Hey what’s up, Chipwinners! Welcome back for another installment of Raw Cuts! This time around I managed to get a hold of a young man named Jesse Martin, a musician who not only makes chipmusic, but also plays in an increasingly popular alt rock band called The Zou! Without further ado, enjoy my interview with the chiptune artist called sleepytimejesse!
Kuma: So, lets be straight up: you’re quite a force to be reckoned with in the chiptune/vgm scene, as well as in the indie rock scene. You’ve put out albums under Ubiktune, you’re in a kick ass band and you’re a rather prolific musician who lives and breathes his passion. Where did it all start for you, Jesse? What made you want to start making music? Lets hear your story.
sleepytimejesse (stj): Oh man, that’s a lot to live up to! Haha! Well really, it started around maybe [age] 12 or 13. My parents were getting a pretty nasty divorce and I broke my arm really bad skateboarding. So I kind of picked up guitar as a form of rehab and to try to connect with my dad. Music became more of an escape than anything and I kind of knew I wanted it to be my life from then on. You caught me off guard with your awesome question, haha.
Kuma: I’m glad. Now, lets take it a step further. Making music with a guitar is one thing, but making chiptune is another. Was there a certain experience that made you decide that this was something you had to do for yourself? A game soundtrack that touched you or a song you came across that turned your head?
STJ: Yeah, eventually I got frustrated with only writing for instruments I could physically hold. It felt like there was more out there to do. So I started working with VSTs and soundfonts and the like. Probably around like 2006-07. This, coupled with a love of video game music and hoping to some day write for games, sort of started to manifest itself into music for imaginary games. Over time I got more and more interested in the actual limitations of scoring for games, and inevitably found my way into FamiTracker. Which I then just obsessed over for like three months straight.
Kuma: Praytell, was one of your many albums the fruits of this three month obsession? Also, regardless of whether or not that was the case, as a person who transitioned from acoustic guitar to DAWs to a tracker, were you pleased with your results? Did it come naturally to you with your experience prior in making music in other forms or was it a more daunting experience than you expected?
STJ: Yeah, I had most of an album of covers (which I titled, “CVRS“) by the end of my sort of head first jump into 8-bit. A couple of the originals either ended up on 8bc or chipmusic.org, but most of them have been getting touched up here or there over the years. I have another chiptune album in the works that includes these and some new tunes and collabs, but honestly the transitions through work spaces wasn’t too bad. I’d say the move into trackers went pretty smoothly. I love to focus on the microscopic details while composing and that’s really what a tracker is best for anyway.
Kuma: That’s really quite wonderful and unexpected to hear, as even a few of my friends now who are just getting into chiptune for the first time after years of guitar or drums are just like “Welp! I seem to have made a terrible mistake!” and are comparing the process of making a song in a day in guitar to maybe doing the same in a month on something like lsdj. It is rather entertaining.
That being said, you mentioned your new album. Lets talk about that. What can we expect to hear on it? Will it be anything like some of your more recent releases, such as what you put out for the Yoshi’s Island tribute album or the Earthbound tribute album, or should we expect something darker?
STJ: I wouldn’t necessarily say darker. To be honest a lot of it is inspired by jazz tunes. So there’s maybe some moments of bittersweetness but nothing downright depressive. At least not yet. And a couple of tunes on those albums weren’t all cute. I think I titled the one “Brimstone’s Bone Cavern”. hahaha!
Kuma: True, your album Tending the Mines, while it does have a few dream like songs, also feels dark not in the sense that it feels foreboding, but that it has a lot of emptiness to it, enough for the listener’s imagination to play around with the space between notes to fill in the void.
That being said, while I’m sure you’ll always find time for chip as it is something you generally love, lets be honest: there is another project you’re a part of that is becoming more popular. Lets take a moment to talk about it, shall we? The Zou. How did it start, and considering how popular the band is becoming, where do you think it’ll go from here and how will that affect what you’re doing as a chip artist with aspirations to compose for video games?
STJ: Ah, thank you. Tending is some of my favorite music I’ve ever written. I’m really flattered when people say they’ve enjoyed it. You’re spot on, empty is what I aspired for. The Zou is a band I joined about three years ago and it’s been an amazing three years. They’ve always been pretty established and when I moved back to Ohio after high school they were in need of a guitarist. They knew of me because the singer, Khaled, is my cousin and once he showed the other members my online stuff I was offered the gig. We’ve toured each summer and I’ve met some of my best friends while on the road. The people you meet, crash at their houses, eat at Steak and Shake with at four in the morning, these people don’t forget you and you don’t forget these people. Not to mention you learn so much about interpersonal communication, about crisis aversion, about working under stress. Our new album, “Kills, Part 1” just dropped on iTunes and who knows where it goes from here?
Kuma: That’s awesome. I take it that those skills are what allow you to balance both your music and the bands, then? It’s never been an issue balancing the two then, has it?
STJ: Haha we used to have a strict “no side projects” rule but with my music being work related I partly obscured that hard no. But the cool thing about composing so frequently on your own and also being in a band is you get to bring what you’ve learned to the table and apply it to songs what will be played and recorded by a group of actual people. Really cool to hear what subtle changes take place to these moments which were once purely electronic.
Kuma: Nice! Any chance of seeing and hearing those subtle changes live this summer, as per tradition? And will you tour for your individual project, as well?
STJ: Ah, plan on maybe doing some touring circuits in the next two years but not quite yet. But for now I think the best way to hear this process is to listen to the new album and its subsequent follow up Part 2 with some headphones on. “Soon! Okay?” and “Ain’t There an Easier Way” are pretty good examples of this for now.
Kuma: Awesome! I’ll definitely listen to it after I get through listening to all your other amazing shit! Seriously, man: both individually and with the band, you’re an incredible talent. That being said, I think this is definitely a good place to wrap things up for now, but I do look forward to hearing more of your music, as well as interviewing again in the future, should circumstances permit. Do you have anything you’d like to say in closing to our readers?
STJ: Thanks! That’d be lovely. For now, if people want they can follow me on Twitter and maybe follow the indie game studio I just joined–rawrsoft–for some future happenings. We’re working hard behind the scenes, some big announcements in coming months.
Kuma: Awesome! I’ll be sure to help pimp you out to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, as well! With that being said, Mr. Martin, it was a sincere pleasure.
Thanks again for tuning in with us here at Chiptunes = WIN! Tune in next time as I interview shanebro and we talk about his upcoming new EP, BRKFest, and things we regret doing at MAGFest maybe! Peace!