On the heels of the 1970s, the 1980s marked an era in which music, and the music recording process, was beginning to change. The dry and crisp tones of the 70s were replaced by bigger, reverberating textures. With the help of technological developments, like the LinnDrum, shimmering tonality of the chorus effect pedal, and the repurposed sound synthesizers like the Roland Juno 106, the 80s were able to achieve a distinct sound. While that era has come and gone, artists like, Blood Orange, Wild Nothing , and many others, have taken some of the equipment and techniques of the 80s and offered a contemporary interpretation.
Offering their take on the golden era of 80s music, Philadelphia-based music duo, Crozet wields together lush synthesizers, powerful drums, and soaring melodies to create a grand sound. On Saturday, May 25th, Crozet will be playing a headlining show at South Philly’s, Boot and Saddle concert venue. Before their show, I stopped by the Gradwell House , where they recorded and mixed their album, Running Time, and recorded a live album, Crozet Live at the Gradwell House, to talk about the music that has inspired them, how photography and music work together, some of the equipment they used to achieve their vintage sound, and much more! Here’s our conversation:
Stanley: Crozet began as a late night musical outlet during John’s last year of college. What was going during that period of your life? How did you and Sean meet?
Crozet: During my senior year of college at UArts I was living in South Philly with a few roommates. I originally commuted to school my first few years from New Jersey, but my senior thesis project took up so much of my time that I had to find a place to live in order to focus on my work for longer periods of time. I was playing in a few bands at the time, but wasn't able to bring a lot of my gear to my apartment. I ended up setting up a small amount of music gear in my bedroom to continue writing music in whatever free time I could find. Specifically, pretty late at night. I was using Propellerhead Reason, had a small 21-key midi controller, one guitar and some small studio monitors. Sean Lee and I have been in bands together since the mid-2000s playing mostly indie rock and metal. We were introduced by some mutual friends in bands we were both playing in while we were in high school. During college we both were really into lo-fi dance music. A lot of Washed Out / Neon Indian / Small Black / Com Truise / Telefon Tel Aviv. We always loved 80's music and it seemed like a lot of these bedroom bands were mimicking the sounds of our favorite 80's bands. I started demoing tracks in Reason in the style of the lo-fi bands at that time and I would send these files over to Sean for him to add his two cents. He would tweak drum parts, add guitars, additional synth parts. After a few months of going back and forth we had an 8-song album of original material and 5 cover songs. Our friend Jim Smith in the band TEEEL heard our stuff over Soundcloud and offered to release all of our material on his indie label Synth Records digitally.
Stanley: After releasing We’ll Be Gone by Then in 2012 you all took a bit of break until Running Time came out. What was that time period like in between albums? Were there any moments of growth, doubt, or fear?
Crozet: After we released We'll Be Gone By Then and Alterations with Synth Records we played shows for a while to support the album. Had a good run of music blogs pushing our stuff for us. We ended up getting a publishing deal to have two of our original tracks "We'll Be Gone By Then" and "Closed Shades" placed in a Zach Efron film called "That Awkward Moment". The director heard our music online and reached out to us directly to offer us the the deal. We landed the title sequence track and the closing credits track. This really helped get our material heard. With the money we were making off of the music we invested right back into ourselves and built a small studio in Seans house with a ton of vintage synthesizers, drum machines, new guitars, amps and some recording equipment. It took a few years to get use to the new gear and learn the recording equipment. Sean and his wife were also starting a family at that time. There were definitely moments of doubt in that we weren't sure how soon we'd have another album ready to release. It was also a very exciting time for us because we love music gear and learning how to use new instruments and programs.
Stanley: Running Time is reminiscent of a lot of 80s Pop/Rock. Who are some of you all’s influences? What is some of the equipment you all used while recording to capture the sound of that era?
Crozet: Sean and I listened to a lot of 80s Pink Floyd. Tons of Peter Gabriel, Phil Colins, Prince, and Def Leppard. The production of the albums created by these artists really spoke to us. We learned about the producers they worked with, the gear they used, what their live performances were like, and paid a lot of attention to the way they wrote and constructed their songs.
We used a Roland Juno 106, Moog MG-1, Moog Minitaur, Korg DW-8000, Yamaha DX-21, Dave Smith Mofo X4, the entire Arturia library of synths, a ton of vintage drum machine sample packs. We recorded live drums at The Gradwell House recording studio in Haddon Heights, NJ and sampled those drums for "Running Time". We layered those live sampled drums with vintage drum machines to create a huge drum sounds. We record guitar with a handful of Stratocasters, a custom built Telecaster that Sean made based off the guitar that Phil Collen from Def Leppard uses. We recorded guitars through some Musicman / Fender tube guitar amps. We also picked up a fretless bass for a few tracks. We also enlisted our friend Carl Cox for some sax tracks on "Moment of Nostalgia".
Stanley: The cover art/supporting art for We’ll Be Gone by Then and Running Time As are incredibly well crafted.
John, as a photographer and graphic designer, how does that background inform your approach to the visual elements of your albums?
Crozet: Thank you! I try to use my own photography for my music projects as much as I can. I love being able to combine different passions of mine into one whenever possible.
For the cover of “Running Time” I worked with longtime friend and photographer Ben MacMaster and his medium format camera. We photographed a couple and their bmx bikes jumping a fence at an old abandoned drive-in movie theater lot in NJ. The songs on the album are written from the perspective of these two people and their relationship.
My lyrics are usually telling a story that I lived personally or someone that I know lived. As a designer and a photographer I try to visualize the stories that I'm telling. I didn't want the art for either album cover to come off as too cliche. It's easy to create gimmicky artwork for the genre of music that we fall under. I try to use a few visual elements from the 80s and things that were relevant during that time period in the artwork for our albums to tie our music to that genre in a lighter way, but at the same time still feel modern.
Stanley: You all have a headlining show at Boot and Saddle on May 25th. What can fans expect to see at the show?
Crozet: We'll be playing at Boot and Saddle on May 25th with our friends from Arch of Love. Our set for this show will consist of material from both of our albums and hopefully a cover or two. We're also trying to create some visuals for the show using old home movies. This is our first show "headlining" so we're kind of nervous, but excited at the same time. Boot and Saddle has amazing sound, so we're excited to be able to play out our new live setup at such a great venue. We hope you can come out and enjoy the show!