Southern Tribe: A Retrospective
'Southern Tribe' is the downbeat electronic project of Andrew Newth. Active since the mid-1990s, Southern Tribe has recently released 'Retrospective’, a compilation of early songs - some you may have already heard on compilations, while others have never previously released. We talked to Andrew about the shift from Love & Violence to Southern Tribe, changes in the technology he has used through time, the future of Southern Tribe, and more!
HUP: As far as your electronic music is concerned, you were one of the central figures in Love & Violence for around a decade (1988 to 1997). There, your music went from sounding somewhat along the lines of OMD and Depeche Mode, and became something more industrial in style as the journey progressed. Come 1997, Love & Violence ceased to exist, and you went off in two different directions. You started Southern Tribe, recording downbeat electronic music, while at the same time you began playing guitar in the also relatively mellow indie-pop band Rumpus Room. What led to the massive shift in the styles of music you began playing and recording at this time?
Andrew: Love and Violence became an industrial band somewhat by accident. We were asked to play at an industrial event and none of our current material really fit the bill. We set about hardening up our sound and writing new material. The rest is history. It was a musical tangent we never returned from. It was a great scene to be part of though, so no regrets either. When Love and Violence stopped playing, Southern Tribe was a way for me to keep producing electronic music in my own time and space. Rumpus Room was a bit of fun that went from jamming in the Cowshed at Contact 89FM to playing our first show at a party with little warning or preparation. Needless to say, we were terrible but had a blast so we just kept playing and playing and playing….
HUP: On ‘Retrospective’ you are compiling songs you recorded as Southern Tribe in the mid- to late-1990s. Some have been released on compilations, and some haven’t. What is your motivation for releasing this collection now?
Andrew: Retrospective is a way for me to ‘clear the decks’ in a way. It’s always bothered me that these tracks were never released as a body of work. The eight tracks on 'Retrospective' are only a portion of the material I wrote back then, but I feel like they are the best of the bunch. Some of the other tracks just felt too dated whereas the eight tracks released here aged a little better. It’s been great to revisit these tracks. Being able to mix them in a modern DAW has meant they could be gently tweaked and mixed to a standard I couldn’t have achieved originally. Better late than never? I should also mention that these tracks would have been lost to time if it wasn’t for Dan Howard and my brother Scott Newth, both of whom looked after the source material in various formats for years. Needless to say I owe them both a huge debt.
HUP: Technology has changed a lot since you started with Love & Violence, and since you did these early Southern Tribe recordings. What have been the biggest changes in how you have used technology, and the technology you have used, between starting Love & Violence, the beginning of Southern Tribe, and your most recent Southern Tribe recordings.
Andrew: Love and Violence and Southern Tribe songs were all written using an Atari ST computer with a sequencing program called C-Lab Creator. We had three synths and a sampler that produced all the sounds we used. The sampler had a miserly 480kb of memory which meant we had to be really frugal with our sound choices. It was all about limitations back then and in a lot of ways I think that was a good thing. It forced you to be smart about what you were doing, to be more selective and thriftier. It influenced the music in a good way. The sampler was an Ensoniq EPS which was only 13bit. It had a sound that I can’t recreate today even with the endless myriad of instruments and effects available in a modern musical workstation. A big part of both the Love & Violence and Southern Tribe sound is created by slowing down samples or playing them back at lower/slower pitches than the original and this doesn’t work quite as well in the setup I use today (yet).
HUP: What are your favourites among the early Southern Tribe tracks?
Andrew: Hmm, I probably would have to say Closer, You Can’t Have It and Horror Story. For me Horror Story epitomises the sound I was looking to produce back then; Rhythmic, lush and a bit spooky.
HUP: Obligatory and predictable question. What was behind the name ‘Southern Tribe’?
Andrew: I’d love to give you deep and meaningful story here, but the reality is I just like it and feel like it’s a great fit for the type of music I was and am still producing for this project. Sorry!
HUP: After a break of a number of years, Southern Tribe released new songs in 2018 and 2019, while also producing remixes of System Corporation’s ‘Apathy is Easy’ (2018) and, most recently, Rubita’s ‘Cold South’ (2021). Given the changes in style among your various projects, there appears to be a remarkable consistency between your older and newer Southern Tribe tracks. Do you feel Southern Tribe’s music has changed from the early tracks and now? And after the dust resettles on the ‘Retrospective’ tracks, what is next for Southern Tribe?
Andrew: I think the music I’m producing now is a progression of the earlier stuff but is still rooted in the same ideas of producing downbeat, lush and rhythmic tracks. The way it’s produced these days is a far cry from how I did it originally though. Now we have access to almost unlimited sound sources and software that provides a level of creative freedom you could only dream about in the 90s. When I first got back into producing material for Southern Tribe I struggled with that a bit. I had kid in a candy store syndrome! Throwing everything I had at my tracks just because I could. Probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced when writing the new material is learning restraint and remembering to leave space in the music. Later this year I will be releasing some new material that’s been percolating over the last three or four years. There’s eleven new tracks plus the two I’ve already released ‘Coil’ and ‘March to the End of the World’. Beyond that is the unknown.
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