WORDS: Alex Caslano
“We tend to put a lot of energy into the live show because subconsciously we're very into what we're playing!” Reflecting on their performance at this month’s Simple Things Festival, we can confirm that Machines In Heaven gave it absolutely everything. Appearing on our own SynthGlasgow Presents stage, we (and everyone else in the room) were blown away by the passion with which they delivered their music. From spiralling synths to striking guitar riffs, their mix of electronic and live instrumentation made for a truly invigorating experience.
Listen to their latest EP, ‘Hindu Milk’, and that on-stage emotion becomes easy to identify with. Comprised of Davey Gwynne, Greg Hurst and Connor Reid, the trio's sound is both introspective and electric, fusing intricate beat patterns with cosmic chords and reflective vocals. The EP’s title track for example, sees Gwynne use a vocoder in a style not so dissimilar to Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. As the name ‘Machines In Heaven’ would suggest, there is an almost celestial quality to their music, a suggestion that machines have soul.
Also releasing their debut album, ‘Bordersbreakdown’, this year, it would seem that the trio are keen to push their sound forward: "we're experimenting more with sound and vision and are striving to create something unique for both the evolution of our sound and the live show" they tell us. It’s certainly an exciting evolution to witness, and it makes Machines In Heaven one of the most interesting electronic acts Glasgow has to offer.
Check out the 'Hindu Milk EP' below, as well as an interview in which we talk influences, musical experiments and what it was like recording at Red Bull studios with access to some seriously rare synths:
SG: We were seriously impressed with your performance at Simple Things Festival and particularly loved how much energy you poured into it; does that come naturally with your music when you play live?
MIH: Thanks! We particularly enjoyed Simple Things; the stage at Broadcast, like everywhere else in the city, had a pretty awesome line up so we were really looking forward to playing. We tend to put a lot of energy into the live show because subconsciously we're very into what we're playing! There have been casualties before - laptops falling over, guitars flying around, that sort of thing - but the show must go on, so we've all agreed Connor gets to break out the 25 minute freestyle-jazz solo if we need to fix anything.
SG: It can be a bit ‘smoke & mirrors’ for some electronic acts, but incorporating guitars and being really active on stage seems to bring your music alive; was it always your intention to combine electronic and live elements?
MIH: Yes, it was really. When we first started it was only supposed to be a studio project as I (Greg) was already in a band and didn't have time to be in another! After a short time though, it was clear the band was taking on a life of its own, so we began to reverse-engineer some early, shambolic live shows.
The very first song we did (‘Divided By Zero', from the LP) mixes ambient synths and breakbeats with acoustic guitar in strange time signatures, so that set the template from the start really - throw every influence into every song. I also love all the DFA productions, particularly the way they mix sampled and live drums, so early on we experimented with a live drummer. It didn't quite work though - live drums have a way of taking over a band's sound, so nowadays we use a sampler!
SG: You recently recorded an excellent track called ‘Feel Slow’ at London’s Red Bull Studios; what was the experience like? We read you had some one on one time with a rare synth?
MIH: Red Bull was awesome - those guys are lovely and made us feel welcome after the long drive. We were very excited at the prospect of being let loose on such a well equipped studio. And yes, we're synth nerds so we were certainly in our element. There were a few beautiful synths there that we were let loose on actually! Most impressive was a Roland SH-3a, which none of us had ever heard of. It was so old it had all sorts of weird controls we'd never seen before. It was actually capable of manipulating time and matter.
SG: If we talk a little about your musical influences, were there any artists who you bonded over when you first met? And did any of those influences inform your own music?
MIH: Last year driving to festivals was when we really did the most bonding over music, all thanks to our collective CD wallets! Road trip favourites cover everything from The Kinks, The Stooges, Brian Eno and Beach Boys, to Burial, Rustie, Death Grips, Wu Tang, Lorde and Caribou! We were stuck in traffic somewhere between Inverness and Glasgow for 2 hours, but listening to the whole 36 Chambers album four times meant that it was worth it.
SG: You released your debut album, ‘Bordersbreakdown’, earlier this year on Hotgem; what was the recording process like? You’re obviously quite an experimental band so how did you find focusing all your ideas onto one record?
MIH: It was done over nearly three years (we'd originally planned for one year) in a makeshift studio in a friend's spare bedroom. Original founder, Graham Crossan, had all the songs bouncing around his head but didn't have a way of getting them recorded the way he wanted. So this is where I and producer Brian Docherty came in. Bit by bit I transcribed melodies into electronic form, assembling the songs as we went. Graham had already written all the music in his head, but I was given complete free reign with sounds, beats and effects. For example, ‘Divided By Zero’ started off as a mainly acoustic song, but went off in a completely different electronic direction when I got my hands on it...
SG: You recently released a new EP called ‘Hindu Milk’; will you be moving in different directions with you music as we head into 2015?
MIH: Our new EP could come as a surprise as there are noticeably less guitars and it has a synthier feel; the next LP is definitely going to be somewhat darker though. We're experimenting more with sound and vision and are striving to create something unique for both the evolution of our sound and the live show. There will be much more information later on, so keep yer eyes peeled!