In 2016, Los Angeles-bred longstanding high-schoool friends Brian Olsen & Brian Belknap felt the need to finally unveiled the unreleased full demo album, entitled “Reflection”, from their late 80s/90s synth-laden pop band Mind Machine (originally a trio, for a brief time a quintet, then a trio again) ‘remained in the drawer’ for far too long, under the compilation “Movement: The Very Best Of Mind Machine 1990-1995”.
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to the roots of your project, the lost recording…
BO – ‘The Movement: Best Of Mind Machine’ project was a compilation of tracks demoed by me (Brian O.) in the early 90s that I still had archived on cassette. Most of them didn’t have vocals recorded. One day in early 2016, Brian B found some more cassettes containing material I didn’t even have, and in converting these to digital, we decided why not do this with our favorite songs and clean up/edit the recordings, with me writing new lyrics in most cases, and Brian B laying down new vocal tracks. We then decided we had so much fun doing that, why stop there? Let’s see if we can get the creative juices flowing and produce some brand new material.
What were/are your musical (not musical) inspirations?
BO – Among the classic synth bands of the 80s such as Depeche Mode, Erasure, Yaz, OMD, New Order, Red Flag, Cetu Javu, Anything Box, I was also heavily influenced by the underground German and Swedish synthpop scene like De/Vision, Beborn Beton, Wolfsheim, Syntec, Elegant Machinery, Children Within…
What do and don’t you appreciate the most in each other?
BO – Well Brian B and I have known each other for 30 years now, so on a personal level, I appreciate his friendship and camaraderie. On a Mind Machine level, I appreciate his eagerness to even get this project going again in the first place, his openness to suggestions, and his “work ethic”…he’ll do whatever it takes to get the vocal track just right.
BB – It’s funny, we rarely see each other in person, yet we chat online nearly every day. I’ve nicknamed Brian O “maestro”, which he truly is. He’s able to create these incredibly layered melodies, and he’s been doing it for years. I’ve got hundreds of his unreleased recordings, and it just blows me away that so many of them are unheard!!
What makes your town, L.A. unique from other places for you? Has it any influences on your music/lyrics?
BO – Honestly, living in L.A. doesn’t influence my music at all. I would say my music is very atypical of the L.A. scene. But I do love living in the L.A. area, simply because I’ve lived here all my life and you can do anything you want here… there are lots of options, and the weather is awesome. Traffic and the population is awful here though.
What is the most essential and unforgettable live performance you’ve seen in your life?
BO – There’s quite a few, but if I had to pick 3, I’d say Depeche Mode in 1988 at the Rose Bowl (the 101 performance), Erasure in 1992, and the first (and so far only) time Mesh (my current favorite band) came to L.A. in 2011. I got to meet Mark Hockings and get a picture with him, he was so nice, what a thrill. It is worth mentioning that VNV Nation, Front 242, and And One have also put on some of my favorite live performances I’ve ever seen.
What was the impetus behind recording a debut LP after so many years? Can you tell me a little about the band creative process with the record and how this album took shape over time?
BO – After we remastered the old stuff and Brian B was open to recording all those new vocal tracks, I think we both realized we missed how fun it was to create music, we just needed to find a way to do it right. Once we got our respective software/studios set up, then it just came down to coming up with new music. A strong impetus for me was that I had 4 demos from my past that I never recorded properly and I really wanted them to see the light of day as polished final products. Those 4 songs all show up on the “Return” album. Also, when I came up with “We Keep Walking” (my first new song I had finished in 8 years) and it got a good response when we released it as a single, I knew I could still do it. The trick in the creative process was that it never felt forced. I took my time, only writing and recording bits and pieces as they came to mind. This is why the album took over a year to finish, plus we both have full-time jobs and families, so we had to squeeze in recording sessions whenever we could.
Looking back with a cool head, are you totally satisfied with the final result? Which songs would you pick out as your favorites from it if you had to and why?
BO – I’m very happy with and proud of the album. Obviously there’s always gonna be a few little things here and there (no pun intended) that I would re-record after hearing it several times, but overall I think it’s as good as we could get it. Brian B did an incredible job on vocals, he has really improved as he has matured. “Clouds of Doubt” is probably my favorite track from the album, I’m proud of the lyrics, and the songwriting and production just happened to take such strong shape. “Hundred Thousand Million” and “Decade” really mean a lot to me too but more on a personal level.
BB – Overall, I’m very pleased with the album. There are most certainly some things that I’d change vocally, especially after hearing how some of our remixers have put their own touches on them. “Clouds of Doubt” wins for me because of the epic melodies. But I’m also a big fan of the catchy punchiness of “Here and There” and my vocal on “Further Than Far”.
Are you going to drop the remix version of the album, how the idea started and which was the selection criteria of the remixers?
BB – We had never really put much thought into having any remixes done until I had dinner with our friend and fellow SoCal musician Darwinmcd. We were talking about the remixes he was working on and before I knew it, I had asked him to work on one for us he and chose “We Keep Walking”. The next day I reached out to a few more artists, and shortly after Brian O and I came up with the idea of doing a remix album, with each song from “Return The Machine” being remixed by a different artist. After reaching out to friends and acquaintances who I’d heard recent remixes from, we then chose some that we had respected and admired, but never met. We began by telling people they could choose whatever track they like, but we soon ran into issues of having some duplicates, so we began assigning or suggesting tracks. We’ve got such a strong, diverse group of talent involved, that we could not be more pleased. We’re still surprised by how many people said “yes”!!
Don’t you think that in this day and age a proper label still can be helpful, or did you simply prefer to have creative control over everything on your own? How do you weigh music-wise the pro and cons of the new Millenium?
BB – Yes, a proper label can certainly be helpful, but that depends on what you’re looking to achieve. For a band like us, it just doesn’t make sense. We’re operating on such a small scale that we can handle everything ourselves. We definitely enjoy the freedom and control that being independent brings. Between work and family, we make time for this where we can, and nobody is waiting on us but ourselves. We’re extremely lucky to be a part of a fantastic synth community that really looks out for each other.
Can you talk about your most treasured live performances so far?
BB – Well…seeing as we’ve only performed a total of five times, last in 1991, we don’t have many to choose from. That being said, our final performance would have to be the highlight. Although we were far from perfect that night, there was an energy in the room that left us feeling excited about the future. Recently we’ve been re-programming several of our older songs for some possible live shows in the not too distant future.
Is there still music in nowadays scenario that makes you wonder or surprise you? What’s your opinion about the contemporary music scene?
BB – Definitely!! Every artist on “Remix The Machine” is active and making exciting synth music. Technology allows anyone to create and share their music with the universe, a luxury that we did not have 30 years ago. But the trick is to be able to sort through it all to find those gems.
If given the opportunity who would you most like to collaborate with?
BO – I would love to have an entire album of ours produced by Vince Clarke, Gerrit Thomas of Funker Vogt/Eisfabrik, or Olaf Wollschlager.
Please, would you name your favorite essential 5 records of all time?
BO – Depeche Mode – ‘Some Great Reward’ / The Beatles – ‘Revolver’ / The Smiths – ‘The Queen Is Dead’ / Tears For Fears – ‘The Hurting’ / OMD – ‘Architecture & Morality’. Honorable mention: New Order – ‘Technique’ / The Moody Blues – ‘To Our Childrens’ Children’s’ Children’ / Duran Duran – ‘Duran Duran’ (also I’m sure Kraftwerk – ‘The Man Machine’ should be mentioned…)
BB – David Bowie – ‘Low’/ Depeche Mode – ‘Violator’ / Prince – ‘Sign “☮” The Times’ / Suede – ‘Dog Man Star’ / The Cure ‘Disintegration’.
Congratulations and all the best for the new album…Is there something you would like people to know about you that I missed to ask?
BB – Thank you!! We truly appreciate all of the support that we’ve received since getting the band back together a few years ago. Apart from our friends and a handful of people listening to local AM radio or folks who stumbled upon us at our few shows, we were completely unknown. The reception the album has received from fans, friends and other artists have been overwhelming. We’ve yet to solidify our plans for the future, though we are planning on releasing at least one more “single” from ‘Remix The Machine’, followed by an EP of the new “live” versions of the older tracks that we’ve been working on, and hopefully some live shows. We’re excited to see what’s next…
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