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]


Joseph Willem Ricci-Anima&Ennui

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

Fender Ramparte goes all the way up to 16!

My amp goes up not to 10, not to 11, but all the way up to the hilariously arbitrary number of 16. It’s a Fender Ramparte, and although it looks like it belongs on the stage of a hushed, smoky, late-night show at an upscale 1950’s jazz club, it—well… as Music Radar puts it—”requires anti-social volume levels to avoid intrusive hum”. Honestly, it’s a bit of a gimmicky amp which I’m not particularly proud of, but I do genuinely love that its two volume knobs are its only knobs. No tone, no drive, no reverb. Keep it simple.

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

Walrus Audio Slö reverb pedal

The Walrus Audio Slö reverb pedal is my baby. It’s whole thing is that it pitch-modulates the wet signal. I plug my acoustic guitar into it when playing live, and when subtly mixed in, it creates the subconscious sensation that everything is slightly moving, like a boat in an easy current. It’s a really musical pedal, and I like to adjust the mix while I’m playing to give the guitar an element of changing depth, but holy hell do I wish you could plug an expression pedal into it, because turning the tiny mix knob with my right foot while playing a difficult guitar part and singing requires way more concentration than is actually reasonable.

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

I’m one for bringing a guitar with me just about everywhere I go.

Guitar up a mountain

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

Well, the hardware of this software does already exist, but I don’t own one and sure, I wouldn’t mind if I did. That’d be the hardware version of the Minimoog iOS app.

Mighty Moog

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

In October I had a really remarkable week in which I broke my Martin (like, I mean smashed it), computer, phone, bike (twice) and rain jacket. I panicked and sold my classical guitar, a really nice Takamine TH90. I wish I would have just taken a couple extra days to breathe before letting it go, because the world always has a way of coming through for you when you need it to.

Takamine TH90

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

Lately, my newest toy, a Korg Minilogue XD has been opening up a whole new world for me. I don’t know how to play anything on the keys except for the intro to “Roses” by Outkast, so it’s been an amazing exercise to sit down and write with no focus on melody, chords or structure, and instead get my head deep into exclusively texture, color, tone, and movement. And it’s been interesting to discover that, after years of writing songs only on guitar, a piece can feel complete without any of the former qualities, as long as it meaningfully explores the latter ones.

Korg Minilogue XD

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

One good microphone. I recorded most of my band’s album on one of those cheap Audio Technica mics. There’s a lot that I would do differently if starting over, but at the very least I wish I knew that as soon as that precious frequency spectrum enters that black hole of a microphone, much of it is never coming back.

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

Martin 00-15

My Martin 00-15. Although I had already been playing guitar for almost fifteen years before getting it, it was my first ever really nice guitar. It’s warm, responsive, has subtle, nuanced overtones and overall is just a joy to play. But, what I didn’t expect when I got it, is that it shows me how much better I could play. On a shitty guitar, the difference in sound between playing something well and playing something poorly isn’t really that big. But on this one, a perfectly played chord or passage—with just the right fretting pressure and position, just the right picking contact point between fingernail and fingertip, just the right balance in emphasis of the bass, middle and treble lines, just the right transition between chords while the resonance from the last one lingers in the body for a moment… you get the idea—sounds and feels SO good that, while it has taught me to become a more sensitive player, it has also made it abundantly clear how much subtlety there is to the instrument, and how far there is to go.

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

If you have a guitar, buy a gig bag and go for a bike ride. At some point during the ride, fall off your bike directly onto your back so your guitar catches your fall and smashes under your weight. Then find a luthier or repair person to fix it, and voila: your guitar will sound even better.

Korg and Walrus and Song cassette tape

Jk. Def don’t do that. Maybe a more useful tip: I always wanted to play the sounds of nature on my analog instruments. This little set up gets pretty close to that. I take a cassette with the sound of running water, birds chirping, or wind in the trees, and merge the signal together with the signal of my guitar or synth. Then I run the merged signal into my Walrus Slö reverb pedal on auto-swell and with 100% wet mix. Since the auto-swell reverb tail is triggered by change of amplitude, it acts as a gate for the soft, ambient nature sounds. But when you play your instrument, it triggers the auto-swell, letting through the merged signal of the instrument plus the sound of running water.


Artist or Band name?

Anima & Ennui. Maybe future music will be under a different name… maybe not.

Genre?

The released music is folk mixed with various other influences. Future music is yet to be categorized.

Selfie?

Joseph Willem Ricci

Where are you from?

Arlington, Massachusetts, USA

How did you get into music?

I was listening to Arnold Schoenberg in the womb. That’s to say through my parents 🙂

What still drives you to make music?

I feel like it would be almost criminal to not bring into the world the music that is in my head. Just as I don’t belong to myself, my music doesn’t belong to me—it belongs to the world.

How do you most often start a new track?

Songs seem to start when I’m not trying to do anything in particular. Non-doing. Fiddling around. Then when a certain fiddle or theme or accident suddenly catches my attention, suddenly feels like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard, that’s when it starts.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it feels right. That’s it.

Show us your current studio

Joseph Willem Ricci’s Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Mistakes don’t exist.

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

2020 album is online. Anima & Ennui – An & En. For a taste of a different, more recent direction though:

https://soundcloud.com/anima_x_ennui/ywayvdre4xkz/s-nMLQ4Uk5jGl


[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…
]