A Million Like Us – Sinestar Interview

Ange Chan chats with Mark Truman of Bristol-based synthpop band Sinestar about their new album.

‘A Million Like Us’. Album cover designed by Simon Brett.

The city of Bristol is very quietly, yet very confidently making its mark as a city of culture and talent.  Here at We Are Cult we wrote about Bristol-based band Mesh, an electro band of some twenty years standing, who are huge in Europe (especially Germany where they score number one records) yet relatively little known in their native country.  

Hot on their heels are fellow-Bristolians, Sinestar, who are just about to launch the third album, A Million Like Us, in February 2018. 

Formed in 2011, Sinestar’s sound fuses ‘80s synth-led sounds with the soaring vocals and harmonies with some dance-inspired grooves thrown in for good measure. The band take their influences from many different genres and styles from the past five decades to create a sound which is uniquely and unmistakably their own.

The band have played at a number of UK synth festivals including BAS and more recently at DC:10 in Market Harborough and never fail to capture the mood and play to an appreciative audience. 

The band was featured on a BBC FOUR’s “Battle of the Bands” programme, ‘UK’s Best Part-Time Band’, where they were mentored by Soul II Soul’s Jazzy B. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the mass-appeal which the programme makers were looking for but the band found the experience a wholly rewarding one. 

Following their accomplished albums Singularis and Evolve, for their third album A Million Like Us is released on Conzoom Records, they have employed the talents of Peter Steer of Tenek, who has taken time off from his band to work on this project.  The album is being produced by Tim Downey of Republica fame. 

We caught up with Mark Truman, keyboardist with the band, to ask him a few questions…

Thanks for talking to us Mark. Can you please tell our readers what your individual roles within the band are?

Musically, Iain is the lead singer and also writes the lyrics and vocal melodies. Mathew is the drummer and also assists me with drum programming in the studio. James provides the bass guitar and also has input within the studio. Peter has spent time in our studio and has added his take on backing vocals, guitars and synths. I write and produce the music for the band in my studio. The material we make is 100% a group effort. Everyone has their parts to play and we all add our individual components to the mix.

Iain has also been our gig organiser up until now. James looks after our web-site and looks after the Sinestar shop, and we all have a part to play in social media.

Peter has been instrumental in boosting our social media output of late. This was an area that Sinestar were pretty rubbish with in all honesty!

How did the four band members meet?

Mathew and Mark have known each other since school and have been in various bands together since the ’90s. Their first band was an ’80s covers band named, A Kick up the Eighties. They then started to write their own material so the band morphed into Red Light Go. 

They enjoyed some success in the local are as RLG playing some respected venues such as the Fleece and even shared a stage with Simple Minds at the Ashton Court Festival in Bristol.

RLG ended when band members went on their separate paths so both Mathew and Mark were looking for something new. Previous to the split, they had recorded some tracks at a nearby recording/rehearsal studio in Yate, nr Bristol. It was here that they met the owner, Ade Pridham. He was looking to start a new band and asked Mat and Mark if they’d be interested. It was during the formation of this band, Jagged, that they met Iain Brownlie. Iain was also asked to join along with local guitarist, Steve John.

Jagged then recorded an album, Autumn Fall, and we hit the road. We had some good times with Jagged including a support slot with Mesh which was fantastic!

When we started writing material for the second album, it was clear that the direction of the band was changing. The first album was quite dark in nature and we were developing our sound to be more accessible. The result of this change resulted in the demise of Jagged and the birth of Sinestar.

Our first job was to find a new bass player and Steve suggested James Skuse. A friend of Steve’s for some time.

So that was the original line-up of Sinestar. Since then, Steve left after the release of our first album, Singularis, due to personal reasons and the four of us remained.

We have since been joined by Peter Steer who appears on our latest album and will be joining us on stage at our album launch in February. Pete has added a new dynamic to the sound of the new material having provided backing vocals, guitar and some keys to the new album.

What comes first the music or the lyrics? What’s your creative process

Ahh THAT question!

Well normally, the music comes first, and the writing tends to happen in several ways. The seeds for the songs come from either Mark generating synth snippets in his studio, or Iain coming up with chord progressions and guide vocals on guitar. Once we have the seed, then the song writing can begin.

We tend to make rough recordings of song ideas, distribute to the group, and then remotely evolve the song ideas before then working on the song dynamics in the live rehearsal space. We have had many songs which sound good in the studio which don’t  necessarily translate well to the live band setting.  It is only after doing the “live” test that we actually know if  the song will truly work. For every song that we officially released we have several others which get shelved.

Most of our tracks are therefore born from ideas in the studio but realised in the ‘live’ environment.

Where do you take your inspiration from?

As far as I’m concerned the inspiration can be pretty much anything. It could be a song heard on the radio or a theme tune on the telly, or even how good or bad my day has gone!

Sounds are a big source of inspiration for me, and I enjoy sitting at a synth and messing about with new sounds. I’ve has been lucky enough to have been loaned a couple of glorious synths recently, that have led to tracks that appear on the album.

Inspiration can come at any time and I’m often seen humming tunes that come into my head at work, recorded into my phone, which then get transferred into a tune when I get home. I think that people might perceive me as quite mad!!

Where Iain is concerned, he often reflects real life experience into his words. Be they sad or uplifting. He has the enviable ability to transfer these experiences into some great lyrics! Iain is always listening out for little sound bytes or phrases which often are the inspiration for new material. By way of example, the track Stop the Clocks from the bands last album Evolve came from a conversation between Iain and Mark who said “tomorrow is the new today”.  Iain went onto write the melody and lyrics to the entire track from that single sound byte moment.

How did the BBC FOUR  Battle of the Bands come about? Tell us a little more about that. 

That all started from an ad that appeared on Facebook. I answered the ad and sent off a band bio and some Sinestar tracks to the production team and then forgot all about it.

We were gobsmacked when we were contacted to say that the production team had shortlisted us and wanted to come and meet the band. The brief we received stated that they wanted to see us to perform one of our own tunes and a cover version.

We met the BBC team and performed I Am The Rain and a cover of Ed Sheerhan’s Photograph on the audition. We also sat through a series of mock interviews. The team then said they’d get back to us if we were to make it on to the show. Time went by and we thought we’d missed out and then we got the text to say that we were successful. This was amazing for us. We had a great time and met Rhod Gilbert and the Music legend that is Jazzy B!

You’re currently working with Peter Steer of Tenek fame. Do you have any plans to work with Peter more in the future, or indeed any other creatives from within the synth genre?

Indeed! Peter is now a member of Sinestar and we are all chuffed to bits to have him on-board. He has brought something new to the mix and his input will certainly grow as we look to future recordings. We have also had the assistance of Tim Dorney on this album as engineer and mastering guru. He will also be credited as joint producer on a number of tracks. Both Tim and Pete’s excitement about the material has been infectious and has pushed us all on.

Of your three albums to date which do you feel happiest with?

As each album is completed, we all feel chuffed with the results. Evolve was the big one for Mark as this was the first time he had ever produced something end to end. Obviously, we always look to improve so the latest album, we believe, is our best collection of work so far and certainly the album we feel most proud of.

You’ve played a few electro festivals in the UK in the past, do you plan to perform in Continental Europe in the future? 

We’d love to! Any gig with the Sinestar guys is blast and we always endeavour to put on the best show we can irrespective of the size of the crowds. We have played some amazing shows abroad. Electronic Winter in Gothenburg was the stand out show for many of us. That was a VERY special night and we’d love to repeat that at some point. The iSynth festival in Lille was also a great event.

We are always actively looking for gigs and certainly hope to get back into Europe. We have a growing European fan base who come to the UK when we play here so we want to get back across the pond to return the favour!

You’ve come back with a new logo. Can you tell us a little about that? 

It was a decision made on a whim really. We were considering album artwork and the name of Simon Brett entered the conversation. Simon is a hugely talented graphic artist who we’ve known of for some time. We collectively decided to ask him if he would be interested in coming up with designs for us and thankfully, he agreed. As Simon was doing the artwork we decided to give him free reign on a logo that would best suit his design concept rather than being restricted by having to use our old one. What he came back with is superb. We’re really chuffed with the design.

What’s next for Sinestar? Where do you see yourself going?

Well the next big thing is the release of our third album, A Million Like Us and preparing for our album launch in February.  The details for that are here.

Beyond that, we’re looking to promote the album as much as possible through a lot of gigs in 2018.

We are talking with many promoters at the moment. We are all very proud of the new album and want to get out and play it as much as possible.  Then… album 4! 😉

Where (online) can we find out more about Sinestar? 

We have a Facebook page and, (thanks to Peter) an active Twitter profile. We also have a dedicated website at www.sinestar.co.uk

We have also been talking about opening up a page on bandcamp so will look to do this in the New Year.

How can readers get hold of your new album?

The new album will be available in February and will be obtainable through the normal digital routes such as iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music etc and CD copies through our web site, Conzoom Records, Amazon and will be distributed through stores such as Poponaut.

Thanks for talking to us, Mark, and good luck for the new album. 

You’re welcome Ange.

❉ ‘A Million Like Us’ is released on Conzoom Recordson 10 February 2018. You can purchase this album as Pre-Order now ahead of official release.

❉ Ange Chan is a poet and novelist.  Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016.  

❉ Her latest poetry collection “Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak” was published in October 2017 and her  third novel “Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots” will be published in 2018.  

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