Interview with
Eric Shans of Phenotract

conducted via E-Mail by Darklight on August 19, 2004


When did you first become interested in electronic music?

Eric: Actually the interest first began back in the early 80's. I used to see videos all the time by the new wave bands that were around: Thomas Dolby, A Flock Of Seagulls, Gary Numan, etc. I watched a lot of MTV back then and it sort of became the norm for me to especially pay attention to the electronic based acts that were being played and to know their respective videos. There was something about the music that I just loved. The mechanical sounds, the catchy melodies, and the mystique that a lot of the bands had. It sounded like nothing else to me at the time. Ever since then, I've followed it.

Is Phenotract your first music project?

Eric: is my first.

When did you begin Phenotract?

Eric: I started it around 2nd half of 1999. I had always wanted to do my own music, but finally after college, I really started to get going with it.

Your new "Within A Second" album sounds almost nothing like your demo. What made you decide to take Phenotract in such a different direction?

Eric: Well, before those 2 tracks I had recorded a bunch of songs but most didn't have vocals recorded on them. Then I wrote "Staticzone" and "Xpulse" and brought them to a studio to get mixed and produced. After those 2 tracks were done, I had recorded another demo called "Fallout", which I produced at my home studio. It was a complete album which had more or less the same elements of the 2 songs. They were the aggressive sounding with an overall harsher aesthetic. After that was all done, I think it was the sort of thing where the darker more aggressive stuff was out of me so the of reshaping of the sound took place almost automatically. It's funny because I didn't really say to myself "well I want to do something a little lighter this time around"... it really just sort of happened. I wrote the songs and they ended up just sounding the way they do. There is a hard edge to some of the music still, but the overall sound is definitely poppier and more refined in my opinion. The newer style has been well received which is a really cool thing. It goes back to my new wave and techno/house roots.

How would you describe "Within A Second"?

Eric: Hmm, well I'd say it's basically an electronic dance record with elements of synthpop, industrial, trance, and house music. Atmospheric, moody, at times uplifting and epic, and other times quiet and more reflective. It takes the listener on a journey that travels all over the emotional map.

How did you meet Isaac Walter Glendening of Cesium_137, and what was his role on "Within A Second"?

Eric: I met Isaac through Vince (from Cesium_137) about 4 years ago, we have been friends ever since. Isaac was starting to get into audio production as "Within A Second" was being written and we decided it'd be a cool idea if he produced some tracks for me. It was to also see how I'd feel about working with outside producers since most of the previous work was done by just me. I play keyboards for Cesium_137 live too and had done so for a while at the time, so I knew we could work well together. How we usually did it was I'd give him a song that I had done and recorded and he'd take it and do what he wanted with it. He'd call me with things he added, rearranged & effected and we'd usually just go with the new ideas and hammer it out. He's a good person to work with as he communicates ideas well, likes to try new things, and gets them done quickly. It's the way I like to work.

What equipment do you use to make your music and record your vocals?

Eric: Generally I use the Novation KS4, a Yamaha Cs2x, an EmU Proteus 2000 and an EmU ESI4000 Sampler. I like to use samples quite a bit to give things texture and character. Isaac used his equipment as well on the songs he produced on the album - everything from the Halion Software Sampler to older analog synths. He uses Cubase and plug ins to sequence and effect the audio and I use Digital Performer. Vocals were recorded with an AKG C2000B microphone at my studio.

The most fun part about production for me personally is taking standard sounds, textures, and rhythms and really making them unrecognizable / unpredictable. Having someone listen to the music and say "where did they get that sound from?" or "how did they or what made them do that?". I love when I have to ask myself that when I hear other artists' music. It gives me inspiration.

What influences your lyrics and music?

Eric: Lyrically I get inspired a lot by putting myself fictionally in a situation and expanding on it. Or something that actually did happen and I write the story in a sort of a surrealist style to tell it. Some of the lyrics also have a theme to them where they take a snapshot per se of an action or feeling and get written about. "Freezetime" for instance has that element. It's about capturing moments and how they can never be reproduced the same way. More or less the theme of the album. A song like "Drifts" is about reconnecting to someone important from your past after being "asleep" for a long time. A kind of re-discovery of one's self and who and what we feel attached to in the end.

Musically these days, I'm inspired by a lot of progressive house and certain trance/techno music. I like the grooves and rhythms that house music has... not the screaming diva stuff much... but the techier tracks which have deep percussion, strange sounds, rising crescendos, and basslines that make you move. Trance I like for it's melodies and futuristic sounds. New wave and synthpop of course still inspires me as well and some of the industrial acts too; more so the older ones.

How did you get signed to Tinman Records?

Eric: Originally I was supposed to be signed to ToneDeaf Records (Cesium_137's former label) but in the end, that fell through. I had known Jeff from Tinman for a while and just asked if he was interested. He heard the album and liked it so he decided to put it out. The 2nd release might be on another label though, we'll see.

Do you perform live, or is Phenotract studio only?

Eric: I am slowly starting to play out under Phenotract. I played a show back in June with Cesium_137 in NJ and it went pretty well. It had been a long time for me, but it worked out. Dominic Etzold, from a NJ band called Tank Farm, is doing live keys and he does a great job. I'm going to try to do some live shows in the Fall and perhaps when Cesium_137 tours again, I'll do some with them since I play keyboards for them and have done so for a while. So I've played out a bunch really, just not as Phenotract. It's fun to play out, just so long as you're not playing to an empty room and the crowd is at least somewhat receptive. Obviously, there's little fun in that.

Does Phenotract pay the bills?

Eric: No, I have a day job which pays those :) hopefully one day it will.

What are some bands you listen to?

Eric: Hmm...there's quite a bit. I like a lot of different genres of music in general. I'll name some of my favorites of all time - Pet Shop Boys, In the Nursery, Depeche Mode, 808 State, Front Line Assembly, Catherine Wheel, Kraftwerk, and the list goes on. I'm into a lot of british pop and indie stuff too like The Verve, Doves, and Death Cab for Cutie. I've always had a thing for melodies, hooks, and earnest lyrics. Last things in my CD player were by a band named Earlimart (not sure if you've heard of them), the newest Morrissey, and the latest Armin Van Buuren mix CD...he's a trance DJ.

What do you think of the current industrial, EBM, synth-pop, darkwave music scene?

Eric: I think there's a lot of talented acts out there, but it seems some people don't give new bands a chance. It's tough to really make it in that scene I think. These days, for clubs, I don't go out to places much that play that kind of music. For me, I like hearing DJs that spin progressive house and trance in part due to the fact that I did the goth/industrial clubs so much when I was younger, I wore them out. The DJs that spin house and techno are always playing new stuff that is exciting to hear, people are always dancing, and the vibe is just different. Crowdwise sure, you get some fashion show type 'I'm here to just look cool and not here for any other reason' people that you get in every scene. But most of the DJ sets you hear at those places always have tracks that are fresh sounding and that are innovative in production, sound design, and complexity. It's always an experience for me. I listen to a lot of DJ mixes these days too which capture that energy and enthusiasm that I think sometimes lacks in the industrial/ebm club scene. House and techno are not everyone's thing though to hear out all night though. It obviously really depends on what you are looking for. To each to their own, I always say.

Every now and then, I 'll go out to certain nights to see if any new ebm, synthpop, etc. catches my ear and/or to just hear some classics, but a lot of times you hear the same known songs as you always have heard because that's what people will dance to. It's a catch-22 for EBM/Industrial DJs sometimes because I am sure a lot of them want to play all the new stuff they have but however, a lot of times it seems there's pressure from club owners just to keep people dancing and sometimes the new stuff good or bad, doesn't always work. It also depends on the crowd too, sometimes people will dance to anything and I think that's great as well. But as a general rule I think there's a stagnation to certain music at some of the industrial/EBM based club nights that I have a hard time dealing with because it's just gets repetitive. People seem to be less accepting of new stuff for a scene that has been known for being or classified as "underground". I love hearing things I know sometimes, but I like to hear new songs too. Hearing the same stuff over and over gets boring for me no matter what genre it is.

Where do you see industrial, EBM, synth-pop, darkwave music going in the future?

Eric: It seems the aggro style industrial/ebm and the noise sound is still alive - bands like Hocico, Suicide Commando, and Ant-Zen type acts are putting out music. As far as EBM and synthpop goes, I think it'll definitely be there because no matter what, people still like hooky music that has at least a remotely retro sound. The partial reason I think bands like VNV Nation and Apoptygma Berzerk are so popular is because their music has that pop element to it and people embrace it. I personally like hooks and memorable melodies; the last Apop record in my opinion was brilliantly done. It's just my style to write in catchy song structure and form but I do like to deviate from that as well, tracks such as "Outside Static" and "Motionstate" are much more rhythm than song oriented.

So, I still forsee the hybrids EBM and Synthpop still being produced as well as harsher industrial just as long as musicians still like to make it and there are quite a bit. It's been like that for a while and I can't see it really changing all that this time anyway. It'll be interesting to what comes though. I think artists should keep pushing envelopes because you can only grow by doing so. There are a lot that do take chances (i.e. Haujobb) and that's cool and of course there's one's that don't and just want to cash in on the "trends". Goes for every style of music.

How do you feel about downloading music?

Eric: It's a good way to get to hear new music, but it does take away from potential income of artists, especially ones who don't make much off of it anyway which unfortunately are a lot. For getting remixes or rare tracks and other things of that nature it is useful, but for full albums...well I think it does more harm than good. Unless it's an Itunes thing where you pay per song and the artists get paid. If I hear a band I like, I just buy the CD.

What interests do you have other than music?

Eric: I do photography, watching films (Christopher Walken is my favorite actor I'd say), enjoy reading in my spare time too, and love traveling as well. I live right outside of New York City so there is always things to do or see. It's one of the many reasons I love it there. I try to have a good balance of hobbies and I do keep busy, that's for sure.

What can we expect from Phenotract in the future?

Eric: Work and production on the 2nd record has begun and will be out in the first or second quarter of 2005. So far it's coming out well and while it will retain elements of the first CD, there will be a definite evolution in the overall sound. I'm real excited about it. Stay tuned to the website for track previews and thanks for the interview.

To purchase the Phenotract "Within A Second" CD, please go to:
or contact directly

Click here for Wrapped IN Wire's reviews of Phenotract releases