Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Roger O'Donnell Interview

One of my concert highlights of 2006 was seeing Roger O'Donnell(former keyboardist of The Cure) at Spaceland. Armed with two Moog Voyagers and an Apple laptop, Roger recreated songs off of his solo album "The Truth In Me" with vocals from the talented Erin Lang. I implore you to pick up "The Truth In Me" as well as his remix album "Half Truths" (featuring The Album Leaf and Dntel). I was very fortunate to get some time to chat with Roger and ask him a bunch of synthesizer related questions that went down like this..

AC:Hi Roger! How is it going?


AC: Thanks so much for taking the time to do an interview for Amateurchemist.com. What was your first synthesizer?

RO: I think and I am pretty sure it was a Wasp. Yes, the Wasp. I loved it even though it didn't have a real keyboard.

AC:You still have it or used it on anything?

RO: It was all I could afford and no I sold it. I can't remember when I sold it and for what ... but its long gone.

AC: I imagine you wish you still had it?

RO: In those days I didn't have any money, so I had to sell stuff to get new stuff. Yes, I wish I still had it and my first electric piano, a Hohner Pianet. I still have my Fender Rhodes from 1977. I recently had it restored.

AC: What is your favorite synth and why? ( I assume the Moog Voyager?)

RO: Yes, the Voyager has a very special place in my heart and it came to me at a very important time when i was still in the Cure and wondering why I was making music anymore. What we were doing had very little to do with creativity then I discovered this instrument that gave me my own voice. It took me back to why i loved playing music and writing and performing.

AC: I agree that your Moog playing stands out.

RO: Thanks Andrew.

AC: What synths stood out for him over time?

RO: I have found it very easy to express myself with the Voyager, the Mini Moog, Prophet 5, Prophet VS and the Korg M1. Then we got into samplers and forgot how to use synthesizers but happily we have had a renaissance with Moog and Dave Smith.

AC: How about Modular synths? Have you dabbled into that?

RO: No, not really. I would like a Buchla.

AC: Me too. Let me find a spare 15,000 USD!

RO: Although at the NAMM show in 20006 Dave Smith's stand was next to Buchla's and he said he could make any sound they could on an Evolver!

AC: Wow! Dave Smith does make some amazing products.

RO: He is also a very cool guy.

AC: Are you going to NAMM 2008?

RO: I doubt it. It gave me a headache for about a week when I went in 06. It was nice to finally meet everyone from Moog though.

AC: How long have you worked with Dave Smith?

RO: I got in touch in 2004, but back in the 80's I was a regular visitor at Sequential Circuits. He was never around though. I saw the Prophet VS as a prototype. I remember how excited everyone was about it.

AC: I am sure you wanted to take one for a "test drive".

RO: Yeah, I never got to beta test anything. I still have my Prophet VS. I just got the virtual version and its quite nice actually and a lot easier to use in my digital only studio.

AC: How about some of the virtual versions? How do they measure up? ie M1, Minimoog?

RO: I haven't tried them. I am not a big fan of virtual instruments, but couldn't resist the VS. I didn't know there was an M1. That would be cool, but I only ever used one sound out of mine.

AC: Which sound?

RO: The fretless bass. I loved that sound.

AC: What are some of the songs that feature the fretless bass?

RO: A lot on my first solo album. I don't think you could get away with it now. Check out http//www.rogerodonnell.com/keys.html. There is a snippet of the fretless on one of the sound files.

AC: Is your first solo album(Grey Clouds, Red Sky) still available?

Ro: I have a few under the couch but it sounds so '90s and midi. It is really dated badly.

AC: You say that like its a bad thing?

RO: Unlike The Truth In Me.. which I think has a timeless feel to it.

AC: Tell me about 99x of 10, Any upcoming releases or new bands?

RO: Yes, We have just released an EP by one of the bands. Dead Waiter - Broken Beats. Its really nice. Not sure what kind of release it will be but itunes at first.

AC: Have you used any guitar pedals on your synthesizers? Which ones?

RO: I have a Roland wah pedal which has distortion built in. I used that on the album and also on the last Cure album. I run the Voyager through it it sounds so much like a guitar it fooled the guitar tech with the band.

AC: Nice! I loved your remix of Rock My Boat originally by Dntel. What is your approach to remixing?

RO: Hmm..Well I usually only use the vocal track. In Jimmy Tamborello's case though I used the drum track. He is one of the best drum programmers around. I was actually pretty intimidated doing a Dntel remix. Usually, I just try and make the song sound like I wrote it, that is how I approach remixing.

AC: Jimmy Tamborello and Jimmy Lavalle from the Album Leaf are both excellent drum programmers.

RO: I really respect Jimmy Tamborello and he totally inspires me. I like Jimmy Lavalle a lot as well.

AC: I have seen The Album leaf at least 6 times and they blow me away every time.

RO: I did a show with them in Brooklyn in November I think .

AC: You primarily use the Voyager for the remixes then?

RO: Yes and I just got a Machine Drum which I love. I watched the studio video on Jimmy Tamborello's web site and decided I need everything that he has got. Ha ha.

AC: What was your touring setup for The Cure in terms of keyboards?

RO: I had a Kurzweil pc88 mother keyboard with an xp50 on top and a rack full of samplers and modules e4, proteus 200.

AC: Any chances of another tour? Maybe with Album Leaf or Dntel/Postal Service?

RO: Not likely. I was offered the Tortoise tour but the label wouldn't pay tour support.

AC: Darn!

RO: That would have been cool they are one of my favourite bands.

AC: Any artists you would like to work with/collarborate?

RO: I would like to do more with Jimmy Tamborello. I would give my right arm to work with Bjork.

AC: You need your arm to play keys...remember.

RO: Ha.

AC: What is your approach to writing songs?

RO: I just sit down and start playing. 90% is crap though. I am going through a phase of sounding like mid 80s stevie wonder!

AC: Stevie rules though!

RO: I hear ya. I know I love it but ...

AC: Do you record all the time when you play?

RO: Most of the time. I just spent the weekend painting my studio and I rewired it all again. I also got one of my voyagers back from Moog they souped it up.

AC: Any modifications?

RO: It plays amazingly they put the new after touch circuitry in and very very fined tuned it so that it responds like no synth I have ever played. Amos is the man, its also now got red backlighting with the new silent technology and the 5 banks of memory so its pretty cool all in all.

AC: You have to send me a picture of it so I can post it with the interview! How is Erin Lang's album coming along?

Photo Courtesy of Roger O'Donnell (Note: Fender Rhodes in the background)

RO: We finished mixing in Germany at the end of april its now on its way to the labels.

AC: Thanks so much Roger. When you tour again.. I will be there for sure. Did you record any shows from the tour?

RO: No, I should have. I have some good video footage from San Francisco.

AC: I should have recorded more from the Spaceland show. Next time I will bring the video camera!

Thanks again to Roger O'Donnell for taking the time for this interview!


Anonymous said...

Nice interview (and blog too, while I'm at it)! Pretty lucky to meet Roger O'Donnell, must've been a great opportunity.

Anonymous said...

This interview is an excellent overview of one of the best synth solo artists out there. Like Richard Barbieri, Nick Rhodes, David Gahan, and Thomas Dolby, Roger O'Donnell has engineered a great "second career" integrating synthesizers with the MAC and DAW software. Five stars!