Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Interview with Carbon Based Lifeforms!

Anyone familiar with me would know that there are two types of music I like above all else: ambient and rap. They would also know that I seem to favor two particular groups (technically three), in both those genres. For all things rap, I go to Tech N9ne. For all things ambient, I go to Carbon Based Lifeforms and SYNC24, which is a side project of CBL. I discovered CBL via fellow author and brother from another mother M. Knepper back in 2011 when he showed me what is to date one of my all time favorite tracks, Central Plains.

I immediately fell in love. Since then, I've purchased every single track ever produced by Carbon Based Lifeforms (as far as I know), as well as the majority of SYNC24's archive. If I ever get the money, I'm going to go see them live and see if I can talk them into hanging out for a little bit.

But enough about my gushing over them. I reached out to both Daniel and Johannes some time ago and they responded! We've been talking about a number of things and they've been nothing but kind and open in our conversations. One of the things I asked for was an interview, and here it is!

How did CBL get started?

We got introduced to music making by Mikael Lindquist (aka: Tony Montana, Oxygenial, Digidroids etc.). He made music on his Amiga using a very basic audio sequencer named Fasttracker. So we joined forces with him, forming the tracker group “Bassment Studios”. After a few years of tracking we moved on to MIDI and sequencers and formed a group called Notch.

With Notch we explored most of the genres of electronic dance music. We had quite a big impact on various sites around the web and despite various discussions with a lot of different labels, we only released a remix of Mourning After's – “What Would You Think” (Swedish synthpop, released on Pulsewave Records).

We really fell in love with the Ambient genre after Johannes's sister randomly had picked up a copy of Solar Quest's “Orgship” (still one of our absolute favorite ambient records). After listening to that record for a few months we felt we needed to make something similar. So we made a few chilled out tracks under the moniker Notch but we soon realized that we would like to make more, which led to the forming of Carbon Based Lifeforms, focusing only on drones, chill-out and ambient.

How did the Refuge OST come about? (Did you approach them or did they approach you?)

They approached us with some test reels with placeholder music, and we really liked the photography so we decided to go for it. We had an old track (RCA -) which we thought fit the mood of the movie, so we based all the themes on that track. Basically reworking it to fit the specific scenes.

Do you use a digital audio workstation and if so, which is your favorite?

For production we use PC's running Cubase and for live performances we use a Mac running Ableton Live.

Was working on a movie OST different than working on a normal album?

Yes it was quite different actually, when making an album each track is its own unique entity but when doing this sound track everything stemmed from the same seed, so to say.

Do you use straight synths exclusively or have you tweaked samples for some of your compositions?

It's a mix between hardware and software. Hardware-wise we use a couple of old analogues (tb303, Minimoog SH5, SH9 etc.) and some Clavia modulars and on the software side we use a lot of Spectrasonics Omnisphere and some Native Instruments
Kontakt for keys.

Has it gotten easier or more difficult to put together albums as time has gone on?

In a way it's harder, since in the beginning we had a lot of track embryos lying around which we could mould into full tracks. On the other hand we have a much better work flow now and we know our way around the gear a lot better.

How does the process of putting together an album work?

We tend to start out ideas for songs in our separate studios, and when we find something the other one likes we start hammering it out to a complete song. And we keep that process going until we have enough tracks for an album. When it comes to the production, Johannes likes to get lost in a lot of details on sounds and Daniel is usually the one to get things rolling again. Except when it comes to drums and percussion, then the roles are pretty much reversed :)

Have you ever used Linux? 

Johannes runs Ubuntu on his couch laptop, but for music we would love to, however the tools we use are not yet available for Linux.

Ever used Audacity?

Yes we've tried it out but we don't use it for production.

When did you know you wanted to make music?

We both played different instruments growing up, but when we got introduced to Fasttracker on the Amiga we got really hooked.

How did you meet?

We met when we were 15 and Johannes was transferred to Daniel's class at school. After some months we got to know each other and learned that we shared interest in almost everything. We became fast friends.

Do you get any say in the cover art? If so, how do you make the choice?

Yes we do have some creative input but in general it has been mostly up to the label.

What prompted you to found Leftfield Records?

Since it became easy for anyone to release music through digital aggregators the use for traditional labels has kind of become redundant. Daniel had a lot of Sync24 material that was too weird or uptempo for Ultimae so that was the main reason for it.

What are your goals for Leftfield Records?

No particular goals, it's just a platform for releasing our music.

POU is my favorite song, what went into the making of it?

We played with an old sampler and found that dark loop very intriguing so we sculpted a track around that.

Favorite BPM and time signature?

90 bpm 4/4 of course :)

Favorite instrument?

Reverb :)

What's in the future for CBL?

The plan is to start the production of a new album in the fall of 2014.

I would like to thank Daniel and Johannes for taking the time to answer my questions and for being so great to talk with. Here are some helpful links to support them, check out their fantastic archive of music and keep up to date!

UPDATE: CBL has since begun remastering and independently re-releasing their albums. It is no longer possible to directly purchase their original albums.

Purchase Carbon Based Lifeforms [Amazon]
Purchase SYNC24 [Ultimae Records | Leftfield Records]
Carbon Based Lifeforms Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
SYNC24 Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube


  1. A wonderful interview! Like you they are also my favorite group. My favorite song by them is Reaktion and they are a HUGE inspiration to the type of music i make.

    1. Thanks! There definitely needs to be more CBL-inspired ambiance in the world. I am going to check out your music.

  2. If there is one music group that changed my life these guys are it. There sound transcends words,I now know that I have a spirit. Top 5 favorites are "Photosynthesis","Set Theory","Euphotic","RCA", "Polyrytmi". What is it about this music that feels so familiar? Its almost like I have heard it before, a very distant memory. "There are no answers only choices"

    1. I know what you mean. I find myself coming back to their first album as CBL, Hydroponic Garden, frequently. While POU is my favorite, Central Plains is a very close second. But it's all good! I write almost every day, and 90% of the time Carbon Based Lifeforms or Sync24 is what I listen to for inspiration and background ambiance.

  3. Add me to the list of CBL fans who find what Daniel and Johannes create to be so far above 99% of what passes for music. Even with repeated listenings new subtleties are fleshed out... it really takes you to another place. Never gets old - and makes most of what passes for music feel confined and dated. My only wish is the CBL could come to the States but I have plans to go to Europe next March so Daniel and Johannes if you are listening schedule some dates - Geneva could be great as I could bring my daughter but Sweden, England, France, etc - wherever you find yourself playing I will work to make a show...

    1. Glad to hear from another fan! I too wish they'd come to the States. Someday I'd love to make a live show, but I don't know if I'll ever get enough money together in time. I can only hope. I still listen to them pretty much every day. I'm looking forward to the remastered, live & rare editions of their music, as well as the new album next year.