[interview] Electro-Faustus: Joe Vella

Here's FXDB's interview with Joe Vella of Electro-Faustus:

How did Electro-Faustus start?

I've been playing around with circuitry since I was a kid. Eric has always had an artistic gift since I've known him. We both have a great love of listening to and playing music. So I guess maybe it was inevitable. The spark that lit the fire though was when I showed Eric some of the primitive things I was building. I was only intending it as a hobby. But Eric saw some weird potential in it, and offered to design a logo and graphics to go with it. He also felt that there could be a market for it. I'm glad I listened to him.

I would name Mickey Delp as someone who has helped us along the way. We met Mickey at the Makers Faire in Queens 2 years ago. He gave us some good advice about PCB manufacturing. A super nice guy and an amazing builder of some really cool stuff.

Electro-FaustusWhere do the name and logo come from?

Eric and I wrote a fantasy-type story together when we were in college. One of the characters in the story was Electro-Faustus. Eric came up with the name and character. The Electro-Faustus was a mechanized demon from hell. After many years, the name still stuck. It would occasionally come up in conversation as a joke. When we were thinking of names for a music/instrument company, it just seemed perfect.

The logo incorporates a lightening bolt which represents the electrical power of science and a flame which represents the supernatural element of sound generation.

What sets Electro-Faustus apart from other builders?

We like to think of our products as being rooted in the "basement culture" of tinkerers and mad scientists. We look to maintain an intimacy with our audience since we are cut from the same cloth. We are all sonic explorers! We value simplicity higher than any vision of creating some perfect tone. Whether it's our Oscillators, Theremin or Drum Thing, we strive to give people a very simple tool for creating noise. We start with the assumption that our target audience already has tons of effects already. Our instruments give them a way to utilize those tools in new and interesting ways.

How do you start on a new pedal?Electro-Faustus EF102 Photo Theremin

The Oscillator and Theremin were no-brainers. We knew what we wanted and just tweaked the circuitry to our liking. With some of the other devices, it came about from brainstorming. One of us would ask, "can we make something that does XYZ. Would there be a market for this" It would then end up on the breadboard. I would say from beginning to completion is usually around 6 months.

How do you name your pedals?

Well, our company name is derived from the great Faust story of Goethe (and others). The idea of Western man selling his soul in the pursuit of knowledge is an appealing one. Drum Thing is actually the name of a John Coltrane song that I love.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All the circuitry and soldering is done in-house. It is a 2 man operation.

When we started the company in 2008, we simply used off the shelf PCB's and enclosures from Radio Shack. Eric did all the graphic work and design. We didn't want to invest in a lot of outside production if the whole enterprise was going to fail. But as things have progressed and we have become busier, we've begun to outsource some production. We now use custom designed PCB's in most of our products. We have also moved away from the Radio Shack boxes to a sturdier aluminum enclosure with silk screen graphics.

How important is the look of your pedals?

Extremely important. We put a lot of thought into how everything relates to the whole Electro-Faustus mythology. We want to create an overall theme with our products, not just what is right for the moment. We also strive for simplicity in design, we are looking to simply communicate the main attribute of each device. We are not designing shower curtains or boxer shorts after all.

Electro-Faustus EF105 Drum ThingIs parts selection important?

I have a preference for what is most durable and rugged. If that means spending a little more for the part, so be it. We're loyal to a brand only so far as it functions well.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

I'd have to say the Drum Thing, a device so simple yet effective. We thought "let's just make this and see what happens". It's caustic orange glow just draws you in. For us, it's like the equivalent of an electronic pet rock. It's very simple, but in the right hands can do some amazing stuff.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Probably the Guitar Disruptor. As I've said, we're really not a guitar distortion company, so it was kind of a stretch for us. When you go from working in a purely digital world of Oscillators to trying to tweak an analog tone, it can be frustrating. We went through many different iterations before settling on the current design. For me, it will always be a work in progress.

Which of your pedals is the most popular?Electro-Faustus EF103 Guitar Disruptor

The Drum Thing is currently our most popular. I think this is because it's simple, inexpensive and fun to use.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

We decided early on that we didn't want to be another guitar distortion pedal manufacturer. There are already tons out there that are doing it better than we ever could. Our focus has always been on the "Noise Musician". The same culture that has produced the whole circuit bending phenomena. We realize it may be a limited niche, but it's always been where our artistic hearts live.

There are no famous users that we know of. Would I love for Lady Gaga to use one of our Oscillators in a song? Sure, why not. But we're not going out of our way to be star fuckers.

What does the future of Electro-Faustus look like?

It's all about continuously putting out new products and refining the existing ones. Everything we make is a beta, and can be changed/improved upon.

Are you working on any new products?

We have a new pedal called The Regurgitator coming out in the next month. It's a passive effect/feedback loop pedal. Takes all your effects and creates a beautiful noise.

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