Worriedaboutsatan on his humble home setup, his new album, and facing the future alone
Gavin Miller on Worriedaboutsatan’s new album Time Lapse, facing down an existential crisis, and making music on a 12-year-old laptop.
It’s a new dawn for Gavin Miller. The Shipley-based musician is celebrated for his genre-mercurial electronica but his career has taken many turns – and the latest was a big one.
He formed Worriedaboutsatan while studying at Leeds College of Music in 2005, cribbing the name from a B-side by oddball Belgian rock band Deus. Shortly thereafter, Gavin was joined by fellow student Thomas Ragsdale. Together, they set about blending their proclivities for post-rock acts such as Sigur Rós, Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky with their affinities for electronic artists like Underworld, Burial and Boards of Canada, spinning these influences into five studio albums together, from atmospheric debut Arrival to the brooding ambience of 2019’s Blind Tiger. But then, in the summer of 2019, Tom split – and took his studio with him. Left facing an intimidating blank canvas with little but a 12-year-old laptop and a battered guitar, should we be worriedaboutGavin?
Not today, Satan
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after Tom left,” says Gavin. “I didn’t know whether I wanted to carry on doing it. I was having a bit of an existential crisis. What do I do now? What is the band? What is it supposed to sound like? Eventually I thought, ‘Just forget all that, sit down and see what happens’.”
What happened was Time Lapse, the first Worriedaboutsatan music produced solely by Gavin since the act’s early EPs in 2005. Released today, the record is bathed in a hopeful gloom that befits its origins. “When you’re in a band with someone for a long time, it’s going to feel strange when they’re gone,” says Gavin. “I had all this stuff in my head about the passage of time, getting older, and what might have been had we done things differently. It was all very melancholic.”
Just before the Dawn
Melancholia has long been Gavin’s MO. Though his output has often leaned heavily into neighbouring genres from one record to the next, the best Worriedaboutsatan sounds are suffused with heavy-heartedness. With its esoteric vocal samples, pensive piano, progressive post-rock guitar suites awash with reverb, and deeply buried drum beats, it’s music evocative of distant memories and dreams beyond reach. The lead single from Time Lapse is a quintessential example. An alternate mix of icy album opener Dawn, it suggests that, while it may be grim up north, there’s hope beneath its leaden skies.
Having found his emotional fodder and shaken off his existential funk, the biggest challenge for Gavin came in resuming work alone and looking for the limits of his newfound creative freedom.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “It’s easy to do stuff when you’re answering to yourself but, on the other hand, you’ve got no-one to bounce ideas off and nobody to tell you that something sounds rubbish. I could get really pompous and start making triple concept albums and there’s no-one to say, ‘No! Don’t do that!’”
Do it yourself
Beyond wrestling with his own grandiosity – there seems to be no evidence of triple concept albums materialising just yet – Gavin has also had to get used to working with his own lean selection of comparatively low-tech equipment, having lost access to a wealth of toys upon Tom’s departure, including a Roland Juno-106. Gavin’s humble home studio is proof that LED-strewn synthesizers, towering modules and mile-wide mixing desks aren’t prerequisite for producing high-quality and emotionally resonant music.
“Tom has a lot of all-singing, all-dancing equipment,” says Gavin. “His studio is packed with synths. It made it simple because he had everything. My studio is probably the lowest-tech you can imagine.” At the heart of Gavin’s elementary setup is a 12-year-old Macbook Pro – which has been on its last wobbly legs for at least five of them. “It’s hanging on, and I’m comfortable with it so I’ve never bothered to upgrade,” he says. “I had to stop using the internet on it about five years ago because it just couldn’t handle anything.”
Alongside his over-the-hill laptop, the Yorkshire-born musician’s home studio sports little more than a pair of KRK Rokit monitors and a Yamaha Reface CS, alongside his trusty 2006 Fender Telecaster and assortment of pedals. “‘I’ve got a Boss Loopstation, an Electro-Harmonix Ocean’s 11 reverb, and a TC Electronics EchoBrain,” says Gavin. “I used to have a Catalinbread Echorec but it broke on tour and started kicking out a really weird noise – but sadly not a weird noise I could use.”
Gavin runs these into Blackstar’s 10-watt LT ECHO 10 practice amp mic’d up with an sE Electronics sE2200 large-diaphragm condenser microphone, and then into his preferred DAW. “I use Ableton Live” he says. “In the early days of Worriedaboutsatan, we used to run Reason into Pro Tools but that got a bit fiddly, so we switched to Ableton and I’ve been using it ever since.”
Gavin cites the intuitiveness and time-saving nature of the DAW as enormous benefits – and these are rewards that even he can reap, despite the fact that, in tech years, his laptop is old enough to claim a free bus pass.
“I run Ableton 7 because my laptop isn’t able to take an upgrade,” says Gavin. “It’s quite an old version of Ableton, so I can’t put new stuff in it. I have to rely on just the reverb and delay. I had Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig for a while but it kept crashing my Ableton – I think it was too advanced for my laptop.”
A kind of magic
Alongside Gavin’s guitar, Worriedaboutsatan’s music has long featured samples. But Gavin recently realised that, like his laptop, his samples were past their best, and so set about renewing his arsenal.
“The sample packs I had before were made up of stuff I’d cobbled together at college,” he says. “Someone playing a middle C on a piano, an 808 kick drum, some drum breaks, someone playing bass, it was a really poor sample pack. When I realised I’d had the same kick drum and piano samples for about 15 years, it suddenly dawned on me that, you know, you can replace them with better ones.”
Following a recommendation from a friend, Gavin bolstered his samples with those from transatlantic company Sample Magic. “They’ve got some incredible stuff,” he says. “They have the whole 808 in one sample pack! I was like, ‘Why did I never think to get this? You’ve spent 15 years using the same crap!’ It’s nice to have samples and use them on the fly, rather than wasting time thinking about how your 17 modular synths sound.”
With the world on lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Gavin has yet to make his inaugural solo stage appearance. His first solo show, due in April, was cancelled, and the prospect of his October tour looks uncertain. When he does step into the spotlight, though, he has a simplified setup to help him manage his performances alone.
“Tom used to have the clips ready in Ableton and an idea of how long he wanted to stretch the songs out, and I’d follow him. Now I have to do all that. At the moment, I’m using an iPad and GarageBand to trigger clips and then going into my pedals and amp. I’ve got the Loopstation running so that, if I have to stop a clip, I’m able to keep the loops going so that nothing drops out. The iPad means I don’t have to hook everything up and get too techy. My limited knowledge prohibits me from making it stringent. My whole career has been, ‘Right, I don’t know about any of this, so how can I find a loophole that lets me get around it?’”
Like many creatives stuck indoors, the lockdown has been a boon to Gavin’s creativity. “I moved house around the day of the lockdown,” he says. “I’d been without a studio for a while and it was driving me mad. Now that I’ve got my studio back and there’s a lockdown, I can just sit there and work. I was prolific anyway but now even more is coming out. I’ve got nothing else to do.”
Content with his humble home studio, Gavin is far from envious about industry show-offs. It’s all about being comfortable with your setup, however modest it might be. “It’s nice to do DIY stuff,” he says. “With the electronic guys, you look on their Instagram and they’re showing off all this equipment, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got all these Moogs and all this modular gear,’ and all that. I’ve just got my 12-year-old laptop. It works for me.”
‘Time Lapse’ is out now on n5MD.
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