This interview, produced by Craig Anderton, appeared in the October 1983 issue of Polyphony magazine. Please note that the (c) of this article are with the magazine and author. We have scanned the original article from the magazine and converted it to readable text. Because the original article only contained one picture of Larry Fast (below), we added some more images for illustration. The scan of the original article can be found at the bottom of this post.

More on the Polyphony magazine below the article.

Larry Fast probably doesn’t need much of an introduction to Polyphony readers, as he has consistently been in the forefront of musical electronics. His solo albums under the “Synergy” name, his daring work with Peter Gabriel, and his many sessions with artists as diverse as Foreigner, Hall and Oates, and Joan Armatrading have established him as a commercial and artistic force in the field of synthesis. As if that wasn’t enough, he has recently branched out into film scoring and video production. Larry brings a very professional attitude to his music, but anyone who takes Larry’s music too seriously would be missing a lot of what makes him tick. Those who feel his Synergy albums have, on occasion, tended towards excess would probably feel differently upon meeting Larry in person; his sound is not the product of trying to impress anybody, but rather, the result of what happens when you turn someone with his level of excitement and enthusiasm loose in the studio and impose few — if any — commercial restraints. Yet there is more than one musical attitude to Larry Fast. On his work with Gabriel, for example, Larry is always extremely tasteful and supportive — almost underplayed. In fact, the more you get to know Larry, the more you recognize that there are many facets to his personality, and that any given piece of his work is only one glimpse of a larger whole. In this interview — the first full-length interview with Larry in several years — he talks at length about the diverse elements that make up his musical personality and style.

CA: How did you get from being a college student to working with Peter Gabriel?

LF: I was working in college radio, which naturally put me in contact with the record business. The connections that existed from the college radio days and the outgrowths of those connections helped lead to the Synergy albums, which led me to Gabriel.

CA: What exactly do you mean by connections?

Nov 1978

LF: In those days, the people who were just starting out at record companies were generally put in college radio promotion departments. Many of them moved up within their companies to positions in talent acquisition and A & R, and are now the people I deal with when I work as a session musician with acts on their labels. Basically, a sort of “old boy” network was established back then between the eager people trying to get into the record industry on the performing side, like me, and those that had just entered it on the promotion side. I ended up signing with one of the young hungry companies — JEM records — and they released the first Synergy album on their Passport label. f had been working in an eleeironies eompang and doing musie on the side … gradually the musie beeame a more and more important part of mg life. The reason why connections are important is that people very rarely get signed from sending tapes to companies; since I was already a bit known within the industry, instead of having to go through the whole bit of submitting demos there were specific people to whom I could say “here, I’ve got some tapes of what I’ve been doing — would you care to have a listen?” Even signing for the first album didn’t change my life overnight or anything; I had been working in an electronics company and doing the music on the side, and gradually, the music became a more and more important part of my life.

CA: What kind of electronics company did you work for?

LF: An importer of Japanese manufactured goods for chain stores…stereo equipment, that kind of thing. I worked for them during summers while in high school, through college, and then after graduating from college lived off the job while preparing the Synergy project.

CA: I’m sure that will encourage some people…

LF: …and probably discourage others! It doesn’t really happen that you’re playing in a bar with a hard working band, and the record company guy comes in and sees you, and says “This is going to change the world, we’ll sign you on the spot”. It just doesn’t happen like that. There are channels of power that flow in the record industry, and knowing how those work is more important. The art will always be there — that happens independent of business. The business is about distributing that art.

CA: When did you feel secure enough in your musical career to leave your job?

LF: The funny, thing is that I never formally resigned. I took a leave of absence to do the first Synergy album, and then over a period of time I began taking more lengthy leaves, and worked things down to a very part time position. It was a gradual drifting out of one money making venture into another as the new one was able to take up the slack. As the first royalties started coming in from Synergy, I found I could start living off my music.

CA: When did you record the first Synergy album?

LF: It was begun right at the beginning of 1975 and released about six months later.

CA: It was recorded with pretty minimal equipment, wasn’t it?

LF: Yes, especially by today’s standards.

CA: How did the album do initially?

LF: Pretty well — it got up to number 60 on the Billboard charts. This was a little bit better then I expected, since I was pretty cynical about the way the record industry power structure operated. I was definitely surprised it did as well as it did.

CA: To what do you attribute that?

LF: It’s hard to say but (laughs) it was probably due to good promotion.

CA: Where you playing live at that point to promote the album?

LF: No, it was mostly interviews along with radio station visits with promotion people. Also, shortly after the album was released, but before the promotion really got going, I went to France to work with Nektar on their “Recycled” album. They were just coming off the top 20 in 1974, so there was also the added connection there, and we were sort of promoting each other as they were just beginning their touring career in the U.S.

CA: Did you tour with them?

LF: I did my first touring in 1976 with Nektar to promote their album, and we worked out a crosspromotion where the Synergy albums were the play-in/play-out music. Their light show also displayed Synergy graphics, which was pretty blatant advertising but it worked.

CA: Did you like touring?

LF: Oh yeah, even if it wasn’t my music.

CA: After completing the second Synergy album in 1976, you met Peter Gabriel. How did that come about?

LF: Again, a variety of connections. First, Passport was handling Brand X and some of the other Genesis spin-off material. Second, Bob Ezrin, who was producing Peter’s first album, was friends with one of the main equipment suppliers for House of Music studios, and I was rapidly becoming part of that organization. Also, I had a growing reputation in electronic music and Peter was aware of that. We had an exploratory meeting as he was preparing production on the album, and hit it off right away. Never looked back — we’re still doing it.

CA: What is your exact function with Gabriel?

LF: Actually, it’s a very hard thing to put a handle on. In the shows, I’m really just one of the members of the band. Peter’s style of music is heavily based in electronics so I do have a rather important role, but not necessarily any more important than any of the other players. When recording, Peter’s got a very good electronic mind and is well-grounded in many electronic techniques; I guess what I bring to the process is some additional experience in electronics. I’ll give a second opinion, or sometimes, a first opinion to which he can give a second opinion. There is also an element of production in what I do — my credits, on the last two albums have been for electronic production, which covers anything from processing the sound of conventional instruments to patching a synthesizer.

CA: Did you have any influence in getting Gabriel to his more rhythmic/ ethnic musical orientation?

LF: Well, Peter was beginning to make noises about working with a drum machine — the kind of drum machine where you could pattern the sounds yourself. At the time there really wasn’t anything like that except for the PAIA drumbox, so I put Peter in touch with one of those machines. That lead to a lot of the rhythms that showed up on the third album, especially “Biko”; subsequently, machines like the Linn appeared and Peter moved on to those more sophisticated devices. But the PAIA drumbox was the real genesis of Peter’s interest is new rhythms. It led to a whole approach to writing.

CA: I noticed that the band is heavily into wireless technology. Did you have any input into that?

LF: Well, we all kick ideas around — whoever thinks of something will mention it. I believe the wireless was Peter’s idea.

CA: So the band is pretty much a free, give and take situation?

LF: Yeah. It really is. Peter’s the focus of it, but the whole package is closer to a true band situation. In comparison to people that I know who work with other acts — such as David Bowie or others — we are a more of a democratic band.

CA: Do you think that’s the way to go?

LF: I think it depends on the artist. For the Peter Gabriel Band the democratic approach makes the the best use of everybody’s talents. Then again, we all have fairly significant careers outside of the Peter Gabriel Band — Tony Levin (bass) also plays in King Crimson, and we all do lots of session work for other people. Besides, Peter is one of the easiest people to get along with. He’s got very definite ideas, and he gets stubborn about them sometimes, but he’s very open to new thinking. You couldn’t ask for somebody better to work with.

CA: What kind of equipment have you been using on the current Gabriel tour?

LF: The big showpiece is the Fairlight, but I’m also using a Memorymoog and Prophet-5. Hopefully sometime during the tour they will be retro-fitted with MIDI interfaces. I’m really looking forward to MIDI because both the Memorymoog and Prophet-5 are strong in different areas due to slightly different design approaches, and I want to be able to blend them in an intelligent sort of way. I had been using the PAIA computer as a sequencer, but now I have the Moog Source – it has battery backup on the sequencer memory, which makes it much easier for the crew to set up every day. The more complicated sequencing is done on the Fairlight.

CA: What is the Fairlight’s main function?

LF: I use it on about half the songs, primarily for stored sounds and manipulated stored sounds. I do a lot of sampling (digitizing and storing) of sounds, but very few of the sampled things are left as is. They’re manipulated on “Page and other related pages within the Fairlight operating system, so they don’t really resemble the sounds that were stored originally. The Fairlight is not just a big Mellotron.

CA: Is the Fairlight reliable? Does it hold up on the road?

LF: It’s been remarkable. Only once did we ever think we had a serious problem with it; it turned out that the power in the hall was very low, about 94 Volts, and the Fairlight was the first instrument to show any symptoms. The electricians tried to jury-rig the electrical system to make it work, but it still failed about twothirds of the way through the show. The voltage dropped down to about 80 Volts, and just about everything packed up at that point — the lights and all the synthesizers, except, surprisingly enough, for the Memorymoog. I don’t know how it survived so well. Luckily the low power didn’t do any permanent damage to anything.

CA: Are power problems common enough that you have to use devices such as uninterruptible power sources?

LF: They sure help. It’s a little better nowadays thanks to battery back-up instruments; it used to be a little dangerous when you could only load memory from data cassettes, because if the power went down, you had to reload everything and start over.

CA: What kind of signal processors do you use?

LF: I’ve got a rack of processors, including an old MXR graphic equalizer; Delta Lab DL-2 acoustic computer with one extra memory module in it; an old Eventide Harmonizertm which is nasty, distorted and hissy but still sounds great; and a Roland Dimension D, which I like because it adds a very subtle effect. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its phasing and flanging…it’s good for synthesized ambience. Finally, there’s a little mixer panel and a bus routing structure that I designed. On stage I add my own effects to the instruments, and then send the stereo submix down to the main house mixer.

CA: You mentioned a couple of devices you made yourself. Do you do much custom building?

LF: Yes, quite a bit. With the Moog modular system — which doesn’t tour anymore because it’s not as practical these days as some of the other things — I went so far as to order one of the Moog housings with a whole bunch of blank panels, and built several modules to supplement the commercially manufactured items.

CA: How did you get into building? Was that an outgrowth of the music, or was necessity the mother of invention?

LF: A little bit of both, actually. I think I gravitated toward electronic music in the first place because of my background as a tinkerer, hobbyist, and general electronic weirdo. It’s hard to say whether music or electronics is the dominant interest — I have very strong feelings for both.

CA: Do you think that it’s important for musicians to be able to do their own building, and otherwise develop some electronic “chops”?

LF: No, I actually think that understanding computers is going to be more important. I find I’ve been doing less and less hardware customizing or building things like delays, trigger delays, and all of that. Rather than implement hardware changes in analog, it’s easier to do software changes in a digital synthesizer, providing of course that you can get into the system.

CA: How did you get your computer programming expertise?

LF: In college. I was probably the only history major taking electives in engineering and computers. I got through BASIC and FORTRAN in the early seventies, but when single chip micros became available they were ideal for what I wanted to do. Since higher level programming did not exist for the early micros, I was forced to learn machine code on one specific processor. That forced me to get good at programming, and everything else was easy after that.

CA: Are you pretty much in favor of the trend towards computerized instruments, or do you think it’s taking things too far away from the human element to have electronic drummachines and similar devices?

LF: Pretty much in favor, as long as the musicians using this stuff are still able to maintain good artistic taste about what they’re doing. I can’t really fault the machinery if it’s used in an untasteful manner.

CA: Despite the fact that digital drums are pretty trendy right now, it seems to me that analog drum sounds still have lots of potential. For example, you get some good synthetic analog drum sounds on the Synergy albums, particularly on the cut “Alien Earth” from the Jupiter Menace soundtrack. To what do you attribute the quality of these drum sounds?

LF: To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. The sounds are all patched up, primarily with Moog modular equipment. There’s nothing there that hasn’t existed commercially since 1967, so there are no “secrets” or anything. It takes a little bit of work precise tuning, careful filter settings, and careful approaches to envelope control or whatever but nothing that couldn’t be done with an off-the-shelf minimoog.

CA: There’s no special filtering or anything?

LF: Well, I will go overboard on the EQ and bang the bottom end way up, and perhaps put a little extra top end on the sound to catch some of the strike tone but there’s nothing mysterious about the sounds. They’re just made out of noise and LFOs.

CA: Do you synthesize the various sound components of the drum separately — like synthesizing the strike tone separately from the shell tone?

LF: Yes. Interestingly enough, there was an article in Polyphony a few issues back (the “Snare+”, by Thomas Henry — Ed.), and I was very surprised to see a lot of the techniques that I use covered in there.

CA: Let’s talk a bit about you and the studio. How is your home studio set up, and what role does it play in developing your music?

LF: The home studio is more a part of Synergy than anything else. It’s pretty well-equipped, and has an MCI one-inch/8 track recorder with dbx that can put out master quality tapes. There are lots of tables an.d shelves in the room, and all the equipment is ready to go at all times — which I find to be a great way for me to work out compositionally. Everything is in one place, so I can work out my ideas, get pieces started on tape, and in some cases, complete them on the 8 track or be ready to do a 24 track transfer that will be studio quality. it’s very niee to record at home.

CA: Why don’t you just start out with 24 track from the beginning?

LF: For one thing, it’s very nice to record at home. The nearest 24 tracks are at House of Music, which is a twenty minute drive and besides, I would have to work around other clients. At home I don’t even have to take the tape off the machine. Another aspect is that two-inch 24 track tape shuttles rather slowly compared to one-inch tape, which eats up a lot of time.

CA: Since you do touring, studio work, and film scoring, which do you like to do best?

LF: It’s hard to say. Live performance is exciting, what with travelling and touring; it’s fun, and I really enjoy it, but you can’t explore new areas when you’re on the road. You can explore slightly new arrangements on a given night, but you’re doing pretty much the same thing over and over and over again, which limits your musical and intellectual growth. With session work, you’re a little bit more at the whim of the producer or the artist, and have to give them what they want. Sometimes, if they’re real good about it, they’ll listen to what you have to say — but in any case “the client is always right”.

CA: What’s the status of “The Jupiter Menace” soundtrack you completed some time ago?

LF: It’s in limbo. VHS and BETA cassette versions of the movie have been released domestically, but they’re not being promoted. As for theatrical release, I’ve heard so many mythological dates about when the movie is supposed to actually hit the streets that I have no real idea when it’s coming out.

CA: Do you enjoy film scoring work?

LF: I found it to be quite a challenge, but a very enjoyable challenge. You’re working with some pretty severe constraints on time, musical styles, timing cue6, and all the other things that have to do with making a movie — as well as the more common problems associated with making a record. Yet these constraints also force you to focus on what you’re doing, and be very precise.

CA: Will it get to the point where people would buy a Synergy video cassette instead of a Synergy album?

LF: That’s a possibility, because I’ve been dabbling with video editing and shooting, and I’ve done still photography for years. I have my own darkroom and the visual arts have interested me for a long time. I think I do have a good sense of visual imagery, but this is something I’m still working on and I wouldn’t subject anybody in the public to it until I feel it’s right.

CA: What else lies in your future?

LF: The immediate future is a lot of touring, since we haven’t toured Europe or England or any of Peter’s major markets since 1980 and that’s not fair to the public. In the more distant future, there will be more Synergy albums as well as film and video sound tracks. And there will be continued exploration at the technical level, especially digital electronic sound and use of computers .

CA: What are your interests outside of music?

LF: Well, having a degree in history ties me into political science and governmental structures. I’m very interested in current events.

CA: Will those interests show up more in your music, or do you tend to keep music and politics separate?

LP: The connections probably exist on a very subliminal level, but I think they’re kind of separate entities for me. I don’t think I’d end up putting even strong political feelings into a song. I think I’d make a better political writer or pamphleteer; I feel that would make a stronger impact than simply putting things to music.

CA: Are you pretty much in favor of the trend towards computerized instruments, or do you think it’s taking things too far away from the human element to have electronic drum machines and similar devices?

LP: Pretty much in favor, as long as the musicians using this stuff are still able to maintain good artistic taste about what they’re doing. I can’t really fault the machinery if it’s used in an untasteful manner.

CA: Despite the fact that digital drums are pretty trendy right now, it seems to me that analog drum sounds still have lots of potential. For example, you get some good synthetic analog drum sounds on the Synergy albums, particularly on the cut “Alien Earth” from the Jupiter Menace soundtrack. To what do you attribute the quality of these drum sounds?

LP: To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. The sounds are all patched up, primarily with Moog modular equipment. There’s nothing there that hasn’t existed commercially since 1967, so there are no “secrets” or anything. It takes a little bit of work -precise tuning, careful filter settings, and careful approaches to envelope control or whatever -but nothing that couldn’t be done with an off-the-shelf minimoog.

CA: One last question. Is music a diversion, or escape, for you, or are you driven to make music… almost like a biological need?

LF: It’s a pretty strong need. Music is something that has been with me for as long as I can remember, and has always been very important in my life. I’m not sure know what the physical manifestations would be if I ever had to “withdraw” from making music, but I’m sure they would be pretty severe.

About Polyphony magazine: originally started as a newsletter for PAiA customers, Polyphony (“many voices”) was initially a part time endeavor, largely derived from material and feedback sent in by users. By the end of 1976, Polyphony Publishing Company was formed by PAiA founder John Simonton and Founding Editor Marvin Jones to handle the publishing of the magazine, and production ramped up to a bi-monthly schedule, increased it’s publishing size and incorporated advertising. Polyphonycontinued to be published until the mid 80s, by which time US music technology publishing legend Craig Anderton was in the editor’s chair.