A. E. Paterra

A Conversation with Majeure

A member of Zombi, A.E. Paterra expands his synth sounds with Majeure

Listening to Majeure, it conjures up the wondrous ghosts of ’70s ambient composers and ’80s analog soundtracks. Lesser known as A.E. Paterra and more prominently known as one half the duo Zombi, Paterra has made a name for himself and his contributions to ambient analog culture, a sub genre that is seeing quite the revival. With Solar Maximum, now out on Temporary Residence, Ltd., it’s like staring into the sun and Majeure has made the soundtrack to it. You will stand there in awe as the music takes you to another dimension.

Majeure – Solar Maximum

What made you originally want to break away from Zombi and create the sound that is Majeure? Tell me what was going on in your life at the time? Are there things you could not do in Zombi that you are doing on this side of the spectrum? Was it also an identity issue where Zombi has one distinct style and Majeure another?

Majeure is not a break from Zombi. Rather, we had just finished Spirit Animal, and I had been working more and more in my studio, getting comfortable recording on my own. I’m always throwing ideas around, and some started to take shape. They eventually became Timespan. I have complete control over all facets of the process with Majeure. With Zombi, all mixing and most of the final synth performance is done by Steve – that isn’t the case with Majeure. Regarding an identity issue, I don’t believe there is a distinct sound difference, but a Zombi song is highly recognizable as such. I hope that Majeure will develop its own voice over time.

How does a Majeure song come together? What main factors help develop the sound and style you create?

I usually start with a rhythmic idea, and then layer and build as I go. I try everything I can, and if it isn’t working, I just move on. I’ve found that a song either comes together quickly or fades away. But I don’t really try to write songs per se. Most of the time they are simply sound sketches, and then I see if I can play drums along with it in some way. If that works, then I continue and build from there.

“Solar Maximum” is not much different than “Timespan” in context, yet the album is indeed different. What influential factors led to the making of “Solar Maximum?”

I really wanted to test my songwriting with Solar Maximum. I tried to create different moods within the songs, crafting sections and passages. My influences did not change that much, just the way I approach them did.

Majeure – Teleforce

Not just layering is important in your songs, but volume is a distinct factor, especially on “Solar Maximum.” How does volume play a role in the communication of the song and what is intended for the listener to attain from it?

Well, not sure if that is intentional. I am still far from being where I want to be when it comes to mixing. Dynamics are important. I think to compensate for my inabilities I just try to make things hit as hard as they can. However, I don’t think this a bad thing, especially when working with live drums. I want them to be prominent in the mix, and as present as possible. But when you push the drums, you have to push the synths, so the end result is higher volume. The listener, in the end, must to be immersed in a wash of thick synthesizers and drums.

How are translating the music into a live setting, and how are people reacting to it?

I don’t play drums for my live show. I never intended to play live with Majeure. The thought of seeing a lone drummer play along to pre-recorded tracks seemed boring. I’ve seen others do it, and do it well, but with Majeure it didn’t seem too exciting, especially because the focus isn’t on woodshedding. But at some point after I recorded Timespan I started using Ableton, which is just fantastic for live use.

At the urging of a friend I played the first VIA Festival in Pittsburgh, and it went really well. I was absolutely terrified to be on stage without my drums protecting me! My process for live playing is to rework the songs, essentially performing remixes of my tracks. I use programmed drums and use Ableton in tandem with hardware synths. I have much more control that way. Since then I’ve done a short Euro-tour, and went out with Trans Am last fall, and just returned home from a 20 date tour supporting Maserati. Audiences have been receptive, especially when there is a proper sound system.

With “Timespan,” you recorded three songs and offered various remixes to fill out the album. “Solar Maximum” is a longer entity and all constructed by you. What was the decision this time to do it like this? Why not have Steve Moore involved in some way this time around?

The remixes for Timespan weren’t part of the original plan. Lengthwise, both albums are the same. If I’m going to work with Steve I’m sure we’d much rather just work on a Zombi album.

Zombi-Spirit Animal

How much of ’80s-style synth is really an influence to you and what do you find romantic about that genre of sound sculpturing where people like Steve Roach and Tangerine Dream built up in the ’70s? What are your favorite scores from this era? Where do you see this structure of ambient music heading?

I first started writing my own music in 1999 and I drew a lot from bands like Trans Am, Stereolab, Kraftwerk – but lurking in there were all of the soundtracks I heard as a kid. Vangelis, Goblin, Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter. Acts like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Shulze, Ash Ra, Manuel Gottsching didn’t enter the fold until years later after Zombi was started. In 2001, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone else doing what Steve and I were doing.

Then all of a sudden, about 3 or 4 years ago, things started to change and more and more people were starting to draw on those influences. A lot of albums from the late 70′s, electronic artists from the 70′s and 80′s, soundtracks from the same era – they all influence me, as they do so many others. I can’t explain why there has been such a resurgence, but I don’t mind it at all. I also think it has always been there, just lurking in dark corners, and now for some reason the blogosphere and press have accept it. When it all boils down, I’ve never been able to play stringed instruments, and I think a synth is much more fun to experiment with.

What are your plans for the coming year?

As I mentioned, I just returned from a tour, and I would like to do more. I’m not at the point where I feel comfortable touring alone, so I am trying to find the right fit for a support tour. I’m probably going to take a little time off and start writing again after the New Year, see what happens. I’ve been running the VCO cassette label with Steve Moore, and we have a bunch of releases planned for the upcoming year.

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