First things first, thanks so much for sitting down with us! We saw your and Dana’s wedding pics online, GORGEOUS! How did you two meet? How did you come to be in Chicago?
Thanks, they definitely came out great! We met in Santa Barbara, CA about 6 1/2 years ago in this funky little wine bar right off of State St. We were both living there at the time, Dana attending UCSB and me just needing a change of pace from the LA lifestyle….We both wanted to leave the LA area and had little desire to be there. I had spent some time previously in Chicago so we both decided to give downtown a shot. It has been incredible ever since. Just love it…
You two are also a team as (We Are) Nexus, will we be seeing any new music there?
(We Are) Nexus is primarily remixing for other artists these days. I don’t think we intend to use the brand for any more original content. Expect a new remix for Nick Gunn “Those Summer Days” coming up which is my dance / pop brand I am putting a lot of time and energy into!
You’ve been dropping some brilliant instrumental tracks of late, can you tell us about how and why you returned to your Ambient / New Age roots after doing dance music the last few years?
Thank you, I appreciate that! I like the word brilliant 😉 Its not really a return. It’s always been there and always will be. I had an immense amount of success under that brand early on selling millions of units. I found myself chasing sales to maintain this sense of identity and success, which is a huge mistake by the way. The best thing about time and experience as a producer and composer is that it affords you objectivity. My works were becoming uninspired and not from an authentic place, so I took a break. My latest series Under the Influence of Music, The Complete Series, which comes out on September 16th, is a real labor of love and is totally authentic to my vision and intention for the album. I am really proud of this work.
I would say relevance. When I composed and produced those earlier works it was formed around a “world music” market which had retail support from chains such as Natural Wonders and Nature Company. Today, all those chains are long gone. But what is emerging and evolving within the Gen Y culture is electronic ambient music that has roots with great artists such Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and others. My music writing still embodies all of the same principles but the production process has simply shifted towards mostly electronic these days…The one thing a great producer must do is remain relevant. Otherwise, its difficult to call yourself a great producer, in my opinion of course!
How does composing Ambient or Instrumental World music differ in approach from House Music?
Most would say tempo, however it’s not. That’s an illusion. All my tracks from Under the Influence of Music are actually set at 122 BPM on the quarter note which you could technically say is 61 BPM. I use complex time signatures against 122 BPM such as 12/8 12/4 3/4 6/8 and even 9/2. There’s some crazy stuff going on with the time signature but if your drop a click on the whole album it never loses time against 122 BPM or 61 BPM, from top to bottom. If I did that with house music, well forget about it lol. With house, If it’s not four on the floor (4/4) then everyone looses the beat. Also, I created a mid heavy saturated mix using pre delays and EQ settings on all my sounds that are exclusive to this album. It has its own unique approach for sure!
What hardware / software did you use on Music Under The Influence?
I have been a long time user of Digital Performer for my DAW. I use the entire suite of Spectrasonics (Omnisphere 2 is simply amazing). Kontakt and Massive as well, but not as much. SSL for compression and EQ. Lexicon PCM for effects. Those are my main go to’s. However, I have learned less is better! It’s all about understanding the four main principles of creating great mixes: EQ, Level, Spacial Orientation and Effects. If you can master those, along with some great sounds, you can create amazing stuff anywhere!
What drew you to composing and producing electronic music rather than rock or jazz or country?
I would say my classical training. I studied flute, of all things, at the Royal Academy of Music when I was just a kid so forming instrumental music ideas seemed natural to me. I could have chosen the jazz route but that was too abstract for me. I rooted myself in learning structured melody so melodic driven music always came first for me. I am not a singer or guitar player so country or anything like didn’t seem like the right fit either. It was a natural progression and a serious of events really that caused me to choose instrumental music which then eventually progressed into producing dance and pop.
Tell us about your songwriting process? How are you inspired to start a song and how does that develop from writing to composition, recording, and completion? How do you know when a song like “Beauty” is “done”?
Lol, that’s a slippery slope. I’ve often said that part of being a professional recording artist is knowing when to let something go. The writing process I use has been called writing to tape (in the past). That means, the writing process, the mixing process and the production process all happen together in a controlled studio environment. The discovery of sounds and textures are a part of the writing process itself. For example, If I were to put a certain effect on a sound, that in essence is part of the writing process and the evolution of the track. That is how I go about it. As far as letting it go, well you have to trust that the knowledge you have gained by listening to exceptional music over your lifetime is somehow evident in your own work. That’s an important observation by the way. We are what we eat, so to speak…
What has been your favorite track, so far, off Music Under The Influence? Does Dana have a favorite?
The 7th musical influence, “Sorrow,” has a way about it. There’s a simplicity and mournfulness I think we can all identify to in that track. Also, “Nature” has a beautiful reoccurring top line (mantra style) that moves me quite a bit. Dana loved “Beauty” from the outset because it set a tone and uniqueness for the album. I don’t disagree with that either!
We’ve seen talk about a special listening event for Music Under The Influence in Chicago, can you share what that will be about?
I am really excited about this! I am staging An Evening Under the Influence of Music in unique places across the United Sates starting in the Chicagoland area. First event is on September 15th. Think cathedrals, breweries, wineries, old buildings, cemeteries and other sacred places! I am placing several hundred people in a circle under a massive lighting grid with all the speakers facing inwards towards the center from outside the circle. You’re going to have to attend one to see what happens next….
How have your core fans responded to Music Under The Influence?
Fortunately, they love it! But here’s the thing you learn when you sell records. For the super fan, no new music you produce can be better than the original that moved them to buy it. No matter what you do. If I had a nickel for as many times as I heard, “hey, but that’s your best record”, I can guarantee, with almost certainty, it was the first record they were exposed to of mine. Understanding that has set me free. Free to compose new music for new fans. I’ll be honest, my original fans were older to begin with so expecting them to interact on social media to get the new music is really tough. No offense, there’s many that do, but I am more interested in finding new fans as well. You know, the one’s who are on line and sharing music everyday! But as a whole, people are loving this new album. It’s authentic and that’s what matters…
Finally, is there anything upcoming that you can share from any of your projects?
I am focusing on my two main brands. Nicholas Gunn and Nick Gunn. It’s simple; Nicholas Gunn is ambient / chill and Nick Gunn is dance / pop. As I am writing this I am wrapping my second single under Nick Gunn called “Those Summer Days”. Damn, I’m excited about this track! Featuring Jaik Willis on vocals. “I drove the hills a thousand miles, through endless days and sleepless nights, no reason but to see your smiling face. Above you now, amongst the mist, I’m where we stood where we first kissed, I’m floating at least five feet off the ground”. Expect plenty of shows under Nicholas Gunn in support of Under the Influence of Music, The Complete Series out on September 16th.