Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tech Interview with T.H.D.

Total Harmonic Distortion originated as a duo of Shawn Rudiman and Ed Vargo based in the tiny town of Frackville, Pennsylvania (population: boredom). Throughout the mid to late 90's, the duo released several albums of gritty, highly technical industrial music. Then, they disappeared for 10 years.

Now, THD is back as a solo project of Rudiman (although he insists Vargo will always be an official member), with two new releases on 23db Records - an absolutely free 10-track EP called "Subconscious Drip", and a full-length album entitled "The Evolution of Our Decay"(T.H.D. - The Evolution of Our Decay).

In addition to putting these releases out on my label, I had another connection to THD. In the early days of my own musical career, I used to go to their studio to record since they were the first people I knew to have a computer-based digital recording set-up. During that time, they became not only mentors to me, but very good friends. So it was with great pleasure that I sat down to talk with Shawn to talk gear, process, and just where THD disappeared to for the last decade...

WAVEFORMLESS: Okay, the obvious first question - what have you been up to for the past ten years?!

THD: Wow. Big one... ugh. Fell head over heels for Detroit techno and techno in general. Less politics and more rhythm and funk and soul. Kinda left the angry side behind and found more depth. Found there are more sides to life than the one you are brought up in. Got involved in running techno labels and releasing, playing live and touring. It's been a pretty interesting 10 years. A lot of up and downs.

WAVEFORMLESS: How was it to revisit T.H.D. after so many years? How did your experiences since the last T.H.D. album help shape the new material?

THD: It was a real breath of fresh air, honestly. It was nice to leave the techno behind for a minute and look at things with eyes that have been shut for a long time. It was great to be able to finally give THD the vocals it deserved. I always hated my past vocals minus one track. I thought they always were always just wrong. I couldnt get it - I was trying to be someone else, really. I just had to let my voice be my voice. My experiences since the last THD album have been vast to say the least. A nervous breakdown, Euro tours, a whole new life and a whole new look on the world, really. It's been the hardest years of my life I think. So many crazy things have happened, good and bad. All those things have shaped the new releases greatly. The albums are pretty much built around my life and my views, thoughts, etc., so it's like a biography of sorts. You listen to it instead of reading it.

WAVEFORMLESS: You've got a number of projects outside of T.H.D. each covering different styles. Do you sit down to create a track with a specific project in mind, or do you figure out which songs fit into the style of which project after the fact?

THD: No, I just sit down with my therapist (Dr. Akai MPC) and we just work things out. Sometimes it's industrialish, sometimes synthpopish, sometimes techy, sometimes house, etc. etc. etc... It's whatever has its hold on me. Like possession, really. I've learned that certain moods translate to certain styles better. It's weird... if you make the mood and inputs a certain way then things output a certain way. It's weird to think of yourself like that. I definitely figure out which songs go where after the fact.

WAVEFORMLESS: Tell us about the gear you used on the new T.H.D. material.

THD: Everything from analog synths, 16, 12, & 8 bit samplers, drum machines, and yes, even plug-in synths. Mostly hardware though. Akai MPC-3000 for main sequencing and the majority of the drums, Oberheim Xpander and (Sequential Circuits) Pro One a lot. Umm.. E-mu Esynth Ultra and E6400, Akai S900, Rhodes piano, Imposcar plug-in, Angelina plug-in, Roland MC-4, 808, 909, 606, (Sequential) Studio 440, (E-mu) SP-12... Lots of low-priced effects processors form the 80's. Just a large smattering of gear, really.

WAVEFORMLESS: What's the one synthesizer you've always wanted, but never owned?

THD: Hands down a PPG 2.3 and a (Sequential) Prophet VS. I'll fuckin' fight hungry timber wolves for either one. They are 2 of the most original sounding machines I've ever heard.

WAVEFORMLESS: What do you reckon is the rarest piece of gear you ever owned?

THD: Fairlight II with MIDI. Or the Korg SB-100 Synthebass I still have. Or maybe my Studio 440... it's a tie, I guess.

WAVEFORMLESS: Recording has changed a lot in the past ten years. Are you doing things differently, or is the recording process pretty similar to how you did things back then? Maybe go your process for us?

THD: Yeah, it's pretty much the same for me. Ed and I always had HD recording so it's not new thing for us (as you know, Tom!) only recently have I been able to multitrack things. This helped with THD stuff a lot. I would get rough rhythm and synth tracks down and then do overdubs and things when I was in between other things. Worked out good overall and led to not getting worn out on one song too much. Sometimes the songs were done as a whole, sometimes piece by piece of odubs over time. It's nice to not have a pattern. Keeps it fresh for me. Sometimes they were 8 or 16 bars "tracks" that just got edited and arranged in the digital domain. Then other times they were all laid out linearly on the MPC start to finish. It's nice to be able to have a total range of ways to work depending on my mood. Sometimes I just don't want to be in coralled into a linear structure. Other times I'm holding onto it like a ladder that's 500 feet off the ground.

WAVEFORMLESS: What's your favorite mic? Monitors? Mixer?

THD: Favourite mic: I'd have to say this 300 dollar AKG one we have here in the studio for whatever. It just works well with my voice. For monitors I use my KRK V6's. They work good. Wouldnt mind having the V8's though. I'm a fan of the KRK stuff. Mixers... my favourite mixer is the SSL 4000. I'd beat my mom up for one. But since they're 17-250 G's.. ahhh. Don't think I'll be getting one anytime soon. I use an allen and heath GS3V 32-channel analog desk. It sounds real nice and has subtle parametric EQ's, mute groups, VCA groups and mute/VCA automation. It's a really nice desk, has in line channels (tape ins and channel path are flip-able for mixdown), 4 auxs, direct outs, inserts, 8 busses and just feels and sounds good. I'll keep this guy for a while. Looking into an AMEK BIG 44 maybe. Since it has a lot more busses, but I really dig the mute groups and such of the A&H.

WAVEFORMLESS: What is it about 12-bit drums that sounds so frigging awesome?

THD: It's the grime and alias. The things that were never intended to sound good. The things that companies tried soooo hard to get rid of. Those things make 12-bit drums so great. When you put 12-bit drums thought a nice compressor and then a good EQ you get a great sound. They add life to a sample - more than what was put into it. Just a little.

WAVEFORMLESS: What's the one piece of gear you couldn't live without?


WAVEFORMLESS: What's the album that first got you interested in electronic music?

THD: Electronic in general or industrial? Electronic in general I think was the Flock of Seagulls album, industrial was (Skinny Puppy's) "VIVE SECT IV" I can remember being at my grandmother's house on Xmas eve listening to it on a dubbed cassette while everyone opened gifts. If they could hear the soundtrack to the that Xmas as I heard it..."walk straight bi-ped... human disease.." I don't think they would have liked it :)

WAVEFORMLESS: I know you're a hardware man at heart, but what is your feeling on software synths?

THD: Honestly they have come around and gotten better. No matter what they don't have the balls of old machines, though. The low end on that digital/VST stuff just can't get as heavy and thick as the real thing. But some softsynths are ridiculous. I dig the synths that are using the power of PCs to do things that are new and that aren't recreations of old ones. Exploring new directions and things that analog couldn't do. I like those a lot.

WAVEFORMLESS: If you could travel back ten years and tell anything to your younger self with the wisdom you've since gained, what would it be?

THD: First you're supposing I have gained wisdom. Second, I'd tell myself to buy every last fuckin' synth I could find and store them for 10 years. Then open a vintage store. Then I'd tell myself that I should never ever again even think about having a career in music.:)

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