A Deep-Dive Interview With Dan Terminus
We had the honor of interviewing cyberpunk darksynth legend, Dan Terminus, ahead of the release of his sixth studio album, "Last Call For All Passengers." The album drops this Friday via Blood Music - listen here! Check out our full album review here! Over the course of two hours,
We had the honor of interviewing cyberpunk darksynth legend, Dan Terminus, ahead of the release of his sixth studio album, “Last Call For All Passengers.” The album drops this Friday via Blood Music – listen here!
Check out our full album review here!
Over the course of two hours, we discussed everything from his unique production style to an intense period of burnout – and even the destruction of an entire unreleased Dan Terminus album! We hope you enjoy this deep-dive into the mind of a true sovereign of synth.
Got a question yourself? Check out the upcoming Dan Terminus Reddit AMA October 1st in /r/Outrun at 12pm ET.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length)
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
“It’s cool, man. And thank you for having me! Ask me anything. I won’t dodge any question.”
In 2015, you had an interview with Decibel magazine. You mentioned that you began making electronic music to pass the time – as an outlet for your creativity. Now, five years later, after touring with Perturbator and gaining more fans – is creating music still the outlet it used to be?
“It’s a difficult question – almost a loaded question! But, my answer is yes and no.
I must say I never thought that I would be touring with James (Perturbator). I never thought that one day I would play in Paris – in a big, big concert hall called Le Trianon – in front of fifteen hundred people! I never thought I would end up doing this.
So, I try to keep the same state of mind – which is to say I’m still the same loudmouth asshole, turning knobs, twisting buttons, punishing keys, and beating up synthesizers. Because I think that if I stay true to myself, then maybe the music will be fresh – or at least, it will still truly be me.”
In an old Reddit AMA when asked about producing music, you mentioned that you create a track in your head and work on it in your head – and you place it on a “mental shelf I built for myself, like a mini-library.” Then you patiently reproduce the track on your DAW. Can you tell me a bit more about your mind library? Is that still a method you use to produce?
“Absolutely it is. I started doing this when I was a child because I read a book in which the character said that since libraries were burning, Monks had to build their own mental libraries, and would have to memorize dozens of books. So if a library burns, at least there will still be somebody out there who’ll be able to rewrite the whole book.
In fact, it’s just a visualization of a shelf, like a metal or wooden shelf in my mind. When I have an idea, I put it there. It’s something that helps me remember a lot of things – and yet I still don’t remember everything I would like – especially you know, from childhood and everything.
Lets say, well, to be honest with you, to describe my mental shelves… it’s not a palace. It’s not gothic, it’s not dark… it’s not a cyberpunk Los Angeles city. It’s just a warehouse filled with shelves. I connect it to rooms or bedrooms from my childhood, like lets say the village I used to go to when I was a child in the south of France, or my grandparents cabin in the countryside. For some reason those elements are very precise in my mind.
There is no map. If I want to go there I’m there. I don’t have to walk five miles down memory lane if I need it – it’s just there.”
Your first album, “The Darkest Benthic Division,” is very atmospheric. You mentioned some of your influences were Noir Deco and the original Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack. Then, as your albums progressed, they get much darker and heavier.
What inspired you to take your music from that atmospheric, dreamy sound into the darksynth territory?
“Two things, the first thing was gaining technical knowledge in terms of music production and getting to know my DAW better. The second thing was that I really wanted to push my music harder because I wanted to try new things – new sounds. I wanted to go dark and heavy because I’m also metal head.
It was difficult. I could have gone on writing “The Darkest Benthic Division” forever – writing the same album five times, really. But I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and write the same album twice.
Sometimes when I strike a few chords on my keyboard I go back to those very simple, yet efficient atmospheric tracks. Something that I’ve also noticed, is that when I play such songs like ‘Abandoned Ship Graveyard’ or ‘Underwater Cities’ people go crazy.
It’s when I get the most attention. People look at me, and I look at boyfriends hugging their girlfriends – and it’s a fantastic experience. But in retrospect, it’s the most simple album I’ve made. So that’s the beauty of it. Maybe one day I will write another whole atmospheric album. I have no idea – I’m not against it. But now is not the time.”
The Production Style of Dan Terminus
Speaking of new music, I understand you used FL Studio to produce “The Wrath of Code” and other albums. Has that changed? Did you use any new hardware, VSTs or DAWs or for the new album, “Last Call For All Passengers?”
“I’m an in-the-box producer. I love working with VST’s, and even the cheap stuff. I don’t care. As long as it sounds good it’s okay with me. As long as I can distort the shit out of it then I’m fine!
The new album was created on FL studio 10. As far as hardware goes, I didn’t use any hardware for the album. I only use VSTs like Synth1, Korg M1, Korg Wavestation EX, FM8 – and a few plugins like Multiband Distortion – stuff like that. Nothing too fancy, I’m sorry.
Basically, my setup is just me, my 2012 computer, a midi keyboard, two Fostex monitors and the screen – and that’s it. I’m a pretty simply guy you know? I don’t feel like having multiple synthesizers or clicky, shiny gear will help me become a better musician or a better producer – it’s all in my head first anyway. It’s all about being yourself.”
“So, was your creation process the same for previous albums and “Last Call For All Passengers?”
“I still create in my head and then reproduced the tracks in my DAW. I would like to tell you something though – it’s not necessarily about gear, but knowledge.
I feel like when you buy equipment, you don’t necessarily learn new things. But, if you can create the bass sound in your head by snapping your fingers, you don’t need to spend three or four hours designing a sound.
I think everyone should keep on learning every day, to get a wider playground. I try to learn new things every day in terms of production by reading books or reading articles. Every time I discover new things. So, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a good idea to buy a synthesizer. It IS a very good idea to read books and articles and to make sure you’re learning new things – even if it’s just a small, little piece of knowledge. I certainly don’t want to sound arrogant either – there is still much for me to learn!
This also lets you make things sound bad, in a good way. You know what I mean? If you listen to “Last Call For All Passengers,” you will realize the mix is kind of like a roller coaster.
Many times I voluntarily left the EQ alone – because if I EQ’d them properly, then they would sound too clean – and it would not be interesting!
If I were to work with another person or other people, things would be different. But when you are a one man project, I have to surprise myself. I have to outdo myself. I have to challenge myself. Otherwise, it’s too boring. And I would not wake up. I would just go to the countryside, take care of my horses and say, “Fuck music, fuck all of you, I’m just going to stay here forever!”
Art From Luca Carey
That’s interesting – so you own horses? Is that why the cover of your album is this sort of nightmarish horse? Did Luca Carey do this album cover as well?
“Absolutely, in fact, it was kind of a challenge because I wanted Luca to use black and green only. And I mean, if you’ve seen look at Carey’s work before, you know he usually paints with a thousand colors. He asked me if he could use grey, and I said, “Okay, but no more!”
I asked him for a mix of a Mérens – which is a black French mountain horse, and a Trait Comtois, which is a draft horse. He threw me three ideas, and I picked the one I liked the most.
As a relief, I told him for the back cover – you do whatever you want to do, because forcing him to only use two or three colors was an ordeal for him. So, he painted a big Cthulhu, and he painted it his way, and it’s fantastic. And let me tell you, it’s going to be nightmarish, really.
Technically, the horses are not mine yet. It’s just a matter of, you know, papers – but I love them with all my heart.
But with Luca. I believe that this guy is clearly not human, or at least he must have some alien DNA in him because his vision. No, I mean, really, his vision is so singular that it’s hard to compare it to anybody else. I love what he does. I would like him to get more recognition because it’s just not fair that he’s such a genius does not get more recognition!”
I read in another interview when you were creating “Automated Refrains” you were listening to a lot of Bathory, Type 0-Negative, things like that. What were you listening to for inspiration when you were creating “Last Call For All Passengers?”
“My heavy rotation records was music from the 90s. Bomb the Bass, Nation 12, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy. Because, I started hearing such music in my head. I said to myself, ‘Hey, Bomb the Bass was so fucking good!”
Burnout and Album Destruction
From the little bit I’ve heard, it sounds like it’s going to be more danceable than you previous work – is that a fair assumption?
“It depends on what you define as dance music! You will hear a lot of breakbeats and lots of bigbeats, just like, you know, the Chemical Brothers and everything.
I think it’s almost on purpose. when I started doing this I made it spontaneously because this album – “Last Call For All Passengers” was born from thrashing, dumping another album that I made as I burnt out. So. So, yeah.”
That’s interesting – you dumped a whole album? Surely it couldn’t have been THAT bad?
“I worked nine years for a big company. I had to resign, and at the time I was suffering from extreme burn out – I even fell asleep at the wheel and I crashed my car into a wall, as I was burning out. The doctors ended up ordering me to stay home and rest.”
What? That’s crazy!
“Yeah, but to be honest, the burnout is one of the best things that ever happened in my life because it helped me refocus. You know, it’s cool. I was burning out and I started writing songs and in fact, I wrote a whole album that was super fast paced and very primal. It was primitive… and also it sucked big time!
It was a shitty crappy album with distortion over everything and it sounded like crap. But I wrote it as I was burning out because… I don’t know, I was angry or something. Well, I’m still angry – but angry in a good way, if I dare say so!”
Is there any chance we’ll get to hear this terrible burn-out album? I know you say it’s bad, but it sounds fascinating.
“No! When you write an album and when you release it, it is a very serious matter. You don’t make an album for fun. You don’t release an album for the purpose of releasing an album. You release an album because you want to fulfill yourself as a producer or as a musician. It’s like getting a tattoo. I don’t want to look back 20 years later and think – “Oh fuck, I should never have done this!”
When it was time to go back to music again, I listened to this album it sounds definitely like shit, so I got to get rid of it. I dumped the whole album. Quite recently, in fact, as I was saving projects on my external disk drive, I found a copy of this destroyed album. So I really listened to it again. And let me tell you, it was so fucking bad, like really – it’s horse shit, really.
And then I wrote “Last Call For All Passengers,” which is all about being back to life again. Not in an artsy-fartsy phoenix rising from the ashes kind of thing. I think that’s fucking ridiculous. But, that is how the album was born.”
With a title like “Last Call For All Passengers” – and with the current state of the world, I thought the album might be about this looming science fiction dystopia or climate change?
“The true explanation is that I was watching a movie by Mel Brooks – Young Frankenstein. There’s a scene where Frankenstein is hopping on a train, and the ticket collector says, “Last call for all passengers!” I think. Maybe I misheard it, but I said, “That’s it!”
After I picked the album title, now we have COVID-19, the fires in California, two thirds of Australia have burned. The pentagon releases papers saying, “Hey, maybe UFO’s are a reality.” Then we dodged a bullet with war between the US and Iran – and so much more. So, now I look at the title, and it really fits the world we’re living in.
The world we live in today feels like the X-Files from 1995. It was supposed to be a television show, not reality! Really, if I saw the heavens splitting open and a fleet of motherships landed, I feel like that would be just a normal day in 2020. Great! Now we have Big Mac’s on Mars!”
Cyberpunk or Darksynth?
Life really does imitate art! Speaking of which – you mentioned before you don’t really care about being labelled as a “darksynth’ producer – but do you think the genre is moving away from it’s synthwave roots?
I don’t really listen to much darksynth – I only hear what people send me from time to time, for guidance or feedback. There is one guy I listen to because I think he’s brilliant – SurgeryHead. He’s one of the very few guys I saw live that really, really scared me – and I admired him at the same time. His music is perfect, and his on-stage persona is, well, let me tell you it’s fucking scary!”
As far as synthwave – I would like to see it keep on evolving instead of becoming a sterile representation of the music. Any form of music needs to evolve.
I definitely agree with with that! But, it’s odd to hear you don’t listen to much darksynth, I think many fans might consider you a darksynth producer? What do you consider yourself?
“There are three layers, OK? The first layer is that I am an electronic music producer. The second layer is that I am a cyberpunk music producer. The third layer is, as long as it sound good to me, I will make that kind of electronic music.
I don’t mind if people label me darksynth, and if people label Dan Terminus as synthwave too, I don’t mind. I wont get fussy about what it is. As long as it sounds good and as long as people enjoy what they are listening to, it’s fine with me really. I do understand that from some people’s perspectives, some of my tracks may be considered darksynth, and a label is always necessary I guess.
Like, when I say, I listen to death metal, I mean old-school deathmetal. Bands like Carcass, Obituary, Pestilence, Deicide. Some people who say, “I listen to deathmetal too” and they bring up artists like Meshuggah or those totally insufferable bands who play on a 12 strings guitars that sound like a horde of guys banging on telephone cables with hammers.
People have different definitions of what deathmetal is – what any genre is. So, no – I don’t consider myself a darksynth musician. But, if people label me as such, I really don’t mind.
So you consider yourself a cyberpunk musician?
Absolutely. Absolutely. I had never heard cyberpunk music – the closest I got was when I read Neuromancer by William Gibson, and there is a colony in space where guys from Jamaica listen to “Zion Dub” which he described as bass-heavy music.
So, it’s very selfish of me, but I wanted to write music that to me, would be a kind of cyberpunk music. It’s selfish to want to define a new genre – but it was just me thinking, “Okay, what can the soundtrack to a cyberpunk setting?”
I was totally flattered when I first heard people actually calling my music cyberpunk! It was a huge compliment; I was humbled and honored.
Well, we’ve been talking for quite some time now – thank you deep-dive interview! What’s next for Dan Terminus?
“I’m not sure yet, more music for sure – we’ll just have to wait and see.”