By Lori Kennedy
FOUR THINGS MAKE COM TRUISE RISE TO THE TOP OF AN OTHERWISE MURKY
sea of electronic artists: First, he employs a drummer for his live sets. Second,
he has made a niche for himself—self-described as “mid-fi synth-wave, slowmotion
funk”—and it really doesn’t sound like anyone else. Third, he truly enjoys
his performances and interactions with the crowd, eschewing the “I’m-an-aloof-hipster-with-a-laptop” stereotype. Fourth, he’s built like a linebacker and
could pummel said hipsters, but wouldn’t, because he’s a super-nice dude and
is genuinely psyched that they came to see his show.
Com Truise (a.k.a. Seth Haley) has been making
music for about 13 years, but it was only recently
that he quit his day job as art director for a pharmaceutical
company to bring his mid-fi synthwave,
slow-motion funk—delivered via a healthy
mix of analog and soft synths—to the masses full
time. Haley took some time out while driving to
Austin, Texas for a gig with Neon Indian to talk
with Keyboard about his debut full-length album
Galactic Melt, his arsenal of analog synths and
plug-ins, and his accidental infusing of “Macarena”
into one of his songs.
Galactic Melt has a clear ’80s vibe, but the way
you’ve chopped it up and pieced it together, it
sounds fresh. How did you achieve that?
There are a lot of acts around right now that sound
like the ’80s—they kind of repurpose the sounds. I
wanted some of the equipment of the ’80s and some
of the production technique rather than the actual
sounds. Well, there are a couple of classic sounds on
the album that I always come back to, like the sweep
sound in Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”—that squelchy bass.
So, what is some of that equipment? Analog
synths, let’s say.
I used my Oberheim Matrix-6 a lot—that’s all
over the album, mostly pads. I have a Dave Smith
Mopho that I used a lot for effects. I also picked
up a Vermona Mono Lancet desktop module—it’s amazing. It has really nice effects. I have a
Sequential Circuits Split-Eight. The one that I
have, I had to get the battery replaced, so the
presets are gone and I can’t save anything. I have
to program them, but it’s pretty easy to program.
You still have to push buttons. The unison of
the chorus on that thing—it just sounds so good
when you turn the unison on. I use that for a lot
of leads. I have a Korg Poly-61 that I mostly use
for pads. I recently picked up a [Roland] Juno-
106, but I have yet to record with it. I also have
an Octave Cat that I started to record with when
I was done with the last tour.
By contrast, what sounds come from “inside
I generally use the computer for effects, delays,
and bass. Believe it or not, I’m never that completely
happy with the bass on analog hardware.
It’s not as sharp as I want it. For the most part, I
use virtual stuff for bass. It just works better—it’s
easier to control. I could record [analog gear] in,
and maybe I just haven’t figured out the perfect
way to record it and process it. I just feel more
comfortable using virtual stuff for a lot of the bass.
What are you using for your virtual bass?
I use a lot of Arturia stuff . And I like GForce Minimonsta
and ImpOSCar—that one is amazing. For
drums, I’ve used the Oberheim DX, which I pretty
much sampled until it was almost non-functional.
[Laughs.] I used a lot of samples from the drum tracks.
I think that’s my favorite part from the ’80s—those
drum machine sounds, those low-bit-rate samples.
How about soft synths and effects?
For virtual instruments, the Arturia plug-ins are
by far my favorite. I really like the Native Instruments
stuff, too, like FM8. I was messing around
with NI Abbey Road Drums for Kontakt. They’re
super-duper hyper sampled. You have a lot of
control over the human element of drumming. I
mean, there’s nothing like real cymbals or hi-hats.
By far my favorite effects are from SoundToys.
Their delay EchoBoy is absolutely amazing. They also
make the Crystallizer; it’s sort of like a pitch-shift delay.
You can get some crazy sounds with that. I actually use
the D16 plug-ins on every song. I like their Decimort
bit crusher and their Fazortan space phaser.
Basically, I’m a super nerd, and as much as I love
using analog gear, I’m always surfing the Internet to
find weird plug-ins. It was a little easier when I was
using a PC because there are some plug-ins that I
used to use a while back that they don’t make for
Macs. I would sometimes write to the companies
and say, “So, are you guys gonna make this for the
Mac?” And they were like, “Uh, no.” [Laughs.] I’m
always looking for new stuff. I kinda got into Reaktor
a little bit. Sonic Projects makes an Oberheim
OB-X clone [OP-X Pro]—that makes some really
good sounds. They make a VST version for Windows
that gives you more control over the tuning—it’s a better control over everything.
You said you used to be on a PC . . . ?
I’m completely on Mac now. I do have BootCamp
going [to run Windows], and I knew going into it that
I wasn’t going to like it. It’s not that smooth, so it’s kind
of a pain to run it. I’ve thought about just buying a
decent PC for those plug-ins that I really like.
What DAW are you using?
Apparently, I kind of work backwards. [Laughs.] I
messed around with Logic. I have an old version—Logic 7, which isn’t the most beautiful DAW. I used
Reason for 13 years, and I could use it blindfolded.
Now I record and write everything in Ableton Live,
and then I sequence it in Reason just because that’s
my comfort zone. I don’t know . . . I’ve tried to
switch. I’ve used Cubase and Logic, but I just can’t
achieve exactly what I want to achieve. I probably
just need to sit down and think about it. I definitely
use a combination right now, but everything comes
out of Reason at the end. I seemed to have figured
out how to make it work quite well.
Do you have a specific keyboard on which you
write your tracks?
My go-to is the Matrix-6, even though trying to
program it is kind of like launching the space
shuttle. There are about 200 crazy parameters on
it. It just takes a little bit of time, but it’s fun because
I just get lost in it. It’ll take an hour to make the
simplest patch ever. So I usually fool around on
that for a while until I get something that sounds
pretty good. But for the most part, when I start
a track, I usually start with drums because I’m a
super drum nerd. I’ll get a beat, and then I’ll find
some strange sample. Well, I basically stopped
sampling for the most part—there are only two
or three samples on this record. But we were in
Birmingham, Alabama a few days ago, and there is
this place where all the walls are covered with vinyl
records. And there was this album I saw by the
Tubes called Remote Control, and I took a picture
of the cover art with my phone because I thought,
“I have to remember this horrible cover.” So I
looked it up a little while later, and I found a song
on YouTube from the album—I can’t even remember
the name of the song—and I knew I wanted to
repurpose a sample from that somehow.
You mentioned you generally start with a beat
first. Is that from a computer-based or a hardware
It’s a digital one. I stepped away from the Oberheim
DX for a bit. I really like the clean part of
sequencing. I usually start with the computer and
There seems to be a signature synth sound that
goes throughout the album. What is that?
It’s the Oberheim—but really, it’s more about the
way I process it after I record it. I do some bit
crushing. I’m always using [TriTone Digital] Color-Tone Pro a lot. It captures IRs [impulse responses]
to achieve really crazy saturation. I have an Akai
reel-to-reel tape machine from 1965. It’s a pretty
great piece of equipment, but it’s so heavy. It’s about
100 pounds. It’s not that big, and it has a handle
on it—I don’t know what they were thinking when
they made that because it’s not like you’re gonna
carry it around. [Laughs.] It’s got a little bit of a
hum to it, but I still get some really nice tones from
that machine. Again, I think—going back to your
original question—it’s more about how I process
everything that makes it feel “old.”
Can you talk a bit about how you process
I’ve been doing music for about 13 years, and so
along the way, I’ve picked up certain things. And
with different projects, I learned to incorporate different
production techniques. A lot of it is the way
my drums sound. I take different samples or sounds
and I layer them, I compress them, I limit them,
and I always put in a healthy amount of gated reverb.
Then I resample them and bring them back in.
I recompress them before reverb. I use the Softube
Valley People Dyna-mite gate plug-in. I get really
excellent gate effects with it. And with the drums,
I’m always bit-crushing them down.
For my synths, it’s the way I EQ things. I also use
a lot of the D16 phaser—that’s all over the record. I
use it subtly because I don’t want it to be overpowering.
I don’t remember what I actually did—I’ve
been on tour for a couple of months now. [Laughs.]
Another factor of my sound is the way I sequence
things. When I first started writing music, I was a DJ
spinning drum ’n’ bass music, and I did some producing.
I did that for a little while, but I got frustrated
because I think it’s a very snobby genre. It’s tough to
hang with a bunch of angry guys standing around.
[Laughs.] I think in some ways, it squashed my ideas,
my experiments. I felt like I had gotten so focused
on trying to achieve the sound that was “happening”
when I should’ve been making what I wanted
to make. So then I totally switched gears and started
making downtempo stuff. After that, I somehow
got into the ’80s. I remember as a kid hearing my
parents’ records, but I was never super-exposed to
the ’80s. There’s so much dance music out there right
now, and a lot of it is so intricate—you know, like it
almost hurts your brain to process it. I think some
things are completely overdone. I love listening to
that kind of music, but I don’t want to write it. I like
the dark, electro, glitch stuff, but I focused more on
making nice melodies, tracks that were more relaxed—nothing too intricate.
But there are moments were you do visit that
electro-glitch side that you like. The overall feel
is chill and downtempo, but with “VHS Sex,” for
example, there are some glitchy drops midway
through the song.
Yeah, I did put some of those elements in there.
Maybe it’s because since I wrote the music, I feel
it’s more relaxed. I know those elements are there,
but I didn’t want to make a full-on song like that.
That would be too much. As it is, there’s just
enough in there for me.
Back to your question about the overall sound
of the album. With the majority of the tracks, I
slightly detune everything relative to everything
else—just turn it up or down a semitone. I picked
up the Roland Juno-106 a couple of weeks ago,
and I incorporated it into a live show. But it’s harder
to detune that live. The tuning knob is on the
back panel, so you kinda have to reach over. It’s a
little pot switch. It’s not the easiest thing to do.
What does your live setup look like?
With the live show, I have a drummer, and everything
is running through Ableton. I’m not completely
happy with the way it’s working for me right
now, but it does work. For synths I use the Juno-106
and the Dave Smith Mopho. I use the Akai APC40
[a control surface dedicated to Ableton Live] to trigger
everything. That’s it for right now. The last tour I
had the Octave Cat with me, but I realized that that
thing is pretty old. I picked it up in Austin last time
we were on tour with the Glitch Mob, and I carried
it around for the rest of the tour and threw it right
into the live show. Right before we had to fly for this
tour, we had the hurricane Irene in New York, so our
flights got screwed up. I was actually gonna bring
it this time, but we made a conscious decision to
leave it in New York. It was in mint condition when
I bought it, it doesn’t drift too much—just enough to
make me happy. [Laughs.] But I decided to leave it
because I didn’t want it to break. When I first got it
and brought it home, I couldn’t wait to record with
it—I was so excited. I also carry around a Simmons
SDS drum pad. I used it a lot when I didn’t have a
live drummer, but I carry it around just in case.
You mentioned that Ableton wasn’t working out
the way you wanted it to. Can you elaborate?
It works perfectly, for the most part, but using the
APC controller to launch everything doesn’t work
the way I want it to. The APC is pre-mapped, and
you can go in and re-map certain buttons, and all
the buttons that are pre-mapped on the machine
are perfect . . . I almost feel like I might need to
use a different controller, or get an additional strip
of knobs. I’m still trying to find the balance of doing
stuff electronically and playing stuff live.
I don’t feel like I had enough time to prepare before
I went out on the last tour. Right up until we left
on tour, I was working in pharmaceutical advertising.
I’ve been working in advertising for the past five
years, so the music business is kind of new to me.
Being in advertising, I basically lived at the office.
Even when I was writing the album, it wasn’t typical
to have a solid chunk of time to dedicate to the
music. The way I do things live right now, I just don’t
think I had the right amount of time to sit down
and reverse-engineer the music to do exactly what
I wanted to do live. It sounds good, and I’m happy
with it, but I think it could be so much more.
There are bits of robotic voices throughout the
album. What are you using to create those?
For a lot of those, I used the speech program built
into the Mac. You know that George Lucas movie
THX 1138? To get a lot of the speech parts in that
movie, they recorded all this stuff and then they
broadcasted it—they had a radio station broadcast
it—then they picked it up on another receiver
and recorded it. Then they made a loop and rerecorded
it, so you get that frequency modulation.
So I’ll do a similar thing with voices, using
a Mac audio routing utility called HiJack This. I
take them down a little bit and stretch things out
until they sound strange. Or, I just process them
with a modulation plug-in. I use Crystallizer from
SoundToys a lot. It just sounds “prosthetic.”
Can you walk me through the process of recording
The story of it is . . . it’s basically about a certain
time in my life. I was going through some stressful
stuff . That’s probably the only “real” song on the
album that has a direct connection to my life. I try
not to write about anything personal—it’s not fun
for me. I may take nostalgic parts of my life—like
sitting on the rocks with my little sister in Rhode
Island—and put that in there. That makes me
think about the things I want to write about, like
science fi ction and space ships—all that good stuff.
I started with the drums. And the first brassy-type
chords that come in are the Split-Eight. So I
recorded that, and messed around with it a little bit.
Then I wrote the bass part using Arturia Minimoog
V, and I processed that a bit. I put the leads in close
to last, and I have this weird thing where the very last
thing I do on a song is put the toms in. When I was
younger, I wasn’t really keen on four-on-the-floor
beats, and for some reason, it was the same thing
with toms. I’d say, “Who needs toms?” I was totally
against them, and now they’re my favorite part. I just
really like those super-reverb, Phil Collins toms.
It’s interesting that although you start by laying
down drums, you finish songs by putting the
toms on last.
Always. I always put the toms last. I don’t know why
. . . the drums are pretty prevalent in my mix and in
my songs. I’m a huge Chemical Brothers fan—I just
love loud, crunchy beats. I just like really nice breaks.
They’re always a little bit loud in the mix, but a lot of
my stuff is kinda bottom-heavy anyway, and I think
those two work together really well.
So, about “Macarena” . . .
It’s funny. I wrote some slashed, sharp chords for
“Brokendate.” At one point in the song, when
they’re just going, they actually kinda sound like the
song “Macarena.” [Laughs.] Every time I hear it, I’m
like, “Heyyy, Macarena!” I always tell people, “Yeah,
I secretly wrote the ‘Macarena’ into ‘Brokendate.’”
Actually, I don’t know how I did that.