Contact Is the Sci-Fi Music Project Created by Two Artists Who Have Never Met

Listen to a song from their debut EP.

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Sep 30 2014, 9:00am


AE Paterra

Paul Lawler

With the upcoming release of their debut EP, First Contact, approaching (out October 28 on Temporary Residence Ltd.), Contact is shaping up to be the best new project of 2014. The brainchild of AE Paterra (Zombi and Majeure) and British composer Paul Lawler, Contact is every bit as impressive as you’d imagine. First Contact is a science-fiction masterpiece set to music; 28 minutes of atmospheric space synth—close your eyes and you’ll be transformed inside the world of a 70s science-fiction film. So, how is it that these two artists came together on a record having never met each other? We connected with Paterra and Lawler to find out.

Listen to a track from the EP below.

Noisey: How did you two meet, and when did the idea for Contact originate?
Paul Lawler: I had just finished writing an electronic prog album called Opus, back in early 2013, and by chance came across a link on Facebook to a track by Zombi, who I'd never heard of before. I absolutely loved it and bought a few of their albums right away. I sent an email to Tony the same day and said, “I love this music, I just did something pretty similar,” and I sent him a link to Opus. After becoming mutual fans, we agreed on writing something together.

AE Paterra: I run VCO Recordings with Steve Moore, my partner in Zombi, and we decided to release [Opus]. I listened to the album quite a bunch and knew that Paul's style of writing would complement the way I play drums, and from those thoughts the idea of collaborating was discussed in earnest.

What is the significance behind the name?Lawler: I suppose you could say it's about making contact on different levels, from me reaching out to Tony across the ocean and connecting musically, to making direct contact with the listener's consciousness, which in turn can often become a part of their history and life memories. That's a very powerful thing to be able to achieve with music. It also just sounded like a good band name.

Being that there is an ocean separating you two, how did the writing process form? Was there a set way of doing it, or did it vary by song?
Lawler: Usually, I would write a track and send it for Tony's input, or he would send me some sequences and a bass line, and I would build the track around these elements. After we got the mock-ups right, Tony went and recorded the live drums which were eventually sent back to me for the final mixing.

Paterra: Paul sent me some fully formed ideas, and I would send sketches or parts that he would then arrange and build. Paul is an amazingly fast composer—it was always a pleasure to see how he would take a simple melody or bass line and build an entire composition around it, in say, three hours!

AE, with Zombi being your project more associated with horror aesthetics, would you say that Contact is more geared towards sci-fi?Paterra: Zombi doesn't consciously write with any sort of "horror" theme in mind, and in fact I think we're more geared towards Sci-Fi than anything. It's more or less our collective influences and what comes from that. But I don't think Contact had any sort of ideas in mind about fitting into a genre. I think it's just the nature of the way we write, our influences, and the instrumentation/equipment used that helps draw those comparisons.

What is, then, main source of influence during the writing process?
Lawler: I have a varied mix of influences for this style of music, artists like Space Art, Jan Hammer, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Systems Music, Pat Metheny, Vangelis, The Enid, Pink Floyd, 1970s-80s TV and film music and such.

Paterra: I tend to not listen to much music when I'm writing—too often, I've started something only to realize it later sounds too much like what I'd been listening to as of late. Instead, I focus on the ideas being thrown around, constantly listening and working things out in my head. Of course, there's a lifetime of music packed in there, every note recorded—it finds a way out eventually. I think my influences are pretty apparent—drummer-wise I've been listening to a lot of Billy Cobham, anything with Earl Palmer, Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro. Recently, I saw Bruce Hornsby in concert and Sonny Emory just blew me away. Lots of Genesis—being a full on lefty drummer I feel a certain kinship with Phil. And of course, a lot of what's packed in this brain of mine, from years of listening, is pretty much every note Neil Peart ever played.

Now seems like the perfect time to be in a project of this style. There is a soundtrack boom currently well under way that Contact certainly appeals to. Are either of you guys surprised by the growing commercial popularity of scores?Paterra: No, it just seems to keep building and building, especially with the rise of analog synthesizer fanaticism/fetishism, which has also been building for years now. Hell, I'm one of 'em! The majority of my favorite soundtracks are based in that world, and a lot of what is being released by a label such as Death Waltz falls into that category. It just seems like a storm that's been brewing and it's really starting to rain.

Lawler: It seems that there is a whole underground analog synth/soundtrack boom that I didn't know about over there, and that can only be a good thing for us with Contact. From a mainstream perspective, soundtrack work is pretty much one of the last places a composer can earn a good living in the music industry since the internet took hold, and so everybody is jumping on this last bandwagon—especially in regards to getting songs placed in films or major TV shows. Straight soundtracks are not selling anything like what they used to by all accounts, although, there is a much greater recognition of film and game music in the classical world now, and rightly so.

Where do you see it heading? Do you think it is just a temporary trend?
Lawler: Is it such a new thing, though? Star Wars was number one in the charts back in the 70s, The Good The Bad and The Ugly was too, each of which spawned a thousand disco remixes. The theme from the TV series Inspector Morse was also a chart hit over here in the 80s, as was Alan Parker's wonderful theme from Dempsey and Makepeace, and dare I mention “Axel F!”

It is possible for a score to break into the mainstream market now and then, less so in recent years as the major labels are more interested in short lived, high-volume selling products, so this underground boom could prove to be very important.

Paterra: I don't think so—I've always enjoyed listening to film scores, it's a chance to revisit images and feelings you had when viewing the film, and also to create new ones of your own for the music, or situation it's being played in. It's like buying an album with built in imagery.

Are there plans to perform Contact live? Or is it mainly a studio project?
Paterra: Logistically I've always thought of it as strictly a studio project. But if it's somehow possible to perform live, I'd love to give it a shot.

Lawler: We need to see where it goes and what the reaction is to the album before thinking about that, but it's entirely doable. Although, I imagine it would need to be with a four to five piece band to be effective, and like Tony says, logistically it could be a problem. Although with the right budget nothing is ever too difficult.

With instrumental music you don’t have the ability to use lyrics as a way of delivering a concise message; instead you rely solely on the rhythm, the feel. Do you find that composing instrumental music pushes you to be better songwriters?
Lawler: I'm not so much a fan of songs anyway, I often feel the vocalist and the lyrics get in the way of a good instrumental track. It's true you do have to work harder to make a successful instrumental track when you don't have a set of deep and meaningful lyrics to capture the average person's imagination, but this is probably a reason why most people prefer songs anyway, as it tells them what the music is meant to be about. It takes a certain kind of person to willingly, and lovingly, sit through a 60-plus minute instrumental album and make up their own stories to it.

Paterra: There was a time when I started playing in bands that doing something without vocals would have been completely foreign. And what started to push me away from that was really paying attention to film scores, and realizing it's possible to build a mood and take a journey without a voice or spoken narrative to guide you along the way. It certainly does push you to be a better songwriter, but more importantly a better musician as well.

Paul, how does working on Contact, or with any of your other non-scoring projects, differ from writing music for the screen?
Lawler: Writing music to any brief is a bit like wallpapering somebody else's house, you get a say in the color scheme and choice of textures, but ultimately you're hired hands. Writing albums is the ultimate freedom of expression, providing you have a label that supports your direction, which we did have with Temporary Residence, who loved the EP right from the early demo tracks.

In your own opinions, what is it about this EP that is different from everything prior you’ve been a part of?
Paterra: This is the first time I've made music with someone I've never met in person. With the scope of Paul's compositions, file sharing works really well—I couldn't imagine us sitting together and jamming out any of this material. As a drummer, I'm always trying to find a good composer to work with, and Paul fits the bill rather well.

Lawler: For me, Tony's drums add a whole other level of energy and vibrancy to the mixes. I think we have successfully created something that is retro-modern, yet different from anything else on the market today, and not forgetting of course that it's released on glow in the dark vinyl!

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