Xanthopan: Totally addicted to synths

You may not be familiar with the name Xanthopan yet, but the Sydney duo’s debut album Now Wait For Last Year is set to be its calling card. Melding synth soundscapes and electro workouts with the vocals of Anna Hien, the nine-track LP is certainly a strong introduction. We hear from the gear-loving other half of the duo Daniel R Muller about what sets Xanthopan apart.

What are some of the challenges in being an upcoming act in Sydney?

Specifically in Sydney, you need to walk a fine line between being something new and creative and original, and also being something people feel they can place stock in for the long term. A lot of music comes and goes in this town.

Did you feel that the Xanthopan sound wasn’t really being represented by other groups?

Definitely, we have something unique. We’re pulling a lot of musical elements that are not obvious choices into the electro field, like absent grungy lyrics, broken beats, acidic tweaks and blatant trance arpeggios – very specific musical referencing that won’t be lost on music lovers. We’re not setting out for broad appeal; we’re not tapping into the sexy electro house music market for example, ‘cause there are plenty of producers carving it up there.

Who were some of the influences that you had in the back of your mind when you embarked on the album?

The main drive was all about pushing the album vibe, as opposed to a collection of individual songs, so we had in mind some classic album releases, namely the first two albums from The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers respectively. You’ll notice that the tracks run into one another, which is how electronic music loves to be presented. The other important element was the track order. I always loved Nirvana’s Lithium as track five on Nevermind, and we tried to get the album flow to highlight certain musical moments in that way. Anna was listening to a lot of Decoder Ring at the time too.

Sometimes musicians will say second albums are harder, because you channel so much from your life into the debut. Do you feel that at all?

Certainly Xanthopan’s next album will have to be very different from this one to satisfy our creativity, so I think it may end up being harder. This one was difficult. I dunno, music is always difficult. If you want to put something out that you’re proud of, something with a bit of depth to it, you need to do preparation. You need to have wildly creative moments, and you need to do a lot of laborious work, so you always need some replenishing time in between as a buffer.

Throughout the album, the vocals are sometimes quite processed, then at other times Anna’s voice is untouched. Did you want to bring out those contrasts?

Yeah, definitely. It always came down to the individual track. We mostly went fairly natural, but we did do a lot of layering, sometimes we had thick delays and reverbs, sometimes we would put a bit of distortion on. It’s all about a final coat of paint with every instrument including the vocals. One thing that we used extensively was reverse reverbs, which I think just sound really nice and moody and suited almost all the tracks.

It seems like there has been lots of playing with different synth sounds. Would you say you’re both ‘gear geeks’?

You’re right, there is a lot of noodling. Well, I certainly am a certified gear geek. We also used a lot of vintage gear, like the Kurzweil K2000, the Yamaha DX-7, the Roland Jupiter-8 and so on. I love the new soft synths in Logic though, they are superb. And the Native Instruments synths are very cool. The Novation Supernova was used for some of the ravier sounds. Anna is newer to it, but she loves to get stuck into it as well, which is great.

Have you had a chance to trial these songs live, and gauge people’s reactions?

We’ve pulled the songs apart, and we’re working on the live show. Some of the live versions already improve on the album, so I can’t wait to bust ‘em out in the clubs. For now though, I recommend people check out our clip on YouTube. The director Laura Dudgeon did an amazing job, as did the dancers and the production crew. I really hope all those guys go far.

Now Wait For Last Year is out now on Tropical Grid.