An Interview with Adam Powell of Thosquanta
Despite numerous line-up changes and audio identity shifts, Adam Powell has been the driving force behind Thosquanta for over a decade. I recently had a chance to question him on the band, the music and technology.
Todd: Starting out, Thosquanta seems to have been around forever. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the band’s history?
Adam Powell: Thosquanta has been around since about ’96 or so, back when a series of failed high school garage bands led me to buy a drum machine. Since the actual bands never worked out (they usually lasted one song and then ended with a shouting match), I started doing stuff on my own as “girl next door,” which eventually changed to “Thosquanta” around ’99 or so. I had been writing and recording before I moved to the Twin Cities, and continued to, but never really played live until Darren (from Avenpitch) asked me to open for them – at all places – at an ice cream shop in Hopkins. I quickly put together a four song set with my then girlfriend Kari singing vocals and myself on keyboards, and that’s how Thosquanta started playing shows. In the time since then, we’ve gone through a LOT of lineup changes, some amicably, some not.
Todd: How did you come up with the name “Thosquanta”?
AP: It’s hard to remember specifically, since it was close to 10 years ago, but I think it was just a combination of “those” and “quanta” – meaning, literally, “those values,” which was an oblique reference to my interest in objectivism, logic, and reason (the philosophical logic and reason — not the software. Heh!).
“Pedipol” by: Thosquanta
Todd: In your mind, is there any particular line-up that stands out as being the definitive “Thosquanta”?
AP: I guess the real definitive lineup has been anything with me and Jen, as I consider us the core of the band. The current lineup is definitely a favorite, as it’s great to finally have live drums, and I think Eric adds a lot of presence with live keyboards and backing vocals.
Todd: Who’s in the current line-up?
AP: Currently, we have myself on guitar and co-lead vocals, Jen Plum on vocals, Eric Shough on Keyboards and backing vocals, Ryan McIntosh on bass, and Tony Logan on drums.
Todd: How did you get into industrial/electronic music?
AP: I think I got into industrial wayyyyy back in Boy Scouts. Yeah, yeah, I was in scouts for awhile! One of the older kids was super into industrial stuff and there was a weird industrial vs. metal rivalry there. That’s how I got into NIN, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, that sort of thing. I think sometime around freshmen year in high school, I picked up the Wax Trax! Black Box compilation and that ended up being a doorway into a ton of earlier industrial.
When I started going to the U of M in ’98 or so, I used to go to Magus Books and talked with a guy that worked there about music all the time, we traded demos (I still have a copy of his track!) and got along. It was pretty funny when I ran into him at that first show too, where he was playing keyboards for Avenpitch.
Todd: Who are some of your influences?
AP: I was always partial to Pig, so I wandered around the net and tracked down most of his [Raymond Watts] CDs that way. Before he had distro through Nothing or Metropolis, you actually had to order CDs direct from his manager in Japan, so I managed to get a bunch of ‘em that way! That, and we’d visit the Razer Room in Madison and they carried a TON of old Wax Trax vinyl and import CDs.
Todd: What can you tell me about your latest release In Vitro Mutilation? I know it marks your last release for 301 Studios.
AP: In Vitro Mutilation is actually the last of our industrial metal stuff. The former bassist and guitarist, Baby Dave and Nic, were both very skilled players and pushed the band in a more technical, metal direction. It’s a six-song EP that caps the end of the Nic and Dave era of Thosquanta, I suppose.
Todd: What have you been working on since then?
AP: Lately, we’ve been genre jumping a lot and getting more pop. My new kick is apparently 2 minute songs. The track on Twin Cities Electropunk Volume 5, “Alstas”, reflects a bit of that. We decided to take “electropunk” fairly literally and went that route. We’ve also been dipping into newer styles for us with “Pedipol”, an indy-rockish track, and we’re working on a not-yet-named rockabilly tune as well. We’ve actually got about 15 tracks at various stages and I think the production and songwriting has been getting much, much better, as has our live set.
“Alstas” by: Thosquanta
Todd: Any ideas on how you plan to release it? Are you seeking a label or planning to put it out yourself? When can we expect a new album?
AP: I have no idea how we’ll release them – I’d prefer to get on a label, as I hate the wheeling and dealing side of the music industry. My only real method of promotion is to play the best I can. The album will be done sometime this year, I imagine. Five tracks are complete, mastering and all, and a few others are close. We’re in no real hurry, as we don’t yet know how we’re going to put it out.
Todd: What is your process for writing songs? I know you’re the primary songwriter, but how much influence does the band have on the outcome?
AP: My songwriting process varies a lot. Sometimes I start with a drumbeat, sometimes with lyrics. Sometimes I write lyrics all in one go and keep them as is, sometimes they go through a lot of editing over months and months. Band members do have some influence over the songs, but it is generally limited to their instrument and I run everything like a tyrant and demand final say. Jen generally acts as a final filter for lyrics, she has an innate talent to point out even single words that don’t fit the theme of the song, and she tends to be pretty brutally honest with her opinions.
Todd: You recently revisited and remade “Two“, an older record of yours. What inspired you to do this and how was the process of basically covering and remaking your own music?
AP: I redid “Two” specifically because I wanted to remix everything on an actual multi-tracker and see how it sounded. I think it’s a mild improvement, although the way I wrote songs back then is a lot different than now. There are a few tracks on “Two” that have 2-minute breakdowns in the middle, and there is no way I would do that now with a track. I had fun adding in some guest vocals on it though – we had Shawn from The Eighth, Jesse and Deb from IKKI, and even Kari came back to record a track, which was a lot of fun!
I actually used to use a single tracker (Cool Edit 96) for all my mixing, and stuff was done by guess and check. Once a track is layered in, its set, and you can’t fix it. The re-release was an experiment to see if a multi-tracker would fix that.
AP: Mach Fox is still alive and recording, although I’m not sure who is in the band at this point. It was always Mark Howard’s baby, and I think he is currently doing most of the work himself.
As for UCKF, we did do one reunion show, but Jesse completely blew out his voice, so he has some recovery time needed before he tries that again. I certainly wouldn’t rule out another couple shows, that’s for sure.
Todd: Any new musical toys you’ve been particularly obsessed with recently? If you had to limit yourself to one keyboard what would it be?
AP: Gear-wise, I’ve got 2 favorites: the Nord Micro Modular – horribly outdated as it is, it taught me modular synthesis in a great, hands-on way. That has been my go-to synth for the last 10 years or so. That is, until I got the new baby, my Dotcom Modular Synth. Pure analog, you need to use the actual 1/4″ patch cables, it’s really a thing of beauty. One of these days, I will buy another set of modules and double the size of it, too. It’s the main synth in “Pedipol” and if I had to use just one – that would be it. I’ve also picked up a Dave Smith Prophet ’08 recently, and that’s a great, easy to use analog synth. I also just bought my first Les Paul, and that things been treating me well, too.
Todd: You sound like more an outboard gear-type, what do you think of softsynths?
AP: I go through periods where I use softsynths, certainly. Specifically, I love Vaz and I still find uses for Rebirth, even after all these years. It’s free, go check it out! I’ve used Reason as well, mostly on “Phoenix” and “Lovelife”, but for me, it’s impossible to replace the hands-on feel of knobs that an actual outboard synth has. And, of course, now that I’m getting into analog synths, there’s just no real substitute for the telephone switchboard that is my Dotcom.
Todd: Finally, what have you been listening to? Any recent obsessions?
AP: Lately, I’ve been listening to mostly indy-rock stuff. A bit of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, really diggin’ the new Metric CD, some British Sea Power, Editors…. I’ve also been getting into an 80s groove, so I’ll be picking up the new Hall and Oates compilation along with Chromeo, who are, for all intents and purposes, Hall and Oates part 2.
“Adam Powell” photo by SnapLocally.com
Editor’s Note: Todd Millenacker performs in local electronic band Avenpitch and writes about the TC Electropunk music scene in Minnesota. He can be contacted at avenpitch[at]avenpitch[dot]com.