Born into fire...
“To be honest, the final Goteki album ‘Santa Muerte’ was a transition into Tregenza – I’ll perform some of those Santa Muerte tracks when we take the Tregenza show out live.”
Since putting Goteki on ice, composer, vocalist and sound designer Ross Tregenza has been forging ahead with his musical vision under the banner of his solo project Tregenza. After five EPs that encompassed everything from classical to modern dance influences Ross unveiled an impressive full-length début album in the form of 'Into The Void'.
We caught up with Ross to talk about leaving the Goteki name behind, his process and a certain other band he spent time in.
Intravenous Magazine: You've just released your first full-length studio album under the Tregenza name, 'Into The Void'. What has the reaction been like so far?
Ross Tregenza: It’s been hard to let it go! I’ve been working on it for over three years, and letting it out into the world is like ejecting it into space. It’s probably my least immediately accessible album – it’s dark, complex and emotional, so I’m please to be getting so many messages about people enjoying it. I’m incredibly proud of it, but you never know what other people are gonna make of it.
IVM: Prior to the release of the album you opted to release a slew of EPs. What led to that decision and how has that helped in the creation of the album?
RT: It was essential really. The album developed very slowly, which is never a bad thing. Each of the EPs I released shaped the sound, aesthetic and overall vibe of the project in a new way. It was like before the EPs the album was a lump of rock, and each EP was a barrage of chisel hits, shaping it into the final sculpture. It’s an exciting process watching it take form.
IVM: You'd had a very productive run with Goteki after reactivating the band. What led to the decision to finally put it to rest and continue on as a solo artist?
RT: Yeah the last days of Goteki were prolific! I think the change was primarily because the new project is so different. Anybody that knows my Goteki work will hear similarities, but in terms of instrumentation and tone, it’s darker, slower and more cinematic. To be honest, the final Goteki album ‘Santa Muerte’ was a transition into Tregenza – I’ll perform some of those Santa Muerte tracks when we take the Tregenza show out live.
IVM: How does your writing process typically work? Outside of your musical work you've had a long career in sound design. How has this affected the way you create music?
RT: I know a lot of musicians who jam or create loops to kickstart a new song. I find it impossible to write anything until I know what a song’s gonna be called and what it’s about – that defines the first steps of writing the song.
These days I write primarily on piano to start, then expand out to my ‘new song toolset’ after that – normally violin, two-three synth lines, two-three drum sets and then go from there. Even though I get a little experimental here and there, I like to try and write songs that could easily be played purely on guitar or piano – it makes them more durable.
My career in sound design has had a massive impact on my music. For the first few years, my music and sound design were different avenues and god knows why, but it never occurred to me to mix them. Now I see almost no difference – my sound design informs my music and vice versa. Crazy to think it took so long. You’ll hear in the new album a lot of cinematic design, dramatic scoring, big impacts sounds etc. – all stuff I’ve learnt from my crazy, awesome day job making video games.
IVM: There are a lot of influences at work across the album and EPs. Musically where do you draw your inspirations?
RT: I’ve always had two sets of influences – a classic core set and a more current set. My classic core set has been the same for most of my life – Bowie, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkle, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristopherson. Mostly Bowie though. Good god to I love a bit of Bowie!
My current set of influences are kinda diverse, but you can hear influences on ‘Into The Void’ – it’s all in there. The list would include Crystal Castles, Kavinsky, The Supremes, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Japan, Justice, M83, Hot Chip, Hurts, IAMX.
On top of that I’ve been heavily influenced by film scores over the last few years. Primarily the work of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (although obviously the phenomenal ‘Push the Sky Away’ had a big influence too). Also, Clint Mansel, M83 & Joseph Trapanese.
IVM: One of the most interesting tracks featured on the initial Tregenza EPs is the '86 Stadium Remix of 'Snowdrift', where did that idea come from and how did you execute it?
RT: Ha-ha yeah that was ridiculous. Kinda worked though! I always think it’s nice to let my sound design skill set bleed into my music stuff. I figured it was such an introverted, gentle song that it’d be funny to re-imagine it as a massive cheesy stadium rock song. Dumb fun, but I love it! It was just a case of building a reverb that had that massive stadium feel and then redesigning all the elements to make them feel like they’re coming from a huge stage. Hey ho, keeps me busy!
IVM: This time last year you released a cover EP, 'Stolen Thunder'. Is this going to be a regular series, and if so what songs are considering covering?
RT: Yep! Yep yep yep! I love Stolen Thunder, and I plan on doing a zillion others. I start cover version ALL the time – 80% of them will never see the light of day – they just don’t work (you don’t want to hear my cover of 'Ride On Time' – spoiler alert – it’s SHIT. ) So when I get five covers that get to a certain point – when I can sit back and think – fuck yeah, this is actually pretty solid – then I complete them and bundle them as a release. I hope to do 10, 20 collections as many as I can do before I get hit by a car or a meteor hits the planet.
IVM: As a solo artist, will you be more studio based from now on or will there be a chance of live performances in the near future?
RT: Yeah this is primarily a studio project now – studio music, video performances, music videos, etc. BUT I am starting to plan a tour. I need to figure out what how we’ll take it out live – what instruments, how to present the material. I’ll sing obviously, but I need to decide if I also want to play guitar, synth, or anything else. Difficult but exciting questions! On top of that, I want the shows to have a more organic, unpredictable edge – a little chaos. It’s make each show more unique, and more fun the crowd and us.
IVM: You've continued to give your releases away for free. What led to this decision and would you entertain working with a label again?
RT: Yeah it’s a tricky one. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that’s a creative outlet that I get paid for. With that in mind, I’d figured I’d launch each release for free, to try and get people to grab it. I would be happy to work with a label, not really for the money but more for the support. It’s hard work and time consuming promoting my stuff, and more people helping me would always be a good thing.
IVM: In addition to your own past projects you've previously been a member of synthpop pioneers Visage. How do you look back on your time with the band and how is your relationship with them today?
RT: It’s like a weird dream now. A really weird dream. For example – the first band practice I ever had with Steve Strange involved him going off for lunch, and not coming back for several hours. Eventually he re-emerged, and with no sense of irony said ‘Sorry guys just had lunch with Terry Wogan. He left me with the bill, the bugger!”. It was a great time, and I had the opportunity to play stadiums of 20 or 30 thousand people, and chill backstage with all manner of legendary bands from The Human League to The Exploited. Really great experience. As I’m sure you know, Steve passed away very recently, and it’s been harder to deal with than I’d have anticipated. I think that while we’d kind of drifted as friends, the idea of him not being out there somewhere, doing his crazy Steve things makes me very sad. He was a mischievous and chaotic character, a pain in the ass at times, but a powerful force of creativity, a happy and unforgettable character and he’s left an astonishing musical legacy. I’ll miss him.
IVM: Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2015?
RT: I’m starting to get a few ideas together for the first songs of the next album, but I’d love to release some more covers and EPs before that. My next big project is definitely the live shows though, and I’m already talking to people around the UK about shows. I also want to release my first instrumental collection of more film score inspired work. After that, there’s some plans for music videos – kinda long format ones with cinematic elements. I also want to make two concept albums – one sci-fi and one zombie themed, with accompanying short stories. And another animated music video. Jesus. If I had the ability to freeze time, I still wouldn’t get everything done. I’ll do what I can, stay tuned!