An Interview with Sphere: Duncan Fairbrother & Andrew Grennan
What first attracted you to the act of making music?
DF: My earliest memories as a kid was making up tunes whilst walking to school. It’s just something i’ve always seemed to do. The first synth sound i heard resonated somewhere inside – it seemed like the sound of the future – so different to any other sound I had heard before. I remember the buzz of a Cylon’s red flashing led eyes on ‘Battlestar Galactica’, the Tardis in ‘Dr.Who’ and the robot voice of ‘Metal Mickey’.
AG: Seeing my first concert, The Psychedelic Furs at Festival Hall
What were your earliest musical influences?
DF: The Beatles, Bee Gee’s, Abba and Boney M – then I began buying records myself. I remember buying the 7 ” singles of Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ -in Birmingham’s ‘Bullring’ shopping centre. The first albums I bought that I still listen to now, are Olivia’s ‘Physical’ and Split Enz’s ‘Enz of an era’. Remember it well, K mart in Sunnybank – swapped the price stickers with one’s from the bargain bin – 40 cents each… $10 seemed like a lot of moolah.
AG: The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, The Pixies.
What is playing on your sound system as we speak?
DF: Conjugated Russian verbs – I repeat what this hot sounding Russian woman says as it helps me pronounce words correctly. Took me three weeks before I could roll my ‘r”s…
AG: Interpol, Muse.
What’s your current musical manifesto?
DF: I don’t have one. I write whatever melodies/tunes pop in my head, if I like it – I go with it. I’ve started to write the next album whilst finishing recording of the current one. Things seem to be twisting out a bit and traditional structure seems to be changing.
Who/what influences your music making now?
DF: I’m enjoying electro house, the 80’s blood running through it’s viens. I also enjoy Snow patrol and Bloc Party. Rhianna’s ‘Umbrela’ has just blown me away as well – it’s very Numan. In terms of equipment influencing direction, I think my new Micro cube Roland amp has changed things – I’m cranking the distortion settings up and discovering some nice melodic noise. It’s a dirty fat sound and I’m using my keyboard like a guitar.
What is your usual approach to producing music? Has it changed over time? If so, how?
DF: I’ve always used records/cd’s I like as a template for production ideas – then experimented. The synth bass sound in the original ‘Don’t die Wondering’ was inspired by the Pet Shop Boy’s ‘Can you forgive her’ 12″ remixes. They had an awesome deep, fat but melodic synth sound and I programmed one similar to it, sequenced it, jammed it with Andy and we took it into Red Zed’s Studio to lay it down. Later, Andy, Magoo and I played around with ideas etc and combined having a ‘real’ rock drum sound with this sequenced bass. Things have changed over time but the basics remain true. Recording takes a lot longer these days as I need to be sure I won’t hear some tune 10 years from now and wish I’d have done this or done that… It’s also a lot more expensive as Chris Ryan (co-producer – an incredibly talented fellow) and I want to make a record that’s total release quality and sounds like a million dollars, not a demo.
What item of gear have you found hard to part with, and why?
AG: Well that would have to My Dean Markley Guitar amp which blew up last year.
DF: I’ve had to ditch 4 synthesizer’s with moving country 3 times…brings a tear to my eye even now! Two things I can’t part with are my Roland Cube 40 – it’s obviously more powerful than the micro cube but it also looks awesome – very chunky and silver – I love it. Despite using my laptop more these days, I still can’t stop using my Yamaha RM1X groovebox. It’s an amazingly easy way to record basic melodies etc – when capturing new ideas. No waiting for programs to appear or trouble shooting something or other.
How is the electronic/pop music scene now, compared to 15 years ago?
DF: Well 15 years ago we had Acid House spilling over into mainstream pop and it was a brilliant time. ‘Killer’ Seal & Adamski, ‘Cubic’ 808 state and ‘Humanoid’ Stakker Humanoid to name but three – what a great era that was. It was so refreshing after all the Stock Aitken Waterman drivel. Mind you, I did like Bananarama’s ‘love in the first degree’. The shame…
Describe a day in the life of Sphere – circa 1995/1996.
AG: Happy but disturbed lads, always messing with chord structures and sounds, and finishing with a few beers and laughs!
DF: Very hazy memories – perhaps the last time I may ever feel totally free. No job, no debt – just great fun every day. We lived in a house full of mates in Annerley and then Spring Hill. We’d drink, smoke, jam, play backyard cricket, drink some more and jam again. It was like a party that went on for 5 years.
What are your favourite 2 Sphere tracks, and why?
DF: ‘Einstien’s Monster’s’ – Andy’s guitar on this blows me away even today. I remember the jam where he first played those riffs – it inspired the entire song and during the course of the afternoon we put the whole track together. I don’t think we really capitalized on that track live as much as what we could have done.
‘Haunted’ – One of the first songs I ever recorded – 1990. The sequencing is all over the place but I ‘m proud of the vocals and lyrics. There’s an innocence about it, almost naive, but it has a melancholic charm…
I have to mention 3 really -‘snell’ – there was a song we jammed once and it was a ‘master clown’ session – insane but just working chords etc. Andy and i both sang the chorus as we recorded it onto the stereo. The chorus lyrics were – ‘snell, snell, got in himmel…’ utterly bonkers but hilarious – i guess you had to be there…
AG: Over and out, mainly because I believe it was the closest thing we had to a pop song without compromising our beliefs. And I personally love the feel and energy of it, definitely my favourite!
And Einsteins Monsters, because it was usually the crowd favourite at gigs, and I enjoyed recording layers of evil riffs in the studio, It always brings a smile to my face!
Share some general thoughts on Sphere – 10 years on.
DF: I think we drank and smoked too much – we could’ve pushed the boat out a lot more with gigging etc …but it was great fun and I learnt a lot from working with Andy. I think we dropped the ball by moving to the UK too early. It was a tough time in London 96/97 and I’m amazed we even played a gig at the Camden Underworld. Tony Horner’s (Rave magazine) words have haunted me to this day – ‘London will eat you alive’. I remember one xmas when andy and suzie had gone away for a bit and the drunken manic depressive landlord hadn’t paid the electricity bill – my xmas meal was a tin of cold baked beans and all the clothes I owned were piled on top of my bed to keep me warm. Sphere is like an ex- Girlfriend that you still fancy – but she’s just in a photo album now.
AG: I look back, and I honestly think our music is just as relevant today than it ever was, I get a strong urge to redo some songs now to see how they would match up with the current crop of artists, But with Duncan on the other side of the planet and doing his own thing now with music, this would not be practical. But I guess you never know what’s around the corner?
Interview conducted by and © Dennis Remmer, August 2007. May be reproduced only with permission.