THERE is a lot to unpick when it comes to Conformist…
and I was keen to learn more about his new release, Lifestyle Revised – reworkings of the songs that appear on Lifestyle Bible. He chats about the producers who remixed the songs and what is coming up for him; what the music scene is like around the Cardiff area – Conformist reveals whether he is touring at all or not.
The songwriter talks about new artists to look out for and what he hopes to achieve this year; why he keeps a low profile on social media; how he chills away from music – Conformist tells me the three albums that mean the most to him.
Hi, Conformist. How are you? How has your week been?
Doing fine, thanks; it’s been good. I’m enjoying the sun, reading in the park during the day; working on music in the evenings. I’ve even got a mild suntan.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Michael Simmons and I make Electronic music under the name ‘Conformist’. I grew up in a small village in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and now live in Cardiff. I’ve been making experimental music since I was about eight-years-old.
I’ve released two albums: Paid to Fake It in 2013 and Lifestyle Bible in 2016. I’m about to release a remix record on 15th June called Lifestyle Revised.
Tell me the reason behind re-releasing Trust Exercises. How did Man Without Country get involved with the remix?
When I was making Lifestyle Bible, I sensed there were other directions the tracks could be going in but I thought that, rather than do it myself, it would be cooler to get input from other artists and let them take the tracks to other places.
When I first started thinking of artists to get involved with, Man Without Country were one of my immediate preferences to work with. I’ve been a fan of their sound for a long time and I also saw connections with myself and them, in terms of how meticulous and layered their work was. I got in touch with Ryan. I think he, possibly, hadn’t remixed such a ‘random’ track before, so it was perhaps a challenge for him. But, the end result is excellent.
Lifestyle Bible was released in 2016 – Lifestyle Revised takes the songs and pairs them with producers. What has the experience been like?
Really refreshing. When you’re making your own music, you can be guilty of not seeing all possibilities for the direction of a piece. But, having other artists listen to my tracks and come back to me with the versions that they did was quite inspiring. It makes you see a fuller and more focused picture.
Were you surprised by the original album’s positive feedback? Did that give you the desire to see what new life could be unearthed from the songs?
These days, I’m honestly not massively concerned with what feedback my records get. It used to bother me if I got a bad review and, on the flip, if I got a positive review I’d think I was a genius. You can get to caught up in the positive and negative comments.
Conformist isn’t for everyone. When I realised that, it was really liberating…
Is there a particular remix that stands out to you? Which is your highlight?
I’m really pleased with all of them and grateful to all of the artists for getting involved – so, I wouldn’t really want to single out a (single) track as a standout. They each have elements which I like: the Mark Pistel mix has an old-skool Industrial vibe; Mark was in Meat Beat Manifesto and Consolidated back in the day so can sense that blueprint on the track; the Kayla Painter mix is really abstract and spacey, but has a 140 B.P.M. pulsing rhythm part way through - it works so well.
The Man Without County mix is huge. It has an evocative, cinematic feel.
What is the music scene like in Cardiff, where you are based? Which musicians inspired you to take up songwriting/producing?
I’m kind of in my own bubble doing Conformist so I don’t tend to get out to gigs or get involved in the local scene as much as I’d like, but I do know there is a strong sense of community in the scene. About a year ago, there was talk of a few of the coolest venues in Cardiff being closed down to make way for the building of luxury flats...it was pretty inspiring to see everyone banding together at that time to help the cause. It definitely solidified the scene; made it stronger.
When I was younger, I was inspired by watching television and movies as much as by other artists. I’d always liked the idea of taking sounds out of other platforms and re-arranging them - so when I discovered artists like Steinski, I was really inspired.
You keep quiet a low profile when it comes to interviews and social media. Is that so you can focus on the music and what is most important?
I’m not huge on social media: I don’t feel the need to tweet what I’m eating - it often reeks of desperation. I find it a bit sycophantic, seeking others approval, so I try to avoid giving my opinions on topics; don’t directly post on my pages unless it is music-related. I try not to engage.
Interviews are fine. I could talk music all day.
Can we see you tour this year? What gigs do you have coming along?
I’d like to tour this year, why not, but currently no plans. It’s hard to see Conformist doing a conventional tour but, maybe, some one-off shows. The venue is important. It has to be the right audience.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Once this record is done, I’d like to get a new Conformist E.P. out in the autumn. I’ve got some tracks which are fresh and I really want to get them out before Christmas; maybe five or six tracks, a little longer and more experimental than the last album. Slower B.P.M.s; room to think.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Actually, getting a nice email from Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle was super-cool and a highlight. He was really kind and encouraging of my music; a total gent. I’m a big admirer of his work, so it was a big deal to myself.
Which three albums mean the most to you, would you say?
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell I, II and III!
Nahhh, joking. Ummm. I really like Deceit by This Heat; the White Noise An Electric Storm album and maybe one of the early Public Enemy records...It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
All are a big influence on myself, production-wise.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Have perspective: the music you’re making may be important to yourself but it doesn’t mean it’s great. Don’t attempt to mimic other artists. Don’t get mad at criticism.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kelly Lee Owens/ARTWORK: Kim Hiorthøy
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Kelly Lee Owens is doing some productions which I’m really jealous of. She is excellent. An artist called Accü (I think she is from West Wales). I saw her video, Did You Count Your Eyes?, the other day which I thought was cool.
IN THIS PHOTO: Accü
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
It’s mostly music stuff 24/7. I’m pretty intense about it. But, I’m a massive movie fan and I do quite a bit of running, short-distance stuff, like four K.M. a few times a week. People seem surprised I run: maybe disappointed cos it’s not very Rock ‘n’ Roll...?
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Squarepusher - Tomorrow World