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Best of 2023: As an already influential member of Sacramento funk rock band !!! (Chk Chk Chk), Tyler Pope also joined LCD Soundsystem as a bassist in the early ‘00s, co-writing numerous tracks on some of the electronic rockers’ most successful albums. However, when the band took a prolonged hiatus during the Covid pandemic, Pope was encouraged by LCD founder James Murphy to work on material of his own.
Finding that he was finally in a space where he was able to focus at arm’s length from his previously hedonistic lifestyle, Pope released the surprisingly minimalist electronic EP Nur Weil Ich Kann in 2021. Fast forward a year and he’s ventured further with the more funk-oriented lead track to his second EP Make Each Other Happy. While both EPs have links to Pope’s previous musical allegiances, he’s forged a sound that’s undeniably his own.
You’re on tour with LCD Soundsystem at the moment. How are things going?
“It’s not really a tour, it’s more of a residency. We’re playing 20 shows at one venue in New York, which is something that we did for the first time last year until everything got thrown into a bit of chaos with the Omicron variant. I’ve heard that we might be doing this every year around the holiday period, which is so much better for me as my constitution can’t handle touring the same way that it used to.”
Although you play in LCD and, formerly !!!, both bands have an electronic component to their sound…
“When I started with !!!, we all moved to New York and I was foundational to the beginning of the band. We were punk, playing around doing punk tours, but we were also as open-minded as we could be. We started listening to funk, soul and more groove-based music and that led to the first house music record that we liked, which was Daft Punk’s Homework.
“James [Murphy] from LCD also wrote the song Daft Punk Is Playing At My House and when I listen back to that record it spoke to us. I know that the Daft Punk guys were also in bands before they started making electronic music, so maybe the spirit of that translated into ours.”
Not growing up as a fan of electronic music, do you find it ironic that your sound should now have such a heavy electronic edge?
“In California in the early ’90s I was part of the dead head culture – a hippie, but there was a crossover into the rave scene because everybody used to gather together, party and do drugs. I was exposed to dance music in that context, but I always thought that sort of music was raver shit and preferred regular rock. Electronic music was never my thing until Daft Punk came along.”
What was the story behind your move from the States to Berlin?
“That was because of my now ex-wife, who’s also a DJ and was involved in the house scene and Hamburg’s Dial Records. Back in 2010, I went to an aftershow party where she was DJing and was really smitten. She happened to live in Berlin and we were going to be there for a couple of days so we reconnected and as the relationship developed, both of us realised that one of us would ultimately have to move country eventually. For me, Berlin was enough of a slowdown from the hustle of the New York or London scenes – it felt manageable.”
Did being based in Berlin enable you to focus on your music without any distractions?
“I guess it did. I was very involved in the writing process with !!! for the first three records. I’d bring in rough ideas and work them out with the band, but I was never thinking about the possibility of doing my own thing eventually. It was only after I did the last LCD tour and the band broke up after playing at Madison Square Garden that it felt natural to start making my own music.”
You’ve spoken about being heavily affected by the excesses of the rock lifestyle and wanting to get away from that, but that negative emotion doesn’t show in the music…
“I’m not really an angry person – I’m generally more upbeat and I suppose that comes through. Ultimately, I always liked the sound of old-school hip-hop and funk music and have a feeling that the sound of that is missing in a lot of the music that I hear today or that when people do that it sounds a little bit corny.
“I’m trying to fill a niche rather than respond to whatever’s been going on in my life… or maybe that emotion isn’t something I’ll recognise until I look back at a later stage. I was going through an incredibly dark time when I made the music, so there must have been something therapeutic about the whole process.”
Did you have a studio of any kind when you were back in the US or did you only start buying gear once you’d moved to Berlin?
“I was working in my bedroom with some basic gear, but the room wasn’t even soundproofed. This was pre-2010 and the first thing I got was an Akai MPC60 and a Digidesign Digi 001 interface running into a basic Pro Tools setup. James from LCD was actually quite fundamental when it came to giving me a nudge to do something on my own. At the end of the American Dream tour he said I should make an EP only using one drum machine and a synth – so I got hold of an old-school Roland CR-78 and an ARP Odyssey.”
Your first release was last year’s Nur Weil Ich Kann, which translates as Just Because I Can. Does that speak to the ethos behind your approach?
“I didn’t think about it too much but I always think it sounds so absurd whenever people say ‘I’m doing this just because I can’, so it was a play on that. I didn’t want the title of the EP to sound smug, but maybe you’re right and it does apply to me in some way.”
The first thing that came to mind when listening to the EP was the electro-punk band Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft. Were they influential?
“Absolutely – in fact they inspired me to sing in German. I’ve always loved that band and how they embrace the hard vocal German style. The industrial thing was so edgy and people always say they hate the German language in music because it sounds so harsh, but I really love it and I think that came from listening to so much DAF and I’m psyched that somebody has finally recognised that too.”
The sound of the EP is surprisingly rough and raw…
“That was definitely something I was going for. I’m really into certain DJs who play that sound and L.I.E.S. Records from New York, which puts out stuff that’s a bit rougher. It’s clubby, obviously, and I could have made a choice to make it cleaner but I wanted to go for that lo-fi feel. The second EP was made a little differently – I tracked vocals, guitar and bass at home and ended up working on it with people who had a more legit studio setup than mine.”
The lead track Jump in the Fire from your second EP Make Each Other Happy has a completely different feel. What was the thought process behind that track?
“I like the sound of the more experimental dance records from the ’80s that were obviously done in high-end studios. That’s become such a lost art, so I tried to embrace that on Jump in the Fire. After I quit !!!, Mario Andreoni and I kept working on music together and he gave me the essential idea and rhythm pattern for the track.
“Once I had that looping, the bass came next and then I’d play on top of that with guitar in a very typical way. Production–wise, I was really influenced by The Neptunes production team and referential towards specific songs of theirs.”
What was your recording setup like for those initial jamming sessions?
“I really like using nice preamps. I have one from Great River and use the Universal Audio 6176 channel strip but always like to have the Thermionic Culture Vulture somewhere in the chain – not necessarily for distortion, but just to add a bit of character and crispiness to my instruments.
“I was using Pro Tools, but producer Tim Goldsworthy was a big Logic guy and a lot of the people who were around DFA Records at the time started using Logic, so that’s what I’m using now. I did a lot re-tracking with Nick Millheiser who’s also in LCD because he has a really nice studio.
“We ended up keeping the vocals and bass but rerecorded the drums through a Behringer RD-808 clone at his studio. He actually had a pretty big hand in co-producing that track, which is probably why it sounds different to the others.”
As you say, the other tracks Ananas and NWIK ’22 are more similar to the sound of your first EP and very drum pattern-heavy…
“There’s a lot of live percussion on Ananas, but all of the analogue drum machine sounds came from the Roland TR-808. I know it’s an old-school way of doing things, but I try to stick to using one drum machine or combining sounds with a 909. The sound of the 808 is still pretty prevalent in popular music and I just like to keep everything sounding cohesive.
“You might not have noticed but NWIK ’22 is actually a remix of the track Nur Weil Ich Kann from the first EP. Whenever I release something I think, damn, I should have done it this way or that, so I changed the sounds and added more live bass. For both tracks, I pretty much had the whole arrangement fleshed out before taking them to another studio to replace some of the live percussion and having the tracks mixed. When it comes to audio engineering, I’m still learning and I have friends who can do that stuff a lot better than I’m able to.”
Who helped you on the mixing front?
“I contacted a dub/reggae producer from the UK called Dennis Bovell to do the mix down for Jump in the Fire. He was in a band called Matumbi and produced some seminal post-punk bands from the ’70s like The Slits. That’s another reason why that track sounds a little different from the rest of the EP – you can hear Dennis’ influence in all the echoes and the swampy reverb.”
Are you using in-the-box sounds?
“I use a lot of Kontakt instruments for the live drums and I’m really impressed by Universal Audio effects, especially the Eventide emulations and the MXR Flanger plugin. The UAD stuff is so good that it usually ends up making it to the final version of the tracks. I like using Native Instruments’ Battery for drum sampling and D16 plugins are really good for virtual instruments and effects.
“For sketching, I’ll use Arturia soft synths even if they don’t end up on the final version of the track. They have great emulations of the Roland Juno-60, Korg MS-20 and Minimoog, so I’ll skip through the presets to sketch out tracks and then copy them later using actual analogue gear.”
You seem to have a very clear idea of how you want to demarcate your software and hardware tools?
“I just prefer the imperfection of using analogue gear – the whole signal chain is different. Maybe someday I’ll do a record that’s entirely digital-sounding because I like that very clean computer-based aesthetic, but at this stage the wonky analogue sound is appealing to me.
“I use a lot of Moogerfooger pedals and love my reissued Minimoog – it’s on everything. A bit like the 808, the Moog sound never gets old and I can’t live without it [laughs]. I recently bought a Serge Modular too, but that wasn’t used on the EP at all.”
Is modular something that you’re keen to go into in more depth?
“Not really. With the Serge thing, it’s all there in this little box so I don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of different modules. The original Serge came out around the same time as Buchla started making modular synths, but there’s a company called Random Source that makes these little compact modular boxes.
“Again, that’s all inspired from the whole DFA world and I took a big influence from James on that front. Maybe it’s because I started as a musician that I like to get hands-on with gear, work fast and just get stuff down.”
Once you’ve built a substantial body of work, do you see yourself playing your own tracks live?
“Once I’ve finished the LCD shows and get back to Berlin I want to start playing live and I’m looking forward to figuring out how I can do that in a way that’s economical. I can’t say whether I’ll play out tracks from my EPs because I’d like to do some sort of rave club set or hybrid DJ/live thing.
“I love playing in a band, but once you’ve been doing it a while you tend to want to keep it simple and go in the opposition direction. I’m actually very much inspired by a band called Paranoid London. You were talking about the rough sound of my first EP and I definitely looked to them as an influence for that. I also love how they do their live sets – they’re very stripped down, old-school and simple, but when I do it I’d like to add guitar, bass and vocals into the mix.”
You release on your own Interference Pattern label. How’s that been going?
“I started following an artist called Edge Slayer after she put out a very weird and experimental afro-futurist EP on a small label called Objects Limited. I didn’t know what to expect when I asked her to do a full-length record for me, but she came through with this super-poppy R&B LP that also has some pretty dark themes. I’m not actively looking for people to sign – I’ve actually already started to get my next EP going. That’s probably going to be more in the spirit of the Ananas track using lots of live percussion, but I can’t really imagine making an album yet.”