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Interview with Steve Jaszkowiak of Thinking Man - conducted by telephone 1/2/97

Jester: I know you were in a post-punk band in the late eighties. How has the music scene changed since the last time you involved in a band?

Steve: For me the difference the whole post punk scene was just a bunch of guys screwing around with music until something sounded good. It was always dealing with a whole band full of people. What I do now is just me, some computers and Daniel adding vocals. It is a totally different way of writing music than I have ever done before. You don't have three or four other people coming up with music when you can't come up with material. In that type of environment, if you are not creative someone else in the band will be.

Jester: When exactly were you in you old band, "City on Edge?"

Steve: About seven years ago I moved away from the whole post punk scene and the people I used to make music with. I kind of ended up in the whole electronic music genre out of default because of that. When I used to live in San Diego it was always easier to find people with which to make music. However now that I am in Los Angeles it has become increasingly difficult to find people who are open minded about my preferred musical style. These days the advertisements for bands rarely contain influences outside of what is popular on the radio at this exact moment in time. It was totally different in San Diego where there was quite a bit more of a diversity of music.

Jester: Was some of the move towards electronic music in relation to your work in television and films? Or was it more a personal choice?

Steve: It was more of a personal thing. The bands I was in before were always pretty dark and less structured. People who never really knew what my older music was about always used to comment that it sounded like soundtrack music.

Jester: How did you first get involved with composing music?

Steve: Well, I have been playing guitar since I was a small child. Years ago I responded to an add for a band that needed a guitar player and it worked out. I didn't really know how to play that well as the time but I got better as I went along. We played a lot of cover songs but we started writing our own songs because it was a lot more fun to play our own material. That kind of breathed a musical passion into me that I have always kept. The singular first time I played with that band was probably the defining moment that got me hooked into playing music.

Jester: You seem to have a great deal of luck with personal ads.

Steve: It's not like I'm looking for girl friends or anything. I also didn't get together with every person whose ad I responded to either. For every person that I ended up working with, I probably talked to twenty different people who didn't work out. I definitely had to sift through a lot of people to find someone who ended up working well with me.

Jester: What clicked with Daniel that made him a good choice to do vocals on the Thinking Man project?

Steve: Whenever we worked together we didn't really ever have to talk about much and the music just kind of happened. I have never really been good at making it work, it always just seems to happen on it's own. If it just doesn't happen it really isn't any fun. I can't just make myself play music with someone who I think is cool, I have to really enjoy myself. Daniel is pretty open minded and has always tried about anything I've asked him to. We have always been into the same kinds of things so it worked rather well.

Jester: How did you get involved with Metropolis Records?

Steve: I used to have this habit of every year putting together a demo tape and soliciting it to labels. I started off with some list that I found in the back of some musician magazine. Every year I would send out about 200 tapes to record companies. I would get maybe 50 of them back because the record label didn't exist anymore. I would get another fifty back with ding letters from non interested labels. Eventually I started reading more offbeat magazines and get addresses from there. So one year I only sent out twenty demos but there were to the appropriate genre of record labels. Metropolis was the first company that was interested so we decided to go with it.

Jester: Do you have plans to play live with Thinking Man?

Steve: Yes. We used to play live over a year ago and we only stopped to make the record. Our ambition is to play live again.

Jester: What does your live setup look like?

Steve: We used to have a drummer play along to prerecorded stuff which we likeed a lot. In the past we did do one show with just Daniel and I and it wasn't nearly as fun for us and I doubt that audience enjoyed it either. However that drummer moved to Florida and is no longer available. So we are now trying to find a drummer who can play along with a prerecorded tape before we go out and play live again.

Jester: You wouldn't think it would be hard to find someone to play along to the music.

Steve: I know, I play guitar along to the backing tape. However we don't use an acoustic drum kit and there are few electronic drummers. I will probably offend every drummer, but I don't think that the same thing that attracts people to drums is the same thing that attracts people to computers. Most drummers I have worked with have always been the type to go crazy on a drum kit. So when you have to sit down and start programming your drums that is very removed from the typical attitude of a drummer.

Jester: What type of vocoder does Daniel use for his vocals? It sounds a great deal like what Ogre from Skinny Puppy used to use.

Steve: It is a combination of four or five effects. Some things are done inside of a computer that are not real time so you can't just buy a box that is going to make the sound. I am not sure how we are going to do it when we play live and it will probably not sound exactly like on the album because we won't be able to reproduce it. There is a lot of pitch shifting, flanging, delays and reverb.

Jester: Have you played any material of this album live before?

Steve: Three of the songs on the album are older material and we used to play those tracks live. The songs that have more guitar in them are songs that we kept from a few years ago. They actually had more guitar in them but when we finishing the record we changed them around a bit to fit the mood of the rest of the album. We used to play "Acid", "Screaming Saints", and "Warland"

Jester: In comparison to the rest of the Metropolis catalog you definitely do use a great deal more guitar that anyone else.

Steve: Yes that is definitely true. We are their most guitar heavy band. Most of their bands are a lot more electronic.

Jester: Have either one of you had any type of musical training or has it all been self taught?

Steve: It has all been self taught. What I have learned in the past I have long since forgotten. I have taken theory classes but when I start thinking in those terms I find myself being creatively being turned off. Once I start thinking about music in notational terms I ceased being fun. I mostly play by ear and that is how I survive.

Jester: Where do most of your sounds and samples come from?

Steve: We don't really have that many samples and I don't really have a structured method of finding them. I am not one of those guys who records the television all day long to find samples. I have heard a few things on records and used them like on "Acid" I sampled from an old NASA record.

Jester: What does the sounds that you use for your percussion and bass lines come from?

Steve: I play all that stuff live. I don't use loops or anything similar. I just have a sampler with a few snare and kick drums loaded and start hitting them. Then I arrange the patterns in the way that I want them.

Jester: That certainly makes you stand out from the majority of others bands who use loops to generate almost all of their music.

Steve: We have a very rock and roll viewpoint to making music so we don't just stand around and play along with a machine who is making playing most of the music.

Jester: In your free time, what musicians and artists do you listen to?

Steve: I listen to a lot of the more commercial dark stuff, bands like Peter Murphy, The Cure, Siouxsie and The Banshees. Most of the industrial music that I listen to is only in clubs.

Jester: When you sit down and write new material do you have any formal compositional method?

Steve: It is much different now than in the past. Before we had any record interest I used to just screw around making all types of sounds. Even though Metropolis doesn't have any stringent deadlines there is still sometimes a sense of urgency when I write music now. Sometimes I have to go and force myself to write music and I have gotten much better and becoming creative when I need to be. Usually I start with an idea beforehand and try to achieve. Eventually I find that I really can't achieve what I started out to do and end up realizing what I am working on is just as good. I usually start with instrumentation first and find a cool sound and it inspires the rest of the entire song. A great deal of electronic music is based on production value rather than quality so we do play that game on occasion.

Jester: Would you like to work with other musicians in the future?

Steve: Yes. I am going to be doing this for a long time. Everyone has the ambition to produce other people and participate in mixing. So that is pretty much what I would like to do in the future to keep me learning and expanding myself musically. I don't know that I want to start another band because it is a lot of work. There is a commitment that you have to make that you wouldn't have to if you were just mixing someone's record.

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