Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
Hi. I am Smartmunkee, an independent electronic music producer based in beautiful Cornwall in the UK. I have been creating music since my early twenties. I began with a modest setup consisting of an Amiga 500 with a Stereo Master sampler, a Yamaha TG55 synth module, and a Casio midi keyboard. In the early 90s a band called Urban Shakedown released a track called ‘Some Justice’ that was reported to have been produced on an Amiga 500 in a bedroom. At that moment I started to believe it may be possible for relative amateurs to aspire for greater things and I started to take computer music production more seriously. I invested in a high spec PC with an equally high spec soundcard, I purchased Fruityloops (later to become FLStudio), pro sample Cds, and a couple of pro soft synths and set about creating tracks more seriously. But inevitably life got in the way, work and family commitments increased and despite continually producing music over the years I never took it any further than an expensive hobby. In 2021, with the encouragement from my family and with several years of accumulated production experience now under my belt, I started producing my music to broadcast quality, releasing it for public consumption under my artist name Smartmunkee, a name I took from a cute soft toy monkey that has been my companion in my studio since the 90s and still sits beside me today.
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?
I think I really started appreciating music at the age of around 10. It all started in 1977 when Star Wars hit our cinemas. It was a monumental film at that time with jawdropping visuals and an amazing score by John Williams. I was blown away by it and like many kids of that era, I became obsessed with everything Star Wars. One day I took my pocket money and bought a Star Wars LP (although I cannot recall if this version of the LP was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra). On Side A was the key tracks from the movie and on Side B was Holst’s The Planets. I played both sides of that album over and over, with my imagination floating high in celestial skies. I became a fan of sci-fi-related music, buying other LPs that immersed me in both orchestral classical music and futuristic electronic music. Core LPs in that collection included albums such as Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (with that amazing album artwork booklet), the soundtrack to Close Encounters, and an album that included the original Dr Who theme tune as well as other TV themes. Later, the Bladerunner Soundtrack would join that list, mainly for that awesome closing credits theme. These albums in particular went on to influence the music I create today.
What motivates you, not just in music but, your daily life as well?
music has always been a huge motivational aspect in my life. It shapes everything around me. It helps calm me, inspires me, sparks my imagination, reflects the moods I feel, even
helps me concentrate, and so the ability to create music for the enjoyment of others is truly spiritually and emotionally rewarding. When I see people enjoying my music, and understanding its relevance I feel a sense of personal pride and accomplishment.
Since those early years as a child, I have always wanted to create unique and innovative music.I never cover other people’s music. For me, it needs to be unique, my own creation. It is me giving back what I consume. It is my art. When I create my music I see myself as no different from a painter and whereas a painter may capture a mood in the way they put paint upon a canvas, so I create moods in music, with sounds being the paint that I put on a blank canvas of silence.
With regards to my daily life, for decades my day job has been in IT so working with computers is a big part of my life. The fusion of computers and music was always going to be inevitable. So a computer has become as much an instrument to me as a guitar would be to others. It is immediately accessible and offers limitless potential…well limitless if you have the budget!
When you start a new song… Where do you draw inspiration from? What does your creative process look like?
I class myself as an ‘organic’ music artist. A single sound can be the seed that inspires a whole track, or sometimes it can be a beat or a catchy riff. I rarely have a tune in my head when I start a track, but I will have the mood that I want to capture. Once I have a seed of the track I then build the drum patterns and the first stages of the bass. Then the real work begins, layering synths, sound effects, and samples. Mixing often becomes part of this phase, ensuring the sounds balance and site well in the overall track, Finally, I begin on the mastering before rendering the final piece. This organic process can take weeks, and is the core of my track creation, letting sounds spark my imagination and emotions as I assemble them into interesting patterns that lead the listener on a theatrical journey. I intentionally break some of the rules that constrain some musicians. I might mess with conventional timings, or blend traditional genres to make a more unique and innovative sound. I let the feeling the music evokes in me decide the direction of the song. It is music created from deep within, something that emotionally affects me somehow. I believe this is what makes my distinctive ‘Smartmunkee’ sound. I guess it is not surprising that I am the biggest fan of my music!
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?
It would have to be Liam Howlett. In my late twenties, my music tastes gravitated towards harder electronic music, distorted synths, and heavily compressed floor-thumping beats. I wanted to be a musician around this time and was dabbling with keyboards and electric guitars but ultimately disappointed by the final results. I felt confined by the limited sound choices I had available and the reliance on other people to produce a final track. I was paying particular attention to The Prodigy and the evolving sounds they were pushing in their tracks. They were creating a new generation of music and Liam Howlett was powerfully demonstrating his amazing skills at sample manipulation to create music that most people
had never heard before. Liam was showing that electronic music producers were now an important part of music evolution. And so I purchased a powerful PC, Fruityloops, a range of soft synths, and resurrected my old Casio midi keyboard. I began experimenting more seriously with computer-generated music. All the while Liam was continuing to push the boundaries of electronic music. Then in 1997 Prodigy released ‘The Fat of the Land’ and that turned everything upside-down for me. It is still one of my favorite and most influential albums of all time! This was serious electronic music that growled with such ferocity that the whole world had to stand up and accept this was a genre to be reckoned with. Monstrous, phat sample fest creations that used sound in unique and amazing ways whilst embracing live elements of guitar and drums. So although my sound is not that similar to the later Prodigy tracks, Liam truly inspired my use of samples and synths.
Have you ever performed live? If so, do you prefer performing live or studio life?
I haven’t yet performed live, although I am considering it. I am also considering the potential of inviting introducing other musicians to play instruments live along with my track creations in much the same way as Prodigy did. But for now, I am happy to continue producing music from my studio.
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?
I am not a fan of social media. Although it should be seen as a promotional tool it seems that now more than ever unless you have some serious promotional skills you are very unlikely to get seen. The dilemma I have is that I have a full-time job 5 days a week and in my spare time I love creating music not spending hours on social media. Unless you are prolific on social media you simply do not get the followers that the algorithms love and so you go nowhere! It’s a real shame. More disheartening is when you see social media accounts with thousands of followers for doing nothing more than smiling provocatively at a camera. I spend weeks producing a track and when I try to promote I find it has a very limited number of views. That is the trouble with algorithm promotion, you have to spend hours and hours feeding their hunger for followers to even stand a chance of getting your music to those fans that you know are out there.
How do you find that you deal with the inevitable writers block that comes with music production?
I do not let writer’s block impact me. I sit down many evenings and most weekends working on music, either refining a track or writing the seeds of a new one. If a song does not work, sounds terrible, or is just not giving me the right vibe I never delete them. They are all kept in a folder called ‘seeds’ on my PC. Then if I’m suffering from a block, I sometimes trawl the seeds for inspiration. My tracks ‘The Cowboy’ and more recently ‘The Day of the Androids’
are two examples of songs that I had abandoned a long time back but when I subsequently revisited them they initiated a spark that grew into a full-blown track that I was ultimately happy to release.
Do you mix and master yourself or do you work with an engineer / producer?
Like many struggling independent artists I mix and master myself. It is probably the most difficult part of the process, taking hours and hours of effort. It’s as much about training the ears as it is mastering the tools. I am nowhere near as good as some of the highly experienced pros out there but I am learning all the time. Mastering is definitely an art form you learn over years of experience and I have nothing but admiration for those pros who have amassed their skills over years.
Almost all of my music is created within FLStudio using a multitude of VST soft synths, effects, and pro samples. This simplifies the production process somewhat and enables me to have a smaller, more streamlined studio setup. I will occasionally record external vocals or sounds and mix those into the tracks.
Do you prefer to be underground or is the mainstream something that you strive for?
I guess I would love to be recognized and regarded for what I do but I do not need to be a superstar artist. If I was successful enough for music to be a full-time career and provide me a comfortable life for me and my family this is all that I would need. One of my biggest goals is to see my music in film or TV. I truly believe my music has massive potential in that area of the industry. When I create my tracks I often see it visually like it was part of a movie, which is why I create my own videos for many of my tracks. The videos are a semblance of what I wanted to convey in my tracks. Of course, all my videos to date are low-budget creations but one day I hope to see my music in a mainstream movie or TV production.
Who, Musically, are some of your bigger influences?
That’s easy actually. I’ve mentioned some already but here is a list I often quote; Chemical Brothers for their classic big-beat sound, Vangelis for those warm synths and cinematic soundscapes, Prodigy for amazing sample manipulation and genre-defining hard techno sounds, Gorillaz for their blending of electronic with hip hop. Those are my top four but in reality, my list goes on and on! I continually take some form of inspiration from artists old and new which is why I like to keep my mind open to all genres of music.
How long have you been making music and, what do you like and dislike about your specific genre?
As mentioned previously, I began in my early 20s. Those tracks were the beginnings of what I do now and I still have many of those tracks locked away. Their production quality was poor and they were simple in construction but they are definitely still in my style even back then. I have simply refined and perfected it over the years. Technology has moved on making the tools I use more accessible and the quality of the synths and effects have moved on incredibly. All these factors have matured my music to something that I personally think has huge potential if I can get it to the right ears. With regards to genre, that is probably my biggest issue with my style. It often crosses genres, which is partly what defines me and my sound, but that is a hindrance when it comes to placing my music in the usual genre categories and has definitely held me back when submitting to curators of playlists. But I do not want to compromise my style just to become a more marketable commodity. My sound is so recognizably ‘Smartmunkee’! Hopefully, with natural organic growth, in time my music will get recognized for the innovative style I have adopted.
Do you have a specific song that, when you hear it, just inspires you every time?
Breathe by Prodigy – it is such a beautifully crafted song in my opinion. It has an incredible and immediately recognizable bass riff, that metallic industrial whipping sound adding a form of percussion, the driving guitar, distorted synths, and not forgetting Keith’s punk brilliant vocals. Its structure is something that has truly inspired my music, the way it evolves, ever-changing, to keep the listener intrigued, and at one section everything is stripped right back to just the bass and some incidental effects to introduce a total break in pace. Just an awesome song that I can listen to over and over again.
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?
I have plenty of negative moments but I guess many unsigned artists do. When you work so hard producing music that you think stands out from the usual mundane mass-produced tracks only to find it falls on no-ones ears can be soul-destroying. Or watching your follower stats just staying in double figures knowing that no algorithm is going to push you, it makes you doubt your talent is any good and that you do not deserve recognition. But you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on. Be true to yourself, strive for higher and better, and trust what you are creating. Keep pushing your music – somewhere out there are a bunch of like-minded individuals hungry for my music. It’s like sending a message in a bottle, sometimes it takes time to reach its destination!
I want to thank you for chatting with us. Is there anything you would like to add personally? Shout-outs?
I want to give massive thanks to Carlos Fandango, DJ X Tech, Lee from Thomas Imposter Records, and Skreen from House of Beauty for all their support. You all provide the fuel to drive me forwards. And of course, a shout out to my friends and family who have supported me so far, especially my amazing wife and my awesome kids who were the ones who encouraged me to push my music out there in the first place and who continue to support and inspire me on this journey.
Follow Smartmunkee on…
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIV61gJaAOUkx05YjPfuvCg
Official Website: http://smartmunkee.com