Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
Hi DJ, thanks for having me! So I am a musician and lighting designer from the UK. I’ve been making music for just under ten years but worked as a lighting designer for quite a few years more. I am completely obsessed with synths, lasers and special effects. There’s a real synergy between lighting and music and architecture and that’s where I am at the moment, taking all the disciplines I know and stirring them in a huge creative pot! I work out of my studio which is currently stocked with a collection of vintage and modern analogue and digital synths and my new and beloved eurorack modular. That sits alongside a collection lasers, smoke machines and other lighting effects!
In 2021 I have and am continuing to release quite a bit of music, spanning some broad genres. My new EP, Voix Metalliques was started during lockdown in 2020. I’d really got into the dance/techno scene, on Instagram of all places, and wanted to write music in that genre but also in my own style. It was also a bit of a self-challenge as I always gravitate to pads and strings and space themes, so I wanted to try and break that mould.
One thing that I like to know about musicians is… When did you have that defining moment in life that you knew that music is what you wanted as your life?
This is an easy but odd answer. I was obsessed (and I really do mean obsessed!) with Jean-Michel Jarre as a child and his music to me wasn’t a ‘piece of music’ is was something else, as though it just existed like a living thing. During the 90’s I progressively got interested in synthesizers and the tools JMJ used and I dreamed of making the noises he did. However, it was a performance by Madonna that triggered something. She performed ‘Frozen’ on TV in 1998 and her keyboard player (I think was actually William Orbit) played the drum hits on a Korg MS-20. At the time I didn’t really realise they were drum hits nor did I know what an MS-20 was, but I just knew I needed that synth and those sounds. I now know, of course, an MS-20 cannot make those sounds, but that was the trigger for me getting my first keyboard, a Yamaha DJX. And the rest is history. The synth collection had started!
What motivates you, not just in music but, your daily life as well?
My main motivation is to always be achieving something. I always have a project to focus on which can drive people mad because I can get a little obsessive! But usually once I set my mind to something, I’ll achieve it; it may take a while but I’ll get there eventually. And I’ll often revisit the same project several times and each time I’ll be looking to enhance of develop it further. I think that’s why I write so much music rather than going slower by getting out and performing what I’ve written. The creative and production process is a drug to me. And to get a bit morbid, we’re not on this planet long, so I really love the idea of creating a body of work that will live on after me. That’s not an ego thing because motivation and success to me would be if just once person likes what I do.
When you start a new song… Where do you draw inspiration from? What does your creative process look like?
I have synthesia. Synthesia is where one sense translates into another, so for sounds, people hear sounds in colours. I definitely do hear some sounds and pice of music in colour and my sounds choices often are led by what ‘colours’ go well together. The fundamental building block of any of my music is emotion, whatever genre I’m writing in, it has to have emotion, and that combined with a visual image will dictate the direction. As a lighting designer, I often think about colours, shapes, angles, visual montages of how a sound or full piece of music would look and synthesia plays a part in that. Light and sounds are intrinsically linked and when done well, you can visualise a sound in light. I have loads of music that’ll never see the light of day – perfectly good pieces of music, but for some reason, there’s no picture or colour so they’ll languish on the hard drive!
The creative process can start with a sound, a kick drum or noodling around on the piano. Or I’ll have an image in my head that I need to hear – that could be a defined (coloured) picture or just a collection of colours, a nice palette. If starting with an image, I’ll play with sounds and chords until I hear the right colours. That can often be preset surfing, scrolling through presets to find the right colour and sounds or at least a starting point. There was one time where I woke up needing to write a track with a pizzicato string line, totally inspired by Faithless on that one. I wrote the line but then had to fine tune the pizzicato/pluck to be the right colour, then built the track around it. Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere is ideal for getting ideas down quickly, with amazing sounds that are a universe of colour.
For the creative process more generally, I work fast. Once I start a new track, I’ll usually have the first version done within a few hours. If it doesn’t take shape quickly then it’s probably never going to take shape. Some pieces that I would (egotistically) call my best works happened within an hour or so. I’ll still fine tune over days and weeks but the track has to pretty much be there.
Keeping in mind that everyone obviously wants to be themselves… If you could swap yourself with another musician, who (alive or dead) would it be?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. Most people, myself included(!) would probably say Jean-Michel Jarre but I think I’d opt for Ludovico Einaudi. I just adore his music and it was Le Onde that gave me the push I needed to start piano lessons. And if swapping places with him, even for just a few minutes leaves me with some of his piano and compositional talent, it’ll be worth it. The Le Onde album is one of those desert island discs, it’s simply glorious. I recommend anyone and everyone to listen to that album, irrespective of your music tastes…it will speak to you. Trust me!
Have you ever performed live? If so, do you prefer performing live or studio life?
I haven’t performed my music live as an artist on stage but I have taken different approach. I create venue-filling multimedia extravaganzas with my music as the soundtrack, so the music gets a public hearing that way. My recent works are based around my more cinematic albums, Behind The Clock. These are three concept albums with the same story of time, space, mortality and importantly, black holes. My installation pieces feature a giant black hole with lasers and all kinds of effects going on. Videos of these can be found on my YouTube channel, WaxApul (same as my Insta account). I’m currently designing a show for later in 2021 which is the black hole story but enhanced with a church ceiling full of stars. The lasers hit them and burst into light. The tests look amazing so I’m scaling it up to fill a church. The soundtrack will be from my Behind The Clock works as well as some new tracks just for this show. But do I prefer this to studio life? They’re both equally special and both offer something very different. I love creating, whether that’s with synths in the studio or huge lasers in an empty church. Either way, I am a megalomaniacal dictator of my own little music and laser-filled universe.
Personally, I think that there is too much social media out there to keep up with. I understand why it’s necessary but, too much in my opinion. What are your feelings on social media and trying to circumnavigate through all of it?
It can be difficult, can’t it. What’s important for me, on social media, is that I follow people and accounts that I want to see more of; they need to interest or excite me in some way. I don’t buy in to the follow for follows mentality – I want to engage with the people I follow and the people who follow me. Social media can be the most amazingly creative and fertile ground and it’s important to me that it remains authentic. There is so much to keep up with but I don’t try. If someone interesting appears on my feed, it’s a great moment. the thing that annoys me the most is the endless ads and wholly irrelevant sponsored posts.
How do you find that you deal with the inevitable writers block that comes with music production?
I walk away usually. I’ll plough on with an idea that I generally know isn’t working up to the point where it REALLY isn’t working and call it a day. Although I have had days where I’ve started several new tracks, all as bad as each other but something is telling me to push on. Maybe I need to get all the rubbish out to reach the good stuff! Equally though, there’ll be times I’ll finish a track and quite like it but in the scheme of the project that track may not just fit, so it get’s binned. I know everyone has a different answer to this question like going for walks etc. For me, it’s shut down the computer and forget about it. I’m either in the zone or I’m not and a walk probably isn’t going to help!
Do you mix and master yourself or do you work with an engineer / producer?
I do everything myself except the mastering. Well, that was true until recently. I released an ambient soundscape album earlier in the year, Spherical Prizm. I mastered that myself. But for everything else, I use LANDR. For my first album, Behind The Clock, I had that mastered at Metropolis Studios in London. All the major artists have recorded and mixed there. That was a fascinating day, working with my mastering engineer, Hippie. Great to hear the tracks through equipment and speakers that I’d need to remortgage my house to buy and even then I might be able to afford a compressor! Although LANDR is an AI mastering solution, I find that I need new ears or at the very least just a new approach. I know my habits and I think as an artist, to do everything, including mastering, well, you can become a bit deaf to certain things. I know when I have got masters back from LANDR, it has highlighted mix errors that I’ve then been able to fix. I’d struggle to work with an engineer because I’m a control freak!
Do you prefer to be underground or is the mainstream something that you strive for?
Doing what I love and earning a living from it is what is important to me. Although I’ll never turn down a multi-million dollar recording contract! There are a lot of synths I want to play with, so show me the money!
Who, Musically, are some of your bigger influences?
This is probably the question/answer that could go on for a very long time! I love music and I’m equally at home listening to WooYork or an Afterlife compilation as I am listening to Holst’s The Planets or the Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Somewhere in that mix through in a bit Goldfrapp, Texas and Keane and you start to get the idea! For this EP, Voix Metalliques, there were a lot of techno and dance artists I listened to a lot, particularly from the Afterlife roster, many of whom I discovered on Instagram. Gesaffelstein was played quite a bit too. From a more general electro-dance inspired perspective, I’m a huge fan of Royksopp, Orbital, Leftfield and Faithless. But also making quite an impact on me are artists such as Bad Sector and 404.Zero. Jarre, Vangelis, Einaudi and 80’s electro-pop such as New Order, Visage, Vince Clark will always feature, however….ah, the list is endless! Muse, don’t forget Muse!
How long have you been making music and, what do you like and dislike about your specific genre?
I started making noises (don’t think you could call it music) around 1998. My school had a few synths that I would borrow; one of which was an SH101…I loved it! Playing with the noise and filter, I made a noise where my parents thought the roof had collapsed! Once I got my now first keyboard, the Yamaha DJX the slippery slope started and it was in 2013 that I released my first album, Behind The Clock. But that album had been in the making for a very long time. I’ve played with a few genres. For example my Behind The Clock work is cinematic, orchestral and generally quite epic. My new Voix Metalliques EP is more melodic techno/progressive house based. Speaking more generally, what I like about electronic music is that you don’t need to conform to any one genre, there’s space for everyone and everything. There are two things though that do make me raise an eyebrow…all too often, electronic music in many genres is referred to as ’80’s sounding’ which is such a cop-out in so many ways. I’ve had some of my non-dance stuff referred to as 80’s and I’m always intrigued as to how people draw that parallel. The second issue is genres themselves…one genre I heard of recently was Australian Dub Bounce or something? What? It’s funny because in my head, Voix Metalliques is not what I would refer to as techno or house, but others have categorised it as such. So you could say that was I don’t like about genres is genres themselves!
Do you have a specific song that, when you hear it, just inspires you every time?
I don’t think I do. I have music I always turn to just because it transports me somewhere else but not because it provides a specific inspiration. I have one playlist that I play to death but that’s because every song on it, I know I won’t skip. My listening habits change so often that I find inspiration in so many places. I felt particularly inspired recently when I was doing work with Clatters Machines in Italy. They’re a Eurorack manufacturer and they make this amazing module called the Garden Listener that detects the electrical impulses within plants and living organisms. This was a whole new world that I found so musically inspiring and I ended up writing a whole album, Branches & Blooms and an extra EP called The Orchid, Banana & Pear. So this particular module inspired me no end.
You’re bound to run into some haters these days, the world overall, sometimes feels to be negative. How do you keep your frame of mind and remain positive?
Everyone’s a critic aren’t they! Music is so subjective that not everyone will like it and I get it because I don’t always like everything that other people do. That’s just called being human. There’s also a saying isn’t there that if people are hating you, you’re doing something right so keep doing it. I like that.
I want to thank you for chatting with us. Is there anything you would like to add personally? Shout-outs?
Thanks for having me, it’s been great chatting with you. I love getting all geeky about this stuff! And if anyone is on Instagram, do come and say hello!
Smart Link: https://ditto.fm/voix-metalliques