intro by Kris Upjohn & Jennifer
interview questions by Jeremy Balius
The Techno Squirrels prowess is in their ability to create a near
perfect mix of texture and melody, balancing the features of solid
electronica. A mix of techno and trance, their releases shows off
the masterful way in which the Squirrels create hooky, infectious
beats, absorbing textures and compelling melodies. Energetic and
vibrant, self-assured and accessible, The Techno Squirrels are definitely
a band to watch. They seem to be building up a (well-deserved) following
and one can only hope that they continue to produce good music to
please the fans and the daily growth via new converts to the church
of the Squirrels.
here to listen while you read)
We couldn't pass on running an interview with this pair of techno
wizards, because along with their fantastic name and music, but
we were offered the below q&a from a writer from Australia via
one of the Techno Squirrels herself! Read on to find out more...
The last time we spoke, you had just put out Mute on your own
label. Please describe the growth process since Mute up to the release
of your new album, "Plastic Makes It Possible". Growth
in terms of musical ability, business awareness (in terms of releasing
everything on your own), etc..
Ryan: Hopefully the growth process is audible on the album. There
was tons of growth for myself as a songwriter, producer, and musician.
I became a bit of a keyboardist in making this album. Previously,
I knew just enough to plonk out a melody but now I'm throwing down
organ licks on 'Easier Said.'
Lisa: I definitely have seen enormous growth in areas of my production.
My drum programming is less experimental and more purpose-driven.
As a business we've grown, too. We signed with the distributor Independent
Online Digital Alliance.
When asked what pop music was, Boy George once answered "I
just think that everything is pop." What is pop music to you?
Ryan: Boy George might have a tough time finding the 'pop' in Trout
Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart... at least I do! I think, though,
that pop music isn't a dirty word. I'd love to be thought of as
Lisa: Popular music is what a lot of people listen to. If many people
listened to Arvo Pärt, then his music would be pop music even
though he's a classical composer.
With both of you producing, is all the lyricism still with Lisa,
or is Ryan doing some of the lyrical writing as well these days?
Ryan: Yeah! I'm writing lyrics now! Not all on my own. But Lisa
let me in on the process for this album. She's very guarded about
what she sings since it gets attached to her by virtue of it being
her voice. But she asked for my input and editorial help, for sure.
Usually she had more lyrics than would fit in the song and I'd help
comp it down. One track, 'Everything', probably has my biggest finger
print on it, lyrically.
Lisa: Ryan is a really good writer. I really appreciate his help.
It feels like it's a burden lifted off me that I'm not completely
alone in the lyric writing. However, it still needs to be the particular
idea or feeling that I want to express because otherwise it's very
hard for me to sing it.
How are you two getting on in LA now that it's been a few years
there? What re some aspects of LA you love? What can't you stand?
Ryan: What I love about LA is that everyone comes through here.
If you want to see live music or work with a producer, chances are
they're either in LA permanently or coming to LA sometime soon.
What can't I stand? LA's freeway system!
Lisa: The sun is unbeatable and I still love the mountains. The
palm trees and exotic vegetation would make it paradise if it weren't
for the environmental problems and sprawl.
The album is called "Plastic Makes It Possible". Care
to elaborate on the name?
Ryan: The title, though sounding like a positive, is actually a
sad admission. It's more like an ironic version of "Plastic
is Depressingly Necessary to Make this Album." From the CD
itself all the way back to the computers that make the music, plastic
has been necessary for every step. So Lisa and I realized how dependent
we are on this gunk we hate so much for its damage to the earth
Lisa: Plastic is one of the toxins that have been shown to cause
Endometriosis, which is an illness I suffer from. Some of the lyrical
content on this album comes directly from my experience with Endometriosis.
Knowing how many people suffer from illnesses that may be directly
or indirectly caused by petro-chemical plastics. I wanted to bring
some focus on that. The cover and title is a reference to the naive
1950s mindset of domesticity and "better living through chemicals."
But on the inside artwork we put California's official cancer warning
that appears on most plastic products these days.
What are some underlying themes resonating through the album?
Lisa: For me, personally, it's self-expression and self-healing.
'Music Is My Drug' is a self-expression track. 'Everything' is a
definite self-healing track. But those themes also pop up in 'Repeat
til Fade', 'Unbelievable', 'Easier Said', and probably every other
track in one way or another.
The cover photo has this real retro 50's feel to it. Is that
tongue in cheek?
Ryan: Totally. Once we had the title of the album, we wanted something
that reflected the ironic idealism of the "Plastic Age."
We started looking around at 50s advertising and came upon an ad
from General Electric where a wife was getting a toaster as a gift.
From a feministic perspective we loved the idea of the 'wife' in
our recreation getting something empowering like a 606 drum machine.
It challenges the 1950s "be seen and not heard" quiet
house-wife idea with a new 'be heard... really loud' idea.
Lisa: I love subversive messages through simple images. We both
read Adbusters magazine and I love the 1950s aesthetic. So when
we hit upon this title and idea, it just seemed natural. Being in
LA, we found a vintage store that had EVERYTHING we needed... totally
authentic and original... for 15 dollars!
I've seen some footage of you on youtube performing live. Please
describe your live set up. You both produce, but Lisa sings. Does
that mean Ryan primarily focuses on the programming when live, while
Ryan: I do a lot of sample triggering and filter adjustment, etc.
Electronica live is a different beast than playing with a band because
you're usually triggering and controlling pre-programmed material.
Lisa: Singing live is a conflict for me because, on the one hand,
I feel the audience want to see me singing live but I can't focus
on singing and triggering things at the same time. So I can only
do that when I'm not singing. The full video that our youtube clip
comes from has more of me in the technical role.
What is your live set up?
Lisa: Two laptops running Reason software, Ableton Live software,
a drum trigger pad, a few controller keyboards, and that's it.
Ryan: We also, whenever possible, like to include a projection system
behind us. It gives people something to watch if we get boring!
Traditionally, dance music is for the 12" and DJs play
it out. Why is it important for you to present your music in a live
Ryan: Maybe I'm selfish but if a DJ plays my music live, I don't
get to see the audience enjoying the track. For all the advances
of the internet, playing live is still one of the best ways to connect
with your audience and grow your audience.
Lisa: A lot of people on myspace and elsewhere ask for it and show
an interest in seeing us live. There's a few of us in LA who are
making this sort of electronic performance music and we're trying
to show club owners and clubbers alike that a live act can fit into
a club setting between two DJ sets just fine.
Your house is on fire. You can take one thing. What?
Ryan: You know we had this discussion in the studio the other day!
I said "nothing." I mean, stuff is just stuff. Sentimentality
aside, I'd see it as an opportunity to scale down. lol
Lisa: My handbag... how horribly gender stereotypical of me. But
the reason is actually because I couldn't handle the thought of
going to the immigration authority to apply for a replacement green
card! I'd consider torture over that.
Any thoughts on touring? If yes, when and where?
Ryan: Once the album's out, we're taking it on the road. We're excited
to get out to places that desperately want electronic music but
don't have it and places that have so much that we'd fit right in.
I heard you've recently made your soundtrack debut on a tv
show in Canada. How did that come about?
Lisa: We got a placement in a show called Regenesis, which is a
CSI-type show up there. It came about largely through my contact
with music supervisors, who are basically the gate-keepers for music
in TV and film. They liked the track and contacted us.
What do you get up to when you're absolutely sick of listening
Ryan: I go biking. I load my iPod up with talk-radio and go for
a ride. I see other people running or biking with headphones on
and can only imagine that their listening to some sort of pump-up
mix. I'm listening to policy wonks debate foreign policy. lol
Lisa: I go to yoga class. A good power-yoga class is meditation
in movement. It's the best way for me to clear my mind.
Where's the best place to eat in LA?
Ryan: You know, a friend of mine was just going on and on about
the Glendale Hospital cafeteria. It sounds weird, but apparently
they have great food!
Lisa: In Los Angeles the best place to eat is just a short 385 mile
drive north to Scala's Bistro in San Francisco or Snow Garden, an
unassuming but killer Chinese restaurant up there.
What is the Techno Squirrels message to the world?
Lisa: There's no conscious message while I'm writing. However, the
end result is songs about self-healing, personal growth, and overcoming
addictions. So in a sense, there is probably a message of striving
for wholeness and balance. Instead of "Plastic Makes it Possible,"
it'd be "Healing is Possible, Happiness is Possible, and Music
Ryan: "Plastic Makes it Possible", out August 21st, and
available for pre-order on our website now!!! ;
Thanks to Jeremy Balius of Australia for these interview questions
- and to the Techno Squirrels for their answers!