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Solar Bears

Solar Bears is a collaboration between electronica composer John McElheron and multi-instrumentalist Rian Trench. They met and formed at Pulse Sound Engineering School, started recording and were swiftly picked up by Planet Mu.

Solar Bears’ music is the soundtrack to a good life. Their song writing and production has a languid, pastoral grace that intertwines rock and electronics, twisting melodies through prog rock’s structures and sounds, occasionally making sharp turns into more tense post rock territory, sliding between longer tracks and short mood-setting miniatures. The album mixes analogue electronica with the quietly epic perspective and shimmering neon synths of late 70’s, early 80’s Kosmiche music and the synth pop it informed.

“The mix we assembled is comprised of film scores we love and tracks we have listened to more recently. We wanted to put in the Twin Sister remix as it really stands out in terms of groove. The inspiration is derived from the songs simply. Dam Funk and Com Truise are two artists we admire at the moment.”

Interviewed by Tom Durston


Firstly thank you for recording your sublime mix for Inverted Audio. Let’s start from the beginning, where and when did you two meet and when did you start meddling with music?

SB: Rian has been making music and experimenting for a decade at least. He is from a very musical background so he has plenty of experience and knowledge. I am a relative novice.

To compare your music to others, it would be easy to place you around the realms of Boards of Canada. – Who would you compare yourself to and what is the inspiration behind your music?

SB: I would not compare us to other acts or artists mainly because we write in a very streamlined way. Influences come through whether we are aware of them or not at the time. Music you listen to and things you see are undoubtedly going to have an impact on what you come up with in the studio. We like certain keyboard sounds and guitar tones so what happens is we suit ourselves. There are bands we look up to like Mogwai and Broadcast in particular.

‘Solar Bears’ derives from a Russian science fiction film by Andrei Tarkovsky. When did you come across this film and what made it stand out to you to emblazon your band with it?

SB: The film itself is unique. I cannot think of anything else that is as haunting and touching as Solaris. It is a firm favourite of ours and we wanted to have a science fiction element in our project. We reference countless films in our song titles as well.

For me your music has a Lo-F psychedelic sound to it. How do you go about the process of creating your music? Do you rely on computers or do you have  a selection of dusty acoustic instruments, synths and vintage tape machines?

SB: The process begins with an idea or a rough arrangement, which we add to and weave around. The album was recorded and edited with a very old computer running a program that was completely out of date. Vintage tape machine and handheld recorders were implemented in stages to alter the sound and distort the compositions.


Where do you record your music, field recordings, your bedrooms, or mostly in the studio?

SB: We recorded everything in Rian’s house with a basic set up which suited us both. It was low key and it lent itself to relaxed writing sessions. Samples we used for texture in places.

What are you trying to convey to the listener in your music? Is each song it’s own unique song or do your songs work together as a whole towards some kind of overall ideal?

SB: Each track we made was singular in a way. The way we put the order together made it more complimentary and cohesive. The label boss Mike helped a lot with this as he has a great understanding of records and tracklisting flow.


Since Planet Mu’s inception in 1995, what artists have you been looking up to from their roster?

SB: I think the signings in the past year or two are amongst the emest in its history. Tropics and DJ Nate are definitely producers to look out for. I think both of them are going to do really well.

How did your relationship with Mike Paradinas, Director of Planet Mu, formalize to releasing both an album ‘She Was Coloured In’ and a single ‘Inner Sunshine’?

SB: Planet Mu has a great reputation as being artist friendly and getting the best out of releases. Having worked with them I can say that is certainly the truth. They have been extremely helpful and informed since we began working together. We are very lucky to have people like Mike and Marcus Scott on our side.


What have been the most defining moments in your career so far, and also what have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

SB: Defining moments for Rian and I are talking with people who have heard our music and can relate to what we do. It has been incredibly surreal talking with people who we have respected for years coming forward and saying our record is one of the best of the year, it’s quite dreamlike!

Your tracks have been reworked by Lone and Letherette, what have you learnt from this and do you plan to work with them / others again?

SB: Letherette and Lone make superb music in their own right so it was interesting to hand over songs to be re-interpreted. We were grateful for their time and what they sent back. Their records are beautiful. Next year we would like to work with vocalists but it is too early to say who?

What have you planned for 2011?

SB: Playing live is the main thing for us now. We are rehearsing and putting our set together. We just did a remix for an Amercian band, which should be out in the near future. New tracks will be in store also. Different labels have approached us so it is just a case of seeing which ones we want to release with most. Planet Mu have been very good to us this year.

What artists and producers are you currently digging and can’t live without hearing at least once a day?

SB: Bibio, Young Montana, Star Slinger, Beach House, Vangelis, Aphex Twin, Twin Sister and Crystal Castles.

What are your top five film soundtracks of all time?

  1. Fantastic Planet – Alain Goraguer
  2. Water Lilies – Para One
  3. Once Upon A Time In America – Ennio Morricone
  4. The Fog – John Carpenter
  5. Dolls – Joe Hisaishi

Finally do you have any words of wisdom for the avid producer?

Make music you are proud of for yourself, first and foremost. Listen to as many different genres and styles as possible and try out things that are irregular.


1. Solar Bears – Twin Stars
2. Robert Houston – The Ninja
3. Com Truise – Cyanide Sisters
4. Cocteau Twins – Love’s Easy Tears
5. Tangerine Dream – Love On A Real Train
6. Dam Funk – The Sky Is Ours
7. The Morning Benders – Mason Jar (Twin Sister Remix)
8. Donna Summer – I Feel Love
9. Giorgio Moroder – Tony’s Theme
10. Alain Goraguer – Meditation Des Infants

Discover more about Solar Bears on Inverted Audio.