Sparkles* on Area 11's New Album, Modern Synthesis: "We'll Settle for Nothing Less Than Total Success."
Area 11 have reinvented themselves on their new album, Modern Synthesis and in the best way possible. The band, who broke into the scene with their 2013 anime inspired full length, All The Lights in the Sky, were destined for greatness from the get-go, but it took a lot of hard work, challenging themselves and growing to make the transition to their monumental new release. With a goal to create something deeper, more meaningful and incredibly ambitious, Area 11 began working on Modern Synthesis, which took over a year to create and refine, and the result is some of the band's best work to date, and an even brighter future for these growing, ambitious musicians.
Modern Synthesis is out now, and Area 11 will be playing a few shows in the UK this fall and winter to round out the year before launching head first into 2017. Read what vocalist Sparkles* had to say about the album, the band's growth and their future below.
Interview by Dom Vigil
Can you tell us a little bit about Area 11 for any readers who may not be familiar?
We started Area 11 in 2011 in Nottingham. We'd all just graduated from uni, and all of our uni bands had fallen apart as people left the city and got 'real jobs', so we kinda found each other. After relocating to Bristol in 2012, we released our first album All The Lights In The Sky in 2013. On that album we developed a cross-genre sound which was still rooted in modern rock. Thematically, we based on the album on Japanese anime, something we all shared an interest in as the band started. The album unexpectedly did great online, and we grew this international fan base which has taken us to incredible places across the world.
You just recently released your new album, Modern Synthesis, this summer - what makes this album special to you?
What we achieved with All The Lights was really something impressive from our point of view; we self-produced and released an album which managed to chart in the album charts. But it wasn't really what we really wanted to do. The anime concept had been fun, but I think if we'd seriously expected the band to do well we wouldn't have done it. So for us Modern Synthesis was about creating something which was closer to what we actually desired to create, a rock album with multiple layers which was accessible but deep. We started work on it in February 2015, and it wasn't released until July 2016, so it was a long process for us. For the first time there was a lot of pressure on us while we were creating the album; the record had been crowd funded by our fans. We couldn't let them or ourselves down, so it was a lot of work to get it to its released form. Once again it was self-produced, by me. I think it's special because it was a bit of a struggle. I look back on those days creating the record with pride because although it got very difficult and stressful we just kept going.
You’ve mentioned that work on the album started well over a year before it was released - what do you feel you were able to accomplish by giving yourselves plenty of time to create Modern Synthesis?
The first lesson learnt is that you can NEVER have plenty of time! We had to rewrite the rules on what it meant to be Area 11, without breaking the audio narrative we began on All The Lights. We had an advantage that we'd already started doing that on our 2014 EP Underline; we'd already moved away from the anime concept and began exploring other territory. But this was the first major release, and we knew we didn't want to alienate our audience in the quest to produce music closer to our hearts. And having the extra time really allowed us to think very carefully about what we were writing. I personally wrote around 50 songs for Synthesis, whereas on the last record we wrote pretty much everything that ended up on the final record. So I think the time just allowed ourselves room to fail, to write songs which we could scrap. And that was invaluable in modulating the band into a new place.
What was the most difficult or the most challenging part about working on the album? What was the most rewarding?
As I've touched on with the previous answer, the difficulty was creating something so different from our first record. Sitting down and writing an Area 11 song is always difficult because we've not really established, even now, what it is makes a song an Area 11 song. We've got a very wide range of different styles on our albums, and this is both a blessing and a curse. It allows you to do whatever you want (within reason) but that lack of boundary can also lead you to overthink everything. Something I want to do going forward is to tighten and focus our sound a bit, which I think we did do to some extent on Synthesis, but I think we can go further. And honestly, I'd say the most rewarding part of working on Synthesis is that we pretty much achieved exactly what we set out to; we moved the band away from a very restrictive niche into open water without it being jarring. That's something I'm very happy about.
What goals did you have when working on these songs?
My personal goals were to make music which showcased a more mature sensibility. I wanted to make sure that whatever people thought of our song writing, that they'd see that we were passionate about our music. I think we were dismissed as a novelty band by many early on because of the quirky nature of our first record, and I wanted to try to banish that notion. I wanted people who didn't like the record to say 'this band are too ambitious' rather than 'this band are a joke', because regardless of where the music in the first record came from it was never a joke. We weren't a comedy band, we were just trying something different. And I wanted to make sure that the songs on Synthesis solidified my belief.
There is a three year gap between Modern Synthesis and your last full-length, All the Lights in the Sky. How do you feel you’ve grown or evolved between these two releases?
We released All The Lights without any idea of what was going to happen next. We released in on a Thursday night for example, so it had the worst possible chance of charting! We knew nothing really. And in the years that followed between the releases we learn that hard way that you can't trust anyone to care about your art as much as you do. Through a series of costly failures at the hands of morons who didn't know what they were doing, or were actively trying to sabotage the band, we became cynical and suspicious of anyone trying to 'help' the band. And in this way became very savvy and knowledgable of the record industry in general. The team we have built around us now we trust implicitly and I think the whole process has made us very strong. These events have really fueled us to be the best we can, and I think that right now we'll settle for nothing less than total success. I've never felt so motivated to dedicate my life to this, and we are and will work as hard as we can to achieve what we can. This I think is reflected in our music and in our outlook in general.
You hit the road earlier this summer in support of Modern Synthesis and have some tour dates coming up in December to end 2016. What has been the highlight of tour so far this year? What are you looking forward to?
Our album launch show at The Borderline in London was a very special show for us. The atmosphere in the room was incredible. We played an acoustic set in the nearby Fopp just before the show which was packed and intimate, and that feeling transferred into The Borderline a few hours later. It really felt like the end of a long journey, and it was great to share that moment with my bandmates, our management and team at the label which had got the record to market, and mostly with the kids in the crowd who gave 101% that night. It's not something we'll forget in a long time.
Right now we're most excited to get back to London in December and play the O2 Islington Academy. It'll be our biggest show yet, and I can't wait to stand on that stage and perform.
What would you like listeners to take away from Modern Synthesis or your upcoming shows?
I'd like them to see how real the record is, to understand how much of ourselves exist in those 11 tracks. We've always kept our metaphors vague and multidimensional, but I think with a little careful thought you can find the meaning hidden between the lines. We're not a political band, more of a philosophical band if such a thing exists, and we certainly have lots of things to say. I want people to see that we're a band with ambition who are in the process of grabbing everything we've ever dreamed of by the balls and hurling it into universe. It's our time, we all feel it, and we invite everyone to come and join us on this journey.
Do you have any big plans for 2017 yet?
To write the music which will change our lives.