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Interview: Reduction Plan

Album cover by Alan Huck, photo by Dalton Patton.

Reduction Plan is the passion project of Daniel Manning. Born out of a love affair with The Cure, The Smiths, and all things 80s, Reduction Plan uses drum machines, swirling synths, and chorus-laden guitars to create dreamy, brooding soundscapes. Somewhere, Reduction Plan’s third LP in three years, is able to create a palpable goth-rock mood, steeped in Manning’s signature melancholic guitar playing, crooning vocals, and propulsive drum machine rhythms. Manning is accompanied live by collaborator and bandmate Luis Durango on synth and second guitar, adding a new energy and ferocity to Reduction Plan’s somber compositions.

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The Connecticut music scene served as the launching pad for bands such as The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die and Sorority Noise, yet is rarely recognized as particularly vibrant or rich. What’s your experience been like as a Connecticut based band?

I love Connecticut, really. The music scene has been very friendly and very important to me for a really long time. I also agree that it’s definitely underrated and not recognized like it should be. There are some really amazing bands and people who have been making incredible music for years and hustling to keep CT music rolling (S/O the Katz bros, Crunch House, Pinfinger, Manic Presents, and the countless others).

Over time though I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about the scene at large. I think CT suffers from not having any sort of true urban center where a scene could thrive and grow. Part of this has to do with how deceptively small it is, while another part of it lies in larger socio-economic issues across the state and its cities. New Haven is the closest thing I think we’ll get, but again there are a lot of issues within the city that hold it back.

All that said, Connecticut has been very kind to us as a band, and we’ve definitely been able to grow in ways that we wouldn’t be able to if we were based somewhere larger, like New York. Spending more time in New York and playing more shows down there has helped me appreciate what CT has going on a lot more. There’s a sense of authenticity here that I think New York lacks, it’s much more genuine. The scene is really varied, but the community is small, and that’s an awesome and unique thing that I don’t think you’d find elsewhere.

Reduction Plan is largely based around synths and a drum machine; why did you decide to build your sound around these particular instruments—what do they mean to you?

When I started the project I was using a drum machine out of a mix of inspiration and necessity. Necessity in the sense that it was just me and I didn’t, and still don’t, know how to play drums. So for that purpose, programming a drum machine was much easier than learning the drums or finding someone else to play them.

At the same time, a lot of the acts that directly inspired the project (e.g. Merchandise, Have A Nice Life, Dirty Beaches) all used drum machines. Sonically, I like being able to manipulate drum samples and sounds, to create noises you wouldn’t get out of a traditional kit. Most of the time the drum machine sound tends to lean a little more industrial, which I really enjoy as well.

The synth come from a love of all things 80’s. But I also like the coldness of a synth, the mechanical aspect to it. It’s not a natural sounding thing, which I think is really cool. There’s also a “blindly experimenting” side to it that is really fun when recording or writing.

Somewhere by Reduction Plan

The sound of Somewhere, your latest album, is noticeably cleaner than the lo-fi grittiness of Paradise, your first release. Can you talk about the recording process for each, and how it differed?

I would like to think that’s partly due to me getting better at engineering and producing. Paradise was recorded in the basement of the house I was living in up at University of Connecticut. I ran everything (drums, synths, guitars, vocals) through my guitar amp, which I mic’d with the only microphone I owned at the time. Since then my collection of recording equipment has grown a bit, as has my knowledge on how to better utilize it.

Shade, the second record, I look back on as kind of a “growing pains” record. I really enjoy it but I think both production-wise and with the writing I didn’t know what I wanted out of it. I didn’t quite have as clear of a vision of where I wanted to take the project next.

For Somewhere I dedicated a lot more time to mixing the songs, messing around and experimenting after the fact to get a particular sound. The intention was to make something more cohesive and consistent than any of the previous records, so I wanted to make sure I had a focused sound that I was trying to get out of each song and the record as a whole. That involved getting a lot more precise and intentional with my mixing and production, which was actually really fun. I used to dread the mixing process, and shrugged it off on the first two records, which I think shows. On this latest one I really came around to mixing as a fun experimenting stage in the process of crafting a record. I had a sound in my head, so I had a goal to reach, and I spent a lot of time tweaking and experimenting to try and reach that destination.

How do you build your songs – lyrics or music first?

Music first almost always, to a fault. A few times I’ve written a song and laid down some demos and had a moment of “oh shit where am I gonna sing in this thing.” The lyrics mostly come from short ideas, phrases, or concepts that I jot down and expand upon when it comes time to actually sit in front of the mic.

On tour, have you found another music scene that’s also underrated but exciting?

Oh man yeah, all over the place. I love touring for that reason. Every stop of the way I was impressed by the people we played with and the people we got to meet. We played with an incredible band in Philly called A Virgin, and both times we’ve played in Michigan have been with our friends in War War War, who I love very much.

In terms of cities and scenes themselves, there’s scattered little scenes all over the place full of hard-working people. On our first tour I had a great time in Pittsburgh. They have some really cool experimental electronic stuff going on there that I really enjoyed. This time around everyone in Columbus and Bloomington was really friendly, and I had a great time in Flint. I think the midwest in general is really underrated musically, there’s some really sick bands and wonderful people out there grinding away for their cities’ music scenes.

Somewhere by Reduction Plan

You’ve shared the stage with acts as varied as Xiu Xiu, Torres, Planning for Burial, and more. Is there a particular crowd you remember that you feel really responded to your music?

The Xiu Xiu show was great. I think that crowd especially responded really well to us. Those kinds of shows are good opportunities for us because for a while we had a hard time finding the right corner of the CT music scene to reside in, as in it was hard for us to find similar bands to play with and we often stood out a bit on a bill. That’s not a bad thing, playing a mixed bill is really fun. But when someone like Xiu Xiu or anyone else like that comes to play CT and we’re asked to open for them, it kinda gives us a chance to contextualize what we do a bit. It puts us in front of people who maybe aren’t coming to the other shows we’re playing with different sounding bands.

Playing with Thom (Planning For Burial) was really great, he’s such a nice dude and I was really happy to have a chance to both book him in CT and play with him. He’s been really kind and supportive of us since as well.

Can you talk about the title of your album and the photo you chose for the cover? What do they mean to you?

Somewhere grew out of the kind of “lost in the world” feelings I was having post-graduation. Lyrically the record focuses a lot on feelings of displacement, dissatisfaction, and the search for somewhere to feel at home. So, with that feeling looming overhead while writing and recording the record, it felt natural to call it that.

The photo on the cover is a collage made by my friend Alan Huck. A lot of people think the boy on the cover is me as a child, which isn’t the case. I wish it were though, that’d make my answer to this question much more interesting. Alan posted that collage and the two images really stuck out to me. I really connected to something in it, so I reached out to him about using it for the cover.

What’s a non-musical influence for you?

I had a chance to do a lot of reading while riding the train down to the city for work at the same time I was writing Somewhere, and I think that maybe had an influence. I re-read Heart of Darkness every summer, so that’s been a staple influence-wise. I’m also a sucker for anything Cormac McCarthy writes.

Blade Runner is my favorite movie, and I think a lot of the isolation and existential themes present in there has had a big impact on my writing. It also has a killer soundtrack, which helps. Similarly Cowboy Bebop, Ghost In The Shell, and all that sci-fi oriented anime are also big influences for us both.

In terms of influential people, David Lynch’s work had a big impact on this record, particularly Lost Highway and Blue Velvet. “Dreams In Blue” actually had a sample of dialogue from Blue Velvet in it initially that didn’t make the final cut. His work in general has been a mainstay in my creative influences for a while, a lot of the synth sounds on Paradise were heavily influenced by the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

What are you excited for on your upcoming tour?

In contrast to our last tour, this one is almost entirely house shows (Brooklyn being the exception). Most of them are at houses in college towns or around a college, so I’m really excited for that. The house shows I went to when I was in college were some of the most fun, and we haven’t had a chance to really play a lot of spaces like that lately. It’s also really exciting to just go new places. I’ve never been to DC, so I’m excited to go there and it’s even better that we get to play a show while we’re at it.

Reduction Plan plays Gold Sounds in Brooklyn on October 11th, tickets and details hereFind them on Facebook and Bandcamp.

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