I love gripping music above all. You know the type; the kind that either drags you down or lifts you up with it in an inexplicable yet deeply profound and personal manner – the kind that often translates to something that feels like it was made for you specifically, and you alone. Of course, usually, a single work of art touches a lot of people albeit in different ways, but to me it has always felt like there’s as many interpretations as there are listeners, hence transforming the work to a sublime state. That kind of music is hardly what you’d just send someone and go ‘oh this good do listen’ but instead you have to write an essay explaining how this little thing replaced your veins and nerves and is now embedded into your being. You know what I’m talking about.

Today’s WFA was in the making for a while, which more than normally perhaps, allowed me to dig deeper into the artist’s essence by means of writing and understanding. Today’s artist has been active in various scenes for decades, with plenty of different bands and monikers under his belt, but right now we’re emphasising his solo work, and more precisely focusing on an individual album that put me through all of the above in various ways and to alternating outcomes.

Mark Solotroff awaits you at the crossroads of structural lo-fi ambient washes and textural noisescapes with his recent album, last year’s Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero. Solotroff has been a prominent figure in the world of post-industrial, power electronics, noise, and all-round experimental music since the 80’s, in such groups as BLOODYMINDED, Intrinsic Action, Anatomy of Habit, The Fortieth Day, and others alongside his own name. While I could easily write this feature on any of those bands, I wanted my first proper foray into Mr. Solotroff’s psyche to revolve around the mentioned solo album, and what constitutes the man’s artistry as a whole. This way I also conveniently get to say what I have to say about Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero as I missed my review window for it last November thanks to life being a bit of a bitch. So this is a win win, of sorts.

I got to write a premiere for one of the songs of the latest album earlier, and it’s pretty much solely responsible for pushing me down this particular rabbit hole. A brief chat with the artist in relation to said premiere nurtured my inclination to ask to interview him for this feature, and he gladly obliged, much to my enjoyment. After drafting dozens of questions and abruptly coming to my senses on the verge of lunacy, I managed to gather a somewhat reasonable sheet of inquiries to send to him, and here we are.

Jumping in to the deep end right away, I asked Solotroff about how his career started, plain and simple. Given that he’s been able to make quite the significant waves so early on, there had to be something else to it other than ‘being in the right place at the right time‘, or that’s at least how I view it, especially in hindsight. But how does Solotroff himself think about it?

I’ve been enthusiastic about music from my early childhood, on. Everything started with the Beatles and Stones records I heard at home. In elementary school I started getting into harder rock, like Zeppelin, Sabbath, Kiss, Alice Cooper, etc. By the time I was 12-13, punk hit my radar pretty hard, as had Bowie, Iggy, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, and other artists in that realm, mostly through my dad. From punk, I started hearing new wave and minimal synth. That led to the early industrial scene, which I dove into, head first. S.P.K., Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, Whitehouse, Cabaret Voltaire, M.B., Lustmord… and on and on. I wanted to try to make music like what I was hearing and I was so excited about… I felt like I wanted to contribute to that world, somehow… so I recorded some very rudimentary things without any real equipment. It didn’t take long until I was enrolled in a ‘sound’ class at school (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), which gave me access to synthesizers, reel-to-reel recorders, effects units, etc. My first band, Intrinsic Action, grew from these sessions and we started playing live after a couple of years of studio focus.

As apparent, his musical path was by no means a direct route to any particular outcome, but more or less a sum of its parts. Personally I’ve always found it interesting to scrutinize an artist whose output hasn’t been limited to a single genre or a band, but instead has branched out to multiple outlets and wildly contrasting tonalities. I’ve been lucky enough to speak with many artists of such caliber, and one permanent staple in my questionnaire is, that how the artist themselves views their own evolution. As we know, some things simply happen while others are influenced by many, and then of course we have the (usually) awful compulsion aspect, given that the latter is more often so blatantly obvious to everyone, that there isn’t much to write home about.

One point that I need to make right now, is that we are looking back at a timeframe stretching for over forty decades, so the more quiet moments and years of the said evolution are, if not lost to time, at least hidden from an outsider gaze, such as mine. It’s easy to draw maps and say how this and that added up to those and these in this point in time, but how does Solotroff – being the one who actually lived through all of it – see his sonic growth, and how intuitively the headings for his various different outlets present themselves?

This is a complex question! I stayed on a fairly narrow path with post-industrial or power-electronics, or whatever you want to call it, for quite a long time. When I first moved to New York, in 1992, I pursued more rock or metal opportunities and I briefly played in a sort of thrash/death metal band that never even left the practice space. It wasn’t until my second band, BLOODYMINDED, had been going for probably close to 10 years that I started branching out and collaborating with different people. I’d say that finally being willing to step outside my comfort zone and work with other people from different music communities allowed me to really try new things and ultimately find my way more into the metal community here in Chicago. I think time, itself, has also played a big part in this evolution. I’ve developed long, deep relationships with musicians/artists from around the US, in the UK, and in Europe… especially from Italy… and that has opened up so many exciting paths for me to follow and collaborations that have been offered to me.

‘As for my ‘headings’ with different bands or recordings… Well there will always be the element of ‘me’ somewhere in the mix, whether it’s BLOODYMINDED or Anatomy of Habit, but then it depends on the interactions with my bandmates, what we’re all thinking about, what we want to accomplish… Lyrically, as I’m typically driving, things continue to become more personal and more driven by life experience, compared to the old days of focusing on a certain topic that captured my interest. Similarly, with my solo recordings, ideas come from inside, although the influence of the world around me, whether areas of Chicago or the digital space we exist in (too much, in my opinion) influence my thinking and my conceptual direction.

And to sort of round out the previous question, I inquired that what it is exactly that drives him as an artist whether now or in the past, what would be his main sources of inspiration, and how does he utilize them;

I’ve always created things, since I was a kid. Drawing, painting, writing, making music. I don’t really think about why, or how. It’s just the way it’s always been. I’ve been inspired by art and music and books and film and people, but I don’t think I ‘need’ inspiration to create. It’s just exciting that there is so much incredible creative work to experience and to absorb. I’m increasingly more inspired by the world around me. People. Relationships. Day-to-day life.

Mark Solotroff‘s name has been associated for a long time with a few spearheading monikers mentioned here many times over already, but the reason we’re here now is solely thanks to his solo work. Without diminishing band-related work in the slightest, I’ve noticed that any artist’s solo material can have an added layer of clarity and a more defined red thread – a singular purpose or mission if you will – within it. That doesn’t mean that a band couldn’t have a shared vision, fuck no, but in certain terms you could say that having a single author makes some works a lot more coherent and less all-over-the-place than others.

Solotroff’s solo catalogue is, when mildly put, expansive. You don’t need to do more than to scratch the surface to notice that this person has momentum and the passion to create to no end, which in turn provided me personally a whole world’s worth of territory to explore over the past months. Different people have different catalysts that lead them to pursue things under their own name, and Solotroff’s thoughts on it echo those of a few other multifaceted aural engineers I’ve had the pleasure to discuss with;

It took a good 10 years for me to even think about releasing music under my own name. As Intrinsic Action was winding down, and before we were ready to fully launch BLOODYMINDED, I had some downtime and some gear I wanted to mess around with. There were labels asking for music to release, but as one band was ending and another wasn’t ready to share or release anything, it seemed like a good time to think about actually completing some solo releases. That led to a brief flurry of releases in 1995-96, prior to me going nuts with my Super Eight Loop recordings. Aside from a handful of collaborative things that are attached to my name, I didn’t really feel the need to release solo music for quite a long time, as I was satisfied with the pace of things, playing in BLOODYMINDED, running a label (BloodLust!), and eventually moving into a more metal direction, first with Animal Law and then with Anatomy of Habit. It wasn’t until I started developing some ideas for urban-centric synth music in 2016-17, that I fully launched into my current practice of solo recordings.

Having a wide musical spectrum on his disposal at all times, I asked Solotroff if he has any general methodologies or other more particular dictions on how he sets out to write and record music, for any of his sonic forms;

It depends on the band and the situation, or album. Anatomy of Habit writes together collaboratively, as a band. BLOODYMINDED tends to start with me coming up with ideas and writing lyrics and then we head into the studio. For my solo recordings, I typically start playing synth and recording it as I go. I may have a general sense of wanting to pursue longer pieces of music or challenging myself to create shorter songs. Once I feel like I have a solid body of elements to work with I start mixing, editing, and whatnot. Each album or release has both similarities and differences in approach, so that I can find my footing right away, but to avoid making things too easy… to avoid following a pattern, as I always want some sort of challenge. I may have some ideas about the album and song titles, ahead of time… or a basic mood… but sometimes ‘writing’ comes after hearing the music I’m making.

Finally, we’re focusing our eyes to the present day, and Solotroff’s most recent album, which resulted in all of this, Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero.

Like I said earlier, I got to write a premiere for one of the songs, and it shook me to the core from the first seconds on. There’s something so tangible and inviting to the sound of the album, which simultaneously excels in both radiating warmth as well as clenching distress. First and foremost, I found myself obsessing over an album that is very human and lifelike, and which turned out to be a tapestry to cling onto throughout the worst months of my entire life so far. Having something so profound gather an intense amount of further mass over using it as a mean to escape from whatever ails my carnal form is probably not the smartest thing to do given that I’d like to listen to it in the future as well, but it is what it is, I guess.

One aspect that makes Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero so particularly immersive is the lo-fi tonalities and slowly seeping, sullen yet soothing moods that wash over your entire body as an ocean of absorbing ambiances. Reading into the main motifs of the album and how it was created, I knew I had to pick the brain behind it all a bit more and ask further elaboration on the themes and methods put to use in the record’s creation;

I mentioned ‘mood’, and that has played a big part of my last three albums (You May Be Holding Back, Not Everybody Makes It, and Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero). These albums are driven more by mood and emotion and by me trying to create sounds that align with these feelings. One way I thought that I could externalize these feelings on the new album was to include a more prominent melodic aspect to the songs, which I’ve slowly been building towards, and it worked out for me to create fairly rudimentary semi-melodic loops, to act as a foundation for the songs. Then I started layering on a range of synth tracks, from calmer to harsher sounds. The greatest amount of time was spent on listening to my progress as I went along, then mixing, editing, and post-production.

I was instantly fascinated with the idea of Solotroff recording vintage analog synths to a four-track tape deck only to feed the tapes to themselves time and time again to discover things not meant to be there by design, and building the entirety of the album around those findings. It’s like heading out for a walk in a forest barefoot and hoping you’ll step on rocks and sticks that’ll puncture your soles and make you feel something. Calling things like that ‘happy accidents‘ might translate well to the general public but is seated in false belief that things just ‘happen’ when in reality the effort, work, and know-how needs to be firmly in place to allow these scenarios to flourish. Everyone can make a mistake, but to make them on purpose and proudly presenting them as what they are is something else entirely.

That said, the album as a whole is cohesive and sounds intentional, which is definitely what it is, with the starting point just being a breath of fresh air. On the note of vintage analog synths being put to use, and myself being an absolute god-forsaken nerd when it comes to synths in general, I wanted to ask more about the gear Solotroff generally prefers and what he used here in particular, just to indulge myself;

Are you ready for a contradiction? I have an apartment full of small, generally monophonic, analog synths, but I’m not really into gear. I’ve just been doing this for a long time and I started acquiring synths, fairly early on. I think this album is mostly Moog Rogue and Roland SH-101, but it’s only because those are two of my go-to synths for low-end and high-end. I recorded it on a Tascam 424 Portastudio (four-track cassette recorder) and I take advantage of tape saturation, not to mention a lot of delay and reverb (from various, mostly analog pedals). The Tascam has helpful speed options, and I can tell you that processing sound via speed and direction has been a big part of my style for years and years. I tend to rub out any sounds/patterns that would make it easy to identify what synth they came from.

That last bit I found very poignant when it comes to the musical style in question. When you think about instruments, you can surely tell apart guitar and drums, yes? But can you tell what guitar or what brand the cans are solely by listening alone? Not really. Someone will say that they actually do, but those people are lying. Then again when it comes to synths, things aren’t as simple. With classic manufacturers like Moog, Roland, Oberheim, and the likes, each have built their foundations on top of very particular and distinguishable sounds. Sure, these days there’s lots of recreations and influences piled upon influences so it’s still hard to tell a cat from a dog at times, but certain aspects to given sounds stand unchanged. Sandpapering those characteristics partly away is a choice that many make, and I’m sure you can understand why. It’s not that the associations would be negative as such, but more akin to allowing certain people (like myself – a nerd, remember?) to focus on the music more than what it was made with. Just needed to put that out there, not that it matters to most of you. But this is my article, so I can say what I want to. Well, mostly.

Circling back to Today The Infinite, Tomorrow Zero, there’s an added layer of something I couldn’t really put my finger on for a while, until it later on clicked on one random drive through our measly town. The album, albeit very aerial and transcendent by its main tones, carries a strong urban vibe with. This isn’t something I’d normally take interest in, but for some reason it stood out this time. Artists can use anything as their fuel, and while some look for inspiration from books or movies or other music or whatever, some just wander around their city’ alleys and spaces, or just look out the window, to ignite that certain creative spark.

So how does Solotroff’s surroundings and environment play into his output, or do they bear a role at all? People get equally inspired by closed spaces and vast halls, as they do by big cities and rural middle of nowheres alike, where does he see himself in those equations?

I think I started heading down this route already, but my surroundings are absolutely critical to the music I’m making, especially my solo work from the last six years, or so. It also sits at the center of the last BLOODYMINDED album. I live in downtown Chicago, surrounded by skyscrapers, train tracks and stations, subway stations, bridges crossing the river… This has been a major focus of the art I’ve been making, whether photography, mapping exercises, collages, videos, or more recently, AI-derived images, and it features heavily in my album art since 2017. There were moments during the pandemic when I felt like I had the area all to myself, as downtown was deserted for quite a while. But an important tension in my art and my music has to do with inner and outer spaces, or macro and micro views. So, while the influence of the city always soaks in, the music itself has to do with how I’m reacting to and processing thoughts about aspects of life… people, relationships, interactions, and being in this busy, centralized place in the city. I think it should be able to work in any setting, as it’s meant to be a projection or representation of my emotions, and not a depiction of my surroundings.

Even though not necessarily directly responsible for everything or consciously altering our decisions, it’s clear that our surroundings affect us to higher degree than what we’d like to admit most of the time. While the actual emphasis itself might rely on topics Solotroff elaborated on above, they need to have a space to be allowed to happen. That’s the way I see it at least, and I’m sure that depiction is something many of you can relate to. Not everything has to be laid out in the open or recognized individually, but everything that constitutes anything is a sum of itself, in music, and in life.

With the album talk slowly but surely blending to the passed on horizons in the rearview mirror, it’s only apt to look ahead as far as visible and ask Solotroff what he’s up to next;

I have a few ideas for solo recordings, but they’ll have to wait for a while. My focus is on BLOODYMINDED and Anatomy of Habit right now. BLOODYMINDED has an album that it probably 80% recorded, but we stalled out and we’re discussing a shift in our approach. That might result in us deconstructing the 10 songs that we nearly completed, to try a different mixing and editing approach. Then we can tackle the vocals. Anatomy of Habit recorded a new album and we’re currently reviewing mixes that Sanford Parker sent us. We’re pretty close, so once we wrap up mixing, we’ll get the album mastered and then we’ll wrap up art and design and manufacturing. The band has a fairly detailed roadmap for the album that’ll come after that, and we plan to start writing in February. We’ll probably spend a few months focused on that, before we start booking any shows. All that, and I haven’t mentioned other collaborations or ‘less full-time’ bands that have things in the works. Let’s just say that I always stay busy, one way or another.

Did anyone honestly expect anything less than everything when asked what he’s up to? Didn’t think so.

While this particular train of thought is arriving to its terminus, I hope that someone managed to navigate through the walls of riddles above, is still here with us, and would be interested to know more about Mark Solotroff and his music. Luckily in this day and age, that couldn’t be more straightforward. You can follow his doings over at Instagram and Facebook, as well as sink your teeth to his wonderful solo material over at his Bandcamp. And for a comprehensive look at his various other projects and everything in general, see his website. That’s all there is to it, get to listening and giving yourself a lapful of good time.

Thank you, thanks Mark, let’s survive another day.

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