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Monday, May 24, 2021

Rocket Bureau - Middle Angst

ROCKET BUREAU is a One-man studio band. Behind that moniker is KYLE URBAN, who can play pretty much every music instrument, and does so on this brilliant album. Pop hooks a plenty, crunchy guitars and pounding Keith Moon-esque drums. All recorded on his own in Kyle's Madison, Wisconsin basement studio. Analog, of course! Read all about it here!

1) For the viewers of this blog who would not know you, What would you tell about Rocket Bureau to introduce yourself? Do you feel more confortable to present yourself as a "band" rather that an solo artist?

Hello! I'm Kyle Urban, I'm a musician and recording engineer. Rocket Bureau is both a solo recording project for my songs, and a live band with my friends. I've been based in Madison, WI for almost 20 years. I've played different instruments in a bunch of bands (The Motorz, The August Teens, The Arkoffs, The God Damns, Earl Foss & The Brown Derby, etc), and I run an analog recording studio out of my basement. Besides locals, I've recorded a lot of bands from Milwaukee and elsewhere, including The Midwest Beat, Fox Face, Phylums, and Hughes Family Band. I had a great working relationship with The Midwest Beat for so long that I ended up playing keys with them for live shows, including a European tour.

I think I'm more comfortable presenting Rocket Bureau recordings as a band as opposed to a solo act. I write the songs, perform all the parts, and record & mix everything myself. In spite of that, one of my goals is to always make it sound like a full band is playing the songs, not just one guy overdubbing everything. It's how I'm comfortable working, but I love playing live as well. I happen to have some great friends who are also fantastic players, and they like the music I make. There's something great about playing with a group of close friends. Plus these guys share a similar energy to me when we're playing; we are loud and we let it rip. The live band is Dan Bornemann on bass (a friend since high-school, he convinced me to move here), Josh Labbus on guitar, and Paul Kennedy on drums. They rule.

photo David Kreisman.
2) About the newly released LP, what can you tell about the recording process? Please tell us about your working process? Do you start with the drums and the bass and then the guitars and finally the vocals?

I record the drums first, I've always worked that way. There's no click track or anything; that forces me to have the song arranged and as fully-realized as it can be before even thinking about recording it. I play the song on drums as I would on guitar or any other instrument, meaning it's a performance dependent on the dynamics of the song structure with fills and all, as opposed to just playing a beat and editing it later. After that I usually add guitars, bass, any other extra stuff (keys/percussion/etc), then vocals. Unless I have a vocal arrangement in mind that calls for a lot of voices, then I'll do vocals earlier with a guide guitar track, and bounce all the extra vocals down to one or two tracks, and add everything else afterward. I didn't do much of that on Middle Angst, as most of the songs didn't really call for big multi-part vocals, but that is something I love. I am a huge fan of The Everly Brothers, The Hollies, The Cowsills, and The Resonars.

3) Do you only work with analog machines in analog studios or might you, one day, consider using the nowadays digital recording technology?

Despite the maintenance work involved with a vintage tape machine, I stick with mostly analog because I can record and mix with tape and a console much faster than with a computer. The drawback to that is no ability to save mixes for simple changes at a later date. That led to having a hybrid system. 90% of the work is done analog. I track to a 2” 16-track tape machine from the early 70s (before 2016 I only used 1/2” 8-track). I record everything to tape, then mix from tape through a big analog mixing console and outboard gear for compression/tape delay/etc. The direct outputs of the console are fed to their own tracks in the computer. I started doing that from recording other bands; they would often like my mixes but want minor tweaks here and there. I would have to start an entire mix over from scratch just to turn the bass guitar up a little bit or something but I might set another level differently in the process, so I put together this system where I could still work quickly & efficiently with analog tape, but have my mixes saved for easy adjustments in the computer. It's a workflow that I'm happy with. Tracking and mixing fully inside a computer is very slow for me, so I bypass most of that with the benefits of having saved mixes and easy adjustments. It has saved me hundreds of hours of work.

Sonically, I prefer analog tape. I grew up listening to all kinds of old music, and analog tape is a big part of those sounds. Digital recording technology has come a long way, it can sound fantastic now, I do not begrudge anyone for going that route. But analog tape gets the sounds that I really love, and it's a workflow I'm comfortable with. 

4) Who is responsible for the cover artwork of the L.P.? And can you also explain the meaning of the title of the LP?

Kyle Clemins, an old friend of mine from high school, made the cover art. I'm a control freak over the music and audio, but I know I have zero skills as a visual artist. When the recording was mostly done, I sent a rough mix to Mr. Clemins. I had him listen to the album a few times and come up with something. He nailed it in a way I did not expect. I liked it when he sent me his sketches, but when I got the LP jackets, WOW. It looked even better than I'd imagined. I especially love the mirrored-eagle on the back cover; if we make t-shirts, that's what will be on them.

I think I came up with the title Middle Angst after most of the songs were written. None of this was written to be a concept album, but I was writing more personally than I had before, and the songs all kind of fell into a loose narrative of aging, but not feeling like you're progressing with life. I'm 41 and I often feel as lost as I did as a teenager; the songs either reflect that, or look back a bit nostalgically. I felt really weird about it for a while because I didn't know if anyone else would relate to it. I'm getting older but I don't really feel like I am. I don't want to become an acoustic singer/songwriter. I don't want to make 'mature' music. I want to rock. It's the kind of music that I naturally play when picking up any instrument. Conversely, I know I don't want to make the same kind of rock songs I did in my 20s or younger. I want that same energy, but with lyrics that I won't feel absurd singing as I get older.

5) What is your favorite topic/topic that comes easily when you write a new song?

That's a tough question! I don't think I have a favorite or easy topic. My most satisfying writing comes from being struck by a melody and sound that evokes a strong emotion, then completing a song that maintains that initial spark. It doesn't happen often. Sometimes the spark gets lost and I abandon the song. More often than not I finish the song and it doesn't have the same spark, but it becomes something else that I like.

Lyrics are difficult and frustrating for me. I can rattle off music relatively easily, but words are hard. In my old band (The Motorz), I only wanted to make fun, hooky rock'n'roll songs. I didn't care about lyrics at all; as long as they weren't embarrassing (and sometimes they were), I was happy. I hear music first and lyrics second. In the interim between The Motorz and Rocket Bureau, I started to appreciate lyrics more and more. I got a couple of Sparks records and they blew my mind. Lyric-focused music previously struck me as pretentious at best and outright boring at worst, but I gradually realized you can get really creative lyrically without it weighing down the music. That opened my ears to things that I'd only half-listened to for years.

6) How would you described Rocket Bureau's type of music? Would you call it power pop or do you consider there is way more than that?

Great question! I have no idea. I love power-pop, but I think it's a really limited descriptor. What I think of as power-pop isn't what other people think (and that goes for virtually every genre to an extant). I've described my music as power-pop in the past, and it helped the music find its way to people who enjoy it, which is all I really want. However, just as often I've seen 'power-pop' used in a way that's almost dismissive or derogatory.

I tell people that Rocket Bureau is a rock'n'roll band. That's probably more troublesome than power-pop, but I can't think of a better description. There are a couple punk-ish songs on the album, but we're not a punk band. I try to give everything catchy melodies, but there may be too much classic rock influence for some power-pop fans. A lot of what I play on guitar is country-based, but it's through an old amp on 10.

7) Do you have a new video on youtube featuring a track from the new LP??

Nope! I'm not opposed to videos, but I've never come up with a cool video idea. I hate being on camera as well. If there's ever a Rocket Bureau video, it'd have to be a collaboration with someone with a great sense of visuals, and little to none of me in it.

Photo:  David Kreisman.
8) Do you intend to take Rocket Bureau on the road one day soon and if this happens what can concert goers expect at a gig of Rocket Bureau? Will you be playing any famous cover songs during the gig?

I would love to do a tour! I would especially love to go to Europe again, I met a lot of wonderful friends while over there. The reality is we've all got day jobs, and there's one father and one father-to-be in the band. That said, we could find a way to make it work for the right opportunities.

Historically, our live shows have one constant: we are loud. We're loud when we're trying NOT to be loud. I love actually feeling the sound out of my guitar amp. Paul is a monster drummer so we could blame him, but honestly I think we all love cranking up the volume. We're a rock band, that's how we're supposed to sound! It kind of limits where we can play, but I think we'd rather have it that way than try to change how we sound and be frustrated. 

We've almost always thrown a cover or two into live sets. We can't deny ourselves the fun of playing covers of songs we love. We have a couple of Thin Lizzy songs we often play. I think collectively our favorite band of all time is Cheap Trick; we'll play entire chunks of Live At Budokan during practice (and sometimes live). I've collected records since I was a kid, and that's always given me fuel to bring all kinds of oddball songs to the guys. We do an obscure Badfinger song, a couple 60s bubblegum songs, a hair metal tune here and there; we even cover other locals that don't play anymore. Great songs are great songs, it doesn't matter if they're by The Beatles or some punk band playing a local basement.

9) Are there any bands/artists in the USA today you consider yourself close to, musically speaking?

The Resonars and Tenement. I don't think we're all that similar to either (or nearly as good), but both of those bands were integral to Rocket Bureau existing. I hadn't been writing or recording my own music for a long time; I was playing with a few bands and recording others. I still love doing both, but none of it was my own thing. I got into both of those bands around the same time and was inspired. Before that I had odd ideas that my own music wasn't worth doing, and I'd forgotten how much joy and satisfaction I got from writing and recording songs for myself. Both of those bands make incredible records, but they also put on great, loud, energetic live shows. They made me want to do my version of the same, just for enjoyment if nothing else.

10) To what kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What were your favorite bands as a teenager? Name 3 bands that you consider still have an influence on your own work today.

I don't know how it is for other people, but I rarely outgrow any music I get into, I just get into more of it. As soon as I could walk I went for my dad's stereo. He was afraid I would break it, so he taught me how to play records. My earliest memories are of me playing anything I could find and pillaging my older siblings' records and tapes. I fell in love with Queen and ELO by the time I was 5. After that it was all Meat Loaf, 70s Kiss, hair metal, and Rush most of all. As a teenager in the 90s, I got into both pop-punk and oldies radio (50s/60s rock'n'roll). Eventually I got into British Invasion, psych, soul, vintage country, and so on. These days I'm really into collecting obscure old 45s that don't fit neatly into genres.

Three long-lasting influences are probably Cheap Trick, The Hollies, and The Who. This list could change every day.

11) What are the plans for 2021 as far as Rocket Bureau are concerned?

We just had our first fully-vaccinated band practice last weekend, which was something I missed very much in the past year. I don't know when we'll be able to play live yet, but we'll keep having practices and learning some new songs. I've got about a dozen written, and I've got some ideas for another album.

12) Anything you wanna add?

I play bass in The August Teens, and we put out a much-overdue album last year. You can check it out here:

I also play drums in The Arkoffs, a weird garage band. There is no website or social media for The Arkoffs. We have an LP, but it's not available yet. It may be the only recording I've been a part of where the record we got was exactly what we were going for. I can't wait for unsuspecting souls to hear it.

The only other thing I'd like to add is gratitude for sharing my music. Thank you very much!


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