Let me introduce you to the sonic splendor of Dean Garcia’s (of Curve) latest band, SPC ECO, and while you read between the letters on the band’s name, prepare to get lost in a reverie of hypnotic, deeply textured soundscapes of pulsing electronic rhythms, distorted guitar grind, and sweetly soft, airy vocals courtesy of Rose Berlin.
Delusions of Adequacy: Hello Dean. You’ve made a brilliant habit of collaborating with enthralling female vocalists (Toni Halliday in Curve, KaRIN of Collide for The Secret Meeting, Lucia Cifarelli of KMFDM for KGC and The Chrono Logic), and now with SPC ECO you have the beguiling Rose Berlin on vocals. How did this come about? What is the connection between the two of you?
Dean Garcia: Well…Rose and I have always written songs together since she was old enough to make a sound. She is, as you know, my daughter. Making up funny songs is something we’ve always enjoyed, Rose loves to sing and has an uncanny, natural ability to just latch onto things and come up with unique and memorable melodies. She is also blessed with an amazing, natural voice tone, as well as having a great sense of feel and timing for phrasing and musicality. I have some footage of Rose when she was about 7 playing a steady tribal beat on an old bass drum we have while looking out of the window and singing really deep blues melodies, very PJ Harvey-like, it was from that very moment I knew she would always sing.
DOA: What is it like for the both of you to be in the same band? Are there any eye-rolling, snorts of derision, or shouting matches going on while rehearsing or recording?
Dean: Because we have always just made music together there is no tension in the writing process, it just works or it doesn’t. Mostly it just works very quickly and is just a matter of homing in on things to get the best take. Whenever we have a gig looming Rose gets very tense and nervous a day or so before right up until the point of the start of the performance, so she can be a bit unpredictable mood-wise, I’m similar so I can recognise it for what it is and understand it. There are never any bad feelings after the gig or during it. It’s all around the time before. Quite common I think. As far as stroppy bottle-throwing, table-trashing, chair-smashing craziness, I think we’ll have all that to look forward to. Also we both have so much other stuff going on, it doesn’t really feel anything like it has felt or can feel like being in a band with people where it can be so suffocating. The situation we have with SPC ECO is the complete opposite really, just feels like fun all the way.
DOA: Joey Levenson on guitar adds even more sonic dimension to the band. How did you hook up with him?
Dean: Joey sent me a message via facebook introducing himself and his music to me. I checked out the songs he had on his So Young myspace page and was blown away by the attitude and sonic lo-fi quality. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it just did something to me inside, it also made me smile. I contacted him straight-away saying I thought the tracks were very cool and that if ever he needed any bass on something, lemme know, I’d be very up for it. That led to me asking if he was interested in sending me some guitar samples n loops, he sent me some very cool samples and I made them into the first recorded SPC ECO track “Special”. After finishing the track, which was very quick to do as I just felt on a roll with it, I knew exactly what to do instinctively without over-thinking it, I felt it was the best thing I’d recorded for many years. We continued on like this throughout the making of the record, having a slowdown in the middle to gather thoughts and get some space n distance. Joey is a very cool guy who is very easy to communicate with and is a great, understanding person. Not one to restrict any suggestion that comes up, always open-minded, which to me is the most important element in a music collaboration.
DOA: Hi Joey! It’s so cool that you got in touch with Dean and now you’re a part of SPC ECO as a master of guitar f/x. What kinds of guitars and f/x pedals do you use, and are there any unusual procedures you follow to create your sound for SPC ECO?
Joey Levenson: I’m not too precious about my guitars, but I like the classics. I have a Firebird, a Japanese Yamaha 335 copy with Bigsby, and some other American stuff. I guess I use the 335 the most. For pedals, I like everything and anything, more than brands I say use your ears. That said, I do like Zvex stuff, Guyatone, Roland, and there’s this new Korean company, Moollon, that makes the most beautiful pedals. For procedures, I have two rules: don’t rehash old sounds (by me or otherwise) and it’s got to make your heart flutter, you know? So, that’s what I hope I add to SPC ECO.
DOA: Joey, from what I understand, you have another music project going called So Young. Is this a band or is it a solo project? Is the name a reference to the Suede song at all?
Joey: Yeah, Bernard Butler is one of my heroes. Those first two Suede records are incredible. SY has been a band, it’s just a vehicle for when I want to do something musically, a brand people can identify me with, even though I’m not so young anymore. Sonic Youth have to be about 50, so I guess I’m o.k.
DOA: Joey, you’re also featured in a song called “Lizard Attack” by Panophonic, a band founded by Tommy Lugo of Stellarscope. How did your link to this band come about? Have you contributed to other artists’ works?
Joey: Tom is a really down-to-earth guy and he works hard for his art, so I dig that. I also worked on a couple of tracks with Katarrhaktes, out of London , did some remixing for U.S. band Garden of Dreams (now, the Faded), and will work with Korean shoegaze giants The Majestic High soon. They’re some of my favorite noisemakers at the moment. I really love to just play guitar.
DOA: The new SPC ECO album, 3-D, is out now in the U.K., officially available for download since January of this year. Where can it be ordered from online? Will there also be a physical album release for the U.K.?
Dean: We just wanted the record out and moving for us which is why we released the MP3 version first. There will be 3 separate releases on CD format.
1. Noiseplus through the Collide online store released on April 21st
2. The Electric label in UK and Europe released 25th April 09
3. Quince Records in Japan sometime in June 09
We’re debating what to do with the MP3 format at this time but the album will probably end up on itunes and Amazon.
DOA: That’s wonderful that you’re getting international distribution of your album. There will be a bonus track called “Silver Clouds” on the Japanese release, with Andy Bell of Ride and Oasis on guitar. Is there any chance of this tune also appearing on the U.S. release? How did Andy’s contribution come about? Dean, did you hang with the guys from Ride back in the day?
Dean: “Silver Clouds” was from a track Andy and I worked on late summer 08. I know Andy quite well from mutual friends so we decided to do a track or two. Quince requested an exclusive track for their release so I dug it out and reworked it with Rose singing. We love the way it turned out. It’s majestic!! It won’t be on the Noiseplus release but will I’m sure end up on itunes or somewhere soon enough. We’ve made an exclusive new track for the Noiseplus release with a song called “Spotlight” which Rose and I wrote very quickly a couple of weeks back. We’re really pleased with it, just sounds right to us Re: hanging out with Ride, Curve played a festival with them way back in the day at Slough festival where they were headlining, we went on just before them. It was a special time really, lots going on, very exciting and this new music that was very broad-thinking and feeling, it was a very nervous day for me as it was the biggest show Curve had ever done, it turned out really well with all bands just getting on. I chatted a bit to the Ride guys but not much as I get very inside myself in those situations, I can come across as aloof but really I’m just very nervous. Ride also came to see us at a hometown gig in a small 500 cap venue in Oxford which was completely mad in a brilliant way. The barriers were trashed in about 4 seconds of Curve starting up and the entire audience was on the stage with us, I loved every second of it. Ride were mobbed and crushed at the same time, Richard Branson was also at the gig, he came with his then very young daughters, I think he got crushed too. Andy is a cool guy, a true gentleman!!
DOA: From what I understand, SPC ECO has been around since 2007, with you, Dean, along with Joey, putting some tracks together. When exactly was SPC ECO created? Dean, was it always your intention to have Rose in the band on vocals?
Dean: Yes it has been ongoing for a couple of years, there has been a lot going on for everyone involved during that time and we work on the band when the feeling takes us. I suppose the album has taken the best part of 2 years to write which is a long time really, but the writing process is actually very quick when we set about doing it. Rose and I work very fast. It’s taken its time because it doesn’t have an agenda, it just takes on its own path and momentum. I always want Rose to sing on anything I do but it wasn’t a conscious decision from the off, I’d just recorded “Special” and asked Rose if she could hear anything melody and voice-wise and to have an open pass through the track. She immediately made it all sound finished. A perfect combination for me.
DOA: Hello Rose. You are the singer and lyricist of the band, but you’ve also done some solo work which is featured at your official site and MySpace profile. Do you have an album out of your own material? What are your plans as a solo artist? Can you please list your official site?
Rose Berlin: Hey!! Well the thing is with my stuff, is that I wrote it all so long ago and to be honest I feel a little bit detached from it…and with all this SPC ECO stuff going on at the moment it’s kind of taken a back seat, but the way I see it, SPC ECO is my stuff, it’s a lot more what I’m into style-wise. I’ve always done music, as you know, but because of the way music is in my life it’s much more of a pleasure rather than a job or work, it seems that it happens or it doesn’t, can’t really force it. This is my official site www.roseberlin.com but it needs a total revamp so u’ve been warned.
DOA: Rose, you sing beautifully, but your vocals are half-buried in the mix on most SPC ECO songs, where it’s difficult to discern your lyrics, but in a good way, like that of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine and certain Lush, and even Curve, songs, where your vocal tone and inflection carry the intent of the sound and your feelings. What is your take on the importance of lyrics in songs? Do you think each word needs to be heard or does it depend on the song? Will there be a lyrics booklet with the release of 3-D?
Rose: I can’t believe for a start that I could even be compared to those bringers of awesomeness, but thank you so much for doing so. I think that it really depends on the song. The way dad and I record things has a lot to do with how the lyrics/melodies come together. Dad will have a track and I would have been listening to it whilst it blasts out of the LAB when I’m doing work for college or through my ceiling at night…haha. Then he will call me in and give me a mic and press record and I just have a go and we take the good stuff and chop it together. Then do another pass of it to piece it together, bringing out the best of what we have, sometimes we try and work out what I’m saying but most of the time it’s unrecognisable which is quite cool to work with as you start to build the lyrics from what you think it’s saying. This is why some of the songs don’t always make sense. However there will be a lyrics booklet but with a twist…The voice is an instrument, and I think it should ride along with the rest of them! I love that my vocals in the tracks sort of fade and reappear, I really love the contrast of the soft vocals and crunching guitar, bass, and allsorts.
DOA: Rose, it must be really difficult to study for college and be part of a band! How do you balance the two, especially the playing live aspect? I guess a world-wide tour is out of the question until you finish college?
Rose: My two passions are music and art, and seeing as I get to do music at home, it seemed right to go on to study art! Especially as London is such a heaving hub of creative activity it seemed silly not to try and do both. I’m coming to the end of my foundation in art and architecture and I finish in May, then I start my BA in Product Design at Central Saint Martins in September, so I have all summer to be SPC ECO-crazy! Yeah, it can be hard juggling everything, but a lot of fun too. If things are really getting me down at college I can go and do some music with dad, and if that starts to piss me off, I can go and do some art! The gigs are more often than not OK in the sense that they don’t really clash with work…A world tour however could be a tad more difficult, but if we were given the opportunity, I think I’d have to be insane not to do it. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see how everything goes.
DOA: Touching upon the band’s name for a moment, how did you come up with SPC ECO? Does it have anything to do with the Roland RE-201, AKA the Space Echo?
Dean: Joey and I were chatting on aim after we’d made about 5 tracks and we knew we wanted to make an album’s worth and needed a name, we both love the 201 and thought it would be a cool name, Joey then just typed spc eco and we both said that looks great. There it is. Done. It took less than a minute to come up with it which is amazing in itself, band names can be notoriously difficult to come up with.
DOA: You’ve tagged yourselves, at least at MySpace, as “nu gaze” or “nu gaze tripadelica”. I’m assuming you’re saying this with a nod to the shoegaze and trip-hop genres, but your sound definitely incorporates more than that description (How about “electrodelic dreamgaze”?)! Could you go into your sound a bit more and go over what instruments you’re using and what types of sounds you’re creating?
Dean: I like that, Electrodelic Dreamgaze. You should form a band!! Generally the rules are no rules, but for me the best tracks stem from a very leftfield beginning. The first element I start with in SPC ECO’s case is normally achieved with Joey’s samples and loops, I have an ever-expanding library of Joey’s guitar experiments which I tap into by randomly joining, cutting, pitching, cropping, looping, messing, tweaking, corrupting, and abusing until I have a starting point, like a background set and location in place. From there I tend to go for the bass followed by the drums, followed by more bass, more randomness, more guitar, more drums, less bass, add a few passes of voice, assemble the best elements to my ear, add more drums, replay the bass, open Ableton again and dial up Joey’s library, then spin in a lot of echo, then sit back and absorb the noise. Rose will then sing using the rough guides from previous run-throughs which always just joins the track together and makes it work in that SPC ECO way. I then mix it followed by a silent rest.
DOA: You’ve played numerous gigs as SPC ECO over the past couple years, before the recent release of 3-D, with your first gig as SPC ECO on September 11, 2007 as part of a bill of bands, and your first headlining gig on February 5, 2008 at The Industry Bar. Do you remember those gigs and what the feeling was like to finally headline?
Dean: Our very first gig was a headline at The Bull and Gate as a 3- piece with Rose, Harry and I, from there Robin from AC30 came to see us, and then once again but with Debbie and Monti on the firm. From there we discussed the release and playing a few more shows for their AC30 nights. Always great playing those, we’ve met some brilliant people, Epic 45 being one band we all fell in love with straight-away. What’s it like headlining, it’s great, but sometimes it’s just as good to support and go on first or in the middle, it’s all good, we love playing live.
DOA: Your live line-up includes Harry KG on guitar, and as you mentioned, the electrifying Debbie Smith on guitar, and Monti on drums. Dean, you go way back with Debbie and Monti, when they worked with you and Toni as part of Curve, but what about this young whippersnapper called Harry? How far back do you go with him?
Dean: HKG is my son. We go back a long way!! I remember having Harry all wrapped up underneath my big parka coat over the Heath (London park area) when all the snow hit London ages ago. We’re very close and very similar, the difference being he’s already 10 times better than me at playing the guitar, I still pistol-whip him when it comes to the bass, but he has plenty of time to catch up. I showed him a few simple riffs n things on the guitar about 8 years ago to get his fingers working and now he’s just on the money every time. He’s like me in that he just remembers arrangements and structure, he has no clue about the theory of music, it’s all from somewhere else. Harry’s also very keen on photography, film and skateboarding. Basically, Harry is fucking awesome, the lil piece of shit. 😉
DOA: You have two videos uploaded to your official site for the songs “For All Time” and “Something Anything” showcasing the live SPC ECO experience and where you feature a vibrant, color-saturated light show. Does it ever get disorienting to be on stage, playing and singing amid the flashing floods of colorful lights or does it help to put you in a certain mood to play?
Dean: The more the better. Nothing quite like a barrage of light that makes you dizzy and fall over in the fog. Less is definitely not more. I want wind and smoke machines, white/blue lights, forever all going at once and then some. We only have a bare minimum atm, I bought a smoke machine from ebay which is great, Harry and I take turns in smoking everything out, lights always look good in smoke. Yep, love it.
DOA: The latest news at your MySpace profile states that Harry has fractured his wrist in a skateboarding accident. I hope he’s okay and on the mend!
Dean: Yes he did, but thankfully is better now, it gets removed in a couple of weeks from now…part and parcel of being a skateboarder, they’ve all got broken bones n mashed legs, arms n everything else. All good though, they love what they do, so fair play to them.
DOA: Dean, you handle the bass, drums, guitar, and programming for SPC ECO – and you produced, mixed, and recorded it at Eco Lab. Is this your own studio? If so, are you a permanent fixture there? What types of goodies do you have there and is it difficult to restrain yourself to not keep adding more tracks to a song?
Dean: A very basic 32-track Pro Tools LE 7.1 set up to record onto, a cool vintage Jazz master guitar, my 70’s stingray bass, midi moog unit, a box of cool pedals n things, I use Reason 4 and Ableton Live 5 software, an Apple mac and an old pair of NS10 monitors. It’s all I need. I try not to restrain myself as much as possible but always end up erring on the more sensible side. The time has come for me to be very unsensible and see what sort of trouble that gets me into…
DOA: Dean, you have a long history with producer Alan Moulder who worked on many a Curve album with you. Alan is credited with production on the song “For All Time” at the Assault and Battery studio. What was the reasoning behind Alan working on that song? What do you feel he added to the process?
Dean: Production and mixing often get confused. A producer will shape and bend the track from a very early stage of the recording process, shaping and suggesting to the writer ideas and sound angles ultimately into a finished “produced” song. In this case Alan did not produce the track “For All Time” as he had nothing to do with the initial conceptual recording process, instead he mixed and balanced the tracks that were already there on the multitrack as he did with all the tracks we worked on that day. I produce and record the songs, Alan very kindly and generously agreed to help mix a few tracks for me as I wanted to experiment with hearing the tracks in a more professional environment. “For All time” came out sounding the best. We mixed four tracks in about 6 hours, it normally takes 6 hours just to mark up the mix board. It was great being in the studio with Alan, always a pleasure and joy to work with. I think the thing with us two is that the feeling is very mutual in that we both have the utmost respect for each other’s work and talents. All in all it was a really cool day out and Harry, Alan and I had a much-deserved fun day together.
DOA: At your official site you have an “interactive” page where visitors can remix your song “Telling You” and then send it in to be uploaded to the page or a special MySpace profile. What a cool idea and a way for fans to get even more involved with your music. Tim Holmes of Death In Vegas even did a remix. What do you think of the remixes that fans have sent in?
Dean: It is a cool thing and is widely used by bands to generate unpredictable mixes as well as opening an otherwise closed door and side to the band that you normally wouldn’t see or be part of, I like it. The mixes are varied from not so great to fucking brilliant. Very unpredictable and very worthwhile. People have amazing spare room set ups nowadays, the results never cease to surprise me.
DOA: My favorite SPC ECO song is “Another Day” with its propulsive, menacing current of buzzing sound versus Rose’s sweetly airy vocals. What is your most fave track off the album and why?
Dean: My fave track is “For All Time”. I just love everything about it, Rose sounds so perfect. It is true for me to say that I love every track which, after you’ve heard them 100’s of times just in the recording process, is quite an achievement. It’s the only record I’ve made that I love everything about it and to me you can’t get better than that. I’m totally in love with it all but I’m in love with “For All Time” just that little bit more.
DOA: Dean, I just have to ask this, because I’m a massive fan of Curve. What was the experience like to provide vocals for the Curve song “Joy”? Is this the first time you’ve sung on a record? Will you do it again?
Dean: Singing is great, I love to sing. “Joy” was fun to do as it was stepping out of the box. I work with Slade Templeton in a band called The Chrono Logic which is minimal trance with a nod to Underworld circa Dubnobass era…I take on the melody, lyric and vocal duties which I really enjoy, I took a step back from the music and just concentrated on voice, bass, and chorus chords. It’s very different for me but I really like it…Singing is good!!!
DOA: What songs are rockin’ your iPods at the moment?
Dean: My pod needs attention…but every time James Brown pipes up it never fails to kick ass.
Rose: Epic45 rock my socks.