Name: Border Scout
Occupation: “Cinematronica Music Makers”
Current Release: The Nature of Things
Musical Recommendations: Lykke Li’s work is a great example of really hooky songs that are super credible. Clarence Clarity is truly seeking new frontiers.
Website/ Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Border Scout, you can find more information about them on their website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
We have grown up together so our first joint artistic project was actually a comic book called ‘The Sultana Gang’, made over the summer holidays when we are about 10 or 11. We were hugely influenced by stuff like Calvin and Hobbes, Snoopy, Garfield and British classic weeklies like The Beano and The Dandy. That definitely set the stage for working creatively on music together.
We started doing music as a duo around the age of 12. That was a time when most of our influences came from Dad’s record collection of mainly Queen and Dire Straits and Mum’s Eagles tapes and Neil Diamond. We also used to get out BBC Sound FX tapes from the local library and listen to those. Our parents probably became a little alarmed at that point. Maybe that is where we found our love of found sounds and non-musical elements to construct beats and make weird pad sounds!
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Our listening tastes in our early teens were stuff like Michael Jackson, Madonna, mostly chart pop. That was until the epiphany that was Pearl Jam happened when we were 14 and 15. After hearing Vs. it was a headlong journey into the grunge scene of Nirvana and Soundgarden and then heavier metal stuff like Pantera and Sepultura. Anything remotely pop or electronic was totally dismissed. We spent our teenage years emulating our rock heroes.
When we moved to a bigger city for University we were exposed to loads of other music by friends. Portishead ‘Dummy’ was a huge crossover record for us and from there it went to Massive Attack, Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Bjork, DJ Shadow and more. We made a trip hop kind of album at Uni that eschewed conventional songwriting structure and looking back was pretty far out. From there we discovered all the Ninja Tune and Warp stuff and guitar music took a backseat as we thought there were more creative possibilities with electronic music.
Lately we have been influenced a lot by film soundtracks, modern classical composers like Vaughn Williams and contemporary composer/artists like Max Richter and John Hopkins. Border Scout is an amalgam of all these influences.
What were your main compositional and production challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Our vision on a production level is a hybrid orchestral/electronic sound. On a compositional level it is a hybrid instrumental/song theme. Combining all this is a major challenge. Limiting ourselves to only certain drum sounds and one orchestral library helps make it cohesive. For our debut record ‘The Nature Of Things’ we had been waiting for technology in a way. The advent of incredible quality sample libraries at affordable prices really gave us the possibility to explore the more epic music ideas we had. The double-edged sword with the digital music revolution is that the choice of sounds these days is truly limitless, so it is a constant challenge to be concise and focused in selection.
When dealing with vocals sometimes it can be as simple as my tone of voice and delivery not working on a particular tune. So, for two songs on this record we got our mate Stoney involved. He normally sings harder on his own music, but for our stuff he used a really lovely more fragile part of his range, which raised our song to whole new heights.
It always helps to get someone in who is less close to the material too. We got Allen Farmelo in to oversee the mix and also advise on production. We were fans of his work with The Cinematic Orchestra and knew his old school approach using a custom API desk and cutting to 1/2 inch tape was much needed for our largely digital recordings. Aside from doing a brilliant job technically, we hugely benefitted from his fresh ideas on a number of production elements.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were the criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
We have two studios, one in each of our houses. Mine is a 2m x 2m box room. Dan’s is an even smaller space, using speakers the size of your palm! Gear wise we have almost identical stuff because it makes working on everything seamless. This consists of laptop, UAD interface, controller keyboard and a whole bunch of carefully selected software. We both have an electric and acoustic guitar and I have a bass and the only bit of real hardware in the shape of a Moog Rogue synth.
We had a very limited budget so it really focuses you on how minimal you can get on kit and still make good music. We would love to have the choice of setting a large studio up in a beautiful place with a glass window overlooking a grand vista, but I’d probably find it hard not to leave and go for a long run outside!
Ergonomically, because our studios are so small, everything you want to play is really close already (sometimes too close when the headstock smashes into your laptop screen!). Haptics is nice in theory but never worked for us. I spent ages customising my midi keyboard to use all the pads and faders, but I still end up using my trackball 90% of the time.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
We are 90% software based. We exclusively use Pro Tools which has everything we need to organise our work. We use many of the larger plugin companies’ software but there are a few one-man-band boutique plugin people out there which we love to use: Sean Costello at Valhalla DSP for amazing reverbs, Boz Millar for rare vintage and cool new stuff, Steve Massey for simple to use stuff of stellar quality.
The Kontakt sampler is critical for us also, as it open you up to whole array of sample libraries like our faves - Spitfire, Sonic Couture. SoundDust, That Sound and Goldbaby. freesound.org is also a key resource for us to find random atmospheric noise and foley type stuff. In the end though it is always more about how you use stuff, rather than what you use.
On the hardware side of stuff I think mixing our debut record through a desk and onto tape via a vintage Studer was hugely important. Along with Allen’s mad skills it really helped give our sound quite a warm and organic feel. He also tracked pianist Henry Hey to play all the piano parts from our original midi piano demos using this cool duplicate chain, one side clean, the other mashed up by a Culture Vulture distortion unit. A Juno 60 synth we used to have was nice on some parts of the album and now I really like using the Moog Rogue to make nasty drones and lead lines. We also have a stash of vintage 60s cymbals we use for a more realistic live feel.