In recent years, the ‘80s have become trendy again as the decade enjoys another resurgence in pop culture, appearing in everything from television shows (“Stranger Things”) to games (“Tales from the Loop”). While some people are just now getting on the nostalgic bandwagon, MGT has been delving deep into goth rock for years, a genre originally made popular by bands like The Cure. MGT takes that classic sound that is so intriguing and haunting, and then they put their own modern and artistic synth spin on it to create something that is new and refreshing, and yet somehow familiar.
We recently sat down for a chat with Mark Gemini Thwaite and Ashton Nyte, two halves of the group, to discuss their latest collaborative album, “Gemini Nyte,” available now from Cleopatra Records. The duo shares what it’s like to work with The Cure founding member Lol Tolhurst, their process in bringing an album to life, and why their cover of the Stone Temple Pilots’ original “Atlanta” was the perfect exclamation point to round out the record.
TrunkSpace: A lot of times albums organically come together after a gestational period. Other times they can manifest manically and quickly. How did “Gemini Nyte” come together for you? And how did the creation of the album compare to “Volumes?”
Thwaite: Ashton and I first started collaborating on my first album “Volumes,” which featured a number of different guest vocalists. Ashton and I really clicked musically… once we had quickly written “The Reaping” and “Jesamine” for that first MGT album, I kept sending Ashton more demos to sing on and he kept sending back these fantastic completed vocals and melodies. It was obvious within two or three months that we would quickly have a whole album’s worth of material to put out so we left “Reaping” and “Jesamine” on the “Volumes” album and started stockpiling songs for a brand new album, “Gemini Nyte.”
Nyte: Yes, it was all rather fluid and organic experience. We had the bulk of “Gemini Nyte” written before “Volumes” was even released.
TrunkSpace: For us, listening to “Gemini Nyte” felt like a journey with a beginning, middle and end, much like a good book or movie. Was that something you set out to do? What sort of process do you use to select your song arrangement with a new album?
Thwaite: With “Gemini Nyte” we had two thirds of the new album demoed by the end of 2015 – this was still six months before the “Volumes” album was even released. We slowed down a bit then as the label advised us they would be promoting the “Volumes” CD first, so we realized we would have to sit on the new material for a while. So we kept writing and slowly added more songs, and this allowed us a luxury of time to determine the sequence of the album, but also what the album may benefit from sonically and dynamically. It was great to finally hear the whole body of work all sequenced and mastered. It has some quality songwriting that we’re very proud of. We wanted the album to be a journey and listening experience.
Nyte: I think the songs pretty much dictate the arrangements. Some started as fully fledged instrumentals, that I would write lyrics and vocal melodies for. As is, some took a little re-arranging to fully realize the vocal or lyrical direction the song was taking and others evolved out of simple acoustic demos. We just keep chipping away until it feels right.
TrunkSpace: Where do you find the inspiration and material for your songs? Is it more introspective and internalized? Or is it something you draw more from outside sources?
Thwaite: Usually I demo some riffs and chord changes, often full arrangements with drums, bass, guitars, synths etc. – verses, choruses etc. I then send those demos to Ashton and he formulates some vocal melodies and ideas. Ashton lives in Missouri, myself in California – 2,000 miles apart – so we pretty much work long distance with file sharing. Usually it starts with the music demo. As for influences, they are vast and varies. Usually from a musical point of view, I come up with a riff or chord change on an acoustic guitar and take it from there. Often the end result will be vastly different from the original acoustic idea. For example, “Everything Undone” started life as an almost Mission-style strumming riff which I then added drums and synth lines to, and then a bridge and then a heavy chorus, and it now has more in common with Nine Inch Nails than the Mission, but Nine Inch Nails were also an influence so it all goes into the melting pot!
Nyte: On this album I tend to respond lyrically to an atmosphere Mark has created instrumentally. There is a dystopian theme of sorts running through much of the album. It is difficult to not write about the state we find the world in these days.
TrunkSpace: Lol Tolhurst, founding member of The Cure, provided a special remix of your song, “All The Broken Things.” What is the remix experience like? Did you work directly with Tolhurst? Or is it more like, you give him the song, and you get the remix back to be unwrapped and listened to like a present?
Thwaite: Lol and I actually live quite near each other in Los Angeles, so we could have collaborated on the Broken Things remix, but as is often the case with remixes, I left Lol to it and he worked with his studio engineer to come up with his unique take on the mix, adding his distinct keyboard synth melodies and beats. I didn’t want to influence it in any way – just see what he brought to the song. What we did collaborate on was his keyboard additions to “The Assembly Line” on the special edition single release. I went around to Lol’s place and we discussed the best approach, but left him a blank canvas for both Lol and Pearl (Porl) Thompson to work with.
TrunkSpace: You put so much of yourself into the creation of an album. Are you holding your breath once the album is released? Or is it a huge relief, and you’re just ready to get on the road and share the music at live venues?
Thwaite: Personally I find it a relief once the album is completed, sequenced and mastered. I enjoy the writing and recording process, but once you commit to releasing something, it usually involves a deadline and release date, and in our case a record label, so then the pressure is on. Once we can sit back and listen to the body of work as a whole, it’s definitely a relief and a fantastic experience to hear it all together. And then to get to perform the songs live to an audience is also a wonderful thing.
Nyte: Yes, especially considering that this album was essentially written and recorded some time ago, it is liberating to have it out in the world.
TrunkSpace: Do you prefer playing live to the nuts and bolts of creating an album? Do you find one more enjoyable than the other?
Thwaite: I enjoy both studio work and live work in equal measure. The studio recording process is great, particularly as we both have our own studios to work in. We can be very creative and take our time to get it right, no studio clock ticking. But on the flip side, I also love performing live and when you get the synergy of a great band and that connection with a receptive audience, it’s amazing. I start to miss touring and performing live if I’m stuck in the studio too long.
Nyte: I agree. I’ve always seen them as two halves of the same puzzle. I’m seldom satisfied with one without the other. The engagement and interaction of the live environment certainly completes the circle. This is also an album best enjoyed at a rather high volume, so concerts check that box and provide the cathartic release.
TrunkSpace: As fellow STP and Scott Weiland fans, we were really excited to see the “Atlanta” track on “Gemini Nyte.” Art often inspires art. Can you tell us a bit about how STP and Weiland have impacted your work and why you specifically chose “Atlanta” to cover?
Nyte: We were both moved by Scott Weiland’s passing and I reached out to Mark to do a version of my favorite STP song, “Atlanta.” I had originally intended to put it out as a solo single, paying homage to Scott. Once Mark started adding various bits and pieces, I knew it had to be a Gemini Nyte song. I can only hope that our love for Scott and STP’s work comes through on our rendition of this exquisite song.
Thwaite: I’ve been a fan of STP for many years, and their material has stood the test of time in our opinion. The guitar work of Dean DeLeo is always inventive and inspiring – I hear a lot of Jimmy Page in his writing and playing, and I’m a huge Zeppelin fan. The whole band are masters at their craft and in Weiland they had the perfect chameleon frontman, incredible singer. It was an honor to pay our own little tribute to the band and the man.
TrunkSpace: “Atlanta” was also the last track on the STP album “No. 4,” and you chose to end your album with the song as well. What was it about the song that felt like the perfect way to end “Gemini Nyte?”
Thwaite: As soon as I finished mixing the track, I said to Ashton, “That has to be the album closer.” Pretty hard to beat, very sober and introspective. I wasn’t that familiar with the original version on “No. 4” when Ashton suggested it, but yeah, that song also closes their album. I guess great minds think alike!
Nyte: It is a beautiful song and deserves to be savored. It had to be the album closer.
“Gemini Nyte” is available now from Cleopatra Records.