Features - Interviews

Interview: Solar Bears


Ahead of their Thin Air show at Belfast’s Voodoo this Saturday night (March 22), Brian Coney talks to John Kowalski from Dublin electronic duo Solar Bears about the evolution of their sound, the imprint of cinema on their music-making and how things are going in the process of piecing together album number three.

Hi John. You’re currently in the process of making your third album. How have things been progressing over the last couple of months?

Really good thanks. We are deviating a lot and making sure we are covering new ground, which is our preference. At the moment there are three finished tracks and one demo which is near completion.

Supermigration felt like a step up from She Was Coloured In in terms of songwriting scope. How do you feel album number three might compare to Supermigration?

Anyone that has heard the recent work has been a bit surprised. Sometimes it is easier to judge from a more distant viewpoint. It’s quite early on so it might become similar in ways that are unknown to us as yet. Every time you make a record it takes a huge amount of energy and drive so we will have to see at the end line.

How was your actual songwriting method changed, if at all, since the release of your last album? Have you stumbled upon any new techniques or methods?

Since the last album came out we have begun demoing tracks in Block T which is an arts complex, then bringing them down to The Meadow where Rian (Trench, the other half of Solar Bears) works with other bands. There has been an increase in sampling as well as an increase in focus on two particular pieces of equipment.

In terms of influence, cinema has always seemed to play an elemental role in the direction your music takes, and the innate “cinematic” quality of your records. Is that imprint expected to remain on your third studio release?

Definitely, even hinting at movies through song titles. Soundtracks are what I personally listen to most. The latest one that struck me was Mica Levi’s score for Under The Skin. I get a genuine thrill from finding oddities in obscure/unloved cinema which I don’t get elsewhere.

At the moment of speaking, is there any overriding or clear-cut themes emerging on the material that is expected to feature?

That’s quite hard to describe. As anything we have done to date we are often following what is happening, as in things tend to present themselves that make full sense down the road, even years later. It tends to coalesce with the last couple of songs and then the themes or central theme is more apparent.

Last month you released ‘Interzone’, a track in honour of the one and only Dennis Hopper. Will it feature on the album and how indicative is it of what we’re likely to hear in general?

‘Interzone’ was an experiment to be honest and will not feature on the LP in production. It was an opportunity to shine a light on a brilliant director and photographer, namely Dennis Hopper. He’s a major favourite of ours and has been inspirational in recent months. It is from a different genus to the other work so we decided to give it away to people, apart from that it’s a good one for DJ sets.

You signed a publishing deal with Warp records late last night year. How did that come about and how do you envisage it will affect the forthcoming release?

Fairly straight forward. We wanted them to publish our work as their reputation is impeccable. They have been incredibly professional and kind to us. Warp Records has been a regular fixture in our lives for over a decade so it’s somewhat surreal to be in their stable. The record we are making is just a case of pleasing ourselves, first and foremost.

Your two studio albums have received quite a significant amount of critical appraisal from various corners of the media – and rightly so. How important is it to you to keep the critical voices approving of your work?

In fairness, that’s not something we can control or want to, approval is down to an individual. Positive reviews can go a long way and aren’t to be taken for granted but we create records for us, luck and timing can be factors in the reception of a release as well. People getting behind us is always appreciated and we want to continue working hard.

Moving away from the album for a moment, are there any emerging electronic (or indeed non-electronic acts) down in Dublin or anywhere else in Ireland are catching your collective ear at the minute?

Terriers, Ships, I Am The Cosmos, New Jackson, Sunken Foal, Lasertom, Lumigraph…

I heard an unreleased No Spill Blood song in the car the other day which was money. Aside from that I believe the new Mmoths album is gonna make waves.

From a more general perspective, how do you feel the electronic scene(s) in Ireland, as a whole, has came on in the last three or so years?

The electronic scene is getting more and more attention abroad and at home. I’d like to see more radio and printed support though. Seems like every month has a flux of new bands and producers which is really encouraging. By and large standards keep getting higher, even though there has always been quality here.

Finally, what can we expect from you guys over the next six months in terms of a release date for the record, touring, possible collaborations and other promotion?

Writing mostly, plenty of activity. I don’t wanna give away too much in regard to the rest of that question.

Supported by Derry electronic artist Ryan Vail and Belfast jazz-punk quartet Blue Whale, Solar Bears play a headlining DJ set at Belfast’s Voodoo on Saturday, March 22. Go here for the show’s Facebook event page.

Photo by Dorje De Burgh.

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.