1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?
The blue rotary encoder on the Teenage Engineering OP-1. I actually cannot keep my hands off of it. If you watch any of my Instagram jams featuring the OP-1, I’m constantly nudging and spinning it every which way to adjust the tape speed while performing — sort of a faux-master-pitch-vibrato. Vibrato is tied with reverb for my favorite effect, it adds emotion, uncertainty, and imperfection to everything. It makes the OP-1 sound less digital, and the OP-1 is unashamedly digital. Don’t get me wrong, I love that about it. But that blue knob gives it soul.
2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?
The Caroline Guitar Co. Météore. It was my first reverb pedal, and I got it at Chicago Music Exchange the first time I visited Chicago (where I now reside!) It’s also my only reverb pedal I haven’t sold or traded. For the uninitiated: it’s a lo-fi reverb inspired by the sonic environment of a particular modern Paris Métro station. It can get super super gritty and loud, but I think it excels at layering right behind the dry signal, spilling out little splashy puddles of your guitar tone. The only thing I would change is the switches — sometimes engaging the pedal can be a bit finicky. But to be completely honest, I always have it on (literally all the time) so it’s a non-issue, really.
3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?
My OP-1. It’s really the only easily portable piece of gear I have, aside from individual effects pedals. The OP-1 has an absurd battery life, is designed to travel well, and is perfect for killing time while sketching out ideas or just messing around. Not to mention you can sample ANYTHING with it. A laptop, an aux cable, and the OP-1 is a fantastic portable drawing board. Some of my favorite OP-1 pieces have been built around random samples recorded straight to the onboard mic, too.
4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?
To be honest, I’m not a huge software person. I’m not a “hardware purist” or a strictly DAW-less musician, but I don’t enjoy making music with software nearly as much as with hardware; it’s just not as inspiring to me. A DAW is a specific tool that fits into a specific part of my process. That said… I think having software versions of all of my guitar and modular effects would be incredibly convenient for experimentation and playing around in Logic Pro X. I think the Montreal Assembly Count to 5 would be particularly fun to play with in a DAW, automating parameters could get really wacky really fast.
5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?
I regret selling my Chase Bliss Audio Thermae more than anything. I bought it on an impulse the summer it was released. It was not a sound financial decision. I used it on a recording project and sold it a few months later because I knew I didn’t need it. But whenever I see any posts showcasing that pedal, I end up revisiting old recordings I’ve used it on and get pretty nostalgic. As weird as that sounds, it definitely reminds me of hot summer days, since that’s when I was using it most!
6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?
It’s a tie between my modular system and the OP-1. My recent album was almost entirely produced on the OP-1, but most of the songs came from modular samples. I unintentionally started writing and recording the album the day that I got my first modules (Mutable Instruments Plaits and Marbles), just messing around and recording audio into the OP-1 tape tracks. The modular inspired, and the OP-1 enabled.
7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?
No surprise here: the OP-1. But can it come with a guitar? I don’t need pedals or even an amp. I can get by with the OP-1 and a guitar.
8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?
Cables. Not talking about patch cables here — I love modular patch cables, and physically patching my system is one of the most therapeutic aspects of creating music. Any other cables though… mic cables, instruments cables, power cables, etc. If everything could just connect wirelessly, I wouldn’t have to worry about the physical placement of objects or “setting things up” when I want to play and record. I have a lot of stuff in a small space, so I try to keep things as tidy as possible. Cables make this quite a challenge.
9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?
More of a creative/writing tip than a technical tip: one of my favorite “help I’m stuck and don’t know where to start creating!” solutions is to play a melody or chord progression into the Montreal Assembly Count to 5, lock a pitch shifted loop into place, and then record a fixed number of bars of that loop onto my Boss RC-30 Looper. Hearing the instantaneous alteration of an improvised melodic idea repeated in a rhythmic manner gives me SO much to play off of. It’s an easy quick way to create a new idea to build upon. If you don’t like the result, it’s easy to give it another go. I create most of my guitar loops this way, and end up sending them into my modular system and mangling them further with the Make Noise Morphagene.
Artist or Band name?
Experimental Electronic, Chillwave, Ambient.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in Windham, ME. Currently based in Chicago, IL.
How did you get into music?
I asked my parents for guitar lessons when I was 6 yrs old, and then drum lessons at 8 yrs old. I played clarinet in my school band, in a pop punk band with friends, and sang in an auditioned choir in high school. Music has always been a part of pretty much everything I do, constantly evolving with me. I also currently play guitar and sing in an indie rock band called Tired Driver.
What still drives you to make music?
It’s an outlet for expression, at the most vague level. I’m still trying to figure this one out myself. I tend not to fully understand the essence of a body of work I produce until it’s complete and I’m able to reflect on it from an outside perspective. I suppose I should work on being more in touch and intentional with my musical brain! But seriously, the stuff I find most inspiring is the stuff that just spills out without having to think about it. Once that foundation is down, I can use my logical brain to piece it together. But the essence just happens. Coffee helps, too.
How do you most often start a new track?
It’s mostly improvisational. I will decide to play percussion, guitar, synths, or whatever else. Once I find a beat/melody/progression/etc that excites me, I build upon that with other instruments. Most of the time once I hear something I like, I can hear the rest of an arrangement in my head and will try to piece this together as I proceed. I’m the most productive early in the morning. Generally, I thrive in the daytime and vastly prefer it over night.
How do you know when a track is finished?
When it makes me smile. Sounds stupid but I mean it.
Show us your current studio
Hard to get it all in one shot with guitars/amp/pedals, but here’s my desktop setup! Also, here’s a shot of my old setup in a prior apartment, pre-OP-1 and modular.
Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?
I don’t know if I heard this anywhere or if it’s just become a common practice of mine through trial and error: Don’t force yourself to try to create if you aren’t in the mood. I’ve done that before and it makes me start to resent the process. I never want making music to feel like a chore, so I never make myself do it if I don’t feel like it. A lot of people will say “just sit down at your instrument and start playing, do this every day to get in the habit”, but I’ve never really gelled with that sentiment. I have to be excited about what I’m doing to be able to be productive and enjoy it. And I think it’s important to give myself space from creativity if I’m just not feeling it for whatever reason.
Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.
I released my first album, “Dandelion”, in March. Go give it a listen!
[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…]