Happy June, everybody! Ringing in the summer season, OxygenStar’s latest release is chock full of ear candy bass lines, well-written drum grooves, and catchy melodies. Appropriately named as ‘Enjoy The Weather’, this happy-go-lucky and gritty lo-fi record was created with using the Sound Blaster 16 sound card, Adlib Tracker II, and tons of dedication.
Part of Planet Zaxxon’s intergalactic residence and record label, OxygenStar has been performing live since 2005, favoring the MS DOS computers, FM synthesis, and a drum kit. This month, I’ll touch on my favorite tracks off the album. I even got the lucky chance to ask the artist himself about his past performances, his experience having his music on both the Jimmy Fallon Show and Gamestop commercials, and how he creates the music that makes up OxygenStar.
This record contains key elements necessary for a great album: A great sense of musicianship, deep affection for sound, and music that tells a story. It’s crystal clear in the writing that there were maybe early years spent as a teenager learning instruments, and the writer’s later years were spent showcasing how to write for them. Sonically, it’s apparent that hours were spent not only experimenting to create a unique sound, but a lot of care was placed into the final mix and then master. This record did all of that and more. The style is innocent, sweet, and would make the perfect SNES soundtrack for any 90s side scroller.
As for album favorites, my top choice was ‘Rad Hair Day’. Though it is the shortest track on the album, it’s full of character, and while it’s dirty bassline is repetitive, it never gets old. Featuring FM synths that gradually add on to each other to create perfect accompaniment, a memorable melodic phrase then enters. The sub bass is well-controlled, meshes perfectly with the kick, and leaves room for every frequency our ears need to listen on repeat without quick ear fatigue.
The album’s feel-good track is, undoubtedly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter’. Feeling nostalgic while maintaining originality, the entire time, the song sounds cute without the sense that it’s trying too hard. Containing a gradual minor mood swing that resolves to major and innocent melodies, I was reminded of the innocence and melodramas of middle school years. Always keeping a super strong theme, this track has everything a feel-good track needs: melodies, major 3rds, strong resolutions to the I chord, and a theme that you can hum back.
The title track of the album, ‘Enjoy The Weather’, expands the mind by showing what FM synthesis is capable of. Probably the most underrated form of synthesis, this style of synth creation is hard to tame. Frequencies fly how they want, but OxygenStar wrangled them perfectly in the mix of his entire album. The drums on this track compliment the song structure, there are hard panned popcorn-style synths ping- ponging around. This track would be perfect for the Busta-Move game series.
And without further ado, we have OxygenStar himself here, who took the time to let me interview him.
Congrats on another album! What was the inspiration behind this one?
Thanks! Back in 2005, when I discovered that you can write your own music for the Sound Blaster 16 sound card, I was immediately hooked. I grew up on PC/MS-DOS games and music, as opposed to your standard home video game consoles. I was always the one with the “computer.” It is extremely nostalgic, yet gratifying to compose music on the actual hardware you grew up with.
To me, the album is pretty cohesive in a way — Every piece of music is different but it’s got your originally stamped on each track. Were these tracks a collection of tracks you made over time, or was it written in a shorter period of time?
These are various songs I have written over the past 10 years, with “Picnic with a Friend” and “Touch the Sky” being my earliest ones that I composed in Adlib Tracker II. I performed the majority of these songs live, accompanied by drums, keyboards, or even guitar. I just really wanted to go through them all, and pick out the best 10 that worked.
You’ve released under a label outside of Planet Zaxxon before — Do you find perks to releasing via label vs. independently?
I’d say that the biggest perk to releasing yourself is that you have complete and total control to do anything you want. On the other hand, releasing with a label does tend to take away from the “stress” that goes into making an album. Most likely, the label will help you out with artwork, distribution, and even marketing. So that’s a plus, to just concentrate on writing and producing the music only.
I got my hands on a vinyl copy on a rare pressing of your release, ‘Harmony Palace’, I think about two years ago. Are there any left?
RARE FIND! I believe they are all sold out now, unfortunately, with just digital downloads being available.
How do you write your tracks?
I tend to write everything on a keyboard or a guitar, and then transpose/notate on whatever medium tends to fit the song. This album was entirely composed on a keyboard first as rough demos. Then I notated everything into Adlib Tracker II. Lastly, I would “jazz up” the notes and such, with vibratos and pitch slides, etc. You know, the usual chiptune bits and diddles.
Now, you have also performed drums live with OxygenStar. A great deal of your music has been clearly written from a drummer’s perspective. Did you write the drum parts on drum first, or was it all via tracker?
For the majority, it has all been written inside the tracker with no other intentions of adding anything else. However, there is another album I still have yet to finish and record which does contain live drumming. And those album’s songs were composed with the complete intention of “Yo, lemme just write some riffs that would be coo’ to play drums on.” I probably played out the most with those songs, since they are more performance-based. And yea, I love playing drums.
I heard you played a Led Zeppelin themed OxygenStar before. Where was it, and when was it? Tell us more about it!
That show was crazy fun! It was a Halloween-themed PULSEWAVE event that took place in New York City, where each artist performed cover songs only. I performed as Led Zeppelin, an0va performed as Queen, and Br1ght Pr1mate performed their favorite covers. I tracked out some of my favorite Zeppelin tunes in Adlib Tracker II, such as Kashmir, Black Dog, The Ocean, Dancin’ Days, and Misty Mountain Hop. I played on an amber Ludwig Vistalite drumset, which was a re-issue of what John Bonham actually played, and preceded to play the drums as hard as I could! It was easily the most fun I had playing live. Just a drum set, Adlib Tracker II, and Zeppelin tunes. :)
There are definitely a lot of people in the chiptune community who have made a name for themselves in gaming, television ads, etc. You, yourself, I hear, had music on The Jimmy Fallon show?! How did this come about? How did you react? Where were you in that point of your life in your music career?
Yes, that was weird! I just got an email out of the blue one day from the program director for the Jimmy Fallon Show. I almost deleted it actually because it looked like spam. They asked to use one of my songs for a segment where moms are playing video games with their kids. I said ok, and they put it in the segment. It was also the same show that Anamanaguchi performed on, which marked (I think) the first chiptune band to play on national television. I was just happy to be part of it!
And I hear the same happened for GameStop?
Well, there was a company that was scouting for artists to submit songs to be put into a GameStop commercial. You now, the one with that swearing rabbit and stuff? Yea, that one. The company made a thread on chipmusic.org several times, and I submitted a song each time. I was chosen for two different commercials, which was an exciting thing! And a first for me.
And I definitely heard your friend Warez Waldo play in store at Retro Games Plus? You guys at Planet Zaxxon are killing it.
Warez Waldo does things like that yes! Planet Zaxxon has been my home for as long as I can remember, and there will be plenty of more releases, videos and media to come in the future!!
Let’s talk technology — what are the benefits and disadvantages of how you write music?
I’ve found that limiting yourself can bring positive results. With less technology and minimal production aspects at hand, it tends to force you to write “better.” You are pushed to work with what you got and make the most of of it, rather than rely on more advanced/modern technology. In conjunction with using old technology for nostalgic reasons or sound preference, I’ve found it does help with overall song writing due to production restraints.
Is FM your favorite type of synthesis?
So, is it a wig, or your real hair? What hair products do you use to keep it looking extra fluffy?
It’s 20 years of disheveled fashion sense mixed with unbridled enthusiasm.
Is OxygenStar going to be performing anytime soon? I heard you had your last show a couple years back, but surely this record could lead to reunion tours? This is my favorite record released under Planet Zaxxon, so it would be great to see it performed live.
Thanks!!! It’s hard to tell as of now. We shall see………..
Who created your artwork and how did you find them?
The album was done by enso aka Alex Bond. I met him at my very first performance in Philly at an 8Static open mic way back when. He did the visuals for that show, and years later here we are!
Any projects you’d like to share that you’re working on?
I just put out an album! It’s time to each chocolate and play Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure!!!
What was your favorite track on the album? Mine are tied between ‘It Doesn’t Matter’, ‘Rad Hair Day’, and ‘Enjoy The Weather’.
“Enjoy the Weather” is possibly my favorite, being my Adlib Tracker II “show-off” track, ha. But “Rad Hair Day” is actually the most recent one on the album, being created in the past year, or so. I’d put them as a tie as well!!!
So, if I understand correctly, you can buy the entirety of Planet Zaxxon’s discography for $14? And there are SO many records. Is there any merch you have for sale?
Yup, that you can. At the end of the day I just would people to have the albums, and will continue on in that way. It’s all about the music, but the artist should get a lil somethin something as well, ya know? Unfortunately, there is no OxygenStar merch at the moment!
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I think it’s that way *points*. Thank you so much for your time! We’re all hoping for a live show!
To me, this record displays not only years of musicianship, but it’s also apparent that there’s just a love for music behind every note written by OxygenStar. Creating music on a note tracker is tedious, and to make music sound this good by doing so shows nothing short of dedication. This 10-track album was worth the wait and is definitely worth the listen, and I am sure everyone will enjoy it. Definitely give it a buy if you are in the mood for something original that is sure to inspire.
Till next time,
The Unicorn Princess