Interview: Super Magic Hats on Separation
We talk to Rob Masterton, otherwise known as Melbourne-via-London electronic musician, Super Magic Hats, about his new album, ‘Separation’:
Hi Rob and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Something You Said. Your rich and textural compositions are masterfully crafted and reveal more and more with every listen. Can you explain your approach to song-making and if it is a piecemeal process or one that arrives in a tsunami of ideas and a creative flurry?
Generally it’s different for every track, and I try to evolve my processes over time as well. A lot of the tracks on Separation, though, started off as ideas on an iPad app called “Gadget”; I was trying to get something creative out of the hour or so dead time on the train every day and that seemed like a good way to do it. I bounced a lot of those ideas into Ableton and played around with them and built tracks around them in that way. Some tracks need a lot of work and some are more spontaneous… It’s something that also needs to be balanced around everything else in life, so being able to make time to write and produce and then to use that time in a good way can be tricky too.
Your subject matter addresses such issues as anxiety, displacement and longing but, in your own words, you make “happy songs about feeling sad”. I think it is such a wonderful and liberating idea to express such deep and dark thoughts through uplifting music. Was this the plan for Separation from the outset?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision as much as it was a product of that particular time in my life. There were a lot of negative factors to deal with and simultaneously there was a lot of incredibly inspiring music that I was listening to and that was something that gave me a degree of solace. Especially the Zoom Lens label, whose music deals with a range of emotions and isn’t afraid of being confronting, their ethos was really inspirational to me. Finding that in other people’s music can also encourage you to find that in your own, and for me, I think that making bright and warm music created a positive place that I could exist in.
I am curious about the emotional and musical confluence, in your mind are there certain sounds and effects that really represent specific emotions or sentiments?
There’s a lot of really obvious ones, and I think a lot of the time it’s about the execution more than anything. There’s a lot of really trite and cliche things, like using various string arrangements to be “emotional”. I am really drawn to sparseness when it comes to emotive music – which goes against my instinct, or lack of confidence, as a producer, which leads me to throw layer upon layer. Something like Maria by Closer Musik or Sink by Qrion, both are really powerful pieces of music but use very stripped back production and don’t overcomplicate things.
Was there a lot of thought put into the track listing/sequence as a form of narrative that ties the individual tracks into a greater overarching statement?
Yeah definitely, I think that the key to a good album rather than a good collection of tracks is the way that they are put together. A good album can really engage from start to finish and provides a context for the music that is greater than if you were to listen to the tracks individually. Alex (Hush Hush label manager) was really helpful with this too, together we put a lot of effort into curating the tracks and presenting them as a cohesive whole.
Having spent some time in the UK, where there any deep impressions made on you during that time which found their way into some of the tracks on the album?
Yeah, I think one of the themes of displacement has a really large basis in that time. I miss my friends and family back in the UK and even though we keep in touch via FaceTime and the like, it’s not the same as just being able to go and hang out. There’s a lot I miss about London, it’s a dynamic place to live and you can connect with a huge range of culture. Sometimes I will build a track around references to my past, and I also use a lot of field recordings as a way to bring places into my music.
Your clearly enjoy the city you live in (Melbourne) as is reflected in your video clips, what is it about Melbourne that inspires you to use the city as the focal point for your clips?
I think with my clips, the footage was more about trying to capture a mood, and also film them in places I was going to be anyway… hence Melbourne (and Freo and Sydney too). I do like Melbourne though, for sure. I have been totally converted from tea to coffee. On clips: there’s a new clip on the way for Transpose, and it’s being animated by Tessa Chong, who did the album artwork.
On a technical level, what’s in the kit?
It’s grown a bit recently, Separation was made on my iPad, an iMac running Ableton Live, an Arturia MicroBrute (all of the basslines are from this synth), a Korg Volca Keys, a MicroKorg XL, a Pocket Piano (my favourite synth), a Fender Jaguar and Vocaloid software for the vocals. My (not so) secret weapon is the mastering prowess of Andrei Eremin, though.
What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I hope to catch up on all the episodes of Assassination Classroom that I’ve missed over the last few months.
The album will be available on iTunes Friday May 20th
Interview by Courtney Dabb.