Double Interview: New EPs by Amphibious and ProjektZero

Amphibious and ProjektZero discuss their newly released original EPs and their connections to the arrangement community.

I recently got the chance to interview Amphibious and ProjektZero about their respective EP releases: Oceans and Getting to Know You. Both artists have associations with the arrangement community, so I asked them each about the stories behind the making of their tracks, their influences and how creative competitions have affected their work.

Amphibious – Oceans EP

Amphibious has gained a reputation for creating ambient, chilled music with fluid movement. To that end, his release Oceans is a concept EP, specifically referencing a journey through the sea as a topic. Amphibious explained his motivations for exploring a musical narrative. “I’ve always been told my songs remind people of water for some reason, and the ideas I came up with definitely had that vibe, so I decided to add a theme to my EP. It also sort of fits with the name Amphibious, which is cool too.”

Work on the album began in early June and continued over the summer. He stated that, “I’d been experimenting with music a lot over the last year or so. I got Komplete in May for my birthday, and I spent a few weeks learning the various things in the package. But for the most part, the songs I started never did get finished. One of my roommates and I were talking about how I didn’t really see many through to the end, so I decided I’d take this summer as an opportunity to change that. I sat down and got some ideas ready. That is when I started to work on my new songs for the EP.”

Meteo Xavier contributed the EP’s artwork. Amphibious initially created a cover image himself, and related an anecdote to that effect: “I knew my artwork was bad when I originally made it, but I figured something quick and shoddy would be better than nothing. I got a few comments on OC ReMix about how bad it was; Meteo in particular wanted to redo it himself and I guess he decided to whip something up quick. I’m really happy with it, he did it pretty quickly but it’s infinitely better than what I had before.  Many thanks to him.”

When asked about the contributing factors to his musical style, Amphibious noted that “This particular album had a lot of influence from David Arkenstone. He did a lot of world and Celtic music such as the tavern music in World of Warcraft, but he released a chillout album that I absolutely love. ‘Plunge’ in particular draws influence from that.  I would also say the Metroid Prime soundtrack has had some influence on me as well.”

The track “Pelagic Fortress” on the EP started off as an entry for a composition competition.  Amphibious shared his thoughts on time-constrained musical gatherings: “When I first heard about compo, it seemed like a cool idea, but two hours sounded so short.  However once I tried it, I was pretty amazed at what I could come up with in such a short time frame. ‘Pelagic Fortress’ in particular fit the theme of my album very well. Overall the compos definitely have helped me with efficiency. And having a theme given to you is sometimes a helpful way to come up with new ideas.”

Oceans EP is currently available at Bandcamp for free, or pay-what-you-want pricing. Amphibious is pleased with the response to the release, noting that “I’d still consider myself a bit of an amateur, and there have been some fair criticisms, but some people have really enjoyed my stuff and I’m very pleased with that.”

ProjektZero – Getting to Know You

Matt “ProjektZero” Rittinghouse identifies with the nerdcore scene, though his music has recently gravitated away from his rap roots and toward groove-based, melodic pop songwriting. His EP carries a unifying concept, as he expressed that “the theme with Getting to Know You is that I wanted each song to provide some glimpse at me as a person, or the things I feel. ‘Loop On’ deals with relationships; ‘331’ and ‘Mannequins’ deal with friendships and isolation; ‘The Stand’ deals with my geekier tendencies; and ‘Fake It’ deals with this sort of transition out from my teenage years.”

Untested Methods and zircon are credited with mixing on specific tracks. Matt explained how these collaborations came about: “I met Eric (Methods) at Nerdapalooza 2010. I’m a huge fan of a lot of his remixes, but I’m probably a bigger fan of the chiptune-infused synthpop style he has developed in his independent work. He and I are both music production geeks that use FL Studio, so we’ve been chatting fairly regularly since Nerdapalooza, and we’ve tried several efforts at collaboration along the way. This was just the first one that made it to a finalized, published product.”

Matt considers zircon and the OC ReMix community to be a great motivation and influence on his production. He elaborated on zircon’s contribution to the EP: “I’ve had zircon on my contacts list since he did a series of FL Studio production tutorials a few years back. I had been struggling very, very hard to mix ‘The Stand’. I’d worked on it for eight hours a day, for three days straight, and had finally just fallen into despair over mixing the song. So I shot zircon a message, and he graciously offered to help me out. He pretty much saved that track from falling apart.”

Getting to Know You includes a cover version of a song by Brad Turcotte called “Fake It”. Matt expressed his desire was to cover this song, and include it on the EP. “Through my old school nerdcore ways, I’m hip to a place called SongFight, where Brad is a regular competitor. I feel like I’m a broken record for saying it, but I’m a huge fan of his work, and his entire album Out of It is absolutely classic to me. I specifically chose ‘Fake It’ because I felt like it sort of encapsulated the changes that I went through in college. I think that song feels like every twenty-something’s anthem.”

JG Hollowell, also known as Mithurn, provided the second rhythm guitar heard on “Loop On”. Matt talked about how they both became acquainted: “JG is an old, old friend of mine. Probably since before I started making music, or at least somewhere around that time frame. I met him through an MMO, but it just so happened that he lived in Charleston close to me. I went off to college, but met back up with him shortly after I graduated.” Matt also remarked on their collaborative process by saying that, “He presents a whole different dynamic to songwriting when I work with him. I can’t just fall back into sequencing; I have to work live. I’m playing guitar and singing, trying to come up with melodies or chords on the spot. He has a lot more of a free jam session background, and I strongly respect that. ‘Loop On’ evolved from a jam between us.”

The track “Mannequins” on the EP originated as a track ProjektZero made for a compo. Matt expressed his thoughts on the composition competition experience, stating  “I absolutely feel that the compos benefited me. I’ve put out six albums since I’ve started doing them. Of course, most of those directly came from the compos. This new EP is more refined, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the compo experience. The advice and the high pressure trial-and-error was just invaluable to shaping my songwriting.” He agreed that the mannequin concept from One Hour Compo was somewhat unusual, but felt that “that’s what was liberating about it. I couldn’t get lost in the theme, specifically because it was obscure. So to really thrive with mannequins as a concept, you had to make it your own. And I think that’s what made that week’s theme probably my favorite one of the entire series so far.”

Getting to Know You is available now at Bandcamp with free or name-your-price options. The cover art was created by Brett Houston.

Thomas Nelson, remixer Ghetto Lee Lewis discusses his Rainless Days album

Video game arranger Thomas Nelson aka Ghetto Lee Lewis talks about his original debut album.

Thomas Nelson, better known in the arrangement community as Ghetto Lee Lewis (GLL), took some time to answer a few of my questions regarding his recent original album Rainless Days. It is the first album he has ever released, featuring somber and reflective solo piano. Nelson is no stranger to the remixing community; several of his tracks are posted on OverClocked ReMix covering games from Dragon Warrior to Tales of Phantasia in the style of trance. With Rainless Days, he uses his raw skill on the keys for an assortment of self-composed material.

As he mentioned in the description of his album page, the release “marks a transition in my life, going from a failed marriage and life of depression to being able to move on with my life and find happiness once again.” He elaborated further on this period of change:  “My wife filed for divorce back in March I think, and so I had to move out. We were married for just over two years. I’ve been living in an apartment with a roommate since then.” Nelson remarked on the album’s title, and how lack of rain “is a metaphor for the emptiness and loneliness I’ve felt for much of my life.” In his Nevada residence, the desert climate is such that rainfall is seen as a special and uplifting event.

Nelson started work on the album on June 6, 2011 and developed it over the course of the month. “I recorded “Song for Miku” about a week before I started on the other tracks.” He noted that the majority of Rainless Days was composed and recorded in about seven days, and completed over three weeks. Nelson produced the album himself and used a mastering preset created with the help of Prophecy. The release carries a floral motif, particularly a rose on the album cover and the song titles “Roses in June” and “Sunflowers”. Nelson acknowledged this as being a deliberate theme. “Flowers are often a symbol of beauty and romance. They can also signify change, since flowers bloom, they wilt, and they die.”

As Nelson specified, the album “was performed on a Casio WK-1800 76 key keyboard, recorded to MIDI into FL studio. The samples are from Tonehammer Emotional Piano sample library.” Nelson has been outspoken on his views of performance versus sequenced piano, which he reaffirms when he cautiously states, “The interpretation of dynamic changes during a performance isn’t supposed to mathematically follow what’s written on paper. Any experienced performer knows this and is able to give music proper rhythm and emotion during a performance. However, it’s just simply not easy to put down on a sequencer.” He also prefers to play an acoustic piano rather than a keyboard, but is unable to move one into his apartment for the time being. “I hope to upgrade my gear to a more playable MIDI controller, probably to a Yamaha KX-88.”

Two songs on Rainless Days make direct references to people with whom he has been acquainted: “Song for Miku” and “Jenni’s Song”. He explained, “I met Miku playing an online chat game, and kind of fell in love with her. I was going through severe depression at the time and she inspired me to actually do something about it. We had kind of a falling out later, but that’s beside the point. I met Jenni playing that same chat game, and became good friends with her.” He was informed of an attack that caused her to be taken to a hospital. “Her song was really just about how I cared about her and didn’t want to lose her. Luckily, she had a speedy recovery, and she’s fine now.”

Nelson is an avid participant in competition compositions. He recalled the time when his interest in compos began. “I met starla during a Las Vegas meetup, and she told me to start participating in One Hour Compo. I’ve entered a few other ones in the past, just because I thought it would be fun, and I had friends who were entering to compete against. So I’ve done OHC on ThaSauce a few times; I’ve done FLMC, PRC, BEER (on OC ReMix), and a few others.” Although compos are generally done to hone one’s craft, he also stated that he hasn’t “really participated in enough of them to improve my efficiency. If anything, I think recording this album helped improve my efficiency of creating new music.”

He acknowledges many inspirations for his music in general. From within OCR, Nelson cites Prophecy, bLiNd, DJ Carbunk1e, FFmusic DJ, Spekkosaurus, Russell Cox, goat, Sir NutS and SgtRama. Outside the community, his influences include Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Robert Miles, Tiësto, Rammstein, Danny Elfman, Nightwish, Juno Reactor, Master P, Dr. Dre, Journey, Guns N’ Roses, Enya, Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo and Koichi Sugiyama.

Rainless Days is available on Bandcamp to stream for free, or as a paid download. Nelson hopes that listeners will support him though his commercial release. “By supporting my music you’re helping me pay rent, buy food, and make more great music. Recommend it to your friends and family too. Thanks!”

Laura Shigihara Posts New Original for Upcoming Indie Game

Acclaimed Plants vs. Zombies composer Laura Shigihara has recently released a new, enchanting original song on YouTube.

With her recent collaboration with brilliant composers Akira Yamaoka and Woody Jackson to help create a charity album for Japanese tsunami and earthquake victims and the considerable attention being paid to her work, Laura Shigihara has been quite the busy bee lately.  Even so, this lovely lady still has time to produce soulful, enchanting tunes that are probably capable of rendering even the cruelest war-waging cyborgs useless. Written for Ken “Reives” Gao’s upcoming adventure game To The Moon, the acclaimed Plants vs. Zombies composer has delivered yet another delightful gem to add to her continued success — make sure you click the play button above to listen to Laura’s new original song, “Everything’s Alright”.

Rise Up To The Music! A Review of DjjD’s Uprising

‘Tis been quite a while, but the wait has been worth it! Check out Mirby’s brand spanking new review of upcoming artist DjjD’s second album Uprising.

And now, with her inevitable return to the realm of reviewing, it’s Taylor Brown, alias Mirby!! Ahem. DjjD, alias Jakesnke17, he of the perfect end quotes, asked me to review his upcoming album for him. This would be okay, if it weren’t for the fact that he asked me back in February. It’s June now, and after a couple of months sans headphones, a vital device in my trade, I’m fully equipped and ready to clear the backlog of albums that came out in the intervening time. First up, it’s the truly long awaited review of DjjD’s album, Uprising!!

1. “Upon The Edge” 3:04
Starts out pretty nice. Nice rhythm, and some distortion comes in at about 0:15. I can’t help but groove to this song, and I’m not even a minute in yet! I hope the rest of this album is this epic. Slight slowdown at about 1:17. Rhythm returns at 1:45 or so. Some new melody comes in at about 2:22. Slowdown at 2:44 to prepare for the end twenty seconds later.

2. “Waves” 3:10
Oooh! Distortion! Sweet chippy distortion!! More headbopping ensues. Minor explosion at 0:38, and everything begins to return at 0:44, and builds from there. More instrumentation at 1:14 or so. More instrumentation at 2:00 or so. The end begins at about 2:36, and building begins at about 2:44 until it dies at 2:57.

3. “As Time Goes By…” 4:18
Nice echoing effects used here for the intro. Some humming comes in at about 0:15, more instrumentation at 0:30. Drums at 0:50 or so. Calms down at about 1:20. Some instrumentation returns at 1:48 or so. This is a beautiful track right here. Drums return at 2:13. The backing tracks complement the main part so well. Another slight breakdown at about 2:58, only to build back up slowly starting at 3:10 or so. Not by much though, as the final minute is quite mellow.

4. “Timeshift” 2:36
Drums kick in right away, no pun intended. Nice choice of instruments here. More instrumentation at 0:46 or so, and more at 1:01. Calm spot at 1:10 or so until 1:15, when instruments return. More calmness at 2:00 or so, continuing until the end.

5. “Just Hold On (Snkermx)” 4:26
Starts out right away, with drums activating at 0:10 or so. Some chimes kick in at about 0:36. Vocals at 1:20 or so. Definitely not Jake singing, and if so, that’s one hell of a talent he’s got. Small breakdown at about 1:55 until 2:14 when instruments return slowly. Chippy effects at 2:26. Harder drums at 2:32 or so. There’s a nice backing melody starting somewhere in the early 3 minute range. The finale builds up at 3:58 or so, and culminates at 4:18, with a fade to silence.

6. “Brazil (Snkermx)” 3:23
Solid drums, and the main melody really takes effect at 0:38 or so. Small breakdown at about 1:08. This track jumps around a bit between heavy  backing beats and nothing there at all. There’s also a melody strongly reminiscent of Metal Man’s Stage throughout. Slow fadeout starting at 3:06 until the end.

7. “Creepin’ Through” 4:00
Big backing beats begin this song. Instrumentation at about 0:22. Some melody starts at 0:38. More at 0:53 or so. After a small breakdown, melody returns at 1:38 or so. Small breakdown at 2:06. only to return and build up. Percussion returns at 2:18 or so. More melody returns at 2:53 or so. The end begins at 3:35.

8. “Future” 2:02
I see this track name and think of the Future stages from Crash 3, such as Future Frenzy. Starts at 0:10, with percussion at 0:22 or so. After a brief intro to a beat, everything comes together at 0:52 or so. A brief track, but a good one with a solid structure. The end begins at 1:48 for this one.

9. “Futile” 2:27
What’s futile? Reviewing this? I sure hope not! Anywho, beat starts out immediately, and some slight instrumentation at 0:14 or so, and builds in volume. Main melody at 0:38 or so. It all explodes musically at 0:52, only to briefly break down from 1:10 to 1:18 or so. The end is surely near at 1:54, and suspicions are confirmed at 2:07.

10. “All Robots Destroyed” 2:25
I was expecting a Mega Man game clear jingle, to be honest. Instead, there’s a track with an industrial jungle feel to it. Main melody at 0:31 or so. Some backing ambience at 0:48 really rounds out the soundscape, giving it a nice rich sound. Slight breakdown at 1:44, heralding the impending finale. Which starts at 2:04, with fading.

11. “Club Named – Chill” 1:48
And now for the shortest track on the disc. This is a very calm, chill track, as one would expect from the title. Some percussion at 0:54. More backing ambience at 1:10 or so. Slowly ends for the last ten seconds.

12. “The Storm is Rising…” 3:00
Hard beats here kick this track off. These are some heavy drums! The storm must be rising because of this rain dance here. Some ambience at 0:54 builds up slowly, and the drums lose volume at 1:03 or so. This is a very ominous-sounding track. I’m visualizing some people going to kill some other people in a thunderstorm right now due to this track. More instrumentation at 1:47. Very intense sounding. Returns to the percussive start at 2:25, and continues until the end.

13. “Terror and Relief” 2:46
I’m relieved that the rain dance is over. No rain, so something must’ve gone wrong. Eh, no matter, this next track is good. After an ambient beginning, some instrumentation kicks in at 0:32. Drums at 0:42. Some more orchestral stuff at 1:05 or so. Some melody at 1:26. The end starts to build at 2:25 or so.

14. “Deserted” 3:13
This song sounds very nice. I’m enjoying the instruments chosen for this. After the base is laid down, some melody comes in at 0:55 or so. If I was ever deserted somewhere isolated, I’d want this song to play mysteriously out of thin air. As background music. Breakdown at about 1:58. It all returns at 2:12 or so. The framework for the final seconds is set down at 3:01.

15. “Unknown Path” 2:52
Is the unknown path that fabled left turn at Alberquerque? Nice melody to start with here. Some orchestration at 0:32. This song just builds up, until 1:10, when it really begins. The percussion in this track is nice. More orchestration at 1:52. I don’t even know if orchestration is a word, but if not then it totally is now. The end begins at 2:10 or so, and slowly builds up until 2:36 when it all comes crashing down.

16. “Serene Chaos” 3:06
This sure starts out serene, but where’s the chaotic scramble of dissonance? Instruments kick in at 0:42. Sounds like something’s coming later in this song, the way the orchestration is building up. It slows down at 2:09 or so, but it still has a sense of something impending. Okay, I am dissapoint. There was no chaos in that song! REFUND! I DEMAND A RE-oh, wait. I didn’t pay for this because DjjD sent it to me. Next song!

17. “Forest of Life” 3:43
This has a nice natural feel to it. Some melodious chiming starts the song off, with orchestration at 0:20. Slight breakdown at 0:58 or so. It’s a true breakdown at 1:38, when the notes themselves become choppy, and are replaced by their 8-bit equivalents!! Talk about a downgrade, but in this case I think it’s a real boon. Chiptunes make everything better! And happier too! 2:35 kicks the instrumental bits right back up to their full-fledged selves. It starts to fade out at 3:36.

18. “Fall Has Come” 2:36
What fall? The fall of the Roman Empire? The Ottoman Empire? The season? No idea, but it’s fodder for a fantastical track. Melody at 0:32 or so, with orchestration at 0:45 or so. Percussion at 1:02. Slight breakdown at 1:48 or so. Some orchestration sends this track off, starting at 2:10 or so.

19. “Driven (Remix)”    4:51
Wait, my media player lists this as by Geeky Stoner! No matter, I’ll review it the same. It’s a nice track, with a solid beat which really kicks in with extra percussion at 0:32. Slight breakdown at 1:04. Speaking of geeky stoners, I know quite a few of them. Myself included, heh. Slight change-up at 1:20. Make that a chippy change-up. Another breakdown at 2:25 or so. Some melody returns at 2:45 or so. It explodes with more distorted effects around the 3:15 mark. And quiets down at 3:45. Beeping at 3:54, and percussion at 4:00. This just marks what become the eventual fade at 4:40, which isolates the beeps for the finale.

20. “Think ‘Bout It”    1:59
CHIPTUNA!! Perfect for a bonus track, and the main melody is epic. You don’t even have to think ’bout it to know this. Okay, that was bad. Slight breakdown at 0:58 or so. Chippiness returns at 1:15 or so. This is the funnest song I’ve heard in a while, but the Pixel Perfect LP may change that. The final begins at 1:48 in much the same way as the previous track.

Well, it may have taken me a while to get around to this, but I think it was well worth the wait. I promise that after this, my reviews will be more timely and current. Anyways, this was a very well done album, with that surprise guest track by Geeky Stoner. The tracks are beautiful, and will surely find their way onto my MP3 player as they should to yours as well. Great work by DjjD, and Geeky Stoner as well for his track. The next course is a double helping of halc. Yep, it’s another double review, this time of halc’s Pixel Perfect LP, fitting since his EP was in the other double review, and his directorial debut with The Sound of Speed, OverClocked ReMix’s Sonic the Hedgehog album. Until then, game on!!