I first came across FUSED 6 years ago when I heard the instrumental ‘Phantom Bride’. I’ve followed Mark ever since and it gives me great pleasure to introduce Mark aka FUSED to the Revival Synth Q&A section.
Hi Mark, how and when did it all begin for FUSED?
Well technically I’ve been making music since about 1980 when I studied music at school. Being a ‘leftie’ meant not playing guitar as they only bothered teaching those who were right handed. That worked out fine for me having no interest in guitars thanks to my love of electronic music, so naturally gravitated towards piano and singing. Not that I enjoyed the hours of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Trial By Jury’ though!
Like many others I started creating music at home, and along with my brother we used whatever we could afford, which wasn’t a lot. Initially it was a couple of Casio VL Tones and a double tape desk that evolved into a TR-808, SH101, Pro One and Korg MS10 set up.
As the 80s rolled and I got a job, left home and all that, I created music in my spare time on pretty much anything technological I could lay my hands on. I used ComDrum on the C64, and then Music X on the Amiga plus I bought my first digital LA synth which I still use to this day, my beloved Roland D20 workstation. This opened up a ton of opportunities for recording ‘whole songs’ with its on board multitrack digital sequencer, and alongside MusicX on Amiga (for additional sequencing and sampling) was great fun.
It was around this time in 1989 that I set up ‘Fused’ along with a work colleague. The name derived from the second album by ‘I Start Counting’, which seemed perfect as the project was all about fusing together favourite electronic music influences. Initially as a duo we played a few college gigs in the local area and through a contact of a friend we were lucky enough to support the ‘Spinmasters of 808State’. We played a mix of original songs and some cover versions, notably from Depeche Mode (you’ll hear this name a lot in this interview), Gary Numan (this too) and Pet Shop Boys. We had a good response, so we went in to a terrible studio in Telford to record what became our initial four track demo along with a couple of extended versions. These were blindly sent off to some small labels, and from this was successful being signed to a small indie outfit. We went back into the studio (a decent one this time!) to record what was planned as our debut double A side single along with the obligatory 12” mixes, but… as soon as the DAT was send off for pressing, the label went under, and that was that!
It was also around this time Fused sort of died in its initial form as we decided that ‘paying work’ was were our individual focus needed to be.
I continued to dabble on and off, but the 90s the focus was more definitely on my work career and not music, until such time that technology ‘in the box’ got powerful enough where I could use my home computer to make music again. Around 2001 I bought Propellerheads Reason 2.0 and started to understand the new world of computer based soft synths. I learnt very slowly, where time from work and family would allow, but it wasn’t until around 2010 I switched to Logic Pro 8 and really started to really get into the production side of music creation. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was given some incredibly useful advice and encouragement from Geoff Pinckney of Tenek, who has since become a good friend and someone I’ll always be grateful to for his time and expertise. From this I started to take the music side a little more seriously and in 2013 I started pushing ‘Fused’ music out onto the internet. I initially contributed some ‘fan remixes’ of Gary Numan tracks for the ‘Numanme.co.uk’ website, and it’s really taken off since then. Over the last five or six years in particular I’ve been lucky enough to dedicate a lot of time to music and this has really helped push the quality of what I do. I’m constantly learning, and although I consider myself still a enthusiastic amateur I enjoy every minute of it and where I finally am with my music now.
What artists influenced your music and why are they influential to you?
I don’t think it’s hard to hear who influences my music in my sound and perhaps unlike others, I’m pretty proud of that. Part of why I took up music in 2001 was that most of the music I loved had died away by then. There wasn’t a large amount of the electronic music around in the 90s that was easy to buy, so I thought I’d make it myself!
It may surprise some but the longest and biggest influence on my work is Gary Numan. I’ve been a huge ‘Numanoid’ since hearing ‘Down in the Park’ 40 yrs ago, and that was the one single that really changed my outlook on music. It made me want to make music of the future like that! ‘Down in the Park’ was unlike anything I’d heard up until that point. I was really into ‘Blondie’ at the time (what 13yr old boy wasn’t ;-), and I clearly recall being in a record shop in Bham trying terribly hard to be cool, when they played Down in the Park. I’d heard and enjoyed Autobahn before but I was utterly transfixed when I heard Tubeway Army’s first single from Replicas, and from then on was thirsty for anything electronic I could drown my ears in!
My other biggest influence which is no secret is Depeche Mode. Well, to be fair it’s what I would term the ‘golden era of Depeche Mode’, when Alan Wilder was a big part of the band. Back in the 1980s Depeche Mode’s sound was massive. Starting as almost what seemed like a pop teen boy band, they became this powerhouse of genius by the time of Black Celebration through to Songs of Faith and Devotion, and this is what mainly drives my sound today. Superb songs for sure, but under the production guidance of Alan, they created magic. It’s something I strive for in my work.
You have remixed tracks for several artists such as darwinmcd, Huguenot, Jigsaw Sequence, Sombre Moon, Stereo in Solo and many others. Apart from Depeche Mode, who would you like to remix a track for?
If I had to choose a single artist it would of course be Gary Numan. In fact, I’ve tried to so a little of this with my Telekon ‘Reinterpreted’ work I have made available on Soundcloud. it’s a slow labour of love I work on from time to time, as Telekon is my all time favourite album.
If I can’t choose Gary Numan or Depeche Mode, then there are a number of bands I’d love the opportunity to remix. Currently the underground & independent electronic music scene has some of the most exciting and vibrant music. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had some wonderful opportunities already to remix for really talented artists, and I like to work with bands where I can bring something to the table. In many ways it’s pointless wanting to remix DM or Mesh, because let’s face it, what could I bring to the party? But that said, I think there is a ton of underground talent that not only can I contribute something to, but form whom I can learn from too. It’s this area I find exciting.
There’s a band who made a fleeting appearance a few years back called ‘Ironfield’. A German band I think, who are now just nowhere to be found! I’d love to get in contact with them and remix their work. Some incredible music, that I think deserves and audience.
Talking of Depeche Mode, you’ve recently released a trilogy of CD’s, and two of them are Depeche Mode covers, ‘Dream On’ & ‘Love In Itself’, that must have been a dream come true.
The Depeche Mode covers came about through accident and design to be honest. I wasn’t really planning on releasing anything like that, and in many ways my latest track ‘Sanctified’ was more what I intended to initially release. But, the last few DM albums are not what I consider to be their ‘true sound’ and the band, although really successful, still for me feel like another band, and not the DM I love. I also believe that the missing component to their sound is Alan Wilder.
It was from this disappointment in the production of their output since probably Exciter that prompted me to ‘put up or shut up’ after whinging about it. So I set out to reinvent ‘Dream On’ which I consider a big missed opportunity of a song. I felt it could have a lot of power, but the Exciter album lacked the punch and power albums like Music for the Masses had in spades. So I decided to create a version of the track that was more in keeping of how I’d love DM to sound now which was more like bands like Mesh and De/Vision I guess.
I worked on the track on and off for about a year, and during that time, I played it to Steve Newton, who loved where it was going and wanted to sing on it. I could think of no-one better who I would want to sing on my DM covers than Steve who has a voice like silk, so when he delivered his vocal stems, I was blown away, and knew it had to be a single release.
Love In Itself was kind of a natural follow up, as I think it’s fair to say that the earlier DM work has dated. It feels sparse and lacks the power of the ‘golden era’ so it was an attempt to bring the 1983 track up to date and feel more like it would if they had released it today (with Alan on board).
To be honest the ‘Reinventing the Mode’ project doesn’t make any financial sense, as Steve and I ensure all licenses are paid for which means we are out of pocket creating them when factoring everything in, but it’s something we love doing. I’ve a strict policy where I’ll only remix, or do a cover version of something I know I can bring something to so I’ll never do a cover of anything from Black Celebration through to Songs of Faith and Devotion as I have nothing to contribute as they are, in my opinion, brilliant works of art.
Do you plan to work with Stephen again?
Errr… yep! In fact the follow up to Love in Itself is about 50% complete. Steve has already contributed the great vocal work already, but I want to establish my original works a little more first with Sanctified and it’s EP follow up ‘Starlite’ before I put out another DM cover. I don’t want to be thought of as just the DM covers guy, like you see littered on YouTube. I feel I’ve more to offer than just polishing up old DM tracks. But, yes, I’ll definitely be working with Steve again, and the next release is in the pipeline (no pun intended).
(tongue in cheek question) Was it hard work trying to make Stephen’s vocals sound better?
Hahah! Hmmm… let’s see. Well I’ll be honest. Steve’s work comes to me pretty much as you hear on the final release. I literally just have to drop in his stems, add a little EQ and blending it into the track, and boom. Job done. He’s THAT good. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some incredible underground talent, and Steve is really someone who should be garnering success on a professional level. I can’t thank him enough for working on my DM covers and he really does bring polish to everything he does.
When you are remixing tracks for other artists, what is your approach to their tracks, and is it a nervous wait when they’re sent out?
I think I’m getting to the point where people come to me for remixes because they like what I do and expect a certain ‘style’ from what I create for them. I generally remix in an 80s style, with more emphasis on big snares and massive sound palettes like DM’s Music for the Masses as opposed to the modern, minimal low subbass club kicks and trap kinda thing that’s everywhere now.
I think for the genre we work in, folks sort of know what they are going to get and to be honest, when I listen to the original songs I’m given to work with, I can pretty much hear what I want to do with them straight away. For example, I recently created a mix for Simon Irvine’s track ‘End of Days’, and I could hear a more ‘Kraftwerk’ vibe there that I could bring out, hence my ‘Fused Spacelab Remix’. It was the same with the Sombre Moon remix I did for Hereafter. The ‘Fused Oil Tank Club mix’ which has been really well received was a much more stripped back, dark club vibe that I could hear in the original that I brought out. I don’t tend to reinvent the wheel with my remix work, but try to enhance what’s already there. I think artists who want me to remix their music appreciate that, in that I have a respect for their work, and just sprinkle on my 80s love ;-)
I much preferred remixes of the 80s that were more straight extended versions, or an extension of the original sound, which was generally done by the band themselves, as opposed to through the 90s and on, where remixes were farmed out to others, but those mixes bore no resemblance to the original bar maybe a vocal sample chucked in. I hate mixes like that. If I buy music by a band, I like it to sound like that band. For example, the Mark Saunders remixes he did for Erasure in late 80s are absolutely brilliant. They have a foot firmly rooted in a respect of the original song, but with an amped up vibe that gave it a unique twist. It’s here I see where I sit, and I think the artists who I work with appreciate that.
I also work quite closely with artists while I’m working on a mix, and I always ask if they would like regular updates or just wait for the final thing. Most like the updates, and I tend to tell them what I’m doing and why, which they enjoy so there’s never really any nervous wait. The artist has sort been sitting in a virtual seat next to me while I’m working on a remix, so they take ownership of their mixes through the process. After all, it’s their song, not mine and I’m just giving it a makeover with my style for them.
For artists to continue in the music industry, they need sales to cover the costs of their releases, if on vinyl, cassette or CD. How do you market yourself to attract a ‘buying’ audience?
The short answer to this is ‘I don’t’. We live in a very different world to the one our favourite bands ‘made it’ in and I’m acutely aware of this. The internet has been a blessing and a curse. I’m sitting here writing this, and talking to you because you listened to my music via the internet. I could only get people to hear my work thanks to the internet. But… the internet has meant that mostly you can hear all the music you want for free. This has devalued music to the point of worthless. It will always have an emotional value which is priceless, but the music itself is generally offered for basically free on streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. Artists like me make zero money from putting music on there to be honest. It’s great as the barriers to entry have been blown away meaning I can put my music on placed like Spotify on same playing field as bands like Depeche Mode, but those same barriers to entry has meant everyone can do the same. The multitude of artists now out there on a platform has given the power to large streaming services and that means they pay pretty much next to nothing for streams. Some get mad about that. I did initially. But it is what it is.
I think, depending on the genre, it’s a different matter with physical products and selling digital content. The genre we are in and love is, as a generalisation, supported by those older than 40. It’s our generation who actually bought music, treasured it, and loved it for what it is. I think this generation still in the main would appreciate that and support artists by buying their music. Plus, I think that if you create physical products like CDs to a high standard and offer something of value, with a collectable nature, then folks will want that.
There’s still a niche for those selling physical products to those who remember the days of when to own music meant something.
It’s a shame that the next generation on the whole have been brought up on a pretty much 100% free all you can eat music buffet. This means, in my opinion, that those in the music making area to make money will find it very difficult going forward. I don’t really see myself making money in this, so my approach is to do it for the love of it. If people like it and want to buy it, that’s a fantastic thing for me, and it’s those people who I make me continue to deliver what I consider the music they want to hear and will buy.
There are so many listening formats out there for DIY artists, I personally think too many people listen for free by bookmarking or creating playlists. What is your opinion of it?
As I said, I think we are victims of the ‘blessing and a curse’ of the internet and to a greater extent connected world we live in. It would be brilliant in many ways if this was all happening in the 1980s, as I’d be talking to a printed magazine now, and my music would be on 7” & 12” vinyl, for sale in stores, and I’d probably be signed to a label who have paid for my studio time and promotion campaign etc.
We live in a very different world now, and by it’s virtue of low to non existent barriers to entry, here I am talking to you, and you as well as many others get to listen to my music thanks to the power of the internet and social media.
This just would not have happened in the 80s or 90s.
Do I wish it was like it was in the 1980s? For sure. Back then, the only way to get music was to buy it, so the value of music creation really meant something. Today music has no real value, and although that is gutting, it’s the reality of the world we live in. I do however feel that the kind of music I, and others in my genre make, is targeted to an audience who, in the main, still value the worth of that music and are more inclined to pay for it, as opposed to stream it from the ‘all you can eat for free’ music buffets serviced up by fast food music streaming outlets like Spotify. After all, it takes months of personal time to write, record, produce, market and release your own music. To have it streaming for a year and get less than the price of a cup of coffee is a little disheartening.
I live in hope that people still value the effort put in and appreciate that by buying the music produced. But do I let that bother me? Not really. Playlists and sharing is another form of promotion, so if it means more people listen and would therefore be tempted in supporting what I do, all the better. Some don’t necessarily buy the music to support the artist, and I think we are lucky to have this grassroots movement to enable this to happen to a degree.
I ultimately wish it was different but we work with what we have.
The U.K. synth scene looks very vibrant online or when you’re in amongst it, how do you think the scene is fairing up in today’s ever changing circle?
I think the overall synth scene hasn’t been this strong since arguably the late 80s. Perhaps in many ways stronger than ever. We are a connected world now, and the ability to discover and share music has never been greater. Add this to the fact that the doors are wide open for artists to act like their own record labels and put out their own music on their own terms means creatively for the artist it’s never been a more empowering time. The flip side of this is, there’s a big ‘noise to signal’ ratio meaning it’s hard to raise your head above the throng to get noticed. Plus with money literally dropping out of the market, big companies are not taking the risks they used to with unsigned artists. This means for an unsigned band to get on, they really have to do the legwork themselves as larger labels will only pick up a band one they have already established themselves. This makes it a lot of work for part time artists, many of whom have families and full time jobs to hold down.
But all that said, the collective power the underground electronic music scene has now is more than I think we are aware of. I now literally don’t have time to listen to all the great new music coming out on an almost daily basis. It must be stressed too that the sheer quality of music created by independent artists rivals and in many cases succeeds big name label signings. I only wish that larger labels took more chances with smaller artists, and companies who make money off the independent artist gave a fairer percentage to their hard work.
For listeners, it’s never been a better time! A £10 per month Spotify account gets you pretty much a limitless stream of amazing quality independent created music.
What advice would you give an independent musician/s if they were planning to venture on to the scene?
I think this answer depends on your aims and age. I’d generally say go into it thinking it's a great hobby. You’ll spend a ton of money on something you’ll probably never recoup the costs on, so don’t expect to. Just go into it for the blast of having a great time making music and letting it go free to the ears of the world. Who knows? Some exec at a movie company may want it for their next blockbuster and pay you a massive royalty for it! But don’t hold out for that. Just enjoy it for what it is and make music you love. If you love it, others will too… and they will find it. Trust me… I did.
Back to FUSED. Your EP, ‘Sanctified’ is out now and it's a vocal track, Is this your first time to sing on your tracks?
Technically no, as I did sing on tracks I wrote and recorded back in late 80s! But that was another life! As far as the ‘commercially released’ Fused tracks, yes it is.
But that said, it’s always been my intention to sing on my work. This just happens to be the first time it’s happened. I worked with Steve on the two previous tracks, and my release of Positive (+) last year was meant to be more a club/instrumental track in the vein of Pet Shop Boys track ‘Axiss’ from their Electric album. It was released initially as not only to raise money for Mental Health week, which it did brilliantly, but also as a test bed for future release formats.
So the short answer is, expect me singing on pretty much all my original releases (for good or bad! Ha ha!)
You also have a couple of remixes of the track on the EP, did you consider other artists/producers remixing it?
A.To be honest I didn’t, and consciously so. I know I should perhaps practice what I preach, given how much I remix for others, but my favourite era of remixes in the mid 1980s were largely done ‘in house’ by the band or by a select few, such as Phil Legg, Mark Saunders, Flood etc. I want to keep Fused’s output within this ethos. Plus I know the music I produce and have a pretty clear vision of what I want that output to be. So I’m happy to keep Fused as my own thing. This may change later on, but I personally feel for example, as soon as Depeche Mode started farming out their remixes in the mid 1990s and on, I stopped listening to them with the joy I had at say, the Aggro mix of Never Let Me Down.
I see Fused to be a representation of my musical taste and presented as such.
I think a congratulations is in order Mark, FUSED is 30 years old this year. Well done! What are your plans for the near future?
Thanks. It’s been a long meandering road, but I think the music is at a quality I’m happy to put out there now. Right now I’m working on the new EP which will be called ’Starlite’. This will feature a new mix of Sanctified as well as three new track and a couple of small instrumental link pieces.
Following that I’ve planned the next single, another Depeche Mode ‘reinvention’ single with Steve Newton, remix projects for some new (and not so new names), once again I hope to be taking on production duties for Sombre Moon’s next releases, as well as plans for the next two to three Fused EPs, which, along with ‘Starlite’ are all part of a series called ‘The Stranger Beside You’.
I’m also considering new initiatives for CD releases, as I feel the audience I make music for really does appreciate music on a physical format.
Plus I’m also considering to possibility of approaching labels in an effort to work with them for not only my Fused work, but perhaps with my production work too.
Busy busy busy!
Thanks Mark for taking the time out to answer the Q&A. Good luck with the release and thanks as always for your support towards Revival Synth and the many you support on the scene.
CHECK OUT THE MUSIC OF FUSED