Since his debut onto the scene way back in 2012 it's fair to say that OGRE is more than just a safe pair of hands when it comes to the best there is in this genre!
His seminal albums 'Calico Brawn' released in 2013 followed by 'Calico Noir' in 2016 and 195 in 2017 are heralded as the best there is of the Synthwave Genre and are frequently referenced. Most notably by Andy Last of 'Beyond Synth' fame who has used 'Shore Thing' from Calico Brawn as his intro to his widely popular Synthwave Podcast since its inception.
More recently OGRE had featured and scored the fantastic documentary film 'The Rise of the Synths'. Narrated by the King of Horror Films himself 'John Carpenter', OGRE's music adds depth and weight to the documented composition that explored the origins and growth of Synthwave, charting its rise in popularity from a relatively unknown underground music scene to its recent mainstream exposure in retro themed tv shows and films like Drive and Stranger Things.
Robin Ogden (OGRE) is a self confessed "harbinger of imagined soundtracks for films that don't exist" and it's this ability to create imagined soundscapes that can be found in award winning indie games Actual Sunlight, This Is The Police I & II, and Hacknet
Forged were very excited he took the time to do this interview..it's a great one! Take a look.....
Thank you so much for sharing your time with Forged in Neon today and congratulations on the release of your new album ‘Interzone’, how do you think it has been received so far?
Thank you so much for having me! Interzone seems to have gone down really well so far. The cassette editions sold out on pre-order, which was amazing, as I hadn’t done a physical self-release in a little while. Tape felt like a great fit for the album and I love cassette very much as a format. It’s nice to have a hard copy of an album to hold in your hands and be like ‘I made this!’. It makes the whole music-making journey feel more real somehow. The art by Tiny Little Hammers is wonderful too, and James Trevascus did a sublime job mastering the album for me. It was great to collaborate with such talented folk. I’m really glad people are digging it, I’ve had some really nice messages and emails.
Your new album is something special, brilliant but quite conceptual, was it inspired by anything in particular?
Largely it was inspired by this horrendous year, and being stuck indoors for lengthy periods of time. Most of my albums are ‘imagined soundtracks’ or have some sort of concept running through them, and Interzone is more of the same in that respect. I’ve always been inspired by the writing of J G Ballard, whose texts like Crash were instrumental in inspiring a lot of early eighties synth bands.
For a long time I’ve been trying to explore Ballardian ideas of liminality and inner-space, and the whole lockdown seemed like being trapped in a Ballard novel to me. I rediscovered my love of reading this year, and revisited some of my favourite short stories of his. Two in particular seemed really prescient to our situation: ‘The Enormous Space’, in which a man deliberately isolates himself from the rest of the world and becomes marooned in an ever-expanding suburban home, and another called ‘Intensive Care Unit’, which I won’t spoil, but is alarmingly relevant to living our lives virtually over ZOOM and Whatsapp and webcams. All of this inspired the music and short narrative that accompanies the album.
The other main source of inspiration, as always for me, are my synthesizers. I tried to use them in new ways, and connect old things from the seventies and eighties to my modular synthesizer and process things through some cool new sound design tools from SLATE + ASH, who do a lot of musical sound design for film. I spent a lot of time getting into microsound and micromusic, and trying to zoom-in on grains of audio to make something new.
How do you think your sound has developed over time?
I never really want to do the same thing twice if I can help it. I try to make a new sound world to explore every album, even though a lot of the time I’m still using the same old Korgs, Moogs and eighties rack synths. I like teaching old synths new tricks when I can. One of the nicest things about using hardware is you can make everything talk to each other with control voltages and wind up in some strange new sonic territories. Sometimes I want to revisit ideas and themes, but it’s never precisely the same, kind of like with my Calico or 19X albums. We all change and grow with time, it’s interesting to look back to see where you’ve come from, and figure out what to explore next.
What do you think is the most distinctive aspect of the music you create?
I’m not sure, but I’d like to think there’s something intrinsically ‘me’ about my music beyond what synthesizers or software I use. Whether that’s down to the notes or sound design choices, or how you voice chords or arrange or mix songs, I think there is definitely some sort of musical DNA or fingerprint that every artist leaves on a track. You could give two people exactly the same brief and equipment and tell them to write something, and you’d probably get two wildly different end results. So I’d probably say whatever melodic sensibilities I have are my most distinctive musical trait.
Who have been your musical inspirations growing up? I’d imagine this may have somewhat changed over time?
I think like a lot of Synthwave artists I kind of have a metal background. In my teens I was into a lot of shred guitarists and eighties speed metal bands like Racer X, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Dokken and groups like that. I feel like I’ve always been looking backwards for inspiration. But anything with crazy riffs and sweet licks was my jam. I loved the guitar and I’d practice for hours a day! I listened to electronic stuff too, like New Order, prog bands like E.L.P. and YES, and I was always really into the electronic soundtracks of my favourite action movies, mainly Schwarzenegger films like Terminator or Commando. I had no idea how any of it was made or how to make it, but I’ve always loved electronic scores.
I can remember trying to make my guitar sound like a synth with very little success. My dad made some electronic music stuff, and had a KAWAI K4 synth, which I actually now
have myself, and an Atari ST with a tracker. I think it was early Cubase maybe. I also had a Tascam 4 track cassette recorder, which I still use, so I’d jam around on that too. I think as the internet got faster I was able to discover more music, and unearth more niche and
obscure electronic scores from decades past. It’s clichéd at this point, but I’m not ashamed to admit being inspired by Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and all the greats.
Funnily, I think my tastes have kind of devolved back into my teenage ones. I’ve been going through a pretty solid eighties hair metal phase for the last two years.
Possibly putting you on the spot here but what is the one stand-out track in your entire discography that you are most proud of? Why?
This is a tough one! I always think in terms of albums and how an album flows and works as a whole as opposed to singles. If I had to pick one track for people to listen to, maybe it would be ‘Don’t Call Me Hero’ off of 195. It sums up a lot of what I’m interested in musically. If I were to point to an album I’m really proud of, I think what I did with Dallas Campbell for All Hallows’ II is pretty cool.
You scored and starred in the well-received documentary ‘The Rise of the Synths’ – tell us what it was like to work on that?
It was fun! The filming was surreal. We got stranded on a beach for an afternoon. It’s strange to see myself in the documentary. I imagine it must be similar for a lot of the other artists too, I feel like a lot of people are quite private really and let the music do the talking for the most part. In terms of scoring the film it was actually quite a quick turnaround. I only had about three weeks to deliver the finished score, as the premiere was in less than four weeks time. Tight deadlines can be stressful, but I actually quite enjoy them. You can’t second guess things and just have to trust your gut and let the synths take the wheel and inform your musical decisions. I definitely felt an affinity with Carpenter and his fast scoring! And it was certainly strange and awesome to be scoring a film narrated by him too.
Have you ever thought about bringing your music to a live audience? Is that something you aspire to doing or does it interest you?
I have. It’s something I’ve been asked to do many times over the last few years, but it’s something I definitely want to do right. Years ago, before I did what I do now, I used to do live electronic shows and toured the U.K. a few times. I enjoyed playing live a lot, but I think the logistics of doing a truly live OGRE performance, with all the hardware synths, zero laptops and no DJ-ing, would be a big undertaking. I would love to play live eventually, but I really want to do right by the audience and do something truly live. I think S U R V I V E do it right. I’d definitely try and take things in a more Tangerine Dream improvisational with no two shows quite the same direction if I could.
You have an undeniable knack for creating soundscapes with your music, tell us about your creative processes, how long would it take for you to lay down a track on average?
Thank you. I think the creative process is a fascinating thing, and it’s something I think about a lot. I’ve got a streamlined approach for professional work, and client lead work tends to be easier in some ways as you’re working to picture or to a brief, but for personal projects I try to change things up quite often. Sometimes I’ll start with an idea I can hear in my head, and I’ll write that out as MIDI in Ableton.
Currently I’m trying to write away from the computer and generate ideas directly on synths or on the modular synthesizer. In terms of how long it takes to finish a piece of music, I think
the initial idea can sometimes be written out in minutes or hours, but polishing, mixing and doing the sound design can be days and weeks of careful decision making.
If there was one aspect you’d change about the Music Industry what would it be? Why?
I think the industry on the whole is changing for the better, and I’m really thankful for forward
thinking platforms like Bandcamp which let artists release in a meaningful way. Bandcamp have done so much this year to support musicians through the pandemic, and provide some really great tools. It’s made a huge difference to independent artists. If I could change one thing more widely, it would be fairer royalties for musicians from streaming services like Spotify I think.
What do you hope your listeners take away from the music you create?
I hope that listeners enjoy the sound worlds I try to build. The one thing I really enjoy about writing albums based around a narrative concept is that I think it can make the music more of an active listening experience. The track names become flavour text, and listeners come up with their own plots for these imaginary films I’m trying to soundtrack. I’ve started calling what I do ‘cinema for the ear.’
What is the one guilty pleasure you cannot live without?
I don’t believe in guilt when it comes to pleasurable things! But I don’t have many vices these days, I only eat plants, nixed the cigarettes five years ago, and I’ve even quit caffeine. In terms of interests that others might assume I’m ashamed of maybe my tattoos, extreme power metal like Dragonforce or Rhapsody, worn pulp fantasy and paperbacks from the seventies and eighties, board games or Dungeons & Dragons?
I think all of those things are really cool though, I wear them on my sleeve. I’m a nerd through and through. I think it’s cool to be a nerd these days, and I feel like you almost have
to be when you make music with synthesizers.
What do you believe to be the most cherished memory of your career to date?
The premiere for The Rise Of The Synths in London was really amazing.
Synthwave is a strange genre in a way, as it doesn’t have a geo-locus like so many other musical movements. It’s not tied to one city and is a truly global phenomenon with a very international community, which I think is very special. It was great to meet so many other like-minded people who had travelled so far to see the movie, and even musicians who I’ve been chatting with for the better part of a decade but I had never met in person. It was wonderful to meet you there as well! It was my first feature length film premiere too, and very surreal to hear my score on the big screen and watch the film back with such a passionate community. A night I’ll never forget for sure.
Photo Credit: The Rise of the Synths
Can you tell us about any current and future projects in the pipeline?
I’ve got a few things lined up for next year, some more Ballardian cinema for the ear, the final part of the Berlin-school triptych I started with MURALS and GEIST, and I believe shortly my soundtrack contribution to Josan Gonzalez’ third cyberpunk artbook The Future Is Now: Nightfall will be coming out shortly. There are some other great Synthwave artists on that soundtrack too!
What’s a day off for OGRE like or is there such a thing?
I’m very fortunate that making music is my full-time job, and I try to write something everyday. But in my down-time I go to the gym and workout a lot, which is a hobby I largely owe to my synth-guru, best friend and frequent collaborator Dallas Campbell. I’ve even got Andy Last started on the pull- ups now. Besides lifting heavy things every other day, I enjoy being outside a lot and love walking. I don’t have a garden, but I’m fortunate to live on an estuary, so there’s lots of wildlife to take in along the river. I try to walk every day. I think I get my best ideas whilst I’m walking around and taking in the world. I also love cooking and figuring out new plant based recipes. I think cooking can be very inspiring too.
A message for your fans?
I can’t quite put it into words in an elegant way, but I want to express a huge thanks from the
bottom of my heart to anyone who has taken the time to listen to my music or buy an album. I am so grateful, and I think it’s amazing that people enjoy what I do. It means so much to artists to know that their work is being heard and connecting with people on any level. And if you’re not familiar with myself and my music, you can stream nearly a decade’s worth of music for free over on my Bandcamp. I promise there will be something for you. Ashley, thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, and for such thought provoking questions. I really appreciate it!
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