Retrofette Interviews Samuel Leffers of Engine Farm/Quiett

Photo courtesy of Engine Farm

Photo courtesy of Engine Farm

Retrofette: Let's introduce you.

SL: Quiett is basically just me, although I frequently collaborate with vocalist Kevin Hake. We grew up playing together in indie/punk/alternative bands, and gravitated towards this style shortly after we both graduated from Indiana University. We decided to move out to Denver not long after that.

Do you want to talk about your forthcoming rebrand as Quiett?

Quiett is the culmination of my drifting towards dance/electronic styles. Engine Farm was originally an experimental indie/folk project, and just kept progressing to the point where I felt a rebrand was appropriate.

How did you get into synth/ electronic based music?

Growing up I was mostly into hip hop and jazz, and in high school it was mostly indie, punk, and folk. Electronic music didn't come into my life until college, and it was like a whole world opened up to me. Almost everything I love about those genres is represented in electronic and synth-based music, but it manifests in such unique and creative ways.

How does your writing process for engine farm originals usually go?

I work really quickly, so I'm often putting together 10 demos for every one that turns into a release. It usually starts with a germ of an idea, whether that be a sample, melody, synth patch, etc. From there I develop it with a pretty open-minded approach until I decide A) this sucks, or I should move forward with this. At that point, I'll give the instrumental to Kevin if it feels appropriate for vocals, or flesh it out myself. The last thing I do is noise layering/re-amping/tape saturation, but in a lot of ways, that's the most important element of my sound. I spend a lot of time making sure things like vinyl crackle and field recordings fit into the mix well.

How did you approach remixing our track, Skeletons, and is that different from how you write?

I've done a few remixes of tracks that are very rooted in vocals, but this is the first time I've built an idea entirely around them. In a lot of ways, that's the opposite from how I typically write. I basically picked out the elements in the original I wanted to use (vocals, bass, pads) and arranged them. From there I slowed everything down, added my own elements, and then spent even more time than usual trying to bring out the lo-fi/bargain bin sound.

Who are you currently listening to on repeat?

Anything put out by Mood Hut records, Nicholas Jaar and Andras Fox is a priority listen for me. Lately I've been diving more into ambient and minimal tunes, listening to guys like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, as well as vintage Bali/Indonesian gamelan compositions anything put out by Constellation Tatsu records in Oakland. I think in a lot of ways minimal and ambient are the flip side of the left-field dance music coin. All of those genres use repetition and a sparse aesthetic to promote a meditative state of mind.

Would you say living in Denver plays a major role in the music you write?

It does, but not in the way I expected. I've always appreciated the power of nature to aid creativity, but coming out West has opened my mind to how much your environment can expand your mind. If I'm in a rut, dipping out to the mountains for a few hours or even just glimpsing a snowy peak from afar can do wonders.

Tell us about your interpretation of the denver music scene.

I think Denver favors big, bold sounds - which can make it tough to fit in when you want to make restrained, laid back tracks. But more than anything, the scene here is really open-minded and accepting. I've booked so many gigs with acts that I don't really mesh with, but it's always love and support from the moment I start loading in. I think this is a place where any kind of musician be successful.

How can Denver musicians, synthpop bands in particular, work to improve the scene/community?

I think it's the same everywhere - we just all need to get out more to support each other. I say this as maybe the most guilty of staying at home when I could be hitting up gigs. But as much as I like to hole up in my studio with the lights low and my mind in the zone, almost every worthwhile connection I've ever made has been at a show.

Is there a piece of equipment that has inspired the most songs out of you?

I'm all about my little Tascam 4-track cassette machine. I'm always running stems through there and experimenting with pitch/tempo shifting, and that tape sound is essential to what I'm going for.

What's your favorite synthesizer???

This is going to out me as a synthesizer neophyte, but I love my DX7 and Kawai K1. I'm just getting into sculpting my own patches, and those units have some great sounding presets for beginners like me.

Catch Retrofette & Engine Farm at Lost Lake, March 11th opening for Boo Seeka!

Xavier Provencher