UNMASKED! Makeup and Vanity Set & Sferro Reveal Their Latest Electrifying LP: “Wavefinder” [Interview]
Makeup and Vanity Set and Sferro’s latest album “Wavefinder” is simply astounding. It drops today at 12pm ET / 9am PT over on Stratford Court Records. We’ll have a full review out later – but for the moment you’re just going to have to trust
Makeup and Vanity Set and Sferro’s latest album “Wavefinder” is simply astounding. It drops today at 12pm ET / 9am PT over on Stratford Court Records. We’ll have a full review out later – but for the moment you’re just going to have to trust me…or listen to the single:
But, believe it or not, this brilliant collaboration almost slipped through the cracks of history. Heck, even this interview almost didn’t happen!
“…would it be possible to reschedule the call for tomorrow? Eric’s been out of commission today with a migraine…” – Makeup and Vanity Set (hereafter referred to as MAVS)
My heart sank. I’d been interested in interviewing these two “reclusive” synth pioneers (separately) for years. But the truth is, in spite of MAVS infamous robber mask and Sferro’s disdain for being photographed, neither of them are truly reclusive. They’d just rather focus on what really matters – creating music – instead of being a “brand.” MAVS is also notoriously busy, often working on multiple film soundtracks and albums at once.
All that work and a surprise bout of COVID almost stopped this album from being produced. Thankfully, sometimes the stars align even in this, the darkest of timelines. Never say never.
Looking back it was kind of like a very nice, “…you blew it.” – MAVS
So, what was the genesis of the album? How did you two come to work together?
Sferro: “I reached out to Matt just to see if he was busy…. if he had time to maybe do a track. I thought it was just gonna be a single track…and yeah, he’s a very busy guy so it took a while.”
MAVS: “I had a million things going on – and I just sort of sat on it. It was totally my fault. He had followed up a few times, and I said “I still want to do it!” but… it just kept slipping to like the bottom of the stack.”
I’ve loved Eric’s stuff for so long – and we have the Ohio connection – and I thought this would be super cool to do. So finally I scratched out some time and I sat down one day and did a track…and immediately after, I got COVID. So I was bedridden for a week, and Eric DM’d me on Instagram and said, “Hey, man if you’re not gonna do anything with these tracks, I think I’m just gonna… uh, finish them.” Looking back it was kind of like a very nice, “…you blew it.”
MAVS: “So I replied back and was like, “NO no, no, no, no – I did one! I did one!” and I sent him a dropbox link and he was really into it. I got better from COVID, and we just… kept going. After that the record itself came together super fast. I mean, it took like three weeks.”
That’s a great story! But what’s this “Ohio connection”? I’m from Ohio myself.
MAVS: It’s funny, Eric and I have never met in person – but he actually lives in [Northern Ohio,] which is where I’m from. He’s actually super close to where my family lives.
Sferro: We had no idea until he posted a picture while visiting and I was like, “Oh Shit you’re like two minutes away from my house!”
MAVS: *Laughs* “Yeah, so we had flirted a few times by having our remixes featured on the same album. More recently we were both on the Demin Initiate (Remixes) album – but yeah we’d never worked together properly before this one.
A lot of people seem to think Demin’s work is actually a Com Truise side project.
MAVS: “I don’t know man…Having talked to Seth over the years, I know he’s into drum and bass and some other stuff. It would be kinda weird for him to just do another project so close to his sound, sonically.”
That tracks. So, other artists have started making more music in that “Com Truise” style and calling it “Datawave” – and your new album “Wavefinder” definitely seems to fit that category. Was that intentional? what’s your take on that?
MAVS: “Don’t get me wrong, I love Seth’s work – and the idea wasn’t just to make something derivative… But we had just finished the Demin remixes, and…man, I really loved Demin’s track. I didn’t want to deviate too much in the remix… because I just liked the sound. I was curious about it. I had never done anything in the sort of “Datawave” space.
The last couple records I’ve been working on have also been masted by Ben Braun – Hotel Pools. I’m a big fan of his music. So, I started listening to a lot more chillsynth… and one of the things I thought was really interesting about it is that the tempos are way slower… I started to think about the fact that it really took my back to my roots-roots. Like, as a kid, finding Autechre… you know, all those guys were Hip Hop guys. And I feel like, chillsynth, datawave, these kinds of artists have a similar root. They have one foot in that genre – that kind of “head nod” feeling. There’s something appealing about that.
So no, it wasn’t like, “Hey this sounds like datawave” – that was the last thing on my mind. It was more that I just enjoyed going back…so I thought, “How can we slow this down even more?” And then the when you slow things down, the resolution gets a little wider. So you can suddenly like, bit more, you know, interesting things and have more interesting sort of syncopation happening musically.
So later on when I started to dig into the stuff Eric had sent me, it just seemed like the logical progression, like the place to go. You always want to do something that’s exciting to you – you know? And so in that moment, that was what was exciting.”
I also felt like there were some strong 90s references in “Wavefinder,” and you seemed to have really delved into the 90s vibes on “Emotion Engine” too. Was that move away from the 80’s intentional – or a sort of spontaneous occurrence like the “datawave” sound?
Sferro: “I will say that at least one, maybe two of the tracks were actually “Emotion Engine” outtakes I had sent over…but [in general, it does feel like a progression.] I definitely don’t want to do the typical synthwave stuff anymore. I’ve done that, beaten that to death. It just kind of felt right and it’s what seemed attractive to me: an early 2000s, late 90s kind of thing.
I don’t think the next Sferro album will be datawave though. I think “Wavefinder” is really awesome, and I think it’s awesome as a collaboration – but I don’t think I’ll explore that direction myself. It’s not the direction I want to go. I think I’m going to lean more heavily toward the early 2000s kinda… well, you’ll see in the new Hyperlinked Dream Sync album! It’s more like, Portishead-y.
“I definitely don’t want to do the typical synthwave stuff anymore. I’ve done that, beaten that to death. It just kind of felt right and it’s what seemed attractive to me: an early 2000s, late 90s kind of thing.” – Sferro
BUT, I do think datwave is awesome. The term is still kinda fresh to me… honestly I only recently heard of it when we started making [Wavefinder.]”
Eric, you’ve mentioned in interviews that your workflow is mostly digital – and Matt, you seem to mostly like analog – or as you like to say, “Play with the noodles.” Did those difference cause any conflict?
MAVS: “First of all, in spite of the room around me, I’m not an analog purist. Whatever works, you know? If you can make cool stuff in GarageBand, go for it. I’m not precious about that. What’s exciting to me is figuring out new ways to approach a workflow.
Anyway, Eric had sent me fully formed ideas… that I thought was really cool, I dug it. But, it was different that what I’m used to and I had to totally reorient my thought process. I had to come out of that comfort zone and be challenged a little bit by someone else’s thought process – sonically.”
It was awesome trying to experiment while still being reverent to it too. It was it was fun – I had a blast working on it!”
“I’ve put out a lot of records, and when you go through that process, there’s always at least one thing that totally shits the bed….but with this one, none of that happened.”
Sferro: “That reminds me – at one point Matt was saying, “I think we need a couple songs in here without drums…” So I’d send some stuff over without drums… and then drums ended up on it. It just had to have it.”
MAVS: “Right? …Other times he would add stuff on the back end and send it back…. It was a total democracy the whole way through. We were just trying to make something that was exciting to the two of us.”
It sounds like perfect match! Was there anything that caused conflict? You know, caused some sort of problem?
MAVS: “The thing came together in a way that was the least forced, you know, like it, it all happened really fast, it all felt really good!”
Sferro: “That reminds me of one track in particular, I sent a demo over and said “Uh…I don’t know if this will work…. And Matt said “Never say never!” and then sent it back – and it sounded sick!”
MAVS: “Right? I gotta say… I’ve put out a lot of records, and when you go through that process, there’s always at least one thing that totally shits the bed. You’re forced to work with an artist you don’t want to work with, or you can’t release on a certain date, or there’s a huge backorder on vinyl…”
Right? Thanks Adele!
MAVS + Sferro: *Laughter*
MAVS: “…but with this one, none of that happened. We went back and forth and thought, “Okay, we have an album here.” Then we sent it off to Ben Braun [Hotel Pools] to get it mastered, and that guy just knows how to make bass happen in ways that, well, I’m both comfortable and uncomfortable with! Then we started talking to Andrew from Stratford Court. Stratford Court was almost a shot in the dark… [I’m] a huge fan of the label. It’s so well curated. We waited a while, and then Andrew reached out and said he’d love to do it!”
And honestly, I was floored. I hadn’t sent it anywhere else, but I had a list of [labels]… I just figured you know, Stratford Court to me was like swinging for the fences…and there’s no preorder. It’s all ready to go on Friday.” [Today]
Sferro: “I really love how “into” the record [Andrew] seems. Every time he replies to an email he says how he’s like… ‘really excited about this.’ It’s so cool – it’s awesome!
I’m excited too – and not to spoil the review, but I really think this album is special. Do you two think you’ll be working together in the future?
MAVS: It’s funny with this record, this is the most PR I’ve done for a record in a long time. But I think it’s just because I’m proud of the thing we made, you know? I want to make sure that we do our due diligence to Stratford and present it to the world in the right way.
Really.. I’m just, I’m happy to make music. I’m happy to be able to process the all of the shit that’s happening around us through music…and I’m super happy to have somebody like Eric to collaborate with…
MAVS: “…and to you know, to see it, see it go out into the world man. It’s all good at this point. So I’m just happy to be here.”
Sferro: “I mean, I have ideas for the future. Things I’ll bring up to Matt eventually, in due time.” *Laughs* But I’m just super stoked we got the opportunity to do this. Matt’s fucking awesome. He’s a super chill dude. I’ve loved his music forever. And it’s cool that some OG’s Got to work together. So… I’m stoked.
So perhaps this isn’t the end for this dangerous duo?
Sferro: “Never say never.”
Editors Note: There is so, so much more to this interview. Both MAVS and Sferro discussed their creative evolution, how they came to find electronic music and two kids stuck in Ohio, and how the digital age affects nostalgia, and their own approach when it comes to organic-feeling synthesis. For more of that, keep an eye out for my upcoming review of “Wavefinder” after it drops!