Describing the Greg Kubacki sound is a dense, onerous task. From the tech-heavy mathematic assault of Car Bomb to the sleek, futuristic style of Xytechra, there’s more than enough material to sift through. But that’s what we do – sift. We just occasionally write about it.
That being said, today we’re particularly happy to do so. There’s a good deal more to Greg’s style than laser guitars and right-angled frequency shifts of consciousness. Take 2003’s The Future Engine for example. This lesser known but excellent gem blends post-grunge flavored indie rock with downright prescient walls of guitar noise from Kubacki. Imagine the songwriting of a band like Pinback but with the guitar style of Hum.
Then of course, before that, there was Neck. This is where Greg’s signature guitar playing really finds its roots. Neck was started in 1995, and showed off a technical, aggressive sense of dynamic. Similar to math/jazz metal acts like Candiria and Dillinger Escape Plan, menacing sounds of all kinds would contrast the barked, deranged lyrics of future Car Bomb vocalist Michael Dafferner. There’s also some samples to be found, a trick that returned full force with Xytechra.
To get a full scope of what’s really going on behind the madness, it’s our honor to present a recent chat we had with the man himself. Grab a Twix, or whatever candy bar you sadistically barbarize, and enjoy. Actually it might be better if you go with Greg’s suggestion: throwing actual cookies into cookies n’ cream ice cream. That sounds… revolutionary, actually. I’m going to do that right now.
But you there, you can relax. I am doing this so you don’t have to. Unless you want to. Either way, enjoy this chat with Greg about studio gear, influences, and how songwriting compares between the two projects.
FB: When did you first start writing songs for Xytechra? Did something inspire you to do so or was it something that naturally developed over time?
Greg: Ever since I heard Aphex Twin for the first time I’ve always wanted to create electronic music. Back in the early days of Neck, Mike and I used to mess around with our Tascam 4-track recorders and experiment with running crappy Casio keyboards into our even crappier multi-effect guitar processors. We really enjoyed that and since then, I’ve always tried to mess around in a DAW to create beats with plugins and what not, but never really got anywhere with it.
Then a good buddy of mine Rich (@richcourage) let me try his modular setup and I instantly fell in love with the format and how everything sounded. Before I knew it, I was buying my own modules and started experimenting whenever I had free time. Then the pandemic hit, and I just completely jumped into the deep end and got lost in it.
FB: Across your discography, the majority of your song titles are derived from mathematical concepts, geometric oddities, and the metaphysical. Where did the name Xytechra come from?
Greg: I guess it’s a not-so-subtle homage to Autechre. They’ve always been the pioneers of sound in my opinion and consistently release groundbreaking stuff. Other than that, Xytechra doesn’t really mean anything: it was chosen more for the way the letters look (which is another geometric oddity I guess) and the sound those letters make.
FB: You also have a knack for keeping things as complex as possible; is it harder to write for Xytechra or for Car Bomb?
Greg: Each project has a different set of challenges. With Car Bomb obviously finding fresh ideas isn’t easy, but then you have to actually play those ideas after they’re written. For it to be tight you have to hear and play the song one way so that the listener can feel the groove another way… it’s kind of like a trick. You have to reverse engineer all of the parts and rehearse them in this methodical way, which could be very time consuming and could take the excitement and freshness out of working on a song.
With Xytechra it’s completely different in that I don’t have to figure out how to play/perform the music and I really don’t have to figure out or explain what’s going on (I’d have no idea where to start anyway.) It’s basically just making a mess with sound and paying attention to see if anything is there. If I’m experimenting and something sounds interesting to me, then it’s all about quickly steering the music instinctually in the moment to see how many more ideas can come out of it. Then I record everything right then and there and move on. It’s really exciting when things click like that, but it could take a long time to get to that point and a lot of times you don’t get there at all. That’s the challenge with Xytechra.
FB: When you’re making electronic music, do you look at plugins the same way you’d look at effects pedals when playing the guitar? Do you use the same softwares in both situations?
Greg: The tools I use are totally different, but yeah the process is similar in that I’m always looking to combine multiple effects to create new sounds. Though when it comes to modular synths, I feel way more like a kid in a candy store. I always found pedals for the most part to be one dimensional because once you set the knobs and put the pedal back on the floor that’s pretty much it. I mean yeah, you can turn the effect on and off, but besides that the sound doesn’t change. Unless it goes “wah-wah” or screeches like a cat. Multi effect units and amp modelers allow you to change more than one effect parameters with an expression pedal, which is always fun to do. But there are limitations, and those haven’t changed in like 5 years. With Eurorack its completely limitless because you can wire up tons of shit into other tons of shit until you run out of cables. Then you can go buy more cables and keep going…it’s crazy.
FB: In “Habitual Line Stepper” at about 1:10 in, the song basically flips backwards into a breakdown pattern that at its core reminded me of Car Bomb. Do you write rhythmic phrases the same way for either project?
Greg: I always try to get some sort of groove happening with both, but the big difference is the rhythms in Car Bomb are completely thought out and calculated where in Xytechra they’re randomly generated to some degree. With certain modules (like the Malekko Varigate 8+) you can create beats that have probability built into them and generate semi-random sequences that evolve on their own. Then you can connect that probabilistic behavior throughout a Eurorack setup so that all of the sounds react in unison to that random pattern.
FB: “Orphaned Twix,” one of my favorite tracks from the record, ended up being about something far more literal than I previously imagined. Tell me, do you remember the first time you ever orphaned a Twix? Is it really so wrong of me to eat both Twix at the same time?
Greg: I mean… who am I to judge? If there ever was a time in history to be alive and do whatever the heck you wanted it would be now, so knock yourself out…haha. My new thing has been getting cookies from a local bakery on Long Island and sticking them into cookies ‘n cream ice cream. You should try that…no joke, that’s the shit!
FB: Do you prefer to create your own content or start with samples?
Greg: More and more I like to start with a sample first. It’s so crazy how now you can just crack open YouTube, record pretty much anything and get tons of mileage out of a 5 second loop by throwing it into a granular synth and mangling the hell out of it. Another one of my favorite sampling tricks is to create a whole track, throw a sampler at the very end of the master bus and then mangle that… THAT is where shit really starts to open up sonically.
FB: Do you think there is a symbiotic relationship between mathcore and IDM?
Greg: Sure. I can see that since they both try to push music forward in some way, which is always exciting to listen to. Though there’s this fear I always have of writing something too complicated where it all just turns into noise, and I think that’s a trap that both math core and IDM could easily fall into. In my mind there’s got to be something else going on in a track: some other simple idea, groove or ghostly vibe hiding in there somewhere gluing everything together.
FB: Did you develop any cool new obsessions while quarantined? Did you revisit “Why You Do This” at all or would that have been too painful? What are your feelings on the looming resurrection of live music?
Greg: As you can tell by reading this I completely geeked out with the modular thing. As soon as the pandemic was “official” I knew there would be all of this free time, so I finally surrendered to the looming and unescapable gravity of the black hole of Eurorack. As far as shows coming back, I’m definitely psyched just like everyone else in the world. Our last European tour wasn’t even a week in when we had to fly home because of COVID, so I’m definitely itching to play on stage again with Elliot, Jonny and Mike. And on the flipside as a fan: Meshuggah is recording a new record and Gojira are releasing “Fortitude” at the end of April, so there’ll be some great live shows to see in the near future (hopefully).
FB: Xytechra just released EP-1, seemingly implying that an EP-2 might be laying around somewhere or at least be taking shape. What’s next for you?
Greg: I hope to make and release more Xytechra stuff, but we’ll see. For now, it’s just a no-pressure hobby kinda thing where as long as I have time and enjoy it, I’ll keep making a mess. Recently I’ve accumulated some new modules but haven’t really cracked into them yet for some reason… I think it’s because I’ve been playing a lot more guitar.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know Greg and his various projects a little better than you did before. Can’t wait to see what he’s up to next. Till next time, jam some Car Bomb classics here, or check out that documentary we mentioned earlier. Just be ready to cry if you miss live shows and challenging music as much as we do.