Paul Williams is a student of the legendary Berlin School movement. Taking key inspiration from the atmospheric synthesis of some of the school's biggest names, Paul and his associates formed Quarkspace. The band quickly caught the attention of the Ohio's electronic music scene in the 80's with their groovy, psychedelic synths and psuedo-ambient textures.
Other members have since gone on to participate in other endeavors, however Paul has kept the sound alive with Church of Hed, an evolution of what Quarkspace started as an eloquent homage to sounds of old.
Here, we get learn about what inspires Paul, his take on music tech, and the music he creates.
Prox: Why have you and Quarkspace chosen to pay homage to the Berlin School and continue the legacy of that sound?
Paul: It was always a natural thing for us to mix “live” playing with beats and electronics, even way back in our first jam sessions in the 1980s. I probably brought most of that influence to Quarkspace, but Chet and Jay would also program loops we’d end up using in songs or jamming.
Electronica influences ultimately made up around one-third of Quarkspace’s style. It’s at least twice that with Church of Hed. Again, the combination of beats and kinetic playing is just how we like to roll.
70s-era Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Tangerine Dream lurk in my style, along with newer electronic music artists, but I try to emphasize the live playing aspect a little more. Stylistically, it ends up as a combination of psychedelia, spacerock, electronica, and prog. Just enough to piss off the purists in each of those genres!
Prox: There is a noticeable sci-fi influence in your work. What are some of things outside of music that impacted your interest as a child?
Paul: Star Wars and Star Trek were there before my teenage years. I was an avid reader from an early age, so I quickly moved into science-fiction in high school – Herbert, Asimov, Farmer, etc. I don’t read as much from that genre these days, and still haven’t seen any of the new Star Wars movies. Someday, though!
Quarkspace became part of the spacerock scene, but we didn’t even know we were a spacerock band per se, until told by someone who booked us at a festival in Louisville. Gong and Pink Floyd were major influences, to be sure, but only two of many. Hooking up with the Strange Daze music festivals (with Hawkwind) really brought us into that scene more than anything.
Church of Hed’s sci-fi influences are more peripheral in comparison. These days it’s more of a musical – analog synths, spacey sounds, etc. – influence than lyrically or topically.
Prox: You’ve been producing music for years now. Are there any advancements in music technology that you marvel at?
Paul: Over the last twenty years, it’s been the emergence of software synthesis. I worked for many years as a software engineer, so Csound, a programming language for music, was an interest in the late 80s/early 90s. It intrigued, but was ultimately more academic than usable in a real-time live or studio situation.
Despite my engineering background, I never had much interest in developing a music app, hardware synth, or even a Eurorack hardware module for that matter. I’d much rather leverage the work of talented engineers for creative inspiration than be reminded of my day job of that moment.
Once software synths begin to hit the market in the late 90s, I quickly embraced ReBirth, Propellerheads’ virtual collection of two TB-303s, as well as a TR-808 and TR-909. The loop from Recaesarian used in Church of Hed’s Caesar Grinder Salad remix was the first beat I ever wrote using ReBirth. A variety of soft synths and beat-making apps were used in Quarkspace and are currently in the Church of Hed toolbox – on both the desktop and the iPad.
Of course, Church of Hed’s last full-length album, Brandenburg Heights, didn’t use any software synths – not by real intention other than the loops and beats were all programmed on analog hardware synths. I guess that reflects the recent reemergence of analog throughout the music technology world as much as anything.
Prox: How has the tech-sphere in general contributed to your music? Does a better grasp of and interest in technology help you to continue after producing for so long?
Paul: Big time. There still needs to be a strong artistic focus and level of inspiration in the process, but having a technical background definitely makes using recording software and musical apps easier. I continue (persist?) because it’s fun!
Prox: What are some things that you see in the near future as far as music and technological integration go? Do you think we’re getting closer to being able to create music using our brainwaves and biofeedback?
Paul: That’s funny you would ask that. Recently, my wife and I were coming back from the grocery store and a track from the Elvin Jones/McCoy Tyner Quintet (both key members of John Coltrane’s classic quartet) shuffled up on the iPod. I told my wife I wanted a set of bionic arms so I could play both of their parts simultaneously! (Not that I could play either part with my current set of organic arms!)
Beyond that futuristic vision, composing or playing using only brainwaves is intriguing, but I’d definitely miss the kinetic and physical aspect of performance – thus my stronger desire for an extra set of arms. Using brainwaves to control the knobs on a synth while playing with your hands sounds interesting, though. Hmmm.
On the “dystopia” side of the shop, I see algorithmic composition taking more of a role when it comes to composing consumable pop music whatever the genre. Not that I pay too much attention to most of what’s currently on the charts other than K-Dot.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Paul: My favorite creative types tend to be of the musical sort. Charles Ives definitely warrants mention when it comes to combining lives in both business and music. Who else can claim to be known as the Father of American Classical Music (his work is still prescient, stunning and worthy of more attention) and the inventor of modern estate planning and the independent insurance agent.
I tend to appreciate the creative spark and the process of invention more than the businessman’s role. As such, Bob Moog, Leon Theremin, and Tom Oberheim inspire me more than Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Henry Ford. Bhante Gunaratana and Joachim-Ernst Berendt are two intellectuals that have inspired me over the years.
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
Paul: Musical activity doesn’t allow much time for hobbies anymore. With that said, reading is still my biggest hobby outside of music. History and biographies are probably my two most-read genres. I used to enjoy videogaming, but find little time for that these days. I miss doing Bourbon-fuelled laps around the Nürburgring in Gran Turismo 5 while listening to The Orb!
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists and businessmen?
Paul: Persistence is the most important skill any musician needs to develop after they’ve found their own sound. In short – never give up! Music isn’t as valued within the zeitgeist as it was in the past. The economics just aren’t there anymore, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from turning inspiration into art. There is more excellent music being created everyday, despite the dire economic situation ushered in by downloading, streaming, and poor royalty rates. Keep at it!
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Paul: I am currently working on two albums. One is a more beat-oriented project, in a similar fashion to Electric Sepulcher for lack of a better description. Right now, I am focused on composing beats and music for it using software, hardware, and live drumming. A psychedelic feel ensues as well.
The other album is the sequel to Rivers of Asphalt, Church of Hed’s “Route 66” project. Called, The Father Road, this is a trip down the Lincoln Highway from San Francisco to New York City. The music has a bit more of a progressive rock influence at times, but there will be psychedelic electronics throughout. It also has more of a live drumming approach as opposed to using drum machines.
The Father Road is a larger project, close to 80 minutes of music, so I expect the other, “regular” length album to be finished first, probably sometime early next year, with The Father Road being released later in 2018 or 2019. I hope to release a single from each album by the end of this year.
After those two, a trippy Berlin School album called The Fourth Hour is next on the docket. Two more seasonal-related EPs ala The Autumn Shrine and A Cold White Universe might appear at any moment as well.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Paul: I appreciate your perceptive questions and your overall approach with Inside the Rift. It is refreshing to see a media resource focused on what lies behind the music, as well as being able to dispense with artificial genre barriers. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share a few words.
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