Entropy refers to the scientific principle of how everything declines into disorder. For their second album, Man Without Country, instinctively gravitated towards this concept to guide their music into its next stage. The duo, consisting of Ryan James and Tomas Greenhalf, note how they have matured since their debut album, Foe, which they see as a "hateful" album in hindsight.

On Maximum Entropy, they map their experiences and observations of how things in life come to their natural end. Their growth as both individuals and as a unit can be heard in its detailed electronics and strong pop hooks. Last year, Ryan sang on Röyksopp's latest album, The Inevitable End, which he explains made him draw parallels with his own band in observing how they work with accuracy and openness to new ideas.

I spoke with Ryan and Tomas about the progress they've made, their duet with White Sea's Morgan Kibby and their deconstructive methods in songwriting.

Maximum Entropy is your second album. Initially, you were going to release a series of EPs. What changed your mind?

Ryan: That was the original plan, but we'd always intended on compiling the EPs into a full-length album eventually anyway. Instead we just decided to bypass the separate EP releases and jump straight to the full album. After we released Entropy Pt. I we realized it would have been frustrating to have all this completed music that we really wanted people to hear, but have to wait for it to be released in parts.

What does the title Maximum Entropy mean to you?

Ryan: Well, as a lot of people probably know 'entropy' is to do with physics and how things deteriorate naturally. After learning about it, I just found it really powerful and was immediately obsessed with the idea of it. Our use of the word is metaphorical, and often philosophical; the entropy of lives, relationships etc. The definition of 'Maximum Entropy' is basically the end of the universe. I guess it's our way of saying that we're moving on from the theme of entropy.

What kind of synthesizers and equipment did you use to write the record?

Tomas: We only used four hardware synthesizers on this record; a Moog Voyager, a Prophet 08, a Korg MS-20 and a Nord Lead. The rest of the audio manipulation, production and mixing was done inside the computer. It's a very simple setup. For us, it's more important to know how to use the gear you have really well and to dig deep into that rather than have lots and lots of gear. There's a danger of having too many options, it can stifle the creative process.

Do you enjoy the recording process and time in the studio?

Tomas: We love it. It's extremely exciting and rewarding when you hit on something that really works! It's addictive. The more we learn about songwriting and production the more possibilities there are for us to explore. It's a never-ending journey.

Were there any ideas that came to mind after releasing Foe or during touring that you were eager to try out?

Ryan: We actually added a couple of the new songs to our set two years ago! It probably wasn't very responsible thing to do, but it was our first US tour and we were mostly playing to people who hadn't before heard us. It did also feel like a nice thing to do for the people who were there just to see us. But the writing process hasn't really stopped since we began making Foe. Some of the music on the new record might even have started out as residual ideas from the first record. We also like the idea of up-cycling audio, so there are bits of vocals and drum samples that have been re-used from Foe. Which fits into the idea of deterioration and 'entropy'.

Were there any artists or songs that were reference points when going into make this record? Or even books, images, films?

Ryan: When we made Foe everything from the writing process, to discovering our 'sound', to the production was a huge learning process. So we needed to have very clear and prominent influences. But the initial process of making of this record was more sporadic with no clear agenda of what we wanted to achieve, at first anyway. We had far more confidence in our music and ourselves to allow things to develop organically. Our reference points with this record were more detailed. Whether it be a song's structure, a particular sound in a piece of music, or even a drum-fill. We would deconstruct music, picking out specific things that we found interesting.

M83 and White Sea's Morgan Kibby features on 'Laws of Motion'. How did this collaboration come about? What was it about her voice that you wanted it on the album?

Tomas: We're so happy with 'Laws of Motion'. We first met Morgan whilst touring around Europe with M83, and we've stayed in contact ever since. We sent Morgan two or three different demos that we were working on during the writing of Maximum Entropy and within a day or two we received an email back with a great vocal idea that we instantly fell in love with. She has a unique voice. It's extremely powerful, but somehow also delicate. It's that combination that worked so well on the song.

What is the concept behind the song 'Catfish'? Does it have any relation to the television series?

Ryan: I've actually been dreading this question for a while! I'm surprised it's taken this long for somebody to ask. The song was done and dusted long before the existence of Catfish: The TV Show, however, I must admit I did naively steal the idea from the original Catfish documentary before it attained the ubiquity it has today. I do love the TV show though, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.

Some of the song lengths such as 'Deadsea' and 'Romanek' are noticeably longer. Have you ever considered making more instrumental music or even film soundtracking?

Tomas: When I first started writing music I was really into ambient, cinematic soundscapes. The majority of my writing at the time was based around long, evolving pieces of music. I really enjoyed it. It would be interesting to explore that side of music within a movie. At the moment we really enjoy writing 'songs' but maybe in the future it could be something we'd explore. We've included more ambient pieces on both our records, they help breakup the tracks and act as sort of 'pallet cleansers'.

What does the painting cover art represent to you? Did you commission an artist to create it?

Tomas: The cover art was created by the artist Adam Ferriss. I came across his work online and instantly thought it was the right fit for the album. After speaking to Adam he explained that the artwork was created by rearranging the pixels in a photograph using a piece of software he had developed. We really liked this idea, it complemented the theme of entropy and the digital processing used on many of our album tracks. We couldn't think of a better fit.

Ryan, you sang on Röyksopp's new album on 'Sordid Affair'. It's quite a harrowing song and, in some ways, its theme of things ending ties in with Maximum Entropy. Was it a difficult song to sing? Were the lyrics written together or had the guys written it already?

Ryan: I must admit that my contribution to the writing of the song went only as far as correcting some of the grammar in the lyrics! A lot of people have assumed that it was co-written by Röyksopp and us as there are some aspects of the song that resemble certain traits of Man Without Country. In particular, the way that the song gradually dissolves to its conclusion. I'm not sure if it's purely coincidental, or if they cleverly designed the song so that it would be easy for me to adapt to it. It was pretty difficult to sing though because they wanted me to maintain the softness and "breathiness" throughout, which I found tough on the higher notes. It also didn't help that I had no clue what I would be singing until I arrived in Bergen! I knew I was in good hands though, and I was over the moon when I heard the final result.

Did this collaboration with Röyksopp draw any parallels with your own work as a duo, or even, what you would like to achieve together?

Ryan: It did actually. When I was in the studio with them I spent a lot of time sitting back and observing how they work. I was really impressed with their working relationship, and how they delegate and compartmentalise certain responibilities. Every so often they would politely ask for my permission to switch to Norwegian, so that they could clearly articulate their opinions and ideas until they came to a joint decision on whatever it was they were talking about. Translating and verbilising what's going on in your mind can often be difficult when it comes to music but they seemed to manage to do it with incredible accuracy.

When working with other artists that you admire, do you feel you had to up your game?

Tomas: I think you're always trying to up your game as an artist. You're constantly searching for something new or something that excites you. Personally, I don't think working with other artists has altered this but it certainly has helped us gain a greater undertanding of how other people construct and produce music. That insight is invaluable.

In the beginning, did you need to establish a strong bond with each other in order to feel comfortable to make the music together and write lyrics?

Tomas: I don't think so, I think it's something that develops the more you write and collaborate together. Obviously, in the beginning there were common musical influences that we both were into but I think it's important to have your own voice and, to be honest, with each other. It's something we've both always done and that's what makes a collaboration so unique.

Ryan: I wouldn't say we have any conflicting musical influences, but our preferences may differ slightly. We made our own separate versions of our cover of 'Sweet Harmony' by The Beloved. It was an interesting thing to do because I think it reveals our separate musical personalities, and highlights what we individually bring to the table. There is definitely a common ground though. We both have a wide variety of musical influences, and we're always discovering new music from one another.

How did the 'Sweet Harmony' cover come about? Does the song have a special meaning for you?

Tomas: 'Sweet Harmony' reminds me of being young. I remember listening to it on repeat. It was on one of those Ibiza Chillout CDs I had. Last summer I heard it on the radio for the first time in years and it instantly brought back all these memories of being young.

Have you received any good advice so far that has stuck with you?

Ryan: When I was starting out in music and decided that I wanted to be a vocalist, I was never able to write my own lyrics. I had no clue where to even start. Then one day, a friend of mine simply said to me "Write about what affects you". That short sentence changed everything for me.

How do you view this album in relation to Foe?

Ryan: I look at Foe as a very hateful, bitter and negative album. In hindsight, maybe a little immature in parts. Maximum Entropy is more ambiguous, neutral, and partially forgiving. I'm really proud of Foe, but I feel like we've moved on from being needlessly harsh. The darkness is definitely still in there though!

Given the theme of the record, would you say this is a hopeful record?

Ryan: I definitely wouldn't say it's a hopeful record, but perhaps it's a stepping-stone towards hopefulness. Although probably not! I think more than anything the record is about acceptance and moving forward. Entropy is always increasing, and some things can never be undone. We've matured and moved on from certain things, but there is still a lingering resentment. There's no shortage of things that remain unacceptable.


Maximum Entropy is out now. Check out their forthcoming tour dates below.

  • Feb 2015
  • Thurs 19 - Manchester Ruby Lounge
  • Fri 20 - Birmingham Rainbow
  • Sat 21 - Sheffield Plug
  • Sun 22 - Glasgow Broadcast
  • Mon 23 - Newcastle Head of Steam
  • Wed 25 - Nottingham Bodeg
  • Thurs 26 - Cardiff Norwegian Church
  • Sat 28 - Reading Oakford Social

  • March
  • Sun 1 - Guildford Boiler Room
  • Mon 2 - Cambridge Portland Arms
  • Tues 3 - Southampton Joiners
  • Wed 4 - London Birthdays