Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Friendly Timo/The Fair Attempts is a synth-based music producer who writes thought-provoking songs with a rich tapestry of different synth sounds backing them up. Via email, he told me about how he came to make synth-based music, his approach to the creative process and his upcoming Carnal Insect album.
Karl Magi: When and how did you first become passionate about making music?
Friendly Timo: My relationship with making music has always been adventurous. As with everything else, I've been interested with tinkering with things and see what I can come up with. Producing music became a passion to me while I started playing guitar and getting somewhere with it. As a kid in the '90s, I was in the fortunate position of having my own computer and enough know-how to start making songs with one of the earliest sequencers developed for PC called Scream Tracker.
However, I think the passion for making music comes in stages and I feel I've reached my peak with The Fair Attempts, doing whatever I damn well please. Never before have I enjoyed the absolute freedom of expression that I can do, and I think I have only reached that point in my adult life where I am absolutely comfortable being myself with my music. I think writing music in that spirit is a key to maintain that passion.
KM: Tell me about the elements that have attracted you to making synth-based music?
FT: I started out playing in bands that didn't use synths. When I composed music for these, and as we rehearsed the songs it always became an issue for me to control what each player actually played. It became so daunting, not only setting up times between players to gather under the same roof to play, but to make them play the way you wanted them to.
You see, too often, even good musicians tend to play the instrument well but not the song itself. Only some can adapt to actually focus on playing in ways and with expressions that serve the whole picture in a given song.
As the technology was ever advancing, and good quality synths became more and more widely accessible to musicians such as myself, it became an ever more pleasing opportunity for me to pursue that path. You didn't need to ask nicely, you didn't need to control and taunt your friends to appear at a certain location at a certain time to play that thing in the way that you'd want to. Now I had a machine and I could be as mean to a machine I wanted to and maintain happy relationships with people.
Synths allow a wide range of expression, and the prospect of being able to blend synths along with more traditional instruments opens up a wide playground for avenues to explore.
KM: Who are your artistic inspirations?
FT: I've always been very fond of the work of Trent Reznor, as I have with Bowie. I just have a whole bunch of bands and artists that I admire, and who inspire me to walk my own path. Type O Negative was one of those bands also, along with Tool and even likes of Katatonia and Opeth. From the darker side of synth, I have always been very fond of Diary of Dreams.
KM: Talk to me about how you create new music?
FT: I have been analyzing my creative processes and spent a great deal of thought on what really goes behind all of that. Like I said before, my relationship with making music is that of an adventure. I have some precursory thoughts with my conscious mind, but where I feel all these genuine ideas come from is the subconscious mind, during the time when I "jam" with music and allow myself to simply let go, and enter into a very focused and intensive free-flow of ideas.
I keep switching between an almost chaotic stream of information and a very critical, analytical mode that I use to distinguish what works and what is too much. Constantly cycling between the critical, analytical and mathematical side of my work to the uncritical, creative and free-flowing side of composition has allowed me to work toward the ideas that I aim to express.
This is just a work phase within a single song. I do have much deeper and more disciplined methods of creating collections of songs to work towards a certain theme, such as I did with my albums arisTotal and the upcoming Carnal Insect that is being released on the 27th of September. In that case, it is not just about the control of your own mind during the process, but the ability to practice techniques in order to distance yourself from the work and allow the mind to rest and work on the issues even when I am concentrating on other issues in my life. It becomes a lifestyle, and the borders between the creation and creator gets confused until the final product is down in the album.
KM: What were the ideas behind your Carnal Insect album and how did you go about making it?
FT: I tend to be very careful with the kind of messages that I write in my songs, or even how they might be perceived. I am not one to lecture or moralize to others about how they should act and behave, because I'm the kind of person who has probably violated every moral ideal that I hold and value.
I say this because the message of my album is the most personal to me of all of the previous work that I've done. It is about our human condition as individuals and as a society. It is about the degradation of our moral values and ideas of honor, responsibility and care of each other. It is about the degradation of our perception of the value we see in an individual and how, as we continue to populate this planet and strain the structures of our society, we start to slowly but surely resemble an insect colony.
This album is also a musical journey, and as the theme is explored through the album, the tone of the album gradually turns from more spirited and energetic tones to something much darker and more electronic. The story arc of the album begins with the theme of fallacies that we each tend to foster. Similar to how a great river is made out of small streams, these are later magnified to not simply being personal and limited issues, but grander societal phenomenons.
Carnal Insect is teeming with emotions from my life experiences. As soon as I got the arisTotal EP published in the beginning of this year, I had a misfortune having to go bury one of my dear friends, and that started a series of events that reminded me of the condition of our social environment.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
FT: I am already working for a concept for my new album. I just cannot say where it goes from here, and when it is going to be released. I like to allow myself that absolute freedom to change whatever I may be doing at this moment to take another path, if I feel it serves the creative goals that I am pursuing.
Let's just say that my music will be very much the same as what you hear on arisTotal and the Carnal Insect album. What I know for sure is that I will blend some elements of blues along with ever darker, danceable and electronic, industrial rock that will take you for a spin.
KM: Give me your thoughts on the global rise of a new era of synth music. What are your feelings about the synth-based music scene?
FT: I feel indifferent to it. At the very most, it makes sense to me, as I think people have always made music with what is most available for them. With our digital revolution, it has become very easy to access whatever synth-based instrument, especially the ever growing and immense arsenal of virtual instruments.
It will not end there though, as the music keeps evolving, so do the instruments and the methods of how we do it. I believe I heard it was one guy who thought it made a neat sound to put a knife next to a speaker as he played his guitar through the amp. That's how distortion got its start, and obviously many of us agreed it sounded neat. Similarly, the world of synths will evolve over time, and I see only one direction we are going with this. Not only as musicians, but as a whole society: we will delve deeper into the machine.
Next thing you know, you have synths implanted into your head and you play, record and mix it with your mind. And I am not kidding. It may not be our lifetime but certainly soon after that.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries
FT: I am almost in a constant state of meditation when I am not focused with my thoughts. Constant intense focus on whatever you are working with will result in stagnation and poor results. Our minds are dynamic things, and wherever that creative energy comes from is a constantly regenerating source, but comes as a small stream. That, or our brain needs to rest to properly work with it.
My method is to work on my songs a little at a time, and then take some distance from them. Listen to them a couple times a day, there and there, and allow some time for me to maintain a proper perspective. Then, out of the blue comes an idea and an angle to the song that I didn't even think of before, that may ultimately transform the whole song and make it something that stands out from the rest.
It's all about learning to let go. Works with other areas than making music. Writers have a saying about having to "kill your darlings" when writing. This carries over to making music in a similar way; you shouldn't get obsessed over a thing that you love to a degree that it starts to get in the way of your creative flow. Just overcome it.