Sup y’all? =) President Hoodie here for the latest edition of my monthly interview column, Hoodie Highlights! Today, I talk to a compatriot from here on our own blog. Not only is she a competent writer, but also a fellow musician and artist! Everyone say hi to Jamie Billings aka The Unicorn Princess!
Hoodie: Hey Jamie! Welcome to the blog in a completely different fashion. haha
To begin, give us a quick summary or who you are and what you’re about.
Jamie: Hey Brandon! Thanks for having me! I’m used to being on the other end of an interview, so this is awesome!
I always have a hard time describing myself, so here goes nothing: my name is Jamie Billings and I’m a sound designer and composer for visual media, and my artist name is The Unicorn Princess. I make woozy hip hop beats, and love lo-fi music. I’m currently based in Boston, MA, but moving to Brooklyn very soon.
Hoodie: Awesome! As is my custom, let’s open this up with a big question:
What pulled you into music in general, both as a fan and artist?
Jamie: Music has been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. Growing up, we had an old upright piano in my house. Music was a way for myself, my five siblings, and the neighbors to have fun; I remember recording stupid jingles with them for our answering machine. I was given piano lessons growing up but hated them at the time, but now appreciate that this was where I began to read music. I began flute lessons in elementary school, which I adored. Growing up, my brother would make fun of me for practically everything and my taste in music was one of them; if I liked a song he liked, I would be called a “wannabe”. haha So I would stick to only listening to Zelda OSTs so he’d leave me alone. My oldest siblings got piano and guitar lessons, and this was probably more of an influence than anything. I think every younger sibling wants to impress their older one; I wanted to dig through their record collection, and I would relentlessly steal their guitars when they weren’t home. I taught myself by playing by ear with old Metallica CDs, and my early teens opened up a lot of doors for more metal bands, and I got my Ibanez SA at age 14.
Hoodie: Nice! A little metal always does ya good. ಠ‿↼ haha
When and how did the transition into more electronic based music, including, of course, chiptune begin?
Jamie: I agree! As for electronic based music and chiptune, I’ve been gaming since very young and the NES was a staple in my home. I always loved the way the soundtracks sounded. I’ve always loved effects when playing guitar; sound has always been as important to me as writing. I think I started actually writing chipmusic in 2009ish; I started doing freelance work, and a lot of indie developers I was working with wanted an “old sound”. I did the soundtrack for a Metroid fan game called Minitroid, and since then, worked with other indie developers who wanted a similar sound. I got more into trackers probably in 2012.
Hoodie: OH CRAP WHAT YOU DID MINITROID?!?
*HUGE* Metroid fan here, so if there’s a Metroid-ish game I’m all about it. haha Too damn cool!
Jamie: Hahaha! That is so awesome! I really wanted a full version of the game to come out, but working on that demo was really awesome! That’s awesome that you know it!
Hoodie: The Internet makes the world THAT much smaller. haha
So that lead you to electronic & chipmusic. That about when The Unicorn Princess became a project?
Jamie: I was really on the fence (and sometimes still am) about what to call myself as an artist. Any sound and music work I do for visuals is generally under my birth name, but I think I chose ‘The Unicorn Princess’ in early 2013. It’s always been a nickname I’ve had so I went with it.
Hoodie: Mind if I ask the origin of that alias?
Hoodie: Omg you and my sister both! hahaha As kiddo she was ALL about that movie!
Somewhat related random aside: any chance you ever watched Unico?
Jamie: No, I’ve never heard of it! When did it air?
Hoodie: I think it actually released around the early 80s. Didn’t see it until early 90s. It’s old era anime about a magical unicorn dealing with some pretty trippy adventures. At least the movie I saw was. You should it out sometime. Pretty sure you’d dig it!
Jamie: Aw nice! I definitely have to check that out! Especially if it’s on VHS; you gotta have that warpy VHS sound with it, haha!
Hoodie: Unless they’ve since re-released it, it’s VHS only. Even the YouTube rips I found a few years back for a re-watch we’re obviously VHS in origin. haha
You graduated from Berklee, right? How’d your college experience & education affect your musical progression?
Jamie: Yeah, I did. I got a degree in Electronic Production and Design in 2012. I had some great professors who pushed me to write more constructively. I also was able to be immersed into studio settings and be around some awesome analog synths that I’ll probably never be able to own. Sound design was extremely new to me then, as was production, and I definitely didn’t really feel like I learned anything until I had to put it to use. I didn’t have a typical college experience; I never lived on campus, nor did I have to travel out of state. I really feel like I progressed as an artist years after college, but being able to be around people I respected certainly pushed me in the right direction. However, I would not recommend anyone go into as much student loan debt as I went into, haha~
Hoodie: Yeaaaaah, damn college debt is never fun. (¬_¬)
I actually went thru a similar program and experience in my area. Definitely was worth the time and effort, even if I didn’t realize it until well after I graduated. As with most things, a lot of it is really what you make of it!
Jamie: That is very true! I can’t argue with that. I would like to believe that if people have the drive to do something, they can overcome anything!
Hoodie: Agreed! And speaking of such, this seems like a great point to talk about challenges you’ve encountered & overcame in the music realm as a woman. Anything particular you want to share about such?
Jamie: One instance I deal with again and again in the industry is meeting people who recognize that I’m a music technologist, but before they ask anything about my past, they always ask ‘how it feels to be a female in a male dominated industry’. I’ve been asked this before I’m asked what synthesizer I love the most, what plugin I would recommend for a specific type of sound, or what my experiences in the studio have been like. In those instances, my answer has always been: ‘It feels a whole lot like being a male in a male dominated industry, except my gender is pointed out quite a bit.’ On one hand, I do GET IT that it is less common to come across a female who does this kind of stuff, and these questions are usually light-hearted. But, I don’t believe in the segregation of genders, or any people, for that matter. On the flip side, I have obviously experienced people who treated me very differently for being a female in the industry… I’ve come across everything from being sexually harassed in the workplace to extremes, I’ve been asked at work if “any of the guys were around to fix ____ in the studio”, and then been told “sorry, we thought you were a secretary” when I pointed out that I’m also qualified to help them. There’s a really shitty saying that is unfortunately seen as very true to misogynists in various industries: “If she knows how to do it, it’s a miracle. If she doesn’t, it’s because she’s female.” All I can say is to work hard, keep at it, and don’t add to the segregation.
Hoodie: Damn well said!
Jamie: Thanks! =)
Hoodie: You obviously have a good way of responding to folk who ask you about your gender in a positive light. How do you generally respond when it’s not so positive?
Jamie: I think that having parents from urban roots (my mom is a Brooklyn native and my dad from Dorchester, MA) has taught me to be street smart and aware of my surroundings, but I’ve also grown to try to put a witty twist on everything. I’m the last person to have my mouth shut in any situation where myself or others around me are being disrespected. I have no problem standing up for anybody; I think more people need to dump the bystander effect and start putting people in their place. I’d like to think we can all learn a lesson from trying to talk things out.
Hoodie: Standing up and speaking out against that crap when it happens, one instance at a time, one person at a time, is how we really change the culture regarding all of this. Hard to do sometimes, but definitely worth it.
Jamie: Totally agree. One thing that I love about social media is how certain issues are made public. I always encourage people to be vocal to hopefully help others stomp out negative situations in the future.
Hoodie: I know you’ve done some mentoring in the past. Anything in particular that you try to pass on to the young ladies that you work with?
Jamie: I think my advice would be to just work hard twice as hard anytime something discouraging happens, and help each other. I really encourage them to view themselves and others as equal to potentially help close the gender gap.
Hoodie: That’s definitely sound advice.
Jamie: Thanks! =)
Hoodie: How’s your next album ‘Living Proof’ coming along?
Jamie: It’s coming along and hopefully coming to a close soon! I was meaning on finishing it on March 20th, but so much has been going on in my life that I haven’t had the mental space or physical energy to finish it. I’m looking to wrap things up within a month. It’s a lot different from my first release, and I’m excited to share it! =)
Hoodie: Awesome! I’m definitely excited to hear it!
Jamie: Thanks, Brandon!
Hoodie: I think Erin actually encountered your first release and wrote that review which helped bring you to the group. Really doesn’t seem like that was two years ago! :O
Jamie: Yeah, it was so long ago! I keep thinking back to my last album release and it pushes me, but also freaks me out that it was so long ago! Erin is so awesome. That was the nicest review. I remember James Landino introduced me to the group and I was nervous that something so niche would be kind of unapproachable, but you guys have been so friendly.
Hoodie: Ah right! I forgot James was the one that did such! That dude is honestly THE BEST.
Jamie: He’s a good kid! He was one of my workstudies while I worked as staff at Berklee. Though I guess he’s not so young now! That was a couple years ago too!
Hoodie: haha It’s true! Have worked with him via ChipWIN & MAGFest over the last few years. A great artist and a quality dude all around.
Jamie: Agreed! There are so many good peeps in the scene. It’s awesome. =)
Hoodie: It really is! Way more good folk that shitheads! haha
Hoodie: OKAY, NOW ON TO THE REAL QUESTIONS! READY? HERE WE GO!!!
Jamie: Hahaha! Believe it or not – I have never gotten into anime!
Hoodie: OH SNAP! :O I won’t tell anyone, promise. ;) (I’m really picky about it too….)
Jamie: Hahaha Thank you for that!
Hoodie: Favorite pizza topping(s)?
Jamie: I usually get onion, green pepper, and bacon.
Hoodie: Nice choices!
Jamie: …and now I want pizza.
Hoodie: #SryNotSry. (⌐■_■)
Hoodie: What do you want to be when you grow up??
Jamie: Hahaha! My first dream was to be a professional basketball player. While I still love the sport, I did hurt my wrist during a game a little over 10 years ago, which messed with my guitar practice, so I called it quits. Nowadays, I just want to stick with working towards being an accomplished sound designer and composer for projects I really care about, and I would love for my music to get more out there. I think every artist’s dream is to inspire others the way they’ve been inspired, so if that ever happens I’ll call that success.
Hoodie: That’s… a much better answer than most people usually give at this point. hahaha (b^_^)b
Jamie: Hahaha! Well, I already am a unicorn, so….
Hoodie: Hah! #WellPlayed
MAGFest: are you coming to the next one? Y/Y? ಠ‿↼
Jamie: I shall try! I say this every year, but I would love to play MAGFest and just experience it! Could absolutely be in the books next year! =)
Hoodie: haha Fair enough! (⌒▽⌒)
Alright, bonus round completed. Any parting words before we wrap this up?
Jamie: I want pizza.
Hoodie: Not sure we could end this on a more relevant note. Unless there was pizza available, of course. :3
Jamie: Also, thank you very much for your time, Brandon!
Hoodie: Thanks right back to you for chatting with me, Jamie! Catch ya on the blog! haha
Jamie: Thank YOU, Brandon! Cheers! =)