Single Gun Theory interviewed about “Flow, River of My Soul”

Though Australia is not normally thought of as a hotbed for electronic music, Sydney’s Single Gun Theory have nevertheless proven to be one of the most creative bands in the genre. The group’s music is highly structured and song-oriented, while also being very experimental in terms of the sounds used. Their latest album, “Flow, River of My Soul” (NETTWERK) is their most accessible to date, though it still has the distinctive Single Gun Theory sound.

Single Gun Theory is a trio of Kath Power, Pete Rivett-Carnac and Jacqui Hunt. Pete and Kath are responsible for the mostly electronic music, while Jacqui handles vocals. Although they compose entirely on computer, Single Gun Theory are far from synthetic sounding, thanks to the organic sounds and samples and Jacqui’s powerful vocals.

The group recently finished their first American tour, opening for NETTWERK label mate Sarah McLachlan. The following is an interview with Pete conducted over the internet.

Why was there such a long gap between albums?

We’re really not very prolific songwriters; well, I’ll rephrase that. We tend to write a lot, but also throw a lot away. Also, like everyone else, we have lives to live. We work, we fall in love, we break up, we move house, we travel, we write music. For a start, we all have full-time day jobs. I’m a computer programmer, Kath’s a psychologist and Jacq’s a fashion designer…so there’s at least 35 hours gone every week. Of course, if we sell buckets of records we won’t have to do this and we’ll be able to release an album every 18 months!

Were you writing new material all along or did you write the new LP in one block of time?

Well, we tend to write fairly consistently. We began writing the material on this album back in October 1991, but it really morphed a lot along the way. It tends to come in bursts. I wrote a lot of stuff between October 91 and December 92, and then…nothing much until October 93. Then I just went for it. It really depends on what’s happening in your life at the time, and between late-92 and October 93, I had a pretty depressing time. Then In October 93 I fell totally in love with someone, and she provided an impetus/catalyst to write again. I purged a lot of stuff from my psyche at that time, and 70% of the album just flowed from that point.

When/where was the new LP recorded?

Most of it was recorded in Vancouver in February and March this year, at Nettwerk’s studio “Slack” in West 3rd Avenue (K.D. Lang’s old demo studio). It’s a pretty run-down dive, but it’s got some great gear; we recorded this album on 24-track digital, using Eventide harmonizers, Lexicon reverbs, Drawmer compressors, etc. – really nice stuff. Unfortunately, we had some problems clearing samples – some were just rejected outright – and so a couple of the tracks had to be remixed at my home studio without the offending samples (the opening track, “Transmission”, and another one, “Phenomena”).

Did you have any specific goals in mind when you went into making it?

No, we just do what we do. We really don’t know what’s going to happen…we just write and play around and keep the stuff we like.

The last LP had a very distinct sound, due in part to the samples you collected. Are there any particular sources of sounds that figure prominently on the new LP?

Well – to me anyway – it’s really just more of the same, but possibly a bit more “mature” (which sounds incredibly boring and like, “these guys have lost it”, but …I like it!). We seem to be getting mellower with each album; this one is even easier on the ears than the last one – but I think it’s good. To me, this album, while being the least abrasive, has the most to say…although a lot of the messages are cryptic and encoded. There are a lot of references back to the last album too, which I really just put in to see if anyone would notice…and now I’ve gone and blown it by telling you! Hmmm, oh well.

Anyway, “Flow, River of My Soul” contains a lot of the usual kind of single gun trademarks: female Arabic and Indian vocal samples, a few birds, whales and sirens here and there, lots of spoken word samples…you know the kind of thing.

You just completed your first US tour. How did it compare to playing back in Australia?

When we play live in Australia, we have up to 10 or 12 people on stage – Indian dancers, Thai performers, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, etc. – and live video. But that’s when we play here! Unfortunately, in North America we can only afford to bring ourselves and a percussionist and dancer (and no video). Nevertheless, I think it’s a show worth seeing.

What type of instrumentation do you use for your live shows? What type of instrumentation do you use for your live shows?

Because our music is created by layering samples in a home studio environment, it’s very difficult to recreate it live without massive banks of samplers and lots of real musicians. So…sorry, but it’s true, we have to use DAT backing tapes. Just warning you in advance! But having said that, we try to vary the arrangements as much as possible; this is especially true of the new songs on “Flow”. Also, we have a live percussionist which adds to the overall effect.

Is it difficult adapting your music for live shows?

Depends on the song. As I said, we try to provide new arrangements when we play live. The other bonus about our live shows is that you get to hear the songs which we’re not allowed to release! (because the samples weren’t cleared etc.).

Do you still perform material off the first album?

Last time we played live we did, but we’re not going to this time; it’ll just be a 50/50 mix of the new album and the last album. We noticed that most people just want to hear the newer stuff, although we’d like to do a couple of tracks off the first record (especially “Exorcise this wasteland” and “Open the skies”).

Are you pressured by the label at all in terms of sound or direction?

No, not at ALL. Nettwerk’s great that way. We have 100% control. Hey, they’re lovely people too!