Jun 2013 08

With six albums and a legion of fans behind them over the course of a long and fruitful career, the audio scientist duo of Cesium_137 allows ReGen a glimpse into the latest batch of experiments in sound.

An InterView with Isaac Glendening and Vince Guzzardo of Cesium_137

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Since the early releases at the start of the last decade, Cesium_137 has skated the line from an earlier aggressive electro sound toward a more thoughtful mentality that bears the hallmarks of synthpop, full of mass appeal, while still retaining an experimental edge that has allowed the band to stand apart from the pack. As one of Metropolis Records’ longest standing acts, and one with the most ardent of fan bases, the duo of Isaac Glendening and Vince Guzzardo has maintained a consistent flow of output over the years, further pursuing an almost scientific approach toward its sound, ever changing yet continuous, culminating in the band’s sixth full-length album in 2012, Science and Sound. Now, Glendening and Guzzardo invite ReGen’s readers into their audio laboratory, detailing their methodology of songwriting and production, including what time of year is best for both, and touching on their place in the underground music scene in the digital age.

 

Last year’s release of Science and Sound was Cesium_137’s sixth full-length album. Over the years that you’ve been producing music, what would you say have been the most important things you’ve learned, and in what ways were those lessons applied to Science and Sound?

Glendening: If anything, music has taught me that a solid foundation and balance must be present in every part of the process. You could have the greatest hook or the best vocalist, but if the rhythm beneath it is less than stellar or the recording is crap, then you are doing a disservice to yourself. You’ve abandoned your art by presenting your work in any lesser condition. Balance comes into play in terms of life in general. We used to spend time in the studio to the point of mental exhaustion – marathon sessions of nine-to-16 hours and would end up spending the next two-to-three hours of the next session fixing mistakes made in the last five hours of the previous session. On Science and Sound, we were a bit more intelligent with the efficiency of the creative process and the result was that we were able to create a more calculated balance across the entire collection of work. The album, as a whole, presented every idea that we wanted to get out there; can’t ask for much more than that.

Guzzardo: One aspect of electronic music that I’ve embraced over the years is that it’s a constantly evolving world of technology in both areas hardware and software. The challenge is sifting through everything to find out what works for you. Just going down to the music store and dropping two grand on the latest synth because it’s the new thing is not very smart and often times, the gear we use can’t even be found in most music shops. You have to know your project’s sound, your production style, do the proper research, and ask the right questions. For Cesium_137, it’s a blast doing it all; that reward of seeing the look on a listener’s face because of some new crazy sound or effect is priceless.

As it’s been some time since the album’s release, how pleased are you with the audience’s response to the music?

Glendening: I haven’t paid as much attention as I have in the past. I know it has sold well and apparently our numbers in the social media scene are doing well, but I’ve come to leave a lot of that to Vince in the last few months. I’m more concerned with how pleased we are with it, which is the most important thing to me. We love it. The fact that other people enjoy it, which has also been obvious from fan mail, is icing on the cake.

Guzzardo: I’ve been more pleased with the reaction this time around than in the past because it has been much broader than just the traditional scene fans. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from them, which is nice, but at this point, that’s just one niche in a much wider fan base that we are starting to gather appeal. The quickly expanding world of music on demand internet radio with sites such as Spotify, DJ.FM, Pandora, Grooveshark, etc. are opening up new avenues for us. Someone who never heard of ‘the scene’ or Cesium_137 may be listening to the trance, electro, or techno channel on one of these sites, hear their familiar favorite artist like Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, or Ferry Corsten, then afterwards be recommended to hear our new track ‘Aftermath’ next in there playlist. The next thing you know, you have a new fan and they can hear the rest of your library with the click of a button. This is happening thousands of times per day and gives us much more exposure than endless touring for little return. Our unique style of high energy, high emotion dance music is really starting to pay off. To me, that’s where I see the real growth of this band in the future.

What have you noticed about how the audience has followed you over the years? As you’ve progressed, how has their reaction changed along with you and your music?

Glendening: We’ll always have our diehard fans, the ones that have been with us since the start; others that have come since, stayed and continue to support what we do. We’re very grateful for all of them. We keep picking up new fans with each release; whether it’s the next generation of the scene or people following us as our sound has evolved and suits their tastes. One thing, I think Vince will agree with me, is that we’re hitting a wider audience beyond the synthpop/EBM scene and we absolutely love it. Why? Because we haven’t identified with a lot of it for some time now, and I believe that shows in our music.

Guzzardo: We used to have fans that didn’t like anything we did after our first two releases. They moved on years ago to the myriad of other bands that do the angry industrial thing and I’m fine with that because after writing 20-something or so songs of that style, I felt as though, for me anyway, I exhausted my creativity and interest with it. Other more open minded fans, and thankfully there are many more of those, have taken the musical journey with us into what I think has been a cutting edge style of music without the limitations of being stuck in a single genre. Our fans appreciate that we have a distinct sound that separates us from the herd of what we call clone bands.

The vocals on Science and Sound had a very raw and unprocessed feel to them, which comes across as a bit of a departure from the current standards of electro and synthpop – particularly in the use of such things as Autotune. Was this an intentional departure from the norm?

Glendening: We didn’t strike any middle ground between what people refer to as ‘dry vocals’ and the vocoder parts we included. We had thought about Autotune, but I can actually sing, so why would we use that crutch if we don’t need to? It only made the recording process more difficult as I had to nail every take dead-on, but we made it work and were quite pleased with the outcome. If anything, it personally demonstrated my own discipline as a vocalist, and Vince’s high expectations of me being met without compromise.

Besides Cesium_137, you’ve made a name for yourself doing remixes and mastering for many of your peers. In working with other artists’ music, in what ways do you feel it affects how you approach your own music, if at all?

Glendening: I use those opportunities as a time to experiment with new ideas. Essentially, all of my production duties outside of Cesium are a paid idea farm for our music. It’s not a bad gig when you think about it. Most Artists in ‘the scene’ are struggling to make any money from their own music; we’ve managed to make a modest income from our music, experiment with these collaborations, and get paid for it. I like to think of it like being paid to practice songwriting and production. It’s not a bad gig!

Guzzardo: Remixing is great fun because we get to dissect another artist’s ideas and input some of your own into it. I have found that often times it can create entirely new styles or atmospheres unto themselves. We have a secret list of electronic music artists both in the scene and otherwise we would love to have the opportunity to remix given the chance. Isaac knows a few of them I’m sure and a few of them are on Metropolis.

And vice versa – what are the major challenges in applying your own aesthetics to that of other artists?

Glendening: I never have much of an issue with it… unless when I am the producer. If the material is barely a sketch and the artist expects me to flesh things out a bit more than I anticipated, it can be a bump in the road. I’m very hands-on with bands that I produce, and I don’t mind these things so much, but I also don’t mind using those moments to offer some guidance, to correct the ship’s course. I think with the remixes, sometimes we get frustrated, but rarely.

The band has had a long association with Metropolis Records, which remains perhaps the most eminent label in the underground electronic and industrial scene. As one of the label’s longest standing acts, what do you feel has contributed to Metropolis’ longevity as a label?

Glendening: They adapt to an ever-changing market, aren’t afraid to take chances and branch out, and actually give their artists a bit of freedom to create what they want. I think the key to their success is intelligence. The whole crew, from the owner on down, are all very smart guys who invest themselves in the wellbeing of the label. Also, they are ninjas, totally.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry and the various methods with which artists have been creating their own imprints and getting their music heard?

Glendening: The tools are more accessible than ever, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have kids who may not have been able to afford the tools with access to them now, which is great. On the other hand, any jackass can make music now and the market is flooded with crap because of it. I used to think the cream would rise to the top, no matter what. I believed that people have the good sense to seek out quality. I hate to say it, but I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve seen kids pour their lives into their demos and turn out great music, only to be ignored. Meanwhile, some trust fund baby has more time to dick around on the internet and generate a bigger Facebook following and push their demos to more avenues. These ‘artists’ get more club play and picked up by labels. The smaller labels are afraid to take chances and are usually playing the safe numbers game. It’s kind of silly because most releases are digital and the physical units can be run on an as-needed basis. While yes, that may drive the cost per unit up, people will still buy them at live venues. Make it special, make the physical version of an album unique (I.E. exclusive tracks, remixes, etc.), and people will buy them. It’s not rocket science, kids!

In what ways do you feel Cesium_137 can/will benefit from these methods now or down the line?

Glendening: We’ve been exploiting the digital domain for years and we’ll keep doing so. Nothing will change so much except maybe our strategy to manipulate the numbers in social media and work closer with the label on coordinating our online promo efforts. Even then, I don’t put too much effort into that anymore. We’re more proven than most, and that’s given us a solid foundation where we don’t have to invest so much time with internet marketing and can put that effort into producing quality music. At least I hope so.

Guzzardo: The goth/industrial scene seems like it’s afraid of us sometimes because they don’t know how to classify our sound. We sell great, but I feel like we don’t get asked to play big shows or festivals at times because we don’t fit the expected style or look. At this point in our age, we’re just not willing to assimilate. To me, that’s not what underground music should be like at all. It used to upset me, but not anymore. We have recently been benefiting heavily because of digital radio and social media. The goal of any band is to get as much exposure as possible and because of our enduring, consistent style of music, the opportunity is rising. We are now being introduced and heard by quite large numbers of people who would have never had that opportunity to otherwise.

What’s next on the horizon for Cesium_137 and for you personally? What projects are currently in the works for you?

Glendening: I have a few production gigs lined up for late summer/early fall. In the meantime, we’re working on new songs and having fun experimenting with the songwriting process. We’ll arm ourselves with maybe five of our best tracks and take them to the label, see if we can get a digital EP out or what Metropolis wants. At the end of the day, we’re enjoying the creative process more than ever. That’s the most important part; always has been.

Guzzardo: I will be looking into upgrading my home studio once again to raise the bar with Cesium production. These three new tracks are pushing my current setup to its limit and that is not acceptable to me. When I’m not writing, I’ll be enjoying the summer weather at the beach, enjoying my numerous nerdy hobbies, and be going out to EDM events to sample the latest music.

Glendening: Yeah, my main studio box is being rebuilt, so Vince and I are working on that… which is its own ‘nerdy hobby’… and going to the beach! We’re both happiest during the summer. Winter is for writing while holed up in our studios and waiting out the cold; summer is for production.

 

Photography by Jerry Bennett, courtesy of Jerry Bennett Photography.

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