Interview with Stephen Petix of Washington D.C.-based dark synthpop duo Technophobia

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Having put out a string of singles last year, Washington D.C.-based dark pop duo Technophobia has released their long-awaited second album, “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars.” Consisting of Katie and Stephen Petix, Technophobia relies heavily on analog electronic instruments. This time around, they strived to push themselves even further to come up with unique sounds. Technical prowess is perfectly balanced by strong songwriting and powerful vocals.

The duo also runs the nonprofit record label Working Order Records, which works with various charities in the D.C. area. In an email interview, Stephen discussed “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars,” the label, and other topics.

Could you describe your musical backgrounds and how you came to start TECHNOPHOBIA?

Steve: Hey, thank you for talking with me. I really do appreciate it! Technophobia is a dark pop project that came into being in 2015. There was a different iteration of the band previously, but the project really did not take a form we were happy with until Katie took on the role of lead vocals. We spent most of that year creating the sound of the band sonically and gear-wise, which is something I really enjoy. In terms of backgrounds Katie and I both have varied musical tastes and backgrounds, which I feel is reflected in our song writing. We pull influence from music, art, film and we always aim to create something new that reflects our own point-of-view. So, when we were ready to play live, we had already written most of “Flicker Out.” It was pretty crazy, our debut show as a duo was in Washington, DC at the Black Cat opening for Liabach. It felt really good to showcase all of the work we had put into the project in front of a sold-out audience. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

Were there any significant differences in your approach or process to making “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars” compared to your debut, “Flicker Out”?

Steve: Yes, definitely! We approached this record very differently than we did “Flicker Out.” For the first record, we had a very specific sonic palette and overall theme that we stuck to through the entire process. Also, all of the songs had been performed many times live and developed over time, which made recording easier. For “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars” we threw all of those preconceived notions out and lifted all of the limitations. This made for an exciting and creative songwriting process for me. One thing I had been struggling with was doing things the same way and expecting a different result. I had written dozens of song parts and they were all sounding similar. The last thing we wanted to do was release an album that was essentially more of the same, more Flicker Out. We always want to push our sound and ourselves to grow as musicians and grow as a band. Katie had been studying with her vocal coach and put a lot of time into her music growth and I feel this new record definitely reflects that. This record is much more personal and accurately reflects our current mood and feelings. I feel Katie crushed it in this record.

Analog synthesizer and drum machine sounds play a major role in your music. Do you generally use the original equipment or get the sounds you like from software synths / modern reproductions?

Steve: We have always leaned into hardware for songwriting, recording, and for our live performances. For this new record, I took a deep dive into our analog gear and spent a long time crafting the sounds and modulations that are reflected on “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars.” The two synths that were used most on this record were our Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Dreadbox NYX. Both synths have a heavy analog sound and interesting architecture in terms of modulation and workflow. We took time finetuning the pulses and cycles in the studio which was really rewarding actually. Neither of these synths have any preset capability, so you need to dial in the separate sounds individually. We also used a lot of our Korg Polysix (which I would argue has some of the best and warmest pads and strings ever) and our Oberheim Matrix 1000 in addition to a few random soft synths. Sampling has always been a big part of Technophobia’s sound and we did a lot on this record as well. While there are no vocal samples like we used on “Flicker Out” there is a great deal of sampling in the beats that were created. We use a lot of found sounds and had a lot of fun with the sampling on this record.

Do you generally have a sense of the overall sound or mood you’re going for with a track? Or does experimenting with sounds have a role in driving the creative process?

Steve: I feel experimentation with sounds and samples usually dictates the direction of a track or song part, but setting the mood is an important aspect as well. We will often immerse ourselves in music, art or film to put us in a certain mindset if we are trying to achieve a certain mood for a song. For me that helps greatly. Both Katie and I respond to and are inspired by visual stimulation. Often just the idea of a color palate or artistic style can drive our inspiration. I feel that is why our sound is less driven by genre and more by emotion and our creative point-of-view.

You also run the Working Order Records; could you discuss the motivations behind that and how it has evolved since its inception? Did you initially start it just as an outlet for your music? Were the benefit and other programs part of the plan from the start?

Steve: It is interesting how Working Order Records came to be. When were started recording “Flicker Out” and were looking around to partner with a record label, it became clear that the traditional record label was not really a good fit for us. It did not seem that most of the labels in our genre could do anything for us that we could not do for ourselves. We had been tossing around the idea for a while of donating money raised through the release of our record to charity. Now, while we are not a political band, we do definitely brandish our ideologies openly and clearly. The idea of leveraging our music to make an impact in our community was interesting to us. So, I proposed to take this one step further and start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and that is what we did. Working Order Records is not run and operated like a standard record label. We are not looking to release records on a long-term basis or own anyone’s music. The business model is set to partner with musicians, leverage their unreleased music and platform to raise funding and awareness for community-based charities. WOR focuses mainly on short-run vinyl and instead of “releases” we have “campaigns.” It’s a new approach to the traditional record label. The challenge is in the business model itself. WOR donates 100% of the proceeds we raise through our campaigns, not profits. This means funding for all other resources comes from external donations or grants. Since our inception in 2016 we have been able to raise $14,000 for local Washington, DC community-based charities though record releases, benefit concerts, and our TINY CAT – Dark Music Festival. Even through the pandemic we were able to raise $2,000 for Community of Hope DC through the pre-order of our new record. So, we are moving forward best we can. Running WOR has been both challenging and extremely rewarding.

How has the band and label been affected by the pandemic?

Steve: I mean,we have had to re-think everything we were doing and adjust our approach completely. It has been an interesting journey for sure. Initially we were really bummed as we had a European and US tour planned which all was scrapped. That being said, the pandemic has allowed us to recalibrate and adjust our thinking. This pause has put a great deal into perspective and taught us to go with the flow. One positive thing is that the pandemic has afforded us time to release “Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars” our own way and to partner with people we would not have otherwise had the opportunity to do so. One of these was having the record mastered by Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road Studios. He mastered records by Blur, Pulp and even cut the vinyl lacquers for Blue Monday. He was amazing to work with. We were also really excited to collaborate with Nick Fancher on this project. He was absolutely amazing photographer to work with! Such a great guy and true artist. He shot all of the artwork associated with the record, singles, and promotion. So, while everything has been affected, we have been focusing on the positive and trying our best to do things that will serve the project and also our own selfcare and mental health through this pandemic.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Steve: We would just like to thank all of the people who have supported us over the years and send our love. Be safe out there and take care of one another.

To get more info about TECHNOPHOBIA and purchase music:

VINYL/CD/DOWNLOAD: http://www.technophobiamusic.com/store
BANDCAMP: https://bit.ly/3jfrCyM
SPOTIFY: https://spoti.fi/33Oc4eB
FACEBOOK: https://bit.ly/3gDv84Y
INSTAGRAM: https://bit.ly/3mJ6mTZ
YOUTUBE: https://bit.ly/2RQcaNe

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