Memorex: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Slightly chilly synth-driven indie
File next to: Gary Numan, Trans Am, Joy Division
Playing: WL658, Saturday, May 9 at the Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street

Memorex are a band out of time. Described (by our website) as “dark-synth monoliths,” Memorex take cues from the last 40 years of electronic music, aligning clattering drum machines with plenty of synth to create tunes that are unsettling and yet, oddly danceable. The Tape One EP came out on cassette and BandCamp last fall and catches the outfit in fine form, spooking listeners and making music that clicks on a few different levels. We spoke to David Lush (WL vet from The Airfields) to find out whether it’s live, or…

Hello. Direct first question: do you consider yourself New Wave?

I really don’t know what “wave” category we belong to. We’re certainly not New Wave because we’re definitely nothing like The B-52s or Spandau Ballet. We probably have more in common with a band like Cabaret Voltaire or Section 25. The three of us like electronic instruments and we listen to a lot of bands that use them. We record with older drum machines — so maybe your new wave comparison comes in there? We like how analog synths sound on old records. However, not all the bands we like are from the past. Music that anticipates an uncertain future is what we’re into.

Your recordings seem to have just the right amount of grit on them sound-wise. Not overly produced but not lo-fi either. Is this by design?

We recorded our music into an 8-track TASCAM machine that I bought not very long ago. I suppose that accounts for some of the “grit.” I got it because we wanted to override the fussiness of recording into Logic or Pro Tools. Instead, we just wanted to focus on how things sounded and not think so much about having to arrange mixes on the screen that you then end up listening back to and editing with your eyes.

What are some of the main advantages of recording to tape rather than recording digitally?

Recording to cassette tapes is inexpensive, but it also provides an instantly rich, compressed sound. It meant that we had to do start-to-finish kinds of takes (because you can’t really edit cassette tapes, unless you want to have to splice them). This made us perform the best we could. I think it’s more fun to do things this way rather than going in after and editing out “mistakes.” I suppose the other thing is that the instruments were all recorded through analog and tape-based effect units, and those things just have a natural blurriness to them on their own.

Why did you choose to ultimately release your EP on cassette? And in general, do you prefer cassettes to CDs? I kinda do!

For us, it made sense for us to release our music to cassette to keep consistent with the recording method we chose. We’d love to release something to vinyl but without some sort of label support, that is financially suicidal. Cassettes are an ideal artist-friendly format in a time when no-one is really interested in buying CDs that aren’t from the used bin. I think CDs sound better and I still listen to them for that reason. But at the same time, I’ve never really stopped listening to cassettes and I agree that they sound great. If cassettes are superior to CDs, it’s mostly in their novelty after more than two decades of dealing with silver discs that skip. I see the word “mixtape” come up in music writing. Maybe that’s because the intentionality of preparing a tape is more appealing to people, which takes more time than just dragging files into a playlist. Tapes are inexpensive to make and cheap to ship to people who want something more of your music than a slip of paper with a code on it (which is fine by me, by the way). People are always surprised to find out that they actually sound good.

What bands in Toronto do you consider contemporaries and who’s shows do you enjoy?

I suppose we try to get behind the ones who perform live with analog stuff, just because we do and not everyone else does. I think Mimico is excellent and we’ve had some really great shows with Processor and Vierance too. I really like seeing my friend Jess perform as Castle If, and Carl Didur and Zacht Automaat‘s performances this year have been stunning. We like Man Made Hill and Huren too, whom will be joining with Jay Holy on June 6th for a show. There are really too many electronic artists in this city to name, but not all of them play live shows. I wish Solvent performed live more often, don’t you?

Unrelated, would you change your name if Memorex came after you with a “cease and desist”? Maybe that’d be a sign that you’ve made it?

I figured that stealing the name would be fine when I learned that they no longer actually made cassettes, the very format associated with that brand for most people (to say nothing of VHS tapes, which we love) . Nowadays, it looks like they more or less solely make USB flash drives, so I wonder if that means that they won’t be around for very much longer.

It’s true. These antiquated recording formats have developed a quiet nostalgia to them, haven’t they?

People like to make art from dead technologies, so people will likely be trading strange dystopian music files with ironic 250MB USB drives in 25 years’ time. This will be a nostalgic thrill instead of using frightening wearable technology or some kind of telepathy that everyone will inevitably have. I’m sure the aforementioned company will develop the equivalent of a flash drive for your brain in fine Kurzweilian style. So if we’re right that flash drives are the cassette tapes of tomorrow, the corporation in question will make a stunning comeback from the edge of irrelevance and sue the shit out of us. Or they could appoint us to their board of directors. We’ll see.

— Interview by Cam Gordon (Completely Ignored)