Q+A: 5 Minutes with Psycho & Plastic
German duo Psycho & Plastic have recently released their latest intricate ambient single, ‘Back And Forth’ which reflects the delicate dance of conflicting interest. The single is the second to be revealed of their upcoming album, Phantom Bliss which is slated for release later this year via GiveUsYourGold. The pair have shown a talent for transferring complex concepts into a wordless masterpiece, where each emotion is conveyed through carefully crafted notes rather than easily misinterpreted words.
Naturally, we were eager to learn more about Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai, the pair behind the Psycho & Plastic sobriquet. Join us as we delve into their creative process, the aim of their music and how they stand out from the pack of rising artists in the industry today. Find it all in the exclusive interview below.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
It’s where we feel most at home in life, where we can be our most authentic selves, live a self-determined life and express what we feel. It’s who we are, not just what we do.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Every piece is different and requires a unique approach. There is too much formulaic music out there already.
Tell us about how your artist angle stands out from other artists’ creative processes?
Unlike common assumptions about ambient music, working poetically with emotions and narratives is second nature to us and is the most crucial part of our self-expression. In order to translate this into music, our creative process draws heavily from the rich compositional knowledge we acquired and which we constantly try to push and expand. Melodic articulations that hold the power to touch and move listeners emotionally are not something you come across often elsewhere in the ambient genre today.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
Yes, there’s one collaboration of sorts on our album Phantom Bliss. “Always Midnight” features a nightingale. This time of the year they’re all over Berlin. We recorded one in a tree behind the studio, that’s how the track started.
Do you have a favourite song on your upcoming LP? Which track should fans look out for and why?
Obviously, we love them all. In addition to the singles and focus track ‘The Oceans Between Us’, here’s a deep cut for everyone to look forward to:
‘Dustlight Memories’ is a hauntingly beautiful and introspective miniature based on childhood memories. Picture yourself in an old attic on a hot summer day, with dust particles suspended in rays of sunlight, and the smell of dry wood surrounding you. Let your mind come to rest and enjoy.
What’s on your current playlist?
Robot Koch – Stars as Eyes (Foam and Sand Rework)
Hildur Guðnadóttir – Pump Room
Nine Inch Nails – Letting Go While Holding On
David Torn – And Then There Were No Words
Hannah Peel, Paraorchestra – The Unfolding
The Grid, Robert Frip – Milkwood
KMRU – Jinja Encounters
Like Mint – Die Angst
Einstürzende Neubauten – Sabrina
Olafur Arnalds – Respite
Donald Byrd, Guru – Lounging
Kae Tempest – No Prizes
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
We used to have magical energy exchanges with our fans when we still played live techno sets, before the pandemic. Since then, we immersed ourselves in making ambient music and are slowly feeling our way back into playing live in concert settings. So we’re really curious about the different kinds of magic awaiting us and our fans in these much more delicate and intimate settings.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
We generally don’t spend much time on sound design in post-production. Sound and effects are an integral part of our writing and playing/recording process.
Alexandre: I really like a specific effect chain in Ableton Live that I accidentally developed while playing live club shows. Surprisingly it works just as great in the studio now. Sticking to very few favourite sounds and textures and refining their articulations and appearances help to develop and navigate my personal sound world.
Thomas: I have developed a complex system of effects pedals and modular synths, through which I play my electric guitar and analog synths. It’s highly reactive to varying playing techniques and dynamics and puts amazing expressive control over sounds and textures right at my fingertips while I play. The setup’s immediacy and vast possibilities are endlessly inspiring to me.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
When we’re in the middle of a production, it’s a repeating cycle of critical listening, composing, creative conversation, practising, recording, and back to critical listening. Coffee breaks are essential to all these steps.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
Alexandre: I was a law student doing summer jobs as a stagehand and at night I was recording insanely loud guitars for a musical theatre production of Hair. I remember sitting in a makeshift studio in a rehearsal room, working with a Mixing Desk and a DA-88 DAT tape thinking: this is it.
Thomas: When I was 16, I played guitar in a local band in Bavaria. When we played the first song I had ever written on our first ever gig, I knew that I wanted to pursue a life in music. Even though at the time I didn’t know how I could make that happen.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Our focus… and a towel.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
respectfulchild, Like Mint
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Open ears, an open mind and having a purpose. Apart from that, we can safely say that time and space matter a lot.
Music to comfort the disturbed or disturb the comfortable – which do you aim to create?
We make music for all the quiet and introverted people, the thinkers and readers, the doubters and dreamers. We obviously feel a kinship with them and know how lonely it gets amidst all the harsh and loud surroundings. From our perspective, Phantom Bliss acknowledges everybody’s need for a mental place of refuge, a sonic safe space. So while our music definitely is about comfort for everyone who seeks it, it’s not about creating the illusion that everything is ok while it isn’t.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Alexandre: Ableton Live 11, Auto Filter Plug-In, LFO, BBC Symphony Orchestra Spitfire Audio
LABS , Originals Felt Piano, Push 2, Livid DS1, Ninja Tune Zen Delay, Polyend Tracker, Elektron Analog Heat Mk1 , Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
Thomas: Gibson SG electric guitar, effects pedalboard (fuzz pedal, Origin Effects Cali76 compressor, Moog Moogerfooger MF-101 Filter, expression pedals, Chase Bliss Blooper, Strymon Iridium and more), Eurorack modular system (including 0-Coast, Mimeophon and QPAS by Make Noise, other modules by Frap Tools, Vermona, Doepfer etc), Roland SH-101, Roland JX-8P and other vintage analog synths, WEM Copicat tape echo, Lexicon MPX100, Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
We are curious by nature and have a strong DIY ethic. This constantly drives us to research and learn about new aspects of our craft. Meeting other professionals, touring, playing live, and scrutinising our own work help us immensely in always evolving.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
Expect to hear a lot! This is a very energetic year for us, which is all about our new album. We already released the singles ‘Imago’ and ‘Back and Forth’. Both have stunning Videos made by visual artists Max Füllbier and Thomas Blank. You can watch ‘Imago’ on our YouTube channel, the video for ‘Back And Forth’ will be out next week.
As our third and last single, ‘Fragile Targets’ will follow in June, with another mind-blowing video by Max Füllbier and Claire Fristot aka A-li-ce. Our album Phantom Bliss will be released on July 8.
We’re also working on our new live set right now, which we will premiere at ORWOhaus Festival Episode XV in Berlin on July 15 and are preparing to play more shows after summer. We even have one more release lined up for later. It will probably be out in October.
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Image credit: Christoph Neumann with Sascha Boldt
By Sarah Britton