The thundering techno duo MOTOR is about to release its fourth album, but the engine has been definitively re-tuned. For one thing, the group is now signed to Chris Liebing’s CLR imprint; for another, the album, Man Made Machine, finds MOTOR re-tooling its pummeling mechanics according to a newfound sense of song form. The record even features cameos from Gary Numan, Billie Ray Martin, Nitzer Ebb‘s Douglas McCarthy, and Depeche Mode‘s Martin Gore.
We caught up with MOTOR’s Bryan Black to talk about working with Gore, the evolution of the group’s sound, and how the project ended up on CLR instead of in Lady Gaga’s hands. Read on for the full interview.
MOTOR – Man Made Machine feat. Martin L. Gore [CLR]
The press release for the album notes that the idea album was conceived while you were on tour for Depeche Mode in 2009. Could you say a little more about that? What was the initial idea for the album, and what about that time and context triggered it?
Martin Gore had always played our records when he DJed, and at some point Mute asked us to remix the DM single “Precious.” I was hanging out with the band in NYC while they were recording their last LP, Sounds of the Universe, and the idea of Motor supporting DM on their upcoming stadium tour was brought up. Naturally we took it.
On the second date of the tour in Athens, Dave Gahan fell ill and DM put the tour on hold. No one knew when he would return, so we flew to Berlin and found ourselves in a hotel room waiting on word from the DM camp. We decided to mess around on some new songs. We set up the vocal booth in the toilet and had ourselves an impromptu studio setup quickly. As an experiment, we started producing more melodic techno rock ideas – maybe as a reaction to seeing 60,000 people losing their minds to DM overnight. There was something very different playing to stadiums of people who knew the songs as opposed to small sweaty underground clubs where people just want to dance to a beat. Up to that point we made three techno/electro LPs and played all the big festivals and parties. If there was a time to try something different, this was it.
You worked with the singers Martin L. Gore, Gary Numan and Billie Ray Martin, among others; why did you choose them, and what was it like working with them?
While on the Depeche Mode tour, we recorded the song “Man Made Machine” with Martin Gore in mind. As soon we had a rough demo we gave it to him on the tour. The next day he said he would love to sing it. Martin is the most humble mega rock star you will ever meet. A really amazing person. After cutting the record, we made a video together and just this week he delivered an excellent podcast for CLR.net, all to help promote the single we made together.
Shortly after the DM tour, we got some offers from the Numan camp to support him on some US, UK and OZ dates. So this naturally led us to submit a few songs to him for consideration. A couple of synthy ideas and one super heavy track called “Pleasure in Heaven.” He chose the heaviest track and it all came together quickly. Since then we’ve remixed his new single “The Fall” and have been talking about touring together in 2012.
With regards to Billie Ray Martin, we always adored DJ Hell’s single “Je Regrette Everything” which featured an amazing vocal performance from Billie. As we wanted to balance the LP with a female voice, she was our first choice.
While we’re talking about Martin Gore, which aspects of Depeche Mode have you found most inspiring or influential, in terms of your own music? And will you be doing any remixes for his new techno project VCMG, with Vince Clarke?
Depeche Mode were always pioneers in the studio with regards to production techniques and sampling. Prior to becoming a fan of the songs, I think I was first drawn to the actual sounds and textures. The combination of fantastic production by people like Flood and the songwriting of Martin Gore is magic.
Did working on song-based material require new ways of thinking about doing production, or was it a natural step for you two?
It was pretty natural. Before Motor, we had an electro pop project called XLOVER on Gigolo Records. Motor at the time was a reaction to this song-driven project, an avenue to make complete noise. So now it’s come full circle, and we’ve found a balance of noise and melody on this LP.
How did you come to hook up with Chris Liebing and CLR?
I sent CLR my first Black Asteroid demo (my techno alter ego) because I was itching to do some crazy techno and I knew they were the best techno label around. They put the EP out within weeks, and I was suddenly on tour and topping charts. It felt like an overnight success.
So, when CLR came to NYC, I gave them a USB stick of the Motor LP demo, which I was supposed to give to Lady Gaga later that night at a meeting with her manager. She never got the USB stick, but CLR did. The whole label freaked out and started talking amongst themselves about a way to release this project. Chris was always a fan of the first big Motor single ”Sweatbox” and also a big fan of DM and Gary Numan as it turned out.
You guys were signed to Dim Mak for a while, or at least for one album. Did that introduce Motor to a different audience at all? Dim Mak would seem to have a slightly different fan-base than Shitkatapult or Mute.
It did to some extent, but not as much as we’d hoped. It was during this time that I totally lost interest in the electro scene. It wasn’t fresh anymore and now everyone had the same sound. The electro audience responds only to bangers. No room for depth or dynamics or off-the-wall innovation.
It seems like a pretty amazing time for dark, ominous techno right now (a point reinforced by some of your own recent Beatport Top 10 charts). What other artists and labels are exciting you right now?
Besides obviously CLR, I’m really digging the output of Perc Trax, Stroboscopic Artefacts, Ostgut Ton, Planete Rouge. Marcel Dettmann, Terence Fixmer, Tommy Four Seven are always producing consistly high quality stuff. I also recently rediscovered Pan(a)Sonic. wow.
Motor has always been pretty brutal, sonically speaking—could you imagine music that’s soft, sweet, etc.?
I have a soft spot for melody that’s been with me ever since I worked with Prince. I just channel it through other projects. Even with the new MOTOR LP, its pretty brutal compared to what’s out there. When compared to the previous MOTOR LPs, it’s definitely the most accessible record we’ve made by far.
Finally, will you be releasing more from your Black Asteroid project?
The next EP will come out in early 2012. I just finished it. It took me a few months to develop something that was as bold and exciting as the debut ”Engine” EP. Also I didn’t want to repeat myself. But the next chapter is gonna be exciting. The live shows have been insane and I will continue evolving that further. Some fan posted on my wall that I was the deadmau5 of techno. While that’s completely ridiculous, I do want to take techno to the masses in a dark and visually stunning, performance-based way that’s live.