Looptron interview

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LooptronLooptron is featured on episode 4 of the MusicRiot Presents podcast, we wanted to find out more about him.

So, who are you?
Neil Sharkey, a.k.a. Looptron. Who the f**k are you? And what the f**k are you doing in my house?!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 180 centimetres tall, weigh 75 kilograms, I’m an Aries, my favourite colour is blue and I have a morbid fear of that nasty fake tomato sauce you get on baked beans and spaghetti hoops.

What’s the story behind the name?
It’s a sad tale of rejection. We were trying to think of catchy, one-word names for the “proper” band I play with (which ended up being called Moeker – www.moeker.com) and I was putting together random bits of words to try an make something unique and it just sort of popped out. I suggested it to the band and they all hated it. I still kinda liked it and craftily purchased the web domain name, you know, just in case. There’s something deliciously 80s and cheesy about “Looptron”. It sounds like it should be a delay pedal.

How did you start as Looptron and when?
The original idea to indulge in some loop-based disco guitar madness struck on a plane en route to Hong Kong about four years ago. In Moeker I’d always gone for quite electronic or synthetic processed guitar sounds with lots of delay and filters and crap like that, plus I’d just picked up this Roland groovebox thing and a shedload of cheap effects pedals off eBay and it seemed like a natural extension of what I was already doing. Combine that with the oddly appropriate web address I already owned and that was it! When I got back to Blighty it all sort of fell into place, I started experimenting and demoing some tracks and then… nothing. The band got busy doing a record, most of the gear got consigned to crates when I moved house and the whole thing was promptly forgotten.

Then, early in 2007, Moeker took a break which coincided with my purchase a shiny new laptop so I decided to persue Looptron in earnest again, but this time doing everything in software. I’m now convinced it’s the only way to fly – you can be infinitely creative because you’re no longer bound by how things can be physically hooked up. The resulting experimental tracks I posted on the website, largely for my own amusement and the whole thing just simmered away in the background until I got my first gig.

What/Who are your influences for your music?
I think my main tactical advantage is being extremely ignorant when it comes to electronic music. Every noise I make with a synthesiser still tends to be exciting and inspiring to me so I don’t worry about trying to break new ground all the time and just get on with enjoying playing the music – something that was happening less when playing the guitar. Looptron seems to have drawn occasional Krautrock comparisons so I should probably mention Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream or something at this point but, frankly, that would be a Big Fat Lie. Mind you, as a result of the comparisons I’m currently getting exposure to all sorts of wonderful 70s and 80s electronic music that was previously missing from my collection.

In truth, though, I mostly steal the disco stuff from Kylie records.

You’ve got some great tracks, how come you are unsigned?
I’m a control freak. My studio set up is minimal but ideal for what I’m attempting and I’d gain very little advantage from a record company paying an advance for me to go to a “proper” studio. It seems better to not be in debt to them, keep all your publishing and sound recording copyrights and decide yourself how to get it out there. If it’s a coherent set of tunes like the “Obsolete Before You Start” EP I personally think it’s worth taking the extra time and effort and packaging that up into a more traditional CD release and selling it as such. These days, companies like CD Baby make it easy for anyone to that relatively inexpensively. If it’s a more of a random quick and dirty tune that works fine on it’s own then just bung it on the website and let it drive traffic to the site – in the long run the exposure is actually worth more than it’s weight in shiny gold rocks.

Of course, that’s not to say that if someone out there wants to license the Looptron recordings for distribution and give me a fat marketing budget I’d say no. I just suspect the only way to really make it big in this increasingly uncertain industry is to get out there and play live. A lot.

How long have you been gigging?
As Looptron? Only since mid 2007. I’d been getting my gigging fix as emergency backup guitarist with a rather fetching electro band named Cassette Electrik (myspace.com/cassetteelectrik) but at almost the same moment as they decided they didn’t actually need a guitarist I got a call with an offer of a gig. For some reason I said “yes, I’ll do it,” despite only having a small collection of experimental songs under my belt. Cue the most panicked month of my life figuring out how the hell I was going to make any of them work live!

So I ended up writing and rehearsing the majority of the set for that gig from scratch, forcing myself to work with the a limited set of software based drum machines, synthesisers and guitar FX models as if I had a physical pile of kit to play with. Most of it is done on the fly by sampling performance and looping it, and even the more pre-programmed elements like the drum loops have a certain degree of randomness applied to them live. It’s actually impossible play it exactly the same way twice so as a performer you’re forced to react a bit differently every time – something i think that missing from a lot of “live” electronic music. That basic rig is also now the basis for pretty much all the Looptron stuff written since.

Can you choose your two favourite Looptron tracks and tell us about them.
Hello, My Name Is Looptron – first track I wrote for the first gig, it was never intended to be anything more elaborate than an intro but it just grew. This one really never, ever comes out the same way twice. Live it’s all done with simulated tape loops which is pretty apt, given the name. The EP version, for reasons no-one quite understands, has an E-Bowed trio of electric guitars on it which is something you don’t hear every day.

Smile / Obsolete [slight return] – this song is almost obscenely good fun to play live, and it also runs through just about every trick in the Looptron Operations Manual – there’s tape looped guitars and vocals, vocoders pretending to be backing singers, random beat-sliced fills happening on drums that are mostly recycled from other songs on the EP, synth parts that get assembled in stages over the course of the song…you name it. Just showing off, really.

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