In October 2019, Reagan Jones and Andrew Sega spoke with ReGen about their creative evolution over the course of two decades to explain how IRIS has become the preeminent North American synthpop band.
An InterView with Reagan Jones & Andrew Sega of IRIS
By Brian H. McLelland (BMcLelland)
20 years is a milestone for any band, so 2019 was a momentous year for North American synthpop act IRIS. Celebrating the occasion with a special performance of the revered Disconnect debut, in which Reagan Jones and Andrew Sega were joined by original member Matt Morris, and then followed by a series of European dates, the band also released its sixth full-length record. Appropriately titled Six, the album demonstrated the duo’s propensity for sharp electronic melodies and poignant lyrical themes, following an evolutionary path that finds Jones and Sega standing apart from contemporaries in the genre without actively defying the essentials of quality songwriting and production. In this InterView conducted in October 2019, ReGen‘s Brian H. McLelland spoke with IRIS about the band’s development over the course of two decades, touching on the specifics of Jones’ songwriting and Sega’s production styles – never people to overthink things and always look forward.
What did you learn from the making of this album, both as musicians and personally?
Sega: I’m on the opposite side of the coin, since I work on the music, and that presents different challenges. From a production perspective, I moved into a new house after Radiant came out and was finally able to build a ‘real’ studio in my basement, which was much better than the cramped situation living in N.Y.C.. I think this gave the record a different feel as I tended to use more bass, keep things a bit more up-tempo, etc.. I’m still learning a few new production tricks, but mostly, I’ve just achieved a comfort level that has allowed me to get ideas down pretty quickly. We’re also continually trying to stretch the envelope a bit – I couldn’t imagine songs like ‘Joy Kill’ or ‘Out Of My Mind’ going in the same directions on previous records.
How do you think you’ve grown as artists?
Sega: To build on what Reagan said, I also have stopped caring about trying to ‘compete’ with other bands. I make an effort to listen to a lot of new music, and my production style is really just the sum of whatever influences I’ve been listening to at the time. The irony is that this more casual approach has gotten us to achieve some milestones that we’ve never reached before – Top 40 German charts, #1 DAC album, etc..
Could you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process and how your approach has changed?
How does a song like ‘Third Strike’ go from nothing to completion?
What kind of self-reflection goes on behind the scenes before new material is created? For example, do you listen to your older albums>
Sega: Yeah, I don’t re-listen to old albums in preparation for new ones; however, I do have critical/retrospective feelings about our records (and my personal work), which don’t really manifest until six-to-12 months later or more. For example, I think Awakening was inspired, but too amateur production-wise; Wrath needed more bass; Blacklight was possibly too dark; Radiant was a bit too ambient. Perhaps I’m too critical, but for this one, I wanted to find something a bit more in the middle, and having a new studio environment helped considerably.
You just celebrated a 20 year anniversary, so congratulations and thank you on behalf of all your fans. What does the road ahead look like?
Sega: We did a great 20th anniversary show in Philadelphia, which was amazing in terms of connecting with a lot of very diehard fans. There is also some talk about possibly doing some vinyl re-releases, especially Wrath, which I feel needs the biggest sonic facelift – stay tuned on that.
What are you excited about right now, musically or otherwise?
Jones: I’ve taken some time away from music and started working on screenplays. The road is steep to make any headway in the film scene, but I can write screenplays at my leisure without investing in equipment or even leaving the house, so we’ll see if I can pull it off.
Sega: Musically, there are lots of super interesting bands out there. Lately, I’ve been tending away from electronics a bit and leaning more into indie and even some goth music – Drab Majesty, Soccer Mommy, DIIV, The Beths, Hatchie, etc..
Besides IRIS, Andrew Sega recently released his Hallowed Hearts debut single. How did this band get started?
Sega: I’ve been friends with Alex Virlios (Blue Images) for almost 20 years now, and lately, I’ve been re-discovering a lot of goth and post-punk music like Pink Turns Blue, Sisters, and newer bands like She Past Away, etc.. I’ve always wanted to do a project in this vein, even though I didn’t really grow up in that scene like he did. I sat down earlier this year and just started writing demos with the intent of keeping it very loose and creative. Alex is a great front man for this style, and I’ve given him about 10 demos now that we’re working into our debut album. It’s going to be a bit more passionate and melodic than your average post-punk/coldwave band as we don’t want to just try to be another trendy genre clone. Hopefully, we’ll have a full length out by Spring – stay tuned!
How is the approach to production and songwriting different in this band?
Sega: We have our own quirky style of doing things. For me, IRIS has always been about atmosphere. I’m always striving to create something with a memorable mood, that amplifies the zeitgeist of the song and really brings out some sort of emotional quality.
In terms of process, Reagan writes a lot of demos, usually on his Korg workstation. He then sends me a big batch on DropBox, some of which are just a verse/chorus, while others are fully fleshed-out four-minute songs. I then essentially curate it and pick the songs that I feel have the most potential to work together on an album. Sometimes I’m able to make them work, and at other times, I get stuck and am not able to get production that quite lives up to the promise of the demo. He also continues to send new ones during the production process, which, for us, isn’t always quick. I then basically recreate the structure of the demo using all new sounds. Occasionally, I’ll keep a few bits of Reagan’s demo sounds if they are unique or are intrinsically linked to the DNA of the track. An example of this on the new record would be the burbly arpeggiation in the bridge of ‘Feeder.’ It just had this super cool slightly off-time feel, which made the bridge groove much better.
By the time we have five or six songs, we are starting to get an idea of where the sound is going, which happens very organically. Software-wise, I use a mix of Ableton Live and Buzztracker for this, trying to piece together something that sounds fresh, but still maintains the original vibe and heart of the demo. Almost no hardware is involved at this point – everything’s done via various Native Instruments, Arturia, and Soundtoys plugins, with the exception of the guitar tracks, which are also processed digitally. Unlike some other bands, we don’t use external producers, for better or worse – all the music is just the product of the two of us.
Photography by Dirk Eusterbrock ([Show as slideshow]