William Stewart – W1llys

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

Uher Speed Knob

The speed selector on my Uher. The older model has a tiny gear shift for selecting the speed, but the new one just has a knob; a knob with a nice feel and weight. When you move it, you can feel the shifting of the gears inside as the mechanisms thunk into place. It’s immensely satisfying.

Uher Speed Lever
Uher Tape recorders

My second place choice is the hi-hat decay knob on my 808 clone. Riding that during a groove is endless fun.

808 Hihat decay knob

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

It might be the SE-02. The first synth I really learned how to use was the SH-09. It taught me how flexible a simple architecture can be, and how rewarding learning how each piece of a synth works together is. It taught me that the controls are as much a part of the instrument as the keys. Ever since then, no synth has been as fun to play as a solid monosynth.

Roland SE-02

The SE-02’s very much in the same vein, and it seems to be able to scratch every sonic itch I have. The delay’s grainy in all the right ways. The filter has a character that doesn’t make me think “Moog” for some reason. The filter has grit, filth, and somehow feels cold. Not machine cold, but unfeeling in the same that the universe is. When that filter sweeps just right it feels like the dawn, it feels like the slow and sudden heat as the sun rises in the morning. I love this thing. There’s magic in the way the envelopes and filter interact with the delay.

There are three things I’d change. The first thing I’d change is the knob taper. It’s exponential and it makes playing the knobs an extremely delicate procedure. The second is I really wish I had full ADSRs. That extra level of control would be much more welcome than panel controls for portamento. The third is the sequencer. It would be a lot nice if I could have longer sequences, and I really wish the sequence transpose could latch.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

The obvious answer here is the OP-Z. It’s fun, quick, and easy to use. It’s also super easy to take on a plane. Making a full track with just this is surprisingly easy and fun. It definitely caught me off guard with how user friendly and fun it is to use.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Realistically and historically, though, my preference is to bring either the Volca FM and Mini KP or the Roland SE-02. When I sit down to play I’m not typically trying to write or work on a song. Usually I just want to explore a sound or a musical phrase. The SE-02 and Volca FM are excellent for sound exploration. If I want to make a minimalist composition these are my go-to pieces of gear, and fortunately they’re small enough for a carry-on.

Korg Volca FM and Kaoss Pad Mini

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I am (un)fortunately a luddite. When I record or make music it’s almost entirely analog. One thing I wish I could do with my hardware setup is automate parameter controls. There are ways to do this if I went modular. If I used software I know I could automate some of the parameters of my physical instruments. Bringing Windows, Mac, or Linux into my setup would violate a lot of what my setup’s built on: spontaneity. I can write and record a song relatively quickly and easily, without worrying about system updates or getting sucked down the black hole that is the internet.

Analog recording

This is typically just called a DAWless setup. But I really don’t like that nomenclature. It defines a musical approach as being the absence of something, in a way. Really I just like playing instruments and don’t want to try and play a computer like an instrument.

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

DSI Prophet 6

The Prophet 6 is a rare animal. I’ve bought a lot of gear that I regretted, but this one the only one I’m keeping. It sounds great and it’s super flexible, but it has a lot of little design choices that drive me nuts. The problem is it sounds sooooo good. So, when I use it I love the sounds I get, but I always find myself frustrated by something.

It seems like it’s made for people working in studios who want to lay down tracks, or sample its lush sounds to use in a DAW. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be made for my workflow.

DSI Prophet 6

But I am going to keep it around because it sounds ridiculously nice. The sound is so rich and deep I forget how annoying it was to program it. It’s like hiking up a mountain with uncomfortable shoes. It’s a real pain at times, but the views you get make the discomfort worth it.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

The Volca FM is definitely my most inspiring. It’s endlessly versatile, and has more features under its hood than it has any right to for its size and price point. It has the wild and wiry sounds FM is known for, and the limited controls on the surface are deceptive in their simplicity. It’s easy to rely on presets, and tweaking the few controls on the surface gets you tons of control. It also plays nicely with any effect you want to pair it with.

Korg Volca FM

It’s an instrument I have a love-hate relationship with, though. I’ve owned three of them. Whenever I try to dive into the parameters to do some deep editing, it make me want to toss it out the window. The balance of features, and how easy it is to switch between playing modes to introduce variations makes it really fun to play.

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

The Jazzmaster. Even though any synthesizer can run sonic circles around any guitar/pedal combo, it feels more emotional to play than any synth or drum machine. Fiddling around with the different intervals on the neck taught me everything I know about music, too. It’s cliche as hell, but playing a guitar with some fuzz and delay could keep me happy forever.

Fender Jazzmaster

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

The Zoia is hands down the most useful and inconvenient piece of gear I own. If I have an idea that I can’t achieve with anything else, the Zoia can usually get me close enough. It does what it does better than anything else I know of, but I wouldn’t want to use it with a band.

Empress Effects Zoia

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

Envelopes are surprisingly underrated. Clones of “good” ones don’t really get talked about, and people don’t really seem to covet and worship the exact curves of one over another’s.

No two synths I’ve played have had the same envelopes. Each one has its own type of pluck, swell, and decay. It feels like they’re what transform a synth into a playable instrument. I wish there was more emphasis on modulating and controlling their parameters. Slight modifications to the decay of an adsr can completely transform a bland sequence. They really breath life into every sound.


Artist or Band name?

Willy

Genre?

I’ve never been good at sticking to a genre. It seems to waffle between synthwave, cinematic, harsh noise, and synth-pop.

Selfie?

William ‘Willy’ Stewart

Where are you from?

Benson, Utah

How did you get into music?

My mom signed me up to play violin in my middle school’s orchestra. After that it was relatively easy to play bass in my friend’s band. From there I was hooked.

What still drives you to make music?

It’s an emotional thing mainly. It helps me experience my emotions. Lately when I sit down to play it’s after a rough day, and it helps me process what’s happened. Other times, it’s when I’m feeling numb, and playing helps me open up and experience my emotions. This is essentially why I haven’t recorded very much music. It’s usually an expression of anxiety, depression, or fear. So, I don’t really want to live in that moment long enough to record it.

How do you most often start a new track?

Most often it’s with a riff or a phrase. I’ll have an idea for a sound, or find one via knob twiddling, and then I see what notes feel good with that sound. Once I’ve got something that makes me happy, I start seeing what other sounds I can layer in to compliment the original sound.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When I can listen to it without wincing, and it doesn’t feel empty. If I can listen without wincing it means I don’t have anything to redo, and as long as it sounds “full” I don’t need to add anything else.

Show us your current studio

William’s studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Play every day. Some variant of that’s what I hear all the time from everyone, but there really is no better advice. In my twenty years of music making experience, this advice has always held true. If you’re not inspired then try learning theory, practicing your technique, try reproducing real world sounds with synthesizers, try something outside of your comfort zone, or just have fun making noises. Keep at it every day to keep your tools sharp, then you’ll be ready to act when you actually have something to play.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

The only places I regularly post anything are my Instagram and tiktok.


Oriol Domingo – El Garatge

[Editor: This is interview nr. 100! Yay!!! And to celebrate, we’re doing a GIVEAWAY! Oriol has kindly donated an El Garatge expression knob to one lucky price winner. Check out how to enter on my Instagram]

1. Favourite knob or fader or switch on a piece of gear and why?

Moog Sub 37 chicken head knob

My Moog Sub 37 has a very good over all build quality. I like that despite being quite big, the filter knob moves really smooth, but what I like even more, is the pattern type and octave selectors, even the click sound is very pleasing!.

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change? 

Access Virus Indigo 2

I really like my old Access Virus Indigo 2. Sounds really powerful and offers a lot of sonic possibilities, but due to the metal sides it’s insanely heavy and the keybed feels really cheap for me. I already have a bigger midi controller connected to it, but I like to use the built-in keyboards, especially when I’m just creating new sounds.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday or tour or commute etc.?

Teenage Engineering OP-1

Most of the time, just the Teenage Engineering OP-1. It’s perfect to practice with limitations. It allows me to create full songs without using any other device and I remember discovering some cool melodies that, with another piece of gear, wouldn’t have happened, because of the way it makes me work. Also, I can use the built-in mic, line in or FM radio too, when I want to use a little more elaborated portable setups.

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

VST Synthogy Ivory Piano

As a piano player, I really like the VST Synthogy Ivory Piano. Most of the time I do my music without a computer, where the OP-1 is current main device to record with.
It would be really cool to just have that piano sound out of the computer, as most of the time I just want to play and it doesn’t make sense starting up a DAW or even a computer simply to play a sound, when I don’t want to do anything else. In fact, they did release a hardware version, but in addition to being really expensive I think they discontinued it.

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

Yamaha RM1X

Since I first discovered grooveboxes and synths, over time I ended up with a fair amount of devices, but sometimes I was more attracted to the aesthetics or possibilities, than what I really lacked in my studio.
Other times maybe I needed what I purchased, but in the end, the device didn’t fit my preferred way to work. I remember buying (and selling again very soon after) a Yamaha RM1X. It had a really powerful sequencer, but it wasn’t satisfying for me to play with. I also had fun with the Roland MC-303 Groovebox and even though I wouldn’t give it much use nowadays I still miss it sometimes.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Again, the OP-1 alone has given me a good amount of ideas. The workflow and immediacy to record and loop is something really well designed and that works very well in my case, because it really helps me to have visual feedback on what I’m doing.

TE OP-1

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

Probably a Korg Minilogue XD. It offers a lot of immediacy and very little menu diving, which is great to design sounds fast. In addition, the sonic possibilities and extra oscillators make it a really good synth to start with. It can easily do everything from drum sounds to bass, leads and pads. I miss a little more of polyphony, but adding a little of the internal reverb or delay effects can help with that.

Korg Minilogue XD

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Despite having some decent synths and quality pedals, I still own, not one, but two Behringer mixers and a Tube Ultra-Q which I have only connected to my Yamaha Reface CP to add some EQ. I have one rack mixer with 8 stereo inputs where I connect all the synths. From that, I connect the main out to the other small mixer. where I add aux effects and additional synths or mics. Both mixers add a considerable amount of noise, especially the small one, depending on levels, but I’m just used to it and I keep using them for now.

Behringer mixers and Tube Ultra-Q

9. Most surprising tip or trick or technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

Maybe this can’t even be considered a technique, but sometimes I have fun placing piezo microphones between my midi keyboard keys and then amplify and add EQ to the noise while I play. Then I can record piano music with some real noises. I even tried placing the mic on old wood furniture to add some cracking noises while I record, which adds a little more atmosphere in my opinion.

[Editor: That is fantastic lateral thinking technique! I dig it!]

Piezo mic for mechanical noise

Artist or Band name?

I make music as Efímer on YouTube/Spotify. You can find me at youtube.com/efimer where I upload soundpacks and demos of my own devices too.

Genre?

I’d say Ambient/Downtempo, but sometimes I make piano and orchestral music too.

Selfie? 

Oriol Domingo in his studio

Where are you from?

Barcelona, Spain.

How did you get into music?

My grandparent used to take care of another family’s orchard. One day he returned home with one of these little mechanical toy pianos, that the kid of the other family didn’t want. I was 4 years old, but I still can remember what I felt when I played the first notes, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been playing by ear from that age.

The first song I played with that toy piano was MacGyver by the way, haha. When I was 8 my father understood I wasn’t going to stop playing the piano and he bought me a more decent one. From there, I discovered what I really liked was to play by ear and also create my own songs. All the synth stuff and GAS came when I was about 16 when I discovered the Roland MC-303 and Korg Electribes.

What still drives you to make music?

The act of creating something out of nothing, the possibility to create some unique music that could convey feelings to other people makes me happy. Of course it’s complicated to do anything really “new” but even the process of trying to create it can lead to understanding ourselves a little better, by trying to find our own voice. Creating music makes us wonder what do we want.

How do you most often start a new track?

I use two different methods. Sometimes when I’m learning to use a new piece of gear I just want to create some sounds. If during the process a new melody comes to my mind, I try to follow that and see where it goes, and if not, I’ll still have some patches to use another day. The other method I use is just starting with a piano or rhodes sound, which are my favorite, and start improvising while I think about other things.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When even the “worst” part of a track is still acceptable in my opinion. I usually listen to each fragment many times and try to correct the things I still don’t like. Sometimes works well too just listening to it in another moment or another day to realize there are still things to fix. I think it’s good to listen to your own old music too, in order to see if you would make the same decisions again.

Show us your current studio

I don’t have much space so it’s quite fragmented and messy.

Oriol Domingo’s home studio

I love synths with keyboards, so it can be quite uncomfortable sometimes.

The El Garatge home studio keys

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Embrace limitations. It may seem very common to hear and I think it may not work for everybody. Not just your own creative limitations, but also adding and forcing other kinds of limitations like gear or even time.
Especially when starting new songs, the less options the better for me. It’s easy to get lost in the possibilities when you have a lot of gear, you could be constantly wondering if you chose the right synth or sound to start and which effects add, etc.
If you force yourself to use one synth, sound or even sample, changing is not an option, it’s all you have, so no need to think about that again and you can now start creating.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

In the last weeks I’ve been developing this piggyback LFO knob with extra features for pedals with expression inputs, which will be finished soon I hope!:

https://elgaratge.com/echo-knob/


[Editor: It’s been a wild ride doing this music gear blog this past year and the blog isn’t even over 1 year old. Over 30,000 unique visitors have stopped by and had a monthly readership of between 1500 to 4000 readers.

… And I’d just like to thank YOU, my fellow music gear junkie…. But also, of course, the 100 artists who contributed and made this past year a little more tolerable.

Do you have any suggestions for the future of this blog? Then leave a comment below.]


Close your Eyes – Wide Open

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

Feedback knob on my Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo. I like balancing on the edge of a wild totally uncontrollable feedback. Or even crossing this edge sometimes 🙂

Strymon El Capistan

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

Red Panda Particle 2.  For me it’s a perfect granular delay pedal. It can go from gentle reversed echoes to the wall of glitch and chaos in sound. And it’s stereo! It is important, as I use to process synths, drum machines or even groups of tracks through it.

Red Panda Particle

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

I’ll go with Digitakt and Hokema Electro Kalimba. Digitakt is an in-a-box workstation which allows sketching, playing jams on my own or with fellow musicians, and almost to do a finished track, while this kalimba is just tiny magic.

Elektron Digitakt and Hokema Electro Kalimba

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

It’s a tricky question, because all of my favorite plugins already have hardware prototypes. At the same time, I’m not a big fan of software to wish anything hardware turned into soft.
Nonetheless, recently I discovered amazing plugins by Puremagnetik. Although they obviously have some hardware inspiration, the plugins are truly unique and have strong personality in sound and usability. So yes, I wish I could have these in hardware.

Puremagnetik Plugins

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

The only thing I got rid of without any doubt was an AKAI MPK249. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing midi controller which is perfect for its purposes, it just doesn’t work for me personally, cause I’m not really a controller-kind person. In this case I clearly realised that I cannot rely on computers in creating music. With this MPK249 in setup, I had an almighty controller and a laptop with awesome software, but I couldn’t come up with any idea for weeks.  Being honest, I actually don’t regret buying it, because it helped me finally to understand that midi-controllers are not my thing, speaking on composing workflows.
Talking about selling, I didn’t sell that much to regret something.

APC Key25 (the midi controller that stuck around)

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Definitely my piano. If you’d do me the favour to call it “gear” 🙂

Piano money shot

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

No surprises — a piano! 🙂

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Definitely any computer. Now I set myself a goal to reduce the computer part in my music production and live sets. However, I’m far from this right now, the computer still does lots of work. I don’t like endless possibilities which computers give, preferring a simple gear which is capable of very limited things — but does it perfectly.

MacBook

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

Turning a three-headed cassette recorder into a tape echo by creating a feedback loop on a mixer. I do it with my Marantz PMD 222, it sounds lovely.

Marantz PMD222

Artist or Band name?

closeyoureyes

Genre?

electronic

Selfie?

Close Your Eyes wide open

Where are you from?

Saint Petersburg, Russia

How did you get into music?

Melodica, Ukulele and Xylophone

I was obsessed with the idea of playing guitar in high school, so I tried to self educate. I played several bands, something like indie/funk/rock, we all know this good old story. Then I realized that composing music with the band doesn’t work for me personally, and no matter how awesome the band is. So I quitted all bands and started to search how I can do music on my own. This led me to electronic music — as a field where I can compose and perform alone. Nonetheless I still love acoustic instruments, therefore I use a lot of them in my production. Like ukulele, melodica, kalimba, flute, toy pianos, obviously not to mention guitar and piano. So the outcome is an electronic music filled with tricky processed acoustic instruments.

Pedals and Toy Pianos

What still drives you to make music?

A conviction that for me it’s the very best way to communicate with the world and to release feelings and ideas that I carry inside.

How do you most often start a new track?

I start with a piano or polyphonic synth mostly. The very first thing is the sound. Usually, I need to prepare my  piano with felt because a quiet sound with a lot of rustle going on is what I really like, and also do some experiments with mics positioning. At the same time I may apply some effects like delay or granular stuff because these effects  drastically change the way I will play the piano. When the sound is ready, the next step is to come up with a nice chord progression or/and melody. At this stage I try to catch the idea of the whole track with all its changes and turning points, and then use other instruments to amplify the emotions which are already included in the piano part.

Behringer DeepMind 12

How do you know when a track is finished?

I listen to it a lot. Mostly while walking in the streets, I listen and ask if I want to add something or get rid of it. When everything’s fine, it’s finished.

Show us your current studio

Close Your Eyes Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

There were two actually.
1) Listen to your most inner voice. You have a lot of inner voices, but there’s one that always was there since your early childhood. Find it and listen to it.
2) Start to compose with the opposite of what you used to associate with yourself. You will add all this to your common features later, but the start should be far far away from your familiar territory.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

Well it’s been a while since I released new music, but something new  is coming really soon, so I’ll leave these links in case you want to stay in touch:
instagram.com/closeyoureyesmusic
(here I share most recent news, studio sketches and some daily music related routine)
youtube.com/closeyoureyesmusic
(here I share live sets, both electronic or acoustic, gear demos, tutorials and all this YouTube stuff 🙂
And if you want to support what I do, you are always welcome to my bandcamp
closeyoureyes.bandcamp.com


[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw a comment below…
]