Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, in which we highlight bands who are climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week, we caught up with Com Truise — a.k.a. Seth Haley — an electronic musician from New Jersey who appears to be a bit of a mama’s boy.
Com Truise — who had several monikers over the years before settling on his present spoonerism — first nabbed the attention of the music world for his EP, Cyanide Sisters, later garnering an ample share of acclaim for his debut LP on the Ghostly International label, Galactic Melt.
Haley took some time out from working on tunes and exploring his new, temporary home — the bustling streets of North Williamsburg — to chat a little about what he’s working on now, the origins of his name and, of course, his mom.
So, I usually start off by asking bands what their earliest memory related to music is. Care to share?
I remember — I don’t remember the exact year, but it was around the time that Lion King came out — my mom used to play the piano and she bought the sheet music and I just remember her playing the Lion King on the piano at home.
Any particular song? Or all of them?
I think the main theme or something. Didn’t Elton John do the main song?
‘Circle of Life’?
So was piano the first instrument you learned how to play?
You know, I never really learned how to play. My mom did teach me some things. I was just always around pianos. When we used to go for holidays to my mother’s parents’ house, they had one of the big upright pianos — one of those pianos that was run by a vacuum [a player piano]. My grandmother’s favorite song was ‘Hello, Dolly!’ So I was always around pianos and I grew up with a piano in the house for as long as I can remember.
So, what else did you grow up with in terms of music? Just ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘Circle of Life’?
That was definitely the start of my interest in music. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom and she would be playing cassette tapes in the car, like Bobby Brown and Culture Club and all this stuff. The story that she tells me is that when she was pregnant with me, she went with my aunt to a Culture Club concert — so I think that had some sort of subliminal effect on me.
My mom was a huge Bette Midler and Billy Joel fan. I never really appreciated that stuff until I got a little bit older and would go away to my camp in the Adirondack mountains and just eat cheese all day and listen to that music with my parents. It was like, ‘OK, I guess you have pretty good taste.’ Also the Beach Boys and stuff. So I think my musical upbringing was a little strange — it kind of bounces all over the place.
Wait, so you ate cheese all day? What kind of camp was that?
Well, yeah, cheese and crackers and listened to the Beach Boys and sat on the front porch thinking about things.
Oh, got it. I was picturing you just eating an enormous block of cheese by yourself. So how did you get into electronic music from there?
The first real electronic band that I heard was the Chemical Brothers. Actually they played the ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ video on MTV way back when. So I saw that video and was like, ‘What is this crazy music?’ I was just totally obsessed with Chemical Brothers and then I started to get into other types of music — Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin and all this stuff. And then I was actually at my cousin’s house and he had that digital cable service with music channels — we just had one on and some drum and bass song came on and I was like, ‘What is this? I’ve never heard anything like this. It’s so fast and kind of rugged.’ So I was like, ‘This sounds awesome.’
Instantly hearing that song I went home and did research on that artist and then found all these artists and was like, ‘Oh, these guys are DJs. I want to DJ!’ I went and bought a pair of turntables and then started DJing and shortly after producing followed. I just got some computer programs and I would play around and write some stuff and then DJ my own music. I used to do an online radio show.
To go further back, around the same time I was exposed to the Chemical Brothers, I used to make these tapes, these cassette tapes, where I would play their music and I would just have a handheld tape recorder recording in my room. I would bring pots and pans upstairs and wooden spoons and all kinds of weird utensils and make my own beats on top of their music. My sister had this really crappy Casio keyboard and I would use the weird drum sounds on it and improv on top of their music and make these tapes called Biohazardous Beats. My mom was a nurse, so I would always beg her to bring home biohazard stickers so that I could put stickers on all my tapes.
So you taught yourself how to make electronic music?
I grew up in Oneida, New York, which is about five and a half hours from New York City, so not many people were into electronic music, so I was very alone-feeling. I didn’t have a computer for the longest time; my parents were just like, ‘Nah, you just play outside, we live in the country.’ My friend’s parents bought a computer and I just remember always going to his house and asking, ‘Can I use the computer? I want to get on the computer.’ Then, finally, my parents got a computer.
Not having a computer and then getting one later than most people forced me to learn faster and spend a lot more time on it, because I felt behind. That really helps with learning as far as DJing goes. It’s funny because I have friends that wanted to be DJs and tried and they just couldn’t really mix music. I guess some people don’t have rhythm and don’t understand how the beats work and when things come in and out. You can kind of really feel a song — and some people just can’t feel it. I feel very lucky that I can feel the music — I know when it’s going to start, I know when it’s going to stop, I know when certain parts are going to come in. Not even listening to it once, I can pick a record up that day and go and DJ it and not even have heard it before.
So when you’re writing your own music, where do you start?
I used to start with just the drums and build a beat and then start stacking things on top of it. I find nowadays it’s more melody for me. That’s why I don’t really do drum and bass anymore. The stuff that I really enjoyed and the stuff that I was writing and DJing was really heavy and very much drum and bass — there weren’t very many melodic properties in that music. I heard Boards of Canada one day and I was like, ‘Wow, listen to all this melody! This is different electronic music.’ That really totally shifted gears for me and I went right into writing ambient music, which leads me up to this point.
Nowadays I start with a melody. More experimentation, too. I’ve been acquiring a lot of new synthesizers lately and I do a lot more recording and then going back and building songs off of little quick ideas that I have. I just kind of jot stuff down for an hour, two hours, and then I come back to it later and see what I can build off of it, almost like I’m writing a record and then I’m going in and sampling it. It’s kind of weird.
You sample your own stuff?
Sometimes, yeah, I’ll write a song that will sound like really, really cheesy ’80s synth pop and then I’ll go in and sample it and use it in a totally different song in a different way. It gets a little tricky when you sample other artists, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ I’ll write this song and process it and make it sound weird and old and then I’ll sample it.
Maybe you can release an album of all your fictional bands.
Yeah, I was thinking about it. When I signed my contract with Ghostly [International] — I had some samples in my original music and I had to go in and take those off, because I was still a new artist and they’re not going to dump a bunch of money into a project that had samples. Then I realized halfway into Galactic Melt, the album, that I didn’t need to sample. I could do it all myself. I can make these sounds; it’s not that hard. I can make anything sound like anything. I really enjoy sitting in my studio and really turning the knob ever so slightly for hours just to get that exact sound that I’m looking for.
So you’re working on some new music now. What kind of bands are you creating and then sampling this go-around?
A little more post punky stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with bass guitar — very Joy Division, New Order, minimal wave stuff. The new music is definitely a little more minimal. It’s definitely still me, it’s just a little colder at times. Some stuff is still a little summary and smooth.
So you’ve probably been asked this before, but are you a fan of Tom Cruise?
I am! I’m a huge fan of Risky Business and Top Gun. My mom loves Tom Cruise, so I think that was kind of forced on me in some strange way as well.
My friend had said ‘Com Truise’ when we went out to lunch one day and we were just goofing around — I used to work with these guys at an advertising agency. I think one guy said another spoonerism, transposed the letters by accident, and then we went off on a tangent of spoonerisms. I went home and I had been writing this music and I had been working on the name, so ‘Com Truise’ stuck in my mind. I literally called my mom and asked, ‘What do you think of the name Com Truise?’ She was like, ‘Oh, that’s hilarious! I love it!’ Mom’s approval, I guess.
Image courtesy of Facebook, Com Truise