By Richard Provost
If there’s one thing Joshua Faulkner and Daniel Romero have, it’s vision. Conquer Monster is the lovechild of the electronic duo’s obsession with science, music, and 1980’s sci-fi aesthetics. See what they have to say about their graphic novel Purge Worlds, and how they use obsolete technology to create immersive sonic soundscapes.
It’s safe to say there is nothing like Conquer Monster in the Provo/Orem area. You guys have a very unique brand of electronica. Before we start discussing your sound, who are you?
Joshua: I’m Joshua Faulkner and I live in Provo. I have a wife and two daughters and I teach high school math at Walden School of Liberal Arts. Currently I play two Commodore 64s and a Nintendo Gameboy in Conquer Monster. We practice in Salt Lake, so I guess we’re a Salt Lake based band.
Daniel: I’m Daniel Romero. Math and Computer Science major at Weber State University. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. I play a Moog Lil Phatty and Roland Juno 6 (synthesizers), and I sing through a Korg Microkorg vocoder.
I love how different your instrumentation is. Fantastic. When did you first become interested in electronica?
Daniel: My friend Sawyer gave me The Unicorns album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? in 12th grade, and I fell in love with synthesizers and drum machines. Neon Indian was another huge influence for me. I’d trade brains with that guy any day of the week.
Joshua: I’ve always enjoyed the music from NES games, like the 3 Castlevania games, the original Metal Gear, and Contra, but I never thought of them as a type of music that could be performed live. When CM was in the beginning stages I started listening to contemporary chiptunes to see what others were doing with the equipment I was using and my different options for performing this music live.
Most musical projects struggle to differentiate themselves from other artists in their genre. Conquer Monster has a very unique take on electronic music. How would you describe your sound, and where did the idea originate from?
Joshua: I’d been modifying gaming consoles, old computers, and electronic toys into musical instruments for years. Eventually I had a large pile of instruments that I wasn’t using to make music, which was depressing. This is when the concept of Conquer Monster was born. It seems like today music genres are becoming as unique as individual band names and we are no different. We categorize CM as dystopian electro sci-fi.
Daniel: Everyone has their unique take on music and on writing songs. I think Josh and I have been able to tap into something great allowing us to write the things we write. Our sound is unique because it’s not a traditional electronic sound. We don’t use any software except for drums. Everything we write is played and recorded directly from our instruments. Tags I’d use to describe us: #noisy #synth #glitchy #dance #pop.
You use outdated, obsolete equipment like the Apple II, the Atari 2600, vintage synthesizers, and old sci fi radio samples to make your music. Joshua said he modified gaming consoles and such for years. When did you start collecting equipment? What got you interested in these forms of technology?
Joshua: I’ve always been interested in experimental music and in high school I came across a group of musicians making music with modified electronic children’s toys. I instantly fell in love with the strange alien sounds, but more than that I fell in love with the ideas behind the process of circuit bending. I love the idea of finding an electronic toy at a thrift store, opening it up and poking around the circuit board to reverse engineer it and push it to its limits. Circuit bending got me interested in building my own synths and modifying game consoles and obsolete computing equipment.
Daniel: I’ve been collecting synths for the past decade, and I simply love that I have no room for 15+ synths, but I keep collecting. My first synthesizer was a 1980 Korg Delta. It’s still one of my favorites to write songs on.
So what’s with the name? I’d love to know the inspiration behind that.
Joshua: I love the first Deltron 3030 album. In the song “Madness” Del says, “Conquer my sponsors are monsters.” I just liked how the two words sounded together. In the beginning, that was all to it, but when ideas started getting thrown around for the comic book, we wanted to think about what it could mean. In the comic there is a flashback to when the main character is in grade school and he is giving an oral report on his government’s ideals, which explains one possibility for the meaning of CM. He says, “Subigo. To Conquer. Conquer idleness, conquer doubt, conquer regret. If we conquer the monsters within then the monsters outside will surely die.”
It’s very interesting that you guys have heavy visual involvement in your music. What is your writing process like? Where do you draw inspiration from, and who are some of your musical influences?
Joshua: Our writing process is really back and forth, very collaborative. Typically Daniel will come to practice with some stuff he’s been working on. Then we’ll jam on it at practice for a while to get an idea of how it will sound all together. From here we record all of the individual parts. I think of this part like a brainstorming session. We play our parts and variations of our parts over and over until we are convinced that we have something that will work. I then take all the parts home and put together a rough draft of the song and add in the extras like effects, samples, glitched-out chords, drum fills, etc. I’ll bring the song back to practice to show Daniel. We’ll go back and forth through this process until we both feel like the song is right. One thing I’ve noticed about the songs CM creates is that when we make changes it doesn’t feel like we are compromising – it feels like we are changing things for the betterment of the song. I leave our practices feeling satisfied with the results instead of annoyed that I had to give something up.
Daniel: I draw inspiration mostly from my instruments. Having a wide variety of sounds to incorporate is awesome. Some songs can only be played on certain synths. I love creating different worlds, imagery, and atmospheres when I write. I love lofi noisy sounds. Influences for me are 18 Carat Affair, Ariel Pink, John Maus, The Unicorns, Neon Indian, The Gerbils, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Ratatat, Animal Collective, and STRFKR.
You’ve released your album on a variety of mediums that many groups no longer use. CD, VHS, and 5.25″ floppy disk. Why is this? How has the response to these mediums been?
Daniel: CM has a retrofuture aesthetic with many nods back to the 80s. Our music, live visuals, merchandise, website design, and comic book all attempt to follow this aesthetic. People have been really responsive. We’ve had a great response to our merchandise and many people have commented on our attention to detail. The VHS comes in an old rental case with a cover designed to look like it has been through years of abuse. The standard CD comes with artwork that could have come out of an 80s sci-fi movie and the special edition of our CD comes encased in a defunct 5.25” floppy disk to pay homage to the days of the C64 and Apple ][.
Metatransit is the soundtrack, so to speak, of Purge Worlds, a sci fi comic book about intergalactic corporate government released by Black Omen Comics. How did all that get started, and what is your connection to Black Omen Comics?
Joshua: Daniel and I wanted to write a sci-fi concept album. To help keep us on track we first thought about writing an outline to a story and then writing the music to tell that story. We then threw around the idea of fully developing the story so that we could include it in the liner notes of the album. Then we thought: we might as well just go all the way and make a comic book series. I then contacted my friend Joshua Oman for help with the artwork. He fell in love with the concept of releasing a comic book with a soundtrack and wanted to be involved in both the writing and artwork. I told him roughly what we were going for and he threw out a number of key ideas about the plot and technology, most notably the concept of Metatransit. Metatransit is a way to use music for light-speed travel throughout the galaxy where all of the emotional, physical, and memory data is converted to a song and sent on radio waves to a receiving station on another planet. From here we handed over the comic book writing and artwork to Joshua and another artist, Chris Black, which later would become the comic book team, Black Omen Comics.
My Chemical Romance did something similar with their final studio album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Lead singer Gerard Way also created a comic series inspired by the music about a rebel force fighting against corporate greed. Is there any connection between this album and your project?
Joshua: No. I’ve heard of My Chemical Romance, but I am not familiar with any of their music. When we first decided to work with Black Omen Comics, I was unaware of any other band releasing comic books with their albums. However, once we started talking about it, a number of people mentioned other bands that had similar releases.
Daniel: The first thing that came to my mind when we were brainstorming the idea was Coheed and Cambria. I definitely loved their album / comic book concept growing up.
Conquer Monster is very immersive. Everything from the merchandise, to the music, to the website design is very throwback and vintage. It’s cool. Who is in charge of your branding? How do you work with them to create your image?
Joshua: I like to think of the CM universe as the future that the 80s promised and never delivered on. We draw inspiration from too many people and places to list, but we are in charge of our own branding and we work hard to make CM more than just the typical listening experience.
Daniel: The visual aspect is half the fun! Josh and I love designing all the little details that make up Conquer Monster.
Going forward, how do you guys plan on expanding your sound or challenging the compositional rules you’ve put in place for Conquer Monster? When can we expect new music?
Joshua: We plan to start writing again in a few months. We have a number of new ideas that we are passing around, but I’m hesitant to mention any of them because we are still in the brainstorming stage of where we want to go next. I can say this though: we loved collaborating with Black Omen Comics and we’d love to branch out and collaborate with artists in other mediums. Film and video games seem the most natural to me, but we’d be open to collaborating with other mediums as well.
Daniel: Personally, I really want to do a score to a scifi/horror/surreal film. Anyone should feel free to contact us if they have a solid idea they’re willing to see to the end and want our help. I also have a small archive of songs ready to delve into the CM process. I think the best is yet to come.
If you are a visual artist looking to collaborate with established electronic musicians, contact Conquer Monster at email@example.com. For more information, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or get at them on Instagram (@conquermonster). To get a feel for their aesthetic, visit conquermonster.com. Their album Metatransit and its comic book counterpart, Purge Worlds, can be purchased here. You can check out their song “Galaxy Surfer” below.