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.


Northern Lighthouse – Travel Moods

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

From an aesthetic point of view I like the big old-looking knobs on Momo Modular’s version of Mutable Instruments Rings. I like having small sets and portable instruments but I admit small devices are sometimes difficult to use, especially live. Big knobs = big satisfaction.

Momo Modular’s Mutable Instruments Rings

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

I don´t, but for gigs I usually have a drum machine, a sampler and two keyboard synths for live improvisations. No midi sync for the clock, just a mixer. I am now exploring all the features of every instrument I have and try to end the Gear Acquisition Syndrome fuelled by Instagram and YouTube! The synth world is so different from the rock scene I entered during the MySpace era. There is too much attention on social media, gear and design than music. Myspace was used to sell merch and organise gigs, the rest was pure fun on stage. No need for 4K videos on your page showing your new shiny pedal. I bought my drum set more than 15 years ago and I basically never changed it. Instead with synths, I keep on checking modulargrid for new modules…

Northern Lighthouse gig setup

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

During my last summer holiday I brought with me some Eurorack modules in a small . It wasn’t easy to decide what to bring with me and I’m always afraid that something could break or not pass airport security. I once was stopped by an Italian officer who wanted to know more about my Arturia Keystep! One day I might buy the OP-Z because it’s as big as a TV remote controller.

4ms eurorack pod

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

One of the things I like the most about Ableton is the ability to slowly launch several clips and use separate faders on a midi controller to control the volume of each one, and that is something that I looked for for ages in samplers. The tiny Blackbox sampler by 1010 music seems to tick this box. Regarding software although they give me endless possibilities they do not inspire me enough when making music. I use my laptop a lot at work already and I do not want to stare at a screen in my free time.

Akai kidi controller

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

I regret having bought the Ableton push 1 controller. It is huge, really heavy and not standalone. I bought it in a second hand shop but I‘ve almost never used it and when I play live I don’t like using my laptop on stage. I prefer launching loops with the SP404 and playing with other synths on top of it.

Live setup based around the Roland SP404

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

Critters and Guitaris’ organelle is my favourite instrument, I use it in every jam because it has so many sounds and it is portable. It’s in every song I have recorded so far because some of the patches created by the users are incredibly versatile, warm and close to real older hardware synths. Who wouldn’t like to have a free Juno or theremin patch in their tiny synth?

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

I would still start with the Volca FM which was my first hardware synth. Cheap and portable and not scary to use at the beginning. I confess, at the beginning I didn’t even know what attack or LFO meant!

Korg Volca FM

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

Reverb. It is not annoying, it is essential in my music. I use it on almost every synth because I rarely like harsh and metallic sounds. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with FM synthesis. Even when distorted my songs need to sound like they come from the past or from a far away land. When I create music I focus less on melody (although I find long drones a bit boring) and dedicate more time on creating a melancholic atmosphere, usually made of different layers talking to each other. Guitar pedals help me create new sounds. The downside of it it’s that 90% of these sounds cannot be reproduced again. I listen to a lot of posthardcore and post-rock and compared to those, ambient is much more ephemeral.

Digitech Polera

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

Using pink noise to quickly mix all the tracks in a song. I know professional sound engineers might disagree…

Artist or Band name?

Northern Lighthouse

Genre?

Electronic/Ambient

Northern Lighthouse

Where are you from?

Bologna, Italy. A town full of students and music, with its many squats, art cinemas, festivals and bars for alternative music it somehow made me who I am and feeded my interests in films and music. I later moved to Newcastle, UK where I started this electronic music project. I’m now based in Brussels, Belgium. This is where I started jamming with other people and moved from daw to actual instruments and even modular synths in 2019.

Erica synths Cables

How did you get into music?

I always liked percussions. When I was in kindergarten my parents gave me a drum kit for children as a present.

Northern Lighthouse and first drumkit

Years later, during high school a club near my family house went bankrupt and I managed to bring home an old Pearl drum set for free. I was into punk and metal and I started playing music with a guitarist friend of mine. After a while we founded a metalcore band called Rising Hate. There was a big hardcore scene in the early 2000s, we played around Italy for 5 years until I went abroad. It was so fun, I miss that life!

The way I approached electronic music is really different though. I remember as a kid I had an old music software called Music Maker which was my first daw. Years later, in Newcastle, a small town in northern England surrounded by beautiful cliffs and touched by the northern sea, I saw Loscil live and it blew my mind. I was without my drums  and I was so curious about this genre called Ambient that was new to me. I decided to look for a new tool to make music and I started using Ableton. The following year I moved to London looking for a job, but it was a really sad and lonely time, so music was my escape!

What still drives you to make music?

Making music is like a trip from your daily routine to an exotic destination that you choose and create. It affects my mood, it gives me energy and it makes me imagine new landscapes and allows me to meet like-minded people. This project in particular was born from the need to create soundscapes and stories with a deeply nostalgic atmosphere which also includes field recordings, videos and photography. I like curating every aspect of it.

Having lived abroad since 2010, travelling, exploring and missing my Heimat became part of my life. This mix of nostalgia and excitement affects and inspires my music a lot. I also listen to a lot of posthardcore music which I find the most cathartic music ever and I try to transfer this feeling into my songs as well. Besides electronic music, I keep on playing the drums in a post-rock band called Yakhchal. I need this dualism of sadness-happiness, delicateness-anger in my life. Unfortunately COVID put on hold every live gig and opportunity…

‘Fyrtaarn’ is Lighthouse in danish

How do you most often start a new track?

I simply improvise with my gear and if there is a sound or melody that I really like I recorded it as a loop. I then add more parts like bass, rhythms, field recordings and other drones or melodies on top of that. Everything should help recreate a specific image I have in mind. It is usually something coming from a book, documentary or film I saw. But this happens from time to time, without rush. It can take days or months. This also helps me understand what I want to keep or modify from that track because I listen to it with a “fresh” ear every time.

Microcassette

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it sounds full and when modifying it doesn’t improve the song, but actually makes it worse!

Show us your current studio

I live in a 2-room apartment, so I don’t have space for a proper studio. I have a lot of IKEA pieces of furniture where I keep my gear and I dissemble everything after every jam. I’m a tidy person, so when there are too many cables around I get nervous. 

A tidy desk of fun

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

A friend once told me that he liked the story behind my project. I think it’s important that bands and artists develop a strong and personal identity, do research and explore a specific idea or theme. Many people just copy themselves, follow trends. In this case I feel content and branding should be intertwined and support each other. People need to recognise you and your style.

The Sardinian coast

Promote your latest thing… 

My latest self-released tape is called Lantern, and it is composed of layers upon layers of loops of recorded sounds, synthesizers and guitar pedals that pay tribute to distant landscapes, sailors and lighthouse keepers. I am now working on two projects: a split album with a fellow italian drummer and synth lover and a multi-disciplinary project (music, videos, field recordings and analog photos) on an abandoned miners’ village on the Sardinian coast.

Bandcamp: https://northernlighthouse.bandcamp.com/

Northern Lighthouse Lantern cassette release

[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…
]


Gemini Horror – Hot Ambient Mess

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

DIY varispeed knob on a walkman cassette

This is my favorite knob, there is something about making something yourself and peeking behind the curtain that is so magical.

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

TC Electronic Flashback

I always go back to this delay, it’s simple and effective and has room to evolve with the toneprint stuff, although I haven’t messed with that yet. I wish the looper had more options, but I think the “X4” one has wayyy more looper options.

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

iPad with Mood iOS Model D app and cassette tape

Vacation? Holiday? What are those lol? When we’re able to travel again, I’ll probably do something simple like an ipad and a cassette recorder. There’s a lot of untapped power in the ipad world that needs to be explored.

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

I guess I wish ableton had more specific controllers, like an operator specific physical controller. I know push offers some control but it would be cool to have all the settings at your fingertips. Honestly though we’ve entered the age where software is like 95% there in my opinion, VST’s and modelers are good enough for me 🙂

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

Korg Volca Modular

I regret buying the volca modular, if you don’t have any modular this is a cool synth to see if you’re interested and there’s some great sounds in this box, but overall I never clicked with it. I would have rather gotten another volca fm or maybe a module.

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

Telecaster guitar

Hands down the guitar, acoustic or electric. It’s the instrument I learned music on and it will always be my number one!

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

I would do it just how I started, a guitar, a DAW, a mic or 2. I think a DAW should be the centerpiece of every musician’s setup along with their “main” instrument.

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

Nothing really annoys me that much honestly. I don’t really like mixing/mastering and that is always a big road block between me and releasing music. I should just hire someone to do that stuff but I don’t have the funds to justify it.

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

Ableton Live MaxForLive Randomizer

My FAVORITE thing right now is a maxforlive randomizer. I use it on everything, hardware, software, effects, arps, everything. I found myself in a rut and I was creating similar stuff too often but the randomizer has opened the floodgates on what is possible with gear. I think generally we underestimate the power that things have. Like the randomizer on a microkorg will give you a lifetime supply of sounds and effects that will consistently surprise you.


Artist or Band name?

Gemini Horror

Genre?

Currently ambient but really I’d say a hot mess

Selfie?

Gemini Horror

Where are you from?

Florida

How did you get into music?

I took classical guitar lessons in middle and high school along with piano, music theory, and orchestra.

What still drives you to make music?

I’m not sure right now, I think it’s something I have to do to maintain myself and it’s my creative outlet. Without it I think I might die from boredom.

How do you most often start a new track?

There is no one way. Sometimes it’s something I can’t stop playing on guitar and other times it’s an instagram post I liked.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Hahah, tracks are never finished, but they have to leave you at some point.

Show us your current studio

Gemini Horror studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Just do it

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

Nothing really to promote right now, but check me out on spotify and instagram 🙂

https://www.instagram.com/gemini.horror/


[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…
]