Q&A: Smoke From All The Friction

In conversation with Cam Gillette and Kenny Andrews of electropop duo Smoke From All The Friction.

Substance and style; Cam Gillette and Kenny Andrews of Smoke From All The Friction are determined to have it all. The electropop duo are all about creating meaningful electropop and playing it with panache.

The duo’s discography plunges into industrial barb and coasts over sparkling EDM by turns. Andrews and Gillette clearly relish the many moods of electropop, and pride themselves on their inventive execution.

As for style, you never know what to expect from the Raleigh band’s shows. Past appearances have included flashy visuals, an audience drum circle, and experimentation with livestreams that bring fans into the Smoke From All Friction fray.

Gillette and Andrews let me in on how they met, their ideas about spectacle in live shows, and just how they built Kenny’s impressive electronic drum setup.

Cam and Kenny, you two were introduced through a yoga meetup. When did you first begin talking about music? What were those early conversations between you like?

Kenny: Yeah! We met through the acro yoga community in Raleigh and became friends. I think most of our early music conversations were about bands we are into and our musical tastes. I felt like Cam commented on a Memphis May Fire tank I was wearing at one point. I pointed out the Tool sticker on the back of his car another time. From there, we started chatting more at house gatherings and bars. I would say it took a year or so before we thought of playing together in a band. At first I was asked if I could perform at a couple SFATF gigs. From there it kind of just progressed to what we are now. I don’t think there was an “aha” moment or anything, it was all very organic. 

Cam: A band is similar to most relationships; involving maturity, humility and chemistry. I had worked and gone though a decent number of other players, and asked him to play a few shows with me. He was reliable and easy to work with. Shortly after that we had a conversation where we basically both asked each other, “what do you want out of this” and “what do you have to offer?” I’ve found if you have that kind of conversation early in a relationship of any kind, it avoids a lot of the drama and missed expectations.

Kenny, you learned to drum on a classic kit, but for Smoke From All The Friction, you and Cam built a massive electronic drum setup yourselves. What materials did you use, and where did you source them from? How has that expanded palette of sound changed your playing?

Kenny: Ah! I take back what I just said. This was the “aha” moment for me, our first creation! So Cam and I were chatting one day on how to incorporate these four electronic drum pads he has. As you mentioned, I learned drums on a classic kit and have been playing classic kits since high school. I still play on my twenty-two piece kit at my house recreationally. So because of this I have a lot of drumming hardware and pieces I’ve “broken” over the years at my disposal.

The percussion pad thing we built is made up of a broken boom cymbal stand, a Latin Percussion mount, a piece of a cowbell kick-drum mount, and the four electronic drum pads along with electronic brain. It truly is a unique creation and is so fun to play. By the powers of Cam’s computer knowledge, the four different pads change their sound from song to song, and sometimes even in the same song. So I’ve gone from playing on a twenty-two piece kit to playing four seemingly infinite pads. Also, unlike the classic performing drum setup, I play the pads front stage while standing. Last, but certainly not least, it only takes me one trip from my car to the venue and about two minutes at most to set up the percussion pad we built when we perform. #blessed.

Cam, rather than writing “genre” songs, you like to work from what you call “outlines” or “blueprints” in your songwriting process. For instance, you might try to write a song that feels like a color. Tell me more about the outlines that have structured your music, and give me an example of how you’ve integrated that inspiration into a song.

Cam: One of the advantages of doing all the different roles of a songwriter, musician, engineer and performer is that you have a lot of control over the entire product. However, the problem is that it becomes a lot to deliver for one person. So to work around that, I try to very intentionally separate my behavior into different roles. Outlining concepts and goals are a large part of that. So the more time I can spend away from the mixing console and writing out my intentions, plans, and bigger vision, the easier it is to stay on target.

An example of this would be how I wrote the album Transience. For the album, I wrote a number of interludes to connect different songs into a more cohesive theme. So I wrote the themes and feelings of the “main” tracks in the album, and with that written I could far more easily create the vision for the interludes between the tracks because I knew where I would be coming from and where I needed to end up.

This question is for both of you. The band Nine Inch Nails has come up a lot as an influence for Smoke From All The Friction, and among their many endeavors, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have scored several films together, including The Social Network, Bird Box, and Gone Girl. Let’s say the two of you could score a film together. What film genre do you think your music would best lend itself to?

Kenny: The film would definitely have to be futuristic and electronic. I’d say something along the lines of The Matrix trilogy, Tron, Ready Player One, and/or Blade Runner.  

Cam: I agree, I’ve always enjoyed more “futuristic” or dystopian-sounding music. So something a bit more dark, focusing on the near infinite abilities of good or ill humans can and have achieved. I really enjoyed the soundtrack of the new Blade Runner as well. I heard a quote about the Terminator 2 soundtrack, where the soundtrack was almost indistinguishable from the sound effect track, and that would be an intriguing challenge.

As Smoke From All The Friction, you guys continue to push the envelope at your live shows. Previous shows have included projected visuals, strobe light breakdowns, even an electronic drum circle involving the crowd. What does the concept of spectacle in a live show mean to you? How will you raise the bar at future shows?

Cam: We live in a culture where there’s a fine line where pushing creative borders turns into an avante-garde experience. I try to shoot for a 70/30 ratio, where we can’t violate more than 30% of something uncommon or experimental, because we want to leave the audience with some familiar to hold onto so they can focus more on the unfamiliar things we’re also bringing. Some places we’re experimenting with is having crowd interaction with lights and other media. Or having a level of interaction with our livestreamed shows, where the crowd can functionally interact with us in specific ways through the net.

Kenny: We like to leave a memorable impression at our shows. We don’t want to look or sound like just another band at a bar. We constantly change instruments and perform our songs in a way that, I feel, people aren’t used to seeing. Our visuals and light shows are custom-made to our songs. Those visuals help convey a mood and aesthetic that enhances our sound. We like to challenge ourselves to see what all we can achieve live. That being said, there’s no telling what else we may try to implement in our future performances.    

Smoke From All The Friction has a new album in the works. If you had to name a few albums by other artists that have inspired your latest project, what would they be? It could be from a thematic standpoint, a production standpoint- anything.

Cam: SFATF has a goal of trying to bring more niche ideas and sounds to an audience that doesn’t get to hear them. Some current artists include synthwave artists: Perturbator and Daniel Deluxe, pop artists: The Band CAMINO, electronic : SOPHIE and HEALTH.

What’s an interview question you’ve never been asked that you’d like to answer?

Cam: What are the wrong ways to be an artist in 2019?

Kenny: What’s your favorite instrument to play and why?

All images courtesy of Smoke From All The Friction.

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