Interview No. 142
Interview By: The-Great-One
Today's guest I have been listening to for quite sometime now and am just now getting around to interviewing. He is a musician from the Audio Portal who has bounced from genre to genre and mostly works with Vocaloid. His works have ranged Pleasure, to Steam's Wonderful Contraptions, and to Perfumer's Perfect Fumes. I am pleased to welcome steampianist.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: I find out about Newgrounds in 2008. I saw my brother playing a game called Pico School in Newgrounds and it was about shooting other students in a school and it looked so silly and funny and I found out there were animations too so I would just casually watch some flash animation using my brother’s account hehe. The first animation I saw was “There She Is”. I decided to make an account and join Newgrounds in 2012 because I was so sick of making videos just to upload my music in Youtube and Soundcloud is boring, so I decided I’d try Newgrounds plus you can play loops so to me that was really neat.
Q: One thing that is important to these interviews are people. People influence our creations in life. You have quite a few that I want to know about. Who is Arjen Lucassen and what about his music inspires you?
A: Arjen Lucassen is a multi-instrumentalist and mastermind behind Ayreon. When I first heard Ayreon it totally blew my mind because it was something totally different for me and I really love his instrumentation one example of his songs would be “Carried by the Wind” where it feature this really catchy theme and another would be “The First Man On Earth” which I may have quoted a melody in a certain vocaloid song of mine. But what really amazes me about Arjen Lucassen is that it’s all him, I mean the ideas, the composition, and arrangement, all him; he’s a genius and I guess that is how Arjen inspires me to compose. Another band would be Abney Park and Beats Antique where their aesthetic made me want to pursue steampunk but I wanted it to present it with sound rather than fashion and to name a few others, Edvard Grieg, Erik Sate, Rammstein, Iron Maiden’s Stever Harris, Korn, and Raymond Scott are my biggest inspiration in music as well.
Q: I know you've said that when you met morbid-morsel that it is a long and weird story. Would you please share with us who morbid-morsel is and how you two came to meet?
A: Well one thing to know about TravelBySheep or morbid-morsel is that she does not like sharing too much of her personal life ONLINE or in real life, so all I can say is we met when I moved into her town and strangely enough became friends, I say strangely because I don’t think she liked me very much at first hehe. As for the music thing well, one day, she told me about vocaloid and that she found this one vocaloid, Oliver, really cute and I proposed if she wanted I can make music for Oliver. She agreed and that’s how we started.
Q: You are called steampianist so naturally you create beautiful music with the piano, which we'll be getting to soon. At one point though you seem to have lost a bit of love for the piano. One person came along though that made you love the piano again and she was Amanda Palmer. What about the piano did you lose love for and what was it about Amanda Palmer's music that made you love the piano again?
A: Ah yeah… I did. I think this was somewhere in 1st year high school and I was a part of the “Abbey Band Club”. I just felt like the piano/keyboard was so old fashioned. I mean, I played a lot of classical and old standard jazz music but I felt like I wasn’t relevant in the band club. I mean sure there are electro bands at the time but I didn’t have a synthesizer and in the band club no one liked electro music anyway. They mostly played punk, OPM (Original Pinoy Music) and sappy ballads and some metalcore, which I’m not fond of. But in the end I just took my guitar and formed a punk band. It was fun. then one day my cousin told me about the cabaret punk duo “Dresden Dolls”, he thought I’d be interested in it cos I was in a punk band and played piano, so he told me it just consisted of Drums (Brian Viglione) and Piano (Amanda Palmer). So he lent me his bootleg copy of the Dresden Doll’s “Yes, Vigrinia” (I’m so sorry Amanda), and when the first track played, Sex Changes, That piano riff was just heavenly and the drums came in and it was all just epicness for me so naturally I wanted to play her songs and I was back on the piano with a renewed passion and became a fan of Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer but if you’re going to ask if I was inspired to form a drum and piano duo in the band club? Well no I wasn’t. I still played guitar in my band because no one knew who the Dresden Dolls were, singer can’t sing it, and I’m sure they don’t like it that much. It didn’t matter really I played piano again.
Q: What is Vocaloid?
A: It’s a vocal synthesizer where a 40 year old Japanese man records syllables and stuff and then the sound engineers tweaks it to sound like a 15 year old Japanese girl and my source of youtube revenues. I’m kidding. But it is a vocal synthesizer developed by Yamaha where voice actors/singers record their voice and is SYNTHESIZED into a vocaloid voice bank.
Q: Your first song on Newgrounds is entitled He Marches (to golgatha). You describe it as the feeling and experience of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, twistedly exaggerated. I can most certainly see this image, but is this the image you had while making this song? Also looking back on it today are you still proud of it? Are there any changes you would have made to it?
A: Well, actually, this was supposed to be for a visual novel that did not pull through. Initially I was imagining a world similar to Silent Hill because that was what the artists wanted. So I try to portray that image with sound and that time I didn’t have those Kontakt Libraries and shit. I had to use FL STUDIO’S stock samples and VST’s and listening to it again I think I did a good job with those stock samples haha. So I guess yes, I am proud of this old track. I’d probably replace some samples here with better sounding samples from Kontakt but I can’t because I lost the .flp file of this song along with other older songs.
Q: When I found out about you I was listening to your most recent stuff. While preparing for this interview I came across one of my top three favorite songs by and that is Pleasure. I must admit when I saw the genre tag as Jazz I was expecting just some smooth jazz with a little bit of industrial flair that you tend to have. I was surprised with something more Copacabana with just a hint of a mad scientist laboratory in a volcano. What was the process you took into bringing this to life? What made you want to tackle the Jazz genre?
A: Copacabana you say? Ah, well, I can’t really recall what was going through my head while composing but whenever I make jazz music I guess, it’s usually improvised and this was composed for a character theme and the artist wanted it… Slutty? And sexy? IDK. I think I did a very bad job at this hahaha, I’m actually not sure what would make for a sexy sound, so I thought SAX? Maybe. And some smooth jazz and I thought why not add some moaning samples for that “sluttiness”. Listening to this again I think this has to be my most random track. What made me want to tackle jazz you ask? Well I used to play in a showband/variety band where we play a lot of jazz standard, “Nearness of You”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Spain”, “All Blues”, “Milestones” and a bunch of Bossa Nova music. I guess I picked up some jazz chords and decided I should try and compose some simple ones.
Q: Evokation I see brings a parallel of two worlds together. The ritual dances of the tribes and the club scenes of today. Where the youth are both dancing to music. It seems like tribal themes work very well for contemporary dance music of today. Where did you get the inspiration to take tribal ritual music and convert it to techno?
A: These are some old tracks… Well I was inspired by the occult idea where certain high frequency sounds can make you see certain astral beings. I guess you can say this is an attempt of that. Did you see any astral beings? Frustration also made me compose this track because at the time I wasn’t really good at making techno/trance music. I didn’t know how to achieve certain sounds or transitions so Instead of using the usual synth and samples that makes techno/trance I decided ill just use some choirs and some tribal drums and use some basic synths and that’s pretty much it.
Q: If anyone asked me the best way to describe what your music is like, I would instantly send them a link to Steam's Wonderful Contraptions. From what I've heard it seems to sum up a lot of what your music represents. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes dark, sometimes weird, but all around in some way fun. There are so many components going on in this song that I had to listen to it multiple times to catch everything and I still don't think I have caught everything in it yet. What is everything that makes up this song?
A: I really like making music with erratic mood changes but recently I’ve gone simpler, I guess. I’m not sure what you mean by everything but if you’re asking about the instrumentals, well I was very specific in the arrangement. I wanted to include things that won’t usually fit with the other instruments and I wanted to avoid traditional percussion, with a few exemptions, and of course keeping the whole piece meshed well with each other. As for the Image I’m trying to portray, I wanted to give the listeners an impression that the music is being played by a huge contraption/machine. So I made sure every instrument or sample here is in constant motion. One instrument plays a melody, the other instruments plays another. Percussion and noise samples constantly playing in the background to really give the constant motion. As for the emotional aspect of this song, I admit it does not have any or at least I did not stay in one mood so it can give the impression that it does not convey any emotion. It was supposed to appeal to your imagination.
Q: Real Life Absurdities simply makes me laugh every time I hear it because the visual images are different for each listen. What were the inspirations behind this psychotic piece? I imagine the process in making this fast pace song would be difficult.
A: I love the music/score in cartoons great examples would be the old Fleischer cartoons, The Animaniacs Theme, The Tiny Toons intro and the compositions of Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling. These are all my inspiration for this piece and, no, it wasn’t hard. In fact it felt natural when composing this. Every Idea just clicked.
Q: My second favorite song by you is one that just puts a smile on my face and at one point a couple of months ago I needed a smile while pushing through this interview and that is The Umbrella Salesman. The lyrics, vocals, and music were all just absolutely wonderful to the ears. This would be a good time now to ask who is Oliver? morbid-morsel wrote the lyrics, did you have any input on her lyrics and did she have any input on your melody? Do you know the inspiration behind this song and its meaning?
A: Oliver is an choir type English voicebank for the vocaloid engine created by PowerFX. And, no, morb did not have any input, not because she can’t but because she would rather not because I think she trusts that I will compose something decent and I did not have any input in her lyrics because I trust her as well. I’m not sure what the inspiration behind the story is, but morb told me she just wanted a story with pretty umbrellas and that she just wanted to draw umbrellas and also she was inspired by the father in the movie Charlie and The Chocolate factory. She told me he looked sad and depressed and so I guess that’s what prompted her to write the umbrella salesman.
Q: You got to team up with ZipZipper when making three songs. They are Are You Afraid?, Rainfall, and The Mouse Went Up The Clock. How did you two meet up and what parts did you play in making these songs with him?
A: I found out about ZipZipper when I was participating in NGADM (Newgrounds Audio Death Match) Iwas pitted against him. So naturally I checked out who I’m up against and I just instantly loved his work so after NGADM I thought maybe I can collaborate with ZipZipper in next year’s NGADM which we did and made this 3 songs. For “Are you Afraid?” I did the main motif and we sort of split the song in sections where we exemplify ourselves and the ending is a combination of both our ideas and of course ZipZipper wrote and sang the lyrics. “Rainfall”, I think this time ZipZipper did the theme and I just added the bassline and a couple of embellishments and for the last track “The Mouse Went Up The Clock”, well, the first half was by ZipZipper and the other half by me and ZipZipper ended it with an atonal texture.
Q: Secrets of Wysteria is a very creepy song, listening to the lyrics it is no secret that there is a story here. You've stated that you and morbid-morsel have a fascination with serial killers and sociopaths. This is a theme I believe we have in common. What made you two want to write a song about one of them, one being Albert Fish?
A: Well it was mostly me who wanted to write a song about Albert Fish. I think morb was just going along with me and in my opinion I think Albert Fish is the Epitome of what a serial killer is. He was so horrendous to the point he just didn’t seem human at all I guess I just wanted to show my listener what a serial killer truly is and that is someone who has lost his/her humanity and became this horrible creature and so I thought this would make a great scary Halloween song and the best part is that he was real.
Q: My favorite song of all time by you absolutely without question is Perfumer's Perfect Fumes. It is amazing that this program can handle the Heavy Metal genre so well. If I'm not mistaken I sense a backing orchestration behind the heavy metal instrumentation in this song and it compliments extremely well. Tell me, every step that came into making this beautiful song. I want to know everything! In other words, what was the process you took into bringing this song together?
A: This was actually a collaboration with another Vocaloid Producer named Momocashew. Momocashew is one of the few who uses/tunes Oliver very well and her musical works with the voicebank is amazing so naturally when I first used Oliver I’d always end up listening to her works get some ideas and guess on how she was able to make Oliver sound that way. I recommend listening to her Pumpkin series if you’re curious about Oliver. Anyway she wrote the lyrics and tuned Oliver in this song. The song is based on “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” thus the title. I’m not sure what made her want to write a song about Perfume, I guess she just likes the book. I composed the instrumental and got my band mate mark to play the guitar and Abe who played bass for me. This was actually my first metal track so for me mixing it was a bit of a challenge for me because the guitar was much much heavier and I found that the distortion guitar seem to drown out the bass and vocals doesn’t seem to sit well on the track but eventually with a couple of youtube videos and asking people here in Newgrounds helped me a lot in making finishing this track. For me this was a taxing song to make because before I got a guitarist I have asked a lot of guitarists to play for me but all seem to be either turned off by the idea of a vocaloid singing or the song was too hard. Fortunately my bandmate agreed and can play the song but he lived so far away from where I am living so recording took a week to finish because I remember he had gigs somewhere at around 6PM and I get there at around there 3PM in the afternoon and didn’t have a car so I had to commute with my recording equipment hahaha. It was the same thing for the bassist but the bassist only took 2 days to finish. Despite all this tiresome effort, I’m very proud of this track and I hope to make more metal music in the future.
Q: What is in your opinion, the definition of music?
A: I’ll keep my answer simple. Music can be defined in anyway. But for me personally it is the best form of self-expression and because I think I can connect with people better both on an emotional and intellectual level.
Q: You've been through a lot of different programs throughout your musical creation. For anyone looking to make music, what programs would you recommend they use? What equipment? Any advice you have for them?
A: Well it doesn’t really matter what program/DAW or equipment you use. What matter is how well you use them I personally prefer FL Studio simply because I find it easy to use and I think it’s a great DAW. Now I really can’t give any advice when it comes to recording because I still consider myself an amateur when it comes to recording and I’m not much of an audiophile either. I just have simple set up of a laptop a mixer and earphones. I can however give 4 rules I follow when it comes to mixing and mastering
1. When mixing, make sure your mixer level is at least half in level to avoid any clipping in mastering.
2. Always use a 20hz high cut off in all of the instruments in the mix to avoid any muddiness in the track.
3. Pan. Never put all your instrument in just the center your track can sound whole if you fill the audio spectrum.
4. Never overuse any effect, chorus, reverb, delay and flanger etc. unless you have a creative purpose for it.
Q: When it comes to writing your music without really much to inspire you, where does it start? Where does the first note come down and where does the song end?
A: Well usually when I’m not inspired or just not up to composing a piece of music I usually just don’t. But I am in a business where I compose for other people so when I’m uninspired and I’m required to compose I just sort of pull out this typical set of chord like a template and just improvise on it and just keep adding into it until I can’t think of anything to add or take away.
Q: What can we expect from steampianist in the future?
A: Well me and TravelBySheep are slowly working on a new vocaloid album and I notice I’m getting a lot of fans who play Geometry Dash maybe I can make something for them specifically for the level creators and upload it here in Newgrounds.
I've been listening to steampianist since about late 2013 early 2014. He is an absolutely amazing musician who I have put off on interviewing for too long. When I went through his full scope of music I was damned impressed. His skills are certainly wonderful and he is expanding further and further into his form. He reminds me of when Back-From-Purgatory was here, a traveling bard.