What’s up, chip peeps? This month, I’d like to bring your attention to a duo specializing in the creation of refreshing music made from vintage gear and classic synthesizers. That duo goes by the name of Conquer Monster. I look for artists who love what I love. Groups of people who hang out in the underground scene. Those who would rather own a synth than a car, who spent time circuit bending when other sounds become standard and stale, and those who just feel their sole purpose on the planet is to express themselves through sound.
CM released their album, Metatransit, on October 16th, 2015. It serves as the score for the comic book Purge Worlds , written by Joshua Oman and illustrated by Chris Black. This concept album refers to tragic hero Brandon Lao’s adventure to seek revenge for his partner Anna’s death, through the exploration of different planets. The album is dark, futuristic, while also beat driven and nostalgic. Metatransit explores the themes of the comic with 80s style drum beats, chopped voices, catchy riffs, great melodies, and inspiring sound design work. So, without further ado, let’s enter the world of Joshua Faulkner and Daniel Romero, of Conquer Monster.
So, tell me a little about the artists involved. What are your names, where are you from, and how did your start creating music together?
Joshua: Joshua Faulkner, Salt Lake City, Utah. In Conquer Monster I play a Commodore 64 running Cynthcart, a C64 running MSSIAH, and a Gameboy Color running LSDJ (played live with modded PS/2 keyboard).
Daniel: Daniel Romero, Salt Lake City, Utah. Instruments I play in Conquer Monster: Roland Juno 6, Moog Little Phatty, Korg Microkorg, Suzuki Omnichord. I met Josh when I first saw CM play at a house show. I had never seen such a cool hands on electronic project. We talked and nerded out on gear the rest of the night and that was about it. Six months later I got a message from Josh asking me to play in CM, and I started the next week.
What got you into the C64?
Joshua: I fell in love with Paul Slocum’s Dot Matrix Synth, which I found by accident somewhere on the Internet. I then looked into what else he had created, which brought me to his Cynthcart for the C64. After watching a video of the Cynthcart in action, I immediately bought a C64 off Ebay and a Cynthcart from Atariage.
Think back to the first song that inspired you to get into music. What was it?
Daniel: Neutral Milk Hotel inspired me to start playing music. The Unicorns inspired me to start collecting synths. Neon Indian inspired me to write music that provoked feelings and created dreamy atmospheres.
Joshua: The first song that inspired me to write music was probably Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” I loved how universal and timeless the message was. More relevant to this project, I’ve really been inspired by the integration of vocal samples with music from bands like Man or Astro-man? and The Books.
What other instruments do you play, besides what we hear?
Daniel: I’m mostly synth based these days, but occasionally I love playing my synth leads on gritty distorted guitar. I also love playing bass.
Joshua: I play an Apple IIc, NES with Power Pad, Atari 2600, various circuit bent toys (Touch N’ Tell, Speak N’ Spell/Math/Read, Casio Keyboards), and a number of homemade synths. I also play in a folk project where I play a classical guitar, harmonica, and kazoo.
Any upcoming releases?
Daniel: Our electro sci-fi adventure album Metatransit was just released a few weeks ago!
Joshua: We’ve worked closely with Black Omen Comics to develop an audio/visual experience that is unique to both our projects. We’ve released Metatransit in a number of formats: Standard CD, CD encased in a defunct 5.25″ diskette, VHS with custom visuals, and digital download.
Any upcoming shows?
What goes through your head when you write music (whether it be something sentimental, like memories, or something technical, etc.)?
Joshua: Every music project I’ve been involved with (including solo projects) I’ve written music through messing around or jamming with other musicians. I don’t have a lot of formal musical knowledge so I rely a lot on trial and error. This will sound cheesy, but I don’t think of anything really, I just try to feel the music and see what comes out. Sometimes it sounds really bad and sometimes I’m really proud of it.
Daniel: When I write music, something naturally just takes over me, and I’m able to just find these catchy riffs, leads, and chord progressions. I’m amazed at some of things I write sometimes. My writing process always starts with my DD7 pedal that has a loop function. I start with a chord progression that provokes a certain mood and a drum beat that gets my head bobbing. I’ll also loop various ambient elements to give it some depth. Then I experiment with bass lines and leads until something beautiful happens, and I can start to feel synergy between all the elements. It’s one of my favorite feelings in the world.
I saw photos from a live show and I spy a Moog. How much of your live set is hardware vs software?
Daniel: I think it’s pretty neat that everything on the album was recorded directly in from our instruments with the exception of the drums. I would say we’re 90% hardware. The other 10% would be the post production stuff we add like glitches, filters, samples, and drums.
Joshua: Like Daniel mentioned, we don’t use software synths within Logic Pro, but since I use vintage computers, software (on cartridges) plays an important role in my sound. I’ve hardware modded both my C64s and my Gameboy, and those hardware mods contribute to my sound, but I’d say that Cynthcart, MSSIAH, and LSDJ contribute as much to my sound as the sound chips inside of my equipment.
When playing live, are you trying to completely replicate what’s been released, or is some of it improvisation?
Daniel: For the most part, the songs sound better if we stick to how they’re played as far as riffs go, but we always add some rad electronic flare when we play live. We create a lot of sounds that are foreign to human ears!
Joshua: It depends on the riff for me. Some riffs I try to recreate exactly, but others I leave room for improvisation.
Top 5 favorite synths – go.
Daniel: Roland Jupiter 8, Korg Polysix, Roland Juno 60, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Yamaha DX7
Joshua: I collect voice synths, so I’ll answer in this context: VTec Music Major, TI Touch N Tell, TI Speak N Read, VTec Learning-Window Teaching Machine, and Coleco Talking Teacher.
Your dream studios would contain…
Daniel: All analog recording equipment! Every Roland TR drum machine series. All the synths! Circuit bending workshop. Visuals/video manipulation station.
Joshua: I think Daniel covered the basics of our dream studio.
Opinions of unicorns?
Daniel: The movie Legend sums it up.
Joshua: Rainbows or it didn’t happen.
How do you write together? Is one person assigned to one synth/computer etc?
Joshua: Every song is different, but most of the time Daniel brings song elements to practice. We then jam to create additional elements. We record anything and everything during these sessions (similar to a brainstorming session) and then I take all of the elements home, make a rough arrangement, and add drums and samples. I then bring the song back to practice to see what Daniel thinks of it. From here we continue this back-and-forth collaborative process until the song is finished. I love the way we write songs. Our collaboration (and constant revision) allows us to write songs that are far better than either of us could write on our own.
Tell me anything else you think we should know.
Joshua: We are really excited about this release and want others to be excited about it too. At the very least we would love everyone to listen to our album at conquermonster.bandcamp.com or download some free music. If you are interested in buying a CD, VHS, comic book, or shirt check out our physical releases at www.store.conquermonster.com. If you want to support us, but can’t support us financially, consider following us through social media. Thanks for the Q&A, it was a lot of fun!
Words can’t express enough how much effort was clearly put into this album. I had a hard time just listening to the whole thing because I’d hear something otherworldly and feel instantly inspired to go work on something of my own. I have a lot of appreciation for artists who can make insane sounds and make them fit with something melodic, and this album does just that. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of anything these guys have in their online store, and keep your attention on these two. I feel like good things are certainly in the works. Thanks again to Conquer Monster for taking the time to let me interview them and reaching out, and I hope to see you perform in Boston sometime.
Till next time,
The Unicorn Princess