Please enjoy this full length and unedited music production interview originally published in DJ Mag February 2023. Studio photos to follow.
My grandma is a piano teacher and my dad played in bands so I got into playing instruments from a pretty young age. I’ve always played piano as well as a little bit of guitar, but I started to get into electronic music more seriously around the beginning of high school. I was influenced by some local groups that were using analog synthesizers at their shows and luckily being in a city with a fairly small and welcoming scene I started to reach out to some of these artists and gained a bit of insight on the gear and methods they were using to create their music and I began to work on my own projects from there.Tell us more about your studio/recording space?
My current studio is up in a loft space upstairs in my apartment where I also do most of my other design and visual work. I have a big desk with my computer, some MIDI controllers and a small Eurorack modular system on it. Next to the desk I’ve got my synth corner which holds some of the gear I’ve collected over the years. On one wall there is a metal shelving unit holding a small portable rack with an an E-mu Proteus, Yamaha TX81Z, and my Focusrite interface in it. On the shelf above I have a Roland SH-101 sitting on an Akai S612 sampler, a couple FX pedals and a Roland TR-606. The rest of the shelf is mainly just used as storage for a few other keyboards, drum machines and FX units that I will pull out when needed. On the other wall I’ve got a 2-tier keyboard stand with a Roland Juno 106 and a Yamaha CS-5. The rest of the room has space for my record and tape collection, an area where I store and ship out my music and merch, and another shelving unit where I keep my analog video equipment and monitors.How do you work, with a lot of hardware or are you happy to delve into the box and use software, or keep it minimal?
I have most of the hardware mentioned above ready to record any time but I am often finding that I'm more than happy to just fire up Ableton Live on my laptop and mess around and see where the session takes me. At a later point If I feel like it’s missing something and I need to pull out a certain piece of gear for a particular style of sound or an effect on a track I will do that, but these days I am pretty comfortable just working in the box using material from my sample library and other found sounds.Are you quite hands on in the studio process?
Up until the new album I’ve always done everything on my own apart from the mastering. This time around I was fortunate to be able to get my go-to mastering engineer Nik Kozub to also do the mix down for the entirety of the album and I’m really happy with how that turned out. It’s really amazing having someone so knowledgeable and skilled working on my music and I think it’s going to be a bit difficult trying to keep myself from asking him to mix all of my songs going forward.How did you go about creating and recording the new album?
About half of the new album was just sorting through and putting the finishing touches on old sessions and demos and then the other half is new songs that I came up with along the way while I was working through the older files. There is a lot of variety in terms of the actual sounds and recording process from track to track. Some songs are completely made with hardware, and some songs are made with only sounds from old sample CD’s or other field recordings that I’ve either found online or made myself. The song “3 pz” has a recording of an English/Russian language tutorial cassette tape I found in my Grandma’s garage. The main dubbed out synth line on the song is from a recording I made demoing a Roland JX-3P I bought for pretty cheap in Vancouver and sold the next day. I felt like I got what I wanted out of it and passed it on to the next person. Another song, “My Same Size”, was made entirely of recordings I made at a music museum in Calgary called the National Music Centre. I was lucky enough to have spent a couple days using and recording some of their collection of rare and valuable synthesizers back in 2019. Just about every sound on that song was made using a Waldorf Wave and a Memorymoog, both of which I’ll probably never encounter again.How do you approach the production process, what is your workflow?
When I start a new session I will typically start with a foundation of either a textural or harmonic element like some chord stabs, or some sort of evolving pad or drone sound and then work outwards from there. I’ll then begin to work on improvising and layering some melodies on top of that. A lot of the time I am just throwing different sounds into Ableton Live’s Sampler and playing the notes on my computer keyboard or a MIDI controller until I find something that sticks, which is usually the most inspiring part of the process for me early on. After playing around with the different melodies and tones for a while I can pretty quickly begin to recognize whether the direction of the track calls for a percussive element or not. I’ll start off with something simple like a hi hat to find a groove and then continue building upon that, maybe adding a kick, or some hand drums, or a breakbeat loop. Other times all a track might need for a percussive element is just something like water droplets through a delay to create a more subtle rhythm. Once I’ve got all the elements playing together nicely I will then move on to the arrangement. Usually to start this off I will just hit record and improvise launching each of the clips live to build the initial arrangement of the track, and then I’ll go back in and make edits to the arrangement. I’ll start to pay more focus to different mixing choices while I’m in this stage, but I’m also making subtle changes to the mix throughout the entire process.What are your favourite bits of kit, from synths to effects units?
I think my favourite synth I own is the Roland SH-101. It’s so simple yet so versatile and feels like one of the pieces of gear I am most comfortable with after jamming and playing live with it a bunch over the years. I love the fact that you can dial in totally different sounds so quickly as the controls are incredibly intuitive. I find it especially good for bass, but I think my favourite thing is running a sequenced lead sound through some delay and bringing the octave range up and down while messing with the filter cut off/resonance.
The Casio SK-1 holds a very special place in my heart as I’ve been using one in my music since I was a kid. The “Human Voice” preset is my favourite sound of all time and pops up pretty often in my music. I have a couple SK-1’s including one with a MIDI kit installed which is really handy.
Another more niche choice is the Field Kit FX by Koma Electronix. When I was planning my first Eurorack system a few years ago I wanted to keep it really compact and budget friendly and I found that I was running out of space for modules quickly. The Field Kit FX was an amazing tool for me to clear out some real estate in my system because of how much utility it has packed in. It’s just insanely versatile for it’s size with a 4 channel mixer with VCA’s, a mini sequencer that can also be used as an ADSR, and then a group of simple but useful FX like a looper, digital delay, spring reverb and a bit crusher which I can use to process sounds as well as control with CV from my other modules.How long has it taken you to hone your skills in terms of your production?
I am still just experimenting constantly and figuring it out as I go with every new project. I find that I’m more interested in developing and refining the overall sound of my music through developing my own taste and knowledge instead of paying too much thought to honing in on the technical sides of production. I feel like it’s pretty easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and get lost in the weeds if you’re approaching music production too technically.Why is it important to ensure that your tracks have a good sonic range?
Because a good sonic range is better than a bad sonic range.What inspires you to produce?
It’s hard to say but I have long spurts of really unproductive periods where I either just end up abandoning projects or am not able to make any music at all. I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized that if I’m not really feeling it at that point in time I can’t force the process and I try to remind myself it’s okay to not be creating all the time. Eventually It’ll hit me again when I’m either preparing for a DJ set or making a mix and find a song I really like, or find an interesting sample CD to add to my library and It’ll get me back on track with making music again. One important thing to me is trying not to listen to too much music while I’m deep in the process of working on an album. Even if it may be a subconscious thing, I find it helps me personally to steer clear of too much listening so I can just focus on my own sound while limiting any outside influences.What is keeping your busy in terms of creative work?
After dedicating so much time towards working on the latest album I am actually enjoying stretching out a bit and taking some time off from writing new material for now. It’s nice as I’ve got some time to work on some remixes and other work outside of music as well. Right now I’m particularly having a lot of fun working on personal video art projects using old cameras, analog editing equipment, and video feedback. I’m especially interested in finding ways to incorporate all of this with my music as well.How have your production methods changed (if any) over the years?
When I was a teenager I started out with a cracked version of FL Studio which I used for quite a while until I started obsessing over hardware synthesizers. I would be sitting in class constantly checking local classified ads on my phone throughout the day hoping to get lucky with cheap deals on gear. I bought my TR-707 for instance from an elderly man for $50 back then. On nearly all of the early 12”s I put out, I was just hitting record and doing these long rough jam sessions either to my laptop or to tape using any of the hardware I was able to pick up at the time. My approach has completely changed when I started to learn how to use Ableton Live and I'm much less reliant now on that live improvised hardware approach and the gear that defined the sound of some of my earlier releases.