2012 ARCHIVE: Artist Spotlight 2: The Difference Engine

And here is part two of that archive set from 2012. It’s honestly been overdue to get both of these on here, because despite their age I think they’re both excellent, indicative of where I wanna go and what I wanna do as a writer, and I’m immensely proud of both.

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So as you likely know by now if you’ve seen the videos I’ve posted here or the reviews I’ve done through this blog, I maintain a steady presence in the realm of musical “commentary” as it were. Generally I do coverage on whatever band or artist happens to catch my fancy at that moment in time, and expand my way outwards from there in a variety of little segments(all of which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ThisDogAteMyVlogs/videos?view=0)

Now on a few rare occasions I’ve gotten to work with smaller much more independent artists who were interested in having me do some sort of review for them after seeing what I’m capable of within my projects. Luckily for me in addition to the video coverage I’ve also managed to snag a written interview before this(with singer-songwriter Jessica Allyn in Spotlight 1), and was able to branch out once more to do the same thing again today with rock band The Difference Engine.

Comprised of lead vocalist Alex Ward, drummer Ryan Hahn, guitarists Jason Thomas and Nicholas Vanderveldt in addition to bassist Josh Cook, these St Louis area newcomers look more than ready to make music fans stand up and take notice with their debut EP “Strange Angles”. It may not be very much on their resume to this point, but at present the quintet is already planning on a full length followup to “Angles” that is sure to impress.

But of course besides the musical review side of things(which you can find in full in my video on “Strange Angles” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share), I was as I mentioned also able to ask the band some questions regarding their origins, their musical process, and what the future holds for them going forward. It was a lot of fun and I’m really grateful that they took the time to give some pretty interesting answers!

1. So to start with, what are the origins behind The Difference Engine? I know that the “Strange Angles” EP is your first release to this point, and I was curious to know what the driving factors were behind the formation of this group. 

Alex Ward: The rhythm guitarist(Jason Thomas) and I grew up together. We started off as neighbors, became good friends right away, and have stayed that way ever since. Both of us picked up guitar at an early age while listening to a lot of the same bands. Funny that to this day he is turning me on to new music. At some point we decided to write music of our own and started in. Throughout my bouncing around from state to state and in and out of town over the years, Jason and I somehow stayed in touch and continued, whenever we had the chance, to write and make music together. About nine months ago we were both introduced to Ryan and asked him to record some of the songs that we had written…the wolf pack is now five and we call ourselves, ” The Difference Engine”.

Nicholas Vanderveldt: We all started working together in January of last year. I met Ryan through Craigslist. I moved here in September of 2011, and I was just trying to meet people and play music. Ryan introduced me to Jason, and Jason brought over Alex, and then Josh appeared with bass in hand. Suddenly we were hashing out songs.

Jason Thomas: I’ve had a plan since I’ve been about 8 years old and first met Alex to take over the world with our music. Luckily we finally, after numerous attempts, managed to put together a band with like minded people who share the same passions and a love for music. We wrote some tunes and wanted to give them to the world.

Ryan Hahn: Alex and Jason approached me a year and a half ago about recording some songs and also playing drums on the recordings for them.  We grew up in the same area so we had a lot of mutual friends.. that kind of small town vibe so I think that’s why they contacted me. The driving factors behind The Difference Engine to me, would definitely be the life long friendships that reside within the band between Alex and Jason and with Josh and myself. I’ve known Josh since I can remember… playing in other bands together and growing up together, so there are 2 sets of really great close friendships. I met Nick about a year ago…he’s our transplant from Washington State and our chemistry is really great..its the most important factor I think.

2. Now there are certainly a lot of garage bands out there and musicians that get together casually simply to jam or have fun; what ultimately led to the band seriously deciding that they wanted to get into the studio to make this debut EP? Was it the initial plan going in or did it just gradually get to that point?

JT: Things lead where they lead. I think every band wants to document their sound at any given time. That’s how I view a recording, it’s just a snapshot of a particular point in time.

RH: It just gradually happened. We practiced a lot before starting the whole “recording process”. I live in an old electric substation from the late 1920s and have a recording studio in it. It’s where we rehearse, its the first thing you notice when you set up to practice… so knowing we had access to this stuff there’s no rush or worry about money….or anything so the EP doesn’t sound like we felt rushed or felt we had to compromise artistically too much.

3. To talk a bit more in-depth about the EP, what were the influences behind the style of these songs? In fact what general types of music have had an effect upon the band as a whole? 

AW: Wow, that is nearly impossible to answer, but if I had to name a few bands that influenced my writing I would have to say Naked Ray Gun, anything that Mike Patton has done, Concrete Blonde,The Pumpkins, Fugazi, The Cure, Tool, Radiohead, Supergrass, Guided By Voices, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Blonde Redhead, honestly the list could go on and on, not to mention the things that creep in while you’re sleeping.

NV: For me the EP is pretty straight ahead rock’n’roll, I tried to conjure up some of the stuff in my head that fit with what we were doing, Funkadelic and Led Zeppelin especially. I’ve always been fascinated by Bebop and free-jazz, as well as ballet music, so I get these little notions in my head, and then I have to figure out how to make them fit in what we’re doing. Sometimes it works great, other times, not so much.
JT: I grew up on punk rock and bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. I think that stuff informs how I write to an extent, but I also love a good melody, just trying to serve a song and make it the best I can. I don’t know if the whole band looks to one particular style; it’s all rock and roll to me.
 
RH: Influences… well I grew up listening to my parents music…Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, Tom Petty….but then I got into newer groups like Guided By Voices, Weezer, and The Pixies. But I’ve always analyzed music… I’m a sucker for a good hook in a song. So it doesn’t matter what I’m playing as long as it helps the song I’m playing sound better.

4. I’ve always been fascinated by the process of recording in the studio, what was that aspect like in terms of writing and putting together this initial album? Was that very much a collective process or did it come together more individually?

AW: The great thing about playing with these guys is how each one of us have so much to bring to the table individually. If one of us has an idea, we listen to the idea and work on it, and other than older songs that one of us may want to rewrite or present as workable ideas, most of our stuff just happens. Someone starts playing something and material forms. If something ends up swerving off in an tasteless direction, we put it to the side temporarily and start something new, keeping the pace and excitement of creative curiosities. We’re still evolving as friends and as a sound, so this new thing has plenty more to produce and I can’t wait to hear where we end up in the next nine months.

NV: Most of the songs were well assembled before we started recording them. We spent a lot of time really playing the stuff, and everybody figuring out how their parts fit in with everybody else’s parts. We do a lot of collective arranging I feel like. Someone has an idea, then we all try and develop it and add our own opinions into it. Sometimes it’s hard, and stuff gets put aside because we can’t give enough to a song… it’s gotta sit on the shelf a bit and age before we can take it back down and see all the merit in it.

JT: Totally collective, there were songs people brought in individually but they really didn’t take shape until we got ahold of it as a band and bashed it out. Going back to earlier, I feel like the EP is just a quick snapshot of the band in its first six months.

RH: I know that Alex and Jason had already written “At The Gates”…. it used to be a lot longer, and from the initial recordings when I met those guys to how we play the song now with The Difference Engine it’s much shorter but much stronger. The other songs were very collective and came together at practice…I think Tattoo and Chicago Machine came out of the air in the same 2 or 3 days. We’ve since refined parts of each song but that’s a great moment.

5. I know that you(Ryan Hahn) produced and mixed “Strange Angles” and have done work for other artists in the same capacity. Does that process or mindset as a producer change at all when you’re also a member of the band you’re working with? 

RH: I try to think about what I’m doing on the drums and make sure I’m not being noticed when the vocal melody or another aspect needs to be focused on. But once the drums are recorded and okay’d I become the whipping boy to some degree haha. But the guys do listen to me if I have an idea, but they also listen to everyone else’s ideas and their own so there’s no special attention that I get haha.

6. Now that “Strange Angles” has been in the can and out since mid-October, what’s coming next for The Difference Engine? Are there any details that can be revealed about a full-length album at this point? And will it be an extension of the EP or a new set of material?

NV: We have a bunch of great new songs. Really, we’ve had a lot more time to develop ideas with one another, and open creative dialogues. That goes miles and miles when you’re all collaborating on music. The EP is a nice little prologue to what’s coming.

JT: I think with the full length you’ll see our songwriting get better and the band grow a little. I feel like the songs we’ve written lately are head and shoulders above what we have on the EP. Hopefully we can just continue to improve as individuals and as a band and make the best record we can at that given point in time. Continue to evolve and grow so while we sound like the same band you never know what we’re going to try.

RH: Yeah I’m excited that we were ale to get this EP finished so quickly and to be proud of it too. We’ve already started recording some new material. Also we’ve been working on a lot of new songs… It’s just a matter of time to get them to develop. Not sure if it will be all new music on the full length or if we will use a few songs off the EP that we all really feel strong about. We’re just kind of letting it take it’s course.

If you want to check out The Difference Engine, you can find their Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter all down in the links below(as well as my review for their EP), and I definitely cannot recommend it enough. It was a pleasure to be able to interview some of the guys from the band, and again I appreciate the fact they helped me put together what turned out to be a great little Q&A.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thedifferenceenginemusic?fref=ts

Bandcamp: http://differenceenginestl.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/diffengineband

“Strange Angles” EP Review Promo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share

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