Alpha Bootis is a synthwave duo inspired by space exploration and science-fiction. Their music is influenced by heavy metal and progressive rock, while still being firmly camped in the synthwave genre. We had the chance to talk to them notably about the release of their first EP: Episode I.
Headphones For Robots: Who is/are Alpha Bootis?
Alpha Bootis: We are a two-men synthwave crew that loves sci-fi a bit too much. To give you proper insight into how we work as a bicephalous entity we will each provide answers to the questions.
Ozymandias : I am 21 years old, born and raised in Montreal. I consider myself a composer, a producer, a guitar player and a singer, roughly in that order. Aside from music, i am a former LARPer, a Dungeon Master of 11 years and an avid gamer (i sunk a bit too much time on Europa Universalis for my own good). I will soon be studying musical composition at university level. As many people in Quebec, I’m mostly bilingual, but French is my primary language.
Frak : I’m 25 years old, born in Montreal too. I started learning piano at 12 years old and I haven’t stopped learning various instruments since then. I’ve been composing music since around 2007 with my first songs for the folk metal band that would become Distoriam that I’ve been a part since 2010. I am also a former LARPer and Dungeon Master although I’m not sure if that’s something that ties Alpha Boötis together. I have a degree in Archaeology, I am also bilingual but with French as my first language.
HFR: How did you start making music together? Could you tell us a bit about your influences?
AB: Alpha Boötis is at first a symbiotic relationship. I met Frak a few years back through his folk metal band. I even auditioned for that band after a while, but I didn’t take the gig. 2 years ago, Frak posted an old chiptune track he had made, and I asked if I could remix it with my VST synths and Ableton. He agreed and that was the start of what would become Alpha Boötis. That track was Jump to Alpha Boötis, from which we took the name, and that early version is available as bonus track on our first EP.
Ozymandias As far as influences go, Carpenter Brut, Dance with the Dead and power/folk metal bands like Blind Guardian, Moonsorrow or Rhapsody definitely are amongst my influences, as well as old school prog like Pink Floyd, Alan Parson, Vangelis, Yes or Marillion.
I first had the idea to combine metal with electronic music when i discovered The Algorithm with Polymorphic Code back in 2011. That’s what led me to discover all the awesome synthwave artists I now listen to on a daily basis.
Frak: Carpenter Brut and Dynatron are my primary influences for Alpha Boötis. I have a bit of Power Glove, Le Matos and Peturbator here and there too. Vangelis and John Carpenter are also big, at least, spiritual influences. I must say I also got inspired by metal bands for some parts and riffs such as Meshuggah, Summoning and Moonsorrow as well. Video game music is also huge, such as the chiptunes of the game VVVVVV, the ambient space OST of FTL: Faster Than Light and even the nostalgic soundtrack of an old PC game called Raptor: Call of the Shadows.
HFR: With your heavy metal background, how do you explain your love for synthesizer sounds?
Ozymandias : I grew up listening to a whole lot of 70’s prog rock (Rush, Pink Floyd, Alan Parson’s Project). It was through these bands that i fell in love with music, and I’ve always kept listening to a lot of prog since. My father also had a couple Dead Can Dance records, as well as a Vangelis best of. So very early on, I was into synthesizer based music. During my teenage years, I learned guitar, dreaming of becoming Adrian Smith, John Petrucci or Chuck Schuldiner, but I never could reach the shredding heights of guitar playing since I was always hindered by chronic pain in my arms and back. Coincidentally, that’s when the whole synthwave boom finally reached me, as I discovered Carpenter Brut, Com Truise and Perturbator. I was instantly hooked by the sound, which to me was a combination of metal’s fury and the prog’s textures I had grown to love. I’m also a huge gamer so that had an impact as well!
Frak: I’ve had a bit of interest in synthesizers at a young age because of video game music and because I started learning the piano first. However, I didn’t think I would start making synth music until I wrote Circling The Belt of Orion 2 years ago. I was mostly inspired by acts such as Carpenter Brut and Dynatron that I’ve come to know at first via the game Hotline Miami. That game really renewed an interest in electronic music for me. I find synthwave to be the “metal of electronic music” especially considering the guys in Perturbator and Carpenter Brut have backgrounds in heavy metal. I think this background in heavy metal music for Ozymandias and I will really help us in achieving a unique sound. We’re not afraid to find the dirtiest distorted synth sounds. I also personally have a huge knack for atmospheric black metal and I hope I can find a way to make atmospheric black “synthwave”.
HFR: Can you tell us about Episode I, your new EP? Is it a concept EP? Will there be more episodes?
AB: Episode 1 is a concept EP where each song tells a whole story in chronological order. It follows two space traders who Jump to Alpha Boötis, have a deal go wrong on Ecumenopolis, get lost in a Nebula, appear at the Wormhole Gas Bar to finally be Circling the Belt of Orion in search of trade deals. There will be more episodes that will take off close to where we left our two spacers. We already have the second episode in the works and we will try to explore different moods and stories.
HFR: What is your approach on writing music? Which are the steps you make when songwriting?
Frak: I usually get the rhythm first. I think most of the mood of a song will come through its rhythm and pace. I get a concept for the song first, then I find the corresponding mood and the right rhythm to go with it. Then I will choose the different chords that will fit the chosen mood and pace. The melodies will come on their own, or I will work on them until they’re catchy enough. I think this is where my songwriting experience comes in, because I couldn’t work like this at first, and now I feel like I know how to convey different feelings through music better.
Ozymandias: Production-wise, I always discuss with Frak about the vision he has for the song. As an example, the working title for Wormhole Gas Bar was Disco “Shiet”, because he wanted a song that would get people in a dancing mood, so i went for a bass sound closer to a slap bass than a big distorted wall of fuzz and for sounds that were brighter and closer to pop music or Italo-Disco. On Ecumenopolis, we wanted a dark sound palette for the verses and something brighter for the melodic parts, with an overall sound that was closer to Carpenter Brut. That’s just a few examples of how I tailor my sound design to fit Frak’s music.
HFR: Could you tell us a bit about your “go to” equipment? What do you use when writing a song and which are your favorite instruments?
Ozymandias : I use Ableton Live and most of its stock plugins. I really like the workflow of that DAW as well as its built-in instruments, mostly Operator and Analog. I bought two very nice sample packs, one featuring vintage synthesizers like the Juno-60 and the Mini-Moog, and the other classic drum machines such as the Roland TR-606,707,808 and 909 units. Those often find their way into the songs. Last bit of software is the Harmless synth by IV, which i use to make most of the bass sounds and some pads and keys. I use the Ableton push to control automations and trigger the live tracks. For the live rig, i will rework most of the songs to include electric guitar and real drums, so that the live version feels completely new.
HFR: AB in a near future? Are there any shows coming up within 2017?
AB: We can’t announce officially yet, but we will be making our live debut sometime this fall. We’re also working on a indie video-game soundtrack. Episode II of our story is already in the works, and we should release sometime this year. Fingers crossed!
Ozymandias: I’m also working on a solo release for early next year. I know Frak is working on some dungeon synth. Should be a really busy year for both of us, but we couldn’t be happier!
HFR: Last words?
AB: We’d like to thank everybody who supported us by liking, sharing and interacting with our posts. We have been receiving nothing but warm comments about our music so far online, and it’s really heartwarming. I really hope that synthwave and the whole retro (gaming, music, movie) 80’s movement can continue to thrive and stay exciting for many years. We hope to be a part of that scene for many years to come! Finally, i’d like to thank you guys for offering us this opportunity and for all the work you put in to support synthwave.
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