I am very honoured to have today the possibility to chat with two very important music protagonists who are involved actively and passively in the wave movement since the 1980s:
Jeff Gallea from California, known as mastermind behind darkwave/synthpop project Eleven Pond (1986-1987), which he reformed in 2011 due to rising interest of contemporary music fans in their back-then only album ‘Bas Relief’ (1987) – by now this album gained cult-status. Beta Evers from Germany, who has founded several music labels – Kommando 6, Bodyvolt, Venus Noir – and is known for her solo efforts in synth-based music as well as for collaborations with other musicians.
One of these collaborations recently caught my attention, namely the EP ‘Chasms’ by Black Pond which is the common project of Beta and Jeff. Their next record ‘Deepest Chasms’ (Electronic Emergencies) is scheduled for December 5th 2016 – in a few days – which makes this the perfect moment for a little talk. Please enjoy with me the first-ever official interview with Black Pond!
Jeff: Thanks for your interest in our music, André, I see you’re in Slovakia? My grandmother was from Czecholslovakia.
Andre: Yes, I am right now in Slovakia, but am around east-central Europe all the time. Have you ever been to Czechia or Slovakia?
Jeff: I have been to Prague a few times and also the Czech countryside with a modular synth composer who lives in San Francisco and is also of Czech heritage.
Andre: Beta, due to your experience with founding and owning music labels I have several questions burning at the tip of my tongue: How much effort is it to found and to maintain a label and how do you see the importance of such labels in the 21st century, when everybody can self-release and promote their art on the Internet and on social media? Are labels still justified or are they a relic from an antiquated music culture?
Beta: In my experience running a label needs a lot of time. While I ran Kommando 6 I studied sociology and it almost killed me, because I used a lot of time for the label that I actually would have needed to study. I released a record every few months and from listening to demos, to take care for the administrative work, to mastering, to communicate with the artists, to promote and to sell it is a lot of work. I never had a distribution that took care of all the sales, so the shipments to customers and running mailorder is even more work. Apart from the downfall of vinyl sales the time factor was a reason why I stopped Kommando 6 in 2006. Now I decided to release vinyls again, but on a less intense level than I did it with Kommando 6. I think labels do still good work by selecting good music and by discovering new artists. There are so many platforms and channel where you can listen to music online nowadays, it is impossible to discover everything. Labels do that discovering and selecting. Maybe labels are not as important anymore as they were in the past, but I think they are still a good idea.
Andre: Jeff, you reformed Eleven Pond in 2011 because of the new interest in, or let’s rather say the new demand of such music as you made in the late 1980s. Do you have an explanation for that and when was the point you decided to return?
Jeff: I am very bad with dates and times, I think the synth scene started in 2009 and I kept hearing DJ’s playing ‘Watching Trees’. Dark Entries reissued Bas Relief shortly after, then I reformed the band. The reason for that was because I found a great electronic drummer, Garey Spider from Present Moment, who wanted to play live shows with me. Finding good drummers who look cool is like finding a needle in a hay stack during the rain… I also had lots of unreleased material I wanted to finish records on and release and play live. Eleven Pond wrote 88 songs, but only a 30 have been released. I also missed being in the stage under the lights!
Andre: 88 songs, wow! It also explains why your new recordings sound like they came directly from the 80s. So, are you “recycling” these songs nowadays for your new records or are there also new ideas?
Jeff: The 88 songs are between a few bands that were made up of members from Eleven Pond: Red Violet Red (1985), Just Enough Fluff Fucker (1992), Eleven Pond (1986-2016), Festival of Dreams (1984) and Space Trio (1987).
I am not recycling the old recordings, I am making new recording with all the old gear I used in the 80s, mixed with modern DAW synths that sound amazing. Digital synths have come a long way. That’s actually how Beta Evers and I work together, we record tracks using vintage gear onto modern multitrack programs, then share the tracks via email… we are modern musicians with our ears still in the 80s!
Andre: How different is music making and all things around nowadays, compared to the 1980s and 1990s?
Jeff: It’s MUCH easier to make music today! The problem is getting musicians together. Its so easy to hide behind the computer and make recordings. I prefer getting together and jamming. From the jams come small seeds that can grow into full songs. I work best when playing of the creative spirit of other musicians. Being a solo recording artist is the kiss of death for me.
Beta is quite different from me. From what I have learned about working with her, she can find enormous creativity in small patches of time.
Andre, my first music involvement was pretty standard, I took piano lessons as a young boy. One day a priest let me noodle around on the church organ. I loved the big sound! Then in grade school I joined a band called Purple Purple, we only played Deep Purple songs! That’s all the guitars I knew.
Beta: In the 80s I made experiments with all kind of things, besides e-guitar, because I had no money to afford a synthesizer. I was 14 when I had my girl-band in the 80s. Besides, the communication was slower and the cultural networks were smaller and more difficult to reach. No Internet. When I started again in 1999 I enjoyed the advantages of the Internet and computers. I really appreciate some of the modern technologies and communication possibilities. The disadvantage is what Jeff describes… people hiding behind computers, less real-life connections and such.
Jeff: Wow, you started at age 14?! Did you tell me this before? I remember you sending me a punk photo of you and your girl band mates. Don’t tell me you were 14 in that photo!!
Beta: I don’t know which photo I sent you Jeff. we clan clarify that next time we talk on Skype or something.
Andre: Now I also want to see that photo!
Jeff: Speaking of Skype, Andre, you might find it interesting that Beta Evers and I have never met in real life! Our entire working relationship occurs in the digital realm. We record to digital medium them communicate through Skype.
Andre: This would have been one of my questions, Jeff. It is somehow unimaginable that you made all these songs without ever meeting!
But, Beta, is it not that you work mostly alone?
Beta: Andre, I think it is about half-half what I produce alone or within collaborations. For example between 2007-2011 I worked mainly for the Zwischenwelt project and did only produce about five solo tracks. I started out alone in 1999, but I really don’t want to miss collaborations. Band projects like Black Pond, or some selected guest appearances (vocals, lyrics). I really tried to motivate Jeff to come over for one or two months to record some new songs and to have one, two gigs together, but so far without success…
Jeff: Beta, you are also welcome to come to sunny Los Angeles and record tracks on the beach while the surfers go by! I had heard that Beta did collaborations. I think that’s how our conversations first started?
How I discovered Beta Evers is quite an interesting story…
I first heard Beta Evers when I was at a gay dominatrix club in downtown LA called The Two Headed Horse, they had a synth wave night (mixed gay and straight) and a DJ named Blackrainbow played ‘Satisfaction’ while I was on the dance floor unsuccessfully chasing some goth girl… the song made me go crazy. I asked Blackrainbow the name of the artists – the rest is history.
Beta: Yes, Jeff… but actually it started with your interview request for your SynthScene mag in 2012.
Andre: Jeff, could you please tell us more about the SynthScene magazine? Was this your only involvement in music during the time Eleven Pond didn’t exist or were you also actively recording stuff?
Jeff: SynthScene magazine was an interesting project. I miss fanzines. In the 80s there were so many. You could collect them. Many included home made cassettes. I tried to keep that alive, but the project was never really embraced. I still keep it going. There are two compilations, a third is on the way.
Andre: Was it online or on paper?
Jeff: SynthScene was printed on paper and included a CD-R. Each one was hand numbered and collectable. Beta Evers has a song on SS#2.
Beta correct me if I am wrong, when we started working on the project we wanted to combine both our sounds? I don’t think we were going for a new and completely different sound?
Beta: Yes, we wanted to combine.
Andre: It is no surprise that when two people with such biographies as yours meet that they want to create something together. And Black Pond’s first sign of life, ‘Chasms’, convinces that this collaboration was a good idea. And your next EP will be released in a few days, is this right?
Beta: Yes, coming Monday. This second EP features three different mixes of songs that were on the first EP ‘Chasms’ and an previously unreleased song, ‘Mind Games’.
Jeff: Yes Monday! very excited to have everything coming-out on vinyl.
I want to express my opinion about the future: Beta and I need to meet in real life, we need to play some live shows, we need to record new songs. This MUST happen at some point in the future. The problem is I need to be PUSHED. So please feel free to send me an e-mail every once and a while, telling me to get off my lazy ass and get on a plane to Bavaria.
Beta: You know I do that anyway, Jeff 🙂 Andre you see, we are quite a good combination. Jeff inspires me, I have a lot of respect for his work. And Jeff needs someone like me who pushes him.
Jeff: This is very true. I’m very independent, but I respond quite well to an organized person who pushes me and motivates me. Beta and I have this in spades! Andre, if you asked me to make a music video for your band, I might make it in three or four months, or maybe never? When Beta asks me to make a music video I make in in 24 hours!
Andre: I have a reader’s request: What is it all about the Pond?
Jeff: To me ‘the Pond’ is a small place where organisms can gather and grow into something else. But the Pond needs nourishment… they can die easily from pollution. As a boy I grew up near many, many ponds. One of my favorite ponds – Pond #11 – was polluted by industrial run off and all the fish died, all the frogs died, all the plants around the edge died. That memory stays with me still to this day.
I have never been asked this question in an interview…
To me Black Pond is the small creative space that Beta and I can create our songs, away from the modern world and modern influences. It’s just our own small dark world.
Andre: Strange that nobody ever asked for the name…
Jeff: I was asked in the 80’s but I never answered. I’m more open now. In the 80s I was a bit more crazy and wild tempered, I may have told you to fuck off if you asked certain questions? Now I respect all questions and am very happy you wanted to interview us.
Andre: The pleasure is all mine! How was the public reaction on the first release of Black Pond?
Beta: It was very positive. We immediately got two or three requests to play live and when we looked for a label to release our spare mixes and songs, it was no problem to find one. The first pressing we did in small numbers and the copies were sold quickly. I just ordered a second pressing to be released on Bodyvolt again.
Andre: How come that you couldn’t publish your cover of The Velvet Underground‘s ‘Venus in Furs’ on Bandcamp?
Beta: For vinyl it was easy to get a license from GEMA, but Bandcamp has rules for cover versions. We would have needed a permission from the original publisher and a GEMA permission to sell it digitally. This process appeared a bit too complicated to me.
Andre: Is there anything you want to tell to our readers? Some concluding words?
Beta: One of my slogans is: “Do what you do want to do and don’t give up easily”. Music is one of the greatest things, it is a passion that I have since I can remember. The passion of creation is an important part to me. What evolves from the finished music is secondary. One of the nicest “side effects” is that I met some great people through music. It would have never happened without my music, without my labels.
Jeff: It’s sunny and warm, a good day to do custom painting on a California car… Thanks for your support, Andre! bye bye
And here is the new video to Black Pond‘s ‘Mind Games’. Enjoy!