Featured Artist Josie Pace
SEQUENTIAL INTERVIEW – JOSIE PACE & KEN ROBERTS
As the saturated synths rise behind the lyrics “Just take your stamp off my design” in Josie Pace’s driving single, “Battleground” we immediately understand this is not an artist who is weak when abandoned. Instead, this Detroit artist’s music represents a piece of her solitude. The blistering glow of downtempo post-industrial beats, electro-pop melodies and layered soundscapes are home to Josie’s captivating lyrics; she is a songwriter in the purest sense. The result is a pulsating sound that will haunt you with vulnerability while basking in Josie’s world of self-reflection and unapologetic rock and roll attitude that Detroit is legendary for.
When musician and producer Ken Roberts saw an acoustic performance of Josie he was blown away. The raw and intimate performance captured the one thing all songwriters strive to achieve: believability. The two started working together with Josie’s songs as the foundation. As an accomplished guitar player, Josie molds and refines her songs acoustically only to tear them apart and rebuild them with Roberts’ grinding synths, unique production style, and the addition of Mark Damian’s live drums. Songs quickly formed into a unique sound that pull from the likes of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails yet contain a high-art fashion swagger as if you just bumped into David Bowie at a Halston Party.
From the beginning, the style and the art of the music are just as important as the melody and beat. Josie’s first music video Torn introduced audiences to her unique brand of electronic rock and visual artistry. That theme continues with the videos for Battleground, NO, My Mistake, Lies of the Lovers and Fire where fashion and desolation hold hands with Josie’s in-your-face performance. Perfect Replacement would follow featuring a collaboration with another fierce female, Sammi Doll (IAMX). Josie carries the same commitment of style and artistry to her high-energy live performances having shared the stage with Tim Skold (Marilyn Manson, KMFDM) Daniel Myer (Haujobb, Architect), Powerman 5000, Stabbing Westward, and <PIG> along with successful headlining shows in New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles.
We chatted with Josie and Ken on how they have been using Sequential instruments in their music:
How did you first get started with music? Was it nature or nurture for you: Were you a self-starter or was it something that you grew into?
(Josie) I grew up in a very musical family so I knew from a young age that music was what I wanted to do with my life. I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old and I took guitar lessons until I was 18 years old. Music came very naturally for me, I loved writing songs and I still use guitar as my main instrument when writing. I started working with Ken Roberts about 4 years ago and we quickly found a sound that was unique and exciting.
(Ken) I started playing classical piano at 4 years old, picked up the guitar around 10 years old and took classical guitar lessons for about 5 years. I was never really into learning other people’s music. My mom always had to bribe me to learn recital pieces. I was more into writing my own music. Since Josie and I focused mainly on writing growing up, it made things very easy to work together.
It seems that some musicians have a sort of “eureka” moment in their early years where the light bulb comes on and they realize “This is what I need to be doing.” Do you recall anything like that for you?
(Josie) When I was very young, probably 5 or 6, I remember seeing my dad sing on stage one Sunday at church and ever since then I knew I wanted to be a musician. I remember people always asking “What do you want to do when you grow up?” or “What career do you see yourself in?” My answer has always been “I’m going to be a rockstar one day.” Then after they stop laughing they’d say, “Okay so what’s your plan B?” My response? I never had a plan B. I never wanted a “plan B” to get in the way of “plan A.” I focus fully on what I want to achieve and I don’t let little things like “plan B” get in my way.
(Ken) I studied piano and studied guitar but it wasn’t until I went to see David Bowie in 1983 on the “Serious Moonlight Tour” with my older cousin that I knew I wanted to be a musician. I thought to myself “this guy has got to be the coolest guy in the world” and I am still trying to achieve the coolness of David Bowie.
Tell us about your first synth!
(Ken) The first real synth I got was an AKAI AX60, which I received for my 16th birthday. I always loved the sound of that synth because of the Curtis Electronics CEM filter circuits, which lead me to the Prophet-5 Rev3, which uses the same circuits.
Do you usually design your own sounds? If so, how do you approach that? Do you have a process?
(Ken) Absolutely I design my own sounds! Within the writing process with Josie Pace, I tend to start out most of the songs by using plug-ins because of time constraints. But after we get the structure of the song down I spend weeks, if not months, replacing those plug-ins with hardware synthesizers. I usually start in manual mode in most synthesizers and design the sounds from scratch.
What kind of things get you excited about an instrument?
(Ken) What most excites me about vintage synthesizers is the history. The history behind the development, which artists used it back in the day, and which songs it was featured in. And the components like SSM versus Curtis Filters, and FM vs analog, and so on. What I like about newer instruments, especially Sequential instruments, is the attention to detail and the layout of the instrument, and the ease of use in editing sounds.
When you get a musical idea how do you go about developing it? Can you give us an example?
(Josie) I like to write down my ideas throughout the day and I start by composing the song on acoustic guitar. After it’s finished I bring it to the studio and Ken and I hash out the song structure and melodies with acoustic guitar and piano. Then after that is finalized we throw it all out the window and turn it into electronic noises.
Do you have certain musical ideals? Certain things that you strive for?
Being an all-synth group we strive to still maintain a harder rock edge, and to stay away from anything that’s considered dance or EDM. We are more influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Phil Collins than we are the standard electronic dance music. I want people to mosh and head bang to my music.
Generally speaking, are you happier in the studio or on stage?
(Josie) I am definitely most happy being on stage, I feed off of the crowd and the energy in the venue. Performing is my passion and I am always striving to make each performance better than the last.
(Ken) I always considered composition the highest form of art. So I love being in the studio working on new music. Plus, to be honest, being the keyboard player in a live music group is a very daunting task. I’m running backing tracks, loading sounds, and usually managing the on-stage performance. I find myself rarely having enough time to look up at the audience.
What are you listening to these days?
(Josie) These days I find myself going back to listening to classic rock like ACDC, The Eagles, and Joan Jett. I grew up on classic rock, so I feel like I’m pulling from my roots when songwriting and getting ideas for song structure, and lyrics. Lately I have found myself listening to heavier music more often, like Slipknot and Ghost, and bands like them. I love the idea of being a synth band but still being edgy and hard.
(Ken) I still listen to a lot of the things I grew up listening to. Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, NIN, but there’s a lot of new bands that catch my attention like Bones UK, IAMX, and The Faint. I try not to listen to too many things outside the specific genre of what I’m writing at the time. My musical tastes are so wide that if I don’t focus on listening to music that falls within that spectrum of what I’m working on at the moment, I lose track on the specific ideas I’m working on.
What kinds things inspire you — musically or otherwise? Has this changed much over time?
Art, film, and fashion are just as inspirational, for Ken and I, as music. And they’re just as important. Whether it be a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat or a film by Jean Cocteau, or the badass fashion designs of Alexander McQueen. All of these things inspire us to make the most creative and meaningful music we can.
Do you have a musical bucket list?
Definitely! Ken and I want to go and perform in Europe, and I know Ken wants to record at Abbey Road Studios. Other than that I think my bucket list just consists of being able to tour and play sold out shows, while continuing to grow in my writing skills and being able to inspire people around the world.
What made you choose Sequential?
(Ken) Sequential Synthesizers were always the Holy Grail for any musician. Also, the sounds. Synthesizers like the Prophet-6 always seem to sound perfect in the mix.
Among the close to 100 synthesizers I own, my Sequential Synthesizers are the center pieces in my studio. Prophet-5, Prophet-6, Prophet 12, Prophet REV2, Poly Evolver, Pro-One, and the new Pro 3 are all used in conjunction with Logic ProX and Pro Tools. Like I mentioned earlier, some synthesizers just sound better in the mix of the song, and some sound better being played by themselves. Sequential synthesizers do both.
Any interesting tricks or techniques you’d like to share?
(Ken) Hey kids, don’t forget to read the manual.