Interview with Scenius: “We didn’t want to be a dance band, use presets and sound like other bands of the moment”
The duo Scenius, who are based in Angers (France) and Leeds (UK), are releasing their second album Life is a thing on May 20th after the interesting letter of introduction that was Enough Fears (2020).
We take the opportunity to talk to Steve (composition, arrangements, production) and Fabrice (vocals, lyrics). If you are curious about their electro-pop/synthpop (and you should be), you can listen to them on Bandcamp.
Scenius defines itself as a band that works with vintage synthesizers and physical drum machines, no virtual instruments. What do you think this kind of equipment essentially adds to your sound and musical personality? What are the limitations and advantages of working with this kind of equipment?
Steve: Ha ha that sounds like I’m an analogue synth zealot! 🙂 I do love my analogues, but I do use the occasional virtual instrument as well. I’m into using whatever it takes to get the sound I want. The occasional hardware sampler and digital keyboard are all in there, but probably 90% of it is on analogue synths.
All the sounds I use are my own sounds that I’ve created, so instantly my personality is in there. I don’t really like synths with presets, it makes you lazy. Analogues are sometimes a little unpredictable and the sound can move ever so slightly within a song, I think that helps create something that isn’t so clinical. I also play some of the lines in by hand and leave the live feel on the recording rather than edit the hell out of it all. My old synths definitely add a warmth to the Scenius sound.
I use Pro Tools recording software and that enables me to do anything I want with the synths, it’s an instrument in it’s own right! It lets me do things with the old synths I couldn’t have done with tape.
Your new album, Life is a thing, will be released on May 19th. Will it also be self-published, like your debut album? We have read that it will be released on CD. Have you thought about releasing it on vinyl?
Steve: Yes it’s going to be on our own label MMXX Records.
Fab: And yes, we’ve definitely contemplated the idea of releasing it on vinyl for a while. But it turned out that it was both too much extra stuff to deal with in order to make it properly and an investment that we weren’t keen to make yet.
But the good thing with vinyl releases nowadays is that they’re not so much tied to the actual release date of the album. They have gained a kind of timeless appeal of their own so to speak. So you can always decide to release a first ever vinyl version of an album that’s already been available on CD and digital for years. So yeah, maybe someday.
In Life Is A Thing we find again a track sung in French (La Meme Nuit), as it happened with your debut Enough fears and its track Superposés. Both tracks are beautiful! Do you think that the choice of French was determinant for the final result? Can we expect more tracks in French in the future?
Steve: I really wanted Fabrice to write at least one song in French on the first album and Superposés turned out great, as has La Meme Nuit.
Fab: I do love to write and sing in French, and actually that’s what I do the most. But for some reason that’s not the language that comes up first when it comes to Scenius. My way of finding a melody that goes well with the music that Steve sends me is simply to sing along to it. And most of the time, by the time I’ve come up with a melody that I like, there will bits of lyrics that have made their way too. And I tend to keep as much as possible of these bits. Cause they kind of represent something really honest to me, so to speak. Words and sentences that have directly been inspired by the music, without my lyrics-writing brain interfering too much yet. Anyways, so whatever language these chunks of spontaneous lyrics are, I’ll stick to it.
So it’s hard to say whether more songs will be in French in the future. By the way, La Même Nuit also has a Spanish line (nada más que el amor) [English: “nothing more than love”] which was actually one of these spontaneous bits. Yet my Spanish is so rudimentary that I have no idea how come a bit of Spanish lyrics has come up. Which makes me think that I might also end up mixing languages more in the future. Or create my own and be more like Lisa Gerrard without the otherworldly voice ha ha.
With your second album, you confirm an electronic style that leans more towards mid-tempo, not at all accelerated, and with a richness of nuances. Personally, I think that some tracks, such as Chinese Room and Escalation, are clearly danceable. On the other hand, there is a clear tendency for people to dance to the simpler and more powerful tracks in the rhythm section. Do you think your tracks fit into a club track? Is it a question of people losing their attention for nuances on the dancefloor, or did they never had it?
Steve: Too many music genres at the moment seem preoccupied by the ‘four on the floor’ dance beat. I’ve listened to recent electronic albums where it’s used on almost every song, to me it sounds a little lazy and lacking imagination. So that’s something I decided I didn’t want to use very often. So it’s there in a couple of songs but I purposely tried to write different and more complex rhythms. I guess we are more influenced Post-Punk than Disco!
I like some dance music but that’s not what we are trying to do here, first and foremost we are recording and mixing songs to listen to. There’s a wide range of tempo of songs on this album, from very slow to fast, but yes I think you could dance to a few of them in the right kind of club.
Is it really difficult to innovate within a musical style, in this case synthpop? Is it a question of instinct, or of applying a more rational side? Is crossbreeding with other musical styles the only way forward in innovation, or are there other ways out?
Steve: We made decisions early on about what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to be a dance band, use presets and sound like other bands of the moment, but we did want use a lot of analog gear and to make it contemporary sounding. After those decisions it was down to a lot of instinct. I don’t set out to write any particular way, just let whatever is in me to come out.
I think we have an individual sound and don’t sound like what is going on else where at the moment. I think it helps that we are as influenced by guitar bands as we are electronic bands. I see us as cross between Joy Division/New Order, Nick Drake and LCD Sound System!
What are the difficulties for an English band to perform abroad, does the fact that you are a duo help you? Have you made contacts to perform in Spain, and at international festivals like Wave Gotik Treffen?
Steve: We’d love to play in Spain and at WGT! We have sent out to various European/Spanish festivals and WGT but we’ve not had a reply yet. There’s just so many bands around at the moment, it’s easy to get lost in the noise.
Fab: Well yes at least being a duo without a drum kit can’t hurt for sure, cause we travel easily and don’t take too much space on stage. We also eat very frugally, and don’t drink as much as the rumour has it, so book us ! 🙂
It was a pleasure interviewing you, Steve and Fab. Anything else you’d like to add? Best regards, and good luck with the release of Life is a thing, it’s a good album!
Steve: Our pleasure, we’re glad you enjoy the new album
Fab: Thanks for your continued support Daniel !