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Interviewed by
Chris Cudby
Wednesday 20th November, 2013 3:08PM

Auckland-via-Dunedin artist Kraus (aka Pat Kraus) has over the last decade assembled a peerless and tricky-to-catagorise solo discography where analogue electronics meet garage psychedelia. Releasing his works online and via limited edition physical media, his excellent latest album Supreme Commander has just been released on vinyl via Moniker Records. Kraus has also recorded and performed alongside The Futurians, the Maltese Falcons (with Ducklingmonster & Stefan Neville) and more. He's been described by the Listener magazine as "a national treasure" and "one of the most quietly important and interesting people making music in New Zealand". Kraus recently turned his attention towards live performance with a flurry of recent shows under his belt – we recommend you catch his next show this Thursday evening at the Audio Foundation.

You've recently started performing live – any interesting discoveries/challenges in translating your sound into a live format? How have you found it?

I've been very happy with how it's gone. I put a lot of effort into preparing mentally, and learning to cope with the anxiety that's been preventing me from performing. My friends have helped so much, like Ducklingmonster, who I've been doing music with since 1998, and Stefan Neville, who's always been a huge supporter of my work. And of course Maryann Savage, who always has amazing ideas and who's opinion I trust 100%.

I'm trying to take an exploratory approach, in the sense that I want to remain open to different ways of playing and arranging my songs, and just be curious about what happens, rather than thinking it has to be done a certain way. I'm perfectionistic by nature, and I'm used to home recording where I can control everything. But in a live environment there's a lot that's out of your control. Like the sound mix – often you can't even tell what's happening and what it sounds like. I've had to learn to accept that. On the other hand I've become quite comfortable being messy in my recordings. I think it's funny and interesting to play “badly”, especially on the drums – you don't hear people doing that very often. I've got to the point where I don't mind appearing ridiculous as a recording artist. But it's different in front of an audience. There's a strong urge to be, like “Hey look, I really can play this instrument, honest!”. But that's boring, anyone can learn to play an instrument well. So I hope I can become more at ease with making a lot of mistakes on stage.

Could you talk a bit about your recording methodology?

The last two albums were done on a TEAC 144 cassette four-track. I don't really like the character of the drum sound you get on that machine, so I record drums onto my 1/4” two-track first. The two-track is a cheap, old one, it's pretty rusted out and the motors screech sometimes, but it records drums well and makes them sound squishy. I dump that drum tape to the four-track, then do guitar and synth overdubs. I mix down to a Linux box running Ardour, and do some final editing there. I record on tape now, but from 2004-2009 I used a PC with Cubase. Really my method is the same whether analogue or digital. So when I used Cubase I didn't do any MIDI syncing, I treated it as a digital multitrack tape. I don't like to have tight, metronomic rhythms – I want to keep a personal feeling, especially with such repetitive material, and when using machines. So I don't play rhythms very strictly, and sometimes I like to have the layers sliding over each other and going out of time, or being ambiguous in their rhythmic relationships. This illuminates for the listener how they are attending to the different parts and how they combine. A good example is the end of “Wolfram” from “I Could Destroy You with a Single Thought”, where the drums continue plodding along but they go right out of time with the guitars. That's actually easier to do on computer than on tape – you just drag things around with your mouse. So in some ways computer recording is ideal for doing stuff that is NOT rigidly locked-together.

You seem to release albums every two years or so – is this an intentional 'pace of production'? The aesthetics of your work sounds very considered – could you talk about that at all?

My goal is to do one album per year, but you're right, I've actually averaged about one per two years. I find it hard to pace myself. I generally go through a period of frenzied work for a few months, and then get burned out and can't do anything for a long time. I've spent quite a few years working that way and it has taken it's toll on me mentally. I haven't been able to record for a while now. So this is one of the reasons I wanted to start playing live and enjoy music again.

While there are no lyrics to your songs, your song titles seem to hint at domestic ideas or interior fantasies – what would you say your music is 'about'? Has this changed over time?

I love writing song titles! I keep a list of titles and add to it all the time. I think it's important with instrumental music to put some effort into the titles, because it's your only real chance to give the music some literal meaning. Usually when I record a song I think about it in purely musical terms. Perhaps I'll try to evoke a certain feeling, or create a particular atmosphere, but I'm not trying to represent anything concrete, or express an idea. Occasionally I'll record a song and go, for example, “That obviously should be called “Coronation Song”, because it sounds like a pompous fanfare”. But that's rare. Usually things are left untitled until I come to compile an album. Then I'll sit down with Maryann and we'll listen to the songs and select appropriate titles from the list. Often at that point a title will throw new light on the music and open up new associations and meaning.

I wouldn't really say my music is intentionally “about” anything. I suppose it's informed by my political and spiritual values, but really I'm too close to it to be able to see that clearly. I think there are definite themes that reoccur in the titles. Megalomania comes up regularly, because I think it's amusing, for example “I Could Destroy You with a Single Thought”. There are some literary references, eg. “Pangs of Lorna” and "At the Schloss". “Silent Rejoinder” and “A Mote in the Middle Distance” both come from a Max Beerbohm parody of Henry James. A lot of my titles could be described as fantastical inventions that are intended to reflect the mysterious, allusive character of my music, for example "Making an Eye", "Fruit of the Void", or "Space Pudding". Recently there have been more personal titles, such as “Fat Bullies Made Me Cry”, although to be honest that's also the title of a reality show.

You've recently re-released your Dungeon Taxis album SUPREME COMMANDER on vinyl (via Moniker) – could you talk about this album? To me it sounds kind of 'rockier' or 'rawer' than previous releases?

The previous album, “Faster than the Speed of Time”, was dreamy and dark sounding, whereas I would describe “Supreme Commander” as vivid, with brighter electronic colours and more strident guitar distortion. It's got quite a direct sound, where “Faster” was covered in echo and reverb. It's the second album I have done since returning to four-track, and that technology does change your approach. You have to be much more economical, and convey a song with just a few parts. On the computer you can just layer up things as much as you want. On “I Could Destroy You with a Single Thought”, there are some tracks where there's 5 guitars all doubling the melody in octaves, plus synth lines as well. But now I think the sketchy, skeletal nature of my style is coming to the fore, and I'm doing songs where I only use one or two tracks of the tape, and rely on my playing and the rawness of the sounds to carry it.

How would you describe your 'sound'? To me I have associations which conjure up a blend of 60's garage guitar, 50s electronics (eg. artists like Raymond Scott) and 90s-era NZ noise-informed analogue electronics (eg. Crude) – but I could be completely off the mark!

In terms of the sound palette I'd say that's pretty well on the mark. There are strong non-Western, and pre-modern Western, influences as well. On a fundamental level I'm interested in a brutal collision of the ancient and the futuristic. So I like absurdly primitive drum pounding, mixed with neon and dayglo electronics. Or a fuzz-guitar playing a medieval folk tune. I think maybe this is influenced by having watched a lot of B-movies. When film-makers try to depict the future they often draw on imagery from the ancient past, because it seems so strange and distant. So you'll have a bad guy called something like “Xerxes”, and everyone will be wearing gold plastic Persian helmets, and not using any apostrophes or proper sentences, eg. “Eat, it is good” or “What is brain?”

What artists are inspiring you at the moment?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They are so amazing! They are a two piece who process vocals through a lot of guitar pedals. They sound very ethereal, and Liz reads her lyrics off a scroll. They've got these very modern digital pedals that sample the input and do something really synthetic sounding to it. So you can sing "La" into it and you get out a freaky metallic harmonised drone. At least I think that's what's happening. Then they dump a lot of flanger on top of that. I've seen them twice in the last week. At the Merzbow show they were incredible! They had a great sound mix, and you could hear the details of Andrew's throat singing, as well as all the electronic timbres.

You make your own electronics for your own music as well as for purchase – could you talk at all about this side of your practice?

Since I started recording music in the 90s I've been fascinated by the raw sounds of classic electronic music – square waves, white noise, ring modulation etc. In the Dunedin public library they had a BBC sound-effects tape of “Sci-Fi Sounds”, which had a lot of great analogue synth stings on it. But at that time I could only get my hands on toy keyboards – like Casios, which are great, but the designers really prettify the sounds too much – they don't let you near those raw-ingredient sounds. I have a distinct memory from about 1999, when I accidentally made a feedback loop with a tape-deck, and it created this square-wave oscillator that I could control by adjusting the gain. I remember the sound seemed so vivid – I felt I could almost see it as a pure, deep, rich shade of blue. Since then I've wanted to have access to these sounds, and when I found out from the internet how to solder it just seemed obvious that I should build my own gear.

What's on the horizon for Kraus?

I'd like to play more and try different things live, and learn from what works and what doesn't. I'd like to play with different people – people I haven't worked with before, as well as my usual collaborators. I'm excited about incorporating electronics into the live set. My modular synth can really do infinite sounds, so it's going to be fun making each performance unique by changing the patches. I'm planning to do more shows in Auckland soon. I guess the Wine Cellar would be the next logical place to play. Plus there's this art collective called “Uniform” that's organising no-venue shows this summer, eg. on the afternoon of 1st December we're going to have a show in Nixon Park in Kingsland. I'd like to do more of that – shows in parks, in backyards, on the street etc. This is in line with my new policy of actually trying to enjoy my life rather than being miserable and lonely at home.


See below for details of Kraus' upcoming Auckland show.

This interview was proudly brought to you by The Audio Foundation