Interview: Kebu, Perplexagon 2016, English Version

2. April 2016

Kebu, To Jupiter and Back

kebu_promo_2

Amazona.de got again a highlight. This time we spoke with Sebastian Teir, well known under his artist name “KEBU”!

KEBU might be in Germany, Switzerland and Austria known to a smaller audience. But he had several appearances in Scandinavian TV shows, more than 5 million views on his one YouTube Channel. He is awarded with a 7th place at the “Schallwellepreis” 2012, category “Best International Album”.

His releases  “To Jupiter and back”, the EP “Deep Blue” and the new Album “Perplexagon” bridges the early music from  Giorgio Moroder and Jean Michel Jarre to modern electronic music.

Kebu’s new album “Perplexagon” is on the way and he is coming for 3 gigs to Germany.
Lot to talk about. So Amazona.de.de asks for an interview.

We wish you lots of fun.

Introduction:
Thanks a lot Kebu for your time; we know that your schedule is fully packed, even more
Amazona.de.de is grateful, and that you patently answer our questions

Toby:
Hej Hej Kebu, how are you? What are you working on?

Kebu:
Hej på dig, tackar som frågar! It’s a busy period – I’m finalizing a new album, called „Perplexagon“, and I’m arranging for its release. At the same time, I’m trying to organize a small tour in Northern Europe – it’s the first time for me that I will be performing outside Finland and Sweden.

Toby:
Your Music build a bridge from the Seventhies and the Eighties to present, your repertoire contains well known classic cover versions from that period, as well as own compositions. You are scoring a Swedish language science radio show in Finland. Besides Kebu, you are keyboarder in the Finnish Progressive Metal Band “Kouzin Bedlam”. How do you balance that?

Kebu:
Thanks for noticing, that is actually what I’m trying to do as Kebu – I’m trying to further develop the melodic synthesizer music that had its peak in the eighties but kind of died out and gave way to club-oriented electro. I actually started working on my music as Kebu while we were recording the debut album for Kouzin Bedlam, which was a long project that lasted six years – we ended up completely redoing the album after the first three years when we got a new producer. Until that, I had also been the mixing engineer for the album, but when I was relieved of that duty I got some time to work on my own music. But it is not easy to both try to make music on a professional level AND have a full-time job. During daytime I’m a researcher and project manager related to energy technologies. Somehow, I also end up doing the work of a project manager in the bands I’ve been playing with. Lately, I’ve started to realize that I much rather do something myself instead of organizing something for others to do. That was one reason for why I started to do make music on my own, because then I could do it 100% according to my own vision, and I did not have any time tables to worry about. By doing my own music as Kebu I also rediscovered the joy in making music. I think this joy is also coming through in my music and live performances. The creators of the science program Kvanthopp liked my music and asked me to do the sound track for their radio show, so the sound track I did is almost like an unreleased Kebu EP. But like I said, it is not easy to balance it all. Right now, I’m taking a break from Kouzin Bedlam so that I can focus on my next Kebu album and the upcoming tour. In 2017, I will be taking a break from work, so that I can focus on music 100% of my time.

Toby:
Amazona.de.de create a little Q&A game. Let’s play a round Synthesizer Memory. We give you 3 hints and could you tell us, what comes first in your mind.

  1. Korg Polysix
  2. Roland D 50
  3. Moog Source

Kebu:

  1. Leaking batteries! Most users never replaced, or had the skills to replace, the internal battery of the Polysix. The worst problem was that this battery was prone to leaking so countless Polysix motherboards have been destroyed due to leaking battery acid. Fortunately, I managed to replace the battery in my Polysix before it had done too much damage, so I was able to fix the motherboard myself.
  1. A surprisingly analog sounding digital synthesizer! Most importantly, it has a unique character, which is why musicians search for vintage synths in the first place – to find an inspiring sound.
  2. My favorite Moog. I have a Minimoog as well, but for some reason I always go back to the Source. It sits really well in a mix, without being too massive. Also, the Source has memory banks for storing sound settings, which is very important for me since I need to be able to change sounds quickly in a live performance.

Toby:
Nothing happened without a reason, your set up hold lots of vintage gear from the pre Midi era. Do you use them in the original state or are they midified?

Kebu:
That’s true! Since I started playing synths in 1995 I’ve constantly been buying and selling used synthesizers as a way of saving up for better synths but also in order to be able to try out as many different synths as possible. When I started doing my music as Kebu I got the idea of doing my music using analog synths only – something that I still do, even live. I like a synth that has a lot of character – something that the synths from the 70’s and early 80’s have a lot of! But as you mentioned, many of these synths do not have MIDI, which I need for controlling the synths live with a sequencer – I cannot play everything myself, having only two hands. Fortunately, some of the old synths can be controlled by a system called „CV/gate“. You have basically two cables sending voltages – one cable tells the synth when a note is pressed and the other tells the pitch of that note. I have a couple of boxes that convert MIDI into CV/gate. But polyphonic synths typically don’t have CV/gate, so I’ve installed third-party MIDI upgrade-kits into most of my old synths. I am even able of controlling my TR808 drum machine with MIDI. I would love to do some more modifications of my synths. I’m not interested in „circuit bending“ them as I like how they sound now. But there is a lot of upgrading that could be done. Most of the older synths have really bad keyboards, with bad switches and bad action. Also, many of them have fake wood – a thin layer of wood glued on to chipboard. This chipboard is not durable so the chipboard frames should be replaced with real wooden frames. Too bad I’m such a lousy carpenter…

Toby:
How can we imagine the birth of a new Kebu track? Is it spontaneous? Or do you improvising and work the song out?

Kebu:
My tunes are born in many different ways. Sometimes it can be a sound or arpeggio that I play that triggers an idea (i.e. lucky accidents). Sometimes there can be a melody, chord sequence or even a complete section of a tune that I come up with in my head just before falling asleep. Some tunes are also born out of a certain need. Especially towards the end of making an album, when I can see the structure of the album, I might want to have an introductory, a closing or a bridging tune between two other tunes. I’ve noticed that the tighter the requirements are the more creative I get. That is one reason also why I restrict myself to analog synths – having a restricted palette is more challenging. Also, when you know your boundaries it is easier to start working. Nowadays, when you have a limitless studio inside your computer, you can easily get overwhelmed by the options at hand.

Toby:
In the Scandinavics and in Finland music esp. live plays a big role, I’m made up my head and thinking first Rock and Metal, so why did you choose synthesizers?

Kebu:
I think the reason is that I didn’t myself listen that much to rock and metal when I was young. My cousins did listen to heavy metal a lot, but somehow, I was more interested in music with a strong melody and interesting chord progressions, such as Queen and Dire Straits. Extreme, Dream Theater and Kiss is probably the closest to metal that I got, anything heavier than that was just not my type of music. My parents didn’t either listen that much to classic rock, the range was more from Abba to country music. My dad had a lot of cassettes on to which he had taped tunes he liked from the radio. I think a lot of my musical roots came from listening to those tapes. There were tunes with Boney M, Emmylou Harris, Abba, even Mike Oldfield and Jarre can be found on those cassettes. I started playing piano as a kid, but after a few years my piano teacher recommended me to go to a music school. Unfortunately, my family couldn’t afford this at the time, so I lost interest in piano playing and picked up guitar playing instead. It was first at high school that a guitar-playing friend of mine thought I was much better at the keyboard than the fret board and recommended me to pick up keyboards, so I started playing keyboards in bands then.

Toby:
If I see your live performances, it looks you have a lot of fun on stage, your own announces between the tracks a legendary. Are you what we in German calling a “Rampensau” or more a studio geek?

Kebu:
It is difficult to say, I like both being in the studio and being on stage. The main reason why I enjoy myself on stage is probably due to the relief I get after all the hard work and preparation for setting up my keyboard rig –  it takes 4 hours to set up everything and there is a lot that can go wrong. So if everything works after the first tune I can relax and enjoy
myself.

Toby:
Spot on YouTube, how important is feedback to you? How do you come up with the idea of doing an own Channel?

Kebu:
It’s kind of a long story, going back to around 2006-2007 when I rediscovered the synthesizer music I grew up with. I started to question if I would be able to do that kind of music myself. So I made my first attempt in 2008 – which became “Pulsar”! So that is the oldest tune on the To Jupiter and Back album. Back then I had already discovered the amazing character of vintage analog synthesizers, but I only had a handful of them. This led me, of course, to search for and collect more analog synthesizers. Listening to YouTube videos was already then a good way to get an idea of what the different synthesizers sounded like. But at that time, there weren’t many good demos of synthesizers on YouTube, so I thought that I could do better than that. But I also realized that it would be a good way to test my own tunes for an audience – by disguising them as synthesizer demonstrations. The positive and encouraging feedback I received on the first videos I made was extremely important, because they motivated me to do more. Without that feedback, I would probably never have made my first album!

Toby:
Kebu/Sebastian, the next question is for sure unusual. You said earlier and I think it’s hearable in your music that it’s more challenging to use a restricted palette of analogue synthesizers. Because you receive quicker results, as you have to accept the analogue border.  But in the digital era you have endless possibilities. I know my question sounds tricky but is this reason that just only a few remixes from your music exist? Or do you think a good track doesn’t need a remix?

Kebu:
You are right! When I mixed To Jupiter and Back I controlled most synths using a sequencer and used an analog tape recorder for recording the synths that couldn’t be controlled with a sequencer, so the album was mixed in real time with an analog mixer. Since the mix was recorded straight to a stereo track, there weren’t any separate tracks available for making stems from!  “Deep Blue” was recorded and mixed the modern way using DAW software, so for that single I invited several collaborators (Karanda, JayB, Psychotic Giraffe and Photon Man) for making remixes.

Toby:
I understood that your recordings made “Old School” with tape machines and recorders.  And you use DAWs and Computers only in the end of audio processing? Is that true? Could explain a little?

Kebu:
Sure. It goes back to 2008 when I started playing soul/funk with a band called Vinyl Jam, whose leader Andre Solomko had the principle that everything in the signal chain had to be analog – even the band’s vinyl’s were pressed directly from analog master tapes. This means that we recorded our albums the way it was done in the 70’s: the band recorded the tune in a single take, overdubbing only solos and vocals. Although it was hard there was also something really inspiring in this way of working, so I got the idea of doing my solo album in a similar way, with the additional restriction of using analog synthesizers as the only instruments. However, most synthesizers have MIDI or CV/Gate so you can record these synths to a sequencer and have the sequencer playing back theses synths during mixing. Some of the oldest synths don’t have any possibilities for sequencer control, so these were recorded to a Tascam 38 analog 8-track recorder that also synchronized the sequencer. Otherwise, the sequencer would not stay in time with the tape recorder. Working with an analog mixer and outboard effects, you can hear the final sound, although the take is being recorded dry. This is something that first in recent years has become possible with professional audio interfaces.  Once everything was recorded, the tune was down mixed to two tracks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford a two-track master recorder, so I had to record the mix into the computer as two tracks, where it was mastered. Another reason for this compromise was that I didn’t want to go through the hassle of having yet another tape recorder that could break down in the middle of the work. Anyway, as the album was released on CD and through download/streaming services, the master had to be digitalized at some stage anyway.

The upcoming “Perplexagon” album was recorded slightly differently, but the way of working was very similar to the way I did “To Jupiter and Back”. This time, I used a digital mixer (an old Yamaha 01V96) and software sequencer (Cubase) for building the basic track with the synths that have MIDI or CV/Gate. So the sequencer controlled the synths while I worked on the mix. When the mix was ready, it was recorded as a few stems into Cubase, after which additional synths were overdubbed – with effects and all. The benefit from working this way is that you can actually hear the final sound while you record, making it much more inspiring for the musician as you adjust your playing to what you hear. Normally, synths are recorded relatively dry into computer, after which effects are added, but especially those parts that are played by hand benefit from having the effects on while recording. Of course, it makes it much more difficult to adjust the mix afterwards. But as I also bring the same digital mixer live, it saves me a lot of work for recreating the sound live, as I already have the mix ready!

Toby:
Besides my vintage gear, my favourite peaces of gear are the Korg M1 and my Roland MC 303, because they were bought new after saving a lot of money. I have in mind the Moog Source and the Korg Polysix. So do you have a favorite peace of gear?

Kebu:
If I have to pick one, it is probably the Korg Mono/Poly. Very flexible synth with a great character! I like it so much that I tend to over use it. Another synth that I like a lot is the Yamaha CS50. I think I use it in every tune  on the upcoming album. It is quite limited as it doesn’t have MIDI or CV and you cannot adjust the filter tracking on the keyboard – it is always at 100%. But it has that amazing Yamaha CS-80 sound as it uses the same oscillator boards, although it is only four voice polyphonic and one oscillator per voice. Also, it has the best after touch I have tried. It is an optical system and feels quite similar to that of the Yamaha SY-1.

Toby:
What could we expect from your new Album Perplexagon? To Jupiter and Back was a great and surprising tribute album. Deep Blue bridged vintage vibe to modern club sounds from Electro, House, Deep House and Progressive Melodic Trance and showed the artistic development very well. Can you reveal a little what the listener could expect?

Kebu:
Absolutely! The album has been composed with vinyl in mind, so it has two distinctly separate sides. The A side consists of Perplexagon – a composition in six parts. The basic idea with Perplexagon comes from its name. It is something symmetrical and familiar – the tunes are like the six nodes in a hexagon, each connected to the next. But underneath the surface there is something strange and puzzling with it, something perplexing. There are already bits and pieces of the composition out on Youtube, as I have performed some parts of it live already since 2012. It is my first attempt at a thematic composition. Still, many of the parts work well as individual tunes as well. The B side is more straight forward. It gives a trilogy of the vintage vibe – modern club mixture, with Deep Blue in the middle. The album will be released in April and I will perform many tunes from the album on the tour.

Toby:
I know you planned a tour through Europe? How do you manage that? As far as I know KEBU is a one man show?

Kebu:
Yes, it is a one man show, but I fortunately usually get help with roading! Right now, I enjoy doing things by myself without involving too many other persons. So I arranged the upcoming tour myself, meaning that I contacted over 400 potential venues in the Northern Europe. But it was worth it, as I have now a tour coming up in April with 2 gigs in Germany (Berlin and Hamburg), 2 gigs in The Netherlands, 2 gigs in Denmark, 2 gigs in Sweden, and 2 gigs in Finland – an accidental symmetry worthy of its name: Perplexagon Tour. J This tour will be quite hectic – most of the gigs takes place during two intensive weeks. Fortunately, I will have a technician with me to help me out. Also, we plan to bring a customized light show on the road, but let’s see how it goes – many things are yet open. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this tour and the opportunity to perform in Germany for the first time!

Toby:
I come back to the creation of a track. I’m a heavy iPad user and Garageband & Logic too. I produce often while travelling; create a couple of piano tracks and improvise until it is done. Or us it as the virtual brother of my Polysix for sound designs and save the patches, which will transferred later by hand to my Polysix. Do you use such kind of utilities? Or are those unimportant?

Kebu:
To be honest, I have never tried an iPad synth! I’ve never liked making music with software synthesizers, mainly due to the interface, and I think I would feel the same way working with an iPad. Another reason is that when I compose and record music, I need the whole day for doing it. It takes a couple of hours before my brain warms up. So composing on the road wouldn’t work for me.

Toby:
Sebastian, to me you are „Jack of all trades“! What are you doing, if all work is done, no scheduled business appointments? What are you doing in leisure time?

Kebu:
What leisure time? I don’t have any! All my time goes to my daytime job and music, so I try just to rest and spend time with my family if I have an extra hour. Also, I try to stay in shape by swimming and skiing (when there is snow available). The upcoming tour will be intensive and I will be carrying tons of synthesizers, so I really need to start working out even more. But first, I have an album to publish…

Toby:
The last question doesn’t come without cause, if you listen to music, what are you listening to?

Kebu:
Nowadays, I listen mostly to music at work, but I can only listen to instrumental music (if even that), because lyrics make me loose my concentration. So I’ve been enjoying a lot of Mike Oldfield lately. And when I need to pump up the work efficiency I listen to trance. I really like the Anjunabeats Worldwide compilations!

https://youtu.be/GFSNzcuSXIg

Toby:
If one of our Amazona.de.de readers ever hits the road in Helsinki, what are the hot spots over there. And which are the places we „must see“?

Kebu:
Hmm, that’s a good question. I don’t have time to get out much nowadays in Helsinki, but I definitely would recommend the old fortress Suomenlinna just outside Helsinki, it is a beautiful place in summertime, and there are ferries going there many times an hour. Music-wise I could recommend timing your trip with the Flashback Future Disco Helsinki, which is a Club series giving live Retrowave, Synthwave, 80’s and Italo music. I will be playing there in April.

Toby:
Sebastian, finally, the last questions, time for famous last words. What do want to say to all Amazona.de.de readers?

Kebu:
I must say that you are quite amazing if you have read this interview all the way to the end!  Looking forward to seeing you at my gigs in Germany!

Toby:
Sebastian thanks a lot for the interview! I really enjoy and your answers were very informative and entertaining. I didn’t recognize that time flies so fast. Thanks a lot. Tack för att du tog dig tid.

Tack så mycket. Adjö. Hej Hej.

As Kebu is touring through this spring, you should save the date of his german appearances in Hamburg, Hannover and Berlin.

Marias Ballroom, Hamburg, Donnerstag, 14. April

Die Grosse Welt, Hannover, 17. April

Urban Spree, Berlin , Montag, 18. April

More showcases and lots of news via Kebus website

Forum
  1. Profilbild
    AMAZONA Archiv

    Ihm zu zusehen ist immer wieder eine Freude!

    • Profilbild
      TobyB  RED

      Hallo Peter,

      ich muss gestehen, das ich Kebu nun auch noch nicht so lange kenne und ich ihn bis dahin musikalisch gar nicht auf dem Schirm hatte. Zum anderen war ich sehr angenehm überrascht das Kebu meine Interviewanfrage positiv beantwortet hat.
      Konzeptionell finde ich seinen Spagat sehr gut. Er ist derzeit einer der wenigen die eine Grätsche zwischen Old Skool und Cluborientierter Musik hinbekommen. Sei es nun in seinen Interpretationen oder den Eigenkompositionen. Was ich persönlich Schade finde, das man reicht weit fahren muss, um ihn live zu sehen. Wir hatten versucht einen Veranstaltungsort im Rhein Main Gebiet zu finden, so das Kebu auch weiter südlich auftritt. Ohne Erfolg.

      • Profilbild
        AMAZONA Archiv

        Hallo Toby,

        Ich bin vor einiger Zeit zufällig auf ihn gestossen und mich hat seine Leichtigkeit und Spielfreude beeindruckt. Den Spagat bekommt er in der Tat gut hin.

        Peter

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