When Nick Hook and Gareth Jones decided to join forces for their newest project, a truly spiritual friendship was formed - allowing them to each reimagine new possibilities through the medium of synthesizer production. Spiritual Friendship is comprised of Brooklyn-based producer/DJ Nick Hook, and seasoned producer/engineer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Einstürzende Neubauten). The duo performed an extended drone piece at this year's Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina.
We invited them to the Moogstore at Moogfest for a first-look at the new Moog Grandmother, as well as a discussion about the origin of their new project, and how they've each brought out the best in one another - spiritually and beyond.
How did Spiritual Friendship form?
Gareth Jones: After ten years of knowing each other, Nick and I decided to do a jam session in one of our music rooms. We loved it, and the name dropped out of heaven for us. We looked at each other and we thought, We've got a spiritual friendship. At first, I felt a bit nervous about calling the project Spiritual Friendship, thinking This is so intimate. Can we do this? But actually, it is authentic. Now I'm very down with it.
Nick Hook: It straddles that line of corniness, and I think that's who we really are. I think it was you who brought that name out of the cosmos. It's us. It's so us. The more active we are, the more I love it.
G: And when we're in the room together, in terms of channeling the cosmos, I don't feel that either of us is personally responsible for what happens. What happens just - happens.
What has inspired the music you've made together?
N: Our first record was built on the process of us trying to make something together in our own studios, but by our second album, we went to the Moog Studio without a plan. We were surrounded by amazing gear that we didn't really know how to use. Gareth wanted to try out drum machines, too. I was super intimidated, but we reached this magic. This isn't our day job, so when we come together, it's just to find out how to get as free as possible. We just made a new record - this will be our eighth album.
G: In a way, the drone pieces are really one project. They were inspired by our presence in the room, us being together as inspired by our embracing of meditative practices. And it was also inspired by the awesome technology that our friends at Moog gave us access to.
N: We weren't in our comfort zone. We were in a different realm.
G: It never would have happened without all of these things. When we're in a room, we make music - because our time is so precious to us. That's what we do.
N: This project really changed my life. Our number one rule is no judgment. That's how we made our first album, and we made everything in a week. It's just like yoga. Get out there and paint, and then decide together what we like and what we don't. It's probably, in a weird way, the most important project I've done, but the least financially viable one at the same time.
G: Which is one of the reasons why we're enjoying so much working quickly. We feel we're channeling spiritual energy, like many artists. This is not a new thing. Loads of people in this room would say they're channeling some kind of cosmic energy. We've found that when we judge ourselves or judge each other in the process of making, it doesn't help. It just slows things down.
What is it about the synthesizer that is your choice medium of artistic expression?
N: As you get older, it's just something you can deeply connect to that has no end. I feel like every time we sit down together, it reminds me of yoga or kung fu. This drone project changed my whole outlook on the synthesizer - layers of sound, and how dense and deep they can go. We play zero notes - it's a drone piece, but all of a sudden, it becomes free jazz. Overwhelmingly beautiful.
G: Most of our work together with synthesizers is not keyboard-led. We build processes and allow the processes to present us with idea that we sculpt. New things emerge that we never could have imagined. That's the joy for us, in terms of the modular approach we take to using the synths.
What do you envision live shows looking like 20-30 years into the future?
N: Music is moving towards anyone in the world being able to express themselves. I think with the iPad, I honestly believe that anyone can learn how to use this gear, as overwhelming and complicated as it is. Maybe in 30 years, we might be able to play whatever it is we think up in our minds. Soon, our brain waves are going to be transferred into frequencies.
G: The special thing about a live performance is the presence, isn't it? People are present in the room. Our whole musical work is based on us being together. When we're both in the room, we do stuff in five minutes that would otherwise take us five weeks, if we were FaceTiming and exchanging files back and forth. Decisions are made fast and intuitively [in person]. I love the small amount of work that I've done live, particularly with Nick, because it's such a joy - but most of my profound musical experiences have been while listening through loudspeakers or headphones. I'm very much a recorded music guy, putting a toe in the water of live. What's special about the Spiritual Friendship drone live shows is that they're a coming together of energy and spirit. It's almost like a celebration of the universe - like being in church. It's a really special thing. It's amplified when we're in a room of people, because there's a huge presence from the gathered congregation.
N: When the lights go up, it's a whole different game. We're just two patch cables - well, four, because we've got two hands. But I feel like when it really comes together, this is all we really are.
Check out Nick & Gareth's live demo of the new Moog Grandmother at Moogfest: