In 1994, a band leapt onto the American independent synthpop scene, named Forgiving Iris. Their song, "Annie, Would I Lie To You" appeared on the second compilation album released by Control-Alt-Delete, the former Information Society fan club that had morphed into a networking tool for bands in this fledgling scene. Over the next few years, they dropped the "Forgiving" from the band's name, put together enough material to put out their first full-length CD (1999's Disconnect, released by A Different Drum) and four CD singles. Iris have followed a different route than many of their early compatriots - taking a more rock-oriented approach to their music. On September 10th, 2005, Iris performed in Seattle with Cause & Effect. With their third album, Wrath having just been released (you can hear "Appetite", our lead-off "single" from that album, in our New Music Showcase), we were able to take the opportunity to sit down with Reagan Jones and Andrew Sega and talk about the band - past, present and future.
Andrew Sega and Reagan Jones, with Brian Pearson on guitar, performing at the Catwalk Club in Seattle on September 10th, 2005
To set the stage for this interview, though, it should be noted that this interview was a bit of a turning point for us. It was the first time we'd sat down in person with the band being interviewed and recorded the interview on cassette. This was enlightening to us - especially since we did this backstage at the club they were performing at, so had to deal with the thumping of the sound system in the background of the discussion. It was a great opportunity for us to be able to do this, especially since I could pair the interview up with an Iris concert (not to mention Cause & Effect), which was a fantastic show.
Iris was the second band on the bill for the show, so after the doors were opened, I waited inside the Catwalk Club for a little while, and then went backstage with them to sit down and chat. As we began talking, we had some minor ambient noise conflicting with our conversation, but as we went on, it got louder until finally we realized that the opening act, Son Of Rust, had taken the stage.
AeschTunes: I wanted to start off talking a little bit about the band's history, back to 94. 94-95 which is when I first heard about Forgiving Iris.
Reagan Jones: Yeah.
AT: "Annie, Would I Lie To You" originally appeared on one of the Control-Alt-Delete compilations. How did those compilation albums come to be?
RJ: Jeri Beck, we called her "The Cat" and she basically was the head of an Information Society fan club. That sort of developed into this newsletter that she would send out, I think, quarterly? Which became much more than an Information Society fan club. It really started to become like a home base for fledgling, start-up electronic pop bands, us being one of those, and it just became this community. I think that once that was established, the next step was to take it and make a compilation. All that was her idea. They had one first that we didn't make. We didn't get on that, we didn't submit anything for it. And then the second one, we had some time to put that song together and it just worked. It was like the first time we really kinda felt strong behind something we had done and she was really into it and real excited about it. So from that, that was the first time, I guess.
AT: So that would have been the first recording that you had done?
RJ: That's like the first recording that anyone had heard. I mean, outside of friends. We had lots of songs, really, that we were playing in college that no one's heard.
AT: Since then.
RJ: No one's really heard them. Some people, a bunch of frat guys back in college and those. They don't know them, they heard those old songs. There was one song called "Westlake" that was probably one of my favorites, but I don't even have a copy of it today, which is weird.
AT: So the ::CatCompilation II::, which "Annie" was on, would've been 1994. Then there was a bit of a break until Disconnect came out in 1999. During that time, was it just a process of demos and performing?
RJ: I think we've always been slow. We're not a prolific band. I don't think we're ever going to be one, just not in the blood. That was that way from the very beginning. It just took a long time to sort out what we wanted to do. I mean, when Disconnect was released, it was not something we planned to do. We had a bunch of demos and we released them on our own. You know, this little homemade album. A Different Drum Records decided "Well, let's do it professionally, put our work behind it and all that." But essentially it's still...
AT: A collection of demos.
RJ: Which is why I don't always refer to it as "the first album." I really think of Awakening as the first album, because Disconnect is... you can't really say it's an album. It's from '94 to '99. There's a couple of songs on it that I consider new, like "Lose In Wanting" and "Danger Is The Shame," maybe "Waves Crash In", but that's about it.
AT: So, after Disconnect, Matt (Morris) left the band, and Andrew comes in. I've read a little about the story of how that happened. How Matt actually introduced the two of you, is that correct?
AT: What attracted you to what Reagan was doing at that point?
Andrew Sega: At the time, I was sort of doing my own sort of instrumental electronica stuff.
AT: Alpha Conspiracy.
AS: Right. And I thought it would be interesting to work on, essentially, a pop project. I don't think we necessarily knew if it was going to work. I met Matt through Joel Willard of CTRL, and Matt introduces me, and he (Reagan) is like "Hey, well, I'll come down one day and bring some demos and we'll see what happens." The first song he played was "Unknown." So that was the first one we worked on. And that seemed to work out fairly well, so we just went from there. It wasn't like "Let's do an Iris record." It was more like "Let's work on some tracks and see if anything comes out of it."
AT: Speaking of "Unknown," you used that as a single to lead off the album. And I remember reading something that you (Andrew) had written online the other day about the two of you had gotten tired of singles.
AS: The problem with singles is just that they're too expensive to do and they're really catered to a) hardcore fans, and b) DJ's. And so Iris is certainly less of a club band than it used to be. And so it seems as if it has become a bit less important. I think we'd rather release, like I was kind of planning, release more full-length things. Like full-length remix albums.
AT: More along the lines of Reconnect.
AS: It's not necessarily that singles aren't... I've seen some of our European ones for this new one. Some of our European label partners are releasing, you know, promo singles and stuff. But it just doesn't put it...
AT: Promotional, as opposed to a commercial single.
AS: Yeah, it's a different world, I think, than it was ten years ago.
AT: One of the things that I know I noticed the I first time I heard the "Awakening" album was there was a bit of a change in the sound of the music. Partly, I think it has to be attributed to new blood in the group. But it seems like there were certain elements that were coming out stronger on the second album. One of the things that I know has been pointed out at various times is the use of guitar. That's become more prominent as the band has gone on.
AS: I think that's true. I think it's something that Reagan wanted to explore, and I play guitar, so it just sort of evolved, I guess. Some people are like "Oh, I hate guitars." How can you hate a guitar? It makes no sense. It's just an instrument. I think we try to use them in interesting ways, and I think it's just another ingredient in the stew, as it were.
AT: One of the things I've always used as an argument when I hear people getting onto this anti-guitar side of things, a lot of the "synth-purists" as I like to say it...
AS: Right. Throw your Depeche Mode records out, cause guess what? They use guitars!
AT: At least since '83. Listen to "Love, In Itself", that's a guitar in the middle.
AS: Yeah, that ain't keyboard.
AT: And one of the main riffs on "Enjoy The Silence". That's guitar.
AS: I couldn't imagine that being a keyboard.
RJ: "Personal Jesus" is all guitar.
AS: There's barely a keyboard on it.
AT: In the background.
RJ: And yet, people still think that they're a dance band, and they're not. They're not at all. They're not a rock band either. They're just something else different.
AT: I guess you could say "electronic rock".
RJ: Yeah, you could say that.
AT: They're somewhere in between.
AS: I would much rather people call us "electronic rock" than "synthpop". I hate the word "synthpop".
RJ: I just think it's such a misnomer. A lot of people who are Depeche Mode fans, when they get into bands, they write dance music. And I never danced, for one thing. I can't speak for Andrew, I don't think he does either, but you know, I'm a head-bopper. That's my way of getting into music. I got that from the days of Def Leppard and all that. So, just this steady beat, and feeling it here (touches hand to chest). So Depeche Mode just extended that and made it a deeper emotional feeling, for me. And still bands are hard pressed to try and duplicate that. You can't do it, obviously, but bands that are trying, for the most part become dance bands. We kinda started out that way, but it's certainly not where I wanted to be. It's not like I suddenly had this idea, "Hey, let's use guitars." I've always tried to get that included, from the very beginning, always tried to push the edge a little bit. You know, with "Annie, Would I Lie To You" even, there's one of the main patches of the song that sounds like a guitar. I remember the name of it, it was called "Slammed", off an Ensoniq EPS 16 Plus. [Editor's note - in follow-up conversation, Reagan remembered that the patch was a homemade sample from former Iris member Matt Morris] So already, you can see that that was kind of clawed out of that box, of becoming like a "beep-beep-beep-beep" band is just not ever what it was meant to be.
AT: You've also done some touring of Europe. You just did a festival a couple weeks ago?
AT: How do the audiences in Europe compare to here in the States?
RJ: This is a scene that is still getting legs, and people are, I think, kinda the same. You might have more people in Europe that are there. But whether you've got 300 in America or 1,000 in Europe, I think the response is kinda similar. More has been made out of that big division. Now, with the internet, geographical boundaries have been fading away. People just kinda hear what they hear on iTunes and the internet, and they don't really think "Is it American or is it European?" There's always that case, but I think it's starting to gradually fade away. But certainly there's more people that go to the festivals, and we have more opportunities in Europe.
AT: I know you've done some outside work, you did some vocals for System22 on the "Velocity Trip" album. I remember reading something, and I can't remember the name of the track, but it was credited as Virtual Server featuring Iris.
RJ: Yes, "The Earth". That's DJ Ram from Russia.
AT: Was that at the time he was working on the Installed album or is that more recent?
RJ: I don't know. He just wanted to try something, to work together, and that was the song that came out of it. I don't think many people have heard it. Now I'm working on something, with Bruderschaft, I think is the name. We'll see how that goes. Bruderschaft does more EBM type stuff, but the track is pretty cool and we'll see how it works out.
AT: On the subject of side projects, how long have you (Andrew) been recording under the Alpha Conspiracy name?
AS: Since 2001. 2000. Somewhere in there.
AT: And I know you've done some remix work. For example, you did the Delerium contest.
AT: I never even heard about this remix contest until after I heard that you had actually gotten your track onto the album. How exactly did that contest work? Did you have to download the base tracks?
AS: Yeah, basically, download the kit from them. That was sort of on a total whim for me. I listened to the song. I think I was kinda bored at the time, so I'm like, "Okay, well, I'll work on something". I finished it, I thought it was alright, so I basically sent it off to Nettwerk, I finished it the day before the deadline. I had to overnight it to them, is how late it was. Then, like literally, it must've been six months later, I get this phone call from Nettwerk saying "Oh yeah, you've won!" And I'm like, "What?" I actually totally forgot about it. And it freaked me out. So that's pretty much how it happened. I haven't seen any sort of fame or fortune or anything from it. But it's cool to be on the US release.
AT: So, the new album (Wrath) is out now, right?
AS: Just came out.
AT: All the Iris albums have had nice short, simple titles: Disconnect, Awakening, Wrath. What did the title of this album mean to you? Was it something that came out of the material that you were doing?
RJ: I think, if for nothing else, it serves as a pretty aggressive title for a band that is somewhat still known for "Annie, Would I Lie To You" and some synthpop stuff. So, I think it's kind of a necessary thing to really make a point. To shake things up a bit. I think that that word is provoking, and I think we wanted to provoke people with having a little bit edgier sound. Having said that, the album really didn't come out edgy in a way that would shy people away from it that like synthpop. So I'm kinda proud of that, cause it retains an element...
AT: There's an edgier side to it, but it's still accessible.
RJ: "Wrath" just sort of announces that. And it does have a lot of things to do with some things that... you know, that's kinda for the listeners to make their own determinations on that.
AT: Based on the samples that I've heard, "Appetite" seemed rather more dance-oriented than the rest of the stuff.
RJ: Really? Huh...
AT: Just based on the minute-and-a-half samples.
AS: Yeah, it stretches the definition of dance. I mean, it's dance in a "Gang Of Four post-punk" dance way. It's not really a dance beat per se, it's a groovy song. I don't think it was intended to be a dance song certainly, it was intended to be a rock song. But some rock songs are groovier than others. And one could certainly dance to it.
AT: It just struck me based on the samples that I was hearing, most of the songs didn't really seem to lend themselves to a dance floor. That seemed like it had the potential where it could.
RJ: I don't do my best thinking dancing. So that's probably why I don't dance. That and the fact that I probably wouldn't look that cool doing it. But electronic music is such a very cool thing. Electronics allow you to do anything. There's no limit to what you can make a sound come across like. And it's used predominantly in dance. And I think that it's just a shame. I think it belongs in a pop sense, it belongs in rock, it belongs in these other genres, and it's nice to hopefully write some stuff where people can relate to it in their car, relate to it on their patio, relate to it by themselves when they're thinking about something and it provokes thought, as opposed to simply being a means of getting your groove on. Nothing wrong with that, I just think it's, out of the two, that's kind of the preference I've always had.
AT: One of the things that has struck me about Iris' music, I think the way I said it to my wife once was along the lines of I felt like Iris' lyrics were very similar to Duran Duran, in the mid '80s. Very obscure if you just look right on the surface, but when you start letting it sink in, then you start making the connections on more of a subconscious level. It's not a literal thing, it's something below that.
RJ: I try not to be confusing. I really don't want to confuse anyone. It's just the way I talk. A lot of times I'll talk and my friends will say "Why don't you just speak English?" I like real formal speaking and I tend to write that way. Sometimes maybe it's not as obvious what I'm saying, but to me it is. If I ever do go back and look at lyrics, it makes total sense to me. But maybe I'm halfway crazy, you know?
AT: I just remember reading a discussion on the Internet where someone was asking Cody Williams of System22 about the song "Until You Say You Are". And he was like, "You know, I can't tell you what it means, Reagan wrote the words to it." And then he said something about having gotten an email from you at one point where you said you didn't even know what the words meant to it.
RJ: No, no, I never said that. Never, never, never, never. No, I know what it means.
AT: But explaining it to someone would take something away from it.
RJ: As an example to define the clarity that I see in the lyrics, I would use that song, only I can't remember what they are. It's been too long. I would tell you exactly what it meant. Cause it's a relationship song, and those are easy giveaways. Yeah, I better not. It's there. There's a lot of stuff that I think is good writing, but it takes a while to figure out what they're saying. I never heard the Duran Duran deal, though. That's interesting.
AT: That was just the thought that came through my mind. I was thinking of the stuff around the time of "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" and that period of Duran Duran's stuff, and it seemed to me there was a bit of similarity in the way that the words were approached. Not a completely direct route, but after you listen a few times you make the connections.
RJ: I suppose that's true.
It was at this point that we knew for sure that Son Of Rust had taken the stage and started their set. We stopped the interview here, with the intent of picking it up again after Cause & Effect finished their set. The night progressed on, Cause & Effect were called back for two encores, and when all was said and done, it was about fifteen minutes until the club would close for the night. I was invited to the after-party so we could finish up the interview, but I (admittedly) got lost trying to find my way there.
A couple of days later, I contacted Andrew online and gave him a few final questions...
AT: On the Reconnect CD (and in the performance the other night), "Endless" featured a very different set of lyrics than the version that originally appeared on Disconnect; I assume you weren't quite satisfied with the song lyrically in it's original appearance. Are there other songs that you've "rewritten" in this manner for live performances?
AS: Those are actually the lyrics which appeared on the Reconnect version, in the Echoing Green remix. Reagan had wanted to make some changes to those lyrics for quite a while, so when Joey needed new vocals for the mix, it was the perfect opportunity.
Andrew Sega and Reagan Jones, with Brian Pearson on guitar, performing at the Catwalk Club in Seattle on September 10th, 2005
AT: At the concert, you also performed "Endless" in a very different manner - slowing it down and turning it into a ballad. Is there a chance that this arrangement will be captured on disc?
AS: Possibly... we have played it several times live now, but there's always the chance it might be recorded properly for a B-side or something.
AT: During the show, you commented something along the lines of it being "possibly the last time" we'd hear "Annie, Would I Lie To You" in that arrangement. How often do you tinker with the live arrangements of the songs? Is it more a "when it feels right" type of thing?
AS: Yeah, that's pretty much it. You may have noticed a few tweaks.. the intro to "Sorrow Expert" was different, "Island" featured different drum loops, etc etc. Usually we see how the live shows translate and we make changes as necessary.
AT: I've heard that Iris has never done a lot of touring - will there be a larger scale tour to support the Wrath album?
AS: We don't really do big tours because we have busy lives outside of the band. If it happens, I can tell you there's a 99% chance that it will be a European tour, probably with another band of similar or larger stature...
AT: What is up next for Iris? You had mentioned the possibility of a remix album rather than issuing singles; is this something that has actually been decided upon or just a possibility being bounced around?
AS: It's sort of in the planning stages right now; until it shapes up a bit more I can't really comment on it. But it's definitely our desire and hopefully we'll get it released sooner rather than later...
AT: We traditionally give our interview subjects a "free" question - allowing them an opportunity to tell our readers something of their own choosing about the band, themselves, life in general...?
AS: Well, I'm not quite sure what to put here. Reagan's been doing lots of cycling lately (he will become the next Lance Armstrong, just you wait). I just bought a 1/4" vintage Akai tape machine from 1971 that might find its way into some future recordings. It's quite hot here in Texas. :>