Danimal Cannon [Interview]
UPDATE: TMMP has been reborn! This video has the full story:
Doing something different is difficult.
In a world obsessed with trends and fads that last a microsecond, the pressure is always on to deliver something palatable to a mass audience with the attention span of a brain-damaged goldfish. With his new album Lunaria, Danimal Cannon is ignoring the seductive pull of the same-but-slightly-different, and delivering something really different.
Danimal Cannon is a chiptune master, capable of blending multiple genres, timbres, instruments, and moods into a long-player that is an acquired taste, but a legitimately rewarding taste nonetheless. After I listened to Lunaria in its entirety and reviewed it here, this interview could only kick off with one question…
Your new album Lunaria broke my brain, in a good way! So my opening question has to be: Just how the hell did you make it? How did the tracks on Lunaria go from idea to reality?
I employed several different methods or approaches when writing this album.
This is critically important.
If I write a song on guitar, it’s going to be compositionally way different than if I write something on the piano, or if I start jamming with a drum loop, or if I am twisting knobs on a synthesizer. The approach drives the way you write, and if you only use one method, you run into the danger of having your songs sound the same.
On this album, the primary method was to come up with a sketch on guitar, whether it was a riff or two, or a chord progression. Then I had to translate that sketch into something that would work on the Game Boy, or whether to arrange other Game Boy sections around the guitar parts I had written.
Once I have a basic structure, I go back and add detail. I add fills; I flesh out the sound design complexity; I experiment with different grooves over the same sections, and possibly sculpt the accents into something specific. Oftentimes during this process, I would run out of “phrases” that I can use on my Game Boy. It only allows 256 possible phrases per song (truly 8-bit), [but] I can economize this through clever use of transpositions among other tricks, like using 3-16 bar phrases for 6/8 time instead of 4-12 bar phrases that have truncated endings.
One of the other methods was to just start screwing around on the Game Boy and see what sounds come out. Sometimes I would find a really unique sound and it would inspire a later section of the song, just because I wanted to incorporate and feature it.
It’s important to note that multiple methods of writing would usually be used in the same song, and by doing this it helped keep the ideas fresh.
How are you feeling about the album release right now?
I’m feeling really good, anxious even. The feedback I’ve received so far has been more positive than I expected for my strange album.
I took some musical chances on this record. I sang vocals; I wrote an electronic dance banger and a bossa nova track and included it on a progressive metal album; I used a Vocaloid; several songs are six or more minutes! Maybe the Game Boy helps it all be palatable.
I like a lot of different kinds of music, and wanted to be like Led Zeppelin and be able to write Fool In The Rain and also write Achilles Last Stand. Albums tend to be a little too one-dimensional for me these days. I’m just happy people seem to be receptive to my diverse tastes; we’ll see what happens when it releases though!
What’s your earliest musical memory?
My older sister driving me home from elementary school and me loving a song on the radio called Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh. She ended up buying me the cassette single; it’s a hilariously terrible song.
I think I liked that he sang about dog doo, I swear to God. I can’t help but crack up at those hideous synth chord bends at the beginning of the song now.
What first inspired you to make the kind of music you do?
I used to cover old videogame songs, mostly for nostalgia reasons. I wanted to hear those catchy melodies as big huge guitar sounds.
In the process of learning those songs, I’d pick apart NES game files, and separate the sound channels for maximum accuracy. At some point I started noticing some of the cool composition tricks that NES composers would use back in the day, and started to learn about the limitations on the sound chips. Essentially, I was falling down the rabbit hole to become a big game music geek.
In 2009, outside of a videogame expo, I saw a bunch of kids performing on Game Boys that were hooked up to an amp powered by a car battery. It was incredibly punk rock. The sound the Game Boy made was surprisingly huge and raw; it didn’t need to be remade using guitars, it already sounded badass.
I decided I wanted to learn how to do that, and I was already ten steps ahead of the game since I had already been studying NES music for five years before that point.
How did you evolve, as a musician and as a person, over the course of creating Lunaria?
Lunaria was written over the course of two years, although the bulk of it was finished in the final six months. It’s hard for me to pinpoint my exact mental evolution over this time; our sense of self changes so gradually.
I think I’m more confident now. I’ve received some recognition for my work, and I don’t have to prove myself as being worthy anymore. It’s a nice feeling to sort of be able to just focus on doing exactly what you want to do instead of worrying about impressing people.
In terms of being a person, I decided to stop dating women for the last eight to nine months so I could focus on Lunaria. Relationships and touring were occupying most of my time, and my mental CPU. During my steady relationships I wrote very little new music unless it was for a composing deadline, so I made a conscious choice to avoid that so I could focus on the album.
Maybe after the album comes out I can look for a girlfriend again!
You have a reputation as a formidable live act. What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?
A few years ago, during the last two minutes of my final song at a show, my guitar died. I’m pretty sure the battery that powers my active pickups gave out.
I didn’t know what to do, so I let the Game Boy keep playing and jumped from the stage into the crowd and started dancing and moshing with them. It was totally weird, but it was the end of the set, and you gotta roll with whatever happens.
If money were no object, what would your stage show look like?
I think I’d have to take a page from Katy Perry’s low-poly silver tiger mount from last year’s Superbowl. That’s an aesthetic I can get into.
Beyond Lunaria’s launch on March 11, what do you have planned for the rest of 2016?
There’s a bunch of unconfirmed shows and US touring being planned now; nothing I can announce at this moment.
I did just get asked to compose some viking/folk metal for an upcoming game. Now that’s a musical style that will be really fun to tackle! Another game called Mighty #9, which is the spiritual successor to the MegaMan franchise, is coming out later this year, and I recorded a guitar solo for the end credits – so stay tuned for that!
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Image © Chiptography.