INTERVIEW: Cause & Effect's Robert Rowe
- Bob Gajarsky
What happens when your record label calls it a day and abandons nearly all its artist roster? If you're a member of synthpop band Cause & Effect, it means taking a detour and getting your music out to the masses via the Internet.
Robert Rowe, lead singer and one of the founding members of the California band, decided to take the band online in 1996 in order to regain control over the band's decisions. The choice has proven to be a fruitful one.
"Building our web site has been one of the best decisions we ever made.", Rowe explains. "We don't tour very often so it's been a good way to keep that relationship with the audience that you get while touring and to keep people informed of our progress. When used creatively, the Internet gives power to artists to reach people anywhere in the world without the help of a label and at a very low cost. That just wasn't possible before."
That web site - at http://www.causeandeffect.com - serves as a sort of clearinghouse for fans to discuss the band's favorite songs, learn the latest news on Cause & Effect from the band's members, and purchase merchandise - including the band's third album, Innermost Station (Liquefaction).
Innermost Station originally started as a 6 song EP to satisfy the fans who had been clamoring for a new release. But when the trio got into the process of recording, songs flowed freely - and soon, ten songs were recorded. The tenth song was dropped, however, because it didn't fit in with the flow of the nine that eventually comprised Innermost.
With the title taken from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it should come as no surprise that the songs here are much more mature and revealing than previous C&E releases. Taking a sip from a glass of red wine, Rowe discusses the evolution of Trip and Innermost.
"_Trip was a questioning of things on a spiritual level and through the recording of that album, we came to find a few answers for ourselves. I think a lot of the songs on Innermost Station deal with a breakdown of the physical world around us and the breaking apart of relationships."
One of the breakdowns which the band had to deal with after the success of their breakthrough album, Another Minute, was the passing of original member Sean Rowley in 1992 when he suffered a severe asthma attack which resulted in heart failure. The memory of Rowley still plays an important part in Cause & Effect's music.
"He (Sean) would never settle for whatever came easy," Rowe sadly recalls. "He'd always push until he came up with something better. I think of this every time I write."
And while Another Minute may have drawn comparisons to British synth pioneers such as Depeche Mode, the band's evolving sound - including instruments not normally associated with synthpop bands, such as a Fender Stratocaster or Rickenbacher 12 string guitar - have made any of those comparisons moot. Rowe dismisses those hanging on to once-valid analogies.
"I think with Trip, we managed to prove ourselves and develop something unique. What annoys me are those that refuse to look further than the similarities. Early Gene sounded a lot like the Smiths but that doesn't mean that they (Gene) are invalid."
The instrumental "Radiolaria" offers the first chance to hear Cause & Effect skirt the world of ambient music. Rowe first started work on this during a solo weekend, where working on a song without lyrics or vocals proved therapeutic. Fellow bandmates Keith Milo and Richard Shepherd convinced an appreciate Rowe that it would fit with the feel of Innermost Station and made it into a complete song.
"We've never released an instrumental before so it was one more way we could do something different from what we've done in the past. I think with this genre of music (synthpop) there is a tendency to not go outside of the boundries that were created by the bands that started it all. We don't believe in not doing something just because it doesn't fit the mold. If we feel like using a Gibson and a Marshall stack, we'll do it if it works for the song."
Longtime C&E fans need not fear that the band have abandoned their roots. Many of the tracks contained on Innermost Station would fit nicely in with the flowing work which was released on Trip, where the songs weren't aimed at creating dance club fads, but at lasting songs with honest-to-goodness intelligent hooks. That trait continues here on cuts such as "Eclipse" and "She's So Gone".
"The World Is Ours" opens with ninety seconds of introspection and mildly haunting music before bursting into a traditional keyboard chorus, as Rowe implores his lover to 'Get up on the rooftop and scream out our desires / They can keep their heaven, I'll stay down near the fire / The world is ours.'
Meanwhile, "Real?" musically recalls "Another Minute", but with more mature lyrics. 'The older I get, the less I feel / I don't know what I want / I don't know what is real', Rowe realizes, as the younger boy from the aforementioned cut has grown into a man.
There are no standout, top 10 singles here, but in establishing a band's long-term success, the quality of albums is key. Cause & Effect have produced another album which will tug at the hearts of synthpop fans without having them run to hear an 'original' Erasure or Depeche Mode disc.
What does the future hold for Cause & Effect? A tour in support of Innermost Station (with video projectsion) is in the cards for 1998, but the band hasn't committed to anything. And just as Todd Rundgren is doing, the band is looking into downloadable audio as an alternative to discs - in order to distribute remixes or one-off songs to their fans.
As for whether the band will return to the major label distribution that Zoo (and BMG) offered, that bridge will be crossed at a later date. According to Rowe, "Maybe we'll go back (to a major) after we've proven to ourselves that we don't need them so it feels more like a choice than a neccessity."
But for now, Cause & Effect are experiencing first-hand the power of the Internet to bypass traditional music outlets, and achieve the goal of most performers - allow their music to be heard by the people.