Interview with Machine Birds

Maria and Marte – Photo Credit: Fred Jonny

Hi Maria and Marte!  It’s so wonderful to touch base with you both over your recent EP, Save Yourself, and to find out how your debut album is coming along.  I love how your atmospheric, melodic synth-pop often radiates with a bittersweet vibe, where Maria’s gracefully achingly to sharply emphatic vocals are buoyed by Marte’s light, lithe synth lines and gently bright electronic notes.  You just finished recording a new song.  Will it be included on your album or will you release it as a one-off single?

Hi! Nice to hear that you like our sound. The new song will probably be released as a single first, and then we’ll see if it makes the album (it probably will).

At what stage are you in the creation of your album?  Are you mainly writing and crafting the songs, or are you in the studio recording them?

Since Marte moved to Oslo recently, and Maria is still in Bergen – we don’t get to rehearse that often anymore. So we try to send each other ideas by e-mail, and then we try them out when we meet up. So we’re still writing and crafting songs for the stage – but at the same time we have a bunch of songs already that only needs some small changes before we can record them. So the recording part will probably go fast once we get started.

The lyrics of your songs are concise and introspective, ranging from crestfallen and questioning (“Can’t we work it out / just one more time?” on “Time”) to coolly pragmatic (“Maybe someday we’ll meet again…” on “The Way It’s Meant to Be”).  Do you share songwriting duties?

We make almost all the songs together, and the method is usually that Marte has an idea for a riff or some chords, or maybe just a nice sound on the synth – and then Maria makes a melody and lyrics on top of that. But we also make songs separately, where for example Marte makes an entire song with melody and chords, etc… – and Maria makes the lyrics. Or Maria makes an entire song and Marte arranges it and finds the appropriate sounds.  But the lyrics are mainly Maria’s responsibility, and originates from the stories of her life.

Maria – Photo Credit: Francisco Munoz

While all your songs are captivating, “The Way It’s Meant to Be” is a standout sonically because you rough up the delicacy a bit with a lower undercurrent of synths and manipulated vocals.  Are you planning on creating more songs in this vein?

Hm, it’s hard to say. “The Way It’s Meant to Be” was pretty much created in the studio where we could experiment with synths and effects. We never really figured out how to play this song live, so it was really cool to be able to play with the ideas and create a new sound for it in the studio – most of the time our songs have a pretty solid form before we record them, and we know how we want it to sound. But we are really happy about how “The Way It’s Meant to Be” turned out, so we might create more songs in this vein, yes!

I found your songs “One Last Try” and “Over and Over” on SoundCloud and noticed that they don’t appear on your EP.  Where do they fit in the scheme of things?  Will they be represented on your upcoming album?

“Over and Over” was one of our first songs, and it’s been with us ever since we started playing concerts. “One Last Try” is the song that made our “break” in Norway, because it was nominated to “Årets Urørt 2011” by NRK, a national prestigious award given to new unsigned pop acts. We came in second place and it opened a whole new world for us – all of a sudden we were a name in the Norwegian music scene, and they started playing our songs on the radio. We still really love these songs, but since they are so “old” – we want to record new versions of them before we decide if they’re going to make the album or not. But, “One Last Try” will be out together with “Time” on a 7″ vinyl single, hopefully before Christmas.

Your dropped your first single, “Time”, in 2011, well before the April, 2012 release of your EP.  What was the reason for releasing this song months before putting out your EP? 

The plan wasn’t really to put “Time” on the EP. But when we were recording the EP, we found out that we didn’t have enough time left in the studio to record as many songs as we had planned – so we put “Time” on there with a new intro, so it wouldn’t just be three songs. So you may say we kinda cheated a little. But at the same time, “Time” hadn’t got that much publicity when it came out in 2011, maybe we released it at a bad time or something like that – but it felt kinda natural to have it on the EP since it was a “new” and unknown song to many of our new fans.

You’ve played a lot of gigs as Machine Birds over the past couple of years.  What has the experience been like?

The experience has been fantastic. We’ve been very lucky, and we’ve played a lot of really great gigs at some really great places and cool festivals. It’s been very nice to see how the crowd gets bigger every concert, and how sometimes people even sing along to our songs (we love that! ). The two of us are also really good friends who have known each other for many years now – so it’s been really nice to share this experience, and to travel around together doing what we love to do.

Marte – Photo Credit: Atle Richter Schie

The only type of ‘loops’ I’m familiar with is Fruit Loops breakfast cereal.  Can you please explain the process of looping, or at least what effect you’re trying to achieve on your songs?

Basically, what happens when you loop something is that you record a phrase or a beat, etc…, and then it plays back what you’ve recorded – and then you can record something else on top. We use it mainly to create sound landscapes, or to make vocal harmonies. Before Mats, our new drummer, came along – we used it to make beats to play on as well, to make a bigger sound.

What kinds of synths did you use on your EP?

We actually borrowed some synths in the studio where we recorded the EP, so they are not ours. But it was a Korg MS-20, Roland Jupiter 6, and Dave Smith Prophet 08.

On your Facebook profile, among the music-related and photoshoot pix, you have lots of snapshots of food, but I can’t figure out your intent because your posts are in Norwegian.  Are you obsessed with restaurants and go out to eat a lot?  If the food is top-notch, then I love quesadillas, pretty much anything with shrimp, crab, and lobster, and for dessert, these days, crème brûlée.

Ha ha. Are there really that many pictures of food on our Facebook profile? Well, that’s not intentionally. We played at a garden festival once, and a part of the payment was a three-course dinner with accompanying wines. And it was simply amazing! So we probably took a bunch of photos just to show how lovely it was (and maybe to make our friends a bit jealous). But if food appears otherwise, it’s probably just because we use our phones way too much at the table – and the photos are really meant to show what we’re up to, not necessary to show the food. But don’t get us wrong – we love food!

Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) where we can learn more about you and your music? 

We are mostly on Facebook, but it’s also possible to follow us on Instagram and Twitter (machinebirds).

We don’t have that much information in English on our sites, but we will fix that! (our management)