As Com Truise releases his rarities compilation and prepares for a return to Scotland, he talks to The Skinny about sci-fi, synthesisers and his home at Ghostly International
Seth Haley, aka Com Truise, first came to prominence after the release of Cyanide Sisters on AMDISCS, a well-respected underground and largely net-based label. This EP caught the attention of Ghostly International, home to the likes of Gold Panda and Matthew Dear, who signed Haley and released his debut album, 2011's Galactic Melt.
Although Com Truise was the first of Haley's aliases to make a big impact, he had already been DJing producing tracks for over a decade, with several namesakes for different styles and sounds; his multiple aliases akin to the 'scramble suits' in Philip K. Dick's science fiction classic A Scanner Darkly. The Com Truise persona brought out still more science fiction resonances – the synths of the achingly beautiful, bass-propelled Brokendate recalled Girogio Moroder and Vangelis, while the video took visual cues from Bladerunner and Neuromancer. Galactic Melt was a hit with fans and critics alike, and saw Com Truise become one of the most hyped artists in the emerging chillwave scene.
His reliance on analogue synths, and tempos and styles from clasic 80s synthpop, led Haley to describe the Com Truise sound as “mid-fi synth-wave, slow-motion funk,” eschewing the lo-fi aesthetics of some chillwave artists for a more polished, slicker sound. Subsequent tours, aided by live drummer Rory O'Connor (of the band Tycho) gained him a reputation as an unmissable live act, and in the lead-up to his as-yet unnamed follow-up to Galactic Melt, Haley is in demand as a producer, composer and performer. Ghostly are set to release In Decay, a collection of early songs, rarities and exclusive tracks, and the response to the album online has been one of fevered enthusiasm. “I didn't expect this response, you know? It's pretty crazy,” says Haley, just now returned from the final leg of a worldwide tour.
Is it strange, releasing older tracks before new material? “For the most part, they are older,” says Haley. “There are only three or four new songs. I was with a friend yesterday, and we were talking about phase two, and with In Decay, I kind of feel like it's the final part of this chapter. Now I can start to kind of experiment more, because I was feeling a little trapped for a while there, after doing a bunch of touring and stuff. But then Ghostly said, 'Well, you've got all these songs,' which I've put out on mixtapes and on the Komputer Kasts and stuff, and stuff that was just on Soundcloud.” The Komputer Kasts, a series of mixtapes Haley produced for his website, are still available and contain many of the tracks from In Decay, but the tracks have never been released officially.
“People would always email me: 'When's this track coming out?'” says Haley. “I just didn't put them on the album, or any of the releases up until this point. So Ghostly were like, 'Do you want to do a compilation?' And Iwas like, 'Yeah,' because I wanted to put these tunes out there, for people to have, rather than YouTube rips or Soundcloud rips, y'know. So that's how In Decay started – I mastered the tracks myself, did the artwork, and put them out.”
How far back do these tracks go? “Some of them, I wrote even before Cyanide Sisters,” Haley explains. “I went on this weird tangent; I'd have an idea, but then I started to write Cyanide Sisters music. I got a little bit more experimental, so some of the songs that ended up on In Decay, like Climax for example – it's very electronic, and it's not deeply experimental; it's got a steady beat, it's kind of condensed – feel polished and light. Whereas with Cyanide Sisters, that was me saying: 'Okay, I've been doing this semi-structured music for so long, maybe I'll just kind of.... move it around a little bit.' I'd just gotten into the whole chillwave scene, so I was kind of thinking, 'What can I bring to the table?' So some of those tracks are maybe a continuation [of the themes and sounds on Galactic Melt], and there are parts of them which follow the same path. But there are others which are pretty old, at least to me. It feels different.”
The follow-up to Galactic Melt, which was featured heavily in many magazine and website end-of-year top tens for 2011, is in the works: “I'm maybe seventy percent of the way – I'm working on the next EP, and then I'll have to do the album,” says Haley. “I've been touring and doing interviews for a while, so I haven't really had the right amount of time to really focus, I haven't really come up with a nice concept. But it's starting to piece itself together, which is nice. I finally got home yesterday, so I've been writing all morning. I just got a bunch of new equipment, so I'm pretty stoked about that.”
The new EP and album will see Haley working with vocals – some his own, some collaborations. The process of collaboration is not without its problems, though: “I like vocals and everything, but when you don't do them yourself, it kind of takes a while,” Haley says. “It does take a while for people to get back to you, and I don't necessarily like that whole process... But there are some people, like Joel Ford of Airbird, who I've been talking to. We actually have a show together next weekend, so we're going to meet up before... he's working on an album too, so we're hopefully going to collaborate on each other's projects.”
Who else might we see on the new material? “I've been talking with Charli XCX, back and forth,” Haley reveals. He has wanted to work with other bands and singers as a producer for some time now: “I finally feel like I could start producing other bands, and with the touring calming down, I'm thinking: 'What's next?'” he says. “I'd really like to produce for people. I feel like now is a good time. I had some opportunities which didn't quite pan out in the past, just because of timing and stuff. I was gonna work with VV Brown, the British pop singer, but it just didn't quite pan out. So she's actually gonna sing on some of my songs now, and then hopefully I can write for her album. It's... well... there are a lot of fish in the sea right now, y'know!”
Com Truise is in demand, and Haley is incorporating some impressive new vintage gear into his productions: “I just got a piece from Florida last Tuesday, an hour before I had to go to the airport – the Roland GR700, which is like the GR707, it's a guitar system,” he enthuses. “It's loosely based on the Roland Juno 106, but it's the guitar version. That thing's pretty gnarly. I've been messing with it all morning. The week before that, I got an Oberheim Xpander. I've been waiting to get my hands on that! I have the Oberheim Matrix 6 too, and I love that thing, but it's tricky to program. The Xpander, it feels more analogue – more buttons and stuff, y'know, more dials, as opposed to the push-functions on the Matrix 6. And then I bought this Italian synth that I've been looking at for a long time. It's called the Crumar Bit One. It came; I'd bought it from Tone Tweakers – they do a lot of restoration, and their stuff's perfect. I opened it up, I couldn't believe how cool it was. It was like it just came out of the factory – I was totally blown away. I was like, 'Is this real?' That thing... the Crumar Bit One does not sound like anything else I've ever heard. It's weird. So I've been putting that through its paces. I've been trying not to buy too many keyboards, I've been working on more modular systems. So, I have enough to make it work, but I'm still building more.”
Is the studio setup very different to the kit he uses on tour? “I used a Prophet 08 on tour, but it got totally trashed,” he explains. “It's analogue, it's trusty, it's not that old, so getting it fixed is not that hard, for the most part. I was using the Dave Smith Mopho for a time, but then I definitely needed some polyphony in there, so I moved to the Prophet. I'd actually like to bring the two out, but I haven't gotten around to really programming in everything that I need for the songs, so that's my next goal, to reprogram both with the new music which has just come out. The Prophet 08 is a great-sounding synth. The first day I got it, was working on a remix of this American R&B pop singer, ZZ Moor. I plugged it in, and I'd written these chords, and I was like, 'Okay, lets see what this sounds like.' I was going through the presets, and I just found one that I didn't need to change at all. It was perfect, and I recorded it, and it sounded beautiful. It's a great synth.”
Before going full-time as a musician, Haley was a visual creative in the advertising industry, and he still designs his own artwork and graphics. Working in advertising also taught him discipline: “It's a pretty crazy industry, you're kind of at the mercy of someone else the whole time,” he says. “You have to find a way to get things done, so the structures I learned, the whole process of project planning and the next steps, the steps before, the steps after, all that, y'know... it's most definitely helpful, for the most part, when I'm working on music. Staying on your guidelines – I don't like to stray too much sometimes, so I value those skills. I'm very lucky to have both sets of skills, I think. They definitely work hand in hand for me, the visual and the musical.”
How does being a full-time musician compare with working for an advertising agency? “At first it was pretty exciting – it was the first time I'd not had a full-time job, ever,” says Haley. “Now it's getting to the point where I'm making enough money to survive, but at the same time, it's difficult to really discipline myself. That kind of stresses me out a little, because I used to go to work every day and be visually creative all day, and then I would go home and all my musical ideas would just pour out, because I only had a certain amount of time to work on them. Now I kinda have all day, every day to work on music, so I try and take my time, and sometimes I'm just a little lazy, so I'm still trying to find the best way to stay focused. I'm starting to figure it out more and more. In the past few weeks I've kind of been pushing myself to get back in that routine of being creative, no matter what. It's difficult, but I'm enjoying it.”
Are there any plans to include Rory O'Connor's drumming on the new material he's working on? “Rory just moved to San Francisco; he also plays for the band Tycho. So he's trying to do double-time here and there,” Haley explains. “I'd love to record with him, and I've been thinking about it more and more... I was thinking about it this morning, because I wrote the craziest beat ever, so I was kind of thinking, 'I wonder how Rory's gonna figure out how to play this,' y'know? So it's kind of in the back of my mind now; that was always the original goal was to have live drums. There's nothing that compares to live hats and cymbals, there's nothing that sounds like it. No recordings really match how it sounds live. So it was always in the back of my head, and then it kinda happened. We practised for three days and then started touring. So it's definitely still in the back of my mind, now.”
Ghostly International seems like the perfect home for Haley's music, in that it prioritises pop sensibilities over straight-up dancefloor appeal. What have Ghostly been like to work with as a label? “It's been pretty amazing, to be completely honest with you,” he says. “It was very unexpected, for it to happen the way it did. It kind of came out of the blue. I had no expectations for this project, and then they contacted me and we kind of hit the ground running. Everything's been amazing, it's a great team at Ghostly. I'm happy to be in that family.”
Does Haley have any plans to produce work for other labels? “I would like to, maybe under different names,” he says. “I've been talking to the smaller record labels, like Voltaire Records from San Francisco, just to release some other music that's kind of more upbeat, this kind of funk stuff that I've been working on on the side, y'know, just kinda goofing around, to escape my midrange tempo style. But as far as Com Truise goes, I hope it stays on Ghostly. I don't necessarily feel like it would fit anywhere else, it fits perfectly right there. After the EP and the album, we'll see where it goes. I hope to remain part of the Ghostly family.”
So his old aliases are still active? “Maybe not in terms of producing new music as Sarin Sunday- but there are lots and lots of old tunes that people are kind of interested in,” he says. “They're kind of stuck on this old hard drive, and I'm not sure if I can rescue them. So they might be lost forever, or they might not – I have to get around to doing that. I think they were kind of interested in releasing them just through the digital world.” An inveterate tinkerer, Haley has been building his own modular synth: “That's got me thinking about System again, making some more kind of grungier dance music,” he says. “With Airliner too, there's been some interest from labels, but it would be difficult to go on tour to support it because of all the sampling and stuff. It's kind of a headache. But I'm definitely thinking in terms of Sarin Sunday, System and Airliner still being active, but definitely the focus is Com Truise right now.”
Haley has spoken before about a desire to produce music for films. One of his remixes was featured on the Tron Legacy: Reconfigured release. Is he any nearer to making this dream a reality? “I've been getting some offers coming in for independent short films, which would definitely be a good start,” he says. “I had a couple of meetings with Sony Pictures out in Hollywood a while back; we had some handshakes and some smiles, some talk about my goals and stuff like that. So if that's fruitful, that's great, if not... it'll happen eventually, I'm not too worried about it. But yeah, producing for other people, and scoring films, that's what I would like to do. But until then I'm just gonna keep doing what I'm doing.”
Haley made most of Galactic Melt while living in new Jersey – did the environment and culture there affect his music? “I'm actually from upstate New York, originally,” he expplains. “I moved to New Jersey to work in advertising. It definitely had an effect on me – it's pretty busy, the whole state, pretty crazy. It definitely reflects in some strange way on my music. I mean, Jersey does get a bad rep, but there are some of the best beaches I've ever been to. Obviously there's the beach where they film Jersey Shore... it kind of is basically like the TV show. But my parents came down once and we went to a beach thirty minutes north of there. It was sunny, there were dolphins swimming off the coast, it was beautiful. So, y'know, it's definitely kind of a mix of both. I like the change in seasons. I don't know what I would do if I lived in a place that didn't get snow. I wrote all this Com Truise music in New Jersey, so when I first got started I said: 'I'm from new Jersey,' because the music is from there. I kind of felt like although I'm from New York, this music's from New Jersey; it's my life in New Jersey. It's definitely a reflection of that time and place.”
The beach recurs as a theme in Haley's music and graphic work – what does the image of the beach mean to him? “For the most part, I think it's kind of a nostalgic thing for me,” he says. “My family and I used to take a trip to Rhode Island every summer when I was little. Some of the images from childhood – you kind of forget a lot of them, but some just kind of stick out in your mind. I can remember just laying in my bed and hearing the ocean right across the street; sitting outside with my little sister on the rocks. I kind of go to that place when I write music, I put myself back there. I try and imagine if I was the age I am now, what I would think about the future then. It's just kind of a nostalgic thing for me.”
This retro-futurist approach often leads to a reductive description of his music as '80s' – is it a term he is happy to embrace? “I don't really mind, because I definitely strive to use that equipment, and those recording techniques, for the most part, and kind of put my spin on them,” he says. “I don't really mind, it doesn't bother me.” At least part of this comparison stems from his love of sceince fiction from that era, in terms of aesthetic, sound design and thematic concerns: “Bladerunner is probably my favourite science fiction film,” he says.
Newer films which also fetishise this era of film-making also hold appeal: “Beyond The Black Rainbow has definitely been my new kind of go-to movie to watch if I'm feeling a little bit uninspired, just because it's so visual and beautiful, and the sound design is ridiculously good.” The sound design of classic 80s science fiction films is something he is always returning to: “I'm a big fan of THX1138, Robocop, Terminator, everything from that era.”
SF is such a big part of his life that he can't remember a time before he fell in love with it: “I feel like I was just born with this love of sci-fi, I don't really remember a point where I was like: 'I'm a sci-fi fan.' Neuromancer is one of my favourite books, and I'm reading Mona Lisa Overdrive right now. So that's my draw, it's definitely sci-fi. I guess what is inspiring, for example in Bladerunner, is the way they made the technology look. All the machines and the cars and stuff. Somebody had to come up with that – it came from somebody's mind, and that kind of fascinates me. You have to be super-highly creative to think about how something might look, and then actually make it look that way, y'know? So I kind of draw from the way the computers work, the technology in the movies. Same in Aliens – the set design, all the computers, all the little noises. That totally blows my mind.”
With In Decay set to close the first chapter in the Com Truise saga, Haley returns to his subterranean control-room, populated with banks of twinkling diodes and chrome and black machines, ready to imagine more retro-cyberpunk futures, and explore the synth-funk of the spaceways: “I do like to pretend I'm at NASA Control, launching space shuttles when I'm working,” he laughs. Picture him amid a chaos of deconstructed equipment, panels removed to expose the wiring, like Forge from the X-Men, creating new hybrid machines and sounds: “I've always been into electronics ever since I was little – I used to build little remote control cars out of other remote control cars; take everything apart and then put it back together,” he recalls wistfully. “That's definitely one of the reasons I do the things I do.” He's a technological dreamer; a visionary building the digital future from analogue parts, and the future's bright. The future's Ghostly.