Name: Flight Facilities
Members: Hugo Gruzman, James Lyell
Occupation: Producers, songwriters
Interviewee: Hugo Gruzman
Current release: Flight Facilities' second full length album, FOREVER, is out via Future Classic.
Recommendations: We could recommend songs, but it’s probably a fun opportunity to mention some other art forms.
I discovered a German artist named Carl Grossberg when I was on tour in America several years ago. He has a really captivating style of painting, with a simplicity for arrangement, but a huge attention to detail with the mechanical. ‘Composition with Turbine’ is a nice example of his work. Grossberg reminded me a little of Rene Magritte, who most people will be familiar with (‘Son of Man’). I saw a large display of Magritte’s work in San Francisco. His ‘Empire of Light’ series is unbelievable, to capture so much detail within the darkness.
My favourite Australian artist is Tim Storrier. A simple google image search of 'Tim Storrier burning coals' is enough to send anyone down an artistic rabbit hole. I cannot recommend highly enough that people see his work in person. It’s mind blowing.
If you enjoyed this interview with Flight Facilities and would like to stay up to date on new releases and tour dates, visit the band's official homepage. They're also on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
For me (Hugo) it was around 2008 so Flight Facilities was my first venture into production. Luckily Jimmy had a few years experience so I was able to watch him and learn on the job.
Production was a natural progression from DJing and playing in clubs. You have an organic urge to play your own music after seeing how people react to other artist’s music.
The influences were largely the same then as they are now. People like Daft Punk, Chic and The Chemical Brothers. It’s timeless music, so it’s a good place to draw inspiration from.
For most artists, originality is 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?
I think we still emulate others. Our songs are an amalgamation of influences from other artists. It’s near impossible to copy another artist exactly, so you wind up with natural differences. Then it just depends on your integrity on how closely you emulate the references. You don’t want to be seen to be shamelessly copying something.
After 10 years, we have a reasonably good idea of what ‘our sound’ is, though we rely on friends and the most dedicated fans to define that to us. It’s hard to describe, but a cute, indie girl’s vocal seems to be synonymous with our brand now.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
We love to genre hop, so we’ve never felt like we had a concrete identity. But after all these years, looking back, and at the present slew of music, we’ve realised that maybe we have more of a sonic identity than we first thought.
I would say that our propensity to explore different genres has been the biggest influence on our creativity. And the more music we make, the more we seem to fill the gaps between the genre disparities of previous singles.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Our primary creative challenge is always perfectionism and work pace. We’re slow, and attentive to seemingly unimportant details.
We think that time probably helps us choose the right songs, though. We sit with our demos for so long, that by the time we finish and release them, we believe they have some sense of longevity, purely because we haven’t tired of them yet.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument?
We’ve been soft synth guys for a long time, but on this new record, thanks to the help of Jono Ma, we were able to explore the depth of sound that analogue synths can provide.
Jono had a great collection of Roland drum machines, Oberheim’s, an Arp 2600, Korg MS-20 and even a few novelty shakers that were included on a few tracks. Previous to our work on computer production, Jimmy played a bit of guitar in high school bands, and I (Hugo) played the bagpipes briefly.
And I didn’t play them well. It’s been a strange journey.
What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments / tools / equipment over the years?
As stupid as it sounds, it came down to “does it sound good?” We didn’t particularly care how we got there, it was about getting to the result at all costs. We’d scrape the barrel of our soft synth collection, sometimes looking for a sound that may appear for 2 seconds in a song.
It could be said that the limitations are what breeds more creativity, because you’re forced to think laterally, as opposed to having an infinite number of options.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Not yet. Certainly higher speed internet makes the process of working remotely a lot easier. It makes the whole industry function much more smoothly, but it’s still important to get in the room with another artist, and connect on a personal level. Even if it’s not for a musical session.
It really depends on how you prefer to work with others, too. Alone can be great because it takes the pressure off creating something in the moment, and you can arduously explore the finer details. But having those sessions can be a lot of fun, so if the trust and support is there, it can produce gold.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
We’ve basically relied upon collaborations from day one. Almost all our songs have feature artists, and even beyond that, we have friends who help us mix, or even play an instrumental part on a song.
We mentioned before that Jono Ma was a big part of helping us put this record together. His role in collaborating with us was so important to the final overall sound of our album. Collaboration is also the major aspect of our production that has made all our songs sound melodically diverse, due to all the different feature vocalists we’ve worked with.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule?
The two of us live hugely different lives.
Jimmy goes to bed early and wakes up early. I go to bed late and wake up late. When we do work together we try to synchronise our working habits to get the most out of it, but we definitely thrive on our different lifestyles.
Some days working together nothing happens, and you just know that’s the way it is. Forcing creativity is a certain way to lose enjoyment for it.
How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Running your own music project means you’re never fully detached from it. If you have days off, there’s always a sense of guilt that you could be doing something productive with that time. But that boredom is an important way to find new ideas. It gives the brain the time and space to produce the strangest ideas, which are usually the most unique.
The hardest part is resisting the temptation to bury yourself in your phone.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
'Crave You' was our first song, and it broke through in every sense of the word.
The strangest part was that we were completely unprepared, and we also had nothing of our own to compare it to. It meant we were placed at a level of success that seemed normal immediately, which can be dangerous early on. The most important part was backing it up with something. Ultimately we had accepted that we weren’t going to top something like 'Crave You' with our second single, but we needed to create something that would steady the ship enough to set us on course.
It started with us trying to make a song for a label compilation, and as much as we attempted to make dance music, we kept landing on indie-pop songs. There weren’t too many other artistic intentions beyond making an original song in our catalogue. It was an incredible fluke by a lot of measures, and we still feel we narrowly avoided being an indie one-hit-wonder.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative.What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Being relaxed is first and foremost. Pressure or ulterior motives for writing music, like money, rarely yields the best results.
The best intentions are to write a song entirely for yourself. The longer you stay in the industry, the harder it is to maintain that perspective, because you constantly consider your audience, or how it will be perceived by people in a live crowd, or within the industry. If you make the music you want to hear, it will inevitably be the most unique, because it’s not corrupted by the expectations of the industry. It becomes an entirely honest and personal work.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
It’s easy to associate music with a particular time you went through. For better or worse. We’ve experienced both, but we’ve also received messages from people who have used our music to get through a particularly tough time.
Considering recent events, we’re realising that a huge part of musical healing is done through live events. It doesn’t particularly matter what the music is at that point. It’s mostly about being together and social with other people, and having a simplistic commonality with others from different backgrounds.
You could find a thousand reasons to disagree with a thousand people in a festival crowd. But when you’re there, you only ever embrace the common ground.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It’s essential. We’ve referenced all kinds of music and these boundaries never seemed to matter until only a few years ago. The best art borrows aspects of completely different cultures. If we start placing restrictions around certain cultures, it has the entirely opposite effect of the intended multicultural integration.
Albums like Paul Simon’s Graceland wouldn’t exist if not for exploring other worlds of music. Lil Nas X’s "Old Town Road" wouldn’t exist if we drew imaginary lines around rap and country genres. We try not to think about it too much, because those kinds of restrictive attitudes harm the art form, and potentially deprive the public from new and evolving sounds.
Do whatever you think sounds good. There’s music theory, but there are no rules, and nor should there be.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Although not one of the major 5 senses, memory feels to be the most deeply intertwined with music. You can dredge up specific times, events and even relive emotions just by hearing one song. You could not hear a song for 20 years, and when it comes on you find yourself singing every single word again.
There’s something about music that gets printed into your DNA, and never leaves, regardless of how much you love or listen to it. It’s a part of everyone’s lives to varying degrees, and can completely re-contextualise major events within our existence. It’s more powerful than most people give it credit for, but we rarely think of it as such because it’s a luxury.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist? What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Depending on how you look at it, the sheer amount of art is both good and bad. The world is oversaturated with it, and the limits to what is accepted as ‘art’ have completely eroded. But for this exact same reason it means more people than ever are able to express themselves musically or visually, and the enormous volume of it means that every consumer is able to find a piece that speaks directly to them, visually or sonically.
Every emotion, word or colour, at some point, has been expressed through an artistic medium, and every human looks for a piece of themselves to find solace and meaning within those. The saying ‘life imitates art’, exists for this reason.