Happy November, folks! For this month’s interview, I talked to a multi-instrument & multi-alias chipmusican & event curator friend of mine. This cat’s done quite a bit over the last handful of years (even more than I realized!), and shows no signs of stopping any time soon!
Welcome Lars Shurilla aka The Laohu/Immortan of SLC Chip!
Brandon: Hey there, Lars! Welcome to the blog!
Lars: Greetings Brandon!
Brandon: To kick us off here, give us a brief bio of who you are and what you’re about!
Lars: Well, I’m from Wisconsin, but currently living in Utah. Married with two children. I’ve been making chiptunes since 2012. And I’m all about having a good time and helping others to do the same!
Brandon: Let’s start with the default question: how’d you get your start in chipmusic?
Lars: Well, in the spring of 2012, I was back in the states after having spent some time in China. I had been in a band in China and wasn’t looking forward to starting another band for the umpteenth time since I had moved so frequently. That’s when my brother showed me a video of Danimal Cannon playing ‘The Big Crunch‘ live and I thought it was awesome. Later listening to the ‘Baddies’ album by Comptroller further cemented my desire to learn and I demanded that my younger brother teach me how, because he had been making chiptune for a few years at that point. He hooked up an SNES with a Super Game Boy, showed me the ropes, and I wrote my first song by the next day. I loved the sound and texture chipmusic provided and the fact that my “band” was now a Game Boy and could travel with me no matter where I went was fantastic. I adapted a song from a previous band and entered it into a competition to play at Summerfest in Milwaukee (the world’s largest music festival). The response I got back was that they were really interested, but wanted to know if I had other music. SO I quickly recorded a few more demos and sent them in. They liked it and I got my first gig as a chip artist!
Brandon: Ah Danimal Cannon! Chiptune’s gateway drug! He was my first exposure to live chipmusic as well!
Lars: Dan is incredible. I will say I’d listened to a little Anamanaguchi a couple of years before that, but hearing that aggressive combo of Game Boy and guitar is what really gave me motivation to learn.
Brandon: He definitely executes that combo damn near flawlessly, yet at the same time, rather accessibly. Maybe even moreso if you’re a musician; as in, “Huh. I bet I could make that work myself!”
Lars: And he is just a cool person. That’s probably one of my favorite things about chipmusic, all the cool people I’ve been able to meet.
Brandon: Now here’s a tangent we could speak about for the entire duration of this chat!
Lars: Couldn’t agree more. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve met incredible people.
Which actually reminds me of a question I’d been thinking about recently: who in this community have I not yet met but would really like to meet?
Brandon: That’s a good question! My list is shrinking slowly but surely, it’s still pretty long! Definitely some international folk I’d like to see again/see more regularly as well. The planet is too large!
Lars: Yeah, I definitely miss my friends from all over. But who is the number one person you wanna meet? Mine is D&D Sluggers. He just seems like someone with really similar interests and would be fun to go karaoke with.
Brandon: Extremely accurate assumption about Tim. Come to MAG! I’ll gladly introduce you. ಠ‿↼
For me, it’s probably James York. We’ve been working together in some capacity since Volume 1 now, but have yet to meet irl. Need to fix that sooner than later.
Lars: Dude, you know I’d love to go to MAG. One of these days…
And James seems like a great dude. One of the few guys who actually listened to my latest Laohu album.
Brandon: Speaking of listening to albums, I’m still diggin’ that Immortan release. I can loop ‘Building Better Bodies‘ for awhile, man.
Other than retrowave being pretty awesome, what lead to that alternate project coming to be?
Lars: Thanks, I’m really proud of that album and wouldn’t mind discussing it a little more, but first I’ll answer the origins of IMMORTAN…
While my Laohu act started as just vocals, guitar, and LSDj, after a few years I began to experiment with adding more instrumentation, little by little. First, an arduinoboy controlling the animoog app on an iPod. Then, an Alesis SR-16 drum machine, also controlled by arduinoboy. Then I switched to an actual Moog Slim Phatty instead of an iPod app. Then both the app and the analog synth. Finally, I added in manually triggered DSN-12 on the 3DS. It sounded really cool but was getting to be a huge pain to set up and I started to miss the simpler days. The Laohu has always been more about being fun, easy, and accessible. Around that time I was also starting to really get into synthwave/retrowave (Thanks Hotline Miami!), and was pretty interested in pursuing my own synth-based project. Splitting off a new project seemed like the best way to get The Laohu back to what made it fun while giving me the opportunity to dive head first into retrowave.
But what made the gave Immortan focus was an opportunity that just happened to pop up. Magic Sword was going on tour and would be stopping in Madison, WI, where I resided at the time. Not many synth acts came to Madison and I was pretty excited. I wrote an email to the venue, which I had played at as the Laohu before, to see if they needed a local opener. I’m not sure if I even sent in any demos, but they were interested enough to let me play! For the next month and a half, I worked everyday to write enough music to have a full set. I’d only dabbled here and there, so I must’ve written about 6-8 songs in that period. I also suddenly had to think about my performance. Previously, I could rely on playing guitar and singing as a means of engaging the crowd, but just twisting knobs would’ve left me pretty uncomfortable. I decided to include two new aspects: live glitch visuals and a sci-fi narrative. I wrote a few small segments about a warning from the future and an AI apocalypse and had a friend of mine do professional voice recordings of them. Then I worked on the visuals and really came to enjoy that aspect of it.
When the time for the show came, I was pretty nervous. I remember waiting while Magic Sword went through their warm up and thinking “Wow, this stuff sounds so good.” I was worried that my tunes would be out of place and sound super amateur in comparison. But when I got my chance to sound check and hear my music through the big speakers, I felt so much better. The synth textures and deep bass got me super excited. The show was fantastic and people really enjoyed it. Tons of people commented on how it really drew them in and made them feel a way they had rarely felt before, just immersed and engaged.The positive feedback combined with personal enjoyment and satisfaction cemented things. The sci-fi narrative, glitchy CRT, retrowave Immortan was created!
Brandon: Holy crap. That’s awesome!
And this is definitely a case where separating the projects under unique aliases makes all the sense in the world.
Lars: Absolutely, and I think the separation has been beneficial for both the Laohu and Immortan. I have so many different ideas that I have a fear of becoming the next Carl Peczynski, but without the ability to juggle them all as well as he does.
Brandon: If they’re all of the same caliber as Carl P.’s varied productions, I’d say you’re in good shape. So far, so good at least!（○゜ε＾○）
Lars: Lol, thanks. Getting back to the Immortan album, I have a few tidbits to share about it that I think you’ll find interesting.
Brandon: Please, go right ahead!
Lars: First of all, as I mentioned, I try to tell sci-fi stories with Immortan, and the album is no exception. I like to leave a lot up to the listened to decide but the album and song titles were purposely chosen. AND there is a somewhat hidden message on the cassette packaging that I’ve yet to hear of anyone deciphering. Nothing too crazy but it does add to the narrative.
Brandon: Innnnnnnteresting. Makes me wish I’d nabbed a tape. Maybe this interview will send someone digging a little deeper!
Lars: I hope so! Another interesting thing about ‘Subcutaneous Circuits’ is the chronology. All of the main tracks were written will before my V6 submission. So while the album came out after ChipWin V6, the V6 song is the newest song. In fact, ‘Building Better Bodies’ and ‘Power Feels Good’ are my two favorite songs from the album and my approach to the V6 submission was an attempt to blend the styles of the two tracks into one song.
Brandon: Whoa! Now that you mention it, I can totally hear that. Gonna have to go back and listen all the same!
Lars: One last tidbit. With Immortan, I hate a struggle of trying to make it sound lush but retain the characteristics of each synth. I mentioned the texture before, but I love the little details you get with each synth and I have losing that when you move so many things together. Wojciech Golczewski was one of my influences and I tried really hard to use minimal instruments but still capture the feeling that I wanted. I think the best example is ‘But Beauty Fades’. There are only three instruments in that song and only two ever play at the same time!
Brandon: That’s an excellent influence. Huge fan of pretty much all of his work.
Lars: All of his work is excellent, but if I had to point one album as influencing Subcutaneous, it would have to be End of Transmission. Pretty sure he only used the minimoog for that. Very minimal but such feels.
Brandon: That’s PROBABLY my fav release of his as well. And the “outer spacier”, the better with him it seems!
Have you any new music scheduled for release in the near or distant future that you can talk about? For either project, of course.
Lars: Hmm, well, I did an electronic open mic recently using Nanoloop Mono and a few effects pedals. That was fun and I might develop it into an actual release, but it is more of a side thing. I also have lots of Laohu song ideas, more emotionally driven, but that is on the back burner. The main focus of my efforts right now, and something I’m very excited about, is a collaborative effort called 人工人, or Man Made Men.
Brandon: That Carl P. comparison is becoming more and more apt the longer we chat here. ಠ‿↼
Either way, let’s hear about it!
Lars: So, Man Made Men is pretty much an extension of Immortan. Did you like the ChipWin V6 Immortan track? Do you like the EnFOI remix from Subcutaneous Circuits?
Brandon: Yes and yes.
Lars: Well, Man Made Men should be a continuation of that as it is a collaboration between Immortan and En FOI. He is a friend of mine who has been helping with mixing, mastering, and making stuff sound GUD! While Immortan is very synth focused, En FOI will be bringing some modern EDM sensibilities.
Brandon: OOOooo! Timeline on that debut release?
Lars: Aiming for Spring, but don’t hold me to that.
Brandon: Totally will. Looking forward to it regardless of when it comes out!
You talked some about live performances already, but we haven’t discussed your recent involvement with SLC Chip. Let’s do that now!
Lars: SLC Chip is awesome. I never know what to expect when I move, but when I got to Utah, I found a bunch of people who enjoy chiptunes. They’d been wanting to get some events going and I think I was just the catalyst that finally got the ball rolling. We’ve had a number of events already and each one has been a lot of fun.
Brandon: Been excitedly watching that happen from the intert00bs. I always get stoked when I see a new regional chiptune event/community spinning up!
Lars: And I appreciate the ChipWIN support! I know we’ve found a few more peeps in the area from the ChipWIN group (and I’m sure there are more lurking). And it really is a very open and friendly group. If you are an established or budding artist, a musician or a visualist, or just want to hang out with some cool people, there is plenty of room for you. And if you are touring or just passing through Salt Lake, hit us up. We’ve had decent success with setting things up so far (end-shameless-plug).
Brandon: Yooooooo, there’s only one way to find out, right? ಠ‿↼
Even if the first time it’s just a couple afternoons/evenings worth of performers vs 83 days of everyone/everything performing. While trying to aggressively grow your scene by throwing a huge shindig has merit and has worked at times, so does growing with your scene vs. against it/in spite of it. #MyTwoCents
Lars: Valid points from someone who knows!
Brandon: Also, you need to bring me out to it. That’s also rly important. Yup. Totally. ♪(´ε｀ )
Lars: I’ll see what we can do. ;)
Brandon: Seriously, though, best of luck with all of that!
Lars: Thanks Brandon.
Brandon: Anything else you want to talk about before we wrap this up?
Lars: Yeah, I’d just like to make a quick mention that I have a song as Immortan on the recent Heebie-GBs. There will be an actual gameboy cartridge coming out as soon as the hardware is finished but for now you can grab the free ROM . I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to get out of a 1x LXDj and I’d love to hear what people think about it.
Brandon: That’s awesome! Although for those who don’t know, what is the Hebbie-GBs project?
Lars: Heebie-GBs is an spooky themed, LSDj-based cartridge album created by ASM Retro and Nitro2k01. The first one they did was in 2014 and this is a follow up. It is way cool with music visualizations and a number of great artists such as Nordloef, Tommy Creep, and Graz.
If people are interested in a cartridge, they are doing a limited run of about 50 and people can reserve one by number here.
Brandon: That sounds like a fun project! Will have to give this one a listen first chance I get.
Lars: Thanks Brandon, it’s been a pleasure. Hope to see you IRL again someday!
Brandon: Will see if I can surprise you at a basement chipshow again. This time maybe in SLC. (^_−)−☆
Lars: I will indeed be surprised.