An Interview with Com Truise
Ten years into his creative endeavor as Com Truise, the New York-based artist is preparing to release his third full-length album, a closing chapter in the artists’ narrative arc influenced by his recent move to California.
I safely assume that I’m not the only one who came across Com Truise’s music through Youtube, with a simple click on the eye-catching link listed on the ever-puzzling suggestions sidebar. Be it through his colorful artwork or simply through his humorous name, Seth Haley’s electronic music project does indeed have all the elements needed to grab our volatile attention, though a quick glimpse into the artist’s glistening musical universe will suffice to assess that Com Truise’s success does not owe his success to shallow gimmicks. Ten years into his creative endeavor as Com Truise, the New York-based artist is preparing to release his third full-length album, a closing chapter in the artists’ narrative arc influenced by his recent move to California. Seizing the opportunity to discuss with the man himself we, caught up with Seth on his recent stop at Toronto’s Velvet Underground prior to his show. “I think the move towards a setting with more open space plays a big part on the record” he says. “I’m not yet able to pinpoint how it has impacted me musically but I can definitely hear it.” Setting his compressors aside and steering his creative drive towards outboard gear, Seth characterizes his efforts on Iteration with an attention towards headroom as well as his attempts to escape habits.
“Iteration is basically about processes repeating. It’s a play on the musical language of electronic music, which revolves around repetition, but it’s also about me trying not to do the same things over and over again yet sticking to certain practices no matter what; processing the drums a certain way, starting with the synth line every time…”.
I’m guessing these concepts also tie in with the album’s narrative.
The album basically continues the story arc that started Cyanide Sisters which follows the story of an astronaut. This part of the story is about him falling in love with this alien girl and them having to escape. I think about it as a record and a narrative about escaping oppression.
Like with every one of your releases, you also designed the album art. How does the album cover tie in with the record musically or conceptually?
Well the red lines on the cover represent the ‘iteration’ part and the symbols are basically the steps that our character has to go through to get away from civilisation. It’s a little weird and abstract.
Do you have a particular use of colour codes in your designing of artworks?
Nothing very specific. I just stick to a “palette”, I’d say. I like to use very simple colours. I just think those colours really fit my sound. I used to make very dark design but I’ve been getting into more colourful things these days.
Through your music and from the bits of information about its story, I’ve always come to link Com Truise with a sense exploration, travel, but also a search for a “home”, whether it be within a sound aesthetic that is now far into the past or a faraway galaxy in the context of the Com Truise narrative.
Definitely. There are very few songs that I’ve put out that are based on my personal life. I don’t really like writing that way, I never liked the result when I try to take an experience and jam it into a song. I can never get it to sound like that experience and it doesn’t necessarily remind me of it, which is basically why I came up with the narrative. It helps me to keep myself on track as far as everything being cohesive. The part about finding home is definitely in there because when I’m working on melodies I definitely draw from the nostalgia of old family vacations near the ocean with my parents and my sister, being home.
How big of a role does the narrative aspect of Com Truise play in the writing process for the music itself?
With every release that I’ve put out, I type up a few paragraphs before writing, start writing music and then adjust the tracks to where I think they fit in the story and where they fit in the track list. I’m definitely not very “strict” with that aspect, I just hope that I can capture the overall mood of each part of the story.
And where how does the visual aspect fit into the picture? From what I hear, your creativity as a musician also works hand in hand with your sensibility as a designer.
Well sometimes I won’t necessarily be inspired musically and I’ll just try be creative in a different way and design shapes or logos, which will sometimes inspire a new song. It also works the opposite way; I’ll write a song and the visuals will just come to me very easily.
Iteration was announced as the final chapter in the Com Truise saga. What does this “conclusion” entail?
The character’s journey and the story is ending, but I re-signed with Ghostly to do one more EP and record. It’s not “the end of Com Truise” and I don’t think that I’ll end up changing the sound that much after this release. I have other pseudonyms to work and sound differently and to play with different genres. This is just the end of that story, and going forward I want to try and short stories rather than long narratives that span over several releases. The narrative is more for me really, people can experience the music and gather what they want. I hope, in some way, that the sound makes them feel similarly to the way that I feel, which is attached to the story. The music is open ended though, you can interpret it however you want.
Was this a “planned” ending to the narrative that you had outlined from the beginning?
Yes! I just knew that I had to fit that story into a certain amount of releases and the contract was up for this release. It’s always been one contract from Cyanide Sisters to Iteration. I also released In Decay but that was a compilation of all the leftover tracks I wrote that didn’t fit in there.
Whereas certain artists commonly associated with the genre keep the label at arms distance, I’ve noticed you openly referring to your music as “Synthwave”. Do you feel affiliated with the “scene” or is it simply a term that best characterises your sound?
I think it fits the sound. Early on, I was labelled as “Chillwave”, and I didn’t necessarily think that all of the music was chill, some of it was dark. I do know some guys in the Synthwave but I’ve never really been to a Synthwave party or anything like that. I just don’t go out anymore, I’m getting old, I guess (laugh). It’s more of a term to label the sound. More often than not, I think about having to explain it to someone who’s never heard my music. People don’t necessarily know what Synthwave is, so I like to call it “Downtempo electronic music”.
What is next for Com Truise after the album’s release?
This year is kind of crazy with touring and travels. I think I’ll take a break and I don’t think I’ll be able to write until 2018. I would like to not jump right back into Com Truise, I think I’ll give it a bit of air for a little while. I’m not going to leave it hanging for 6 years but I might work on a few other stuff. Maybe I’ll revisit one of my other aliases and see how that goes. I’m not really sure, I haven’t thought about it too much. I think Iteration sounds different enough but it still sounds like me. One of my goals would be to get into scoring films and things like that but it’s a tricky market to break into.
Getting to the miscellaneous questions: what is your most valued piece of hardware/software and your “dream” gear?
I think my most prized piece is my Crumar Bit One. It’s a whacky little Italian synth. It’s similar to the Juno 106 but very weird. It’s slightly unpredictable and it’s beautiful, the design of it is amazing. It’s a secret weapon of mine.
I already have my dream synth, it’s been in the shop for 5 years now. It’s a Rhodes Chroma. They guy who’s fixing it is having some trouble getting the parts. I remember he already had six of the same models needing to be fixed when I dropped it off. I’m waiting for that to come back. I haven’t bought much gear lately. I’ve gotten into the modular stuff lately. I think I have too much right now, it’s not helping me be creative, there are too many options. I really try to limit what I use lately. I use the OB-6, the Juno 106 and the Oberheim Xpander a lot. I’ve been using the Prophet 6 a little bit as well as the new Korg Arp Odyssey, I really like that.
The dive into modular synthesis must have affected your workflow through its very particular way of capturing sounds and composing.
When I look at the modular stuff I try to just see it as a Mini-Moog in its simplest architecture, no matter what’s in the case. I try to make it as musical as possible. Anyone can fire one of those up and make crazy sounds but its’ not necessarily musical. It’s cool to make effects and for sound design, but to actually make it sound “pretty” is much trickier than you think.
Do you use some modular gear on stage?
I was going to but incorporating it in was a little tricky as far as timing goes. I’m still ironing out this live set with the visuals and stuff. I wanted to incorporate it though. I also want to get the proper case for it. I didn’t feel comfortable travelling with it. I got my first Eurorack case right down the street here at Moog Audio.
To dip into a bit of shoddy journalism: Do you have any Tom Cruise related anecdotes to share? Do you know if he knows about Com Truise?
I don’t. I wonder though! I think one of his sons does some Dj-ing, so I think it would be difficult to stay off the radar. There’s never been any contact or anything, for better or worse. I’m a fan of his work, I like his films. I’ve done okay without contact from him. I don’t want any lawsuits or anything (laugh).
To finish off: could you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books?
Picking a favorite album is hard… I’d say Boards of Canada’s Music has the Right to Children.
Favorite film is Blade Runner, I’m very excited for the new one too. I think the new trailer looks pretty cool, I think Dennis Villeneuve will do a really good job. I’m not that worried. I was sceptical when they did the teaser trailer but I’m very excited after watching the teaser trailer.
Favorite book would be Neuromancer by William Gibson.
Iteration will release on June 15 2017
Thank you to Bobby and to Seth for making this interview possible.