Interview: Conrad and Stefanie of Beautiful Machines
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Conrad: My first memories of music was listening to my parents sing Yellow Submarine from The Beatles over my crib as a lullaby. Early years, various rock / pop / synth / classical music found its way to my ears, most notably, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, kick-ass 80s new wave, synth-pop and rock and I was and have been forever enchanted. I’ve always been drawn also to music that is a bit “diagonal,” like Oingo Boingo or Jean Michele-Jarre. Genre matters less than how interesting something is and you connect with it. Had I not gotten into music, I would have gotten into music, no way around it. There is nothing to me as pure and transcendent as music. However, if music was untouchable, I think I would have gone into the sciences and engineering, stuff at the bleeding edge, like nano-biology.
Stefanie: Had a steady drip of classical music since I was a baby, it might actually have been my first language. The first time I touched a piano and a sound came from it, I just fell in love. It was like a supernova happened behind my eyes and all of a sudden I was awake for the first time. I started with classical because there wasn't much of anything else around, it was either classical or local folk music which I didn't like. Then, film soundtracks kind of broadened the horizon, but it wasn't until I moved to the western hemisphere there was an explosion of other genres. I loved metal and 80s synthpop and rock. Another one of those supernova-behind-the-eyes-moment happened when I started learning computer / electronic music, and here I am. If I had not gotten into music, I may have gone on to do something with animals or with transportation... I love animals, and I love magnificent machines that extend the human potential for movement.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Conrad: We both love a lot of the same things. We love experiences, much more than things, so exploring and traveling, being outdoors a lot, and we love animals. In fact, my father Steven Schuman is known as The Rainbow Animal Painter in Savannah, GA. He’s incredible, and his creations in some way reflect our vibrant and colorful connection with animal friends. We also love learning and filling our minds with positive and influential things, like learning about new tech, new sciences, attending conferences, novel solutions, stuff like that.
How long has your band been around?
Conrad: Origins started around 2013, but not until maybe 2015 did our sound really emerge.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Conrad: We are currently semi-nomadic, but primarily in Europe and the UK. However, we are originally from San Francisco and decided to live a more transient and broad life that incorporates much more travel and experiences since 2017. All this travel has had an influence on our music. For example when we were living in Berlin, we really saturated ourselves with the Berlin vibe, underground parties, avant garde artwork, experimental music, vibrant culture, and the sheer cold of winter, the long, dark, cold nights of winter, secluding ourselves to write music. A few songs came from this experience.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Conrad: Beautiful Machines is a reflection on life and cosmos, a source of daily inspiration, all of it working together like a symphony, balancing, harmonious, self-organizing and chaotic. When you look at a tiny microorganism and see all these little parts moving, like DNA Polymerase (I encourage you to find a visual of this, there are moving parts just like a motor) which is what we are made of - self organizing matter made conscious. Pretty amazing and daily mind-blowing. And that kind of awe and reverence is something that I think comes through in our creations, especially in an upcoming release called "Angelica."
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Conrad: We performed at Burning Man. Imagine wild dust storms, temperatures which go pretty hot to freezing cold at night, surrounded by all kinds of fantastic costumed people, with a whole other ethos, where no money is exchanged and rather people have gifts and offerings, a collective experiment in society at small scale. Meanwhile the alkaline sand in the hostile desert eats away at your instruments. The desert is like being on a giant canvas, and everyone there is a creator and creation of the collective fabric of the art. We performed at the oldest stage at Burning Man, as well as on our own Mutant Vehicle called Tunnel Vision of Love while driving around. This vehicle was coated in infinity mirrors so when you approach at night it looks like a tunnel from all directions is driving at you. Pretty incredible.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Conrad: Red Rocks Amphitheater in Boulder, Colorado is a dream to perform at, as well as the Royal Albert Hall in London. A fun venue that we’ve performed at was DNA Lounge in San Francisco, which is a medium size venue where a lot of famous bands performed including Prince. But it’s more about the energy and connection of the people more than any particular venue.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Conrad: Depeché Mode, M83, NIN, Rufus du Sol, and Infected Mushroom.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Conrad: Your tastes will change, sometimes mid-album, the only constant in the variable of change is you. Music truly is the most important aspect, even if people tell you it’s about promoting yourself. Study, learn, improve, challenge yourself and keep growing. There is no finish line. There will be setbacks, things don’t work out how you planned, and then at the same time incredible things you can’t imagine will happen. Playing with a band is a special bond, you trust one another to have your back and you create together. You may have in your mind how something should sound, but let go a bit, and allow other members or elements to contribute to the music, it turns out much much better and more interesting. Don’t be afraid to sound different, in fact I think that is what is needed the most in music. Genres are this weird afterthought that is created when trying to follow something one artist creates and then many others start doing the same thing and it becomes known as genre. But before that, usually it’s just an artist coming up with something and breaking new ground. So I would say pioneer, experiment, explore, most importantly have fun with it and don’t get discouraged. It's work and play.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Conrad: Any obstacles or struggles that are encountered along the way, serve as stepping stones to learning, so I wouldn’t so much remove those, but I would absolutely say 100% focus on mastering your craft, be relentless, be dangerous and try things that are unexpected more.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Conrad: This is a great question. I’m going to share a secret. Some songs have come to mean something more to me; sometimes it’s like your intuition is guiding you and writes a song almost as a meditation. In 2015 one relationship was ending and our song "Real Love" really captured the essence of this as my partner and band mate Stefanie became involved. The sentiment of the song is a break up, while yearning about the desire for wanting Real Love. It’s like when you voice what you really need, it emerges.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Conrad: The more challenging it is to play, it’s more involved and more fun, so I would say at the moment, I really like playing "Angelica," which will be coming out in the next couple of months, there are synth solos, diversity of parts, and it’s a longer song at 7 and a half minutes. Some people have said they like "Control" when we play it live.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Conrad: The music can come from anywhere at any time, so it’s best to have a way to capture the essence of it. Stef can write these amazing and transportive pieces that are completely woven in real time and I just want to say, put a stamp on it, it’s done, but then the work of ‘engineering and mixing’ comes, where you try to get the best sonic representation of the idea. For me, I might come up with a part on guitar, piano, working with textures and synths, or a lyric or melody, or rhythm, then from there it’s about listening to what the song wants, and just play with it and see what happens organically. Inspiration comes from when I’m just playful, carefree and consistent then the music comes out.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Conrad: In general, like the band name, it’s this feeling of being struck by awe and engulfed with euphoria, or being in an ecstatic state, like the heart is just opening, there is more trust in your life and there is magic around you everywhere. There is a bigger picture, don’t forget how amazing life actually is, that you get to be here.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Conrad: Of course, on the music writing side, it’s all good to have disagreements and difference of opinions about how something should sound or what you want to contribute to it, experiment with it, check the egos at the door. In general there is a high level of respect for one another, and none of us are the type to gossip, and we’re quite direct, so if there is something bothering one of us for whatever reason, then we’ll just discuss it. Ultimately we both want what’s best for the project.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Conrad: Immediate plans, we are releasing two more singles ("Baum Baum" and "Angelica") in the next couple of months, our third album (Singularity) coming out shortly after that, then we’re on tour this summer, some dates with synthpop new wave legends OMD (Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark) in Germany. Also some secret collaborations are taking shape behind the scenes which will be revealed on our channels.