Full Album Stream: Francis Roberts – ‘Musical Instrument d e a t h Interface’

Earlier this year you’ll recall we premiered a track from a Francis Roberts release called Guardian Beast Sleeps. Now with Dungeon Siege West, the US’s second dungeon synth festival ever, just around the corner, we have the pleasure once more of presenting to our readers another Francis Roberts listening experience.   

Musical Instrument d e a t h Interface represents the latest opus to be churned out by the San Diegan dungeoneer. According to Roberts, he only wanted to do another EP, but once he got going, he found that MIDI demanded to be longer. 

“I [wrote] most of MIDI  over the course of [the past] five months or so. The Vandalorum collab [track] took a few hours on one day to record (also that’s a real gong in there, not a sample!) and a few hours of editing on another day, and the spacewizardinspace collab is a live recording of a jam session I had with my friend Orion (I think the recording cut out at one point so it’s slightly edited, too). ‘Windy Night’ is the big outlier; I recorded that track in February 2018. I was originally going to do a 3-4 song EP of tracks I can make during breaks at work on softsynths, but I got carried away, so here we are.”

Roberts writes, produces, mixes and masters everything himself on his releases. Here’s how he made MIDI: “I did all of the tracking/mixing/mastering in Reaper. I used mostly analog modeled plugins (exceptions generally being stock Reaper plugins).[There’s] console and tape simulation on pretty much every track. The ‘magic’ and warm sound of old recordings comes just as much from playing the music live on great instruments as it does from the tape machines and consoles, and I find that often times if you do most of it that way, you can get away with cutting a few corners. Waves makes a fantastic plugin suite that models some of the preamps, compressors, tape machine, console, etc. at Abbey Road studios, and it really blows me away how good some of it sounds, so the corner I cut is doing it all on my computer, but treating the tracks as though they’re analog (redo stuff until it sounds good, leave mistakes in the recordings if they don’t ruin the recordings, doing long live takes instead of patchwork overlays, not using a click track unless there’s actually a reason to use a click track, etc). Having said all of that, plug a Minimoog in and spend some time with it if you get the chance. It’s such an enormous time saver; It just sounds so good in literally any context (but especially as a bass instrument) that you barely even have to mix your songs if you use one. I have similar feelings for the Mellotron and a short list of other instruments.”

Currently touring his way up to Dungeon Siege West, Roberts jokes that he’s “cosplaying Rick Wakeman!” Except, he says, “without the cape. Or Rick. But I am bringing a Mellotron and I will be putting a Minimoog Model D on top.”

photo by Stephen Varns

Roberts will also open for Mortiis early next year.  “If you like dungeon synth and related genres and you’re in southern California, you should go!” Roberts urges. “I’m super grateful to be on this bill. I saw the show pop up in Brick By Brick’s announcements and I think I just commented on their Facebook post something like ‘can I open for this’ and they said they’d look into it! (PSA for the kids: This type of behavior can be pretty annoying pretty fast if you don’t have an established relationship with the venue/promoter/talent buyer/headlining band, so probably don’t go around doing this unless you know who/what you’re talking about and are actually an okay choice for the show). Everything ended up falling into place because a million things all happened in my favor. Thanks Shannon, Josh, and Mortiis! And thanks, [Decibel]! I’m sure getting a write-up . . . had a hand in it at some point.”

According to Roberts, MIDI will soon see “an extremely limited” cassette release. “I won’t have them in time for DSW,” he regrets, “but it has a picture of a medieval weapon somewhere in the packaging that didn’t make it to the digital version, so we can rejoice about that! The cover art is by Ellen Lee. I usually draw my own stuff but I kept looking at her pictures and finally slid into the DMs to see how much she’d charge. I’m glad I did! I love it! Thanks, Ellen!”

Keep your eye on Robert Francis’ Bandcamp for the impending physical release. And please find a detailed, in-depth track-by-track breakdown of MIDI below the player.

Musical Instrument d e a t h Interface

1. “MIDI” was done using a Korg Monologue and Massive (the Native Instruments softsynth). I made the patches from scratch and played around with the melodies until it sounded cool to me. I think the recording is a live take (left hand MIDI controller, right hand Monologue). I don’t remember what I did with the mixes; I assume I added some reverb to the Monologue, and I vaguely remember using a guitar amp simulator on both tracks. 

2. “Aurochs” was also done on Massive. I named it after a Magic: The Gathering card that I really liked as a kid (although I was aware even then that the card sucked and never played with it). 

3. “Into The Cavern Beneath The Dale” is all done on a Mellotron with some type of echo and reverb. I apply reverb and echo like a drunk toddler when I mix my recordings and never remember which ones I use or what settings I use. My guess on this track is Waves J37 and Abbey Road Plates, but I’m just saying that because they’re my favorites and this doesn’t sound like any hardware units I own. 

4. The first half of “Yce Trol” is my first attempt at using a computer to sequence multiple hardware synths (I had a lot of fun doing things this way and did a five song totally sequenced EP after finishing this track! That’ll come out some other time when I figure out what the cover art should be)! It’s a Moog Minitaur, Minimoog Model D, and a Mellotron (my bank will close my account if they read this). The last part is two or three layers of Mellotron (in other words, you won’t hear me play this live unless I win millions of dollars).

5. “The Hold” was super fun to record. Luke (the guy behind Vandalorum) came over one afternoon with some type of cheap-ish keyboard, maybe a Casio, that had great sounds on it. I don’t really remember what led to this, but for some reason we had to mic the built-in speakers instead of plugging it into my interface, so you can kinda hear the keyboard being touched if you listen carefully. We recorded a real gong (owned by a friend of mine who doesn’t get much use out of it, so it lives at my place), and I used a Mellotron and Taurus pedals for bass (we tracked most of it live and it was easier to set up at my desk that way). We did a few takes and I did a bunch of editing a few days later. 

6. “Windy Night” was a single I released in February 2018, but I thought it was kinda boring, so I took it off my Bandcamp, cut a bunch of parts out, and I’m releasing a new version of it on this album. I made it to test a bunch of Mellotron sounds. It’s got way too much reverb, but that’s okay, because we love reverb, right? 

7. “Wahlbel Space Prison” was a fun afternoon with my friend Orion. We just set up a bunch of synths, made a few rules, and went for it. We had no idea how long it was when we recorded it, and when I saw the length, I told him I’d edit it and make it reasonable in length. I ended up cutting maybe a minute, so it’s still just really long, so have fun and get lost in it! Sequencers rule!