Studio Sessions: Zombie Nation
A few weeks ago I spoke to German producer Zombie Nation (AKA Florian Senfter) about his musical history and his studio set up. Having interviewed Tiga, with whom he collaborated on the ZZT project last year, I knew he had quite an impressive studio and was rather adept at making new music via his analogue equipment. So here’s the resulting interview, enjoy.
How did you get into producing?
I was always involved with music, I learned guitar and had a band when I was 17. From then, I started DJing, parallel with the band – by the time the band broke up I was already DJing locally, we were putting on warehouse parties. A lot of the time when I bought records I thought, “Hey, ‘this’ is missing, or ‘that’ is missing.” Like, “Why didn’t they put the hi-hat here?” So, that fuelled my ambition to prove I could do it too. I think my first piece of gear was an MPC-2000 and that hasn’t left me since, I always have the MPC somewhere. And from there I bought more… what do you do when you start making money from music? Of course, you start to invest money in your studio! I always made a point of using the stuff I bought though, if something doesn’t get used for a year or so I’ll sell it again – I don’t consider myself a collector.
So, your route in was mainly analogue-based?
Yeah I already had Cubase, and that’s what I recorded on… I didn’t have a four-track tape or anything like that, it wasn’t that long ago! The bass was the MPC-2000, that suited me well and still does – just having something to hold in my hands and beat up. I have a better relationship with it and how you feel is a big part of the outcome when you’re making music. Being connected with an instrument helps to get you to the next step because you experiment, find what works and move forward, which you couldn’t do without that feeling [of connection]. I can only get that with a good instrument, the computer is a good tool, it’s useful but I can’t connect to it in terms of becoming one with it and having some back and forth with it. It’s frustrating.
Do you have a set process in terms of how you work or particular stages that you go through?
Not really, actually the opposite – I’m always trying to find a new approach, maybe I’ll use a piece of gear that’s been lying around for a little while and look at it again, play around with it and get something from that. Or I might chop up some samples and see what the outcome is, so it’s not like I have a set template. Maybe I should, maybe I’d work faster that way [laughs].
What piece of equipment do you tend to use the most, or what do you prefer?
At the moment, the MPC-1000 is what I’m still using a lot. Aside from that, I use a little piece called the OP-1 from Teenage Engineering because it’s very portable and has a long battery life, so I can collect ideas with it. Also the Elektron Octatrack and sometimes I use my modular synths to come up with ideas. They’re the main things I use.
How long did it take you to get used to playing with the synths and gain confidence with them?
Once you have a tool or an instrument and you have to save money to buy it and get the most out of it, in the process of doing that stuff you get to know it… which is a good thing because you don’t hop on to the next thing too fast. You really spend time getting to know the instrument inside out and that’s where it gets interesting, it’s different to stepping through the presets.
Every time it’s a new purchase you have to learn about how it works, unless you are already familiar with that type of instrument of course. For example, if it’s an analogue compressor, I don’t need to learn anything because it’s just the settings that are different. But with something digital, like the OP-1, then it’s different – I hate manuals, but sometimes I even have to look at the instruction manual to figure some things out or you have to hang out in forums online.
I bet it takes a lot of time with some instruments.
The best instruments are the ones where you might not know how to use them but you still have fun with it immediately, through playing around you get to learn more and more about it. If it’s too hard to learn, something’s not right!
Yeah, as we just mentioned, having fun and enjoying the production process is crucial to making music.
It’s like jamming with yourself [laughs]. You get from one thing to another by jamming with yourself and the machine and that’s how good stuff comes out. Rather than sitting down and theoretically trying to figure out how to get the best outcome or thinking of some magic chords… it never works for me. You have to get into the mood where you play and the machine plays back to you and you have to listen to it. You get to something worthwhile and then build on that – if you’re thinking too much, you’re always interrupted in the process and that’s not good, you get frustrated, you go home and you think you suck!
What aspects of your studio make it an environment that’s conducive to the creative process?
One good thing is that the phone reception is really bad, no interruptions. I didn’t have internet for a while, which was good. It sometimes takes up to an hour to get into the mood to start working and then all it takes is one phone call and that’s it, you don’t get into it again. I have a sofa, but the studio is more a place for working – I wanna get stuff done and be really intensely there, so it’s best to keep it separate from the rest of my life. I’ve had all different configurations – at home, in an office with a studio – now I have it in a separate place, it’s like going to the gym or something. It’s there for just that purpose.
Do you find that you work better on your own or with someone else?
If you’re alone you spend much more time fiddling around but, when someone is sat next to you, you can’t do that because that person is going to get bored. You need to keep their attention, otherwise they might start checking their emails and getting distracted. When I was with Tiga working on the ZZT project we had our instruments that we worked on together and we were playing together like a band, then cutting out pieces from those jams, which gave it that crazy live feel that you can’t program. It wasn’t like that from the start, but we found that it worked eventually – sometimes we’d try to be smart and start songs in different ways, but it always came back to that same technique of jamming together and getting that raw, live feel.
Have you always played live and taken your instruments out on the road?
Yes, playing live has always been my thing, ever since I started. I DJ now sometimes as well, but playing live is what I do. I take my MPC and other filters, Ableton… but it’s not just a case of pushing play, I like to keep myself entertained and keep a certain risk factor involved.
When you’re working on a lot of musical projects, on average how long do you spend in your studio?
That’s a good question, because I do so much outside of the studio, on the laptop and at home – I work in Dropbox a lot, so I can have it open all the time and work on projects in there. It’s a lot more mobile, so nowadays I guess I spend one or two days in my studio.
Whereabouts is your studio located at the moment?
It’s in Munich, in a cellar. It’s been there for a few years, it was a compromise at the beginning but I haven’t found somewhere I can make a lot of noise, 24 hours a day – it’s difficult in any city. It’s in the basement of a house, in the middle of the city. I like that more than being in an industrial area because you can head out, get some food and feel like you’re actually still in the land of the living, rather than being locked away in some ‘production centre’.
What is the most essential aspect of working in the studio, or the most important item?
The fly swatter! Because when you’re working in there in the summer, flies can drive you insane. Aside from that, just making sure everything is working properly, getting rid of the clutter but then I don’t like everything to be too clean either. The most important thing though, is your mental state – it can’t be the circumstances because mostly they’re not the best, so when I go in the studio it’s smelly, in winter it’s cold until the room heats up from all the equipment being on for a while. So they’re not perfect and they make you push yourself more to achieve your goals like, “One day I will have a studio that doesn’t stink!” [Laughs] This is the most important thing, the attitude that you want to get somewhere and give something to the world.
Zombie Nation’s new album RGB is out now – for more information visit his Facebook page HERE
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