rod, El Capistan into a Quilter Tone Block amp. For years I used my Vox Phantom live but this now stays at home. I either play a Jaguar or my custom Esquire (sometimes Ian’s Airline Map).
Ian: Yes, there was different gear used in the studio vs Live. Bass was recorded on my Charvel Surfcaster through a Guild Maverick Bass amp (?) turned up to 10 to get an overdriven sound. (Hopefully, Matt proofreads this and can confirm – Confirmed – Matt). For the song Ranger, I used a Sterling Ray34. A Danelectro 1443 was used for a clean sound. Boss CE-1 was used for chorus/vibrato.
Live I play my Charvel Surfcaster. I did experiment with a Fender Starcaster for a show or two but found that I was too accustomed to the way the Charvel sounded with a distortion pedal to move away from it. Signal chain currently would be: Boss CE-1, Rat, Eventide H9, EH Switch Blade into an early 80’s MTI era Ampeg SVT.
Matt: We were lucky to have free reign to use any and all equipment available at the studio, so aside from essentials like a core group of pedals and a few specific guitars, basses, and Ian’s ARP Omni synth, we didn’t have to lug much gear to record.
For drums, the studio had a pristine mid-50s WFL kit, all setup, tuned, and miked. Pretty much all I had to do was sort through the cymbals that were available and occasionally swap out the snare. I know I used a Pearl Jupiter on a couple tracks, and then for the majority of the songs used a Ludwig. Pretty sure it was a Supraphonic.
There’s also a Gretsch bass drum turned on its side and propped on Tim’s skateboard for use as a floor tom on ‘Gong’, a spray-can of Deoxit-D5 used as an open hi-hat, and other weird stuff going on in some of the songs.
Live, I’ve recently gone back to the Rogers Londoner V kit that I’ve had for ages. It was in storage for a long time, since I could never get it to sound very good. Our old friend Chris Woodhouse mentioned that he’d be willing to help me tune it up for the right amount of beer. Now I love it. I recently picked up a used Rogers Powertone snare that was from the same time period as the kit. Someday I’ll get the matching Dynasonic.
Thanks so much for answering my questions. I guess there’s only one more thing to ask. What’s next for Electro Group?
Tim: We will be playing some live shows on the West Coast and continuing to record and release new music.
Matt: Yeah, hopefully we’ll get some new songs going soon. I’m dying to write some new stuff!
Ian: A few shows and more demos!
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