The ones amongst us who paid attention to the records that were delivered by the Lively Art record label at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s surely remember the unique Darkwave EBM and robotic feel of Data-Bank-A, its three albums plus one EP that were released at that time on the french record label. What we didn't follow as well though is the career that Andrew Szava-Kovaks pursued for better or worse, releasing albums through his own True Age Records label for the past twenty years. We took the opportunity of the release of his latest album to date entitled "The Extremist" last October, to reach out to Andrew in order to analyze with retrospect a career that maybe we didn't follow as closely as we should have and which is about to reach forty years of musical activism and productions.
Andrew, the first question I have is pretty selfish as I’ve always wondered where the name Data-Bank-A came from, and this is still pretty mysterious to me. Can you please unveil that mystery that I have been living with for the past 30 years or so ?
The name “Data-Bank-A” was created in 1980 or so, when I got my first drum machine, a “Rhythm King” as well as my first synthesizer, the Oberheim TVS-1. I liked the way the new machines had “data banks” for organizing the sounds. There was also a watch, made by Casio I think, that was called the “Data Bank.” And computers were just beginning to become more practical and available to the public. I loved all those machines! They gave us music and order in the midst of our chaos. What could be better to soothe the modern soul? So I began to think of my music as being “musical data,” information helping us cope with reality. The “A” was just the initial for “Andrew.”
« In 1990, after the release of “Salad Days,” sales of my albums for Lively Art/New Rose were dying. They cancelled our contract. I had nowhere to go with my work, other than self-release, which wasn't possible at the time because I had no job, no money... Those were dark days. »
You never stopped composing nor recording since the 80s, although in France it feels like Data-bank-A’s career stopped right after "Salad Days" was released on the Lively Art label in 1989. Is it something that sounds surprising to you ? What happened at that time ?
No surprise. This was the first period in my career when I was extremely discouraged by the whole music business, between 1990 and 1992. In 1990, after the release of “Salad Days,” sales of my albums for Lively Art/New Rose were dying. They cancelled our contract. I had nowhere to go with my work, other than self-release, which wasn't possible at the time because I had no job, no money... Those were dark days. I went back to college to finish my degree in Philosophy. But I was still recording material all the time, it just sat in my studio. In 1992, I was contacted by Subway Records, Germany, who wanted to reissue my early work, “The Citadel” and “Access Denied”. They also wanted new material, so I gave them what I had, which was the “Empty” album.
By the way, are there three Data-Bank-A records that you would recommend to our readers who lost sight of the band since the Lively Art era in order to catch up with what you’re doing now ?
I have recorded more than twenty albums since then, so it's hard. But I like my most recent work the best (as I always do!). So I would recommend “The Extremist,” “The Realist” and “If Memory Serves”.
The only true hiatus I could see is the one from 2003 to 2011. Was it related to something special in your life ?
That is the other period in my life when I was also discouraged by the music business, just as I was between 1990 and 1992. Although I was recording, it was intermittent and disjointed. There were many things changing at that time. Again, I was not working with a label and had no distribution or sales. It was very discouraging. At that time the whole industry was going through a change from brick-and-mortar retail and mail order to electronic downloads. And the recording process itself had changed to all-computer based processes. Although I embraced the change, it had its difficulties (file formats, converters, storage, etc.) and I was working through those changes, changing equipment until I found solutions that worked similarly to analog. But the biggest problem was always finding listeners. It wasn't until “iTunes” and distributors like Amazon and CDBaby and such established themselves firmly that I was able to reconnect with an audience. Live performances were no longer an option, as there were no venues in my area. So, over time, I became just another internet poster. The only responses I do get are from people like you. And that has kept me going, releasing material as it comes. I do find it fun to able to finish a recording and have it in the public space within a mater of days, rather than months, as it used to be in the early days. Action-Reaction nowadays is instantaneous. I like that. Although there is not much of it for me and my work. I'm a Dinosaur.
« I've been interested in trilogies and tryptics since I studied them in Art History classes. They have a long history, especially in religious painting. There's also the concept of “the power of three” which I like. »
Since the 2010s you’ve been focusing on releasing albums that are parts of trilogies ("Time Stops For no Man", "Lost in Time") and even a tetralogy ("The Human Condition") for the albums from 2018 and 2019. Why is that ? What brought you to that complex format ?
I've been interested in trilogies and tryptics since I studied them in Art History classes. They have a long history, especially in religious painting. There's also the concept of “the power of three” which I like. And because I frequently find myself reinterpreting ideas in more than one variation, especially album graphics, I always have a hard time deciding on one version over another. This also happens in mixes. And since I tend to work with a certain mix of equipment, keyboard sounds, etc. for periods of time, I end up with multiple variations of musical ideas that stay within a certain style. So I like to make three albums of that style, to form a group, or trilogy. My newest group of albums began as a trilogy, but is now mutating into an ongoing series, the “___ist” series with "The Optimist", The Pessimist", The Realist", and "The Extremist". I'm not sure how many there will be in it yet…
Do you have any idea from where all that creative energy comes from ? I mean, you did release three albums last year, didn’t you ?
God only knows where it all comes from... It's not as if I can control it, it just oozes out of me. That's why there are times when I don't release anything for years, while other times I release many albums in one year. Last year I released four albums (three as Data-Bank-A and one as Fuel Rod). This year I released one as Data-Bank-A and two as Arctic Air Mass, an ambient Reiki project. Next year, who knows? Maybe it will stop. As my audience shrinks, I suppose there's less and less reason to do it. After all, I'm 62 and at my age it's about time to end it.
You’ve been handling everything yourself since you started your own True Age Records label in 1996. Is it more comfortable this way that it was with the independent labels you were signed to when you didn’t have to deal with the business side of things ?
Actually, I've always had control of, and produced all the work, since 1983. That's when I started my first label “KO City Studio” on which I released the first three albums and two EPs. I like the creative freedom I can only have by doing everything myself. I can't imagine letting anyone else controlling my productions. Since the work I do is not commercially viable, the only way it would see the light of day is if I release it myself. That means I have to record, mix, master and create graphics for everything I do. It was only from 1987-1990, and 1992-1995 that any of my work was released by a label other than my own. In 1996, I had to return to my own. Since I had relocated, and since the conversion to digital releases, I decided to rename the label to True Age Records. I'm trying to come up with a better name, as it seems odd to me these days.
« I'm afraid some people have criticized my consistency as a lack of creativity, that I'm just stuck in a rut, making the same music over and over again... But I'd like to think that's simply my style. I have certain sound and composition elements that interest me. I like to dig deeply into them and explore the variations that my niche has to offer. »
Despite the changes in gears as well as band members, I think that you can recognize a Data-Bank-A track immediately whatever the era and The LP it belongs to. Is it something that you're proud of ? Is there any special way of achieving this ?
I'm afraid some people have criticized my consistency as a lack of creativity, that I'm just stuck in a rut, making the same music over and over again... But I'd like to think that's simply my style. I have certain sound and composition elements that interest me. I like to dig deeply into them and explore the variations that my niche has to offer. I really don't think that all the possibilities have been explored yet, so I keep going in this style, just as Tangerine Dream has done for countless albums, or as any artist that has a strong stylistic language. I see no reason to suddenly change that language, just to be more “creative.” Such notions are rubbish.
During the past decades you’ve also recorded as many other project names such as Dominion, Fossil Man, Parade of Sinners and I’m probably missing some of them in my list. Are these still alive ? What was the reason for the creation of all of these different projects ?
This is part of my desire to keep Data-Bank-A within a certain stylistic range. When I do something that doesn't sound like Data-Bank-A, I just give it another name. These projects emerge from exploration in the studio, while building songs. For example, “Fuel Rod” is all guitars, although it still has my drum machine rhythms and my vocal/lyrical style. But it does not sound like Data-Bank-A, so I had to give it another name. That's what happened with Dominion and the other names I've used. Usually they don't last long, as there's no support for them. They have all failed so they are all dead. Only Data-Bank-A remains alive.
Next year Data-Bank-A will turn forty. Do you have anything special planned for that very special anniversary?
I never thought about it. But it does make me frightfully old, doesn't it? Perhaps it's a good age at which to stop. To me, it's nothing special to celebrate. Who knows, perhaps I'll try to keep going to reach 50 years of Data-Bank-A. That's a nice round number. I don't like to measure my life in years, but in accomplishments, if I ever have any... Meanwhile, I'm always happy to hear from people like you, who take an interest in my humble work. I raise my glass to you.