Missions, photo: Jeff Truth


Eventually circling back upon our younger selves.
Interview with Josh Mills of Missions.

words: Daniel Perlaky
photography: Jeff Truth
more info: Missions site

Wandering around space is every kid's dream, even if the limits of space are just the farthest reaches of the glow in the dark stars and the warp drive of the space between waking and dreaming. If we're lucky, space and time just elongate and bend around the black holes as we grow older, eventually circling back upon our younger selves.

Josh Mills, Markus with a K, and Amber Zook plant a glowing pyramid in the middle of the stage and proceed to bend and shift the beats and melodies into an ethereal trek towards a foreign, yet familiar, galaxy. Missions' noir electronica provides a complexity that music fans can appreciate while maintaining the childhood fantasies of other worlds. In addition to their own compositions, their mixtapes, especially the ones slowed and throwed, provide glimpses into a band expanding in all directions.

What is the mission you're currently on?

The same mission we're always on: survival + enjoyment. If what the Mayans predicted is true, then we have less than 3 years left on this planet. We're going to acquire all the survival skills and make the best of our lives while we can. And if 2012 doesn't happen, then at least we'll know we made the best of our time here on Earth. We have a song in the works that is about this concept; it's called "Holy Solstice."

During the Soviet / U.S. space race who do you think had more style and why?

Style, eh? Well, even though we got to the moon first (supposedly), the Soviets were the first ones to tackle space travel with Sputnik 1 & 2. They even sent animals up before us. It's like the US was the jealous boy on the first day of school at the playground who saw the other kids hopping on the tire-swing first before he knew what it was, so from then on, he ran full-speed to the tire-swing when released for recess. I want to have pride in my homeland, but at the same time I'm real big into conspiracy theories and the possibility of the US faking the moon landing is funny and too easy for me to believe. In their eyes, they had to win and I don't doubt that they would have done anything in their power to do so, even if that meant faking it. What does it matter now, though? NASA's getting budget cuts left and right. It's 2010 and I still haven't gotten to live off-world. What was it all for, United States? So with that, I say the Soviets deserve the style points. They had cooler helmets, too.

Where do your beats come from?

I think I might be answering this question wrong, but if you mean literally when we play live, the beats come from an Ableton powered laptop that we've pre-programmed. They include a bunch of drum and percussion sounds that I've collected over the past few years. Most of the ones we use come from the Roland beat station that Markus and I use live. Our live set-up is really just an updated version of what Depeche Mode did in the 80s, except instead of a computer they used a a reel-to-reel in place of a drummer. It's endearing watching them on the 101 documentary explaining why they never had a drummer. Watch it, if you haven't.

What's your songwriting process like?

It's hard to define with one specific process, as it's constantly evolving. If it's not a song I've got mostly written on my own at home beforehand, we almost always we pick a tempo and start with a beat. We like a slow intimate groove in our songs so most of them stay under 100 bpm. Once we've got that built to a decent degree and programmed on the computer, we'll loop it and start to layer on bass and lead synths followed by more live beats and percussion. Other times it's a bass synth, usually arpeggiated, that we start with. After we've had enough free play with the beat and lost our minds listening to loops, we start to build the song using parts that we liked from the jam sesh and develop those more. The vocals usually come last in most cases. There's a lot of preperation and programming that go into making it possible to "jam" in an all electronic band. It's very different than anything we've ever done before.

Where's your favorite place to get inspired?

For writing music, honestly, it's been my current bedroom. I don't know if it's the size of the space or all of the aesthetic pieces hanging on the walls I've collected or been given throughout life, but I've been able to generate more musical output in that room now than I have ever before. It's usually late at night or early in the morning in between jobs when it happens. For all other purposes, riding my bicycles at night with no destination is always an inspiring experience for life in general.

Who are some of your early electronic heroes and why?

It took a while for me to really get into electronic music, but my mom always listened to 80s music in the car with me. Whether or not a lot of that is considered electronic music is debateable. She really liked Genesis and Phil Collins. That music definitely had subtle electronic elements to it, but I was more moved by the beats. My older brother had an industrial mail-order cd cataolog he ran called Noise Therapy. He loved groups like Ministry and Skinny Puppy. Being ten years younger than him, I thought a lot of it was scary, but still interesting. I first saw the Octopus Project and the Faint in 2003 and that was when I realized how live electronic dance music really made me feel and I knew that's where I could fit in. But to completely answer your question, my electronic heroes who pioneered it all are most definitely Prince, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Phil Collins.

Which Star Trek or Star Wars character resinates with you the most and why?

Definitely Luke Skywalker. I just really like the ideas and philosphy behind Jedi. The struggle between light and dark is something I'm constantly facing. Someone told me once when I was younger that I wasn't allowed to have a girlfriend. I think it was because of how innocent I seemed at the time and they didn't want that to get comprimised through a messy relationship. It was sad to hear but also cool feeling at the same time, because Jedi aren't allowed to love, so it made me feel a little closer to Luke in that respect. Plus lightsabers were so amazing and I used to dream about picking one up at the grocery store next to the batteries. I wasn't a Han Solo kid at all. I wasn't that cool.

If you could be a cosmonaut, what would be your specialty on your missions?

In grade school, we took a field trip to the science museum and they had this Mission to Mars interactive exhibit there. We all were assigned jobs to this mock space shuttle. Everyone, including myself, wanted to be the astronaut who got to suit up and walk on the surface of Mars, but alas, I was assigned to be the engineer. It ended up being amazing, because during the demo something went wrong with the shuttle and it was moments away from blowing up before I rewired the engine and saved the day. It felt good. I guess I'd go for engineer given my previous experience and success.

What is the meaning of the pyramid you have centered on stage like some obelisk?

The pyramid is something Amber made for us. We're really drawn to the triangle and think it represents us well being a three-piece; three points. At the same time it's kind of our fourth band member. It's sort of a visual representation of the tracked beats on the laptop. It's doing all the work. In the future, we'd really like to up our production value with more visual stimulation like the pyramid.

Is your music more machine or more man?  Is there really a difference?

It's kind of half and half; cyborg style. The Man Machine, if you will. Where we lack as humans, we make up for with machines. The machine is calculated and percise whereas we humans are spontanious and passionate. The machine moves your body. The man moves your soul.

Is there such a thing as an electronic soul?

Not that I know of, yet. If machines will ever be able to learn to love, than I'd say so. I love those bumper stickers that say "Drum Machines Have No Soul". Yeah, but I could say that about a lot of drummers too; they definitely keep better time. Electronics may not have a soul, but I think it's entirely possible that combined with the right elements, they can create feeling, which to me is centered around what most people consider to be a soul. All in all it's hard to say. Is there such a thing as an analog soul?

What do you have up on the horizon?

We hope to release a few things in the first half of the year. Definiely more mixtapes and a full-length record, but we also want to do some 12" singles. We hope to tour this summer, too. We're constantly looking to up our game, so who knows what gadgets or new toys we may acquire over the next year that might evolve the sound more. You can keep up with all of that at Missions In Space.

Missions, photo: Jeff Truth