1. I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky is your first release as Equip, but I’m aware that you’ve been responsible for other records in the vaporwave genre (and beyond). Could you tell us a little bit about the musical trajectory you followed up until your debut as Equip?
I started making computer music around 2008, after falling in love with Burial’s Untrue and all the future garage & leftfield bass music that came after it. I would read interviews with my favorite producers and most of them hadn’t even been making music that long- which was inspiring for me to start. My first attempts at making electronic tunes were all pretty generic, lacked a cohesive sound- I would hear a great tune, & i’d write a rip-off track, then put it up on Soundcloud. This continued until I got a job at a record store and got inspired by new music I was discovering- lots of dream pop and krautrock. I wanted to make a digital shoegaze album, so I starting recording my guitar as the basis for compositions. I’d loop, chop, and resample the guitar recordings then add little rhythm box drums like the ones I’d heard on Harmonia records. I did 3 releases with this kind of droney chorused-out guitar sound when I got the urge to try more pop-based approach and learn actual songwriting. I’ve recorded a lot of stuff that I’ll never release including plenty of instrumental Cocteau Twins knock-offs!
Summer of 2015, I was checking out all the great stuff on Dream Catalogue and getting heavily absorbed into Telepath’s discography. I loved that the majority of the releases on the label were concept albums of some sort, which inspired me to throw out a lot of my old “production rules” and try out new ways of working. I started embracing presets, which was a big no-no for me before. I found I was working much faster and feeling more satisfied with my compositions.
2. How did the album come to be released on Dream Catalogue? Did you simply send a demo to the label?
My history with Dream Catalogue goes back to early 2015 when I stumbled upon 2814’s “Birth Of A New Day.” I obsessively listened to it- much like the experience I had with Untrue. I was jamming Birth Of A New Day on my bike commute to Chicago’s loop almost daily. Riding out of downtown through snow to the soundtrack of 2814 is somewhat of an augmented reality experience. I reached out to Dream Catalogue, expressed my adoration, and asked if 2814 wanted to do a tape for my buddy Colin and I’s tape label, BARO. HKE got back to me and said they were interested- this resulted in the excellent HKE/Telepath split which came out that fall. I’ve been in communication with HKE and Telepath since planning that release. Telepath’s music was a big influence on the Equip project, so he was the first with whom I shared the finished album with. To my delight, he offered me a slot on the Catalogue!
3. It’s written on the Dream Catalogue Bandcamp page that I Dreamed of a Palace is “an active tribute” to classic 8-bit and 16-bit role playing games. Are these games simply an inspiration for the album, or did you expressly want to create a soundtrack to an imaginary RPG?
I kinda pieced together the idea of making a soundtrack after I had been recording several little audio doodles. I was going for long walks on my lunch breaks and listening to RPG soundtracks. I wanted to make a long enough album split into 2 “discs” that could feasibly function to soundtrack a game. My good friend Kyle Landstra turned me onto an album- Kevin Braheny’s “Secret Rooms”- which undoubtably influenced the sequencing. On that album, each track is a room, followed by a passage transitions to the next room. I love narrative-based music, something which tells a story- and wanted to make an experience like that.
4. Which games in particular were an inspiration to you in conceiving and producing the album? Also, what is it precisely about the soundtracks to these games that you like so much?
Chrono Trigger, Secret of Evermore, Secret of Mana, and the Final Fantasy series all informed the Equip project. The most impressive thing about those scores is how much emotion the composer can evoke with such limited hardware. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with only 2 or 3 channels of audio. Those beautiful melodies combined with the simple tones are so deeply nostalgic and evocative for me, they bring you back to a place of childlike wonder. The piano, harp and bell tones in particular- they seem so transportive.
5. And just for the record, what is your favorite RPG (or video game) of all time, and why?
Oh man, that’s such a heavy question- If I had to pick- i’d go with a non-RPG- Super Metroid! That game is so big and beautiful, and that childlike sense of discovery and wonder is ever present. I replay it every couple of years!
6. And since the album was inspired by game soundtracks, were you actually visualizing or imagining specific video-game situations or levels (e.g. boss battles) when composing particular tracks, or were you working more on an exclusively musical basis?
Yes, absolutely! Visualization played a huge part in crafting the music- I bought a laptop so I could compose outside of my bedroom for once.. I wrote tunes in various parks, woods, my roof, on a road trip, etc, just to get a diverse array of environmental inspiration to translate into game areas.
I wrote some battle themes, but none of them really developed into finished pieces or made the album. The closest is probably Druids- but it’s up to the listener if that’s a friendly encounter or not.
7. I can’t say I notice any samples on the album, or at least none that appear to be from the few RPGs I’ve actually played (i.e. Final Fantasy VI through to IX). Were there any, or were you essentially composing your music from scratch?
As musical content goes everything is composed from scratch. There are a few tracks which started out based on a loop or clip, but I always compose on top and remove the original sample. I like to re-sample, re-pitch, and chop up my own recordings too- self sampling.
8. Now that the technology employed by video game composers has unsurprisingly evolved since the early and mid-nineties, do you find it a bit of a shame that there are few RPGs coming out today with distinctively ‘video game-style’ soundtracks?
Yes, I do! That’s not to say there isn’t any good newer music in RPGs- i’m always impressed by Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work, and he frequently utilizes live orchestration. The sound of the 16 bit era was a product of it’s hardware- the canvas was limited, so composers did what they could. Technology has moved on, the dawn of the CD led to uncompressed audio and full voice acting for video games. To most developers and fans, this was seen as a huge step up in quality.
I know there are a lot of current indie developers out there who are nostalgic for the 8 bit era, as evidenced by games like Shovel Knight & Undertale. It’s great to see digital distribution, as well as companies like Limited Run Games offering a platform for newer games with retro graphics and music. It’s so inspiring, and it would be a dream come true to work with a developer on scoring a game.
9. Following on from this question, would it be fair to say that your (and sometimes vaporwave’s) focus on old-school computer games isn’t simply about nostalgia, but is also a genuine attempt to revive an art that’s been lost with the game industry’s transition to Hollywood-level production values?
Interesting- I do like the idea of 16 bit game music being it’s own art form. It’s no different from modern soul artists like Charles Bradley or Lee Fields making “vintage soul” music.
As far as a revival, I think a lot of renewed interest in vintage games have a lot to do with vaporwave’s age demographic. For me and an entire generation of people, video games were first exposure to electronic music. So many vapor projects use and abuse nostalgia as a central theme. What ends up getting pillaged are sounds that folks who experienced childhood in the late eighties and early nineties are familiar with, and now nostalgic for- FM synthesis, general MIDI, LinnDrum/Drumulator, gated reverb, etc.
10. I realise that the name “Equip” is once again a reference to RPGs, but could it be possible that you move to other game genres for future releases? Or would you be more interested in moving away from video games a little bit?
It’s possible! I would love to explore non-RPG inspired music under the Equip handle- Maybe some Front Mission or Metal Gear Solid inspired music?
11. Also, do you have any other projects not under the Equip moniker in the pipeline at the moment? I’ve been informed that you may have released something for the Hard Vapour Resistance Front label.
After sending the Equip album off last fall, I did a bunch of one-off projects to blow off some steam and try out some other ideas. I do have releases on HVRF, Antifur, Ailanthus, & other random Bandcamps- but the anonymity of it is half the fun. See if you can guess!
I am excited about a collaborative project with my Canadian pal Ghosting. We’ve been chatting via SLSK and working on songs layer by layer for about a year now, on and off.. We’ve probably got an album’s worth of material recorded, but it keeps changing, so I think we’re going to scrap everything and start fresh in 2017.
12. Returning to I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky, I get the feeling from some of the song titles — “Identity”, “REFLECTIONS of the Self” — that the album is in some way themed around self-actualization or -realization. Is this at all accurate, or is the album about something else for you?
It’s very interesting you pulled that from the titles. It makes me happy because I wanted to make “I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky” an ambiguous but personal experience. I almost put the word “ambiguous” in the title of the record, but it never sounded right. I’m a big David Lynch fan, and love how he leaves the meaning and plot of his films up for audience interpretation. For me, it would detract from the listening experience if I got into semiotics, or what I perceive the narrative of the album to be- it’s your experience.
13. The album also features some beautifully transportive and ethereal songs, such as “Ascending s k y w a r d” and “D U N G E O N”. Is your music meant to be transportive in the sense of imagining different or possible worlds, or could it also be regarded as being about our present world?
Thank you so much- I am grateful to hear you find the album to be transportive. I love listening to music that takes you somewhere- that 2814 album is a great example. Whether it be in a completely dark room, alone and immersed, or walking down a crowded city street with headphones on- it’s your experience. To answer your question, it isn’t meant to be listened to in any particular way. I’m happy if the music takes you to an imagined environment, or augments your real life experiences.
14. Finally, to complete the move away from video games, what else influences you as a musician? Are there any other artists or vaporwave producers in particular who’ve had a big impact on you?
Musically, I credit My Bloody Valentine, King Crimson, Eno, Tortoise, DJ Shadow, Cocteau Twins, Dr. Dre, Godflesh, Phil Colliins- the list could go on and on. As i’ve mentioned, Telepath’s dream effects inspired a lot of the sound design, and HKE’s work ethic and standard of excellence inspired me to complete the concept. Outside of that, I find inspiration in games, film, photos, friends, words, water, the sky, and of course, dreams.