“Made For Humans II” (So Recordings, 23) is the second installment of the instrumental project of the same name shared by Miguel López (from Digital 21) and Stefan Olsdal (from Placebo). We met with both musicians at the Mondo Sonoro offices in Madrid, to chat for half an hour about the duo’s new work.
We are now facing the second album for Made For Humans. Did you expect it when you initially launched the project coinciding with the pandemic?
Stefan: (Laughs) Well, I don’t know, the truth is that we didn’t think about it. We always look forward and there is always something to do.
Miguel: We’ve already had four albums together… between one project and another. But, the truth is that we didn’t think about that, because when we made the first Made For Humans it was a very specific moment: the pandemic, the confinement, the challenge of making practically one song a day… and finishing it within a specific term. Then it took as long as it came out, but the album was finished in those two months. We didn’t think about what would happen next.
“Made For Humans II” strikes me as both a classic album (in appearance) and a very contemporary one (in consequences and in what it conveys). I mean it’s a classic disco, but very representative of the world out there.
Stefan: Already, from the song titles themselves, we have based this album a little on a theme around existence, life and the relationship with our parents. And around that idea that life can be very beautiful, but also mysterious. That was kind of the concept. Also with the first song, “Xistence”, which is the first song on the album and introduces a bit of the concept present throughout the album.
Miguel: We have made our history, but it is true that, perhaps, seeing it from the outside, there is that vision of human existence and that understanding that is common in people our age. Perhaps there is more awareness of how changing the world is, of how light existence is, of trying to take advantage of the moment, of how everything can change at any moment. On a global, social, economic or any other level. There may be a connection between the world and what we have done, even without us thinking about it. We are as old as we are, with our elderly parents and those we want to honor. It is a different perspective than the first album, which also talked about nature, but in this case it is a more human nature.
“Silence is a fantastic musical note that enhances the next one that arrives”
Is there, then, a more marked concept of the fragility of the human being in this album than in the previous one?
Stefan: Yes, I would say so. And all despite the fact that it is a bit strange to talk about these topics because these songs do not have lyrics. Music is always something a little abstract. The music arrives, it is formed and, in the end, you only have to put the titles (Laughs). I think that, musically, we have followed the same line as the first album, although perhaps there are more delicate moments and more silences on this album, exploring a little the theme of the fragility of the existence of life.
Miguel: On this album we have had more time. But, above all, because the previous one we planned to do at a specific time and we wanted to accomplish it. However, on this album, we had a lot more time. This can be seen in the orchestration and also in the fact that certain types of songs are more polarized (like “Reincarnation” and “Distance”, in which we did something really slow) than trying to stop time, pause and find those silences that have always attracted: silence is a fantastic musical note that enhances the next one that arrives.
Precisely, I think that this album develops without haste and that, listening to it, there is the feeling that time stops a little. That, while it plays, nothing else happens out there. Did you want to isolate the listener from everything during the duration of this work?
Stefan: Yes, I see it that way too. It’s a bit of a form of meditation. It is a music that takes you away, but sometimes you are not completely aware that you are listening to something. Create a certain universe of escape.
Miguel: It’s a refuge, of course, but our refuge. If that reaches someone else and they take it as such and can isolate themselves with it (it is recommended to listen to it with eyes closed, lights off, headphones and a lot of volume), that is something fantastic. Music will be doing you as much good as it does us: music isolates you and saves you, it takes you to a better place.
“Even the sounds of where you live influence you non-stop”
I suppose that has to be something very rewarding for you as authors, in this project or in any of the others you manage. May your music be a lifesaver.
Stefan: Yes, well, I had never thought about it like that, honestly, because music comes without thinking about others, that’s the truth (Laughs). I believe that you have to have a very personal relationship with what you are doing, because if you have a very personal connection with the music, that means that other people will be able to connect in the same way with what you do.
Miguel: It’s what I mentioned before: you don’t think so much about the outside world. We do it for ourselves and we don’t expect anything. Then, everything that comes is very beautiful. With the previous album there was good feedback, but the best was from our parents, who, suddenly, liked Made For Humans. And that was gratifying. It had already happened with the music we made in other groups, but… (Laughs)
But not so much, right? (laughs)
Miguel: With Made For Humans it was something very clear. And that is something that comes to you. It’s something that is not paid for, really.
This album is also obviously very cinematic. Are there any specific influences or references in this sense?
Miguel: There is nothing concrete. That we know. But obviously everything you see influences you. Even the sounds of where you live influence you endlessly. Or the way you sleep. All of this makes the pace faster or slower. People who say they have had no influence on what he has done are wrong. You are even influenced by things you have heard thirty years ago. It is impossible to control it. The human being is all influence and evolution.
Stefan: Indeed, we are sponges and music is a way of expressing ourselves; It’s like talking. And, although many times you don’t know where it comes from and it is more abstract, it comes out anyway and depends on many things.
It is an album that, as was the case with the previous one, is revealed to be both disturbing and beautiful. How do you understand this duality between the beautiful and the disturbing?
Miguel: It’s funny because, when we started this project, we planned to make a very different band from the one we already had, which was a very rhythmic band that can go to the club or a concert. This band is the complete opposite: for us Made For Humans is the nicest part of our music. And it makes me laugh because, even so, we have “something” there, inside us, that apparently comes out whether we want it or not (Laughter). We recognize that confusion that you say more in our other group. But where there is concern, there is drama, and any work has to have a catharsis, of course.
Stefan: And there are also different opinions about beauty, and what is soft or what is sweet.
“Human beings are all influence and evolution: we are sponges”
I’m interested in knowing how or where you find the inspiration to compose this type of songs and what is the way of working in Made For Humans. It doesn’t seem easy to get to these types of pieces.
Miguel: Each of us has been making music for nearly thirty-five years, including times when there were no tools. And, besides, we are both very passionate about music and we like all types of music and tools. We can work remotely or meet in the studio. We use all resources. In other times it would have taken much longer to do this. Today there is no distance.
How do you work on arrangements?
Miguel: We have a violinist who worked with Stefan for a long time and we also have our resources: we use a lot of samples, synthesizers… today you can make layers and you don’t need to have an orchestra. The most we’ve ever had on our albums is a quartet, and then we double, double, double. We take many shots, with patience and time. The first album has fewer strings: it was like being locked up together and that’s it.
Stefan: There are a lot more details on this album. There are a lot of ear candy, especially if you listen to it with headphones. It’s more worked.
In this project, I believe there is also an attempt to raise awareness about the state of the planet (it also happened with the cover of Placebo’s last album) and about the very existence of the human race that we mentioned before. At what point do you consider the problem that is The sustainability?
Stefan: You have to have hope, right? But things are not very good. And then there is also this technological revolution, which is evolving so quickly that we don’t really know where it is going. Everything is going very fast: the climate, economic, political issues… it is a crazy world.
Miguel: It seems incredible that human beings are destroying the place where they have to live. And technological advance is going at a faster speed than assimilation. That is a danger, because it brings the unknown closer and gets out of hand. Technology is ahead of human beings. And that is the first time that has happened in history.
I don’t remember when you decided to work together, but the truth is that this creative collaboration has lasted for quite some time and has resulted in a good handful of very solid works. Why do you think your artistic alliance works so well?
Stefan: We are friends, but the passion for music and our common tastes is the main thing. That’s how we started getting to know each other. And then, it’s quite easy: when we send ideas to each other we see that it works, because we love what the other has just done.
Miguel: Four albums already. And the duality of the two projects we have is beautiful. Although in reality we have a thousand faces, not just two (Laughter). It’s nice to have been able to develop two of those faces and see that, on the other hand, they also share things with each other.
Will there be a tour to present the album?
Miguel: No, absolutely not. There are important personal issues. In addition, Stefan begins another world tour with Placebo in March. And we are doing other things ourselves: we have a couple of songs, one for an album that has been requested from us, and another for an artist from Los Angeles (who we have already collaborated with in the past). And something else. Right now is not the time. And it’s not a problem. We take our time with things. We don’t do it like a mechanic. Even the concerts we have given in the past with Made For Humans have been done in very different formats, depending on the occasion. We do things as they arise.