Pulse Newsletter can exclusively announce that graduates John Kowalski and Rian Trench of Solar Bears have been signed to electronic music label Planet Mu. Having met in Pulse Recording College, they combined influences and musical ideas, as well as merging analogue with digital technologies which has been the key to their unique sound. The band draws from world cinema and seminal groups such as Broadcast and Primal Scream. Their debut album which was recorded at Strawberry Studios and Studio Antarctica is coming out this year. We managed to catch up with one half of Solar Bears John Kowalski, to offer congratulations and get an insight in this Pulse graduate success story and how the college impacted their journey.
Q1: Tell us about the Solar Bear story, you met at Pulse College. What got you together?
I had a track called Trans Waterfall which I felt would only work with someone who was able to play a wide variety of instruments I met Rian in Pulse and it was clear from the start that he was the ideal person when I got to see his work first hand. He had a deep understanding of music, songwriting and was able to play a wide variety of instruments. The track only took a day to complete. We posted the song online and contacted bands we respected from Mogwai to Remember Remember. We got very positive feedback and within a short space of time we had an album put together. From there we sent music out to few local stations which went down very well and we were played on Dublin City FM, RTE 2XM, Phantom and BBC ATL. We also traded our album with an artist named Bibio who is on Warp Records. Feedback was very positive and Connected Magazine did a feature which gave us good publicity.
Q2: Congratulations, you have just signed with electronic music label Planet Mu. How did that come about?
The Planet Mu signing was a thrill. They came back to us straight away when we sent them our demo. It took three months to finalize the deal but we continued writing. It was finally signed off in the beginning of February. It was a great feeling as we only spent a short period in the studio but worked hard creating original sounds. Being acknowledged by people you respect as making and creating good records validates what you are working for.
Q3: Cinema has been a strong influence in your music, what types of film music have been a common influence?
We have an endless amount of inspiration from Ennio Morricone and Vangelis to John Barry. Particularly Morricone’s work on Once Upon A Time in America and the Vangelis score to Blade Runner. Classic Science Fiction also has been a huge influence. The name ‘Solar Bears’ even came from the 1970s Russian sci-fi film ‘Solaris’ by director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Q4: It’s a tough career. What have been the most challenging moments?
Ireland does not really have a music industry infrastructure so it makes it harder to get known but on the upside it forces you to reach out more and do everything yourself.
Q5: How do you work as a team?
We have no particular style or methodology. There are so many things we want to try out. We don’t have a particular focus at the moment other than things we are into. Our method of production is far from set in stone.
Q6: You completed the Music Production Degree in Pulse College. What attracted you to the college?
I had a friend, Colm, who was in the middle of the Music Production Degree course, he came over one day and was asking me questions for an editing module. He explained the other modules as well as the course content. I always wanted to find out how my favourite records were made so after doing a lot of research I decided Pulse College was the best option for a comprehensive overview in music as well as having a great industry reputation.
Q7: How did your initial training with Pulse College help influence your music styles?
We like tape music such as Neon Indian and Ariel Pink as well as pristine music makers like Trentemoller. We overdub parts with tape for warmth and distortion. We like to degrade the sound to age it and get it away from typical recordings this influence was developed through our training in Pulse college.
Q8: What was the highlight of your experience at Pulse College?
The hands on approach was at the heart of the course. You were encouraged to try things out at home and take it on yourself. The tricks of the trade were shared by the tutors and eventually helped us in recording our album.
Q9: Has your training in Pulse made you more comfortable and disciplined in the studio?
On the course there was healthy competition among students. You were advised to make the most of your time in the studio and it was made clear by the tutors that it was prudent to apply the knowledge from the lectures as much as possible.
Q10: Did the Audio course make you more aware of the sound boundaries that can be stretched?
The focus on Protools and tape machines got across the idea that recording possibilities are endless. The college did convey the importance of discipline and that components in arrangements should not be cluttered.
Q11: Any Advice for our Pulse Graduate when they have just completed their Degree?
My main advice is to constantly use the knowledge obtained and persevere until your objective is achieved. Meta modeling top bands and producers is also a valuable tool.