INTERVIEW: Distorted Reality

By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Chain Border

They've taken fourth place as Best Newcomer in the 2002 online poll at grenzwellen.de.  They are also Legends’ Band of the Week, July, 1999.  The Atlantic separates the shores between this unconventional duo, Martha M. Arce from Miami and Christian Kobusch from Berlin, Germany, but the end result of this daring collaboration has spawned a glorious synthpop disc, The Fine Line Between Love and Hate.  I'm chilling with the unorthodox tag-team, Distorted Reality.  Thanks for your time, guys.

First off, I want to get into what it's like being from two different countries.  What stress, if any, does being apart so often do to you as musicians?

Martha: I wouldn’t say there is a lot of stress, but on occasion it can be frustrating because there are things that we’d like to discuss or work on face to face.

Chris: The process of songwriting takes a little more time, because everything is a little more complicated. But you get used to it.

Martha, you were fronting Deep Red at the time you met Christian while on tour in Germany.  This is common knowledge, but can you elaborate on what happened between you two that clicked so well, prompting you to depart from Deep Red and pursue Distorted Reality?

Martha: I did not leave Deep Red to pursue Distorted Reality. The reason I left Deep Red had nothing to do with that. My split from Deep Red was due to personality conflicts.

Not that I’m insinuating you left one for the other, I guess what I’m saying is, after your departure from Deep Red, you and Chris discovered one another. What was it that gelled for you?

Distorted RealityMartha: Well, first of all we got along great and that is extremely important. We have similar tastes in music yet at the same time there are enough differences in our tastes to make things interesting. We really see eye to eye on a lot of things’ our vision, what kind of music we create, etc. But I think what really gelled it for us was when we finished our first demo song. We were both so happy and excited after hearing it that we knew this collaboration was going to work.

How does it feel with your unusual collaboration by email?  Sending bits and pieces to each other over cyberspace was unheard of ages ago.  Obviously, technology has bridged the continents between you two, helping to create a global presence in music theory.  In other words, this is rather trend-setting.

Martha: Actually it feels OK. At first it felt a little strange, but now it’s just what we do and it feels natural.

Beats sending out tapes overseas as in the old days, yes?

Martha: Yes, definitely, and actually in the beginning we did send out tapes, but now there really is no need. Modern technology has made a situation like ours possible and I think that more and more people will work this way. Why should you be limited to working with the people that live in your area?

Those lyrics!  One or both of you is in some serious pain!  It's very evident on Drop and You Want Me, You Hate Me, but especially on Super Crush.  There's a lot of bloodletting in those words.  What on earth inspired those lyrics? 

Martha: The lyrics came from my anger and sense of loss about a relationship that from the beginning was very emotionally erratic. A love that could not be and selfish actions that brought joy and pain all at the same time. It came from a sense of utter frustration about the situation and strangely enough the desire to express my sexuality and ability to utilize it. 

When you say “express my sexuality,” is this to mean a repressive feeling that is coming to fruition through your music?

The Fine Line Between Love and HateMartha: Not exactly, it was more of proving to myself that I could be desirable. And to a certain extent prove to myself that that sensuality or feeling of femininity gave me power. It’s a bit twisted, but it came as a result of being in a situation that stripped me of my feeling of self worth. It was a way of saying, I am beautiful, I am sexy and I don’t care what you think. It also comes from that secret desire that everyone who has ever been hurt has…to have that person who hurt you desire you more then anything, but not able to ever have you. Like I said it’s twisted but it’s a way of healing.

Therapeutic, though, I gather. What was working on production with Bruno Kramm from Das Ich like?

Martha: It was fun, but also a lot of work and stress due to the fact that we were on a time restraint. We only had a certain amount of time allotted to work with Bruno and whether the work was done or not that’s all the time we had. So, it was quite stressful and frustrating at times. But still a very new experience for us from which we learned a lot.

Tell me about the transition from your recorded material to your live sound, i.e. the addition of a drummer and guitarist?

MarthaMartha: We wanted our live sound to be a little different from the CD. We didn’t want our live show to sound like we were just up on stage playing the CD; what would be the point of that. Also, we felt that having two other people on stage would add a lot to the live performance. It’s much more interesting to see 4 people up on stage as opposed to only two. Working in the studio and performing live are different animals so we approach them very differently.

In other words, you would never wish to adopt a Front 242 or Chemical Brothers methodology to live performance.

Martha: Well, I think both those bands are great and they do what they do live for a reason. We just chose to do it that way because we thought it would add something to the show, but who knows what we will do in the future. We like to keep things fresh so we may come up with some other ideas, who knows?

You guys just did a benefit gig in Tampa on October 24th, which I think is gracious of you.  There must exist an obvious sense of community between the artists in your genre.

Martha: That gig was actually on November 5th. I do feel that there is somewhat of a camaraderie between artists in this genre but, to be honest, it really depends on the bands and the people in them. I’ve had some great experiences with people who make music in this genre and I’ve also had some not so nice experiences. We performed with Psyche for this particular gig and they are terrific guys! Not only is their music great, but they are really nice and easy going. This show in Tampa was actually supposed to be part of the tour that we were to do with Psyche, but unfortunately things did not work out.

So tell me a little about your good and bad experiences.

Martha: Hmm, maybe not. I like to have a little mystery…

Understandable. How do you feel about audiences in the U.S. versus Europe, since you get opportunities to play for both?  Is one's market more receptive to you than the other?

Martha: I’m not sure if one is more receptive then the other, but I do think that the audiences in Europe, particularly in Germany, are usually larger as this scene is much more popular over there then here in the US. We would also love to do a tour or some shows next year here in the US and abroad if possible.

What are your musical influences?  I find it difficult to grab any one particular comparison to your contemporaries, though Love and Rockets gets in my head a little.

LifeChris: A lot of bands and different styles influence the music I do. Innovative electronic bands from the 80s and 90s had a big impact on me. Musicality is a very important point to me. There are quite a few bands out there that know how to create a powerful production, but don’t know how to create a cool melody that consists of more than three keys. Not every musician is a good producer and not every good producer is a good musician. I got influenced by composers like Trent Reznor and Martin Gore and by producers like Flood and Gareth Jones, just to name a few.

Do you feel comfortable with the label "synthpop?"  Is this accurate for your sound, or do you feel it's just a "label"?

Martha: I think it’s just a label. We are not exactly synthpop, but then again we are not exactly industrial or future pop either. We just make music and don’t really think about these types of labels when we do it.

The remixes on the American version of Fine Line:  I see a lot of this occurring in electronica.  Is there a lot of love between synth artists when remixing one another's material, as you did yourselves once, and then having your own songs remixed, or do you see this as simply finding ways to tweak and reinvent original source material?

Martha: I just love to see someone else’s interpretation of our songs. Also, we chose artists whom we respect musically so we know they are going to do something interesting and engaging with the songs. I love remixes they are great.

This is an off-the-wall question:  There's been some legislation quietly brewing about banning raves and I'm fascinated by this.  Do you think this potentially cripples your industry to a degree?  I mean, presenting a live show is one way to effectively promote yourselves, but obviously DJs have a strong hand in helping to break you.  If, for some reason, the government cracks down on raves how does this bode for Distorted Reality, or even your genre as a whole?

Martha: It’s been years since I’ve attended a rave to be honest. I don’t know that this genre really relies on raves that much. I don’t know enough about this subject to really give an informed answer, but I would be very surprised if raves were banned completely. Perhaps in certain parts of the country or certain smaller towns but a country wide thing…I find it hard to believe that will happen.

I understand you guys are at work on a new album, to be co-produced by Andreas Meyer of Forma Tadre. Is there a tentative title, what should we expect this time around and how much creative influence will Meyer have on it?

Chris: As Andreas and myself don’t live in the same city anymore, we don’t meet in person that often. The production process works very well though. Andreas and I talk a lot about the ideas we have for a song before he actually starts with the production. Andreas is a perfectionist. He works on a song until everybody is totally satisfied with it, including himself! After he has shown us his first version of a song, we can ask for changes if there is something that we don’t like. He cares about what Martha and I want to do with a song, but you do recognize his very own style in the songs as well. The sound of the next album will be a little different from the Bruno Kramm production. It sounds a little more electronic and more dancey. The production is much more fine-tuned, because we take much more time for the production. In early 2004 we will get the first remixes for the new album by Haujobb and Dust of Basement. We want to have the album ready to be released around April 04.

Sounds great! My appreciation for your time, guys.

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