Carl Finlow: "It's something inside, a skill that I have to convey feelings and emotions through music..."
- Published on Saturday, 14 March 2020 17:14
Carl Finlow returns with a double vinyl 8 track album, following a prolific run of singles for Lone Romantic, Electrix, Craigie Knowes and Orson. Apparatus is a forward-thinking album that reflects Finlow’s return to live touring with many tracks hitting harder and darker, pushing his electro sound into new directions and soundscapes. Flawless production is something we have come to expect from Mr.Finlow yet he has managed to raise his game yet again with Apparatus, which is released on Leeds based 20/20 Vision who are also celebrating 25 years of the label this year!
Finlow has been on a staggering run of form and Apparatus continues this remarkable purple patch with a new lease of electro energy. It’s not surprising that every credible electronic master on the planet from Weatherall and Craig Richards to Dixon and Maceo Plex are all fans of his work.
Hey Carl, how has 2020 been for you so far?
Hi, 2020 has been good so far. The start of the year is usually slow gig wise but this always gives me kind of two months to get all my new music written and ready to send out to labels for the coming years releases.
You've been hugely prolific recently. What's the reason for that do you think? Can you pinpoint it?
I think I can really pinpoint it yes. I lived in Paris for 13 years, which was amazing in so many ways. I got married there and we had two children. We lived in quite a small apartment and my 'studio' became a table in the dining room. Being a musician, I work from home, but my wife went to an office job every day, so I was left to take care of home life. I was so used to having huge expanses of time to write my music and having two children really demolished that. The period in Paris was the least productive of my life so far. However, in 2015 we decided to move to the south of France. We ended up with a nice big old house and I had a studio room just dedicated to music. This, combined with the kids being older and more autonomous, meant that I once again had a good workspace and bags of time. I literally exploded musically.
Where does it come from? Inside you or a desire to leave a legacy or hearing or seeing things in everyday life?
It's something inside, a skill that I have to convey feelings and emotions through music. I still find it very magical, music, it is so very mysterious, the way it conjures up images and thoughts in our minds. I love that aspect of it, the psychological aspect of it, to actually get inside other peoples heads. I guess all creative work is like that. As for leaving a legacy, I have given thought to that and indeed it is nice to be leaving behind things that will remain accessible to future generations. I have enough fans to conclude that I am doing something right so knowing that is very rewarding for not only now, but to know that it will possibly mean something when I'm gone.
Why now for a new album? Did you have something specific to say? What was that?
Things just fall into place at certain times. With my explosion of new material, I have had the luxury of giving it out to many different labels. With 2020 Vision becoming increasingly involved with electro and due to my past history with the label, it seemed like quite a natural path to take at this moment in time. The album doesn't have a specific thing to say as such, my music never does. It's a seemingly never-ending stream of ideas that I work on to create an ongoing collection of music that is in a style, electro, that allows me to continually update and push my skills in sound design, production and melody.
Did you approach it any differently than the last few? Why do it as an album and not a series of 12"s?
When I sit down to write music it is always with a blank slate. Very rarely it is because I have a melody in my head. I think one thing in the process that has changed is that I now write a large part of my music in my car. I have to do the school run each day and in the afternoon this requires me to park my car up 45 minutes before school is out in order to secure a good parking space. In this brief time slot each day, I plug my laptop into the car sound system, blackout my windows (it's always sunny here) and really focus on creating a 4 or 5 new ideas each session. I have nobody interrupting me, no distractions and I'm enveloped by the pretty decent car stereo. After a few months of this, I can end up with hundreds of ideas for tracks, which then, like the world cup, go through to the 'next round' back at home in the studio. These get worked upon further and further, often I will be working on 30 or 40 tracks, but these eventually come down to maybe 20 tracks that have made it to 'the finals'. This strategy works really well for me and I enjoy working on so many tracks simultaneously, I never get bored. Ralph at 2020 liked enough of these to suggest an album, so that was that.
You're a famous live artist - do you make music using any of those live skills, then edit down recordings for example, or are they different processes?
Well, Ableton Live was a game-changer for me. The interaction with the music, being able to jam with all your bits and pieces really satisfied me creatively. I had come from a full studio of all the classic real synths and drum machines when I lived in the UK (where Ralph and I shared the same house and started 2020 Vision actually) and so I was used to jamming with live machines. When I left the UK to live in Paris, I ended up with just my Mac and Cubase, so things became quite sterile, workflow wise. But then around Ableton Live 3, when they added midi to be able to play audio, it really clicked with me and there was no turning back. I love the modular nature of Ableton, allowing you to drag and drop effects, audio, machines, almost never having to press the stop button, really keeps the flow going when I'm writing.
What new skills, tricks and techniques have you learnt for this album, or did you already have all the tools at your disposal to say what you wanted?
I've been making music with a computer since 1986 when I had my Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k plugged into my Roland Juno 106. I also had a Moog MG-1 since 1983 too so I've spent a LONG time playing with synths and understanding electronic composition. It's a continually evolving passion and I relish the new technologies and tools that become available. It means there are always new things to experiment with and new ways of perceiving and developing my music.
Electro is bigger than ever right now. What is it about the genre you love so much? For me, it still sounds more futuristic than any other.
I think it's that too. To me, electro is musical Sci-Fi. There is a brutal, machine tainted pallet in its outlook. There is also more of a machine funk in its underlying rhythmic structure. It's a potent combination and I just can't get enough of it. I also really find that my melodies seem to work really well against this backdrop. I have a tendency to write quite melancholic music and I love the juxtaposition of this over the often very cold robotic rhythm and bass scapes.
What is better and what is worse about dance music and the scene around it now compared to when you first started 30 years ago?
I did a lot of clubbing in the '90s and at that time everything was new. It was the dawn of sampling and home computers and this, in turn, gave us an ability to create things way beyond what tradition studios could give us. It felt like a musical big bang to me and I was thrilled to be there to witness it. As time went by and I got older, with more commitments, club life took a back seat and I settled down into a different phase, leaving the clubs for the youth to enjoy. It's come full circle now for me and with the newfound success of electro, and my recent prolific outpouring of records, I'm in demand to play lots of live dates, so I've found myself back in clubland. It's different this time around though, it's much more about work and presenting my music to people. That's one really big aspect of it that I didn't have back in the day. I'm up in the DJ booth now, looking out at fans dancing of my music. I love meeting people afterwards who often tell me that they have been listening to my music for 10, 15, even 20 years but also new people, young people who are only just discovering electro. It's quite incredible that, and really touches me deeply to know that my music has been with people for so long, being part of their journey through life. I can't really comment on scenes. I don't follow such things. I still don't even own a record player even after 30 years of making records. I try not to follow the 'latest thing' and prefer to just keep my head down pushing my own thing. I rarely listen to the music due to being so busy making my own. The only times I will hear new music is from the DJs before and after me when I do gigs.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
I've just finished about 25 new tracks and I'm in the process of finding homes for them. I've been very lucky in that I've been able to release on vinyl almost everything I've written. These new tracks have also been transformed into a new live set so that I can go out and do gigs, playing the music that will be released as the year rolls on. More of that really! I'm also looking at moving away from my traditional way of writing and working. I've been making everything inside my Mac computer for almost 20 years but now that I have a studio room I've been buying actual synths and machines. My next series of tracks will be done using this new setup, so hopefully, this will prove really fruitful creatively for me. Time will tell :)
Words by Pete Downes