Com Truise: Interview
“You’re not looking down, you’re not looking up, you’re just looking straight. There was less empty space, which I feel sometimes can be distracting and negative.”

Synthesizer enthusiasts love Com Truise almost as much as its principle member Seth Haley loves synthesizers. If you scroll far enough down a vintage synth-gear message board discussion, you’ll invariably find this post: “Well, you know [random old keyboard] can sound awesome because Com Truise used it in a song.” Immediately after, you’ll find a YouTube link to one of his songs and a cavalcade of similarly minded basement producers posting their respectful concurrence.

It’s true; Com Truise creates music with an impressive array of vintage synths and drum machines. His songs, however, don’t sound like tributes to 80s electro aesthetics so much as the soundtracks to queasy fever-dreams of someone who’s spent far too much time listening to LPs of the era while double-fisting barbiturates and overly spicy food-truck burritos. Haley, the man behind this shimmering madness, is steadfast in his approach to his music. When we spoke, he was finishing up a tour in support of the recently released Wave 1 EP, preparing for the next stage of Com Truise’s evolution, and crossing names off his synthesizer bucket list.


How are things going for you right now?

Right at this very moment we’ve just loaded our stuff into the [venue] in Seattle. We’re getting set up for the show tonight. We’re coming pretty close to selling out… trying to make everything on stage work.

You’re famous for using analog and vintage equipment. Does it get challenging trying to get all those units to operate reliably?

At the moment, onstage, I use the Dave Smith Mopho and Mopho x4. Those are the only two I bring out, for the most part, just because with the old stuff, if it breaks, it’s difficult and expensive to get repaired. With the logistics of everything, you can’t really fit too many keyboards in the van. I had a big lighting rig built for the tour and that takes up a lot of space. I was trying to incorporate a few [more] things [onstage] before we started this tour, but I ended up saying, “You know what, it’s too much. It’ll be too complicated.”

In live recordings, I noticed you using an Akai APC 40. Do you use a computer and software live?

Yeah, I run Ableton and I control it with the APC 40 and also the Akai MPD32. That’s pretty much it — along with the two Mophos — that’s my live setup.

I was curious about that, because one could easily use Ableton to generate drum loops, but I’ve seen videos of you playing with a live drummer.

Unfortunately, the drummer has moved on to drum for the band Tycho. He was drumming for both of us for a while, but then this tour came up and they’re busy at work on their live show, so he had to say no [to me]. I thought about getting another drummer; I’ve used a couple other drummers in the past. But I wanted to keep it consistent from this point forward — either have the drummer or not have the drummer. That’s why we built this big lighting rig; to supplement not having the drummer.

I don’t work with anyone. [It’s a] one-man scene here.

Do you feel you’re battling the perception that electronic music, especially music involving computers onstage, can look boring?

Yes, I’m trying to create an experience. For so long [my setup] has just been a skirted table with controllers out there and a laptop. Now the laptop’s not even up there; I don’t even look at it.

I noticed a lot of the rhythms on Wave 1 were a lot stronger and more complex than on your previous work. What influenced this?

I really got into Prince pretty deep when I started to write Wave 1. I was always into New Order. I wanted to make this [record] different because my music is based on a storyline. If I’m sticking to the story, which is my plan, it needed to be different a little bit. I think, if anything, it was an experiment to see if I could make [the music] similar but also make it seem a little slanted, skewed. [I wanted to] keep people interested but also throw them off a little bit. I think it works.

Did you use a vintage drum machine for these beats, or were they sequenced with a computer?

Sequenced with a computer, sampled from the machine. I enjoy the cleaner side of things, for the most part. The EP was supposed to be really sharp, so I thought sequencing from the computer would get that sharp sound and perfect timing.

The subtitle of your website is, “Melting Circuits Since 1985.” Should I take that to mean that you were born in 1985?

Yes.

I was born in 1986. I feel that for our generation coming up, if you were going to start playing an instrument, the only one that was really “cool” was guitar. Maybe drums. Piano and synths really weren’t cool, even in indie-rock of the late 90s. What got you into them?

I never really went through a rock phase; I kind of skipped that. I got into Nine Inch Nails really heavily, but I don’t really consider that rock. I went straight from the stuff you listen to when you’re younger — the stuff you attach to before you really find your musical taste — straight to the big-beat stuff; Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, 808 State, stuff like that. Eventually, I switched over to drum and bass. I bought a pair of turntables and started to DJ. I was always really good with the computer, so I downloaded some software and started to write my own tracks. I had a radio show I would do in my bedroom. I would play my own music and mix my own tracks in an hour-long radio show.

Then I heard Boards of Canada and totally switched to ambient stuff. That’s when I got really, really into synthesizers. I started spending all my money on them. A couple years went by, I got in and out of it. I was never in a band, I never played the guitar. I can only play a little bit of guitar for my music, but I can’t pick one up and jam out or anything. I learned a little bit of piano when I was growing up. We had a piano… and my mom would play for us.

The first thing I do when I buy a synth is reload the factory [preset] files back on it, and work from the factory banks, and form my own stuff.

I hated the [music of the] 80s for a really long time and wanted nothing to do with the music. I had a buddy I worked with when I worked in advertising who would always push music my way; “C’mon man, you gotta check it out! It’s great, you’re missing out!” So I gave it a shot and it blew my mind. I totally had missed out on so much amazing music. So I dove right in and it’s where I’ve been ever since.

Once I got into the 80s, I started to really get into the kinds of equipment they used. “Oh, what drum machine did they use on this track? What did they use for the lead on this song? What kind of sampler did they use there?” I started to do the research and figured out the sounds and did the hip-hop beats scene for a little while. I kind of blended those two: the ambient stuff and the beat stuff into this kind of hybrid, throwback 80s, down-tempo, electronic synth-wave music. [Laughs]

I’m actually kind of glad I wasn’t into [the 80s] sooner because there was more for me to discover. The internet, the influx of vinyl blogs… I came in right at the right time because I could search and search for hours and find an amazing amount of stuff.

I identified with what you’ve said in previous interviews about the influence of those mid-2000s vinyl and experimental music blogs with harshly colored backgrounds and difficult-to-read-text. I feel like it was an exercise forcing a challenging aesthetic out of a platform originally intended for nice and neat communication.

Oh, definitely. I found these blogs and you couldn’t read anything. The whole background would be a really busy picture, so reading the type would be really difficult, and it would be difficult to find the links to download music. The focal point was the artwork for each song or album or EP or whatever. It really made you focus on the artwork.

I think of it like a casino. The carpet and ceiling… The design is overwhelming, so you keep your eyes focused. You’re not looking down, you’re not looking up, you’re just looking straight. I think of it like that, because when you were scrolling through [these blogs] you couldn’t focus on anything but the album artwork. There was less empty space, which I feel sometimes can be distracting and negative.

Do you consider the aesthetic of your music to be similar — snapping people’s attention? For example, you use familiar-sounding (because they’re older) electronic instruments, but you make music that would sound challenging to the people who originally used them way back when.

I consider my music to be extremely simple. A lot of the sounds in my songs are not extremely complex — I have them set up to [be that way]. I don’t want to [be too complex]. Turning on a two-oscillator synth and initializing a patch and just detuning one oscillator and doing a nice filter and envelop and going with that — I like those simple sounds. They’re clean — they were unappreciated way back when.

Yeah, I just recently bought a Korg DW 8000 and it came with a bunch of presets straight from the factory and from the guy who owned it before me. With a lot of these programs, you have to strip away a lot of the cheesy aspects until you get to something that sounds interesting.

The first thing I do when I buy a synth is reload the factory [preset] files back on it, and work from the factory banks, and form my own stuff. Sometimes I don’t even save patches, I just know how to recreate the sounds.

Do you record your music at home, or do you work out of a studio?

Just at home. I’ve gone through countless soundcards, tape machines, and cassette players. Always at home, the whole bedroom-studio thing. I’d like to go into a studio and record some things, maybe for the next album I have to write. I’ve worked in the studio for other people with producers for other projects, but mostly everything is recorded by me in my bedroom.

Yes, I’m trying to create an experience. For so long [my setup] has just been a skirted table with controllers out there and a laptop. Now the laptop’s not even up there; I don’t even look at it.

Do you always work alone?

Yes, always. I don’t work with anyone. [It’s a] one-man scene here.

Do you feel you get something unique out of the solitary experience?

Yeah, I can work with people, I have no problem with that. But I find it easier to get my ideas out when I’m by myself. I think it’s about being less distracted. There’s already so many distractions, limiting them is a good choice.

What’s next for Com Truise?

I have one more album to write. I’ve dabbled a little bit before the tour on some things, but I think when I get home I’ll start completely fresh and really focus on it. I have a couple remixes coming out and some production work I’ve done. [Other than that,] just touring and summer’s not too far away, so I’ll probably do the festival circuits. [I’ll be] at home writing new music when I’m not on the road.

Every synthesizer fan has a list of units they’d buy if they ever catch a deal on eBay or wherever. What’s on yours?

Lately I’ve been really into the Eurorack modular world. I’d love to have an Oberheim OB-8 or Matrix 12. I recently picked up a Rhodes Chroma. It’s in the shop and hopefully it’ll be ready to be used when I get home. That was kind of a bucket-list synth for me. The Elka Synthex is really the one — if I ever see it for a reasonable price I will buy it.

I’m actually setting some limits for myself. I want the next album to be my Crumar Bit One, the Rhodes Chroma, the modular stuff, some Elektron stuff, and that’ll be it. I want to hone down and see what I can really do with a few machines. When I use too much stuff the sound gets diluted. [It’s easy to] just keep adding different things, different synthesizers, more and more and more, but it dilutes its specialness.