To say that Tiny Magnetic Pets are busy right now might be the understatement of the year. The Irish synthpop trio is set to release their new full-length album, Deluxe/Debris, on August 25 while also preparing for a full UK and Ireland tour in October and November supporting the legendary Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as they promote their new album, The Punishment of Luxury. The pairing is natural, as Tiny Magnetic Pets have been drawing and expanding upon the sounds and overall aesthetic of these synthpop founders over the course of their previous collections (Return of the Tiny Magnetic Pets, Stalingrad, and The NATO Alphabet) and leading up to Deluxe/Debris, their first release on the London-based Happy Robots Records label. While the instrumental timbres of Tiny Magnetic Pets harken to the original “Synth Britannia” and so-called Krautrock groups such as Depeche Mode, OMD, New Order, Neu!, and Kraftwerk, the vocal work adds a layer of more modern pop and downtempo influences like Portishead or Massive Attack.
As if that weren’t enough, the group’s regular line up of Paula Gilmer (vocals, synthesizers), Seán Quinn (synthesizers, vocals, guitar) and Eugene Somers (drums/percussion) is augmented on several tracks by Kraftwerk’s own Wolfgang Flür on Deluxe/Debris. This time out, the group ambitiously combines styles – from crisp motorik beats to slow-burn ambience – not only over the course of the album but sometimes within the same track in the case of the sprawling “Semaphore” – all while retaining an overall coherence. They even explore radically different versions of the same song, “Here Comes the Noise” that is sure to spark future fan debates. Did I mention they use the Mellotron?
Despite what must be a very hectic period for the group right now, I was fortunate to get Seán Quinn to answer some of my questions about working with a Kraftwerk alum, space invaders, and the synthpop scene in Ireland.
Echosynthetic (ES): First of all, congratulations on being paired with OMD on their upcoming UK and Ireland tour! How did that come about?
Seán Quinn (SQ): Thank you, we’re very excited! We were introduced to Andy (McCluskey, of OMD) in Düsseldorf by Chi (Ming Lai) from Electricity Club when we played Electri_City in 2015. Una gave him a copy of our first album and we watched Michael Rother’s set together. Months later – on the day we opened for Wolfgang (Flür, of Kraftwerk) in Dublin, Andy sent us a really nice e-mail saying how much he liked the album & even recommended it on the official OMD site. When they announced their new album & tour, our agent Yvette approached them & to our shock, we were offered the whole UK & Irish tour!
ES: Also, as a huge Kraftwerk fan, I’m dying to know how you met and collaborated with Wolfgang Flür on your new album?
SQ: We love his album “Eloquence” and we particularly liked his words. He said in an interview that he liked collaborating with other artists and we happened to have a sketch for a song with Paula singing the chorus which we thought would work really well with what he did. We opened for him in Dublin in January 2016 but we were too nervous to really talk to him beyond saying ‘hello’ – plus he was getting mobbed by fans, so it wasn’t the best time to ask. We have a mutual friend: Rudi Esch (from Die Krupps) who had booked us for Electri_City. We asked Rudi to ask him if he’d be up for a collaboration and we were absolutely thrilled when he agreed. And it was a true collaboration – we batted it back and forth from Dub to Düs until it was done. We got a rare insight into the ‘Werk ethic – stripping out anything which wasn’t necessary etc. – just the essentials.
ES: Overall, I’m hearing a lot of classic influences in your sound, from OMD, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Berlin, as well as some 1990s-era acts like Portishead and Massive Attack. Who else do you feel influences your compositions and productions?
SQ: It’s always interesting to hear what other people hear in your music. Those are some great artists you’ve listed, thank you. Not all of the inspiration comes from music though, for example: Cold War Neon was initially inspired by Bloefeld’s lab in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and the album as a whole was inspired by the fact that we’d visited Düsseldorf several times and that sense of place seeped into the music. As far as other artists go: Bowie/Eno, the Smiths, the (English) Beat, La Düsseldorf, NEU!, Harmonia, the Monkees, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Moby and always in the background – the Beatles.
ES: This is your first release on the Happy Robots Records label. How did that come about?
SQ: Met Adam (Creswell, of Rodney Cromwell and head of Happy Robots Records) in a pub – but before that: We’d met at Electro London and had a mutual appreciation. We played the Synth Wave festival in London in April this year, met Adam again (in said pub) & for some reason our “lost” double album came up and Adam asked if we had any plans to release it and mentioned his label. We had a few conversations when we got back to Dublin and we told him about the new album we were currently working on, which became “Deluxe/Debris”. We already knew Happy Robots as a cool boutique label and were flattered to be asked and decided to go with the new album we were working on rather than the “lost” album.
ES: How would you say your sound has developed over the course of your first EPs to Deluxe/Debris?
SQ: The main development as perceived by the band is attitude: We did the “Stalingrad” EP in 2014 and were totally unaware of any synth scene in the UK until Rusty Egan picked up on it on his Electronic Family Tree radio show and everything changed. When you’re working in isolation, you’re safe – you’re doing it for yourself and no-one else is listening. Thanks to Rusty, Stalingrad started picking up airplay in the UK and a lot of people seemed to like it so when we came to do the “NATO Alphabet” EP we were in a better place plus the UK synth scene did make us feel very welcome. As far as musical development goes; the “Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets” album was our little calling card. The “lost” album was us going mad in the studio for a couple of years. “Stalingrad” was us getting focussed. “NATO Alphabet” was us knowing what we sounded like and gaining confidence in our sound and “Deluxe/Debris” is the product of all those records & live shows combined. One other difference: we played a lot of Deluxe/Debris live before we made the album and I think it shows.
ES: Is Deluxe/Debris a concept album?
SQ: An interesting question and potential mine-field! I’d love to think of it as a concept album but I think any lyrical theme running through it is co-incedental. The aforementioned ‘lost’ double album though, has a theme running all the way through it, so it’s interesting to think that some of the ideas spilled over into Deluxe/Debris like they have a life of their own. Also, I think that all the songs linking together gives it a conceptual appearance. You’ve got me thinking now…
ES: Are there any particularly unique/interesting bits of gear you are using now, both live and in the studio?
SQ: We have a Vox Continental 300 organ with an adjustable stand – not the usual Z-stand, which is quite rare but the oddest instrument has to be the Brother GX-151 organ of which we know nothing. There’s virtually no record of it ever having been manufactured. We don’t even know when it’s from. The drum machine doesn’t have a Disco setting which would suggest early 70’s at the latest but here’s where it gets weird: There’s no manual tuning screw, yet it never goes off-key, which is strange for analogue. This would suggest some sort of PCM digital thing but surely not… Also; As well as a mains lead, it has a socket for an external power supply as well and I always assumed these weren’t around until the early 80’s. Maybe they just had some seriously advanced tech in Japan which they kept to themselves…
We’re too scared to take the vintage stuff on stage (Moog incident), apart from the Simmons drums which look fantastic. Paula has used her Casiotone 405 (with chrome Z-stand) on-stage before but for the moment we’re using a Roland XP10, Novation MiniNova, a microKorg, Roland SPD SX & Roland drum pads, Pearl drum kit with Meinl metals, 1985 Hohner “Steinberger” headless bass, 1982 Ibanez Blazer guitar & a 1965 pre-CBS Fender Mustang.
ES: Who designs/implements your visuals?
SQ: Graphics: Seán (art-school boy), Live visuals: Paula. The cover image for Deluxe/Debris was taken by David Newbold.
ES: Is there a synthpop/synthwave scene in Ireland? With whom do you frequently play shows?
SQ: We don’t actually have “scenes” in Ireland, which I always find strange. There is virtually no synth pop and never has been which means that now because of artists like Circuit3, Eden, iEuropean & Embrace The Crisis, Ryan Vail etc., you could safely say there’s more synth pop in Ireland than ever before!
ES: Are there any parts of 1980s culture you still enjoy or draw influence from (I’m noticing the “space invader” theme in your visuals)?
SQ: We draw influence from the 60’s right up until where music stopped moving forward, which we reckon was around the mid-to-late 90’s. But music from 1975-1985, when analogue synths (also big guitars) ruled the musical landscape, will always hold a particular fascination. ’79-’83 when synths became affordable and studio effects were miniaturised into pedal form resulting in such a huge explosion of creativity was a great era with some fantastic music & design. Paula introduced the space invader theme when she compiled the “kinetic collage” for our live shows. We see it as a metaphor for TMP: retro but still strangely futuristic. We were blown away when David caught the invader landing behind Paula at Electro London 2015.
The album, Deluxe/Debris, is slated for release on August 25 in digital, CD, and limited edition vinyl formats from Happy Robots Records, which you can find here: https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/deluxe-debris. Their 20-date tour supporting OMD starts on October 23 in Dublin and ends on November 22 in Gateshead (UK) (click here for a full list of tour dates and other info: https://www.happyrobots.co.uk/tiny-magnetic-pets). No word yet on when we can expect the “lost album.”
When he’s not looking for direct flights from Denver to Düsseldorf on Aer Lingus, Chris Frain records and performs electronic music under the name Pattern Language. The debut album, “Total Squaresville,” is available now from Happy Robots Records (https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/total-squaresville). Pattern Language is also slated to perform at the first annual Echosynthetic Fest in Atlanta on November 11