The MMIBTY Interview with The Presets

The Presets are an Australian electronic duo consisting of members Julian Hamilton on vocals and keyboards and Kim Moyes on drums and keyboards. While the Presets were formed in 2003 Julian and Kim met back in 1995 at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where they were both studying classical music. Cut to 2018 where they have released three full-length albums, gone 3x Platinum, and traveled the world over headlining major music festivals. The Presets’ latest single “14U+14ME” is out to critical acclaim with a trippy video to boot. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Julian and Kim ahead of their main stage set at San Diego’s CRSSD Music Festival during the first weekend of March, 2018.

Interview conducted by MMIBTY co-founder Jon Gilman (@jon_gilman) (MMIBTY): I had never heard of The Presets nor really listened to electronic music before studying abroad in Australia. I consider you to be the gateway that led to my love for electronic music. But you guys didn’t always live in that world – you met while studying classical music, right? How did that whole path go from classical to electronic?
The Presets (PS): We did meet at music school, both studying classical courses. We were there learning acoustic instruments – piano and percussion. Both of us always had a love for pop music, indie music, or electronic music and we became friends outside of our classes – we weren’t even in the same courses – through swapping tapes like the Chemical Brothers and Björk and then we started going to night clubs. And we started a band at the same time called Prop which was an instrumental band – vibraphone and marimbas and drum kits and synths. From an early stage we were trying to mash out our day to day classical degree with the music we loved and were listening to at night and doing the live Techno thing. And we did that for a few years and it wasn’t until we started to get hired by other guys doing House music and more sample-based stuff that decided to bite the bullet and have a real crack at making electronic music straight off the computers and whatnot.

MMIBTY: Had you had any experience using software and technology to produce music?
PS: Yeah a little bit! Jules had a little setup. And we had courses at the Con where you could do that but it was based more in contemporary classical but it was more Avant-garde it wasn’t where you were making beats or whatever. But it wasn’t until we saw these other guys doing it and it seemed so simple to us based on where we came from. But of course when you start doing something seriously it doesn’t matter how simple it sounds to you it’s never actually that simple. You find a way to make it complicated.

MMIBTY: Yeah I spin myself but when it comes to sitting down and trying to learn how to  use software and then build music on top of that – my brain doesn’t work like that.
PS: It’s a completely different way of thinking. But the other thing is the programs we used were like ProTools and that’s like an electronic type machine meant for recording live shows which is what we always used to do – it wasn’t very “programmy” in the way that something like Ableton is good for programming. We slightly started out doing more like a rock band. We were using ProTools the way people would use an MPC – we would cut up individual sounds, chop it up, in the same way as a person using an MPC. We always found that we would sit there and drag around sounds and make loops and stuff but it was always easier for us playing stuff in or whatever and I still feel like that to this day because it’s so deeply ingrained in you as a musician or performer. And it’s much more natural and that sound starts to sound more musical when it comes out of you rather than a cerebral activity. We’re not big drawers [in reference to drawing bass lines in a software program] and clickers we’d rather capture the live sound. Of course we can work on the sound for weeks, but, yeah.

MMIBTY: So it’s like a hybrid, right? Record a piece, put it in, chop it up, move it around. Has that process changed at all over the years?
PS: Not really and in fact it’s so funny, you feel like you’ve come so far in your production skills and your aesthetic and what you can do and what you’re trying to achieve in terms of style. And then halfway through the process of making this last record, the one we’re about to release [HI VIZ], we went back through our catalog back to our first EPs and it’s like, the same shit! And in fact it almost sounds better back then than it does now! [Laughter]. It’s just about playing around until we find something that’s fun to play. Really feels like quite an antiquated way to write.

MMIBTY: And in terms of the writing process itself, when you first started were there certain influences you had back then and now you have different influences that you’re hearing out in the world or is it like you guys are in a vacuum just writing music?
PS: I think we’ve doubled down on our influences from back then. When we were first starting we met in the 90s and it was The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx and The Chemical Brothers. Kim would play drums and I [Julian] would play synths and we’d try to make rock and roll sounding Techno. And for us Chemical Brothers were a really important band because they were rockin’ but they were also very dance floor based. Same with Daft Punk they had a real metal edge to what they were doing. And at that time too there were bands like The Strokes and there was this whole global thing around the Rock revival. I guess subconsciously we were trying to get rock into this Electronic music that we loved. And that’s what we did for this last album, try to get that raucous energy going.

MMIBTY: Do you feel that’s a reflection of what you’re hearing in the mainstream? Do you think there’s a lost energy when you’re seeing a live performance or listening to music in your headphones?
PS: For us the dance music wave that’s happened in the last five years, with EDM, it’s cool and there’s a lot of good stuff but it does seem like there’s one way of doing things – build up and drop – and it feels real cookie cutter. And for us with this album in particular we’re not trying to do any one thing and I think one of the things that we’ve been good at is that we try to spread ourselves pretty far and wide when it comes to what we try to embrace or what we’re trying to achieve. So with this record we’re not trying to jump on the EDM bandwagon at all – this is exclusively retro and back to our roots. We’re trying to make the ultimate mixtape or party that we would want to put on. It traverses all sorts of territory – a bit 90s golden era like Basement Jaxx and then Detroit or Chicago sounding stuff and then there’s other things like Oz Pop Rock in the form of Techno or even our version of Future Bass. It’s basically all over the place and I think that’s what we’ve always been good at even before we did The Presets. Almost too many ideas and figuring out how to filter them all in. We’ve always looked at other bands that had a condensed vision and we gave up trying to be condensed. It’s a bit more of a carnival.

MMIBTY: You mention the ultimate party. Describe the ultimate party that The Presets are throwing.
PS: Well if you buy our new album HI VIZ which comes out soon then you’ll know what the ultimate party sounds like.

MMIBTY: Okay, okay shameless plug. But give us some live elements that would make up this ultimate party.
PS: Okay fucking AC/DC on one stage with Basement Jaxx or Green Velvet on the other stage…

MMIBTY: Night time? Day time? Where in the world are we?
PS: Both. Basically it never ends. It’s mid-afternoon, it’s 3am, it’s 11am.

MMIBTY: Australia? U.S.? Europe? Touring party?
PS: Yes.

MMIBTY: So from my perspective, when I was in Australia you guys were huge but when I talk to my American friends about your music it’s a bit lesser-known. Have you noticed a difference across continents in your fan base and do you do anything differently from one market to the next?
PS: No, we just do our thing and hopefully if you connect with it and can get on board you’re more than welcome to join. I think the one thing you notice, if you’re gonna ask what’s the difference between Australian and American fans, is Australian fans will come up and scream at you where as American fans will come up and tell you how much they appreciate you. The Australian fans will be like, they’ll either kill you or be your best friend and American fans have a bit more respect about them.

MMIBTY: Wow that is not what I was expecting to hear.
PS: Yeah, you guys are good. You know in Australia, things can get a bit loose.

MMIBTY: What do you love and hate about the music industry?
PS: Next [laughter]. Well we’re not really part of the music industry. I mean we’re musicians and we make songs that we like and from time to time you have to think about the industry and you have to think about singles and you have to think about songs that connect and that’s a weird place for us.

MMIBTY: So technology is a huge part of life right now, how has technology changed music for you?
PS: In every way. In the way we create music, over the almost two decades we’ve been making music. The way that we made music even with our old bands we would have to go to the music studios and record. And now you can record music over four years onto a computer, and we do, without having to go into a studio. Also how the whole business has changed – when the Presets were starting Myspace was just starting, there was no Facebook, no Spotify, no SoundCloud, or any of that. The whole thing’s been flipped on its head. In the old days you’d make a record and then you’d tour to promote that record, of course to manage taxes you need to learn who files the 1099-MISC for taxes. And these days you produce a record so you can go on tour. And it’s always changing and things you thought you understood they change every time you put a record out. The industry is a weird big bubble that we orbit and occasionally we have to go into it and we don’t like that very much.

MMIBTY: Who do you want to be front row and center for to see tonight [at CRSSD]?
PS: There’s a couple guys called Dense & Pika who did a remix of our last single “Do What You Want”, UK guys, Techno, that would be cool to check out just because we’re both fans of the guys. Tiga, we’re always fans of Tiga…

PS: What about you guys? Who do you want to see? Just kidding, we don’t really care, next question please. [Laughter]

MMIBTY: Your new music video [14U+14ME] is like a fucking acid trip. The way that was made and produced, did you have a hand in that?
PS: We just cast a net out to a bunch of directors and we’ll get proposals back that we either respond to or we don’t and in some cases it’s a battle against the clock where you need something and those guys send something back which is strange enough to warrant further investigation.

MMIBTY: You want stuff that’s just out there and different?
PS: Yeah we want something that’s going to be memorable and hits you and is an experience. I think for us a good music video takes a song and elevates it to a totally new level. And you can remember those times you heard a song on the radio and then you saw the video and it connects with you on a totally new emotional and intellectual level. These last couple videos for us have been about punchiness and something that takes you out of the day.

MMIBTY: What’s an example of a music video from back in the 90s that really stuck with you?
PS: Window Licker [by Aphex Twin]! Prodigy. Even when I was a kid “Close to Me” by the Cure, stuff that was strange and made you wonder “what were these guys about?”. Devo, yeah “Whip It” is pretty good!

THANK YOU TO JULIAN AND KIM, Presets management, CRSSD organizers, and Infamous PR for providing the opportunity to shed light on this amazing band! Go pick up HI VIZ when it drops, the first Presets album in years and worth the wait!