With all of the madness in the world, sometimes we need something a little calmer to cut through the chaos, and Utah producer STARBASS (aka Steven Comeau) is offering just that respite with his newest, full-length electronic LP, Distant Signals. The 13 track album features a fusion of modern bass music with traditional instrumentation and Gothic-Synth-Pop sensibility. Because this IS such an uncommon release, we also sat down with the producer (whose uniquely constructed Bass Lab Studios has worked with such hot industrial up and comers as Ludovico Technique) to discuss album writing and the technology and instrumentation behind his stunning new release. Check out the album, below, and grab a FREE DOWNLOAD online HERE!
Thanks for sitting down with us, tell us about the history of Starbass.
A few years ago I moved from Toronto Canada to Salt Lake City Utah. My musical life was a fractured
schizophrenic mash up of DJing Goth/alternative clubs & burning man parties, Making Depeche Mode-esq original music and remixing a grab bag of different styles of music. I felt I needed to try and wrestle all these different names and identities that I had into a better way of doing things so I came up with the name Starbass and started to put everything under that name and try to focus more of what I was doing into doing dark textural almost cinematic bass music with a definite alternative edge. So far that has worked out much better than the haphazard chaos (Not saying I don’t enjoy chaos, cause I do) I was doing before.
How did you start in music? How old? What instrument? Did you have any formal training?
Well I started playing the flute at age 7 in my elementary school band. I played the flute right up until I graduated. I had some fantastic teachers that not only taught me the instrument but a lot of music theory and basic classical composition.
I was 14 when MIDI came out which is the connection that allows synthesizers, samplers and computers to talk to each other. My music teacher at the time lent me some of the first MIDI instruments and computers ever made, so I’ve been making electronic music since I was an early teen. It’s been incredible to see how things have evolved with electronic music over all this time.
Many years later, when I started making music as Starbass, I started playing flue again because the pitch and the timbre of the instrument goes very well with bass oriented music.
When did you start the Starbass project and what tone are you going for?
I started Starbass about 4 years ago I wanted to do something that was dark and textural but appealed to a relatively wide audience. I locked myself in an underground bunker like space in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter and created “Starbass 1”. you can see a video about that process here.
The end result was interesting but flawed. On this new album I ditched the dubstep-ish sounds and focused on creating darkly beautiful evolving soundscapes over strong bass and drums. This album is probably the best work I’ve ever done and is more in line where I have been and where I want to go.
What was the writing process for the new album Distant Signals? Is there a specific story that you’re telling here?
As far as a unified narrative across the whole album, No. Each song has its own story to tell, each one being inspired by a person or event in my life. The album itself was recorded during the winter of 2015, again in near complete isolation in my tiny house on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. It’s so beautiful there but it’s also so remote that I often felt very isolated from the people whom I love. The loose concept of Distant Signals is that I’m sending out across vast distances ideas and emotions to the people who mean something to me.
The creation process was not that complicated and was basically based on discipline. Getting up every morning, sitting in front of the computer even if I didn’t feel like it and work. The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said “If you wish to be a writer, Write”. Simple enough but most people often make more excuses for not fulfilling a creative goal then actually doing what’s going to get them there.
You also produce for other artists, how does perfecting other musicians’ work impact your own music writing?
I love digging into other people’s music and seeing how they made it, Remixing gives you insight into other people’s music and process as you take the raw tracks they provide you. Then you can go from there and take it to new places. Remixing to me is always s a bit more experimental than making the original track. Obviously the original was the vision of the creator so a remix by it’s very nature is going to take the song and go somewhere different. You learn allot of things you can apply to your own music as a result of these experiments.
We saw that you also DJ, what kind of sets do you typically perform?
I play a lot of minimal electronic dub. Things like Truth, AxH, Seven, as well as my own music. I play a lot of Burning Man community events as well as the alternative clubs. I’ve never been all that interested in playing the main room, peak hour sets. I like playing in the very depths of night when people are totally into the music and are more interested in being taken on a sonic journey than pumping their fists into the air to some shitty EDM anthem.
What production software and instruments did you use on Distant Signals?
I use Apple Logic, Not because I like it, but because I know it. For this album I used allot of more obscure film composing synths and libraries. For example, U-he has a great modular soft synth called the Zebra. Hans Zimmer had a custom version of the software made to score “Batman, The Dark Knight Rises”. U-he then went on to sell it as a stand-alone product. So many of the sounds on the album started as the actual sounds from that movie.
Do you ever combine your tools into a hybrid, how do you decide what to add? What attributes do you look for in the individual components?
I play a lot of instruments (rather poorly). Each instrument sort of exercises a different part of your creative brain. I may come up with something on a guitar then port it over to a synth or to the flute as a way of not being locked into generating melodies and such in a repetitive consistent manner. I’ve grown up with computers and have been using them to make music since I was an early teen. The DAW has become an extension of my mind and I can get into a most wonderful flow state using a computer. Between using the two types of tools (actual instruments & a computer) I feel the creative options are limitless and it actually becomes a challenge to stay focused on a consistent creative direction.
Finally, do you have any upcoming show dates? Any tours in the foreseeable future?
I needed to take a couple months off after finishing the album and rest. I just started working on the Starbass cause again to take care of the release, the press and generally promoting the new music. I’m planning an album release show in SLC with a few DJ friends in December. I’m hustling as we speak about getting on as an opener on a few smaller tours as well as getting some more show together myself. Finishing the music is just half of the work that goes into a new album or project but things are looking great for this release.