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.


Paul Cousins – Reel-in-Vibes

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

The play switch on my Akai X-100D reel-to-reel. It’s extremely sturdy and has a very rewarding click. It’s 56 years old and works perfectly, which just blows my mind. There’s something pleasing about having to use physical energy to make sound happen.

Akai X-100D reel-to-reel

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

Roland Juno 6

A slight cheat on this answer. I thought my Juno 6 was somehow inferior to the Juno 60 (which is what I truly wanted) because it doesn’t have memory patches. That would’ve been my answer, but I’ve grown to love and appreciate the fact that the instrument exists as it is – whatever you want from it you have to make happen. It’s a productive way to learn how to use a synth because there are fewer shortcuts. See also anything pre Prophet-5.

Tape machines

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

On writing trips I just take a laptop and good headphones. So AKG K701s get packed!

AKG K701

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

I’d love a software version of the Empress Echosystem, it’s my favorite pedal. And if there were somehow a rackmount version of the Fabfilter Pro-MB I’d be all over it!

Empress Echosystem

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

I once sold a 1973 Gibson EB0 to the bass player from Showaddywaddy. It was a really beautiful bass, no idea why I did that. And the second synth I ever bought was an Alesis something… which I didn’t gel with at all and regretted pretty quickly.

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

The Roland Space Echo RE-201. It’s just the most amazing piece of engineering, half a century old and it can still create magic from nowhere. I use it any chance I get.

Roland Space Echo RE-201

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

A good set of monitors. I think this is the most valuable piece of equipment you can own. Currently I’m loving the PMC Result 6.

PMC Result 6

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

I’d have to say the amp powering my Yamaha NS10’s, it buzzes slightly but I always need to use them. It’s on my to do list!

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

Watkins Copicat

I think using the pre amps of echo machines is often overlooked. Just driving a guitar or bass through a Copicat or Space Echo is the most awesome tone. Same with reel-to-reel, they can be overloaded to produce amazing results.


Artist or Band name?

Paul Cousins

Genre?

Ambient, Tape, Experimental

Selfie?

Paul Cousins

On tour in Mordor

Where are you from?

London

How did you get into music?

I’d been singing and playing bass in bands for a number of years before I started making electronic music.

What still drives you to make music?

Finding a point of creative satisfaction.

How do you most often start a new track?

I’ve recently got into writing a short piece, transferring it to tape loops, and playing it back through various effects or in some obtuse setup. The original piece comes back like a weird photocopy of its former self. There’s something about transferring music to a physical format that revives it from a potentially anodyne digital state and gives it a different life. 

How do you know when a track is finished?

You stop wanting to mix it.

Show us your current studio

The organized chaos of my studio is frankly an embarrassment. Instead here’s a heavily curated corner featuring my new upright piano and an Akai 4000DS.

Upright piano and an Akai 4000DS

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Music is the silence between the notes. Which Debussy said over a century ago, but has never lost relevance!

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

A recent 20 min ambient reel-to-reel mix: https://youtu.be/_g7Kurux36w

[Editor: Paul also has a quite lovely and lively instagram @paulcousinsmusic which I don’t think you should miss out on]


Shipwreck Detective – Dev Bhat

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

I love the knobs on Chase Bliss pedals. They have responsive, precise dialing and feel durable.

Chase Bliss Mood

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

The Empress Effects Zoia is beautiful and versatile when it comes to sound and design. It’s a studio and performance mainstay for me. It’s nearly perfect, however the tweaking of effects is not as immediate as on a dedicated effect pedal. I’d also love to get weirder with the ins/outs, like routing an fx send to an external loop of other effects and then back in. But that’s a small trade-off for what the pedal is already capable of — which is a lot.

Empress Effects Zoia

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

I don’t spend much time making music when traveling, but I once took the OP-1 on holiday, and it was the perfect tool for creating little sketches inspired by the moment or the day. I treated it like an audio travel journal. If I’d had the Zoia at the time, I’d have also loved to bring that.

Teenage Engineering OP-1 and Empress Effects Zoia

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

I’m not very familiar with software. I used Reason for production many years ago when I was first getting into electronic music composition, and the detailed graphic interface had a lot to do with why I eventually became more interested in hardware. On the flip side, if there were a software version of the Chase Bliss Mood (or some kind of similarly playful granular/sampling effect), I’d definitely be interested in exploring it. The only software I use these days is Logic to record.

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

I don’t get attached to most gear, but I regretted selling my Moog Sub 37 a few years ago. I tried to fill the hole it left with a Matriarch, but the Matriarch could not have been more different. I recently reunited with the Sub 37, and the Matriarch is up for sale. 

Moog Sub37 and Matriarch

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

The OP-1 has played a major role in a lot of the music that I’ve released in the past couple years. Its digital tape opens up so many possibilities for texture and looping. I like to record directly to the OP-1 tape, experiment with the tape speed, and process more when I find something I like. I’ve also used my pedalboard to create most of the sounds that eventually end up on the OP-1 tape. I treat it like an independent sampler.

Teenage Engineering OP-1, Empress Effects Zoia and a Tascam Porta-03
Moog and FX Pedalboard friends

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

I don’t think I would change anything gear-wise, but I do wish I had had a better understanding of what I wanted to create. Now that I know which textures and atmospheres I want to convey, I can better figure out which instruments are best suited for that sound. Then again, I wouldn’t have figured that out any other way than through trial and error. My very first synth was an Alesis Micron, bought from a second-hand instrument shop in Santa Cruz. I don’t have that synth anymore and probably wouldn’t use it now, but I love what I learned from it. I feel that way about most gear: each piece of gear teaches me something even if I don’t end up keeping it.

[Editor: I feel exactly the same way. Sometimes I even think that buying a new piece of gear is like borrowing the musical-brain from a gear-maker. Using a great piece of gear really feels like a conversation]

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

I thought this would be a tough question until I looked over at my Octatrack Mkii. It’s a pain in the ass, and I love it. I purchased it thinking I’d use it as a super powerful looper or for chopping guitar samples to use in my band. Instead I use it as an advanced, MIDI-powered mixer that can do stereo looping and some light DJ effects. It’s a kind of hub for my jams that I can’t imagine not having. 

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

That method of using the Octatrack as a mixer comes straight from Enrique Martinez. His videos completely re-contextualized the instrument for me. Thinking about the Octatrack in terms of tangible use cases made it far less intimidating.

Elektron Octatrack

Artist or Band name?

Shipwreck Detective

Genre?

Ambient downtempo drone stuff

Selfie?

Dev Bhat aka. Shipwreck Detective

Where are you from?

San Francisco

How did you get into music?

My first instrument was the trumpet, but discovering rock, especially metal, punk, and industrial music, as a teenager was transformative. Music videos were unashamedly a big part of this. The sound blew my mind, and seeing musicians interact with their instruments and each other also changed the way I interpreted that sound. It looked a lot more fun and expressive than what I’d been doing (sitting and playing old symphonic music in the school band). So I took guitar lessons for a little while and eventually taught myself bass and drums. I just wanted to be in bands and play shows. That’s still all I want. 

What drives you to make music?

A combination of expression and exploration. I want to express the way I feel on the inside through sound and texture. I have a hard time understanding myself most of the time, and exploring sound feels the same as exploring my own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it’s warm and soothing. Other times it’s noisy and confusing. I love music because it doesn’t have to have words; there doesn’t need to be an explanation. It can just be. 

How do you most often start a new track?

How I’m feeling informs the overall tone. Then I establish an atmosphere and sense of place that the track is happening within. I build everything from a base texture like a synth drone, guitar loop, field recording, or maybe a percussive noise (I’m also a drummer, so sometimes I’ll start with beats before melodies).

How do you know a track is finished?

A track is done when it matches the atmosphere in my head and when I feel like I’ve challenged my own conventions at least a little bit. 

Show us your current studio

Shipwreck Detective Studio
Shipwreck Detective Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

The phrase “keep it simple, stupid” has become an ethos for how I make music. I appreciate art that has a minimalist, uncomplicated, or even un-finished element to it. Not to say I don’t appreciate complexity, but there’s a potent energy when something is done quick and dirty—using only what was necessary—and then left that way. It preserves the raw emotion that too much polish can destroy. 

Promote your latest thing

My most recent thing as Shipwreck Detective is a long-form streamed performance that I did for a small group called Man vs. Machine. The audio for that is at shipwreckdetective.bandcamp.com

I’ve also been making music with a new band, Grimoires, and look forward to releasing some songs with them soon.

[Editor: Dev also does a lovely instagram @ShipwreckDetective]


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