On the heels of Cremator’s album Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, we talk with Matt Thompson about his synth-fueled songs
Cremator is a band you may not know about, but a band you certainly should get to know. Matt Thompson is the brainchild behind the synth-fueled epic songs. His music is an incredible and fascinating homage to the foundational work of the ’70s analog movement. His latest symphony is called Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, out on cassette through Field Hymns Records and digitally through viable sources. Two songs act like an exploratory jazz album. That is if Mingus picked up a Korg and made an entirely new language.
Thompson opens up about his musical history, conceptual analysis on the new album and a Futurist world. Sit back and stare in awe.
Cremator – Alpha Ralpha Boulevard
What led you to start Cremator?
My other band Zoltan started up around 2010. Before that I’d been releasing records under the name of Rashomon for a few years. But once we started Zoltan I grew more interested in working with the banks of synthesisers lurking in my brother Andy’s spare room. Lots of these synths were picked up cheap in the 1980s by the way, when every other idiot wanted a DX7 or similar pieces of digital crap. Cremator started with some leftover ideas from Zoltan, but took on a shape of its own fairly quickly. There’s actually an earlier album called “Clear Air Turbulence” too, but it hasn’t been released as yet.
Tell me a little about Zoltan and why not do “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” under the Zoltan name?
Well, Zoltan is a band and Cremator is a solo project. It’s not really anything to do with the other guys (apart from the fact I borrowed all their keyboards). Zoltan started because we wanted to put the aforementioned banks of synths to good use. We also were pretending to ourselves we can play as well as Rush and Gentle Giant. I think we’re getting there on that one, slowly. Very slowly actually.
The synth work on “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is stunning! Can you talk about what went into the process?
A lot of these keyboards do the work for you really! When you’re using the MiniMoog, Roland Jupiter 8, Mellotron etc pretty much anything will sound good. I try not to overuse any one sound and layer the tracks spatially as much as melodically. However, the reality of it is “let’s just tweak this dial, oh yeah that sounds good” a lot of the time.
What are some of your favorite sounds and happy accidents that went into this album?
My favourite sound is the “kick drum”, which I actually sampled from a track by an internationally famous synth band from the European continent. It’s probably the only non-analogue sound on the record, although the initial sound was actually from a non-musical source so I guess it counts.
Volume seems to be an important component to these songs. Is that intentional and how does volume play a role in your mindset when composing music?
Never really thought about it! I’d recommend listening to it with some sort of volume, otherwise you won’t be able to hear anything. Talking of volume, the loudest band I ever saw was Manowar.
How did you come up with the concept to “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard?”
I named the tracks after stories by one of my favourite crazy sci-fi authors, Cordwainer Smith aka Paul Linebarger. People have told me they think the music follows the plot of the stories, but they’d probably say the same thing if I’d called the album “The Da Vinci Code” or whatever, so who knows?
There are elements to the story that makes me think of Ayn Rand. Am I right? Who influenced you in terms of concept?
All I know about Ayn Rand is that she inspired Rush to come up with “2112”, beyond that I could tell you nothing. That’s good enough for me on its own though. I was reading a lot of C.M Kornbluth and James Tiptree Jr. aka Alice Sheldon around the time I was recording, so hopefully some of that weirdness seeped in. Also, the writings of Philip K. Dick are to me as the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard are to a Scientologist. Make of that what you will.
The album sort of presents a sense of duality – each of the two songs having a distinct style and mood to it. Were you going for that approach and why the lengthy epic songs? Why not shorter pieces?
I always like to make albums vinyl-length on principle, and I also try to always make the two halves different from each other. It’s like the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul – the same story, told two different ways. The pieces are actually made up of shorter sections segued together, but so is “Supper’s Ready” if you listen to it closely so there’s my excuse. Coming up with coherent 20 minute songs is difficult anyway when you’re working solo and layering the tracks, unless you smoke industrial amounts of weed (which I don’t).
How did you get into electronic music and and how did that influence your perceptibility as a musician?
My electronic music listening arc when I was a teenager went something like Pink Floyd – Tangerine Dream – Philip Glass – Iannis Xenakis, so I like to take elements from all these different strands these days. Now I’m older I don’t care if Vangelis or whoever isn’t cool, so I’ll steal from anywhere. Actually now I think about it my introduction was the same as everyone else’s in the UK in the 1970s – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s sound design and music for Dr. Who.
How are Internet avenues like BandCamp and the cassette label Field Hymns affecting your perception as a musician?
BandCamp puts downloads under your control pretty much, with none of the irritating middle-men you seem to need to get onto iTunes or other download behemoths. In other words, you can actually make a little bit of money back if you’re lucky.
It seems that if the kids want a physical artefact these days it’ll be vinyl, or failing that cassette. CDs and CD-Rs are heading towards the dungheap for the discerning record buyer, but at least cassettes are quick and easy to produce, unlike vinyl. As a musician the temptation is to record as much as possible and saturate the “market”, but I prefer to record maybe one album per year from each project I have and keep the quality level up (as far as my ability allows anyway). Field Hymns has been a really nice label to deal with by the way, kudos to Dylan for his attitude to running it!
What do you hope to do with the Cremator moniker, and what else do you have going on this summer?
I’ve got some new stuff being recorded right now as Cremator. Hopefully the unreleased first album will be out soon. Maybe I’ll even play live if I can figure out a way to do it. I’m also waiting to be described as a “synth wizard”, even though I can’t really play keyboards. Not that Klaus Schulze was ever bothered by that so why should I be?
Apart from that, Zoltan have a couple of singles on the way. We are reworking the soundtrack to the UK’s only biker horror flick “Psychomania” (that’ll be on Cineploit, who put out our album last year). There’s a new album on the way from Rashomon too, plus I intend to record a cover of “Rip & Destroy” from my favourite film “Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park”. That one may end up on the back burner to be honest.