Alright, I’ll admit, this might be flogging a dead horse. An extremely glittery, sparkley, hella-sugoi horse. What am I talking about? I’m talking about ‘you are not alone’ by Jackson Scovel, better known around our neck of the woods as astroskeleton. Now, I know – you saw Jackson pimp the album on our Facebook page. You heard DJ Cutman spin those tunes in his This Week In Chiptune. But you know what? Here at Chiptunes = WIN, I enjoy using the unlimited slightly limited power I’ve been bestowed by Hoodie to make sure that I do everything I can to make sure that artists that deserve to be talked about are being talked about – so here we are.
Art by FEEB♥LEE at feeeb.tumblr.com!
I’ll go ahead and start this off by saying for a freshman album, this thing is the bee’s knees. Hell, I know some folks whose second and third albums weren’t even this good! Mark my words, this newer crop of youngblood chiptuners is gonna change the scene here pretty soon, once they all graduate highschool and can actually travel to shows. I took a few minutes to press Jackson for the names of the gods that he offered sacrifices to to achieve this, and the following was the result. This interview ended up being quite long (as my interviews tend to be), so I’m going to split this article into two parts – the #Interview and the #Review. Use your Search functions to jump between the two! You might want to revisit various parts of the interview once you’re listening to the album.
Adam: So, how long have you been doing chiptunes? And how long did it take you to crank this album out? It sounds like you spent some time on it.
Jackson: I’ve been making chiptunes since I was 14 [about four years ago], but I’ve only been making legit chiptunes for about a year. I used various embarrassing plug-ins in Reaper and Logic 9 for many years, but I switched over to Famitracker. I’m in the process of learning LSDJ too. I’ve been working on these songs since around July. Throughout the process, I released two test EPs, but I wasn’t proud of them so I decided to take everything I had and fix it up and make it into a complete aesthetically constant full length. Though I don’t love most of the songs anymore, due to having gotten better at composition and tracking since I wrote them, I still wanted them to be finished and released so I could get them off my hands.
A: Oh, so you didn’t start on a tracker? How’s tracker life treating you? Do you like using trackers better than other composition tools?
J: I’m loving the tracker life. It’s making me compose differently: It’s making me see my music in a very different light, and it’s making tracks very interesting. I feel cool about it. You can definitely hear a composition difference between the songs I wrote with midi plug-ins and the songs composed straight from my brain to Famiracker (‘kaiju dreams,’ ‘space cadet,’ and ‘tokyo sunset’ versus everything else). This album was basically a giant project to be done tinkering with old songs – to make an album that I was proud of, that I could play live, and let my mind stop wandering around so I could focus on writing new material that I like more and represents the shift of direction that has happened since I started. Now, I’m taking less influence from punk and hardcore, and taking more influence from idol, maltine(ish) beat culture, and Shibuya-kei, but keeping the energy and power of punk rock.
A: You know, it’s funny, hearing you talk about this, I swear I’m getting flashbacks to Space Boyfriend. I know you’re a big fan of theirs, right?
J: Dude, it’s spooky. Like, I dunno – Space Boyfriend is really important to me. I always loved Anamanguchi, but they were so disconnected. Space Boyfriend was the first chip I heard that really convinced me that i could do it too (along with Slime Girls) and that I could take ownership and make music I love with 8-bit sounds. I know Jami and I have a lot of the same influences, so I worry sometimes that I’m ripping them off.
A: No way dude, I can definitely feel the influence, but your music definitely has a different underlying feel from Space Boyfriend music. Though, I will say, something I think I remember Jami getting super hype about, and something I wanted to bug you about too as the ChipWIN blog’s resident weaboo – so it seems like you like Gitaroo Man? What prompted the Gitaroo Man cover?
J: It was honestly Slime Girls’ ‘Ayanami Reggae’ that reminded me that “Hey, covers are cool,” and if I’d never caught the Evangelion reference I might not have even listened to Slime Girls in the first place. I wanted a track like that to pull in little videogame babies like me back then. I thought a lot about what my favorite song from anything in that area was, and every time it went back to Gitaroo Man. I don’t even “love” that game so much – it’s really hard and I suck at it, but no videogame/anime song has effected me emotionally more then the Legendary Theme. It does things with progression and melody that I can only dream to achieve with that level of simplicity. I know it’s a song that’s not overdone or generic, so I took a shot at it. I was really worried about butchering it, but people have been receptive thats cool. It’s also some of my friends first exposure to Gitaroo Man, so that’s also exciting.
A: I don’t think that song sounds butchered at all! It’s pretty rad! But, speaking of overwhelming support, how do you feel about having been on This Week in Chiptune?
J: I honestly wasn’t aware of TWIC before I got the email asking if I could be on it, so I’m not exactly sure how big of a deal it is. But, I do know that it’s cool people away from my circle of friends getting hyped about my jams and sharing it around and that is really cool. I feel weird to be up there with a lot of big names, because I personally don’t think my production level is solid enough to deserve that spot yet, but it’s pretty rad. I’m #13 in all of chiptune music on Bandcamp right now [at the time of this interview] and that is just unbelievable. I just need to learn how to master better and life would be perfect.
A: Hey, they don’t call it “mastering” for nothing. That stuff takes work. And holy crap, you’re 13th on Bandcamp? Right the hell on!
J: Yeah. #1 in my hometown, #5 in Oregon, and #36 in all of punk music! [Extra exclamation points redacted.]
A: Jesus man! Good job! But you deserve it, really. This album is really solid. There’s literally only one other person I know who released something of this level as their first release, and that’s an0va.
J: Aaah thanks man! I’m working on re-working and some issues, and getting all the frequencies up where I want it, so I can send it to a net label and get a re-release going that I’m more proud of. (Also, hell yes, an0va’s first release was amazing.) I’ve released music before, but never this kind of jams – a few EPs with punk bands, and I had a solo ambient/post-rock project for a while, along with a bunch of shitty breakcore and chillwave I made a few years back.
A: Ah, yes, shitty breakcore, the hallmark of everyone’s teenage years! Hahaha.
J: HEY BUT WHAT IF I TOOK THE AMEN BREAK AND JUST THREW IT AROUND THE ROOM
A: Okay, I think we’ve gotten to be just about silly enough to wrap this up. Final note – are you playing anywhere any time soon?
J: No, unfortunately. I just did a show, though, so hopefully I can book something else soon.
Knowing where Jackson’s influences lay, getting an album like this was almost inevitable. This album is equal parts Anamanaguchi, Space Boyfriend and punk. It’s got its peppy upbeat parts, its chillmode slow parts, and a good integration of “real” instruments and chipsounds.
Now let’s take a step back from that statement for a moment. “Oh dang,” you might think, “Seats just compared this kid to a few other people, this music is probably unoriginal and bland.” If you did think that thought, please, smack yourself, and then go back and look at who I just compared this to.
The album starts out carefully and picks up speed, both in terms of literal tempo as well as compositional status. You start off with ‘waverave 64,’ which is this sort of dreamy, lazy track, and then the eponymous track starts playing, and you think it’s going to be more of the same, but it kicks you in the pants and busts out the punk rock and lets you know that no, you are in fact going to have to get off your butt for this one, and don’t even think you can just sit and wallflower it up, nursing a beer, because this is not that kind of party. The album does a decent job of balancing itself tempo-wise, never staying too upbeat or too downtempo for too long, letting you regroup and headbob as needed in order to prepare yourself for another pumped-up bit. Personally, I’d say this is a clear indicator of Jackson having been to a fair amount of shows and knowing how to pace it out so that people can stay interested while not killing themselves going into extreme thrash status. I know I can’t be the only one who hates it when an amazing set is going on, only to get pooped three songs in and suddenly find myself trapped in a sea of sweaty bodies – or maybe that’s your thing, who knows.
True to proper punk form, all of these songs are fairly short and to the point, delivering their melody and getting out so that there’s time for something new – not too long as to make you lose interest, but not so short as to make you think that the song is unfinished. As silly as this sounds saying, every song has the right amount of song in it. A song may slow down in the middle, but by no means do any of the tracks drag on. And just like it starts, the end of ‘oyasumi’ sends the listener off with a dreamy, slow little coda, which given the title makes perfect sens – this album has partied with you, taken you on this wild ride up and down the city streets, and has sent you off with a goodnight kiss (and a very classic chord resolve at the end, which as a classically trained music kid, I appreciate).
And if you’ve listened to this album and love it, why not give this other track a gander, since it dropped right before releasing this article?
Seriously though, all these young punks coming up with their beeps and their boops and their Japanese anime animations, it makes me excited for how the chiptune world is going to be in five years. There are so many older folks who are getting back into the world – demoscene folks, like Mark Knight. Then you’ve got the late-twentysomethings/early thirtysomethings who have been doing this for a long time like Danimal and Auxcide, but I feel like much more as of late we are seeing folks like Jackson and Vince Kaichan who aren’t even out of highschool and are already producing godlike music on par with or surpassing people already established out there. If these kids are the ones who are going to be shaping the scene with their music, I can only expect things to keep amping up!
Check the links below for all sorts of astroskeleton goodness! And if you like this music, be sure to throw money at Jackson so that there can be more astroskeleton live shows!