Back in 2011, before I had been formally introduced to chiptune, I listened to a lot of folk and indie artists. Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Tree People, and AJJ (then Andrew Jackson Jihad) dominated my playlists and YouTube history. I listened to that music so often that as I got older I had to start taking breaks from it because it felt too familiar. But nevertheless, those records maintained their value to me over the years, acting as my go-to answer when asked about the kind of music I like.
So what does all that have to do with ‘.--. ..- .-.. .-..’ by null? Well, there’s a special feeling you get when you hear a song that sounds enough like your favorite band to make you do a double take. When you find yourself wondering if you didn’t get the memo about their early-years alias. When you realize you’ve discovered something completely new, but so similar to what you’re fond of. It’s a good feeling – and when you hear chiptune in it, it’s an even better feeling. And here’s where I tell you all about it.
Revengineers is a name familiar to numerous Northeastern chipmusic fans, and while the group may not be the most active, their music is extremely indicative of the state that chiprock is in at this point in time. Nick Maynard, a member of the Revengineers, has released an album under his solo alias ‘LITTLE PAW’ entitled ‘SPACE CORGI’, which blends indie rock and chipmusic to create a thing of beauty. A danceable fusion of indie rock and chipmusic, the album is a joyous adrenaline rush from start to finish. Let’s dive in and see what ‘SPACE CORGI’ has in store for us!
Hey wassup ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down the highs and lows of new releases, then give you a numerical TL;DR to help you decide which new releases give you the most bang for your buck! This week, I’ve got two albums that are very much skirting the fringes of what can be considered chiptune. But, they’reboth incredibly bodacious records from two rad artists thatyou guys should be paying attention to. So if you’re in the mood for something new, straps yourselves in and take a ride with a black guy as we check out new music from Hyperultra and Slothfella!
Hey there, ChipWINners! Glad to have you back with us! This week I sat down with an incredibly talented chipartist in the scene for my interview. He’s known for being a multi-instrumentalist who makes some incredible chipfunk, and has received rave reviews for his recent EP “Disco.txt” released via the netlabel cheapbeats.net. Without further ado, I present to you my interview with Michael Allen aka Roboctopus!
Kuma: So, first question: your music is definitely very diverse in terms of style from song to song. There’s definitely aspects of it that stick out as being certifiably Roboctopus, but it does leave me curious as to your musical background. Tell me, how’d you get into chip and do you have any experience with music or composition prior to becoming a part of the scene?
Roboctopus: I have a pretty diverse musical background and play a bunch of different instruments. Mostly string instruments, guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, etc., but I can get by on piano/synths and do a bit of mediocre drumming. I have an okay understanding of music theory I guess. Took a class, read a book, haha.
As far as getting into chip, I probably got into it kind of the opposite way most people do.
Kuma: Oh? How might that be?
Roboctopus: I was into the indie/lo-fi/diy music scene in college and I was living in Texas. I heard this band called Tree Wave that had some really unique sounds. That was Paul Slocum’s band (of cynthcart fame). When I read that Tree Wave was using C64 for a lot of their synth sounds, I was amazed.
Kuma: Oh! So you were in the part of the lofi scene that lofi people consider real lofi but when they look at chip, half of them are like cool, and the other half are like “ewwww that’s not real”! okay, I gotcha!
Roboctopus: Haha, yeah! I was a big analog synth fan, but the commodore sounds were really special, so I bought a commodore and it broke!
And then I read that other people were using Game Boys, and discovered Bit Shifter, etc. This was 2006. So I ditched my junky commodore and bought LSDJ and a flash cart
Kuma: Oh wow! So you’ve been at this for a while! Wait…but…does that make you older than me?
Roboctopus: If you’re 32 or under it does! I was in grad school in 2006
Kuma: You’re 33? I…that’s unpossible, sir!
Roboctopus: Haha! I’m afraid it’s true. *holds up 30-something card*
Kuma: My god, you’re another one of those deceptively young look people like Hoodie!
Roboctopus: Bwahahahaha! Yeah, Hoodie deffo looks younger than he is!
I’m 33. #SUCKITKUMA 8)
Kuma: Speaking of whom, how’d you meet Hoodie, anyway? I’ve got this gut feeling you’ve known that derp for a while. How’d he wrastle you up into doing a song for usanyway?
Roboctopus: I haven’t really known Hoodie for that long. I think the first contact I had with him was right after I released Victory Lapse. He contacted me about doing a track for the ChipWIN expansion pack. I guess that was about a year ago.
Kuma: Yeah it has been about a year. it’s crazy how time flies. That being said, going back a bit to what you were saying before about your way to chip via lofi. Now, you’re down south, were in Texas and now you’re Alabama now, if I’m not mistaken, yes? What’s the scene like out there for both chip and lofi? Have you found it receptive? Inclusive? Exclusive? What’s your experience been like performing and making music where you are?
Roboctopus: There is pretty much no scene where I am, haha. If I made alternative-leaning bluegrass or folk I would be gold.
Kuma: I’m sure you would be, but we can’t all be Intercept.
Roboctopus: I can’t even tell if there’s an electronic music scene here, really. One thing that’s tough about the south is that we’re all so spread out here. The only shows I’ve played have been in other states, so I can’t really comment on Northern Alabama’s chip scene. I’ve played in Nashville, and there was some interest there, though. And the Lexington guys are awesome!
Kuma: Can’t go wrong with solarderp and his crew! Will you be performing or attending BRKFest this year?
Roboctopus: Yes! I’ll be playing BRKfest this year! I’m really looking forward to that, because there are some amazing performers coming!
Kuma: Definitely! I know among others SSD Engage are gonna be there again, as well as shanebro, both of whom I interviewed previously, and both of whom released new albums this year to be played live at the show!
That being said, lets talk about your newest album, shall we? Disco.txt is pretty great, man. It’s really freaking incredible. How do you feel about it now that it’s out there? Is it everything you wanted it to be.
Roboctopus: I’m really happy with how it turned out. I started working on it over a year ago and planned to release a 5-track EP in October of 2012, but I kept starting new tracks instead of finishing them, and I got to this point where it was tough finishing the older tracks. So some of the tracks I finished last were the ones I started first, haha! But I’m glad I took the time to really work on them all and polish them and get them all to a high level of detail, or whatever you’d call it. I wanted to make a headphones album of chip music, I guess. But I’m happy with how it turned out
Kuma: Well having heard all your EPs and LPs recently in prep for this interview, I can honestly say it’s definitely aural candy. That being said, is there anything about it you would like to change in retrospect, or anything the experience in making it has taught you you’d do differently in the future?
Roboctopus: Honestly, while I’m happy with how it turned out, right now I’m thinking I’d be happier sticking with more focused, shorter releases like EPs. I like it when someone drops a super tight 20-minute EP and is done, so I think I’m still aspiring to that.
Not to say I with Disco.txt was 20 minutes long, I just think I prefer an EP kind of format.
Kuma: I can respect that. If I remember correctly, I think even 4mat mentioned he prefers making and releasing music like that, as well, so it’s definitely a method that does have its fans in the community. That being said, aside from the aforementioned performance at BRKFest, what’s next for you, Michael? Will we see another EP before the end of the year? More performances? Planned appearances at large scale events next year like MAGFest of PAXEast? What’s on your plate, m’man?
Roboctopus: The future is kind of fuzzy, honestly. As far as music, I’ve been verrrrrry slowly working on a pretty laid-back chip+live instrument EP that I’d really like to get back into. I’m also working on a collaboration or two, so I definitely would like to release en EP or something before the year’s out.
As far as shows, that’s really dodgy. I’ve been working with some people to start up a bi-monthly chip show in Nashville (which is just 2 hours away from me) so hopefully I’ll be playing that by summer’s end. I don’t have any other shows lined up in the near future. It’s pretty hard to get gigs when getting to them is a considerable monetary investment! (That being said…if anyone has a gig they want me to play, hit me up, haha.)
Kuma: Fair enough. Michael, it was definitely a pleasure taking the time to interview. You’re surprisingly charming and funny. I’m still taken aback by your deceptive appearance, as well. That being said, is there anything you’d like to say in closing to your fans and to the readers?
Roboctopus: I’d just like to say a big thanks to the chip scene in general. The chip scene is so friendly and receptive, and it’s amazing that you can live in Alabama and have people all over the world interested in music you made on Game Boys, so thanks to the chip scene and everyone who has listened to my music. I hope to get to meet more of you at BRKfest and any shows in the future. I think it’s a pretty exciting time to be a chipfan.
Kuma: It definitely is a wonderful time to be a chiptune fan, especially with artists like you in the scene. Michael, once again, thank you for the interview. It was a pleasure. You have a good night and I look forward to interviewing you again
Roboctopus: Likewise, this was fun. Have a great night!
Thanks for checking out this weeks interview. As always, don’t forget to check out Roboctopus’ links & latest album, all posted at the bottom of this article. Also, if you’re in the vicinity of or can get to Lexington, Kentucky August 2 – 4, do yourself a BIG favor and hit up BRKFest, where you can catch Michael doing his thing live alongside a slew of other amazing chipartists, including next weeks interviewee: Solarbear, the very founder of BRKFest! Peace!
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!