The post-apocalypse never sounded so good.
Delve into the ruins with the album’s title track right now to set the mood:
‘Ruins EP’ is the brainchild of ENC, also known as E.N.Cowell. Distilling a sense of dread and survival through a chip/electro filter, ‘Ruins’ is explosive, expansive, and defiant in its powerhouse delivery and approach to musical storytelling. Journey through ‘Ruins EP’ and you will come out the other side changed.
‘Ruins’ embraces sweeping synths, keeping one foot planted firmly within scifi-inspired riffs and melodies straight out of classic 80s soundtracks, and the other foot secure in modern electronica composition. The dance between the two is intricate, and the sound produced succeeds in telling the story of sifting through the old world to harvest the best it has to offer, and using those relics to create something new and wonderful.
‘I AM’ serves as a strong introduction to the EP, serving up a funky bass undercurrent while synths wash over a hypnotic hi-hat, establishing the grand scope of the album before revealing the album’s thesis in robotic voiceover:
“I’m not that person, but I can be on my lowest days. It’s a shame you have to meet me on that kind of day. I’m not that person, but I can be. I don’t want to be, but I am.”
Struggle, change, growth, rebirth, regression, regret. An unrelenting cycle of hope within the ruins. A concept beautifully illustrated throughout the course of ENC’s ‘Ruins EP’.
‘Washed’ ups the ante with an on-the-move tempo, making purposeful separations between dark/heavy sounds, grunts and bass, and the light, distant synth riffs. The chasm between each side and the conscious effort not to weave the two creates a pulse-pounding sense of struggle; the old world against the new. Haunting, and beautiful.
‘Outside’ is ENC’s opus, clocking in at six minutes (and the longest track on the album), a satisfying close to ENC’s original pieces on the EP, employing almost organic waves of synth to create an eerie melody over an unrelenting beat kit, constructing a hypnotic, emotional final piece.
A pair of absolutely fantastic remixes grace the end of the EP: little-scale’s remix of ‘Outside’, and ENC’s remix of ‘Dazzler’ by Doctor Popular. Both are fun, expressive deviations from the core album, and both are welcome additions.
ENC was kind enough to answer a few questions about his process and the journey creating ‘Ruins’, and that interview continues below:
Pixel Recall: Elaborate on the process of bringing ‘Ruins’ together using songs created over the course of five years.
ENC: Ruins started off as a weird concept that I had been talking about with Monobomb Records’s Morgan Tucker from the band Crashfaster. It started off as just some concepts I had made for music themes and possible plot based projects. In the beginning I wanted to make songs that told a story in an imagined universe of my own creation. Since I was younger I have always been into dark scifi and it seemed like a good place to build my fantasy out of. I took a lot of hints from the anime, manga, and comics that sparked my imagination and just kind of ran with it. For whatever reason there is a trend in modern science fiction movies to make everything shiny and clean. The society, clothes, technology, and architecture all looks like its supposed to look like a product by Apple. I am really not into it. I wanted to make future sounds based of real life grit and urban decay. I really wanted the release to have an aggressive and primal edge to it. For me keeping these imagined visuals and universe in mind took a huge part in creating the sounds and themes that became Ruins.
On a personal level, Ruins was a huge culmination of random events in my life. The entire thing was a minor miracle made possible by huge amounts of support from Monobomb Records, the chip scene, and friends. It’s pretty thrilling to see this labor of love finally see the light of day as sometimes I wasn’t sure what the future had in store. I am incredibly grateful to see it in existence.
PR: You recently had a release show in San Francisco. How was the experience of sharing ‘Ruins’ live for the first time?
ENC: The SF release show was great! It was an intimate affair with a lot of good people in a place filled with a lot of history both personally and in general. The DNA lounge has seen some things over the years and it is awesome to be one of those things. One of the coolest aspects is that I got to play twice in one night. Once with my cinematic 80’s inspired synth wave band, Delorean Overdrive (http://www.deloreanoverdrive.com/) and then as E.N.Cowell. I had a lot of fun with the whole thing. I built an entirely new Live setup for the shindig.
PR: How long have you been pursuing music? And has that pursuit always been with electronic and/or chiptune music?
ENC: It is hard to say how long I have actually been pursuing music. It has been something that I have been obsessed with from way back when I first started listening to the radio and would get cassettes handed down to me from my older cousin. Strangely enough the first music I fell in love with was top 40s 90’s R&B and early 2000s hiphop. I remember sitting by the radio for hours listening to that stuff, wishing I could figure out how make music like what I was hearing. I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in one way or another I just never had a means to do so until I was in my third year or so in high school when a friend of mine taught me some basic guitar playing and I got a 4-track cassette recorder.
It took a long time for me to get into chipmusic and house/techno/electro/IDM/Whatever ( I can’t keep up these days :P ). By the time I was in high school I had ditched listening to the radio all together and was focused on a lot of random indie bands. It’s funny because back then all I wanted to do was be the next Bright Eyes or Elliot Smith, but would dabble in experimental sounds messing with tape a lot and trying to incorporate weird sounds and effects like mars volta or the microphones. The ambient sound experiments eventually became my main stay when I was in college and I began to listen to a lot of electronica. I eventually fell into chip because I was looking for a cheap means to utilize hardware synths in my ambient music as my thrift store keyboards were no longer charming to me and there was no way I could afford a Moog. Eventually I got bored with making drones and sad songs about sad things as I had been doing it for 5 years and was looking for something new. I started my first chiptune project WDUWSTS with some gameboys running gameboy camera cartridges in 2006. I later found the online community, 8-bitcollective and the tracker program LSDJ. Things really took off around then and have been pretty strictly electronic since.
PR: How did little-scale’s remix of Outside come about?
ENC: Little-scale was one of my big inspirations going through college. He and I started making chip and joined the online community roughly at the same time. I actually went to school for visual arts and graphic design. During that time I had become really involved with the weirder side of art and its philosophies and was making a lot of ‘concept art’ and strange little installations. He always seemed to match my mentality creatively and I was really into his academic works and the tools he was making. From time to time we would catch each other on the IRC channels and I would get to chat with him. Towards the end days of my WDUWSTS project, I made a remix of one of his releases called “Dynasty” and that was kind of our tie in as online friends. While making Ruins I hit him up on Facebook because I was really into his most recent set of rhythmic beat heavy songs and asked if he would be down for remixing a track. He said yes and so it came to be.
PR: How did your remix of Doctor Popular’s Dazzler come about?
ENC: One of the pleasures of rolling with the Monobomb crew is the sweet benefit of getting to hear all the future releases being recorded in the studio and sometimes even helping out in making them. I really enjoy the learning experience I get from that enviorment. So far I have gotten to see Crashfaster, Doctor Popular, and an upcoming release by Together we are Robots recorded in Different Fur Studios. I was sitting in on a session While Doc pop was recording his album ‘Destroy All Presets’. I was immediately really into the song Dazzler. I knew upon listening to the mix down that I wanted to remix it. Doc Pop agreed to the idea and I went to work. A little while later I gave Doc the results and he liked enough to have it released as a single and had some special edition vinyl pressed of it. It made it to the Ruins because I was really into how it came out. It is probably my favorite remix that I have done to date.
PR: The vocals at the end of ‘I AM’, is that you?
ENC: Yes. Yes they are… Actually all the little grunts, breaths, and growls throughout the entire release is my voice with some processing. It’s actually kinda of embarrassing how many hours I spent just grunting and groaning into a laptop microphone to get those weird little accents for my songs.
PR: Was there a eureka moment during the course of creating ‘Ruins’ in which you either overcame a creative obstacle or discovered a new technique?
ENC: I had figure out how to bring in my chip background to the unlimited power of the DAW world and produce in a fashion that connected it all together. For me this moment came as soon I threw my first Amiga/XM samples into one of ableton’s samplers. Those 16-bit computer sounds became the building blocks for all of my songs and made everything make sense as it was similar to the synthesizing methods I had been using when writing in trackers like LGPT and FastTracker. It really opened up what I wanted to do sound wise and provided a way to push my chip world to the next level.
I think that when people hear Ruins for the first time they might not fully realize how deep of a chiptune release it is. I spent a lot of time and labor to make sure that the chip elements blended seamlessly with the more “professional” sounding stuff. I really wanted it to be something that any one could just pick up and listen/move to. I actually used a lot of chiptune hardware synths sounds from C64, NES, gameboys, and Sega Genesis/megadrive. I wrote parts and a few full songs in trackers then took then into ableton and processed them further. At it’s core Ruins is a hybrid mesh of authentic chip sounds and more traditional electronic instruments and VSTs. The song Washed is probably one of the best examples of the process. The song was made almost entirely with a midi controlled C64 and a TR-606 drum machine with improvised parts and tweaking that were later cut and edited. While making a straight chip album wasn’t on the agenda it wasn’t far from mind.
Ruins is the first release I have made completely in a Ableton. I am actually pretty new to writing completely in DAWs in general. Before this I was using chip trackers and even before that I had just been writing with more traditional instruments and then recording them into the computer or on tape. I had never done something like this. I had to teach myself how to do things from ground up. It’s one of the reasons the songs were written over such a long time span. I really had to filter out the quality songs that matched my what I wanted Ruins to be.
PR: What is your live equipment setup like? What do you need up on stage with you in order to give your best performance?
ENC: The original E.N.Cowell live setup was 2 PSPs running LGPT tracker through a DJ mixer. Since moving to ableton I needed to figure something else out. how it all works now is I have all my songs separated out into sections that I can loop, effect, mute, and send to external effects like guitar pedals. I have a mixer midi mapped out to one controller and another one for triggering sections and sending parts to different effect boxes. This way I can live produce all my tracks while seamlessly playing from song to song. Its all a lot of midi mapping and routing but the best part is that I never have to look at my computer and can improvise while playing live. As always I am still developing new ways to play live but for now this has been the most effective and fun way that I have found to preform. I have been playing with the idea of adding some drum machines and samplers in to the setup but haven’t gotten there yet. The possibilities are all pretty exciting but require time to master. I want to master what I have before I try adding anything more.
PR: Open forum. Anything you want to let your fans know? Upcoming shows? Inspirational quotes? Shout-outs?
ENC: Cheers for listening and checking it all out! Ruins is a starting point that I intend to build on and I am really excited to be sharing. New things are already in the works. Keep an eye out for new things from Monobomb Records and don’t forget to hit me up on my site for news and more info.
Sincere thanks to ENC for taking the time to talk to us! Make sure to check out ENC’s site for upcoming news, releases and live performance dates.
‘Ruins EP’ is thoughtful, intricate, balanced, and evocative. Experience the groundswell now and grab your copy of ‘Ruins EP’, available now on Bandcamp for $6.50(USD).
Pixel Recall (R. Morgan Slade) ~ Support the artists you love ~