Tycho Brahe  (Brisbane, Australia)
SynthPoP For The Masses


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URL: www.tycho.com.au

Artists Music
Ken Evans Vocals, programming, guitar
Georgina Emery Vocals, keyboards
Andy Walls Keyboards, synth bass, programming
Francis Tohill Drums and graphic design
Date: June 2006

In June 2006 I was very glad to interview Ken and Georgina of the Australian band Tycho Brahe.
Well, these were the questions:

When was Tycho Brahe formed und where do all members come from?
It started in 1992 as a studio project with Ken using guest vocalists and me doing background stuff. In 1995,Ken and I started playing live as a duo. The current band lineup is all Australian except for the wee Scotsman Francis. I'm from New South Wales but met Ken in his birth state of South Australia and Andy is a Queenslander- where we all now reside in the sunny city of Brisbane.

What jobs do you have besides being musicians?
Our occupations include Medical Scientist, Human Resource Manager, Graphic Designer and Bank Officer - you can guess who does what J?

As I know, Tycho Brahe started with four members.
What happened with Stephen Birt and Alison Barclay?

It's actually far more complicated than that! As Georgina said earlier, originally Tycho Brahe was exclusively a recording project with me doing programming and a series of female guest vocalists. Georgina was usually involved in the lyric writing. From there it became a live duo with myself taking on lead vocals and some guitar, and Georgina playing some keyboards and doing some vocals. It was a bit uninteresting to watch, so the live band was expanded with Stephen Birt joining on drums, and later Alison Barclay as synth bass player. This was much more interesting to watch onstage with four people. I think Alison just got a bit tired of it all after a couple of years, it was hard work, and she left on very good terms. She was replaced briefly by Lana Gishkariany on synth bass. After that we dropped back to a three piece with Stephen, and later Andy Walls joined on synth bass. Stephen was always involved in several other projects while he was in Tycho, and a mutual decision was made for him to leave the band to concentrate on a couple of those, it was all quite friendly, and we're still in touch. In fact, Alison and Stephen ended up married - they became a couple whilst in the band. I DJ'd at their wedding! Francis Tohill joined on drums a couple of years back - we didn't know at the time, but he'd previously worked as a graphic artist which has been very helpful, he did the CD artwork for "Don't Feel That Way" and "Atlantic", and has done some animation projections for live shows, and posters etc. Whoops, I've given away part of the previous answer.

Tycho Brahe was the name of a Danish astronomer. Also your first album was named Cassiopeia which is the name of the constellation where Tycho Brahe discovered a new star on 11th November 1572.
What were your reasons for this band name?

Wow, you have done your research, haven't you?! I first heard of Tycho Brahe when a friend of mine at university was studying astronomy. He told me the story about how Brahe died, and I was fascinated. The story I was told was that basically he drank too much at a banquet (he was known to frequently overindulge), and he refused to leave the banquet table to go to the toilet - consequently his bladder burst and he died very painfully of peritonitis over several days. He also had a prosthetic nose - he lost his real one in a duel over a mathematical argument, or so I've read. As you can see, he was quite an interesting character, very "rock'n'roll" in a 16th Century way!

The reason we ended up using his name for the band though is a little more philosophical - Brahe was a self taught astronomer, who built his own equipment, and postulated radical theories about the nature of our solar system that changed science and astronomy forever. He was very wrong, however, in assuming that the Earth was stationary, and that the universe revolved around it. A flawed assumption by someone self taught, but he ultimately made significant contributions in his field. Brahe pretty much laid the groundwork for Keppler. He calculated the length of the year to within one second, basically using a home-made telescope! An absolute genius! As a band, like Brahe, we are all self taught, that includes everything - instruments, programming, engineering and production. We often break musical rules and conventions since we don't quite know what we're doing. So we're also working from flawed assumptions, yet like to think we will ultimately make significant contributions to the music scene - ie We end up with good songs and good production (well, we think so anyway!) As you can see, the band Tycho Brahe is directly analogous to the astronomer Tycho Brahe, and yes, that includes drinking too much, but maybe not the "absolute genius" part!

As for naming the album "Cassiopeia", I was visiting a friend and he had an astronomy book laying around. I looked up "Tycho Brahe" and in that section there was a reference to "Cassiopeia", which I also looked up - it basically said "Cassiopeia: a radio source". From that moment I knew that *had* to be the name of the first album. The instrumental song on the album was a piece that had been laying around for a while, it had no proper title, so that was also named "Cassiopeia" and became the title track. By the way, "Cassiopeia" was also the name of the hot blonde girl in the original Battlestar Galactica, played by Laurette Spang. In the series she was a "socialator" (Battlestar-speak for "prostitute"), although later on they made it more child-friendly and the character became a nurse!

Your music is affected by the early eighties pop music.
What bands or artists are your examples or who inspires your music?

New Order, Human League, and Depeche Mode are the Holy Trinity so far as bands go, with some others like Giorgio Moroder, Berlin, Boxcar, Gary Numan, Real Life, Ultravox, Devo, etc but basically anything electronic with a melody, and yes we have a fond affection for that great new wave period at the very start of the '80s. Occasionally a contemporary band will come along that has an impact on us - for example we opened for VNV Nation here in Brisbane, they made an impression for sure. I've been listening to a little bit of Covenant recently too. And odd songs here and there, like stuff by Royskopp, and Chickenlips. More and more though I'm finding myself influenced by great producers - Trevor Horn, Martin Rushent, Stephen Hague, Flood, Eno, and some of the great Australian producers too - the sadly missed late Robert Racic, who produced a lot of the Severed Heads stuff, Nick Launay, who did Models, INXS, Midnight Oil.....I love listening to their little production tricks and how they weave a track together. As the "engineer/ producer" in the band, I try and learn from the recordings of these geniuses and attempt to bring a little of that to every Tycho recording.

I recognized that young people like 80s music and SynthPoP too.
The problem is that recent SynthPoP music does not find the way to turntables in bars, clubs or radio stations. How is the SynthPoP scene in Australia?

Very underground, the general music scene is very elitist, isolated and controlled mostly by Austereo (a large monopolising FM radio company) who controls the content of a lot of the television and radio programs. Here, Depeche Mode is considered underground and if you listen to commercial radio DJs - they (Depeche Mode) haven't done anything since the '80s. People forget that just because they don't hear music artist's material in Australia, doesn't mean that those artists aren't huge overseas. They forget that Australia's population is around about the same as New York's, so we only have a comparatively small population and therefore, market.

The range of music played is very narrow and there seems to be a select number of chosen artists who oversaturate TV and radio. It appears linked to the fondness here, for crossmarketing and the epidemic of reality shows. For instance, whoever wins Australian Idol appears on all the TV talk shows, gets all the radio airplay and then they start appearing in other reality shows. There is no appreciation for creativity or originality. Whoever has been deemed "flavour of the month" or "soup of the day" by the powers that be - is what we are forced to listen to, with talent or no talent.

The only synthpop you hear on the commercial stations, is retro '80s music if they have regular '80s weekends for the 30 somethings, doing the weekend family run around town in their cars. On the upside, there is a small Goth scene which loves the '80s and loves synthpop, so you do get a trickle of new synthpop on the community radio stations. All I can say is - Thank God, Bill Gates, or whoever, for the power of the internet!!!

You use vintage equipment such as a Minimoog or a Roland TB-303.
How essential are those old electronic equipments for your compositions.

As far as actually writing the songs, the equipment rarely comes into it, although there are exceptions - for example "Free" on the new album "Atlantic" was written around a pattern programmed on the TB-303, and that song would not exist without that particular piece of equipment. The same for "Delos" on the "Tasty" album. Increasingly our songs are being written and demoed on laptops with softsynths, but that's just a matter of convenience. Ultimately, most of those sounds are replaced at the recording stage by vintage equipment. I'm very wary of becoming dependent on softsynths like so many other electronic musicians have done - I think of lot of that laptop produced stuff is sounding very much the same, as far as sonic texture goes. Whilst digital reproductions of analogue synths are very very good, they *still* don't sound quite right to me.

As far as essential equipment for the Tycho sound goes, I have two Roland Juno 106 synths that are on pretty much everything. There's an old Mirage sampler, beautiful warm analogue filters on an 8 bit sampler... "Laconia" on the "Atlantic" album is about 90% Mirage sampler with a bit of Minimoog. The vintage equipment is absolutely essential to the recording and production, but not really for writing, but it's the old equipment that gives us our distinctive sound. The TB-303, a lovely Roland SH09 that used to belong to Little River Band, the Roland TR-606 which I adore.... There seems to be a lot of LinnDrum creeping into the new recordings for the next album - it's a real LinnDrum, not samples. For all the synth collectors out there, there's a complete gear list on our website. The only problem is a lot of the gear is so old it keeps breaking down and constantly needs repair. For that reason, we never take the vintage gear onstage or on tour, we use very carefully crafted samples of our own vintage gear for the live work. The Tycho gear list is here: www.tycho.com.au/gearlist.html

Your music is very danceable and melodic.
How important is for you always having a catchy hook in your songs?

I've been raised on a diet of electronic pop, where the tune and the rhythm are everything. Without a hook a pop song just isn't a pop song, so the hook is extremely important! Occasionally we do something a bit more atmospheric, "Laconia" on the new album for example, which deliberately has no hook since it's not intended as that sort of song, if it's not intended as a pop song, it's about creating a mood or a feeling. Or "White Room" on the "Cassiopeia" album has no hook, it's a big mood piece that builds.

What are the backgrounds of your lyrics?
The lyrics can be about anything or anyone, but they're often interpreted in the strangest ways by listeners.
"Total Kaos" (from the "Cassiopeia" album) is about a very close family member, who is bipolar and refuses to accept they have a problem and therefore refuses any treatment, thereby causing Total Kaos around them. Although, Ken changed one line to say "you lift me up with weird sensation" and so some people think it is a drug song. "Military Option" (on the "Atlantic" album) is loosely about a prominent political leader's obsession with power, but unfortunately this can be applied to many political figures.
A lot of my lyrics are becoming more biographical these days - short stories about characters, some real, some fictional, sometimes a mixture. "Empty Days" is a perfect example of that on the new album - it's a story about a guy euthanasing his melancholic girlfriend with drugs purchased from a Grateful Dead fan turned junkie. "Avarice" was one of those "stream of conciousness" songs, it was literally written in ten minutes, including the music, lyrics, and basic rhythm, but that is *very* rare for me. I wrote it out in one go, start to finish, I think I changed one word at recording. I'm still not 100% sure what that one actually means though! Something about living on the edge and wanting it all maybe? "Seventeen" is a very old song of mine about a failed long distance relationship. "It's Not Enough" is about going through the motions of being in love, without any substance to the relationship - "at night those lights are burning bright but you're not there" is basically paraphrasing "the lights are on but nobody's home". "Free" is about losing faith in someone, once respected, who has lost their grip on daily existence but ultimately it's a good thing to move away from them. "Sanctify" is about being betrayed and violated by a diseased lover. "Throwaway Fashion" was written by a friend about supermodels. Andy wrote "Don't Feel That Way", I think it's about a relationship falling apart, from the woman's point of view.

Lyrics for me can come from anywhere or anything, inspiration just strikes, and the words and music often somehow "write themselves", the song just somehow tells me where it wants to go. I rarely sit down with the intention of writing about any particular subject. I think people sometimes read way too much into lyrics however. For example, I've heard some *very* deep interpretations of what "Dislocation" (from "Cassiopeia") is about, disenfranchisement from society etc - but it's quite a literal superficial song about going to a restaurant on a date with a woman who is a very self centered bitch, getting terrible service, bad food, and having a lousy time! Nothing clever or tricky there! Although ultimately people can take whatever meaning they like from the lyrics....

Tycho Brahe is not only a two person studio band. When you perform live you have a real drummer and additional keyboard player.
How do these artists support you?

Andy the bass keyboard player is contributing more and more material as a songwriter with more songs in the works for the next album. Francis the drummer, designed the "Atlantic" and "Don't Feel That Way" covers and created the visuals for our last live performance. He is currently working on artwork for the upcoming remix album and graphics for our forthcoming music video. The current lineup therefore, has a very complimentary working arrangement.
Everyone has their jobs. It's not Georgina and Ken and the "hired hands" or anything like that, Andy and Francis are integral to the band, like us they do it for enjoyment, and I think this current line-up is the definitive Tycho line-up. I could never go back to performing "live" as a two piece, it's too close to karaoke! So they bring a lot to the live band and also to all the other stuff an indy band has to do apart from make music. Back when we started recording what became "Cassiopeia" in about 1998, it was a duo, and the band expanded to a four piece during the long recording process, found it's feet as a "proper" live act, and then went through a fairly unstable period personnel-wise. It was very disorienting. Now it's more like a weird stable family. Or an episode of Gilligan's Island. One or the other!

Are you also in contact with other Australian bands like Neuropa or Real Life?
We've not had anything to do with Neuropa directly, but do have mutual friends. We have had a lot to do with Real Life though - I remixed "Imperfection" for them, the title track on their last album, and they've remixed some of our songs too. There's an excellent remix that George from Real Life has done for our upcoming remix album, that track is also on the new Crash Frequency Collective compilation. We've played quite a few live shows with them too, last time David Sterry got me up on stage to sing "Send Me An Angel" during their set. He tried to get me to do the guitar solo too but I was a bit freaked by that! There's a video snippet (click) of that from Francis' mobile phone on our site as part of this tour report.

We've had a few lunches and drinks with those guys too. Much pizza. Many beers J.

You released your latest album 'Atlantic' on Cohaagen (www.cohaagen.com).
How is the cooperation with such a small alternative label?

It's a very good relationship. Like us, the people behind Cohaagen do what they do for the love of the music, and because they believe very strongly in what we're doing. If they didn't have faith in our product, they wouldn't put their money behind it. Cohaagen is one of those niche labels that is positioned perfectly for us in the North American synth scene, with distribution through Metropolis and online stores like A Different Drum. They're getting the album out to places we could never manage from here in Australia, trying to orchestrate everything over the internet.

In Australia the scene is so small that the majority of synth bands just release their CDs independently, which is what we've done in the past, and trying to then get decent distribution for that overseas market, let alone promote the CD, is very difficult. With "Atlantic" we imported copies of the album back into Australia, the reverse of what we've done with previous albums, and that's enough for here. North America is doing quite nicely, however we'd like to get some sort of deal for Europe, either a licensing arrangement with Cohaagen, or a seperate deal for that territory. That's proving a very difficult task though. I suspect the Americans are far more open to what we're doing than the Europeans, although I'd prefer to be proven wrong on that!

I read that your current album "Atlantic" was very successful.
What are your future plans?

We have a remix album almost ready to go. Francis is working on the artwork right now. It has remixes from Real Life, Boxcar, Tankt, Angeltheory, EMP, Garland Cult and a few others, as well as a couple of oldschool extended versions and alternate versions. The plan is to exactly duplicate the track order of "Atlantic" but with different mixes, it's turned out to be quite a large project. The working title at the moment is "Transatlantic - the Atlantic Remixes", that's a scoop for you, we haven't told anyone else that yet! We might release another single before that though, as a link between "Atlantic" and "Transatlantic". I must mention here that some of the acts that remixed us are in a band collective that we're part of here called "Crash Frequency Collective". It's a group of like-minded electronic/ dark bands that are all well established and respected, we were very flattered and honoured to be invited into this collective. Crash Frequency has just released their second compilation CD, it's a double CD actually this time, and we have two songs on it.
You can check it out here: http://www.crashfrequency.com.

Well, something offtopic. The Australian soccer team was qualified (Austria wasn't :( ) for the soccer WM 2006 in Germany by a penalty shootout against Uruguay which made goalie Mark Schwarzer to the new Australian hero.
Are you interested in soccer and how to you appraise the chances of the Australian team?

We are not very into sport in general, although Francis being Scottish definitely follows "football". However, the excitement here is palpable and has suddenly raised the profile of soccer in Australia. Soccer is the biggest participant sport in Australia, in fact the band has its' own "Soccer Mum". However, it is not a big spectator sport here (unlike Australian Rules Football and Rugby). There have been problems with ethnic clashes marring its' image for years. Our best players are all overseas earning millions, but many wouldn't be recognised on the street here - as a recent Australian 60 Minutes story demonstrated. However, Australia's entrance into the World Cup may be changing that. Suddenly, we are seeing more local coverage of soccer in the sports section of the TV news and soccer merchandise is now advertised in department store catalogues. We think it is a long shot that Australia will win the World Cup, but they'll definitely put up a magnificent fight! Hey, we already beat Japan, even after their dodgy goal!!!!
I *never* watch any sport on the TV and consequently I know practically nothing about soccer, but I *did* sit up the other night until 2am to watch the Australia vs Japan match. I've caught World Cup Fever I think! We absolutely kicked some Japanese ass - in the last ten minutes at least! I think it's hilarious that the USA coach said that Australia was just in the World Cup to "make up the numbers". Let's see.....Australia won their first match, USA lost theirs! HA HA! It's the first time we've qualified for the finals in 32 years, and realistically I don't think we'll get very far, but it'll be a great ride in the meantime. Next up Australia meets Brazil, I think it's 50/50, we *might* beat them, who knows? Either way, as Georgina said, it's raising the profile of the game here, and if it gets more kids to play soccer instead of rugby league, which I consider a mentally deficient thug's game, then that's fantastic.

Thank you both, Georgina and Ken for all your comprehensive answers.

Now listen to some tracks from Tycho Brahes latest album "Atlantic".

For more downloads visit the following places:

The copyright in these sound-files is owned by Tycho Brahe (Brisbane, Australia). For all files I got the exclusive authorization of Tycho Brahe. All sound-files are only for private use. Any commercial distribution and copy is prohibited.

Atlantic - 2006
Don't Feel That Way (CD-Maxi) - 2006
Avarice (CD-Maxi) - June 2002
Tasty (EP) - 2001 (read the review click here)
Cassiopeia - 2000 (read the review click here)

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