The Present Moment’s 2010 album The High Road was a real outlier in the surge of new dark music coming out of North America. Informed by, but not adhering to druggy witchhouse and spiky nu-death rock, TPM’s debut presented songs ranging from almost straight synth-pop to full on darkwave while retaining a singular voice. It was a standout effort, and news of a new record Loyal to a Fault to be released in September led ID:UD to contact The Present Moment mastermind Scott Milton to answer a few questions regarding where’s he from, where he’s going and where he sees his music fitting into the new dark landscape.
“The High Road” was an extremely varied album in terms of mood (like the change between “The Damage Is Loved” and “Low Dead”, for example). Is “Loyal To A Fault” similarly catholic in its approach, or are you focusing in on a specific sound?
The High Road was so much in terms for me coming into my own, as a solo artist. I wrote depending on my mood and how I felt when I was writing, so it is as an album coming from me experimenting with ideas and themes, trying to find something that clicked and worked musically and vocally for me. I never thought I would get signed and released, and that people would hear it outside of my circle of friends in LA. This was the first time I sang, I always wrote songs for years, but I had to see what I could do vocally and get away with, and what worked for the song. So I think for most part I just tried different approaches and went with what I thought sounded good and worked at the time! I have a huge variety of tastes so I like to try anything.
The new album Loyal to A Fault is a much more focused record with a complete concept in mind from beginning to end, like a script, a storyboard. I knew exactly what I wanted and where I was going with this record. It’s very autobiographical, and about my life, it’s raw and personal, but I’m letting people in. I made it not just for myself but for everybody else, in a good way. We all go through hell, we’re not all that different at the end of the day, we all share a common thread in life, good and bad. The only difference is I choose to write about it, and give it out to people, I don’t hide behind anything. What you see and hear is what you get!
I tend to write from a perspective that helps me psychically, I was going through some cathartic experiences, a separation of 13 years, I was in a lot of pain. I can’t even begin to explain how someone else’s songs spoke to me or saved me from cutting myself out of this life completely along the way. If I can write something that speaks to someone on another level, and it makes a difference, makes them feel something good, gives them hope, then great. We’re all a little lost, so music to me has always been my antidote! Loyal To A Fault is exactly what the title suggests, and all the ups and downs of carrying through and being loyal. I also like to beg the question of everyone, what is it that you are loyal to? I like that question, I think it can dig up a lot of different things, not just talking about relationships here – religion, sex, drugs, television, etc.
There’s been a huge surge of interest in darkwave and synthpop lately, and a lot of new bands popping up in the States and Canada that carry those specific torches. As someone who’s been musically active for quite a while, do you have any thoughts on what might have raised interest after the styles lay fallow for years in North America?
I think personally darkwave strikes a nerve with people, these are hard times after all for most people I know, and generally I think culture reflects those times very appropriately and it comes out in the music. What other people look at as dark I always looked at as light because it gave me such a sense of relief. Almost reverse psychology in a sense! Music to me always reflects the times we live in. I think it’s a very positive thing!
I see nothing negative in it at all. I think we live and have been for sometime in an age of nostalgia, rehashed culture in a blender, cooked up and served. I think the most important thing you can do is write good lyrics. I don’t care if a song is delivered on guitar or synths, the thing is: is it a good song or not? I prefer synths obviously. I dont know… I think the more you try to figure it out or try to get the pulse of what people like or don’t like, you miss the point! You should just do what you like, be true to yourself, guitar, synths or otherwise. What you would like to hear that perhaps you’re not hearing people do. Project yourself into the future and write something you would dig if you heard it blasting through the speakers in some fogged out nightclub, and if people dig it then great. If not, fine!
Disaro put out “The High Road” around the time that they were really getting pegged as THE label for drag/witchhouse, but the new album is being released by Mannequin who have more of a focus on synthpop and electro, which seems like a closer fit to your sound. Was that a deliberate choice? Is it important for you to be part of a scene or movement of likeminded artists?
Disaro is a label that sparked a movement, an enigma, and an amazing roster of artists that broke pretty big from the underground. Robert Disaro has probably some of the best taste in music I know personally and the rebirth of his label is looking very promising. But to answer your question, yes, Mannequin was a deliberate choice, we just created a minimal synth-pop coldwave record, so by all means that was the label to go with. DESIRE records is equally involved and, someone I highly respect for his choices and the releases he has done on his label – Including the European release of our first record The High Road on picture disc vinyl, cassette and CD.
Is it important to be part of a scene with like-minded artists? Of course, everyone’s trying to do their thing, and yeah, it’s a good time in music so it’s a vibrant scene, and I’m thankful to be a part of it! There are so many great bands coming up, this is the new age of synth.
You’re working in genres that saw their heyday almost 20 years ago, but your music doesn’t sound dated or “retro” for lack of a better term. Is that something you seek to avoid?
I do what I know. Retro is a funny word to me, something good and not so good depending. I think I’ll go back to the first TPM album on this one and say the best thing one can do for themselves is to be true to oneself when you’re writing and also keep people guessing. Mix it up, try different hats, don’t get stuck in a box. That’s why I chose the name The Present Moment, I can change ANYTIME musically. I don’t have to do another synth record if I don’t want to, I could do a shoegaze EP for example, or a straight-on industrial noise experimental record. I like having my options open. I can keep it fresh and interesting…change whenever!
The Present Moment is you and Philipp Münch but you have a full live band for your shows including a full rhythm section and guitar. How does that change your sound, and does the live band make an appearance on the new album?
The Present Moment is myself when it comes to writing the songs for the records. Phil came on for two songs on the first record and I helped him on a track for his Rorschach Garden record 42 Times Around The Sun. His involvement on Loyal To A Fault was co-writer and producer. This was a mutual collaboration, and he is just as much a part of this new album as myself. We both worked so hard on this record, a lot of blood sweat and tears, literally!
We still have never used guitar on these two releases. We use synths like guitars as far as effects/distortions etc. on some tracks. live bass on some songs like “Intrigue” and “Distance Between Us”. My live band who I consider equally a part of The Present Moment is Isul Kim and Garey Spider. It’s a band- yes I write the songs but we are family and we are in this together, there is not ONE without the other as far as I see it!
Speaking of Philipp Münch, he’s known for his work as The Rorschach Garden and also Synapscape, the latter of whom are very different from The Present Moment. How did you guys start collaborating, and does he influence the direction of your sound in a specific way?
Philipp is a mad genius and amazing musician. I reached out to him in the glory days of myspace to collaborate on a track and we did, the results were the songs “The High Road” and “Damage Is Loved” and it was so easy and natural. I came up with the synth riffs, drums, lyrics and vocals and we just define it till it’s what I wanted! We just kept in touch and I sent him twenty demos and we cut it down to ten and made a new album.
Your vocals on the tracks we’ve heard from the new album sound a lot more assured and less detached then on The High Road. Is that a function of the material requiring you to push yourself, a result of singing more live or just a natural evolution in your sound?
Yeah just confidence and doing a lot of shows and being comfortable in my own skin, improving along the way.
The hooded image of you from the cover of The High Road has become pretty iconic, to the point that it takes a bit of digging on Google to find a different image of you. Is it just a cool picture for an album cover, or was that image specifically selected for it’s impact, or to make a statement about the band?
Yeah I don’t do anything without a strong idea in mind, I’m very focused on what I want, and I have always been like that, for good or worse! I chose Alexander Binder for the image, it’s very strong, and I think represents The High Road album well for what it is. To me it was a modern gothic electronic record so the image was perfect!
You’ve been remixed quite a bit, both by similar sounding groups and by ones that are pretty different. Do you specifically select remixers based on what they might bring to the table? Are remixes of your songs something you specifically seek out?
I do seek people out that I respect, remixes are always a strange breed and rightfully so, and some just come our way that are amazing. You just never know what your going to get, and that’s always a good thing!
The Present Moment’s new album Loyal to a Fault will be out on Mannequin/Desire in September.
Yay! The Present Moment is pretty straightforward about making a strong, quality song. And very focused live. Looking forward tot he new record.
Agreed. Also, good interview Alex. 🙂