An Interview with Simon Owen and Rebecca Owen
FUTURE PERFECT’s Dirty Little Secrets was one of the most welcome independent electronic releases of 2010, combining the sounds and technology of the past with the energy and tempo of the present. Excellent songs such as Hunter, Dark Pleasures and Second Skin captured an aesthetic that was unique in Futurepop with the soulful vocals of Rebecca Morgan complimenting the darker synth template; the end result sounding not unlike one of the SUGABABES wandering accidentally into a DEPECHE MODE recording session circa Music For The Masses.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the new album Escape sees a change in direction with Simon Owen taking on a significant number of lead vocals and Rebecca Morgan handling more synths. First impressions recall cult Swedish duo ASHBURY HEIGHTS with Paradise being an octave driven four-to-the-floor gothic disco tune that would be welcomed at Pluswelt and Amphi. War Of Words and Light also follow this path while Angel Of Protection adds dramatic orchestral interludes which brainbug to the pulsating rhythms. A more menacing feel dominates Saint Perfect but for those listeners hoping for something more closely rooted to the sound of Dirty Little Secrets, Counter Attack, Silent Scream and We Fly all feature Rebecca’s vocals more prominently. And the title track borrows from PET SHOP BOYS B-side Euroboy with Simon and Rebecca duetting over a soundtrack where only electronic cossacks appear to be missing.
The Electricity Club spoke to Simon Owen and Rebecca Morgan about their new avenues of Escape.
Simon: Yes, we were amazed by its reception, considering we were totally unknown beforehand. Having a top-flight music video for Hunter helped us considerably. It’s also worth adding that the same team have made the video for the lead single Paradise to maintain the consistency and quality.
But there were difficulties getting it known to a wider audience. What were the frustrations you experienced?
Simon: “Location, Location, Location”…being up here in North Wales is somewhat of a disadvantage. But thanks to the power of the internet, we have enjoyed good sales and have a fanbase worldwide. Dirty Little Secrets still continues to sell throughout the world via CD and Digital Download. Being able to get gigs in central places and getting our fans together is difficult as they are pretty much spread out throughout the world. We also don’t have the power of management or a record label behind us with funding. We pay for everything ourselves, including travel. We’d love to do a tour though and it’s something that we’re thinking about doing over the next couple of years.
There has been quite a radical change of sound with Escape, it seems much darker? What have been your influences in this?
Simon: LIFE!! We’ve both experienced a lot of life changes since recording Dirty Little Secrets. And to put it bluntly, we’re not the same people that we were when making that album. It’s not that our sound is ‘darker’ as such, but we do have darker themes running through the new album that reflect what we have been through, We still have the FP trademark of killer catchy choruses and danceable beats/basslines. The sound is fuller and more cinematic however. For us to do a “Dirty Little Secrets 2” would have felt contrived and totally unnatural.
Simon: Personal progression. I had actually contributed vocals to the first album and was taking vocal training with Rebecca’s vocal coach. Through things that had happened to me over the last couple of years, there were things that I also needed to write about and express.
Rebecca: I have also contributed considerably to the music that’s on the new album. There’s a misconception that I did the lyrics/vocals and Simon did all of the music on Dirty Little Secrets but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It was very much a collaboration, I just wasn’t confident enough to play synths live.
So how’s the transition into each other’s roles been?
Simon: We now feel like equals in the band and as such we work so much better together. I have been singing lead on quite a few tracks that we used to do as part of our live gigs last year. Also due to Rebecca having to take a back seat due to some vocal problems (now resolved), I had to do most of the band gigs we had booked as a soloist, which was a baptism of fire but has done me the world of good.
Rebecca: For me, it was seeing our friends, TENEK perform that was my turning point. I was watching their set and blown away by how strong their on stage presence was and it inspired me to pick up my MicroKorg and give it a go. It immediately felt right and I really wanted to start adding more to our music and live sets. To be honest, we both felt that the ‘Male synth player/Female vocalist’ set up had been done to death and was a bit clichéd and wanted to mix it up a bit. It’s caused a little friction at times but every band has that and it’s how you recover and develop that shows how strong you are.
TENEK appear to have taken you under their wing. How have they helped you out?
Simon: It’s more a case of becoming friends after gigging together to be honest. They have given us some good advice and inspiration, they are such a lovely group of people and we just hit it off and would love to gig with them again…although we would not look forward to the hangover in the morning
You even considered changing the name of the band?
Simon: Hmmmmm, well it was talked about only due to the fact that FUTURE PERFECT isn’t always easy to find on a Google search. We quickly decided to stick with FP as it really represents our sound and image.
What would you say to observers who might feel that the new direction might not necessarily be playing to the strengths of FUTURE PERFECT?
Simon: This is a good question and one we will enjoy answering…so what are the strengths of FUTURE PERFECT? To us they are simple, killer catchy choruses, strong production values, fab music, strong vocals, good harmonies, and I guess strong songwriting capabilities. All of these elements are still there but in addition we have an extra vocalist who contributes a different but equally strong vocal, fuller sounding musical production due to an extra composer, truer lyrics and a more focused vision of who we want to be as a band.
If you look at all of this, how are we not playing to our strengths? I think we were a lot weaker on the first album as we were just starting out and finding our feet, now we know who we are and are loving our new way of working! All we can say is Escape was never going to be ‘Dirty Little Secrets 2′, we’ve moved on from that and have grown as people, experience has enriched our sound. We’ve also really had great feedback about our new direction and the amount of people who’ve asked to do remixes of Paradise is amazing!!! It was being played in clubs and filling floors weeks before its official release.
Did you buy any new synth toys for Escape?
Simon: Yes. I bought an old Korg M1 (which is still great), MicroKorg and a Wavestation plug-in. I’m using a great SH-101 emulator plug-in which sounds massive for basslines and analogue pads. We still love using the old EMU Emulator II and ESI-32 samplers, which keeps many of the sounds that we use very unique as we’re really into creating our own sounds. We’re also still using the Roland JP8000, Yamaha CS1x and CS15. I’m a big fan of Rob Papen’s Albino 3 & Predator plug-ins. I’ve started to use the FM7 (DX7 emulator) plug-in and the Fairlight CMI emulator on my iPhone. Oh yes, and a transistor radio which we also used on the track Not In Control on the last album for samples. We’re not really purists about whether or not we use analogue or digital synths. It’s about whatever sounds works for a particular purpose. If it sounds good and fits into the right place in the music, we’ll use it.
What was the key track on the album that has cemented the feel of the new album?
Simon: This is easy, the lead single Paradise. It’s the new Hunter for this album. Once we had composed this track we knew this was the direction we wanted to take. On Dirty Little Secrets, the actual musical compositions were very simple and sparse, two dimensional if you like. The music on Escape is very cinematic, widescreen, multi-layered and so much fuller. There’s a wealth of sound out there and we wanted to use it. That’s not to say that we throw the kitchen sink in at everything, there are subtleties where needed.
One of the tracks called Complicated Machine is sparse in comparison to some of the songs on the album, but others such as Saint Perfect and Silent Scream sound like doom falling from the skies…in a good way! We now use a lot of joint male/female harmonies and vocal layering as our voices mould so well together and this has created a deep and full soundscape which truly represents who we are now.
Your personal relationships have undergone a lot of change since Dirty Little Secrets, so how has this been reflected from a lyrical standpoint?
Simon: Well now we are a couple it is easier to bounce ideas off each other as we have more time together, it has been really helpful at times. As well as contributing lyrics to each other’s songs, there are also songs that come from each of us, therefore having individual viewpoints. I write about things that affect me on a personal level. I can’t contrive a song from nothing, there has to be meaning in it for me. There are no throw away lyrics at all on this album, it has a very real and sometimes raw sound.
Rebecca: I have contributed some of the darkest lyrics on this album, very different from the first. The lyrics for Silent Scream are a very real reflection of where I was at the time. I’ve personally been through so much and it’s left its mark, it was always going to come out in a song, it’s therapy for me.
Rebecca: My personal highlight was discovering how well our voices mould/fit together. When we hit those harmonic sweet spots it gives me chills, also having a stronger vision and applying that to our songwriting. It’s been a hell of a ride but it’s bloody honest! Blood, sweat and tears have been shed over this album and it’s so exciting to get it finished and released.
Simon: My highlights come from discovering new things about the both of us. How much we’ve progressed musically, both in our skills and in our vision, how I’ve developed so much as a vocalist and lyricist, and as well as what Rebecca has said about I’ve also discovered that she’s the queen of the killer bassline (check out War Of Words!!). It’s been a crazy two years since Dirty Little Secrets but we’ve learned so much.
What’s on the immediate horizon for FUTURE PERFECT?
Simon: Promotion, gigs and getting the new album heard by as many people as possible! Possibly a third member for live work to take the pressure off, as we’re both more performance based now. We’ll also keep writing and recording new material as well, we’re planning an EP next as we don’t want to leave it so long between releases this time. We’re also planning another video for the album, as we just love doing it!!
We can’t forget also our wedding next May, lots to think about and lots to do *laughs*
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to FUTURE PERFECT
The CD of FUTURE PERFECT’s Escape can be pre-ordered from their online shop
Text and interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Justin Van Marle
22nd May 2012, updated 23rd May 2012