Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Interview with Brett Miller of 1-900 by Dave Wolff

Brett Miller and DD

Interview with Brett Miller of 1-900 by Dave Wolff

Explain your conceptual piece “Rise of the Operator”, how the storyline came to be and how it’s rendered on your debut EP “Dial "0"...For Destruction!”
“Rise” is the origin story of “1-900” (the fictional version!), told in the form of three songs and an accompanying mini-comic. The overall outline of the characters, the World that the story takes place in, etc. I developed a few years ago. When DD got involved, we were really able to get serious about fleshing everything out, and he became point man for the comic. The bonus track, “Synchron Slaughter” is instrumental - but we made a short animated video to go with it. It goes into a bit more detail about the Synchrons, and how the main antagonist in the storyline gets mind-controlled by his 80s phone. Everything is set in 1989.

From where did you get inspiration to formulate “Rise” and “1-900”? Did you want to make any kind of statement with it, or was it strictly science fiction based? Why is it set in 1989?
I’ll tackle the last question first: I’m a huge fan of all things 80s, and do is DD. He was a teenager during that decade, and I was a kid, so between us, we can get on just about any 80s nostalgia kick that you could think of. So, as adults now, it just seemed natural to revisit that time, update it, and put our own spin on the decade. As for the storyline, characters, etc., to be honest it just hit me one day. I have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be, so I figured “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do a story to go along with the band itself?” I’m sure there’s elements of G.I. Joe, He Man, all that stuff I grew up with, that’s gotta be rolling around in my subconscious. So it must have sprung forth in this Metal manner. I got into Synthwave a lot too during the time we were putting all this together, so there’s that element in there as well. As far as intentionally having something to say with it, not really. From day one, the only intention was, literally, that we were going to have a lot of fun with 1-900. And, to find a lot of other people who could have fun with it too - people like us, who love Metal, the 80s, the USA, retro computer culture, and comics!

There is a definite science fiction element to “Rise of the Operator”. Did you draw upon any sci fi of the 1980s, if you were watching any movies and TV shows of that genre?
Not, really - but the quirkiness does remind me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I mean, c’mon - who would’ve thought that a concept like that would take off the way it did? In fact, that’s really what we envision for 1-900, sort of the same TMNT evolution - from comics, to toys, to an animated show. People might think that’s nuts, but if you’re going to do something, why not do it big?

It doesn’t sound too far-fetched since it’s happened before, not just with TMNT but The Toxic Avenger, Star Trek and The Terminator etc. You seem to be in good company but what would it take for “Rise” and “1-900” to catch on?
Nothing is a sure thing, but we’ve gotten some very good data and responses from the Facebook video that we put out there, which tells us there’s an interest. We don’t do that stuff blindly, so it helped us to zero in on the audience out there for it - which is a big one. People seem to take to the music and the imagery, and we’re confident that with a good licensing agent, a lot of perseverance, and a company that’s willing to give it a go, 1-900 can get in front of a lot of eyes and ears - and more importantly, entertain them!

What science fiction from the 80s or earlier have you read or watched on television? Are there bands you listen to that combine metal with sci fi themes?
That answer would keep us here for quite some time! Let’s just say I’m a fan of sci-fi from pretty much the ‘30s on, and particularly, any cheese from the ‘80s. I wouldn’t peg it as strictly sci-fi, but Coroner comes to mind; lyrically they can get within the perimeters of that realm. King Diamond isn’t really sci-fi either, but I’ve always loved the story-driven aspect of those records.

What about Coroner’s sci fi elements and King Diamond’s storytelling made an impression on you?
I always was impressed with the lyric writing ability of Coroner, especially so since English is not their first language. They’re not explicitly singing about ray guns and Twilight Zone stuff, but there’s a sparseness of phrasing that creates an eeriness, and enough space where you can use your imagination. Like the first song off of “Mental Vortex”, where it’s speculation about what happens after death. “Serpent Moves”, although it’s not a lot of words, is reminiscent to me of certain poetry by H.P. Lovecraft. With King Diamond, I of course love the occult and supernatural elements, but more importantly I appreciate all the effort he puts into making each new record an entirely different story.

Are there 90s or 2000s bands you listened to with lyrical science fiction themes you found as inspirational?
No, just more bad movies! Most of the bands that were newer in that era, that I liked anyway, tended to be Prog or Power Metal orientated. There was sort of a renaissance in the late 90s of bands singing about swords, and riding into battle. Manowar and Thor had that covered in the 80s, but it was cool to see it in the late 90s when I could actually appreciate it! Thor always had this subtle mix, though, of sci-fi imagery, even psychedelic imagery sometimes, mixed in with the sword and sorcery stuff, so maybe that counts.

What world does the main antagonist and the Synchrons exist in? Who or what are the Synchrons and how is the antagonist’s mind controlled by them?
The fictional version of 1-900 is myself, DD Bass, and RotoTom, a robotic android drummer. The world is sort of a take on the Steampunk thing - where life is similar to today, but imagined through 80s-era levels of technology. So you’ve got music streaming, online video game communities, things like that, but it’s all analog or maxes out at 8-bit. The Synchrons are a violent colonizer species from a parallel dimension. Non-corporeal, with energy bodies instead. Their world has achieved a 16-bit technology, and they’ve set their sights on Earth. In the “Dial ‘0’...For Destruction!” EP, the Synchrons travel through a 1-900 Hint Line that was set up for a PCjr. game. The guys in the band happened to be calling the Hint Line, and’ll just have to listen to the songs and read the minicomic to find out!

Who is DD, when and how did you hook up with him and what input did he have into fleshing out the story? Did he contribute ideas to the piece that you hadn’t thought of?
DD totally shreds on Bass, and he was actually one of my private students - still is, in fact. He’s way better on Bass than I am, but he wanted to learn more about music theory, songwriting, and stuff like that. When I told him about the 1-900 idea, it just seemed like a natural thing for him to get involved. He’s a lot more into comics than I am, so he pretty much became point man for getting the minicomic off the ground. He’s contributed a lot of the ideas for the next phase of the story, which we’re working on right now. We have a very similar way of approaching and organizing all of the work it takes to put this stuff together and get it out there. A good mix of creativity and business sense, so it’s a great team.

Are you the principal songwriter and lyricist for 1-900? How did you compose and arrange the songs on “Rise of the Operator” so they and the lyrics fit together?
I write and record all the parts, and send DD the music for the bass lines. He records them, and then I mix and master everything. So yeah, I guess I am. All the songs are for two Guitars, Bass, and keys. The synths I use are primarily the Korg M1 and Korg Wavestation - both workhorses from the late 80s, which lend some of the Synthwave sound to the songs. I always do lyrics and vocals last, so that’s all written to the music - not the other way around. The narration can be tricky, because it can’t be too much, but has to be enough to keep the story moving. That’s the biggest challenge!

How much of a hurdle was it for you and DD to compose songs combining metal and synthwave? Did you have to do a lot of experimenting to see where the genres fit, or did you compose by instinct? How much of a process was it to create a steampunk version of 80s tech? 
It wasn’t much of a hurdle. Hardcore Synthwave fans might complain that it’s more Power Metal than it is Synthwave - and they’d be right! But that’s okay...that’s why we call ourselves the world’s first Power Metalwave band. Partly, it’s just a marketing ploy that we’re having fun with. But, it’s actually a good description of the music. I’m very comfortable writing music in a lot of different styles, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to incorporate the Synthwave influence into the Metal. The biggest challenge is just to find the right balance, especially with the narration and vocal parts mixed in there. With the 80s stuff, it’s an ongoing fun process to come up with ideas. That’s one of the best things about this, getting to revisit all of the 80s pop culture and retrofitting it to the story!

If you chose your equipment specifically to create an eighties atmosphere on the EP, how well did the Korg M1 and Korg Wavestation fit your vision? What guitar and bass equipment did you and DD work with? How well did electronic drums help your sound compared to acoustic drums?
They fit awesomely. The thing with the songs is, it’s definitely not “80s Metal”, like a lot of newer bands play, who are just mimicking old Thrash Metal or Hair Metal. The music is modern, but with those Synthwave elements that give it that 80s atmosphere - just enough to get the nostalgia going, but not too much to be derivative, like those aforementioned bands. For the Guitar and Bass, we’re using Amplitube - the amp simulation software. Because my schedule is very weird when it comes to writing and recording, I love the amp software because I can “set it and forget it”. When miking stuff, I’m totally paranoid that some knob got turned or something in the days between recording sessions, changing the input levels without knowing about it. So with the software, I can dial in a tone and keep everything exactly how I want it. DD dials in a great Bass tone, so he just sends me the WAV files, and I plug those in without having to change much of anything.

Do you imagine you’ll expand 1-900’s range into other genres as the storyline continues? Or are you more likely to build on the metal/synthwave crossover you’re creating? How receptive do you expect audiences to be?
Well, we’ve already got a soundtrack done for the Commodore 64 version of “Attack Chopper III”...but outside of more retro computer game soundtracks, probably not! We’re very happy playing the style we’re playing, and while some songs get Thrashier than others, or more Power Metal, or more Prog, it’s always going to be very identifiable as 1-900. I never liked it when bands stray too far from what got me interested in them in the first place. Who needs that? As far as audience receptivity, if we can get a bunch of kids into Metal who’ve never really heard Metal, through the comics, toys, etc. then mission accomplished. More Metal fans means a better world!

There are bands who changed their style just to demonstrate their “branching out” and the results usually sounded forced. How much do you prefer honesty to changing to impress? Do your listeners perceive this honesty?
In music as in life, honesty is always the best policy! People pick up on that.

Did writing the lyrics in narrative form help the story along as opposed to describing it from the third person? Does it make the story less complicated?
Hopefully! The reality is, the narration in the songs has to be sparse in a sense, because otherwise it smothers the music. That’s where the minicomics come into play. With those, we can get into more detail with the story. So with the combo of songs and comics, we try to give everyone the best of both worlds. It’s a formula that we’re still developing, but one which gives us a lot of creative space to play in.

How much more detail does the minicomic provide for the story? Do you and DD find the visuals help the music and lyrics along?
Quite a bit more detail. As I mentioned before, the narration and vocals in the songs give a broad sense of the story, but it’s the combination of the music and the comic that really gets the job done. I wouldn’t say that it helps us write the music, but it definitely helps the listener understand more about the story - which is still developing. There are some details that may change, as we ourselves are becoming more familiar with the existing characters, fleshing out their personalities, abilities, etc. - as well as creating new denizens of the 1-900 world. We plan on doing a lot more minicomics coming up, as we release more EPs and Bonus songs.

What sort of an atmosphere were you looking for while the minicomic was being written and designed?
We wanted a fairly classic-looking black & white design; not a modern comic look, but closer to that late ‘70s and ‘80s look - I think it might be called the Copper Age of comics in the comic world, but I could be wrong. Those minicomics that came with He-Man figures were always so cool, so size-wise, we wanted to go for that.

Has the complete story been worked out or are you writing it as you go along? How much more will we learn about the Synchrons and how they evolved on future releases? Is humanity doomed?
Not with 1-900 countering the evil of The Operator and his henchmen! Humanity is in the good Metal hands of this band, and of everyone else’s who wants to get involved in the fight. The story is continually evolving, and we’ve already got the next EP in the works. The plan is to get 1-900 into the TVs and toy aisles of this great nation and beyond - but not the telephones...whatever you do, don’t dial “0”!

How do you imagine “Rise of the Operator” would be written as a TV movie or miniseries, considering how it has evolved up to now?
We envision it as a kids’ cartoon series, in the vein of classic G.I. Joe and HeMan, but one that would also appeal to parents who miss that 80s action. Real heroes. Good vs. evil. PSAs at the end that encourage kids to think for themselves and quit following the crowd. That sort of thing. We want to see that out there again.

Given today’s media and social atmosphere, how important do you deem self-reliance and independent thought being taught to the young?
Put simply, we’re against totalitarianism, in any form that it takes, and all of that nonsense is trending again around the globe. Kids need to understand that adults aren’t automatically smart, or wise to the ways of the world, just because they’re adults. Teaching critical thinking, as a skill unto itself, is essential - as is trusting their own instincts about what’s right and wrong, and distinguishing between people telling the truth versus trying to steer them towards a certain viewpoint. And yeah, with all the technology out there nowadays, refocusing kids on self-reliance a bit more wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

What sort of toys or collectibles based on “Rise of the Operator” are you thinking of designing? What age group if any are you planning as your target buyers?
Action figures, vehicles, the works. Realistically, we probably wouldn’t be doing all of that ourselves - we’re looking to get a company with more resources and expertise in that realm on board with the idea, and there’s necessarily some outside opinions that come into play once that happens. But it’s certainly important to DD and me that we keep setting the overall tone and atmosphere of all that stuff. It’s gotta be Metal, it’s gotta be 80s, and most importantly it’s gotta be fun!

How many companies have you spoken with to market the collectibles you’re planning to release for “Rise of the Operator”? 
None yet - that adventure is just beginning!

-Dave Wolff

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