Photo by Shawn Brackbill
Die-hard synth fans will go absolutely nuts at the mention of Steve Moore. The legend and one half of prog group Zombi is widely regarded as both extremely flexible and consistent in his output. Whether it’s Zombi, Miracle, pseudonym Gianni Rossi, Lovelock, or his staggering body of solo work, the man knows no bounds. He even recently scored director Adam Wingard’s last film, The Guest. We caught up with the composer/synth-head fresh off the heels of the announcement of a forthcoming Zombi album for some words about the history of his works and the state of synth music as a whole.
When did you and A.E. Paterra start the Zombi project?
We started playing together in summer of 2001. We played two or three shows, then recorded and released our first self-titled CD-R that fall/winter. About 75 copies.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
Michael Stearns, Steve Roach, Michael Hoenig, Claude Larson, Alan Hawkshaw, JD Emmanuel, Steve Hillage. Lots more.
How many albums have you released together versus solo?
With Zombi, we self-released our first two recordings — an album and an EP. Then we signed with Relapse, and we’ve put out four albums and an EP with them. We also did a split album with our buds Maserati on Temporary Residence LTD. Under the name Gianni Rossi, I released two albums on German label Permanent Vacation, both scores to horror films by Ryan Nicholson. As Lovelock, I have an album and a 12-inch single on Prins Thomas’ Internasjonal label and a re-edit 12-inch on Mindless Boogie. Under just my own name, I have eight albums, five EPs/12-inches, and a split album with Majeure on a bunch of different labels including Cuneiform, Kompakt, L.I.E.S., and Mexican Summer. So total, I guess about 16 albums and 9 EP/12-inches. Oh, and two albums and two EPs with Miracle. I’m probably forgetting something. And dozens of remixes.
What made you specifically interested in this type of music?
It’s what I grew up with. I’m from the ’70s. I just always loved synthesizers. While lots of kids were busy trying to figure out Eddie Van Halen guitar solos, I was trying to figure out Eddie Van Halen synthesizer solos.
What type of response does Zombi generally get when you grace the music community with your (as of late) rare live shows?
When we first started touring, it was a total crapshoot. We were playing mostly DIY venues and dive bars with shitty sound systems and we probably always sounded like shit playing through them. Even at our peak, when we were doing close to 200 shows a year and opening for bands that people had heard of, playing through decent sound systems, audience reactions varied greatly. A lot of it had to do with who we were touring with. Typically, the more diverse the bill, the better our reception. We did a couple tours opening for Isis (the metal band, relax) and hip-hop group Dalek — a very diverse bill. The audiences were super receptive to everyone. That was one of our better tours for sure. But none of the tours we did back in the 2000s could compare to the tour we did opening for Goblin last December. It had been 6 years since we toured the States, and it was pretty obvious that there’s a lot more interest in what we do now. It seemed like there were already a lot of Zombi fans in the audience, and those who hadn’t heard of us seemed very receptive. It was a completely different experience. Hopefully it won’t be another six years before we can hit the road again.
Would you say there is a scene for the music you make?
For what Zombi does? If there is, I’m in the dark.
How would you categorize your music? Do you feel it relates to outrun electro/’80s-inspired tunes?
Tony and I have done a few tracks as Zombi that I think could definitely be considered outrun, like our Sapphire 12-inch on Throne of Blood. Mostly, though, I think we’re too “rock” for this scene. My Lovelock and Gianni Rossi recordings probably fit right in. Some of my releases under my own name could probably be lumped in here, too, and I’m not opposed to that, but I approach that stuff from a slightly different angle. Like my 12-inches for L.I.E.S. or my newest double LP on Spectrum Spools — with that stuff, my goal is to create something more atemporal, something that would have sounded equally anachronistic 30 years ago as it does today.
Did you make music before Zombi?
Sure, I’ve been playing in bands since high school. My first attempt at making electronic music was back in the early ’90s, armed with a Fostex 4-track and an Ensoniq VFX-SD. I pretty much floundered my way through the ’90s, though — too much of a typical Gen-Xer to put any real effort into music (or anything else). The first band I was in that put out an album and played out-of-town shows was called Microwaves. This was around the turn of the millennium, very fun stuff.
Tell us about VCO tapes.
VCO is a cassette label run mostly by my Zombi buddy A.E. Paterra. I help out when I can. We do it just for fun and to help spread the word for friends and artists we admire.
What’s your relationship with Relapse Records like? Any words to share on them?
Relapse is terrific. They’ve been very good to us. People are always curious how it works being on a predominantly “metal” label. But when we signed to Relapse, they were still putting out a lot of dark, experimental electronic and ambient music on their Release imprint — that’s how things got started. It’s great; being on Relapse has exposed us to a lot of fans and friends we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. Metal fans are loyal and open-minded and appreciative of musicianship and odd time signatures and minor thirds. I’ll play to a metal audience over a hipster audience any day.
How do you find the music community has responded to your music? Do you feel you have a strong fan base and a good connection with those fans?
The response has been surprisingly good. In the beginning, we had a kind of punk attitude about Zombi. This was the music we wanted to play regardless of what audiences wanted to hear. But for some reason, a lot of people ended up “getting” it. They were never expected to. And though we always had a good sense of humor about ourselves, we were never ironic. We’ve always been serious about what we do, and people seem to respect that. I’d say we have a small but very loyal fan base.
Do you feel that when you and Anthony do your solo work, that the music is well received? I remember seeing you with Goblin at GC with A.E. opening as Majeure, and it was simply beautiful.
In some ways our solo recordings get more props than our albums as Zombi. But that might be mainly due to the fact that we’re more active individually now, and there wasn’t such an interest in synthesizer music back when we were regularly touring and putting out albums.
What was it like working with Zombi? What was it like touring with Giallo horror composing legends Goblin?
Working with Tony is the best. He’s a phenomenal drummer, a great writer, and a good friend. Playing with Goblin was a very surreal experience. It was a dream come true — but it was also very stressful. I felt completely out-classed every night playing with those guys. But they are amazing players and super sweet guys, and when Maurizio emailed me to see if I’d be interested in joining them for a short tour, there’s no way I could have said “no.”
Do you find that there’s a lot of like-minded artists out there?
Absolutely. Every time I play a show, I meet new musicians with similar influences.
Who are some of your peers who you particularly enjoy musically?
The entire VCO roster.
Do you feel like outrun is gaining attention in pop culture through mediums such as Adult Swim licensing music, the Drive soundtrack and resulting tour, or The Guest featuring music by several notable outrunners? Tell us about the score for the film.
Hard to say. I’ve been buds with the Valerie crew for a while now. I played a show with College, Anoraak, and Russ Chimes back in January of 2009, at Webster Hall in NYC. They sold out the main room! This was years before Drive, and it already seemed like those guys had a rabid fan base here. I’m sure Drive added to that, but I think the hardcore fans were already there. Honestly, I’m not familiar with a lot of current retro ’80s stuff. With the exception of Gatekeeper, I hadn’t heard of any of the newer bands on The Guest soundtrack before I saw the first rough cut of the film. As for the score, when I first started talking to Adam about doing the film, he was really into my Light Echoes album, and that was sort of the “sound” he wanted build from. My main influence for The Guest was Mark Isham’s score for The Hitcher (1986). That score is so perfectly understated and classy, but intense where it needs to be.
Tell us about this music’s relationship with horror.
Synthesizer music? Well, hiring one guy with a handful of synthesizers is cheaper than hiring a full orchestra. I’m not a music or film historian, but I’d guess that’s probably how the association started.
What impact would you like your music to have on the genre? What impact would you want it to have on music as a whole?
I’m not interested in having an impact on music.
Any artists or labels in the genre killing it right now?
Right around the time I was scoring The Guest, I ordered a synthesizer from a shop in Austin, Texas, called Switched On. A Yamaha CS-30. When it arrived, there was a cassette and a note from one of the guys who worked at the shop. I put in the cassette and immediately recognized one of the tunes from a rough cut of Adam’s film. The band was SURVIVE, and they’ve become one of my current favorite groups. I got to see them perform at the Mohawk in Austin when I was there playing with Goblin. They were fantastic.
Do you think outrun could blow up like dubstep did in 2010 and deep house is doing now? Or do you feel that synth music in general has been a driving force in popular culture since the invention of synthesizers and the drum machine?
I hope not. There’s always a backlash when something gets that big. When a type of music is appropriated by the masses, it doesn’t take long for it to lose all previously associated meaning. Then it becomes a lowest common denominator thing. I’d hate to see that happen here.
What emotions do you seek to evoke with your tunes as Zombi? How about Miracle and your solo works?
I usually try my best not to evoke any specific emotion with my music. I want to leave that up to the listener. That’s why most of my music is instrumental, with vague song titles. I don’t want to impose my emotional attachment to the music on the listener. I feel like that would immediately alienate people.
What drives you to keep making your music?
It’s kind of a compulsion, really. “My art keeps me sane.” — Benjamin Pierce (Scanners, 1981).
What’s your favorite synth?
My favorite synthesizer at the moment is my Freeman String Symphonizer. It’s a very rare string synthesizer from the ’70s. There were only about 300 made, and mine is in beautiful shape.
What synths do you typically find the most use for?
My most commonly used synths are my Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Prophet 600, Korg Polysix, and Roland Juno 60. I recently picked up an ARP Avatar and a Logan String Ensemble II, and they’ve been getting a lot of use lately.
Analog or digital when it comes to synthesizers?
Either, as long as it’s vintage (but mostly analog).
Zombi’s The Zombi Anthology will be re-released via Relapse Records on April 21st.