It's been one hot minute since we last heard from them, but like all good heroes, Heap Good Friends have returned right when we needed them the most. The Adelaide synth-pop luminaries have shared a new version of their live set 'Fold Laundry Together', a gooey feel-good cut with plenty of '80s synth cheese and some quirky production via 'Dance Monkey' super-producer Konstantin Kersting. With the release of the single, we caught up with the band's own synth mastermind Nick O'Connor to find out about his affection for second-hand Gumtree synths and how he incorporates them into his studio workflow.
About the time Emma came back from England and we started writing together properly I had been lusting after a Juno 106, just like everybody else. I read the Korg Poly800 was the poor man's 106 and $300 on Gumtree later, it was mine. All Heap Goods Friends music to date features this odd, knobless wonderland. It is not deep or lush by any stretch and the filter is neither warm nor gooey. But this wonderful piece of '80s eye candy features nostalgia galore and friendliness by the pound. Modern products can be hyped to a point of uselessness in a mix whereas this guy couldn't produce 12kHz if it tried. Funnily, when it runs out of internal battery and loses its patch memory you need to run a specific 16 second audio sample (sounds like dial-up) into it to re-install the data via a tape in! I'd never seen or heard of that before. The other rad feature is the program up input. A connected footswitch made jumping around sound when writing super quick and fun. I love this synth...although it's not turning on at the moment. Anyone know a guy?
I hate flicking through samples during songwriting. The honeymoon period is super short for me and then goes straight into vibe drainer. For a long time, I broke up with sample folders and married the Korg DDM110. I can't lie I actually use samples from the DDM110 but I have used them that many times it feels I'm related to the machine. It has very simple sounds that simply work. Kick pushes, snare snaps. Hats are a bit rough but.... Maybe I love it because it matches the Poly800 perfectly. Even though I dig it mainly for songwriting swiftness, it made it into heaps of our tracks. It does have a terrible clicki-ness right up high that needs a low pass to sort it out. Since then I've been through the wonderful thatsound.com samples and am currently mucking around in Splice.
Not fancy. No. BUT... After spending way to much time looking at, searching for, reading about, YouTubing and talking junk about all of the plugins available I'd had enough and limited myself to Ableton's stock set. They do the job. At least from a songwriting perspective. They're light on the CPU and don't need an account / password / dongle / tiktok routine to get them working. I must admit I have since loosened the reigns and regularly enjoy the Fabfilter and Soundtoys stuff. But that's pretty much it.
Roland Juno 6
So I mentioned the Roland Juno106 lusting that lead to the Poly800... Well. I was saving my pennies for the real deal when up popped this Juno 6 on Gumtree right around the corner from my house. The old beast (1982, no MIDI, just straight shootin!) was sitting there for half price I tell ya. Even though I wanted the 106 for the MIDI, I had heard the 6 was a tone beast and was to be beheld. I sussed it out and before you know it that big panel was riding home in the back seat. I've been working with the 6 for nearly a year now and it's true the tone is magnanamous. My very good mate Shannon Cross and I have a saying about a good sound being like 'bird calls'... so crispy, so tangible and tasty it must be real. The Juno 6 brings the bird calls. Also, no presets means listening, playing and learning to really get down with the parameters and I love that mode, counter to the whole 'click and drag hey mum I'm a producer' ethos.
I remember looking at a Roland SH101 at The Fish Shop in Adelaide and thinking 'what the hell, this thing is speaking my language' even though I didn't know what synths were at the time. Fast forward and I have to shout Andrew Moncrieff for bringing a Korg MS-10 to my house. Blew my damn mind. Then he rolled around with MS20, then the SH101. Cycle completed, love of analogue synths into overdrive. The circuits don't calculate. There's no time to lie. That filter rolls smooth. I'm an analogue guy. Then one day he brought over DM100 delay and it's self oscillating feedback opened some crazy portal. Again - Gumtree to the rescue and I have my own. This box is my randomiser. Once I've got a track arranged and everything tight I run a few passes with this nasty pasty for SFX and oh boy it delivers every time.
Thanks for taking the time to read this rant. It's super lovely to share my gear with you something that is so often a solo experience. All the best on your adventures. x Nick xx HGF
Listen to Heaps Good Friends' new single 'Fold Laundry Together'.