INTERVIEW: Dennis Stein talks about Karass, Synthesizers, and his love of Stop-Motion Movies!

Where does he get those wonderful toys?

Dennis Stein is Louisville’s synth-wizard.  He seems to always be involved in something interesting whether it be in a band or his ongoing solo project Introvert.  Most recently his (mostly) instrumental indie rock band Karass ambitiously released Order Of Operations, a fantastic 5-song EP that includes vocal contributions from Danica Ransom, Cheyenne Mize, Touch AC, Cher Von, and Amber Thieneman.  Listen to “Lost/Found (ft. Danica Ransom)” below:

While Dennis is an incredible musician, he’s also a fantastic human being.  His enthusiastic passion for music truly is infectious, which makes him a dude you want to be around.  Last week, Dennis was kind enough to answer a few questions about what’s happening with Karass, how he got into synthesizers, and more..

Never Nervous: The last EP from Karass was pretty ambitious. Collaborating with a different musician/artist on every track has to be challenging. What was that like?

Dennis Stein: Man it was a really exciting and enlightening experience! Working with multiple vocalists on an album has always been a dream of mine. I’ve always found groups like Massive Attack, Unkle and DNTEL fascinating and exciting when this approach is taken towards vocals. And getting to work with so many different talented people with unique approaches and views on music styles… it was incredible. Working with classically trained vocalists, rappers, amazing folk musicians and experimental musicians and just a bunch of rock and roll musicians there was tons of space for issues to arise but incredibly everything paned out and everyone had a blast! There were points where I honestly thought that we were being to ambitious with taking on this project and felt that the project might entirely fall apart, but I’ve gotta say the end result was something that we were all incredibly proud of. And performing the tracks live was super fun too.

NN: Do you have a favorite track on that EP? Was there anyone that you particularly liked working with?

DS: As stupid as it is to say, it real is for me to pick a favorite track. But Ive gotta lean towards “Delusion (Featuring Cher Von)” because its really fun for me to play because I mostly just rock out on my Elektron Octatrack and Elektron Analogfour which were the machines that we used to start the foundation work and structure for the track. Its always fun to just rock out on some synths with a full band.

As far as working with people, everyone was incredibly fun to work with. I had wanted to work with Cheyenne Mize for years and she was someone I just never really thought I would be lucky enough to work with. So needless to say I was incredibly happy to work with her. It was funny and interesting about how everyone’s approach was different, everyone was super humble.

NN: Coming off of a new release, what is the next move for Karass? Touring? More shows? More music?

DS: Well… we actually have full length already recorded and mastered and we are planning on releasing it in the spring of 2015. Some of the tracks are several years old and some are brand new! We actually just set up a show at Zanzabar on Black Friday. Oh and Greg Ward and I have already been grooving on some new tracks… so our plan is to keep things rolling as quickly and efficiently as we can. Who knows, by the time we plan on releasing our next release we might already have a follow up album. Pretty exciting.

NN: Talk about Exacta Cube, your new project with Nicholas Daniel. How’d that happen, and what’s the plan moving forward?

DS: Ha! Yeah, Exacta Cube is one of those things that kinda just happened strangely. Nick and I have been synth nerd buddies for awhile now and love just geeking out bout new synth and modular gear. There aren’t to many people in Louisville that have the same level of synth obsession and Nick and I. So one day when we were just meeting up to show off our new music toys we just started jamming and that was about it. Exacta Cube is (at this point) just 100% improv glitch style electronic music. Strangely thanks to the wonderful people down at the LVL1 sound builders lab like Chris Cprek and Nick Daniels we had our first release on cassette at out first show.

NN: I’m not overly familiar with the whole “glitch” subgenre. Care to recommend a few artists we should check out to get a better handle on this?

DS: Sure absolutely! As you said earlier Aphex Twin (In my opinion) is a wonderful starting point, but another one of my all time biggest inspirations is Atlanta synth wizard Richard Devine. Some other musicians that have given me huge inspiration towards synth glitching are Telefon Tel Aviv, VAETXH, Phoenecia, Hosmoz, Amon Tobin, Autechre, ediT. Many of these artists can be found on the Detroit based label DETROIT UNDERGROUND run by KERO and Annie Hall.

NN: What initially got you interested in synthesizers? Was it Aphex Twin? It was Aphex Twin, wasn’t it?

DS: Oh yeah man! Aphex Twin was absolutely one of the most pivotal and musicians in making me fall in love with synths and synth music. In 1997 when Come to Daddy first came out it really blew my mind on how heavy, brutal, refreshing and mean synths can sound. And all that year tons of albums came out that really turned me onto synths, Albums like Fat of the Land by The Prodigy, Dig your own Hole by The Chemical Brothers, Vegas by The Crystal Method. I learned that there was this whole world of sounds outside of guitars, drums and bass. Before that point most of the synth content I was taking in was in from things like The Downward Spiral by NIN and the mellow almost background ambience on albums like Denigration by The Cure. In a time in my live when I was just playing and listening to old awesome old grunge albums, hearing great synth to music was like the way I would imagine having only seen black and white TV your whole life and then you see a color TV… There is just this whole world of untapped sonic frequencies that has no rules, no set standard format.

NN: Where do you buy records in Louisville?

DS: Man, great question since there is such a sudden resurgence of vinyl and record shops. I actually buy stuff from everywhere I in town. Fat Rabbit is awesome because I love to look at all the other weird stuff in the store but I love digging through the VHS tapes for video the most. But Guest Room, Matt Anthony’s, Modern Cult, The Great Escape, Book And Music Exchange, Half Price Books… everywhere has its own charm and I love them all. Sorry, I know that’s a vague answer, but I seriously love all of the shops in town!!

NN: Seen any good movies lately?

DS: Actually strangely yes! I almost never watch movies strangely… but I just saw The Boxtrolls and it was incredible. I’m a sucker for stop motion movies, but The Boxtrolls was made by the same studio that did Coraline and Paranorman which were also beautifully crafted and written movies. I personally feel that they picked up where Disney fell off ager Walt’s passing. They have that magical Tim Burton mood that he would create back in the 80’s and 90’s when he was still making movies worth watching.

NN: Was there a particular horror flick that scared the shit out of you as a kid? For me, it was probably Stephen King’s It. Oh man that was scary.

DS: Yeah man, the Alien movies were my favorite and they scared me beyond comprehension. I think my Mom made me watch the first Alien movie when I was probably 10 and it was amazing. It really made me want to go into outer space too which I think it should have done the opposite.

NN: Before you go, talk about three songs from three separate bands/artists that have been knockin’ yer skirt up lately.

DS: ClippingInside Out from CLPPNG
Super inspiring new hip hop from LA. They use a much of modular synths to make a bunch of their beats so thats super awesome in my book.

Aphex Twin Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix) from Syro
Sorry… I know thats expected, but its just so damn good. I am just in love with the vocoder work on that track too.

ModeratBad Kingdom from II
I have been a fan of Moderat for a few years now but I was fortunate enough to catch them live earlier this year at Moogfest and they put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. I mean… truly breathtaking. So ever since they blew my mind I haven’t been able to take them out of my heavy musical rotation.

Pick up your copy of KarassOrder Of Operations at Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, Underground Sounds or Astro Black Records.