Over the long weekend Wellington-based collective Kerosene Comic Book released their latest mixtape The 420 Tape II in time to coincide with American 4/20 counterculture cannabis holiday (which falls on April 20th). The new compilation features tracks from a wealth of local DIY beatmakers, including a rain-drenched single titled ‘Rekindle’ from 20-year-old bedroom producer Skymning. We caught up with Skymning to discuss his music making process, taking music from his bedroom to a live audience, and his connection with the KCB. Check out ‘Rekindle’ below or head over here to listen to The 420 Tape II in its entirety while you read the interview below...
Hi! I understand the name Skymning means “dusk” in Swedish, that’s very poetic, why choose it for your stage name?
I think the first time I used that word was just as the title to a mixtape I made for a girl I liked before I even started making music. I kinda just came across it on Google translate and it looked nice written down. I guess I went by the same principle once I started making music. I never really expected to be performing live or have to say it out loud, so it's kind of funny that it stuck.
How long have you been making electronic music for? And how have your production methods changed over time?
I guess I started making electronic music in 2011. I'd kind of messed about on bass before then but not really outside of my bedroom playing along to dumb emo songs. I started recording an old Casio keyboard that was lying around my house but at that point the tracks weren't any more than keyboards and guitar, and maybe some backing textures. Eventually, I began building up a collection of equipment. I bought an SP-303 sampler when I decided I wanted to start putting drums in my tracks, but later found it easier to just build the drum tracks in Audacity (which I'd used for recording earlier) and mostly use the 303 as an effects processor for all the instruments I recorded. I've pretty much stuck to that production method ever since, but I guess my music has developed as a result of me playing live more. When I released my first EP, 1993, I never really anticipated it being listened to outside of peoples' bedrooms or on their iPods or whatever. I guess now I construct my tracks with the intent of performing them live. I only came to that conclusion recently but it's almost made me want to try and make some more music like my earlier stuff. A lot more organic and quiet and less focused towards live performances.
Are you classically trained as a musician?
No, I've not had any classical training in music. My first year out of high school I studied at Victoria University and took one paper in the first semester based around the basics of sound design and production. That was the first time I'd really taken into account a lot of really basic production elements like equalisation and I think that's kind of what pushed me to make my first EP. In the time since then I guess I've figured out a lot more just through trial and error and I think I'm a lot better than I was then but I could and probably should still learn a lot more. I'd like to study similar things further, there's so much to wrap your head around and I'm sure it'd do nothing but help me. I'd like to learn piano properly too, it's probably my favourite sounding instrument and it'd be really nice to know it better and be more expressive with my compositions.
You integrated some cassette processing into the production of 'Rekindle'. Tell me about that...
The bells which come in through the second movement of the track I made by recording onto my laptop, then to a tape and then back onto my computer. I've tried to bounce stuff off cassettes before, but the only tape recorder I have is mono and warps the pitch and length of the tracks too much to easily incorporate it into a lot of my music. With this though it's the only instrument playing other than another keyboard which I effected in a similar way with my Kaoss Pad and instead creates a more ambient, melancholic and organic environment all on it's own. Daniel Johnston was really the catalyst for me in terms of moving from listening to music to making music so I guess the whole time I've been making music it's been with somewhat of a DIY/lofi approach. There's something almost more honest about not trying to iron out every little mistake. You can still have a well rounded track which sounds exactly how the composer wants it to sound without having it all recorded and mixed with the most high end equipment.
What is the first electronic music that really grabbed your attention?
The first electronic music I got into was still on the more "rock" side of electronic - stuff like Animal Collective and Ratatat maybe. I bought the sampler I use because it was used by Animal Collective and Panda Bear, as well as people like DOOM and Madlib. I remember someone told me my early keyboard recordings reminded me of e*vax which is the solo project from the bassist of Ratatat sort of in the late 90s to early 2000s. That was probably my first exposure to electronic music in terms of drum and synth sequencing or I guess like "computer based" as opposed to traditional instruments. I really liked how mellow and melodic it was and that was probably the first time I thought of electronic music being anything more than dance music. At about the same time I got really into some stuff like Slowdive, Sigur Rós, Have a Nice Life, Growing. Still guitar based artists but more ambient, atmospheric and depressing. I guess that's the overall sound I wanted to bring to my production style.
What music are you inspired by today, local or otherwise?
Locally, I'm mostly inspired by what my friends are doing. People like Yvnalesca, Race Banyon, Career Girls, Totems, Eskimo Eyes. Outside of that people like Kamandai, Polo and Team Cat Food are all really cool. Sheep, Dog & Wolf and Cheats are probably my favourite live bands, it's so great seeing people put so much energy into their performances. It was so amazing playing at Chronophonium and Camp this year - neither of which I'd been to before. I'd not really been exposed to music in that kind of festival environment before and it's a whole lot of fun. Internationally I guess I'm inspired by a lot of hip-hop production, or other artists like Ricky Eat Acid, Ryan Hemsworth, Burial, Nicolas Jaar.
Outside of other musicians, what else inspires your song-writing?
I guess just my environment. I love misty wet evenings and walking through parks or gardens or round empty suburbia. I try to create little cosy soundscapes with sounds I'm used to hearing everyday like cars passing or rain or birds. Anything really.
When are you most productive with your music-making?
I'm not too sure. Probably when I'm procrastinating doing something else. Since I've started doing shows more frequently I've made a lot more music just so I'm not playing the same things to the same people every time. But it really depends. I like to have a theme to build tracks or EPs around. Even though I obviously don't explore themes and ideas through lyrics, I think with instrumental production it's still there it's just more subtle. It was fun making Broken/Embrace and trying to create the same mood I felt reading the poems as you would listening to the music.
You’ve already put out fair amount of lot of material via Bandcamp etc, what are your plans for future releases?
I'd like to work towards a physical release. With the more recent music I've made I've definitely been able to expand of the ideas I want to explore and as a result expand the lengths of the tracks so I'd like to make something more solid and expansive than my last few EPs. But it's hard to not exhaust certain elements and have them feel repetitive rather than progressive so I might be a little while off that still.
How does the internet affect your music, either in terms of getting samples, meeting other musicians, and putting out tracks?
I try to avoid sampling in my music for the most part. The only sounds I really get from the internet will be field recordings and even with that I'd rather have my own microphone so I could record everything myself. In terms of my range of influence, interacting with musicians and releasing my own stuff though it's incredible - I doubt I'd have released any of what I have without the internet. Most of the people I work with now like Totems, Yvnalesca and the rest of KCB I have met through the internet. Soundcloud and Bandcamp are both great platforms for releasing music yourself and even things as basic as social media are invaluable in terms of promoting releases or upcoming shows.
How does being involved with Kerosene Comic Book support your work as a musician?
I guess more than anything it's motivated me to work harder and be better. I remember when we put together the first 420 Tape I was blown away with everyone elses' stuff and almost embarrassed about the ones I'd put on. I guess that was another turning point in taking my sound out of my bedroom and pushing towards a more energetic live oriented sound. Then with the other mixtape we put out in December, Volume 1, I was even more blown away with what everyone had contributed. Being surrounded by so many people all creating entirely different but equally awesome things it's just such a positive environment, we all bounce ideas off each other and help out wherever possible.
You are based in Wellington, how do you find the music scene there? And how could it be better from your point of view?
The music scene in Wellington is pretty interesting. The electronic production scene has definitely grown even in the few years I've been doing it, and there are venues like Puppies and Mighty Mighty which are run by lovely people and are great at showcasing people of all different ages and styles. Unfortunately both of them are shutting down within the next few months. For me I guess the way to improve the music scene would be to have more venues catering to the style of music I produce. Not even "venues" necessary either, it doesn't have to be a bar or a club or whatever you want to call it. I've done a few shows at rooms just filled with couches and people are able to sit back, relax and take in the sounds. I feel like I perform best in those environments too. I'm a lot more comfortable if I know the people who have come to see me are coming expecting to just chill out for a bit rather than dance or go crazy or "turn up" I think the kids are calling it.
Where do you hope to see yourself in the next 10 years musically? Do you want to do it as a full-time job?
I honestly have no idea. I'd love to pursue music but I don't know how realistic it is that I'd be doing the same kind of production and performances that I do now as a job. Who knows though when I started I never thought I'd be opening for Gold Panda. It'd be cool to follow through with a proper audio engineering study and move into the kind of back end of music production. At the moment I guess I just wanna get better at what I'm doing now.
Photo credit: Fraser Chatham