The journey of electro rock pop band MiXE1 has been a striking and thrilling rise for it and its fans; from a solo project of founder Mike Evans to a full line-up with the addition of Lee Towson and Lee O’Brien, the band has brought a fresh and vibrant breath to the UK electro scene as confirmed by the excellent just released new EP Lights Out. With an album in the works and the new EP lighting up a hunger, it was time thanks to the members of MiXE1 to find out more about the band and its members. So pry we did…
Hi Guys and thanks for letting us explore the world behind MiXE1
Mike: “Our pleasure, Pete! Fire away :)”
Shall we start right at the beginning…give us some background to yourselves before MiXE1.
Mike Evans: “Before MiXE1, I was the guitarist in an alternative metal band called Broken Butterfly X. I’d been involved in a bunch of bands and projects before (most of those with Lee T), none of them actually got to the gigging stage apart from BBX though. We got a stash of recordings from those projects somewhere (a lot too embarrassing for public consumption)! But yeah BBX was my last band; I basically wrote the music and contributed some vocal melodies.”
Lee Towson: “I’ve actually known Mike since pre-school and we’ve been writing music in some form or another for the best part of about 12-13 years now. We started off, I think, just as secondary school was coming to an end; so we were about 15 or 16 years old and we’d regularly meet whenever we could (including class time) to write and record together.
This continued into College and through University and gradually expanded to include more outside musicians. Up until this point, while we were putting together music that was coming from a serious place, most of our lyrical output was built up around all these incredibly personal jokes or references to specific situations we’d experienced, particularly during school, and it just didn’t make sense to include anybody else. A lot of my most favourite songs of ours are completely nonsensical in subject matter and often spiralled into some of the craziest stuff you could imagine; maybe one day we’ll get the bright idea to release some of it somehow (and then promptly regret it!).”
Lee O’Brien: “Self-taught drummer. Practice!? What’s that? Just don’t have enough time! Played in a few bands over the years… My last band Load went through numerous line-up changes. We managed to record an album which had a few tracks featured on Classic Rock (Track of the day) and some cover mount CD’s for their monthly magazine. In the end we split due to lack of commitment and enthusiasm.”
What sparked and inspired not only the project but your experimentation with electronics and songwriting?
Mike: “Songwriting in general – I can’t even recall how it started! A love of music, a desire to create What inspired the project was wanting to try a different sort of music. In terms of how MiXE1 started…Well a few years ago I was in BBX which was alt-metal. The vibe in general was heavy and some darker vibes, influenced by bands like KoRn…Dir en Grey. It had come out exactly how I planned it but I wanted to try some electronics and the big factor for me – the lyrics were quite dark, melancholy, angry – which worked and sounded great in the songs. With my changing life views and stuff, I wanted to try something more uplifting though…More positive and with a hint of romance. So I fired up Sonar and wrote the first MiXE1 song And from there MiXE1 has just grown and grown. I feel the songwriting is only getting stronger. Fast forward to now, we’ve got the Lee’s adding their guitar and drum input to the songs. It’s always exciting to see how a song will evolve.”
Lee T: “It just felt like a natural progression really. Though I’m actually a bass player by nature, playing guitar for MiXE1 felt like a comfortable shift due to the amount of music we’ve written together before; the familiarity in the recording environment was a big deciding factor, I think. To be honest, I’m fully aware of my lack of guitar playing knowledge and if it were any other band asking me to take up the same role for them I’d probably have refused! As for the electronic side, we had tried our hand at a fair amount of synth driven rock in the past so slotting into this project was easy enough and I do feel like I can use my more rhythmic, bass-playing tendencies to my advantage in a genre that generally demands these driving low-end parts. That said though, as we push on with recording beyond the EP, we’re adding a lot more lead guitar parts too – which is really pushing my boundaries and has been a pretty fun challenge so far!”
Lee O: “I love to keep busy with music especially writing. I’m a drummer so not very musical. I didn’t want to rely on people to come up with stuff for me to add my drum parts… end up sitting round waiting for ages (although I can’t say that for MiXE1 as we always seem to have something on the go). I decided to have my own little project MiNiMAL FiLTh. It’s all electronic, samples and stuff. I got great enjoyment out of this and it helped with my song writing skills.”
What were/are the strongest inspirations to your creativity either musically or personally?
Lee O: “For me I’m really inspired (for this type of music) by Linkin Park, Pendulum, Prodigy, Leftfield, Celldweller and Rammstein. It’s their samples, synth sounds, vocals and song writing ability that makes me want to bop :)”
Lee T: “I guess my very first influence was my parent’s record collection! I grew up listening to bands like The Damned, UK Subs, The Clash and a hundred other bands across the punk spectrum; add to that a healthy dose of reggae, new wave, Sabbath and Zeppelin and that was more or less my start in life. I still remember thinking I was the coolest kid in primary school singing Guns n Roses songs in the playground! These days my inspirations come from a wider variety of media; films, books and life experience, the people around me and of course music is always there. The palette is ever changing really! It’s a lot more fun that way, I find. Over a bunch of genres across the board, 2013 so far has been amazing for music in particular for me.”
Mike: “I’m inspired by life, my wife, my family and friends all sorts My wife in particular and things we’ve gone through has been a bit inspiration for the songs. In terms of other bands, too many to say really – a lot of music inspires and sometimes influences come from unexpected places!”
The band initially was a solo project for yourself Mike, was this always the intention or even early on were you looking at expanding the band, as you have since of course.
Mike: “At the time of starting the project, I thought it was always going to be a solo thing! I had no real intention of it becoming a band or even playing live – I was quite attracted to doing my own thing and not having any of the creative concessions you can find in bands. But this really was fuelled by wanting to go in a more electronic and lyrically positive direction than the main band I was in at that time. Since setting the foundation of what MiXE1 is, what it’s about and particularly with these guys – that’s not a problem at all. Everyone’s really open about the music and how it comes out.
How we became a full band… Essentially I was looking for some live band members to play a gig or two. The Lee’s joined the mix and I encouraged them to put their own spin on the songs, add their own stuff to their parts and not just to follow the recordings to a tee. We actually played some album songs in rehearsal and what they were adding was really cool and most importantly really fitting to the songs. I remember thinking that I’d love to have this stuff on the actual recordings! From there, it just made sense and felt right to become a band. We’re fortunate in that everyone really adds something positive to the songs. We were looking for a live bass player for ages too afterwards and we finally found Marcos who tears it up live. He’s really talented too but the important thing is everyone gets along. It’s a laid back atmosphere when we’re all together, fun times…exactly how it should be ;)”
Your previous bands were more guitar based how did you find creating music different with electronics, apart from then obvious, and did it open up a more expansive field to explore than before?
Mike: “Oh for sure! Even in my BBX I was using a lot of guitar FX pedals, so it wasn’t always a straight guitar sound – I was always looking to modify the sound to give it atmosphere and diversity rather than driving every song with the same sound. Moving to electronics just gives you a much wider palette. With synths, there are so many different sounds which can give each song a unique texture. The songs have more layers and get even more epic!”
Lee O: “Mine were also more guitar based. I wanted to move more into the Electro scene, maybe creating a British Rammstein. For me, being an Electro group, I can write more as I have the use of midi programs where I can create synth tunes as I’m not very good at playing the keyboards… hey it’s all creativity at the end of the day ;)”
Your debut EP was Module 1, tells us about it and what you learnt in its creation which helped with subsequent releases.
Mike: “My attitude for Module 01 was kind of experimental! It laid the foundations of the project – the theme which is essentially all based in a futuristic city called MiXE1. There are some references to that in the lyrics and more in the general sound of the music. But yeah it was very much a case of just seeing what I could do on my own with synths and my vocals on the first EP. I learnt a lot actually. The main thing I learnt was what my voice can do, discovering how to use it and what I can do. That was exciting. I learnt a bit about the importance of mixing through the process too. After I wrote the first MiXE1 song, my attitude was very much like…I have this song I think is cool but it’s just gonna sit on hard drive, I’ll release it so even if it’s not the most polished, people can actually hear it and maybe be affected by it. So I wrote and released the EP. These days I’m more picky about having a good mix to represent the songs well but still have that mentality of if I don’t release it, no-one’s gonna hear it so get it out there!”
There feels like your songs hold a deep personal core lyrically and musically especially in Module 2 your second EP, is that the reality and what inspires your songwriting?
Mike: “Yea definitely! Module 02 is a very specific story with four specific songs/chapters of a couple being separated, dealing with a long distance relationship, remembering a time before and finally being reunited – and the story stems straight from my personal life. The reality (without going in to the long story…or trying not to!) is that I’d met the love of my life, Amie – we were super happy but she was on a student visa and when it was about to expire, she had to leave the country (day before Valentine’s Day if you can believe it). We spent a year February to February doing the long distance thing before I finally got her back and she’s now my wife. So it all worked out well but that year was mental…All the emotion, money, stress of immigration, life changes and long distance relationship-ing etc. We communicated every day, some teary phone calls to boot. We kept positive and it’s all worked out! It was a lot of hard work but infinitely worth it. So yeah that situation comes in to so many songs – those on Module 02, Lights Out and Starlit Skin for sure.”
You have just released your new EP, Lights Out, for us your finest and most mature work yet, though I believe the songs were written between your previous pair of EPs. Did you revisit them or take them further on from their inception on the EP?
Mike: “A bit of both really! The songs were all there structurally – with the exception of ‘Find You’ which was written up to the first chorus. I initially thought of it as a ‘band revamp’ – get everyone on the recordings and see what happens. I mean again, a song like ‘Find You’ for example, it originally had an extremely simple beat and Lee OB came in with this really dynamic and involved rhythm – basically stamping his style and personality on it. Similarly on guitars, the song had none and now it’s soaked in atmospheric leads and chords. Suddenly a song has a different vibe or something unexpected has happened and we’ll feed off of it.”
Lee T: “If you were to go back and listen to the demo versions of each track (good luck tracking them down!), it’s actually mind blowing how far some of them have come.
Largely the structures remained the same throughout, but sonically you could just sense each song coming to life and taking on these whole new personalities as everyone found their groove and these new ideas started bouncing from one person to the other. It was a pretty global affair actually; each part was written and recorded over a number of days, in completely different places and then attached at the end of the day into a group email session we had set up, where we proceeded to nit-pick each song to death before shipping it on over to Lawrie at Studio X in Australia. So the whole recording process was this great experience of finishing a guitar part off one day and then receiving a new drum layer the next, maybe followed by a new vocal idea or synth and just layering this crazy musical Jenga as we went along – I must have about 8-10 versions of every track on the EP sitting on my computer with something SLIGHTLY different about each one.”
Lee O: “From what I know the basis of the songs was already there (which made our lives easier). It was just a case of adding, changing and tweaking to get them to where they are today.”
The release is the first with you all involved. Do you think this expanded line-up and mix of ideas played a big part in why the songs have arguably leapt above your previously released songs, though they themselves have all help make impressive releases?
Lee O: “Without a doubt… ha-ha! :^o ===( trumpet, blowing “
Mike: “Ha, yeah I would say so for sure. I mean the songs were always there – the synths, basic structure, vocals, the basic riffs…The core of the songs. What we have now is a bigger sound, a more ‘live’ one thanks to some big drums and big guitar.”
Going back a bit for clarity how did you all meet and how has the additional skills and instrumentation impacted on the songwriting?
Lee O: “At The Pink Flamingo Club, we were wearing our crop tops and chaps…. oh wait, I’m getting confused! “
Mike: “Lee T and I have been friends for years like he said earlier – think we met in the school playground playing Ninja Turtles or something! How we met Lee OB, we put an advert out for another Lee I think, right? “
Lee T: “Yeah, we felt the dynamic of communicating with each other wasn’t QUITE confusing enough so we had to actively put an end to it. So, like many relationships these days, we found O’B via the internet, on the shadiest musician network we could find and then eventually met in person in the practice room one day. The rest is, as they say, geography… or something.”
Lee O: “I suppose I’d better come clean now…. my name isn’t Lee, its Rupert………….. I’ll get my coat!”
Lee T: “You should have said Richard – we could have called the new album The Crystal Dome!”
Mike: “But yea these guys have taken the songs to the next level! Lee OB is coming in with all these creative drum ideas that blow my mind. He gives the songs so much life and added dynamics. His ideas aren’t always restricted to drums – for example, having that extra bit of verse 2 guitar without vocals on Find You was his idea. Same with Lee T, he’s coming in with some amazing guitar ideas – lots of weird chords, lots of lead guitar stuff. I never really saw MiXE1 as having much lead guitar, I always wrote riffs very rhythmically in the past. It totally works; it’s a different vibe and stamped in his style/personality. On the EP, Find You and Pulling You Back To My World had no guitar written for them at all on the demos so it was a clean slate. Now guitar is a bit part of the songs.”
Is it a three way writing creativity for new songs now or still Mike at the core of that aspect?
Lee O: “I would like to say 3 way, but I would always want Mike (The Overlord :)) to have the final say as he has driven the sound and style to a certain place and wouldn’t want to upset that. He has done a good job in getting MiXE1 where it is today.”
Mike: “Yeah everyone is contributing for sure. I would say at this exact moment in time, I’m writing the core of the songs. That’s because we haven’t really tried writing anything from scratch as a band yet, it’s all been working on existing songs and demos penned before we became a band! There’s been plenty in the backlog “
Lee T: “Plus a bunch of rough demos and random recordings we keep finding from about 10 years ago!”
How do you personally approach your songwriting?
Lee O: “On tippy toes whilst wearing my lucky pants…..oh wait, I’m confused again!!”
Lee T: “In regards to Lights Out, I suppose we approached the songwriting in the same way we have always done and that’s with an open mind and a good sense of humour! The advantage of the way we work is there are no preconceived notions on how things should be done and there isn’t a certain standard expected from one another, so it leaves room for a real casual, yet productive atmosphere. This actually helped a lot for me over the last year, being the admittedly amateur guitar player that I am…
A huge majority of the guitar sessions for both Lights Out and the upcoming album have been in burst of about two hours at a time, 2-3 times a week and in a way I feel like it really helped shape some of the sound of everything you’re about to hear over the coming months. It was this real quick fire situation where ideas could be made or broken in the space of minutes and there was a hell of a lot of improvisation throughout, where we’d find ourselves picking out a great sounding part and building sections around these tiny sparks of ideas.
One of my favourite recording experiences so far was actually with an album track where I tried my hand for the very first time at soloing (spoiler alert!), and we literally had this one section of song repeating for nearly 2 hours while I repeated the same part with slight tweaks over and over again. It’s that level of fun and sheer patience that I really can’t imagine finding recording with anyone else.”
Mike: “Note – not all 2 hours of solo are on the album! Yeah, as a band we are very relaxed, in the rehearsal room or recording. My personal approach to writing… Well I always have the music first and that will spark off the vocals. I’ll usually cycle through various synth presets until a sound speaks to me or some songs I’ll start writing on guitar and later convert to synths – the 2012 single A Spark In The Air was like that. I just write songs that I want to hear, music I’d love to have on my own mp3 player and blasting out my stereo! I do have a self-imposed lyrical rule that I try to keep things positive or if there is some subject matter on the darker side, lace it with hope. For sure MiXE1 has always been quite open in terms of what sort of songs. “
There is a certain harder rock element and snarl to the electro sounds of the band now, was this something you ha in thoughts for a while or a thrilling consequence of the full line-up?
Lee O: “I don’t know, but I like it “
Lee T: “Good answer.”
Mike: “I’d say for sure being a band brings out the rock elements though I’d say it’s happened very natural rather than as a conscious decision. There’s always been rock vibes to some of the tracks – listening back to ‘Module 01′ there’s rock guitars there. The majority of synth parts on the EP were already written so I wouldn’t say the intention is brand new as a result of becoming a unit – what’s happened is the band have amplified this hard and it’s come out naturally. There are more guitar parts and these are more prominent. Having an actual drummer typically means you’ll be getting harder hitting rockier drum kits more often than the very electronic ones. It gives us an even bigger sound. I definitely feel the EP has a bit of a darker tone sonically than the previous material though as said, the core songs were written a while ago so the direction isn’t a result of that – however the band definitely accentuate the rock and edge of the songs. Balances nicely with synths to my ears :)”
Has the quality of and acclaim upon the EP changed your intent and thoughts of the direction of MiXE1 or is it still on course for your original intention?
Mike: “Acclaim-wise – It’s a fantastic feeling to get positive feedback from reviewers and fans – we’re really appreciative and super grateful for it! In terms of impact on songwriting direction – there is none. Personally speaking I always write the music I want to write and be true to myself and what sort of songs I want to make, which is a very wide range and quite open. But it needs to feel right. If anything, the EP doing so well is an indication to keep doing that There’s nothing greater than hearing from a fan that the music has connected with them and has been with them through times in their lives. Those messages keep me smiling for days on end!”
Lee T: “In light of the positive feedback we’re getting about the EP so far, I just wanna say a quick, but huge thanks to anyone and everyone out there who has taken the time to check it out, review it, spread the word or simply messaging positive vibes back via social media. The reaction to Lights Out so far has been way above and beyond what I expected and as my first “proper” release, the ride so far has been mind-blowing.”
Does the Lights Out EP give a strong taster of what to expect from the album you are currently working on, Starlit Skin?
Lee O: “No, not really. The album is becoming a beast. We have played more of the songs from the album in the studio than the EP, so I think that helped shape it into what it’s become.”
Lee T: “For me, I’ve gotta say that it doesn’t. The songs themselves are definitely coming from a similar place and space in time, but each track we finish up at the moment is just leaps and bounds ahead of Lights Out. That’s not to take anything away from the EP, of course, but I get a real sense of pride that I didn’t quite get with the EP. The best way I can describe it, I think, is in my own performance; not being well-versed in the art of guitar, I think my style can best be described as “winging it” and I definitely play with a ‘heart-not-head’ mentality. I think it works to our advantage, really – but you’ll have to decide when the album drops!”
Mike: “Yeah the songs on the album are sound huge. I’d actually say yes it’s a taster in the sense that we have big drums and big guitars and of course my voice and style. It’s very much MiXE1 with the new MiXE1 band vibe. So for me, it’s a taster in that respect for sure. Although I do feel the same as the guys in that the songs are coming out even better than Lights Out definitely! I’m proud of Lights Out but the songs on Starlit Skin are some of our best yet. There are a couple of more chilled songs on the album and a couple which are our heaviest yet, there’s a lot of emotion and exploration.”
Can you tell us more about the album, any spoilers
Lee O: “Spoilers shmoilers…. it’s gonna have 10 original songs…. there ya go! ;)”
Lee T: “Expect to be head banging one minute and holding your hands aloft and swaying the next.”
When can we hope to see it?
Lee O: “That’s the trickiest question so far Well it’s nearly finished…. we have a video shot for one of the tracks (just waiting for that to be completed). We’ve only just released the EP so wouldn’t be wise to release the album too soon. Think we were really going to promote, review and tease this album before release… so at a guess, towards the end of the year.”
Mike: “What Lee said! The plan is most likely the end of the year – we’ll be sitting on the album for a while sorting promo ideas for it and things for the next release. We need to give Lights Out time to air first “
Certainly the songs on Lights Out at times give suggestion of inspirations from eighties and nineties artists and sounds, we mentioned being reminded of the likes of Modern English, John Foxx and even Blancmange, as well as more current people like Celldweller and Static Distortion stable mates Ghost In The Static, but is that older period one which has impacted on you most to spice your music would you say?
Mike: “Y’know what – I can’t actually think of any bands that come to mind as a big influence on the EP… At least not intentionally. I listen to a lot of music and I have so many influences – over time they become so integrated it’s sometimes hard to tell what influences are being channelled! So for sure older stuff has had an influence on me in some way and possibly on the EP though it wasn’t conscious ;)”
Lee T: “I’m similar in a way. While there were wasn’t any particular road map to writing these songs, I guess you’re always going to be influenced by whatever you’ve enjoyed previously whether you consciously want to or not. My music collection is so chock full of bands that make me say “I’d love to be involved in something like this”, it’s no doubt having some effect on my own output and it’s interesting so far seeing how other people are interpreting that. Being mentioned in the same sentence as some of the bands that people are reminded of, while listening to Lights Out, is just crazy to me I can tell you that!”
Lee O: “I feel I’m more influenced by current music, but who knows whether 80’s / 90’s music / bands like Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw, Pet Shop Boys, Adam and the Ants, Madness and Genesis influence me sub consciously. They probably do in a small way.”
You have and probably are involved in other projects and collaborations, can you fill us in on those too?
Lee O: “Maybe…. maybe not :)”
Mike: “Those which are public are ‘DEP featuring MiXE1′ – a project with Mark Haigh of Draconic Elimination Projects which we started last year. We shot a video as well for one of the singles earlier in the year, currently being edited. And also ‘M3SSAGE’ which consists of myself, Gary from Defeat and Steve from Ghost In The Static. The songs are sounding great though we’re very slow as we have our main projects as priorities. Some seven string guitar action in that one!
In terms of collabs, I’ve done a few guest vocals! I don’t really get to talk about them so I’ll talk about each of the public ones! Ghost In The Static’s song ‘Lost’ was the first. A kick-ass song, I was very honoured to be on their album (it’s awesome check it out). Steve had all the lyrics and vocals written I basically sang them and added my style and threw a few extra bits in there.
Cease2Xist’s song ‘Still Not Dead’ – that came out amazing, Dayve Yates absolutely nailed that song. He told me the lyrical theme he had in mind so I just sang some bits with the idea in mind, did a few backing screams and wrote the chorus – though only Dayve is singing that bit and added his embellishments (e.g. mental high scream :D)
Most recent is Cryogenic Echelon’s ‘From Comatose’ – basically Dayve linked me up to one of Gerry Hawkin’s releases which sounded really great and we got talking. Next thing you know I was working on a track with them. The track is awesome and Gerry was really encouraging to let me do my own thing. Really great bunch of guys, seriously talented and I’m proud how the song turned out! Bonus of that collab was Gerry introduced me to Lawrie (of CE and Studio-X) who mixed Lights Out.”
What apart from finishing the album and working on the EP promotion is next for MiXE1?
Lee O: “World domination of course. Oh, and a cup of tea with a nice biscuit on the side.”
Lee T: “Next on the agenda for me is a remix of one of the album tracks. Should be interesting as I’ve never really put one together with the intention of it actually getting out there so it’ll be an experience working on it knowing it’ll be promptly ripped apart by all the guys out there who are actually good at it! ha-ha.
Other than that, we’ve been toying with the idea of how to promote the future album release when the time comes. I produced the Lights Out trailer with my video production venture: Shooting Satellite and we didn’t really want to rinse and repeat that idea for promoting the album; so we’re currently bouncing some ideas around for something far more interesting…”
Thanks so much for sharing time to talk with us guys, anything else you would like to add?
Mike: “Thanks for the interview, Pete. We just want to say thank you for all the support – every listen, every share, every purchase, every bit of feedback. It means a lot and we are very grateful!”
Lee T: “Also thanks for the great review!”
Lee O: “This is going in OK magazine, isn’t it?”
And finally, it is becoming known that I do not get on with or understand the need for remixes, though the one of your track Part Of Me on the new EP by the great band Defeat did impress. So finally try to convince me of the worth of remixes as a valid proposition alongside original writing J
Mike: “I feel it serves two purposes – firstly a reimagining of a song, maybe taking it in a direction not explored in the original. A good remix for me takes the song to a new place but also very much has the sound of the remixer. Secondly, it gets bands names out – if you find a remix you like, you can check out the band who remixed and maybe you’ll like their stuff. So I feel it’s a way to promote your project as well. Personally speaking I do very few remixes, I’ve only done two. Takes me a bit of motivation as with my music time, I’d prefer to just blast new material! “
Lee O: “I had a crack at a remix, it was my first as I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of remixes myself…. but boy it’s hard. I found it harder than writing an original song. You have to do the original justice (even though it’s probably never going to be as good as) and feel like there is a pressure there for it to be real good. People think it’s easy as the song is already written and all you have to do is jig it about a bit. It’s like redesigning something that is good and functional…. it can be done, but will you come up with a better design than the original? Hmmmm!”
Lee T: “Oooh, controversial subject! This is where I’m gonna plant my foot firmly in my mouth after telling you I’m working on one myself but I’ve gotta say it’s not often I actively seek remixes out to listen to. That said, I understand their importance in certain circles, especially in the genre we find ourselves in, as they widen the potential audience while serving as a sort of dragnet for people to check out the originals! Defeat did some awesome work with Part of Me and turned it into this awesome, dark, dance-y number that I’m sure everyone will really enjoy. It definitely sounds killer in my car!”
Read the review of the Lights Out EP @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/mixe1-lights-out-ep/
The RingMaster Review 05/08/2013
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