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USUK [Interview]

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Fear The Sound is the second full length studio album from Mark EG and Chad Stegall (USUK) created for their US tour in 2019. Inspired by Horror soundtracks and classic synthesis they came up with a genre less masterpiece that takes you on a full journey from beginning to end which is a rarity on albums these days. This music is special, different, forward thinking, and has a sound all of its own.

We had a chance to catch up with the longstanding duo for an interview leading up to the release of the album. Enjoy.

Hi guys, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Chad Stegall (US): Excited to finally get this album released and I just listened to some horrible Bette Midler tunes because I am doing some editing for a local dance team.

Mark EG (UK):  The album took a lot of work so the thought of it finally coming out arouses feelings of both relief and excitement. The last piece of music I listened to this morning was ‘Funkytown’ by Lipps Inc.

How has your start to the year been? And what are your plans for the coming week?

Chad Stegall (US): So far so good, just trying to get through another Midwest Winter. Mostly focusing on press for the album this week.

Mark EG (UK): I went back to University as a mature student when COVID hit so I am on my final year. This week will be about writing essays.

Do you guys consider yourself DJs or producers first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

Chad Stegall (US): I have mostly been out of the DJ game for the last 15 years because I never really enjoyed it post vinyl so it is all studio time for me these days. I will say it is hard to beat DJing at a proper rave or nightclub though.

Mark EG (UK): I first started DJing in the early 80’s so that will always be my first love. However, after producing my first record in the 90’s, production has become just as important and I now also run a music school.

Take us through a day in your life?

Chad Stegall (US): Well first off, I am north of 40 and have a 6-month-old so life is pretty crazy and tiring. Unlike Mark I work a regular 9 to 5 job so nothing too exciting. I pretty much eat, sleep, work and get studio time in when I can.

Mark EG (UK): When I am not studying, my life is constant music. Weekends are as hectic as ever DJing across the world and meeting new people.

How did you meet and eventually start collaborating? How was the USUK project born into the world?

Chad Stegall (US): I saw Mark EG DJ in 2000 at Drop Bass Network’s Even Furthur and he blew me away. I knew right away I wanted to book him for a show in Iowa. Over the next couple of years I booked him several times but it was pretty much pick him up at the airport, he would play and leave, so we never really discussed music or developed a friendship. I got out of promoting around 2006 until Drop Bass decided to bring Even Furthur back in 2016. I had a stage so the first person I thought of booking was Mark. As it was a multi-day campout and a really long drive we got to listen to a lot of music and became close friends. I then helped set up a full tour. Mark saw talent in my piano and synth playing abilities and we thought what if we combined styles that don’t normally go together. We messed around a bit in the studio and the result was mind-blowing.

Mark EG (UK): As Chad said, our friendship is born out of my DJ gigs in America and many long hours on the road together. We quicky realized that we had a similar taste in music. One day Chad played me some of his music and I immediately saw how musically gifted he was. I could not believe how many amazing unreleased tracks he had accumulated gathering dust. So, I helped him work on a live set he was doing and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to have a go at collaborating. USUK was born.

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within the USUK dynamic?

Chad Stegall (US): With me being a song writer and composer, I come up with the riffs and concept for the track. If Mark rates it, he builds around it and adds percussion and other ideas. We bounce things back and forth and keep adding or subtracting until we’re both happy. Being brutally honest with each other has been key.

Mark EG (UK): I am a total production geek so I basically take the best of Chad’s ideas, add to them and produce them in my studio in the UK. It is a system that works really well for us.

Your second studio album ‘Fear The Sound’ was just released on your USUK imprint, please tell us about the release and how these tracks showcase your current sound.

Chad and Mark (USUK): First off genre is out the window, what comes out organically is what you get. Like the first album it is actually made from scratch to play as a live PA on tour, so we think of it like a good DJ set. Something that builds, twists and turns and doesn’t get repetitive.

It’s a compelling listen but also quite heady and thematic, there’s a peak time quality to it which is definitely ideal for club play. Tell us about the inspiration behind this album and why it was important for you to express your thoughts, ideas and feelings in this way.

Chad and Mark (USUK): The overall theme was inspired from old John Carpenter horror films. The synths and melodies are haunting but yet sometimes still beautiful. Basically, it’s kind of a light/dark yin/yang vibe.

So, the album was created prior to your US tour in 2019. Was there an initial goal of writing an album or did this happen organically in a way?

Chad and Mark (USUK): We were booked for Even Furthur as USUK that year so we wanted a fresh set that was a little harder than the last. Because we work on groups of tracks for each tour, the flow of the music doing an album just makes sense. Make it, play out, release, move forward.

I’m assuming the pandemic has delayed the release until now? And why did now feel like the right time to get the album out?

Chad Stegall (US): We were really gaining steam and had a European Tour and US ready to go and then came COVID. Mark decided to go back to university. I moved and had to do a studio rebuild.  Now that travel is back to somewhat normal, we have started to think about what’s next. We decided it was time to finish the masters and get this music out.

What track from the album has gotten the most play at your gigs and why?

Mark EG (UK): Although I absolutely love all the tracks on the album, I think my favourite is the second one,Murder State. The reaction is off the scale. I remember when we made it, I had got the basis of the track from Chad, put it on in the studio and a police car whizzed past. It sounded perfect, so I decided to sample a police scanner app and place it on top of the track. The whole thing just came to life and gave such a unique identity.

How did you end up with the final track selection and how did you go about cutting stuff out? There must be a point where it becomes quite difficult letting go of certain pieces?

Chad Stegall (US): When we had made a batch of tracks and it was time to build the live set, Mark treats it like a DJ set and we go based off energy and how things fit together. The tracks that didn’t fit in the set where thrown to the side and will be made into singles later on.

How difficult was it deciding on the flow from a listener’s perspective?

Chad and Mark (USUK): Really hard because now days it is difficult to grab attention, especially to get somebody to scroll and listen to 10 tracks. The issue with that for an album is we can’t really have what we consider the best track commercially in the first spot because we had made an intro that wouldn’t make sense being in the middle. We decided to chance it and go with the flow instead of worrying about click baiting on the first couple tracks.

What does your studio set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of ‘Fear The Sound’?

Chad Stegall (US): Keys and more keys! Anything Moog, Bass Station, Korg, Roland etc. For this a lot of Moog Sub 37 was used because it is so great for gigging live. We both also love the Diva VST and Sylenth. 909 Drums and Linn drum are the go to.

Mark EG (UK): For years I had so much outboard equipment, but it used to take me days to rewire the studio and I was rapidly running out of physical space! But since the advent of serious VST’s and advances in computing, I have got rid of most of it. I think as far as studio tools go, anything by Universal Audio.

Let’s talk about production for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired the album?

Chad Stegall (US): I sit down at the piano not worrying about what synth sounds things will be and I just freestyle compose. If I get a song going I like, then I record the MIDI. After I record the song riffs, I work on what sounds will actually be used with those notes. I find I am able to be way more creative by thinking of the tracks musically rather than clicking around until it sounds good. I am methodical and everything I do has a purpose.

Mark EG (UK): When I get the track idea from Chad, I will add drums of my own and few other random ideas that fit. I just add what ‘feels’ right without thinking. I will then EQ each channel to perfection adding reverb to put each sound in its own space. Then it is case of finishing the sequence. Once done, I will turn all the faders to zero and start the mixdown process – adding the tracks that work as I go along. This is the best moment because it is pure creativity and you start to shape your art to perfection based upon how you are ‘feeling’ at that time. This includes your mindset and stuff you might have read or experienced that day. Anything that doesn’t work at that point doesn’t get included. Then it’s the final polish such as compression and stereo tricks to get the track to sound as ‘big’ and well-produced as possible.

I would guess the writing of the album was a long process, now that it’s done what are your thoughts reflecting back on the process?

Chad Stegall (US): Once we get going, we actually churn things out pretty quick, maybe 2 months of constant studio work. I really thing we have a great workflow nailed in now and it keeps getting easier because we know what each other is going to say no to.

How much of an effect do other genres of music outside of the electronic realm have on your own productions? And in particular the album.

Chad and Mark (USUK): We are both very much into 80’ synth sounds and riffs which I think really comes through on the album.

How would you feel about these tracks being remixed? And are there plans for this?

Chad and Mark (USUK): We do plan on releasing a few as singles with remixes. We already have a heavier acid version we used live that is ready to go and will be putting it out there to a few select people.

Do you think the digital era changed the way we perceive artist albums? Do they still carry the weight they once did or should? Is this something that perhaps depends on who (record label) is releasing it as well?

Chad Stegall (US): It has killed the record industry but that’s a longer conversation. I think people don’t generally do albums because people don’t have the patience to listen all the way through. ‘Every track has to be a banger’ mentality has taken over and the art of building something that is a complete journey has been lost. Our whole vibe is we just do what we want and if people get on board, then so be it. We are proud of the fact we could fit into many genres on Beatport. It might hurt on sales but it allows us to create our own niche and path.

What’s the task you enjoy the most when producing and what is something you’d rather have taken care of by somebody else?

Mark EG (UK): I think we both enjoy it all. I remember about twenty years ago someone said to me ‘never master your own tracks’. Of course, somebody telling me not to do something makes me want to do it even more. I am glad I did because mastering helped me understand the music making process from a more scientific perspective which has seriously enhanced my production skills. Also doing the whole creation process yourself allows you to keep total artistic control of your work, meaning the end result is genuine and truly yours.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Chad Stegall (US): That’s tough. Say 9 to 10 Orbitial, 10-11 Rodriguez Jr, 11-12 Miss Kitten, 12-1 Richie Hawtin 1-2 DJ Rush.

Mark EG (UK): For me there’s not many DJ’s I would go out of my way to see. However, if I had to it would probably be artists like Jeff Mills, DJ Hell, Aphex Twin, Joey Beltram, Speedy J. I wouldn’t give them times, I’d ask them to play something they never usually play and I would put them behind a large screen so nobody could see who was on.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

Chad Stegall (US): Dolby Surround.

Mark EG (UK): Do not ask me that! I have already been through a serious addiction with expensive outboard gear and it nearly killed me!

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Chad Stegall (US): Any Ken Burns documentary. Always so eye opening about how cruel and yet amazing we can be as humans.

Mark EG (UK): Cohen, S. (1973) ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rockers’ - this is a fascinating look at how the media and politicians play music subcultures against each other to create conflict.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Chad Stegall (US): Being out in nature.

Mark EG (UK): Learning, writing, my girlfriend and my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Cody.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Chad Stegall (US): Hoping to get album 3 going and get some tour dates set up.

Mark EG (UK): As well as starting the next album I am aiming to graduate, get my first and then apply to do a PhD.

'Fear The Sound' is available now via USUK Records: https://bit.ly/3Zl8PXD

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